The Long Way Home

THE LONG WAY HOME
by A.C. Harper

Disclaimer/Credits: Star Trek is the property of Paramount. (The character of Phyllida Gaines was created by Marcia Ericson as published in her story “The Enchanted Pool,” in Star Trek: The New Voyages.)

Feedback is appreciated. If you have comments, e-mail me: acoleen2@aol.com

CHAPTER ONE – DISTRESS CALL

“Captain’s Log:  Star Date 4163.8. While on a routine patrol mission to Outpost 7, Enterprise has received a distress signal from a Federation colony located on planet M64 in Sector 13. Enterprise is the nearest ship in this sector and as such we have responded to the call. The delay should, at most, be no more than a few hours.” Captain James Kirk completed the recording, hitting the button on the arm of his command chair and settling back. “Mister Spock,” he said, turning toward the science station, “What information do we have regarding M64 and the colony there?”

Spock swiveled his chair to face the captain. “All Federation scans to this point have revealed the planet to be uninhabited with the exception of lower animal life forms and for the most part, it is highly vegetated and has a stable, temperate climate. A Federation colony was begun there approximately one year ago to study the indigenous plant and animal life. Most recent contact with the colony was six months ago, at which time there were no reported problems.”

“So whatever happened there probably happened very suddenly and recently,” Kirk surmised.

“That is a possibility, Captain,” Spock replied, “However, I would hesitate to make such presumptions without additional information. Six months is a long enough period of time for any number of things to have happened.”

“Klingons?”

“Possible, but not probable. This is far afield of their usual sphere of influence. Even Romulan intervention, though more probable, would likely not explain the situation.”

Kirk nodded slightly and turned toward the communications station. “Lieutenant Uhura, play back the distress call.”

“Aye, sir,” she responded. Her slender fingers played lightly over the keys and within seconds a nearly hysterical voice sounded over the bridge com.

“This is Commander Martin of the M64 colony. If anyone can hear this, please – please help us! We can’t get away – most of our people are dead already! They mean to kill us all!  You must help us!” The message lapsed into static.

“It’s a recording, Captain,” Uhura volunteered. There is no way of determining how long ago it was made. I have continued to monitor and there have been no new messages.”

Kirk nodded in acknowledgement. Who was “they,” he thought.

“Captain,” Spock announced, “We are approaching the planet.”

“Thank you, Mister Spock. Engage forward view screen.” A blue-green planet with a hazy cloud cover shimmered in the distance and slowly filled the screen. “Standard orbit, Mister Sulu.”

“Aye, sir. Plotted and laid in.” Lieutenant Commander Sulu set the coordinates with practiced precision.

“Spock,” Kirk said, rising from the command chair, “ I want you to head up a landing party to the surface. We’re going to find out what happened down there.” Spock stood to face him, hands folded loosely behind his back. Kirk continued. “Take a three-man security team, a medical officer of McCoy’s choice, and that new transfer from Yorktown…” he hesitated, “What’s her name?”

Spock stiffened imperceptibly. “Lieutenant Gaines.”

“Right.” Kirk turned to Uhura. “Relay the coordinates of the distress signal to the transporter room and have Lieutenant Gaines and the security team meet us there.”

“Aye, sir.”

“And tell McCoy I need one of his officers for a landing party in 5 minutes in the transporter room.”

Uhura nodded and began making the calls as Kirk moved toward the turbolift, his first officer following.

—————–

Transporter room one bustled with activity as the landing party assembled and checked their gear. The door hissed open to admit Captain Kirk and First Officer Spock, and the crew came to quiet attention.

“Dr. Wilson,” Kirk addressed the young, dark-haired man who stood before him. “Dr. McCoy tells me that you can handle just about anything that comes up.”

The youthful doctor nodded. “Yes sir. I specialized in combat medicine.”

“Good. We don’t know what to expect down there.” The captain stopped, taking in the landing crew. “As for the rest of you, be on the alert for anything. The colonists were not specific with their message; all we know is that a life-threatening situation exists where six months ago there was none. Mister Spock is in command and can fill you in on any necessary details.” He paused again, scanning their faces. Good crew, he thought. He turned to his first officer. “Mister Spock, keep us posted. McCoy is standing by in sickbay to receive survivors, but use discretion; if there is any trouble I want you out of there – understood?”

“Understood, Captain.” Spock motioned to his small crew to take their positions on the transporter pads. Lieutenant Phyllida Gaines, standing on the pad nearest Spock, flashed him a smile, which he chose to ignore.

“Nice to see you again, Mister Spock,” she whispered.

“Energize,” came the Vulcan’s command.

—————-

The landing party materialized inside a small room that seemed more than anything like the aftermath of a tornado. Assorted crates and machinery lay scattered about amid rubble from a ceiling that seemingly threatened to fall at any moment. Though signs of struggle were evident, there were no inhabitants and no bodies to be seen. In the corner, Spock’s tricorder registered the presence of a small terminal buried beneath the rubble; its insistent flashing indicated a message was still being sent. He switched it off.

Spock glanced around the room, taking in the eerie silence, and addressed the crew. “We will separate into groups of two and scout the colony area, taking complete tricorder readings. Ensign Davis,” he indicated one of the security men, “You team up with Doctor Wilson. DuPuy and Echols, you make another team. Lieutenant Gaines, you are with me. Keep your communicator frequencies open and report anything the least bit unusual; we will meet back here in half an hour.” A chorus of acknowledgements followed as the crew spread out and began their search.

——————

Kirk had not been back on the bridge for more than 20 minutes when Chekov reported from the science station that a large ion storm was approaching.

“ETA, Mister Chekov?”

“I vould estimate 2 hours at its present course and speed, Keptin.”

That doesn’t give Spock much time, Kirk thought. “Very well, Lieutenant. Maintain surveillance of the storm and let me know of any change.”

“Aye, Sir.”

—————–

On the surface, Spock and his party had turned up nothing remarkable except one small detail. Despite a search of the immediate area surrounding the beam-down point, there were no bodies; no trace of the colony could be found apart from the abandoned and ruined instruments. Checking his tricorder readings yet again, Spock moved toward the doctor. “Dr. Wilson, you can locate no disease-producing organisms? Anything that can account for our findings?”

The young doctor looked at him with puzzled eyes. “No, Commander. It’s strange, too, that they should just disappear like this. I really am at a loss to explain it. If I could just find some physical remains I might be able to determine a cause.”

“Yes – fascinating. Carry on, Doctor.”

“Yes, Mister Spock.”

In answer to the beep that had just sounded, Spock flipped open his communicator. “Spock here.”

“Spock,” came Kirk’s voice, “We have a large ion storm on our scanners moving rapidly in this direction. Don’t stay down there any longer than you have to. ETA is 2 hours.” There was a pause. “Revise that ETA to 90 minutes, Mister Spock. That storm is really bearing down on us. I want you up here within 40 minutes.”

“Acknowledged, Captain. I shall take the necessary precautions. Spock out.” He strode quickly toward the others. “I have just been informed of an ion storm heading this way. Please continue your research as efficiently and quickly as possible. Meet back here in half an hour.” The crew acknowledged and once again split into their assigned groups to finish gathering data.

Phyllida Gaines stood a few feet away with her back to him, taking tricorder readings. Her golden hair cascaded around her shoulders in an almost non-regulation style. Two years had passed since the incident on Mevinna; years during which Spock had set aside all memory of the lovely lieutenant and their unusual escape from the Andorian force field. But, with her transfer to Enterprise, memories began again to crowd in upon him; her winsome smile pervaded his thoughts unmercifully and he could still feel her warm lips on his own from the remembered kiss. “I am your destiny,” she had said. Illogical. Drawing himself up, the unwanted thoughts and rousing emotions were thrust aside with stern Vulcan discipline and the welcome and familiar non-emotion settled upon him like a shield.

“Lieutenant Gaines.”

She turned. “Sir?” The mischief dancing in those blue eyes was apparent even without a smile.

Spock cleared his throat. “What are your findings in correlation with the possibility of a technical breakdown and/or cause of such within the colony itself?

“Well, certain technological functions -have ceased. The exact date of which I can’t be certain, except that it was fairly recent. Some systems appear to have merely stopped due to lack of maintenance, others have apparently been sabotaged. Whether by the colonists themselves in an unstable emotional state or by some outside force, it is impossible to tell. However, I did find some unusual markings over here…” He followed her inside a nearby building that had apparently been a laboratory for the colonists. “See, here; on this piece of machinery.” She pointed out a large dent in the side of the main computer console. Inside and around the indentation were several sets of parallel scratch marks as though made by giant hands.

“Fascinating…”

By the time Spock and Gaines heard the cries it was already too late. On reaching the point where DuPuy and Echols had been scouting, they found very little left of the men. They met Doctor Wilson running to the scene from the opposite direction. Spock’s tricorder was out in an instant, as was the doctor’s.

“How horrible!”  Phyllida gasped at the sight of the badly burned and decomposed bodies.

Spock was down on one knee, scanning the strange looking plants on which one of the bodies lay. “Apparently these plants produce a type of fast-acting acid, making their prey easier to digest,” he commented. “It looks as though those vines…Doctor!”

The doctor turned from the body he was examining in time to see the vine come up to encircle his neck. He let out a strangled cry as Spock quickly fired on the plant with his phaser, destroying it instantly. Gaines lowered Wilson gently to the grass.

“Too late…” she said softly, “Too late.”

Spock knelt to examine the wound around the doctor’s neck. “The acid appears to be even faster acting than I had thought. See, where the tissue and vessels have been completely dissolved.” He rose, taking Gaines by the arm. “Come, we must avoid the slightest contact with these plants.”

“We can’t just leave him here!”

“That is an order, Lieutenant. Let’s go now!” She acquiesced reluctantly to the pressure on her arm, but her gaze remained fixed on Wilson’s body as they quickly left the area. On the move, Spock opened his communicator and signaled to Ensign Davis, who had been scouting with Doctor Wilson. “Ensign Davis, respond.”

“Here, Mister Spock,” came the reply.

“Ensign, return to the beam-down point promptly. Stay clear of the forest and be on your guard for creeping vines that we have determined to be deadly.”

“Aye, Sir. On my way. Davis out.”

Spock and Gaines had nearly reached the beam-down point when Spock’s communicator signaled. “Spock here.”

“Spock,” came Kirk’s urgent voice, “You and your party must come up at once. The storm is advancing much more rapidly.”

“Yes, Sir.” Although Spock was reluctant to leave when he was so close to finding a solution to the disappearance of the colony, he knew that with the loss of half of his crew and the advancing storm nothing more could be accomplished at this time. “We’ll be ready within 5 minutes. Spock out.” He changed frequencies on his communicator and signaled to Ensign Davis, who still had not returned. “Ensign Davis, return to the beam-down point.” Silence. “Ensign Davis, respond!”

Phyllida’s brows drew together as she cast a worried look at Spock. “What if he can’t respond?” She pulled out her tricorder and started scanning in Davis’ last known direction.

Spock answered by calling Enterprise. “Captain, one of my team is missing and is not responding. We have to find him before we beam out.”

“Spock, you’re out of time.”

“Just a few more minutes, Captain.” He looked at Lieutenant Gaines, who looked up from her tricorder and shook her head.

“No life signs that I can find. I don’t think he made it.”

“Spock,” Kirk was fairly shouting, “You don’t HAVE a few minutes! Stand by to beam up at my sig………..no for an ans………..”

“Captain? Captain!” The only reply was static.
CHAPTER TWO – CAPTIVES

“Scotty, get them up here!”  The yellow alert signal flashed insistently.

“I’m tryin’, Captain. The storm…” Lieutenant Montgomery Scott manipulated the controls as only he could.

Kirk looked toward the transporter as two shimmering figures began to materialize, and then were gone.

“What happened, Scott?”

“It’s the storm. It’s already interferin’ with the transporter. We canna lock onto them, and if I try again, we’ll lose ‘em for sure!”

Kirk struck the console with his fist. There was nothing they could do now but wait out the storm. Who knew what kind of situation they could be in down there…?

—————-

“Mister Spock! The storm…The transporter couldn’t lock onto our signal. That means…”

“That means we’re stranded, for the time being, Lieutenant.” Spock took a step away and gauged their surroundings. To the south, west and north of the small clearing in which they stood, nothing but dense forest growth could be seen, mingled with the small structures of the colony. In his estimation, the proximity of the plants made the buildings unsafe to stay in for any length of time. To the east the clearing extended with less growth to a small hill some 1,000 meters away. The sky, dotted with clouds, was a deep blue, getting deeper as evening approached.

Spock heard a faint rustling from the shadows behind them and turned to see tendrils creeping slowly toward them from the undergrowth.

“Lieutenant, I believe we had better find a more secure place to spend the night. It seems as though these plant creatures become more active during the nocturnal hours.” He nodded in the direction of the vines.

“Agreed, Mister Spock!”

With phasers drawn, moving as carefully and swiftly as possible, they began to make their way toward the hill. As they reached the base of the incline, the plants rustled menacingly in the growth on either side of them. The sky was growing quickly darker and ahead the foliage appeared to be more dense. Phyllida winced inwardly, and tried to stifle the growing sense of fear that seemed to grip her. She glanced at Spock. In the twilight the harsh lines of his alien features reflected his single-minded purpose as they proceeded cautiously up the hill, Gaines taking point. About halfway up the hill, she stopped.

“Mister Spock! It looks as if the plants thin out a little further on; see?” She gestured with her phaser. As she spoke, a small movement on the periphery of Spock’s vision caught his attention.

“Phyllida!” Her body slammed against his as the sound of phaser fire ripped through the still night air. She twisted in Spock’s grasp to see the smoking tendril that had been only inches from her foot. She looked up at him silently, trembling from the shock. He released her and when he spoke, his voice was low and hoarse.

“Let’s go.”

The top of the hill was a broad level clearing perhaps 4 meters in diameter where, Phyllida noted thankfully, the only plant growth was grass.

“Spock to Enterprise, come in Enterprise.” His effort was futile – the only sound in the still evening was static.

————

“Enterprise to Mister Spock; Mister Spock come in please.” It seemed to Uhura that she had repeated that phrase a hundred times in the past hour. “Captain, there is still no response; only static interference from the storm.”

Kirk gave no indication of having heard her. “Chekov, do you have that estimate for me yet?

“The nearest I can calculate, Keptin, the storm should pass within 15 hours, judging from the size of it.”

“Are the sensors able to cut through the interference at all?”

“Negative, Sir. I’ve been trying and can’t get any signals through this.”

“Keep trying, Mister Chekov. And, Uhura, continue to attempt communication every half hour.” He rubbed his eyes wearily. “I’ll be in my quarters if anything comes up.” Fifteen hours, he thought, a lot can happen in 15 hours.

————–

The light from two moons shone softly on the grassy hill where two figures were seated next to a small fire.

“What are they, Naktira?” asked Al’nke. “The others are destroyed; yet, these are much like the others.”

“I think, Al’nke, that these are helpers of the others. I think, Al’nke, that they are evil, also. See, how they are bound to the earth as the ancient evil ones were? We must consult the Kamnke. He will tell us what we must do.”

——————

Spock looked abruptly toward the night sky. Nothing. What had he heard? He was sure there had been something.

“Spock? What is it?” Phyllida touched him lightly on the arm. He looked down at her, a puzzled expression on his face.

“Nothing…I thought I heard something…it was nothing.”

“Are you sure?” Phyllida looked toward the sky. “How can we be sure of anything here?”

—————-

Lieutenant Gaines woke in the early morning light to the sound of Spock trying to raise the Enterprise. Still static. How long had it been? About 8 hours since the onset of the ion storm and it had not let up. It must be a tremendously large storm, she thought. She rolled over on the hard ground, every muscle aching.

“Still no answer, Mister Spock?”

“No answer, Lieutenant. However,” He paused to take stock of their surroundings now that he could see them in daylight, and looked back the way they had come, down the hill toward the forest. “We have a more immediate problem. Although I have no desire to go back into the vicinity of those plants, it looks as though the forest is going to be our only source of food. As such, we must be willing to return to it; cautiously, of course.”

“Of course.” Phyllida paused thoughtfully. “Mister Spock, here’s a question for you. If the colony checked out six months ago with no problems, just where did all these vines come from? They couldn’t have occurred naturally in so short a period of time. Surely something had to have brought them here.”

Spock nodded agreement. “That thought has occurred to me also. We will endeavor to discover the answer while we are here.”

It turned out that after a night of feasting the plants lay fairly dormant in the early hours, so Phyllida and Spock had no trouble making their way to the forest and back, having successfully gathered some native fruit. After a quick breakfast, Spock sat down with his tricorder, analyzing the data taken the previous day, while Lieutenant Gaines’ gaze wandered toward the morning sky. They sat in silence for a few minutes before the Lieutenant began to rise slowly to her feet.

“Spock…?” she said quietly, a note of warning in her voice.

Spock looked up from his work. There, coming toward them in the sky, were what appeared to be two large birds. As they grew nearer, Spock saw that they were not quite birds after all. They each appeared to be about 5 feet tall (or long) with the body and wings of a very large bird and the face of a man. The feet and hands were like talons, which seemed capable of ripping a man to shreds. Together, Spock and Phyllida watched the birdmen approach.

“It would appear that there is some form of intelligent life on this planet after all,” Spock commented dryly. “We seem to be uncomfortably close to discovering how the colonists disappeared.”

Phyllida edged closer to him as the birdmen grew nearer and finally landed on the hill, speaking with each other in clicks and chirps that she and Spock could not understand. One of them took a step forward and addressed them in heavily accented English.

“I am called Naktira, of the Somari, the People of the Wind. We welcome you as strangers to our land. Please come and share our homes and our food. Look — the T’laki vines grow nearer. By nightfall you will not be safe. We will take you to a safe place.”

Spock and Gaines looked at the vines, then the creatures, and finally each other.

“Not much of a choice, is it Mister Spock?” Phyllida said quietly.

He answered in the same hushed tones. “It may be our only opportunity to find out what happened to the others. Not to mention the chance to study what must be a truly unique culture.” He turned to Naktira. “We accept your most kind invitation. However, we do not have the capability for flight such as you; how will we accompany you?”

“Our small appearance is misleading,” Naktira replied. “We possess more than adequate strength to bear you and your companion to our village.” The creatures stepped forward then, grasping Spock and Lieutenant Gaines gently in their vice-like talons. Phyllida made a small involuntary gasp and a quick wave of helplessness and fear rushed over her. Then, with a few short beats of strong wings, they were airborne. They traveled thus for miles before one of the birdmen again spoke.

“There, below us is our city.”

Phyllida and Spock looked down. They were circling over what appeared to be simply a barren, rocky mountain. On closer examination, however, small, cave-like openings could be seen scattered at the top of a cliff that was easily 100 feet high. It was toward one of these caves they were now flying.

The winged creatures slid silently from the afternoon light into the musky twilight of the cave mouth, releasing their human burdens as they entered. Ahead could be heard the clicks and twitters of unseen inhabitants speaking to one another in their native tongue. As their eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, Spock and Gaines could see that many smaller side corridors and chambers met the large corridor through which they were being led. Through some of these they caught occasional glimpses of more bird people. As their “hosts” led them through a seemingly endless maze of tunnels and corridors, Phyllida began to wonder how they would ever find their way out again, when and if that moment ever came. Then finally, rounding what must have been the hundredth turn, the party came to an abrupt halt.

“This is your room while you are with us,” one of the creatures gestured toward a small opening in the wall roughly one meter in diameter. “We hope everything is satisfactory. Please remain here and rest and eat. The Kamnke will wish to see you very soon; when we return we will take you to him.”

Spock entered the room with Gaines close behind. It was a large chamber, dimly lit by an animal oil lamp that filled the air with a smoky stench. There were no furnishings to speak of, except a few coarsely woven mats scattered about the floor, one of which was pilled with fruit and smoked meats.

“A fascinating culture,” Spock remarked, taking in their surroundings. “I should like to have the opportunity to study their evolutionary development.”

“Never mind that now, Mister Spock,” Gaines said, “Who do you suppose this ‘Kamnke’ is, and what does he want with us?”

Spock held up his hand in a gesture of silence and looked out the doorway. Ducking back, he quickly withdrew the lieutenant to the far side of the room. When his spoke his voice was scarcely a whisper. “Guards – on either side of the door, a short distance down the corridor.”

Phyllida walked over to the mat with the food, picked up a piece of fruit and bit into it. “At least the food is good,” she commented casually. Spock followed her and chose some for himself. She continued speaking, this time in hushed tones. “We’re going to have to get out of here. You still have not been able to raise the ship?”

“The last time I tried, a few minutes ago,” Spock whispered, “there was still no answer. Whether due to the storm or some mineral content in this mountain, I have no way of knowing. As for getting out of here, if we leave before we see this ‘Kamnke,” we will never really know what happened to the colony.”

“I can take a pretty good guess, Mister Spock. And if we stay to find out, I have a feeling we’ll never get out of here.”

“That,” Spock said dryly, “is a moot point.” He nodded toward the door at the two Somari just entering.

“The Kamnke will see you now,” one of them announced. His tone and bearing made any thought of resistance seem foolhardy at best.

With a lightness she did not feel, Phyllida remarked, “Well, Mister Spock, it looks as though our questions are soon to be answered.”

“Indeed,” he replied. “I am sure it will prove an interesting experience.”

—————

“Captain, I am getting no response from Mister Spock on any frequency,” Uhura reported. “Maybe our signal is not getting through, or maybe…” she hesitated.

“Maybe he’s not in a position to receive it,” Kirk finished for her. What could have happened down there while they were cut off by the storm? He wondered if Spock and any one of his crew were yet alive. It seemed doubtful, and yet, somehow he knew Spock was still living. He would find him.

“Mister Chekov, Mister Sulu, I want a continuous scan of the surface for any human or Vulcan life forms, beginning with the beam-down point and spiraling outward.”

“Aye, Sir,” Chekov and Sulu complied, exchanging knowing glances.

—————

The corridor that led to the heart of the mountain was dark and damp, and as the party wound its way deeper into the fortress, they were joined at every turn by more of the bird creatures. It was difficult now to tell exactly how many there were.

So far, Spock thought, the Somari had not really seemed hostile, only curious. Why then did he have the persistent feeling of apprehension? It certainly was not entirely logical, and he definitely was not given to intuition or “hunches,” as were many humans (most notably, Jim Kirk), nevertheless it was there. He pushed it with stubborn Vulcan resolve to the back of his mind where it took its place, not quite obediently.

“This place gives me the creeps,” Phyllida’s comment echoed endlessly off the dank walls of the passage. She shuddered in the cool air.

Spock suddenly thought wryly of Dr. McCoy and how characteristic such a remark would be to him. He wondered, offhandedly, whether or not he would ever see McCoy or any of the rest of his shipmates again; however, any misgivings he may have had were far outweighed by his immense curiosity about this intriguing race of creatures.

They covered a few more yards with only the shuffling sound of countless Somari breaking the stillness. Then, without warning, the passageway opened into a large cavern where Lieutenant Gaines and Spock were quickly divested of their phasers. Dozens of bracketed torches lined the walls of the cavern, flooding it with a golden glow. Almost in the center of the beautifully decorated floor stood what might have been considered a throne, although functionally it appeared more as a perch. Upon it sat a very old Somari.

Spock and Phyllida were shoved roughly to the floor.

“Kneel before the Kamnke!” a voice commanded. Spock looked up toward the “throne” where a taloned hand beckoned to him.

“Come forward.” The voice had the hoarse, cracked sound of dry leaves underfoot. Spock rose and moved forward until he was within two meters of the “throne.” Behind him he heard a gasp and a shuffling sound as Phyllida was instantly surrounded by a group of the bird creatures.

“What are you called, flightless one? I have seen none such as you,” the one they called the Kamnke questioned.

“I am called Spock,” he said simply.

“Spock…” The Kamnke’s eye roamed Spock’s features carefully. “You are different from the others; perhaps you can give us the answers we seek.” At the Kamnke’s slight gesture, Spock was at once encircled by Somari. As though unaffected by this sudden move, he stood gazing on the Kamnke, his hands folded behind his back.

“What is it you wish to know?”

The wizened Somari leaned forward, his intense, golden eyes returning Spock’s cool gaze. “Why…are you here?”

Spock did not waver. “We are here to investigate the disappearance of others of our kind who were here before us.” The room filled with chirps and twitters and the circles around Spock and Gaines grew tighter.

“Silence!” came the command from the throne. A deep hush fell over the room, broken only by an impatient rustling of feathers. “So,” the Kamnke directed at Spock, “You were sent by the Ancient Ones.” Spock simply looked at him impassively. The Kamnke continued, “We feared others would follow; I have felt the release of power. Yet,” his voice dropped to a whisper, “We had hoped there would be no more.”

“Sir,” Spock interjected, “I have no knowledge of these ‘Ancient Ones,’ as you call them, and I assure you that our people have no intention of harming yours. We…”

“Say what you will! It is all lies!” the thing on the throne hissed vehemently. “Our legends foretold that ones such as you would come and seek to destroy us, but that we would overcome mightily. That prophecy is now fulfilled!” He raised his taloned hand in a grand gesture. “Take her!”

Suddenly the circle of Somari that surrounded Lieutenant Gaines became a screaming mass of birds of prey. Spock threw himself at the creatures that encircled him but he was rebuffed effortlessly by strength that far surpassed his own. He was restrained, compelled to look on helplessly as a terrified Phyllida succumbed to the onslaught of the taloned creatures. She sagged unconscious to the blood-spattered floor, her face bone white with shock. Spock whirled on the Kamnke, Vulcan disciplines strained almost to the breaking point.

“You have no right,” he breathed.

“We have every right, Spock,” the ancient creature replied evenly. “We must protect ourselves from the evil you bring.”

Spock just managed to keep from shouting. “We bring no evil. Our intentions are, and always have been, peaceful.”

The Kamnke shook his head and clicked somewhat disgustedly. “We know all your words are lies, since you are the incarnation of the Ancient Ones. They also were bound to the earth and nearly brought our race to destruction. We will not allow that to happen again, and no others will follow you.” He paused, appraising Spock coldly with his small bronze eyes. “In the manner circumscribed by law, the following sentence is pronounced:  You shall die at dawn, thrown from the stronghold of our city, to the death of the Ancient Ones.” He paused again, looking over the assembly. “It is decreed!” He cried.

“IT IS DECREED!” they echoed in chorus, and immediately Spock was overrun by the mob of screeching Somari.
CHAPTER THREE – ESCAPE?

“Captain’s Log, Stardate 4215.6:  It has now been 26 hours since our last contact with Mister Spock. All attempts at communication have failed, at first due to interference from the ion storm and, more recently, due to an inexplicable electromagnetic discharge from the planet itself. So far, we have been unable to pinpoint the exact origin of this discharge, but it seems to blanket the colony site and surrounding area over a radius of approximately 75 km. Our sensors also seem to be affected by it; scanning the area for life forms turns up nothing.

“Since the nature of the trouble encountered by the colony and landing party is unknown, and since communication with the surface is impossible, I have elected not to beam a rescue team down to the planet. Instead, a specially equipped shuttlecraft is being readied. Hopefully, the heavy-duty transmitter/receiver Mister Scott is engineering will be sufficient to at least partially break through the electromagnetic disturbance.

“The Enterprise has orders to continue as soon as possible to Outpost 7; it seems the Romulans are brewing unrest. Starfleet Command is aware of our situation; however, no other ships being immediately available, we have been given only another 72 hours in which to locate any survivors of the expedition. If, at the end of that time they still have not been located, we have been instructed to abandon search and proceed to Outpost 7.”

At the desk in his quarters, Captain James Kirk finished the entry and leaned back in his chair, exhausted. Deep anger and guilt welled up within him; anger at Starfleet Command for the priorities and restrictions placed upon him, and guilt for having sent his first officer, and friend, most probably to his death. He leaned forward on his desk, burying his face in his hands.

“Spock…”

—————–

“Spock…Spock…”

Pain came with every breath; and fire…

“Spock…”

A voice…Jim? No. Not here…Phyllida…There is no pain. The sensation interpreted as pain obediently took its place in a dark corner of his mind. He made his way on hands and knees toward the sound of Lieutenant Gaines’ voice, groping in the half-light until he found her.

“Spock…” Her battered face was contorted with pain and the word her lips formed was little more than a whisper. Spock took in her other wounds at a glance. Her left shoulder and back had been savagely ripped by talons and she had lost blood, but not enough to be life threatening. He touched her then, spanning the gap between them with his mind. She recoiled at first, unsure. Pain…terror…despair. We are one. Hope…There is no pain. Spock’s mind held hers and she felt a peace and calmness she had never before known flood her mind and soul. Phyllida’s eyes fluttered open, meeting his. The pain no longer clouded her thoughts; she acknowledged its existence, but it was not needed. Slowly withdrawing from the link, Spock took his hand away and Phyllida relaxed into a dreamless sleep. He too must rest, he reasoned, if his plan was to work. Dawn was only five hours away; they would not have much time.

—————–

Spock woke with a start, his internal clock ticking away the minutes and hours. Two hours until dawn. It was time to move. He roused Phyllida and brought himself to his feet, wincing slightly at the movement. His own wounds were not negligible. Phyllida sat up on the hard floor, a groan escaping her lips. Every muscle in her aching body protested at what they were about to attempt, but anything was preferable to death. She wondered what kind of escape the Vulcan had planned, but declined asking him, realizing that she had only to follow his lead. With a rueful smile, she found herself wishing for a fully charged hand phaser.

“Indeed.” Spock’s comment startled Phyllida; she did not realize that she had spoken.

Gratefully, Spock noted that they were in the same chamber they had been held in before. That would simplify matters. His eyes roamed the chamber for something to use as a weapon and fell upon the oil lamp and the stone upon which it rested. He moved the lamp aside and picked up the stone, gauging its heft. It would have to do.

“Gaines!” he whispered, placing the rock in her hands. Their eyes met and she instantly understood what she was to do. She followed him to the doorway, positioning herself on the side opposite him. As before, on either side of the entrance and a little down the corridor stood the guards. Taking a deep breath, Spock placed his slender hands on the rough-hewn stone wall directly behind one of the guards and began to project his thoughts.

The Somari on the other side of the wall shook his head slightly as if to clear it. He looked toward the chamber entrance and then at the other guard. Nothing. He resumed his stance, a little uneasily this time. There it was again. He moved toward the doorway and gestured to the other guard, saying something unintelligible to human ears. As the guards came through the door, the two prisoners were waiting for them. Stepping quietly from the shadow next to the doorway, Phyllida raised the stone with both hands and brought it down with all her strength on the back of the head of her guard. He collapsed without a sound. At the same instant, Spock efficiently dispatched the other guard with a well-placed nerve pinch before he could raise an alarm.

Without a word, Spock hurried down the corridor with Phyllida close behind, hoping that his memory and sense of direction would serve him. After what seemed an interminable period of time, following twists and turns, which seemed to make no sense, he stopped and held up a hand in warning.

“What is it?” Phyllida whispered.

He motioned for her to look around the corner. They had neared the entrance of the cave where two guards were stationed and numerous Somari came and went on various errands. This was something they hadn’t counted on. With the Somari flying around outside they would quickly be spotted. One of the guards looked suddenly in their direction and Spock and Phyllida flattened themselves against the wall. Phyllida held her breath and briefly wondered what it felt like to fall to one’s death as the guard moved toward them with a shuffling sound. She closed her eyes, thinking, as the creature drew slowly nearer, that they were soon to be discovered and silently bemoaned the futility of their escape attempt. At that moment, the guard’s fellow called out to him. He shuffled back to the mouth of the cave where his attention, with that of his comrade, was focused on something outside. Seeing no other Somari present at that moment, Spock and Phyllida seized the opportunity and silently moved on the guards from behind, quickly subduing them as they had the others.

“This way!” Spock spoke in an urgent whisper, taking the lieutenant’s hand and leading her onto a narrow ledge that, as far as she could see, wound to the right around the mountain. They moved as quietly as possible, trying not to attract the attention of the bird people they could see silhouetted against the night sky. It was still at least an hour before dawn, but with two full moons shining brightly, Spock thought that they were sure to be spotted soon. If only they could reach the ridge up ahead, the other side would be in shadows, giving them a better chance. They climbed slowly, painfully, straining for hand and foot holds that were almost non-existent, knowing that one slip would send them plunging from the cliff face to the unseen valley floor hundreds of feet below.

The summit was nearly within grasp when Lieutenant Gaines cried out. Spock looked back to see two Somari coming at them at top speed. They were still some distance away, but it would be only a matter of seconds before the creatures were upon them.

“Hurry!” Spock pulled Phyllida after him up the steep, rocky incline and over the summit into a cleft in the rock. There they sat quietly, listening to the beat of giant wings that grew ever closer. Soon the Somari were circling almost directly above them, searching. They could be heard speaking to each other in the distinctive chirps and whistles of their language and the two fugitives wondered what was being said. Still as the stone that surrounded them, they waited, hoping that their presence there would not be detected. Long minutes later, the Somari abandoned the search and flew back toward their city. The pair of humans was again alone.

Spock cautiously rose from the cleft and Gaines followed. They hurried on down the other side of the rocky slope as quickly as possible, staying in the shadows, realizing that the bird people had not given up, but would soon return in force to continue their search.

As they neared the wooded base of the mountain they heard them – the rushing of a score of giant wings and cries of pursuit. Spock and Phyllida scrambled quickly for the cover of the undergrowth and plunged headlong into the thick foliage, hoping that none of the T’laki vines existed here. Phyllida gasped painfully as she stumbled and fell to her already injured shoulder. Bringing herself to her feet, she heard Spock quietly trying to raise the Enterprise with his communicator. Each time, his call was met with static.

“Mister Spock?” She did not need to finish her question. Spock looked toward her in the darkness where the only sounds were their voices and those of the pursuing Somari. His answer seemed like a death sentence.

“There is no response.”

Abruptly, Phyllida’s eyes turned toward the sky. The beating of wings had grown louder and it seemed as if the Somari must be almost upon them.

“Spock, we have to find a place to hide,” she whispered urgently.

Spock nodded. “That is, assuming such a place exists.”

They moved on, as quickly and silently as they could in the darkness, striving to keep the cover of the trees between themselves and the sky.

CHAPTER FOUR – FEVER AND STORM

It was nearly dawn when Spock finally found a suitable hiding place. Thick underbrush almost totally obscured the mouth of a small cave that opened under a large outcropping of rock. He motioned for Phyllida to follow him.

Inside the relative safety of the cave, Phyllida began to speak, but Spock gestured quickly for her to be silent. She stopped and strained to hear whatever his keen ears had detected, and eventually caught the distinct twittering of the Somari tongue and light footfalls on the hillside above them. Silently they waited for what seemed an eternity for their hunters to move on. When they were finally gone, Phyllida sank to the damp cave floor in exhaustion. Bruised and weary, every muscle in her body cried out for relief. She could feel that her back had begun to bleed again, and the pain that had earlier been pushed aside was now mounting. She looked toward Spock, who had settled wearily to the cave floor across from her. In the half-light she could get only a small idea of the extent of his injuries, but that was enough. His left cheek was ripped savagely and a steady trickle of bright green blood flowed from several deep gashes on his chest. She imagined his back was as bad. She closed her eyes and a soft groan escaped her lips as she leaned back against the cool wall of the cave. There was nothing they could do for themselves at the moment, she reasoned; only rest.

—————

Phyllida opened her eyes with a start. What had caused her to waken? Her eyes darted around her dim surroundings. There it was again – a noise near the entrance of the cave – a rustling sound. Her body tensed, prepared to fight. She stared at the entrance, her hand closing around a sharp stone.

Spock entered the cave quietly.

Phyllida let out the breath she was holding with a long hiss, dropping the rock. “What the hell are you doing, sneaking around like that? You almost got a rock in your skull!”

Spock, long accustomed to the emotional outbursts of humans, ignored Gaines’ remark and merely cocked an eyebrow. Phyllida then noticed that he had removed his shirt and the wounds on his face, chest and back were clean. They didn’t look quite so angry with the blood washed away. As he settled to the floor near her, her eyes took in the angular contour of his face and his well-defined chest and arms. Her breath caught involuntarily and she lowered her eyes; in the same instant she hoped he had not noticed her reaction. In his hands he carefully carried a blue bundle, the remnant of his ruined shirt, which he unwrapped to reveal a large gourd filled with water. He handed it to Phyllida, who nodded her thanks and drank gratefully. She gave it back to him and he set it on the floor, moistening a strip of his shirt in the remaining water.

“Remove your tunic.”

Phyllida looked at him in surprise.

Spock’s face, as usual, betrayed no emotion, and his tone was commanding. “Lieutenant Gaines, we must take care of those wounds. Remove your tunic.”

She nodded in assent and began trying to pull the tunic off, stopping suddenly with a gasp of pain. “Mister Spock – my back!” She turned to reveal her back to him. What had been a mass of raw flesh the night before was now crusted over, sealing the tunic to her body. As gently as possible, Spock patiently set to the task of applying water to her back to remove the dried blood. With plenty of water and not a little pain on Phyllida’s part, Spock was finally able to remove the bloodied tunic and cleanse her wounds. There would be scars, but there was no residual bleeding and hopefully infection would not set in.

“Now what, Mister Spock?” Phyllida said as they finished. She turned to face him. “I can’t just go around like this now, can I?” indicating her bare torso.

Spock, really looking at her now for the first time, took in her full round breasts, her flat abdomen, the gentle flare of her hips above her short red uniform pants and her long legs folded beneath her in torn black stockings and boots. He swallowed somewhat convulsively as something stirred within him that he quickly suppressed. “Certainly not,” he answered gruffly. He rose to his feet and thrust what was left of his shirt into her hands. “I suggest you try to combine this with yours to make some type of covering.” He turned and strode quickly to the mouth of the cave and disappeared outside.

Phyllida looked helplessly at the shreds of cloth in her hands, shrugged, and set to work.

Near the cave, Spock sat on a large boulder, watching the sky and listening. The sun was already high in the sky; it looked as though it was early afternoon. He pulled out his communicator and opened it with a practiced flip of the wrist. His familiar hail, as expected, elicited no response. Something was still interfering with the signal. He was reminded briefly of another time when, against all odds, an act of desperation had saved him and his crew. But this time it was different; the odds? Not even as good as before. The entire landing party lost, no weapons and no ship. However, there are always alternatives. If he could find the source of the interference, Spock reasoned, he could find a way to eliminate it or work around it to bring up communications. He would have to find it quickly; surely they had very little time before Captain Kirk would be forced to abandon search and move on to Outpost 7.

A short time later, Phyllida emerged from the cave wearing a scant makeshift garment of blue and red. “Well, what do you think?” she asked, modeling her creation.

Pragmatic as always, Spock nodded acknowledgement. “Functional.”

Phyllida looked at him in mock disappointment. “That’s all you have to say? This wasn’t easy to make, you know, with no needle and thread.”

“No doubt. However, it is fortunate that your skill as an engineer surpasses your apparent skill as a clothing designer.” His face was as somber as ever, but his dark eyes shown as Phyllida glared at him sullenly.

“Thanks. You really know how to encourage a person.”

She walked away from him, stretching sore muscles in the sunlight. As far as she could see trees and brush surrounded them, deep green and fragrant. Tiny insects with delicately colored wings flitted between exquisite flowers and nearby could be heard the sounds of a small stream. She moved though the trees in the direction of the sound. It was a pretty little stream, the water cool and clean, reflecting glints of sunlight through the trees overhead. This seems like such a peaceful world, she thought, yet there has been so much violence here. She knelt to the stream, drinking deeply of the pure water. As she was getting to her feet, Spock came up behind her, scanning the skies.

“They will be back. We must move on to a safer place if one can be found.”

“But Spock, don’t you think it will be safe here for a while? I mean, I think we could use the rest.”

“I agree; however, I do not believe that we have that much time. I am fully functional at this point; my wounds are not serious. But, if you require aid to go on…”

“Not necessary, Mister Spock. I can handle it if you can.” She looked at him, wondering why they said that Vulcans could not lie and trying to gauge again the extent of his injuries. Remembering his touch of the night before, she knew of his ability to sublimate pain, but wondered how long he could keep it up.

They walked in silence back to the cave where Spock had gathered gourds, which he had painstakingly hollowed with a piece of sharpened flint for use as water carriers. With a pang of guilt Phyllida realized how little Spock must have slept after they had reached this shelter. They filled the gourds from the stream, tying them over their shoulders with lengths of a rubbery vine that grew nearby. Then, Spock tucked the small flint knife into his boot and gave a similar one to Phyllida, which she tied around her thigh with another vine. Thus prepared, they set out, intent upon putting a good distance between themselves and the great stone mountain behind them. They walked for hours and were soon far enough away to see it rising above the trees like a huge tower, the unmistakable shapes of bird people silhouetted in the surrounding sky.

They stopped to rest only occasionally, though their bodies wearily protested, wanting to put even more distance between themselves and their would-be captors. They walked on, and near nightfall they suddenly emerged from the forest onto an expanse of open plain, desolate and lifeless. In the distance could be seen the jagged outlines of an immense mountain range rising high above the desert floor. Spock looked at the mountains and saw in them what might be their best chance for protection and shelter if they could cross the open expanse of desert undetected. It was also the direction in which his previous tricorder readings had indicated was the probable source of the electromagnetic interference that had plagued the party’s communications since they encountered the Somari. They would need to try to get to those mountains. He expressed all this to Phyllida.

“We’ll make camp here and get an early start in the morning.” Spock’s comment left no room for argument.

Phyllida looked at Spock. In the dimness of the gathering dusk, she could read only determination on his alien face. Internally, she questioned the wisdom of leaving the cover of the forest. What if they should be caught out there in the open? But, she also agreed that the mountains would probably be their best chance if they could get to them. “I guess it’s a chance we’ll have to take,” she said.

That night was spent in the relative protection of the forest edge. Although Somari could still be seen flying around their mountain in the distance, there were no signs of pursuit. Spock found this rather odd, but kept it to himself, not wanting to alarm Phyllida unnecessarily. He would have been surprised had he known that she shared the same thoughts.

Early in the morning they gathered what food they could find to help sustain them on their trip across the wasteland. Spock found, on taking inventory of their supplies, that they still had a good five gourds of water left for the journey. Hopefully enough, if they were conservative.

Phyllida finally put her misgivings into words. “I can’t imagine those bird people giving up so easily. Do you think they know where we are?” She shuddered at that thought.

“Most probably they know exactly where we are,” Spock replied. “Although, I cannot explain why they have not attempted to apprehend us as yet.”

Phyllida looked back uneasily toward the Somari’s mountain towering in the distance. “Let’s get out of here.”

The two set out across the desert with the morning sun at their backs. Aside from patches of scrub grass and an occasional succulent, there was nothing growing in the dry, sandy soil. Now and then small reptilian creatures would scurry across their path, but neither Spock nor Phyllida noted any other life forms. They traveled uneventfully until about midday, stopping to rest in a dry riverbed. Phyllida sagged wearily to the ground, rubbing her injured shoulder. Spock handed her their small pouch of food. “Here, eat. I’m going to take some readings.”

He walked some distance down the riverbed, scanning for any evidence of Somari or for the source of the electromagnetic interference that had been playing havoc with communications. Though the tricorders had been affected to some extent by the same interference, Spock continued to attempt their use in the hope that the interference would eventually abate. Unfortunately, the tricorder was still not working reliably; he could not even pinpoint an exact source for the electromagnetic interference. It just seemed to be all around them the closer they got to the mountains. He turned and started walking back toward where he had left Gaines.

Phyllida was exhausted and the heat was beginning to affect her. Taking a long drink of water from the gourd at her side, she felt her head reel suddenly. Easy now, she thought, not too much at once. The slight rise in body temperature she had felt most of the morning she had long since dismissed as due to the desert sun. I’ll feel much better after I’ve eaten something, she told herself. She looked down the riverbed after Spock and noticed that he was coming back toward her.

“Anything yet?” she called.

“Nothing.” His eyes turned toward the sky. “Perhaps they felt it sufficient to drive us from their territory. They may no longer consider us a valid threat.” He sat next to her and she handed him the food pouch.

“Let’s hope so, anyway.”

As they ate, Spock regarded Phyllida silently. Discovering his intent gaze, she smiled slightly, running her fingers through tangled, unwashed hair, painfully conscious of the marks on her battered face. “Not a very pretty sight, am I, Mister Spock?”

Spock’s eyes never wavered. “You are a very brave woman and one of the finest officers in the Fleet. I am honored by your presence, although I deeply regret the circumstances.”

Phyllida dropped her hand and met his gaze squarely, her soft blue eyes reflecting the depths of his. “Yes,” she said softly, “I believe you do. But Spock – it’s not your fault!”

He looked past her then, not willing to expose himself any further. Speaking as though to himself he replied, “My responsibility.”

————–

That night they hazarded a fire for the first time since the night before they had met the Somari, for in spite of the heat of the desert sun, the night had turned suddenly cold. The two rough-hewn flint knives Spock had made served well to give spark to the dry grass that was their only tinder, and the small flame was welcome, thought it provided only minimal warmth. Phyllida shivered and drew closer to the fire. She had been feeling so strangely today and could not really account for it. Taking a deep breath, she shook her head, trying to dispel the dizziness and feeling of disorientation. I’m so tired, she thought foggily. I’ll be fine once I rest. Curling up next to the tiny fire, she fell into a restless sleep.

Spock sat on the other side of the fire and watched Phyllida intently. He feared her injuries were not healing properly. If only they had Dr. Wilson’s medical kit now. However, they didn’t and it was useless thinking about it. Evaluating his own condition, he found himself to be doing surprisingly well. The gash on his cheek had closed and was beginning to heal and even the wounds on his back and chest were only very slightly infected; surprising, since he had not had the opportunity to allow his body the time needed to heal itself effectively. Rest he must and soon, but he knew that Gaines, even more than he, could not go on indefinitely. He thought back to their earlier conversation. She had said that none of this was his fault; but if not his, whose? He had been responsible for the lives of his landing party and had failed. Phyllida stirred in her sleep, moaning softly. Watching over her in the light of the waning fire, Spock felt an increasing sense of responsibility bordering on urgency to keep her alive and well. The last of my crew, he rationalized silently, but he knew that it was more than that, and even the strongly protesting Vulcan in him could not completely dispel it.

Phyllida was still sleeping when Spock awoke. She looked peaceful in the pre-dawn twilight. Stretching warmth back into stiff muscles, he rose and made preparation for the day’s trek, intending to let her sleep a while longer. His attempt to reach the Enterprise, a daily activity since leaving the cave, bore the same negative result as on the previous occasions. He knew that the ship might have already left and may never return in the near future, but he was not ready to give up quite yet.

When Phyllida finally awoke it was with some disorientation; she felt as though she was not quite in her body. Spock was leaning over her, his face a picture of concern. Odd, she thought, for a Vulcan.

To Spock, Lieutenant Gaines’ face had the flushed look of fever. He had seen it few other times, but often enough to know that in humans it usually was accompanied by a significant infection. This was a turn of events that concerned him greatly. Without medication Phyllida would have to rely on her own reserves, and at the moment, these were understandably low. The odds were getting worse.

Phyllida sat up and her head reeled with the movement. What is wrong with me, she thought. Why is it so terribly hot this early in the morning? Aloud, she said, “Why are you looking at me like that, Mister Spock?”

He did not answer her question, but instead asked, “How do you feel?”

She hesitated a moment. “I’m…not quite sure…a little strange, but it’ll pass.” An unruly strand of hair fell across her eyes and she brushed it back with a shaking hand. “I’m fine.” Then, as if to prove it, she stood on wobbly legs, only to collapse almost immediately. Spock reflexively caught her and lowered her gently to the ground.

“You are not fine,” he admonished. “In fact, you are extremely ill.” He put a water gourd to her lips, making her drink. “How long have you had the fever?”

Phyllida shrugged. “Since yesterday morning maybe. I don’t know.” Her shoulders sagged and for a moment she thought how much simpler it would have been to have just let the Somari kill her. She would probably die now anyway. Behind closed eyes she allowed the pain of the last two days to sweep over her like a wave. The sensation was not entirely unpleasant, almost welcome in fact. It simply did not matter anymore.

“…along that ridge there,” Spock was saying.

He sounded so far away. She slowly opened her eyes to overwhelming sunlight.

“We should be able to reach it within a day. There we will have a better chance for survival until rescue arrives.” He seemed to be indicating the mountains to the west.

Phyllida shook her head. She doubted that she could continue in her present state for any length of time. Spock helped her take another drink of water from the gourd. The sun was getting higher and they needed to be moving. “Spock, if you’ll help me stand, I think I can manage. For a while, anyway.”

He eyed her somewhat doubtfully but without a word he helped her to her feet. The coarse sand seemed at first to give way under Phyllida’s boots, and she leaned heavily on the Vulcan’s strength. But then, with the determined discipline of a Starfleet officer, she steadied and drew herself up to face Spock, meeting his dark eyes with her own. She turned and with Spock at her side, set out toward the western mountains across the desert expanse.

The pair trudged on throughout the day, the forest behind them eventually fading to no more than a green strip on the eastern horizon, although their progress was slower than before. The sun rose in its swiftly mounting arc, desert sands reflecting its heat with an ever-increasing intensity. Phyllida, in her illness, was becoming more and more unsure of her footing, and suddenly stumbled. Spock’s arm was instantly around her waist, breaking her fall and helping her back to her feet. He noticed that she felt hot, even to his touch. She looked at him through fevered eyes and the urgent need for rest cried out from every part of her body. He walked with her then, half carrying her limp form. They pressed onward, tenacious Vulcan strength sustaining not only one, but two through the hostile desert.

Throughout the afternoon black thunderheads roiled on the horizon, building, spreading across the sky with an uncanny, almost demoniacal, intensity. Dust whipped up around the two in small whirlwinds and in the distance they heard the low rumble of thunder answering the mounting storm. Suddenly and relentlessly, the wind increased, driving Spock and Phyllida on through billowing dust that made the sand under their boots writhe and moil fitfully as though it were alive. They struggled to continue through dust that choked every breath, filled hair and eyes. Through the cloud of her fever, Phyllida felt the effort was wasted. She wanted nothing more than to just lie down and die, but some primitive instinct would not allow that luxury. It forced her to put one leaden foot before the other until finally, even her survival drive weakened and she slipped from Spock’s grasp to fall roughly to the ground. He went down after her, protecting her with his own body from the thick stinging clouds of dust.

Then, with sudden violent force, the storm broke. Rain, torrential and savage, lashed at them with cold sheets of water that eroded the ground beneath them. Through muted senses, Phyllida felt the escalating fury of the storm past the weight of Spock’s body. Water welled up around her, muddy and vile, forcing its way into her mouth and nostrils, threatening to choke her. The ground shook convulsively, rumbling in protest of the violence being forced upon it, bringing with it a welcome blackness, devoid of all sensation, into which Phyllida gratefully sank.

As the storm raged around them, Spock gradually became aware of another sound — a dull roar over the sounds of the storm. Still holding Phyllida, he raised himself from the mud, striving to see the source of the growing sound. Sheets of rain whipped about him, and for long minutes Spock strained to see as the roar escalated deafeningly. What he finally saw carried with it such raw force and power that were he fully human he might have panicked. A wall of water, at least 10 feet high, was surging toward them with bone-crushing speed. Spock set himself to meet it, clasping Phyllida tightly to himself. Then, with a gut-wrenching shock, the water was all around them; roaring, sweeping water that had a life of its own, rolling over them with amazing intensity. Spock tried desperately to keep his hold on Phyllida as the flood fought with him to claim her. The forceful current carried them under water for endless seconds to finally sweep them clear of the surface and into the rain-soaked air. Spock, still clinging to Phyllida, drew a long breath and pulled Phyllida’s head above the surface, keeping her there while they floated down the watercourse. It was still raining, although not with the ferocity of the few minutes preceding the flood, and it occurred to Spock that the Somari, being familiar with the weather patterns of this planet, must have known that he and Gaines would be caught in this storm. They had been run into a deliberate trap.

Long minutes passed before the swift currents finally deposited them on a large sandbar near the foothills of the western mountain range. The sun had set some time before and the sky was beginning to clear, showing a scattering of stars through rifts in the thinning clouds. The wind also had died down and all was still. Exhausted, Spock dragged Phyllida’s limp body up onto the sandbar next to him and collapsed.
CHAPTER FIVE – RESCUE

“Kaminski to Enterprise, come in Enterprise. How do you read?”

“You’re coming across just fine, Lieutenant. Stand by.” Lieutenant Uhura swiveled toward the center seat. “Captain, receiving transmission from Lieutenant Kaminski aboard the shuttlecraft.”

“On audio, Lieutenant.”

“Aye, Sir.”

“Kaminski here, Captain. We are proceeding on the designated heading, presently about 20 kilometers southwest of the colony site and approaching a large body of water.”

“Any life signs or unusual findings?”

“Negative, Captain. All’s quiet here. So far all we’ve picked up on our scanners is local electromagnetic interference, but Collins is recalibrating now to white out the disturbance. If they’re here, sir, we’ll find ‘em.”

Kirk stroked his chin thoughtfully, all too aware of the time factor, and thought of the 4 men aboard the shuttlecraft. “Very well. Keep us posted, Lieutenant. And, proceed with caution. I want no more casualties.”

“Understood, Sir. Kaminski out.”

The shuttlecraft glided gracefully through the deep blue sky of planet M64, skimming across tops of trees toward the miles long lake.

“Scanning for life signs now, sir.” Ensign Collins was a very promising junior science officer. Kaminski knew he could count on him for accuracy. “I’m picking up diffuse life signs all around us. There seem to also be some faint signals some 10-15 kilometers to the north.” He paused. “I can’t be sure. The surrounding life signs are very strong.” As he finished speaking, the shuttlecraft pitched violently to port, sending the crew flying. Kaminski clung to the controls, checking the instrument panel frantically.

“What is it, Joe?” one of the men cried out.

“I don’t know.” The young lieutenant was puzzled. This shouldn’t be happening. His heavy brows knotted together under a shock of thick red hair. “We seem to have hit some type of turbulence.”

The small ship bucked again, this time from the other side, even more wildly than before. Lieutenant Kaminski tried desperately to maintain control of the craft.

“Sir! What’s that?” Ensign Collins pointed toward the forward view screen. Bearing directly ahead were five large bird-like creatures.

“What the …” Joe Kaminski never had time to finish whatever comment he was about to make, for just at that moment the shuttlecraft was bounded on all sides by at least 50 of the creatures. Out of control, the tiny craft plummeted to the forest floor, crashing with a large explosion.

As was intended, there were no survivors.

——————-

The Kamnke listened approvingly to the report.

“The two that were here have perished in the sommgraven, my lord, and others that followed in a flying machine have been destroyed this day.”

It was good. The Kamnke nodded. They had finally won. The Ancient Ones and their evil ways would never again corrupt the land. Others may try to follow, but always at the same cost – death. The Kamnke settled back and trilled softly in satisfaction. His people were safe once more.

——————-

A column of thick black smoke rose far to the south of a small sandbar on which two bodies lay unmoving in the early morning light.
CHAPTER SIX – DELIRIUM

Consciousness returned slowly to Spock. Gradually regaining his senses, somewhere in the distance an explosion (thunder?) was heard. He felt the roughness of the sand beneath his cheek, the warmth of sunlight on his naked back. Opening his eyes, he raised his head, rolled from his prone position onto his side, and reached for Phyllida, who lay face down near him. He touched her throat, feeling for a pulse. She didn’t stir. Her pulse was faint, but steady, and she was breathing quietly, though still unconscious. Spock sat up and looked at his surroundings. He noted uncomfortably that both communicators and tricorders had been lost. They had nothing now but whatever clothing remained to them; Spock, his uniform pants and boots, and Gaines, her boots, short pants, and one remaining length of cloth tied around her chest, that covered her breasts. Below them, where the desert floor had been yesterday, was a lake, filled with the water from the flood in which he and Phyllida had been caught. Above them rose the foothills of the mountains, which had been their goal. A short distance away a trail snaked up and over the hillside, perhaps to the mountain.

Spock turned his attention back to Lieutenant Gaines. Her back was very angrily inflamed, and she still seemed feverish. He sat on his heels next to her and rolled her gently to her back, pulling her head and shoulders onto his knees. “Lieutenant,” he said softly, stroking the hair back from her face. She did not move. “Phyllida,” this time his voice was more insistent. Still, she did not stir. Spock gathered her into his arms and, getting to his feet, struck out for the mountain trail.

————-

Sometime during the morning it began to rain — a slow, steady drizzle falling from a cold, gray sky. Spock hefted Phyllida, still unconscious, over a small outcropping of rock and into a protective hollow in the side of the mountain. A good part of the morning had seen him make his way with her from the sandbar to this place among the foothills. Here it should be possible to build a fire and rest for a day, perhaps two. Spock looked down on Phyllida’s restless, shivering form and her flushed face. Rest and warmth were probably the most essential things to the girl’s survival at the moment. He pulled her as far back into the hollow as he could, away from the cold drizzling rain at the mouth of the cave. She needed a fire. Satisfied that she would be safe for the time being, he left her there and went to forage for firewood amongst the sparse vegetation.

Below them, he could see the miles-long body of water that had been a desert only the day before, and at its immediate edge the sandbar on which they had washed up. Above where Phyllida slept in the alcove, loomed a mountain of bare stone, the peak of which was lost in a thick shrouding mist. Waterfalls spouted here and there from its rocky face. About half a mile to the north, one noticeably larger waterfall rumbled down the sheer face of a cliff, its origins lost in the mist that swirled about the mountain. At the base of the cliff was a small stand of trees. Spock made his way over the rocky, shale-covered slope toward the trees. He soon came to the edge of the grove and found a few twigs and small branches scattered on the ground, and he picked up as much as he could carry. As he prepared to return to Phyllida, he noticed what appeared to be a path cut out of solid rock, which led around the side of the mountain directly toward the large waterfall, disappearing into the mist and spray behind it. While he considered the possible significance of this strange path, Phyllida’s panicked scream reached him over the waterfall’s roar.

Spock ran. By the time he made his way back to her, Phyllida was thrashing wildly about the small enclosure, her eyes bright with hysteria and her lithe body glistening with sweat. He dropped his bundle of twigs and brought himself quickly to her side, wrapping his arms around her to hold her under control. She struggled against him, beat on his chest, screamed. Across the touch, the force of her emotions was almost overwhelming. Spock shuddered from the psionic power the girl was generating in her delirious state. Scenes from her life, of Phyllida’s family and friends; emotions, anger… bitterness… hatred… love… rebellion… joy… fear; all flowed unbidden into Spock’s mind. Still he held her, shielding his mind from the onslaught of Phyllida’s personal torment, until the fury was over and she relaxed in his arms, her head resting on his chest. The fever had broken. Perhaps now she would recover.

Spock lowered her gently to the damp stone floor and sat back on his heels, clearing his mind of the remnants of the link inadvertently produced between them. Even through the cold veneer of logic that began to settle over him, Spock could feel the raw emotions of Phyllida’s subconscious mind. His eyes closed and a long sigh escaped his lips as he relaxed more deeply, concentrating on every fiber of his body. Body, mind, soul, coming together as one; a triad at its apex, no longer three separate entities, but one. His breathing was shallow, relaxed. The universe flowed around him, through him, became part of him. The wild emotions, with nothing to feed on, retreated, leaving in their place the logic his Vulcan mind so diligently sought.

Slowly opening his eyes, Spock regarded Lieutenant Gaines, now sleeping peacefully. He permitted himself a moment to wonder about the details of her background out of speculative curiosity, then easily dismissed the thought as though it had not existed, and set to building a fire.

—————-

“Captain’s log, stardate 4266.3:  Still no contact with Mister Spock or his party and we are running out of time. Shortly after the specially equipped Galileo II was launched and was nearing the site of the disappearances, contact with it, too was lost. An explosion was detected on the planet’s surface, which could have been the shuttlecraft, but what could have caused such a crash is at this time unknown. The whole mystery seems to be escalating, with no answers; only more and more questions. Starfleet Command has denied my request for an extension to continue the investigation, and with only two hours left to us, I see very little we can do or hope for short of a miracle.” The captain of the Federation Starship Enterprise shut off the recorder and sat in the darkness of his quarters, mentally reviewing his rapidly dwindling options. There had to be something he hadn’t yet tried – after all, he didn’t believe in the “no-win” scenario.

—————-

Phyllida Gaines awoke with a pounding headache. She rolled over with a groan and sat up slowly, holding her head. Spock turned from the entrance of the cave and offered a hand to steady her.

“Whoa! How long have I been out?” She flexed her arms and hands, coaxing life back into stiff joints and muscles. “I feel like I’ve been put through the proverbial ringer.”

“Approximately 14.3 hours,” Spock replied evenly, still holding her arm.

Phyllida took in the strange surroundings. “Where are we anyway? The last thing I remember is getting caught in some whopper of a storm.” She brushed her hair back off her forehead with her free hand.

With a vaguely uncomfortable look, Spock released her arm and moved to the entrance of their shelter in one long stride. As he stood gazing out over the lake, he recounted to Phyllida the events that had occurred since the onset of the storm and his discovery of the trail that led under the waterfall. He tactfully failed to make any mention of her recent delirium. “It seems your fever has subsided and you will soon be ready for travel again,” Spock observed. “I suggest we spend another night or two here and then follow the trail. Perhaps we may find a suitable location to set up a more permanent camp until the Enterprise returns to continue search.”

Phyllida thought about this. She knew that Enterprise was under a deadline to reach Outpost 7, and that any search for the landing party had probably long since been abandoned. “How do you know they will return?”

Spock turned and looked into her wide blue eyes. How could he explain the actions of someone he knew almost as well as himself? Could she understand the reasoning behind his belief that Enterprise would return? He was not quite sure he himself understood it. Hope was illogical. “I know my captain,” he said, and without looking back, walked down the slope into the lengthening shadows of the afternoon.

Phyllida gazed after him, wanting to follow, but realizing his need to be alone. With a sigh, she added more fuel to their little fire. Settling her weary body onto the hard stone floor next to the fire, she soon drifted into a restful slumber.

CHAPTER SEVEN – STRANDED

The small desktop view screen was dark, as it had been for the past half hour. Kirk’s fingers drummed idly on the transparent surface of the table, the only outward sign of the intense frustration he was feeling. Behind him the door hissed open and without turning he knew who it was.

“No luck, huh?”

Kirk continued to stare at the view screen. “Damn bureaucracy, Bones! Damn regulations! Damn Starfleet!” he paused, his voice lowering to just above a whisper. “You know, I’m beginning to agree with you – we don’t belong out here in the first place.”

McCoy sat down and poured two glasses of brandy from the decanter at the table. “Do you realize what Spock would say if he heard you talk like that?” He offered a glass to Kirk, who accepted absently. “Jim, you’ve done all you can do. You can’t buck Starfleet forever, and if they bust you, it’ll be damn near impossible for you to get a ship to come back to look for him.”

Kirk silently regarded the amber liquid swirling in his glass as though in its depths he would find the answers he so desperately wanted. Again, his mind rehashed the old data, and again he came up with the same conclusion. It was all wrong. Something was tremendously wrong about this whole mess. If only there was some way of knowing what had happened to Spock and the shuttle crew he had sent, if only he had more time. Abandon search. Kirk hated the sound of that phrase. Yet, Command had made it perfectly clear. Abandon search and proceed to Outpost 7. Turn his back on a friend who had saved his life more times than he cared to count.

“Impossible.” Kirk set his drink on the table untouched. “I’m not giving up on him.”

“But Jim, you can’t just…”

“Take it easy, Bones. I don’t intend to disobey orders, either.”

“Then what exactly ARE you planning?”

“Just what you said.”

“What I said?”

“Coming back to look for him. That’s the key. We’ll go ahead to Outpost 7 as ordered, but nothing in our orders says anything about how long we have to stay there. We’ll stay just long enough to make sure everything there is under control and return immediately to resume search.”

McCoy slowly lowered his drink to the table and paused thoughtfully. “Jim, do you really believe that Spock is still alive down there?”

“I’d stake my life on it.”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The trail was ancient, worn from many years of weather and use, and in the morning sunlight, fine spray from the immense waterfall glinted and flashed like tiny prisms, here and there flashing rainbows.

After two days of rest, Phyllida felt nearly recovered again under the warmth of the sun, although she was grateful that the path was not steep. As they drew near the fall, its spray rose around them in a fine, cool mist, exhilarating to the senses. Phyllida smiled to herself. It was the best she had felt in days. Moving ahead, Spock disappeared behind the sparkling sheet of water and Phyllida followed, gasping slightly at its abrupt coldness. Behind the roaring cascade was a natural alcove with a small opening in the mountain almost central to the waterfall. Except for the cave, the resemblance to the waterfall on Mevinna was striking.

“Remind you of anyplace?” Phyllida winked a mischievous eye at Spock, who chose not to answer. Instead, he moved on past the cave entrance to go through to the other side of the fall. Puzzled, Phyllida followed.

When she emerged from beneath the water, she found that they were standing at the base of yet another trail, hewn directly into the face of the stony mountain in such a way that it was not visible from below. On the outward side of the path the wall was easily 6-7 feet high, thoroughly insuring that one could pass this way unobserved. Above them the steep path faded into the heavy mist that seemed to be almost a permanent part of the mountains.

Spock led the way up the slope, stopping occasionally for Phyllida to rest. By midday the mist had cleared somewhat to reveal a pass cut into the summit of the mountain above which a huge promontory jutted upward with craggy determination, reflecting the violence that had borne it ages past. Phyllida scrambled after Spock up the steep, shale-covered path and found herself wondering fleetingly as to the makers of this road and what had become of them.

It was about mid-afternoon when Gaines pulled herself up to the crest of the pass where Spock already stood. She brought herself unsteadily to her feet. Clinging to a large boulder, she looked out over the summit. Before them lay an immense valley, ringed about by a snow-covered mountain range, looking as if it had been scooped out of the mountains with a giant hand and then carefully planted with the lush verdant growth that populated it. Thick and tightly interwoven treetops gave the impression of a thick green carpet, beneath which a sparkling river wound its way to a large lake that shimmered in the distance, half hidden by intervening trees.

Phyllida gasped in amazement. “It’s beautiful!”

Spock turned to look at her. Her face was flushed from the effort of their climb and the afternoon sun shone brilliantly on her golden hair. “Indeed.” He allowed his gaze to linger momentarily on this lovely, courageous woman beside him. His old familiar internal conflict threatened to surface for a brief instant, but was just as quickly suppressed. Phyllida, caught up in the beauty of the immense valley spread before them, did not notice.

Minutes later, the pair began their descent, and by early evening they had reached the valley floor. Birds flitted anxiously in the uppermost boughs of the trees, not quite sure of the strange creatures who traversed the cool twilight of the forest floor below. Tiny yellow flowers dotted the plush green carpet of moss that cushioned their every step, and underbrush was almost nonexistent; as though this had once been a carefully tended, albeit large, garden. Along the way, the travelers collected berries and nuts for food, noting other animals were eating them, and they should be safe enough to eat. After a time they came upon a small glade that was scattered with more of the flowers and sweet-smelling moss, and they made this their campsite in the lengthening shadows of evening. There was no need for a fire; the air in the valley was surprisingly warm, and the light from two moons filtered softly through the trees. They spent the evening in relative silence, Spock almost uncharacteristically taciturn, and Phyllida too weary to do much more than go to sleep.

By the next afternoon, Spock and Phyllida had uneventfully traveled the distance to the mountain lake. The way was easy, with very little undergrowth, and Phyllida remarked to Spock about the quiet peacefulness of the valley and how it bore so little resemblance to the other parts of the planet they had been exposed to. Unimpressed, Spock pointed out that many worlds had numerous varieties of climate and terrain.

“But a warm, semi-tropical forest in the plateau of a snow-covered mountain range?” she asked, pursuing her point.

To this, Spock’s only response was a raised eyebrow and “Yes, fascinating,” which seemed to indicate to her that the subject was still under consideration. Phyllida shrugged and they walked on in silence along the shore of the immense lake.

She was painfully aware, as she had been for the last two days, that Spock was more closed to her now than ever, and she wondered at the cause for the change. Of the two days she had been feverish she could remember nothing except bits of dream-like recollections; rain and cold, her father’s accusing glare, emotions; fear, hate, rebellion, love, sadness; the darkness, and finally awakening in the cave. The more she considered it, the more certain Phyllida was that her illness had somehow precipitated Spock’s present attitude toward her. At any rate, she resolved to find out.

Sunset approached. The snow-capped peaks seemed to ring the valley with fire, reflecting deepening hues of orange, pink, and red. Dusk darkened the forest around them while Spock and Phyllida made camp in a large clearing that opened toward the lake. With the sunset, a stillness fell over the forest and the water of the lake was black, swallowing the barest light of the first evening stars.

After a shared meal of nuts, berries and roots, Phyllida scanned Spock’s face in the flickering light of their small fire. As usual, his expression disclosed no hint of the thoughts behind it.

“Spock…” she ventured.

He turned toward her, his dispassionate brown eyes dark in the shadows thrown by the fire. “Lieutenant Gaines.” He stressed her rank.

Phyllida cleared her throat and averted her eyes from his gaze, feeling vaguely uncomfortable and not knowing why. Clearly, whatever fragile rapport she had had with Spock had dissipated with her illness for some reason as yet unknown to her. She squared her shoulders and some measure of formality returned to her voice. “I was just wondering if they…” she looked toward the blackened sky and its myriad of stars, “If we’ll ever see them again.” Her voice was engulfed by the surrounding darkness.

Spock followed her gaze to the stars, realizing as he did so that all speculation regarding rescue had been dismissed from his mind in the face of the logistics of immediate survival. “Hope is illogical.” He felt Phyllida fix her gaze upon him and he continued, meeting her eyes and holding them with his own. “To be sure, Captain Kirk would have used every means at his disposal to locate and rescue us, but it is unreasonable to assume that Starfleet Command would have allowed him more than 72 hours to complete that task in view of his previous orders. More than likely we are presumed dead.” Spock paused and the full impact of what he had said registered in Phyllida’s upturned face. Her expression, in the firelight, was nearly unreadable, but Spock could not mistake the dismay that was reflected in her next statement.

“So, what you’re saying is,” she hesitated, “we’re marooned here.”

“In essence, yes.”

Phyllida rose in one fluid movement and took a step or two away to face the dark waters of the lake. “In essence…” she shivered, though it was not cold. “In essence, we are going to spend the rest of our lives here. Is that what you are saying? And just two days ago you were sure they would come back for us! I can see now that a lot has changed in the last two days – I don’t know you at all!” The anger in her voice was unmistakable, though Spock could not entirely understand what she was angry about.

“Lieutenant, I see no need…”

“That does it!” She whirled to face him, the now rising moons casting conflicting shadows across her face. “We are NOT aboard the Enterprise anymore, and if what you have said is true, we’re not likely to be again. Rank means nothing here – don’t you understand?” Tears of frustration stung her eyes and she blinked them back. “Of all people to be stranded with for the rest of my life…!” She turned and stalked angrily toward the lakeshore.

Spock stood in the glow of the tiny fire and watched Phyllida’s form retreat into the shadows to stand silhouetted against the moonlight playing on the water. Part of him longed to go after her, to hold her, to give her the words of hope she wanted to hear, but he could not. He turned his eyes once more to the stars. Thoughts of unfulfilled responsibility rehearsed yet again behind dispassionate eyes and a cry of mental anguish welled deep within him, shaking the very foundations of his Vulcan soul. Jim! Hear me! We live!

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

“Three light scouting vessels have disappeared from this sector in the past month alone! This is totally unprecedented!” The harried visage of Outpost 7 Commander Owen Barker filled the main view screen. Kirk shifted in the command chair.

“What makes you believe the Romulans are involved?”

Barker sighed in exasperation. “I know, Jim, it’s all circumstantial. But don’t you see?” He leaned forward urgently, as though he could make Kirk accept his position with that movement alone. “Everything points to them. We really have nothing else to go on!”

Kirk tapped the arm of the command chair while considering these developments. This whole thing was going to take much longer than he anticipated. But the Romulans? It was just not adding up – something was missing. He wished Spock were here – not for the first or last time. But Barker was speaking again.

“A meeting has been scheduled at 1900 to decide on a course of action. The coordinates are being fed to your computer.” He paused. “If there are no further questions, Captain, I’ll see you then. Barker out.” Before Kirk could answer, the screen went blank. Kirk stroked his chin thoughtfully. He didn’t like mysteries, but the meeting was only a couple of hours away and he had a mystery whether he liked it or not. He rose from the center seat.

“Mister Sulu, I’ll be in my quarters if I’m needed. You have the conn.”

Sulu acknowledged his order with a sharp nod and Kirk took a step up toward the turbolift. Suddenly, the whole bridge began to reel around him. He tried another faltering step and grasped futilely for the bridge railing. Incoherent cries from the crew were barely audible past the other presence. Spock! He pitched headlong to the floor and blackness engulfed him.
CHAPTER EIGHT – HOPE

“Spock!” Kirk struggled against the layers of blackness clouding his mind. He sat up abruptly and strong hands were on his shoulders, forcing him back onto the diagnostic bed. “Spock!” he whispered.

“Jim!” McCoy’s voice reached him through the fog. “Jim. Spock isn’t here. It’s me, Bones.”

Kirk opened his eyes. “Bones…” he breathed. “Spock…is alive! I’ve got to get to Spock!” He saw McCoy beckon to someone and Nurse Chapel stepped near the bed with a hypo in her hand. Kirk relaxed against the bed and attempted to bring himself under control. “No Bones. No. You won’t need that.” He tried a wan smile. “I’m fine. I’ll explain everything. If I can.”

The doctor searched his eyes for a moment and then dismissed Chapel. Slowly he took his hands away from the captain’s shoulders, as if he expected him to bolt at any moment. “Well then, explain.” McCoy crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Explain how you’ve put yourself under such strain since Spock’s disappearance that you simply broke under the pressure and passed out on the bridge.” Kirk opened his mouth to speak, but McCoy continued. “You’ve hardly slept or eaten in days,” he chided. “I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.”

Kirk swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up, instantly regretting it. His head felt as though it was going to explode and a moment of dizziness gripped him. He hoped that the irate doctor had not noticed the slight wince. If he did notice, he gave no indication, but continued to glare at his captain and friend through sharp blue eyes. Kirk met his glare squarely. “You know me better than that, Bones. I’ve been under pressure before. I don’t crumble that easily.” McCoy began to form an answer, but the captain stopped him with a raised hand. “No. I’m telling you that’s not what happened on the bridge.” He paused. Seeing that he still held the doctor’s attention, he went on, hoping that his friend wouldn’t think that he had gone completely mad. “Bones, what do you know about Vulcan telepathy?”

McCoy was taken aback by the question. “Jim, what’s this got to do…”

“Just answer the question, doctor.”

“Vulcan telepathy.”

“Yes.”

McCoy turned slightly and shook his head. “I don’t know a lot about it, only what you probably already know — that the Vulcans are generally touch telepaths who usually must be in physical contact with another being in order to communicate telepathically.” McCoy looked at Kirk quizzically. “What’s this got to do with anything?”

Kirk dropped to the floor and paced the room, ignoring the pounding in his head. He appeared not to have heard the doctor’s question. “But what about the exceptions?” he said.

“The exceptions?”

“The exceptions, Bones. You said ‘generally’ and ‘usually.’ Are there times when a Vulcan can communicate telepathically at great distances?”

Light dawned on McCoy’s face. He thought he saw what the captain was getting at and he wasn’t sure that he liked it. As a physician, he had learned years ago how deceiving false hope could be. “Jim, I’ve never heard of any instance…”

Kirk whirled and caught McCoy by the shoulders, shaking him to punctuate his frustrated words. “It IS possible!?” Desperate hazel eyes sought compassionate blue ones. If McCoy didn’t believe him, he was lost. Maybe he WAS going insane.

The doctor’s face reflected a mixture of worry, pity and outrage at the behavior of his captain, and he feared Kirk was definitely having a breakdown. He unobtrusively reached for the hypo spray on the table behind him, hoping he would not have to use it. “Jim! Listen to yourself!”

Kirk turned his back on his friend and hugged his arms to his chest. In a voice barely audible he said, “I heard him.”

McCoy took an incredulous step forward. “What?”

“Spock… I heard Spock.”

Gently, Bones McCoy’s hand was on Jim Kirk’s shoulder, leading him back toward the bed. Kirk shrugged it off. “No, Bones. I know what I heard.” His voice was suddenly rock steady, his eyes lucid, and McCoy could see in his face something that dared anyone to challenge him. He knew that look.

“I believe you, Jim.” He shook his head. “Don’t ask me why, but I do. So now what?”

“I wish I knew, Bones. I wish I knew.”

—————

The meeting was every bit as dry and drawn out as Kirk had expected it to be. He glanced once more around the table at the faces of those gathered, some familiar but most not. The men and women in attendance were officials with various interests in the so-called “Romulan Crisis.” On this count, Kirk still had heard nothing to convince him that the Romulans were behind the disappearances of ships in this sector, although much circumstantial evidence had been presented. The general consensus seemed to be, in Commander Barker’s words, to “blast the filthy scum out of the galaxy.” Kirk found himself again wishing Spock were there. He missed the cool logical way in which his Vulcan first officer so often presented an appropriate course of action.

“Jim?”

“I have no reasonable answers, Owen.” Kirk responded. “And, I would like to again ask the question that no one seems to want to consider – Why? What possible motive could the Romulans have to be destroying our ships? I don’t believe they would risk such a serious infraction against the Federation simply because they don’t like us. That’s just not…” he paused on the word, “logical.” He looked around the faces at the table. “Remember – the Romulans, though warlike, are a logical race. They don’t do anything without reason.”

Barker shifted somewhat nervously in his seat, and cleared his throat. “Be that as it may, no one else we know of could possibly be under suspicion, and what little evidence we have all points to them as being behind the disappearances of ships near this outpost.

“By the way,” he continued, “Where is your Vulcan first officer? What does he have to say about all this?”

Kirk winced. That, he thought, is a good question.

—————–

The hours since daybreak had passed slowly, and the walk around the lake had turned up nothing new. By midday, Phyllida and Spock were still only about halfway around the lake by Spock’s estimate; an estimate that Phyllida knew better than to question. Stopping abruptly, she dropped heavily onto a large boulder overlooking the water.

“Spock?”

He turned and strode back to where she sat. “Lieutenant?”

“Why are we doing this?”

“Specify.”

She rolled her eyes in exasperation. He has the personality of a computer, she thought. “Trudging through the wilderness like this. We might as well stay here as anywhere else on this forsaken planet.”

“That is true,” he conceded. “However, before our tricorders were lost, I detected what might be the source of the electromagnetic interference we encountered coming from the direction of the mountain range that surrounds this valley. Also, I confess I have a certain curiosity concerning the beings who constructed the trail leading over the mountains. Perhaps if we continue to follow the lake we will learn more about the source of the EM disturbance and the beings themselves.”

Phyllida looked up at the clear blue sky and shook her head. “After our dealings with the Somari I’m not quite sure I want to know any more about them.”

“The possibility, Lieutenant, that these beings are of the same race as the Somari is very remote. Indeed, what use would the Somari have for trails? Would they not simply fly over the mountain and into the valley?”

Phyllida nodded. “Don’t you think I haven’t thought of all that? Even if this is a different race – what makes you so sure they’re friendly?”

Spock raised an eyebrow at her comment. In his estimation her reasoning was illogical. “Ms. Gaines, as you have so emphatically pointed out, rank holds no sway over us if we are indefinitely stranded, so I will not order you to come along with me. If you would feel safer, please, by all means remain here. I, however, will not allow you to deter me from furthering my knowledge of a race of beings heretofore unknown.” His voice held no rancor, no reproach, but his eyes were resolute. “It is up to you.”

Phyllida stared at the Vulcan’s back as he strode purposefully down the path. Sighing disgustedly, she shrugged herself off the boulder and followed.

The new pace Spock had set was almost too much for Phyllida. More than once she stumbled over tree roots or stones in the path in her effort to keep up with his long strides and superior stamina. After walking for miles without rest her feet and legs felt like lead, but she was determined to keep Spock in sight. Midday soon gave way to afternoon, and evening was fast approaching. Phyllida’s breath now came in ragged bursts and fatigue began to overwhelm her until finally she simply sat down in the middle of the trail.

In the deepening dusk she could barely see Spock’s form several meters ahead, but she could tell that he had not noticed that she had stopped. Phyllida sat on her heels in the dirt of the trail and struggled to catch her breath as a wave of dizziness and nausea rolled over her. She closed her eyes and pushed it roughly aside. “Damn Vulcan,” she muttered. Taking a deep breath, she pushed herself awkwardly to her feet.

“Lieutenant Gaines!” Spock’s voice drifted back to her through the darkness.

She strained, but she could see nothing of him other than a vague shadow looming in the distance. She blinked her eyes to try and clear them, but the darkness was too complete.

“Gaines!” She heard him call again.

She cleared her throat. “Spock?” and began walking toward the sound of his voice. The shadow grew nearer until at last Phyllida could see that it was the Vulcan and that he was walking swiftly toward her. He reached out and caught her as she stumbled again. Silently cursing her own clumsiness, she leaned wearily into him, grateful for the support he offered.

“Gaines,” there was an uncharacteristic hint of excitement in his voice. “There is a city ahead.”

Phyllida followed the line of his extended arm but could see nothing in the blackness beyond. “I can’t see anything,” she panted.

“Come.”

He maintained his hold on her arm and led her forward along the path. At the crest of a small rise, the lieutenant looked out over the lake. Through the trees she could see that one of the moons was just rising, and in its muted light, perhaps 100 meters from where they stood, were the ruins of an ancient city.

The city looked as if it had fallen into decay ages ago, but several buildings still seemed to be intact. Phyllida caught her breath in awe. From the center of the city a great obelisk rose like a proclamation, moonlight glinting whitely off its polished sides, pointing toward the sky as though daring the moon to impale itself upon its tip. Power emanated from that place. Phyllida shuddered as she felt the subtle vibrations in the warm wind. She could see now why Spock had wanted to seek out the race that had built such a structure. She looked up at him. In the moonlight, his profile was harsh, stony; and yet, somehow she could sense urgency, excitement, awe, radiating from that visage. The Vulcan caught her stare and their eyes briefly met. She looked down quickly.

“Let’s go,” he said, and together they made their way down the hill, toward the waiting city.
CHAPTER NINE – POKER

Captain James T. Kirk stared sleeplessly at the ceiling of his quarters. The uneasiness that had begun to creep over him since their arrival at Outpost 7 now loomed like a cloud, nagging at the back of his mind and setting off alarms that made it impossible to sleep. He had learned to listen to such feelings, hunches if you will, and yet he was hoping that this time they were unfounded.

He shifted his entwined hands under the weight of his head and once again mulled over the proceedings of the meeting; it had raised more questions for him than it had answered. And Owen… Kirk’s brow furrowed at the thought of his old acquaintance. It was 15 years ago when they had met at the academy. Barker was instantly likeable. He had a confident bearing and ready smile, and his quirky eccentricities just made him all the more interesting. Kirk remembered how impressed he had been that Barker had entered the academy and attempted command training, in spite of being significantly older than the other recruits. Owen had been so disappointed when, after all his hard work, he did not pass the qualifying psych exams for command of a starship. Even though he had eventually become an outpost commander, he had expressed bitterness over the “politics” that, in his opinion, had kept him from command of a starship. Kirk didn’t know much about Barker’s life before the academy; Owen was very tight-lipped about it; but he did know that at one time Barker had been married, and wondered if maybe the eccentricities and bitterness he displayed had something to do with that past. Now, though, there was an air about him that Kirk had never seen before and was at a loss to explain. Maybe working at the outpost this close to Romulan space for the past two years had done something to him. Maybe he had lived too long with the constant threat of war. Such things were not unknown to happen. Kirk dismissed the thought with a shake of his head. No. The uneasy feeling still persisted that Barker was covering something – trying to hide something important. He knew that if he were ever going to solve the Romulan mystery and get back to M64 and find Spock, the captain of the Enterprise would first have to solve the mystery of Owen Barker.

————-

Neat columns of red and black cards covered the small table. Commander Owen Barker drew yet another card from the dwindling deck, shaking his graying head in self-derision. Losing again. He looked at the card he held in his hand. Queen of hearts. Memories, like a wave, rushed back unbidden. Abruptly he brushed the cards to the floor and pushed away from the table. Drawing himself up, he squared his broad shoulders and crossed the room to the window that overlooked the botanical garden. The garden was an accomplishment of which the Commander was quite proud. He sighed and allowed himself a small smile. Nora would have loved it. How she had hated living away from Earth on the barren rock of Cygnus III, but the money had been good; he wanted to provide a life for his family…his family…. He gazed out over the garden and a lone tear trickled down his cheek. Even after 17 years, he could still feel her beside him. He spoke to her often.

“This is all for you, my dear,” he murmured softly. “All for you. You would have loved it, you know. Don’t you love it?” He turned. Silence answered him, the emptiness of the room staring back at him like an open wound. Digging the heels of his hands into his eyes, he dropped to his knees, a soundless scream wrenching itself from his throat. Gone. Lost again. It was always the same – always. How could she be gone? How? Filthy scum… Massive fists pounded the carpet and Owen Barker’s face was stained with tears. Filthy…!

He did not know how long he knelt on the floor sobbing, but somehow, through his personal torment, the insistence of the door signal reached him. Who…? He drew himself shakily to his feet, smoothing his hair and rumpled tunic, and walked to the door, scrubbing the tears from his face as though they were an admission of some nameless guilt. The door hissed open.

“Hello, Owen. May I come in?”

Barker blinked at the face smiling at him from across the threshold. With a careless wave, he motioned Jim Kirk into the room.

“Have a seat,” he said gruffly. “Drink?”

“Brandy, thanks.” Kirk seated himself while Barker prepared the drinks at the bar across the room. The room was only one of several in the luxurious apartment that had been added to the outpost just during the past two years. Captain Kirk took in his surroundings at a glance, vaguely wondering about the cards on the floor. The room was spacious and eclectically decorated. An extensive collection of antiques graced the room, giving the impression that its inhabitant had spent many years and credits in their acquisition. Kirk traced his finger along the lines of an unusual antique sculpture.

“Interesting, wouldn’t you say?” Barker handed Kirk a small snifter of Saurian brandy. “That’s one of my favorites. I picked it up a couple of years back at a flea market on Rigel IV.” He gave a low chuckle. “You know, I don’t think the folks I bought it from had any idea as to its worth. It was a steal.”

Kirk nodded appreciatively. “It’s quite a collection you have here. How did you manage it?”

“Oh, you know, a little piece here and there.” He took a drink from his glass. “Listen. You didn’t come here to discuss antiques, so why don’t you just get down to business.”

“Owen, you wound me!” Kirk smiled disarmingly. “Can’t a man visit an old friend when he gets the chance? This is strictly a social call.”

“Social call, my ass! You want me to change my position about the Romulans.”

Kirk gestured toward the scattered playing cards. “You still play?”

The commander shrugged fractionally. “Poker? Yeah. Not very well, I’m afraid.”

“Then we’re even.” Kirk began picking up the cards. “Play you a hand?”

Barker shrugged again and helped pick up the remaining cards.

The game was over almost before it had begun; Jim Kirk won easily. But while they were playing, the captain had managed to learn some things about his old acquaintance — things that disturbed him greatly. His hunch was gaining more credence by the moment and this was one time he wished fervently to be proven wrong.

—————–

“He’s insane, Bones.”

McCoy raised an eyebrow at his friend’s comment. “Is that your MEDICAL opinion, ‘Doctor’?”

“Just call it a gut feeling. I’ve known Owen for a long time, and the Owen I talked with today is not the one I remember. He’s got some kind of personal vendetta against the Romulans and he isn’t going to rest until he sees it through.”

“Personal vendetta?” McCoy crossed his office to where Kirk leaned on the edge of his desk. “Do you know what you’re saying? Do you honestly think that Commander Barker is trying to start something with the Romulans? What would he gain?”

“Revenge.”

Just then the red alert klaxon sounded and Sulu’s urgent voice came over the intercom. “Captain to the bridge! Captain to the bridge! We are under attack! This is not a drill! Man all battle stations! I repeat – we are under attack – man all battle stations!”

Kirk was off at a dead run with the first sound of the alarm. Before Sulu finished his message and the ship shuddered with the first strike, the captain of the Enterprise was already halfway to the bridge.

The turbolift doors slid open and Captain Kirk burst onto the scene. “Status, Mister Sulu!” The ship rocked under another impact. Kirk made his way to the center seat and slid into it.

“Enemy vessel, Sir. Romulan. Forward and starboard shields have been hit, but are holding. We have returned phaser fire; available power is 90%.

“Good. Mister Sulu, continue evasive action. Uhura, hail commander Romulan vessel.”

“Aye, Sir.” Her fingers played over the keys. “Hailing.” She paused for a moment, listening. “There is no response.”

Just then, blinding light erupted from the view screen as the Romulan ship launched another photon torpedo. The torpedo struck the shields, jolting the bridge crew.

“Forward shields are veakening!” Chekov reported from the science station.

“Lock phasers on target, Mister Sulu.” Kirk’s voice took on a deadly calm.

“Phasers locked.”

“Fire.”

Blue fire erupted from the graceful cruiser to score a direct hit on the enemy’s forward shields. The smaller ship reeled under the assault, but quickly came around to bear on the Enterprise. As she passed, another hit shook the Federation ship, this time to port. The Enterprise returned fire and made a 90-degree turn to starboard, protecting her weakened forward shields from the smaller, more maneuverable craft. The Romulans made one more pass, bringing full weapons to bear. Enterprise turned laboriously to meet the assault and fired another volley at the enemy vessel, but the Romulan ship was suddenly speeding away at warp speed – toward the Neutral Zone.

Kirk frowned. He had seen this tactic before. The Romulans obviously wanted the Enterprise to follow; they would not have given up the fight until one of the ships was disabled. Romulans did not run from a fight. If Kirk followed the enemy now, he could be taking Enterprise into the middle of an ambush.

“Shall I lay in a course for the Neutral Zone, Sir?”

Kirk shook his head. “No, Mister Sulu. If it’s a fight they want, they’ll have it, but they’ll play on our court and by our rules. Let them come to us.”
CHAPTER TEN – DISCOVERIES

The city was dark and silent. Spock and Lieutenant Gaines wound their way in the moonlight through the maze of ancient structures, and it seemed to Phyllida that a sense of loneliness and despair permeated the very air around them, as though the city had long forgotten the touch of people. The pair walked in silence through empty cobbled streets, past ornate stone buildings, some crumbling, some not, most being slowly overtaken by the forest, eventually to find themselves in a large courtyard paved with broad flagstones. One of the buildings that surrounded the courtyard was more prominent than the others. It was a large columned structure with wide, shallow steps that led from the flagstones to the first row of columns that marked the entrance to its dark interior. At the center of the courtyard rose the immense obelisk that towered above the rest of the city. Its smooth white walls shimmered in the moonlight, giving the impossible dualistic impression of newness and great antiquity.

They looked up at the structure. Phyllida’s hand came to her head and she swayed subtly, but caught herself before Spock noticed. She walked over to the steps of the columned building and sat down. The strange pulsation she was feeling in her head began to abate.

Spock turned from the obelisk and walked over to where she sat. His eyes narrowed. “Are you all right, Ms. Gaines?”

Phyllida nodded, but could not meet his eyes. “I just need some rest. It’s been a long day.” She rose wearily from the steps and entered the building where she lay down in the darkness on the cold stone floor and fell at once into an exhausted sleep. The Vulcan looked after her in silence.

————-

Bright sunlight streamed past thick, white columns. Phyllida blinked groggily. Midmorning. She rubbed the back of her neck and scanned her surroundings. The building was immense. It could almost have been a Greek temple, she thought. Rows of massive white columns marched across the empty expanse of the interior as well as across the threshold. The other three walls were covered with colorful, delicately inlaid mosaics. In the center of the chamber was a large raised block of stone, perfectly hewn, resembling an altar, and along its sides appeared to be engraved lettering. Spock was nowhere to be seen. She drew herself to her feet and went outside. He was there, examining the strange structure they had found last night. And – she put her hand to her head – IT was still there too; the curious emanation she had thought she felt when they first approached the city. But no – now it was gone. She yawned and chalked it up to fatigue and an overactive imagination.

Stretching to get the kinks out of her back – what I wouldn’t give for a bed, she thought – she looked around the courtyard. To her left, she noticed a narrow breezeway between two of the buildings that led in the direction of the lake, and it gave her an idea. “Mister Spock!” she called. He looked up. “I’m going for a walk down to the lake – I won’t be long.” Spock nodded his acknowledgement and went back to studying the obelisk.

————-

For the twenty-second time, Spock slowly circled the structure, looking for that one thing he may have missed the last time around. The obelisk stood upon a stone platform about a foot high and six feet square. No mortar had been used to seat the base of the obelisk to the platform, yet it was a seamless fit. He ran his hands again over the cool stone. There were no openings, no engravings, no inscriptions, no carvings of any kind. It was exactly as it appeared to be – a smooth, white, seamless monolith reaching soundlessly toward the sky.

He drew his tall frame erect and looked up at the sun. It had been nearly an hour since Lieutenant Gaines had left and she had not yet returned. Spock was not overly concerned about her, knowing that she was quite capable of taking care of herself; however, she did say she would not be gone long and they had not yet explored the lake; it could harbor any number of dangers to which Phyllida may have fallen prey. Mentally berating himself for allowing her to go off alone, he stepped from the obelisk platform and headed for the lake.

————–

Delicious! Phyllida dove again under the clear, cool water. It felt absolutely, positively delicious to be clean again! She broke the surface and tossed her long blond hair from her face, water cascading all around her. For a fleeting moment she thought she probably should be getting back, but the water felt so good she was reluctant to leave. She laughed and dove again into the cool depths.

The first thing Spock noticed was her boots. Somewhat surprising, because Phyllida was not in them. Next to the boots, was a small pile of red and blue cloth. From the lake, he heard a splash and turned just in time to see Phyllida rising from the water. An eyebrow shot up in appreciation. Remote recollections of another pool returned unbidden. Feeling somewhat uneasy, he turned to go back the way he had come.

“Come on in! The water’s great!”

Spock paused and looked over his shoulder. Phyllida’s face was bobbing above the water and wearing the biggest smile he thought he had ever seen. She looked brilliant. The uneasy feeling would not go away. “I really don’t think that would be appropriate.”

“Ah, come on, Spock! It really does feel marvelous!” She laughed and dove again beneath the surface.

He wanted to get back to the city, but for some reason Spock’s feet would not move. The water WAS very tempting… Yes, he was convinced it was the prospect of getting clean that tempted him.

“Spock! You coming in, or what?”

Looking back on it, Spock would wonder what came over him at that moment. He would later convince himself that it was simply logical that he took advantage of the lake when it had been so long since he had bathed. The warm sunshine, the cloudless sky, the peaceful surroundings, the beautiful woman, none of these had anything to do with his decision. He acquiesced to the logic of the situation and, divesting himself of his boots and trousers, made his way into the water.

Phyllida swam over to greet him and splashed at him playfully. “Isn’t this great? Doesn’t this feel absolutely wonderful? I swear I had bruises on bruises…this cool water is SO delicious!”

Spock had to admit to himself that even though the water was a bit chilly, it did feel good, and he allowed himself to relax in the moment, sinking beneath the surface to wet his hair. When he came up, he found Phyllida’s arms encircling his head, hands coming to rest behind his neck. Startled, he tried to back away, but she would not relinquish her hold. Her proximity was unsettling and his body was beginning to respond in a quite human fashion. Spock swallowed convulsively and reached up to put his hands on her forearms. “Lieutenant Gaines,” his voice was low and hoarse. “What are you doing?”

“Just this!” She pulled him quickly to herself and planted a playful kiss on his cheek, then released him and swam away, giggling.

Spock felt himself turn warm and wondered if he was blushing. He dove quickly into the cool caress of the water. When he came up again, Phyllida, her garments, and her boots were gone.

Some time later Spock returned to the obelisk courtyard to find Lieutenant Gaines sitting at the base of the monolith, regarding it intently, as if the swim in the lake had never occurred. He strode over to where she sat, determined to put the morning’s events behind him. “There is nothing to be learned from this structure,” he stated matter-of-factly. “It was probably built as a simple memorial.”

Gaines’ eyes were fixed on the monument. The lightheartedness she had exhibited earlier was gone. “No,” she whispered. “No. There’s something more.”

The Vulcan’s expression was unreadable. “When you discover what this elusive ‘something’ is, please do not fail to let me know, Lieutenant.” He turned abruptly and walked toward the “temple” building without waiting to hear Phyllida’s quiet response.

“Oh, I won’t, Mister Spock. I won’t.”

Spock stopped for a moment in the dim coolness of the “temple” to allow his eyes to adjust. He felt a twinge of what might have been regret for his brusque retort to Phyllida just now. The responses she elicited in him were quite perplexing, not to mention disturbing. Illogical. He resolved to put his mind on something other than Phyllida Gaines.

As normal sight gradually returned, he scanned the walls of the chamber and the ancient mosaics, their colors as vibrant now as they must have been when they were first created. He walked to his left to the wall nearest him. The picture delicately inlaid there depicted a humanoid creature riding astride what appeared to be a missile with orange-red flame spouting from it. Spock could not read the inscription beneath the picture, but was certain that, in time, the rune-like lettering would become clear to him. There were four mosaics on each of the three walls, each mosaic depicting a different scene. He moved to the second wall, ignoring the sound of light footsteps behind him.

“What are they?”

Spock looked over his shoulder at Gaines. Her hair was still damp, framing her face with unruly golden tendrils. He drew a deep breath and his dark eyes betrayed the barest flicker of response to the beauty that faced him. “If I am to understand your question correctly, this seems to be a pictorial history. Of course, any conclusion drawn from such a cursory glance and without benefit of translation of these inscriptions is purely speculative.”

“Of course.” Her expression was serious, but her wide blue eyes held a touch of amusement.

Spock ignored her somewhat acerbic tone and turned back to focus his attention on the mosaic he had been perusing. It depicted a great number of the humanoids in the construction of the city in which Spock and Phyllida now found themselves. The next picture contained the first reference to the immense obelisk outside. Wordlessly, Phyllida watched as Spock methodically studied each picture and worked his way to the third and last wall.

“Fascinating!”

On the wall, the four mosaics formed an immense mural in which the prominent figures were –

“Somari!” Phyllida whispered.

“It would appear so.”

Spock’s sensitive fingers traced the delicately inlaid tiles of the first picture, coming to rest at the representation of the base of the white obelisk. There, one of the city’s inhabitants stood, his arms stretched toward the sky, where the light of a midday sun reflected off the wings of one of the Somari. The bird-creature flew away from the man, toward a towering mountain. Spock moved over to crouch at eye level to the next picture. The mountain dominated the scene and around it many Somari flew with unmoving grace, as if frozen in a moment of time. At the base of the mountain was another humanoid, in much smaller representation than before. Spock’s eyes narrowed slightly as he moved to the third panel. The mountain sloped gently away, receding into a blazing sunset. Against the vivid orange-red hues of the tiles, small, blackened figures that could only be bird-people flew over the horizon, lending a certain air of finality to the work. One long, tapered finger tapped the inscription below the inlay.

“If only I could read this.”

“Patience, Mister Spock, is a virtue.” Phyllida smiled at him.

The Vulcan merely raised one eyebrow as he turned his full attention to the fourth and final mosaic. There were no Somari in this picture; the strange, white obelisk again was the prominent subject, piercing the night sky like a shimmering knife. Two crescent moons, surrounded by stars, hung high above the monument and the extraordinary workmanship instilled into the mosaic made it seem as though one star, positioned between the two crescents, actually pulsed brighter than the rest. At the base of the obelisk, two beings, a man and a woman, raised their hands toward the heavens as though in prayer or supplication to some unseen deity.

“Most curious.”

“Spock?”

“Do you recall what the Kamnke said when we were prisoners of the Somari?”

“About us being ‘Ancient Ones’ and some kind of prophecy?”

“Exactly.” Spock held Phyllida’s eyes with his own. “These murals show a definite reference to Somari. It is possible that the humanoids in these depictions are the ‘Ancient Ones’.” He looked back at the mosaic. “Of course, until the inscriptions are deciphered we will not know the true significance of what is depicted here.”

“Do you think you can decipher them?”

Spock nodded. “Barring interruptions and unforeseen difficulties, I should be able to discern the key elements of the language within a few weeks.”

Phyllida turned back to the final mosaic, to the woman whose hands stretched to the sky, and thought of home.

CHAPTER ELEVEN – DOORWAYS

“So, Jim, do you still deny the Romulans are threatening Federation space?” Owen Barker’s ruddy face glowered across the tripartite briefing room view screen.

Kirk, surrounded by all his senior officers with one notable exception, grimaced in exasperation. “It certainly appears that they are.”

“So why didn’t you follow their ship and destroy it when you had the chance?”

“Why? It wasn’t necessary.”

“Not necessary?” Barker blustered. “Are you blind, man? Are you turning into a pacifist fool? That scout ship will soon return with reinforcements! Then where will we be, with the Enterprise the only starship in this sector?”

“If and when that happens, we will deal with it. In case you have forgotten, Commander, according to treaty NO provocation is sufficient cause for entering the Neutral Zone.”

“But they broke the treaty when they crossed the Zone and entered Federation space!”

“And if they had stayed in Federation space, we could have disabled their vessel and perhaps proved their involvement in the other attacks. As it is, once they retreated to the Neutral Zone, my hands were tied.” Kirk took a deep breath, attempting to remain calm in the face of this unreasonable man. “Barker, you know as well as I do what would have happened if we had followed that vessel into the Neutral Zone.” He paused. When Barker didn’t reply he continued. “It was a trap, Owen. They were setting a trap. They know we have no reinforcements close enough to threaten them. If we had entered the Neutral Zone, I would be the one out on a limb with Command, and the Romulan Empire would be at war with the Federation.”

The image of the outpost commander took on the superior look of someone who has discovered that he is surrounded by imbeciles. “So why fight it, Jim? War is inevitable – you’ll have to accept that fact eventually.”

The screen went blank, leaving behind it a thick silence. Captain James Kirk glanced around the table at his officers – Doctor McCoy, counselor and friend; Lieutenant Commander Scott, his dour expression betraying what he felt about Barker; Lieutenant Sulu, taking in everything with his usual calm; Lieutenant Uhura, dark eyes smoldering as if to burn a hole through the view screen. They were all precious to him, almost like family, but their presence made him feel more keenly the absence of the one man closer to him than a brother.

Scotty cleared his throat.

“Yes, Mister Scott, what is it?”

The Scotsman hesitated for a moment, glancing around the table at the others, then looked his commander squarely in the eye. “Well sir, beggin’ your pardon, but you aren’t goin’ ta take that kind of talk from that popinjay, are ya?”

The corner of Kirk’s mouth drew up in wry amusement. “Why Scotty – don’t you trust our friendly O.C.?”

Scotty snorted. “About as far as I can trust a tribble ta stop breedin’!”

A small wave of laughter rippled around the table.

“Mister Scott,” Kirk said with a nod, “Your point is well taken. Now…” he looked around the room. “Are there any recommendations? You are all aware that this uprising – if it can be called that – must be put down before it reaches any further than this sector. Outpost 7 is in a strategic location along this part of the Neutral Zone, being crucial to protection of the shipping lanes. Therefore, if Romulans are at the root of the other attacks and disappearances, then Owen may be right and we may very well have the start of a war on our hands.” He paused for a moment to give the others a chance to respond.

Sulu addressed the group. “I think we should try some of their tactics – go in, hit them hard, and duck out again before they know what hit them.” Scotty was nodding in agreement.

“But what if they are setting a trap?” Uhura commented. “It will take two weeks for the subspace message I sent to reach Starfleet. By that time we could be history…”

“I’ll say,” McCoy muttered.

“Bones?”

“What? Oh. I agree with Uhura – we’ll be putting ourselves wide open if we go into the Neutral Zone.”

Kirk nodded. “I agree. This whole situation just doesn’t feel right. Something about the way the Romulan vessel behaved was damned peculiar, and I can’t help but think that Barker knows a whole lot more than he’s letting on.”

“A hunch, Jim?”

“Perhaps, Bones. At any rate, I think another personal call is in order. Maybe I can persuade the good commander to provide some answers.”

The outpost was in absolute chaos when Kirk arrived. On attempting to see Commander Barker, he was told that the Commander was not available and wouldn’t be for some time. He was turning away from Barker’s guarded door when his communicator signaled.

“Kirk here.”

“Scott here, Captain.”

“Yes, Mister Scott, what is it?”

“We’re pickin’ up several unconfirmed reports from the outpost that Barker has been kidnapped.”

“Kidnapped?”

“Aye, Sir. And the scuttlebutt has it that it’s the Romulans.”

—————

The tiles were cool under Spock’s hand as he traced once again over the design. During the past week the symbols had begun to make some sense to him, if only as an occasional pattern. The patterns that were emerging, however, tended to confuse rather than clarify the pictures. Nevertheless, he welcomed the puzzle as a mental exercise to keep his mind focused and off Phyllida. He was relieved, at least, that she had not tried to cajole him into another swim, and she had not questioned his preference to bathe alone. Curious – it seemed to Spock as though she had actually been avoiding him. He had noticed her preoccupation with the obelisk and she had insisted that she sensed some form of energy from it. When he expressed his reservations about her preoccupation, she had abruptly left him to begin exploring the rest of the city. Since then, it had become a daily ritual for her to leave at sunrise with barely a word and return in the late afternoon from her explorations. He had hardly seen her in days. Spock rose and walked through the pillars to the entrance of the building he and Phyllida now called “the temple,” feeling the cool breeze flow past his naked shoulders on its way from the mountains to ruffle the lake below. He shuddered slightly with a chill and looked at the sky. It would be getting dark soon and Phyllida had not returned at her customary time. With mild concern at the cause for her delay, he headed off toward the part of the city where he had last seen Lieutenant Gaines.

—————

Another wall mural. Sighing, Phyllida sat down on a nearby bench and looked around the empty room. It was the same in all the buildings she had seen – empty; no personal belongings; as though everyone had just packed up and left – but left to where? And the murals – every room had them. People not too unlike herself seemed to take life on those walls; people larger than life, going through the mundane tasks of life, only to inevitably give up that life – for what? Phyllida sighed again, staring at the ornate ceiling. Only questions and more questions. No answers to be found anywhere, except maybe in Spock’s mosaics. She thought back to one of their previous conversations.

“It is illogical to be impatient,” he had said.

“But this is important – it has something to do with our being here!”

“Really. On what do you base this conjecture?”

“I don’t know. Just a feeling, I guess.”

“A feeling, Ms. Gaines, is insufficient basis for the claim you make of the significance of these mosaics or the monolith outside.”

How could she make him understand the sensations this city had evoked in her from the first moment they had come upon it? He didn’t seem to be aware of the emanation of power from the central obelisk, and this in itself she thought quite strange. She had stopped talking to him about it, preferring to look for her own answers. Spock’s critical attitude was such that, in the end, she had thought it best to simply stay away from him. Why did she care what he thought, anyway?

Pulling herself out of her reverie, Phyllida glanced around the empty room once more, her eyes roaming the features of those ancients in the murals. On one wall, near a corner, her attention was drawn to the representation of an open door and a robed figure gesturing toward it. She rose from the bench and approached the mural. This one seemed somehow different from the others. Running her hand along the periphery of the painted doorway, she noticed that it corresponded exactly with the joints of the large stone blocks with which the walls of all the buildings seemed to be made. Taking a step back from the wall she looked at the man in the robes, at the detail of the artwork, the serenity of his face, and the graceful line of his hand as it pointed toward the door. It was then that she noticed it. Near the extended hand of the robe-clad figure, a small, brilliant green gem was set into the wall. It was to this he seemed to point.

As Phyllida stood there, gazing into its cool green depths, the stone seemed to suddenly come alive, casting flickering green reflections across her face from the afternoon sunlight streaming through a tiny window on the opposite side of the room. Again, she felt the strange sensation of power and her hand trembled with wonder as she slowly reached up to cover the cool green fire with her palm.

There was a sudden grinding of stone on stone and an explosion of dust, causing Phyllida to jump back involuntarily. The portion of the wall on which the doorway was painted had swung open on a central hinge, one side jutting into the room, the other reaching into the beckoning passageway beyond.

——————

The sun had set and twilight was hastening when Spock finally came upon the room. He glanced around, taking in the disturbed dust on the bench, Phyllida’s smallish footprints on the floor, and finally the open door in the wall. Slowly he examined the mural in the half-light; studied the now dull green gem. The blackness beyond the open door was almost total.

“Ms. Gaines?” Spock’s voice reverberated in the darkness. He took a few steps past the doorway and found himself in a narrow corridor that, after a few feet, began a sharp downward slope. He stopped, calling out Phyllida’s name a second time. No response. He edged back into the room. Scarcely any light filtered its way through the solitary little window the chamber possessed, and soon it would be as dark in the room as it was in the corridor beyond. Spock decided to return to the temple, telling himself that Phyllida was probably back there by now anyway. The logical course would be for her to return for a light and to tell him of her discovery. But then another thought nagged him. When had that woman ever followed “the logical course” for anything? He made his way through the growing shadows back to their base camp. As he had feared, there was no sign of Phyllida, and an unwelcome sense of foreboding began to rise in the pit of his stomach. Gathering up some torches, he lit one with his flint and quickly made his way back to the hidden doorway.

Spock held his torch high and ventured into the sloping corridor. About 20 feet beyond the doorway he was drawn downward by a steep stairway that spiraled into the darkness under the building. Precisely 6 minutes 32 seconds later, the Vulcan came to the end of the stairway and was confronted with two tunnels, each similar in size and workmanship, leading in opposite directions. “Lieutenant Gaines!” His voice echoed in the darkness. There was no sound from either passageway except the faint trickling of moisture. He took only a moment to consider his choice, then started down the tunnel to his right. The light of the torch did little to dispel the surrounding gloom. He proceeded slowly down the narrow passageway, one hand feeling his way along the damp wall, where moss had begun to grow ages ago. The click of his boot heels against the stone floor sounded hollow in the darkness. He raised his torch higher. “Lieutenant Gaines!”

Silence.

The small circle of light from the torch faded into seemingly infinite blackness. Spock continued to move toward that blackness and whatever lay at the end of it. He went on this way for some minutes, and except for his voice intermittently calling Phyllida’s name and the sound of his footfalls the silence was as complete as the dark. It was inconceivable, he thought, that Phyllida could have come so far without a light. He was ready to turn back and try the other passage when, rounding a corner, he came upon the rubble of an ancient cave-in. Spock brought his torch closer to the mound of debris. He could see that the passage was not entirely blocked and there were areas where the long-settled dust had been disturbed, as though someone had passed this way recently. Following the marks, he clambered over the rocks and slid unceremoniously to the other side, expecting as he did so to find the continuation of the partially blocked corridor. He turned to reach for his torch, which he had dropped in his haphazard descent, and without warning, the floor gave way and he was falling into nothingness.

His body met the unseen solidity of the floor in a white explosion of pain. A momentary struggle to retain consciousness faded and he knew no more.
CHAPTER TWELVE – INTRIGUE

Kirk rubbed tired eyes and looked once again at the recording he had finally wrangled out of outpost security. It was all there; the sound of the door signal and Barker answering, Romulan words spoken into a communicator, the shimmer of a transporter and the empty room.

There was very little to go on. No Romulan ships had been detected in the area at the time of the abduction or since; none of the regular freighter ships had left the area and no new vessels had been reported. Immediately after the incident the outpost was sealed, with no one able to come or go without a special pass, and likewise no ship allowed to enter or depart within transporter range. It was an effective screen and yet the commander had not been found. Outpost security reported a search of all ships in dock, as well as of the entire outpost, revealed nothing.

Where had they taken him and why? For the past several hours Kirk had expected to hear something in the way of a ransom demand, but so far no demands had been made. He turned off the viewer and rose from his desk. If this mystery is to be solved, he thought, it has to be done soon. What if Owen was right? Maybe war is the only answer…

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

On the bridge, the captain of the Enterprise sipped at yet another cup of coffee. Twelve hours – and still no demands. Kirk felt his impatience growing. He heard the turbolift doors open and McCoy stepped onto the bridge behind him.

“Still no word?”

Kirk shook his head. “No.”

McCoy ran a doctor’s critical eye over the tense figure in the command chair and from somewhere discreetly withdrew a medical scanner. Kirk frowned at its unexpected whirring.

“If that’s the only reason you came up here Doctor, I’m sure you can find patients more in need of your attentions below,” he snapped.

Unperturbed, McCoy interpreted the readings on the scanner at a glance. “Remember what I told you, Jim.”

“Listen, Bones – I’m just a little tired, that’s all. So, if you don’t mind, confine your examinations to Sick Bay.” Kirk settled back in his chair to face the image of Outpost 7 on the main viewer.

“Of course, Captain. However, I’d like to make a recommendation.”

Kirk nodded, still staring at the screen.

“I recommend, Captain, that you get some rest and stop pushing yourself so hard.” His icy blue eyes bored into the right side of the captain’s head. “The situation won’t be helped if you’re on the brink of exhaustion.”

“Recommendation noted.”

“You know I can make it an order if I have to.”

“Noted, Doctor.” He looked briefly at McCoy, then back to the screen. “I promise I’ll get some rest as soon as I can. Dismissed.”

McCoy spared Kirk one last look of exasperation before stepping up toward the turbolift. As the doors slid open, a report came from the communications station.

“Captain,” Lieutenant Sahajid, relief communications officer, announced, “I am receiving a message on a tight beam, apparently from the Neutral Zone.” The dark young man put his hand over the receiver in his ear as though with that action he could clarify reception.

“Put it on audio, Lieutenant.”

McCoy stopped in his tracks and allowed the lift doors to close as he waited, like everyone else on the bridge, for the message.

A voice came over the speaker, brittle with interference. “Enterprise. Your ship. Exchange for Barker. Neutral Zone coordinates zero-zero-seven-one-six-three-one point zero-three-eight. Three of your hours.” As abruptly as it had begun, the message was over.

Silence settled over the bridge.

“Well.” Kirk leaned back in his chair. “Now we know what they want. The question is, how to get Barker back without playing into their hands.” He swung toward the communications station. “Sahajid, get me a fix on the origin of that message. I want to know precisely where it came from.”

“Aye, Sir. Triangulating now.”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

“Captain’s Log, Stardate 4638.4:  This whole so-called Romulan crisis is becoming more and more mysterious, and we seem to be no closer to any answers now than we were two days ago. The disappearance of Outpost Commander Owen Barker has only served to complicate matters, and as to his whereabouts, our only reports are conflicting. The message received from the abductors requests an exchange at coordinates inside the Neutral Zone; an exchange of the Enterprise for the commander. This tactic is, of course, out of the question. However, on triangulating for the true origin of the tight beam communications signal, the message was found to have come, not from the Neutral Zone as was first suspected, but from the outpost itself. It seems to have been transmitted from the outpost to the Neutral Zone and relayed back to the Enterprise in order to give the illusion of a message from the Zone. In light of this new evidence, a search of the outpost will be conducted by Enterprise personnel in the area of the transmission. This has met with some resistance on the part of outpost security. Hopefully, Commander Barker will be recovered soon and this incident can be resolved peacefully.”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Chekov smiled uneasily at Sulu as they rounded another corner with the security team. He made another sweep of the area with his quietly beeping tricorder, closely watching its readout in the diffuse, green utility lighting for any flux in life-form readings. So far they had found nothing, but it was in this general area that Sahajid had located as the source of the Romulan transmission.

“Anything yet?” Sulu asked quietly.

Chekov shook his head. “Niet.” He stopped and looked tentatively up and down the corridor, the normally round lines of his face harsh in the green light. “Wait a minute!” He focused his tricorder. “This way!” he whispered.

The party moved swiftly and quietly down the empty corridor, surrounded only by green silence and the whisper of the air filters. As they neared the end of the corridor, it extended at a sharp right angle, and Sulu stopped and signaled Chekov to shut off the now-insistent beeping of the tricorder. Moving cautiously, Sulu approached the corner, phaser ready. He motioned to one of the security men, who immediately positioned himself opposite him and then moved quickly around the corner, extending his phaser to firing position. Another empty green hallway stared back at him.

“Looking for someone?”

Sulu and the others whirled at the sound of the voice behind them. “Barker!”

Owen Barker, flanked by half a dozen armed men, smiled venomously. “You forget yourself, Lieutenant Sulu – it’s Commander Barker to you.” He strode evenly toward Sulu and held out his hand. “Your phaser please, Lieutenant.”

The security crewman opposite Sulu quickly made to fire on Barker, but was cut down by the lethal flash of a phaser set to kill. The commander’s men leveled their weapons on the small party from the Enterprise.

“Come  now,” Barker smiled, “Let’s not make this any messier than it needs to be.” Sulu resignedly handed his phaser over and glared at the smile. Chekov and the other two crewmen dropped their weapons. “Oh, that’s better, Mister Sulu. Much better. Now,” he gestured with a flourish, “If you would be so good as to come with me.”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

“Anything, Sahajid?” Captain Kirk leaned over the communications console in anticipation.

“Negative, sir. The landing party has not checked in and there is no response on any channel.”

Kirk rubbed weary eyes and ran a hand through his hair. “Damn,” he muttered. “Very well, continue monitoring.”

“Aye, Sir.”

As Kirk turned toward the center seat, the turbolift doors opened and Dr. McCoy stepped purposefully onto the bridge. “Jim – may I have a word with you?”

“Not now, Bones.”

“Jim – It’s important.”

Jim Kirk acquiesced with a slight shrug. Frankly, he was too tired to argue with the good doctor. “Riley,” he addressed the helm, “I’ll be in Sick Bay. You have the conn.”

“Aye, Sir.”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

“Okay, Doctor, what’s the big emergency?”

McCoy held up a tape. “This.”

“What’s that?”

“Owen Barker’s psych profile. After you told me of your suspicions I ran a check on him.”

“And?”

“And, everything checks out… officially.”

“Listen, Bones. I don’t have time for word games. If you have found something, let me have it.”

McCoy looked at the computer tape he was fingering. “On this tape,” he held it up in front of Kirk, “are the profiles of two different men.”

“What?”

“Just what I said. I think Owen Barker is commanding under someone else’s psych profile.”

Kirk took the tape from McCoy and turned it over in his hand. “Is that possible? I mean, to use another person’s psych profile…”

“Believe me, Jim. With bureaucracy all things are possible.” He took the tape from Kirk and slid it into the slot of his computer terminal.

The captain watched with interest as McCoy slid into his chair and punched the required codes to bring the information up onto the little screen. “Here…” he pointed to the irregular pattern of lines. “This is Barker’s profile of 17 years ago as part of his required physical to enter the academy. I had to pull a few strings, but I was finally able to track it down. As you can see, it is mostly normal, but with certain irregularities, enough to rate him at borderline psychological fitness – certainly not command material.”

Kirk leaned over McCoy’s shoulder to get a better look at the unintelligible lines. “I’m not a medical man, Doctor. Just what does all that mean?”

“Watch. Computer…”

“Working,” the mechanical voice intoned.

“Display both profiles stored in the data tape simultaneously.”

“Working.”

A moment later, the screen was divided with the original profile on top and  a secondary profile on the bottom.

“Now…” McCoy turned to Kirk. “Compare the two. Computer, superimpose profile B over profile A.” He folded his arms and leaned back slightly in his chair. “Now we see what happens.”

This time when Kirk looked at the screen he not only saw two sets of lines, but two sets on the same graph; one line red and the other blue.

“This,” McCoy indicated the red line, “is profile A, Barker’s original profile. And this blue line is profile B, the one that’s in his official file at present.”

“It doesn’t seem to be as erratic.”

“Exactly. Where the first profile shows significant disturbances, not the least of which is a tendency toward paranoia, the second profile is that of a well-balanced person.” He squared in his chair to face the captain. “In my opinion, Barker’s medical records have been altered sometime in the years since his initial exam; the second profile is a forgery.”

Kirk started to form an answer and was interrupted by the harsh whistle of the intercom.

“Bridge to Captain Kirk.”

He punched the wall com button with the side of his hand. “Kirk here. Go ahead Sahajid.”

“Sir, we’re receiving another transmission from the Romulans.”

“On my way, Kirk out.” He turned to McCoy. “Hold that thought, Bones.”

xxxxxxxxxxxx

Lieutenant Sahajid looked up as the captain arrived on the bridge and stepped over to the communications console. “Sir – I have them holding for you, but there’s a lot of inference on the frequency they’re using.”

“Audio, Lieutenant.”

“You were very clever, Captain Kirk, to find the source of our transmission.” Static crackled over the voice, making it barely readable. Kirk strained to listen. “You were very foolish, however, to send a rescue team; your men are dead, Captain Kirk, and if you do not accede to our demands, more deaths will follow. Is that clearly understood?”

Kirk bent toward the panel. “Identify yourself! I want to know who it is I am dealing with!”

A low chuckle came across the speaker. “My name is not important. Suffice it to say that I am your enemy and you have very little choice but to deal with me on my terms. I hold all the cards, Captain. This transmission is ended.”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Outpost Commander Owen Barker leaned back in his chair and a cold smile crept slowly across his face. “Your captain is all mine now, my friends. And with him, all the Romulan Empire.” He gestured for his captives to be removed.

Surrounded by armed guards, Sulu, Chekov and the two remaining security men glared at the commander in disgust. “Don’t be surprised, Barker,” said Sulu, “if it’s you who ends up losing this game.”

They were led away, followed by the derisive laughter of a madman.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN – QUESTIONS

Her face rose from the water, shimmering in the moonlight. A light smile played about her full lips. She drew nearer and placed her arms around his neck, pulling herself to him. Her nearness assaulted his senses like a drug. What was happening to him? Her lips brushed his cheek then moved to a point below his ear. He held his breath. He could not move. The fullness of her breasts pressed against his chest as her kisses trailed languorously down his neck. It was delicious agony. He let out a long, shuddering breath and wrapped an arm about her slim waist, drawing her fully against his yearning body. She pulled her face from his neck to look up at him with a desire in her liquid blue eyes  that mirrored his own. His free hand was suddenly cradling her head and he was kissing her; gently at first, but as she responded, the kiss deepened; lips parting, tongues probing, striving for as much closeness as a mere kiss could impart. Somehow, it wasn’t enough. He wanted more. He drew her from the water and pulled her down with him to the soft moss-covered bank. Her body glistened in the moonlight and his eyes drank in every inch of her even as his hands began their exploration and he bent toward her for anther kiss.

“Spock?”

He stopped. Had he misread her? Did she not want this? He closed his eyes, and felt her slowly slipping away from him…”

“Spock!”

Spock rolled over stiffly and opened one eye to the gaping darkness. Phyllida was touching his shoulder. He willed his body to be still; the dream had been far too real. He attempted to dispel the images still vivid in his mind. Her nearness was disconcerting. “Ms. Gaines.” His voice sounded hoarse in his ears.

“Yes, Spock. Are you okay?”

How much time had passed? He pulled himself achingly to a sitting position and tried to adjust his eyes to the ever-present blackness, though unable to see further than a few inches. Phyllida’s hand still rested on his shoulder and he looked toward her in the darkness. His head throbbed slightly with the movement. “I don’t believe any permanent damage was done. What is your condition?”

She leaned in closer to him so he could see her face. Concern etched her features. “I’m fine, Spock. I was just worried about you. I heard you fall and found you here. You’ve been out for several minutes.”

“I shall recover.” Spock regarded her closely. “Did you fall, as well?”

“Not exactly.” She couldn’t meet his eyes and looked away.

“Phyllida? Did you find him?”

Spock started at the sound of the unfamiliar male voice.

“Yes! Over here!” Phyllida called out. “My light died, but we’re okay!”

Sounds of footsteps and then a light came from around the corner at the end of the tunnel. Spock could not see past the light to the person holding it. He raised himself a little shakily to his feet and Phyllida rose with him as his hand went out to steady himself against the wall. The light came nearer until the form of a person emerged. A hand shot out from behind the light. “Come, follow me!” The light turned and started back down the corridor from which it had come. Spock and Phyllida followed, partially feeling their way along the wall in the dimness. Around the corner, about 15 feet further down the corridor Spock could see light coming from a doorway. Phyllida moved ahead of him; she seemed sure of the passage, he noted, as though she had come this way before.

As Spock reached the entry, Phyllida took his hand, drawing him into the blinding light of a small room. She gave his scuffed form an appraising glance. “Oh, Spock!” Her fingertips brushed an angry green bruise that had welled up on the side of his face.

Spock moved away slightly so that Phyllida’s hand dropped to her side. “My injuries are not severe. There is no need for you to be concerned, Lieutenant.” He looked around. “How did you come to be here?”

“Doctor Isaacs found me after the hidden door opened. He led me through the passages to this room.”

The man he had seen earlier stepped forward. Dressed in a standard issue Federation jumpsuit, he was tall and looked to be a little older than Spock. The man grasped Spock’s hand in his own and pumped it amiably. “Jorn Isaacs! So glad to see you’re all right. That was quite a fall you took. Didn’t expect you along yet – Phyllida was going to go after you and lead you in. I’ve heard quite a lot about you, Mister Spock!”

Spock nodded formally and retrieved his hand. “Indeed.” He raised an eyebrow and spared a glance at Gaines. Phyllida could feel herself coloring. “Lieutenant Gaines was overdue; I came looking for her.”

“Ah, yes. Well, you’re here now at any rate.” Doctor Isaacs distractedly ran a hand through his blond hair. “Until you two came into the city, I didn’t expect to get any visitors.”

“You knew we were here?”

“I detected your presence when you came upon the obelisk. I’ve been observing you for the past couple of weeks; didn’t want to take any chances that you had been followed.” He smiled somewhat boyishly and looked sideways at Gaines. “But then, when Phyllida found the doorway, I figured it was time we met.” Phyllida blushed slightly and looked at her feet.

The exchange was not lost on Spock. He had the uneasy feeling that Isaacs was not to be trusted. He looked about the room at the array of equipment tucked efficiently into the small space. Alien computer panels lined each of the walls of the little room and took up much of the floor space. All were dark except one. The only sign of human habitation was a small cook stove, bedding, and duffle bag that occupied one corner. “Just how long have you been here, Doctor Isaacs?”

The other man shrugged marginally. “About four months now, by Earth standards. The calculation of months on this planet is somewhat more complex.”

“He’s the sole survivor of the colony, Spock.”

“Indeed.” The timing would be right, he thought. “You will forgive my curiosity, Sir, but what happened to the colony?”

Doctor Isaacs looked vaguely uncomfortable. “That, I’m afraid, is a long and very sad story, Mister Spock.”

“We appear to have plenty of time.”

Isaacs paused, regarding the Vulcan’s stony visage. Their eyes briefly locked and Isaacs thought he saw a challenge there. The Vulcan did not trust him. He cleared his throat and looked at Phyllida, who smiled her support. “I was the colony’s anthropological and archeological specialist.” He looked at the floor. “I saw it coming – I tried to warn them. Shortly after our first contact with the Somari, I could see what it was leading to.” He shook his head solemnly and looked up at Spock. “They wouldn’t listen. They called me an alarmist. That’s when the vines started to appear – they sprang up practically overnight. I’m pretty sure the Somari had something to do with that, but I could not prove it. The vines killed lot of our people – the children were the first to die. Then the Somari came in and started taking us away, a few at a time, ‘to safety.’ Those who tried to leave the colony were either killed by the vines or captured by the Somari. We never did find out exactly what they wanted. Those who were taken away never returned, and those who escaped the vines and refused to go willingly with the Somari were killed outright. The only thing we knew for certain was that they were afraid of us – and our machines. They destroyed everything they could.”

“How did you manage to escape?”

Isaacs gave a short humorless laugh. “I’m a scientist, not a soldier, Mister Spock. I suppose some might call me a coward.” He looked down again, his voice barely audible. “I hid.” He turned his back and took a couple of steps away from Spock. “When they finally descended on the colony and began rounding up or killing everyone en masse, and all was confusion, I hid. Hours later, when I knew they had gone, I gathered what few things I could carry and I ran for my life toward this range – away from the direction the Somari had taken our people. I eventually found this city and this room.” He sighed. “I’ve been here ever since.”

Spock gestured at the computers. “Do you understand the function of these machines?”

“After a fashion – well, somewhat,” He looked around the room and finally admitted, “No, not at all, actually.” He smiled. “But I do know that this one controls the beacon.” He indicated the one panel that was lit and seemed to be working.

Spock touched the panel, on which an array of many colored gemstones lit and flashed in a complicated sequence. “Beacon?”

“The tower – the obelisk – the monolith!” Isaacs rambled excitedly. “We’re under it, you know…”

“The monolith?”

“Yes.” He looked up toward the ceiling. “This room is directly under it – about fifty feet beneath the surface at this point. As close as I can tell, this seems to be the control center.” Isaacs stepped next to Spock and the alien panel.

“Fascinating.” Spock’s brow furrowed slightly. “Tell me, Doctor Isaacs, how did you find this chamber?”

“Spock,” Phyllida interrupted. “I think that Jorn has answered enough of your questions for now.” The irritation in her eyes was evident as she frowned at Spock.

Isaacs smiled gently at Phyllida. “It’s quite all right, my dear. I really don’t mind.” He sighed and looked back at the suspicious Vulcan. “When I came upon the city, I was immediately drawn to the obelisk and the temple. I don’t know if it was just that they were the most imposing buildings, or something else.” He briefly put his hand to his head. “It was as if something was speaking to me – without words. Feelings, fleeting images…” He frowned and shook his head. “At any rate, I eventually came upon this room.”

Spock was not entirely satisfied with the answers the archeologist had provided. He found them somewhat evasive. If Isaacs had been here four months, Spock was certain that he knew much more about this complex than he was revealing.

Phyllida stepped across the room and touched Isaacs’ sleeve. “You will come back to our camp with us – won’t you, Jorn?”

Spock threw Phyllida a look that held warning behind his dark eyes. She either didn’t notice or chose to ignore it. He was concerned about the attention she was focusing on this man. Isaacs could prove to be dangerous. However, though Spock was reluctant to allow him to come back with them, logically it would be much easier to watch him if he did.

The archeologist covered Phyllida’s hand with his and looked into her eyes. “How can I decline such a gracious invitation when delivered by such a lovely lady?”

Phyllida gave a small laugh. “You can’t! You must come with us!”

Isaacs shrugged. “I suppose then I have no choice in the matter. I am completely at your mercy!” He smiled warmly at Phyllida and went to the corner to pick up the duffle bag and his light. Shouldering the bag, he walked toward the door and gestured expansively. “Well, let’s get going!” Turning on his light, he ducked through the doorway and led them back into the dark and winding corridors. As they traveled, it was obvious to Spock that Doctor Isaacs knew the maze of subterranean tunnels well. When they finally reached the exit, it was not from the hidden passage that Phyllida had found, but from a small mound behind the temple structure.

Phyllida inhaled the cool fragrant night air gratefully. “Jorn! How could you bear to stay down in that little room for so long when all this waited for you?” She took a step away from the men and inhaled more deeply as if to clear the mustiness of the underground passages from her lungs.

“Ah, my dear Phyllida,” Isaacs replied cryptically, “This wasn’t all that waited for me!” He looked briefly at the night sky then made his way purposefully toward the temple with Spock.

Phyllida paused momentarily, soaking in the peaceful night sounds and the fresh breeze coming off the mountain behind them. The two moons were up, crescent slivers in their first quarter, casting a dim light. The breeze rustled lazily through the surrounding trees. Looking around her, Phyllida realized that the men had gone on ahead, and she hurried to join them, not noticing as she went the more insistent rustling in the trees behind her and the beat of strong wings against a crystal clear sky.
CHAPTER 14 – VENGENCE

Captain Kirk looked up from the communications console, determination in his face. “Lieutenant Sahajid – Contact Security and have them send a team of four to the transporter room and await my orders.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Kirk gestured to Riley to take the conn and he stepped toward the turbolift. As the lift doors whooshed closed behind him he grasped a handle. “Sickbay.” This had gone too far, he thought. It was time to put a stop to it, get his men back if they were still alive, and get back to M64 – to find Spock.

In sickbay, Doctor McCoy was still sitting at his desk. When Kirk strode into the room, he stood up. “What’s happened, Jim?”

The captain didn’t answer, but shoved a computer tape into the slot at McCoy’s console and touched the play button. The conversation he had had on the bridge moments before replayed. “What do you think?”

“What do you mean? Do I think he’s crazy? Yes. Do I know who it is? No.”

“It’s Barker.”

McCoy looked quizzically at Kirk. “How can you be so sure?”

Kirk frowned. “I don’t know. Something about ‘holding all the cards…’ He turned to the computer. “Computer, run a voice check on the current communications file and compare it to a known voice file of Commander Owen Barker.”

“Working.” The computer whirred for several seconds while McCoy and Kirk looked on expectantly. “There is a ninety-six point three percent match,” the computer intoned.

Kirk looked at McCoy. “There you have it.” The captain paced the room while McCoy looked on. “Bones, Barker is a madman. If he’s backed into a corner, there’s no telling what he will do. I’m going to lead a security team down to the base to rescue our men if they are still alive. At the very least, I intend to stop Barker.” He stopped pacing and leaned across the desk. “I need you with me.”

Neither of them had to say what they both knew. In Spock’s absence, Kirk relied on McCoy’s insight and advice more than ever. The doctor looked at his friend and cocked an eyebrow. He knew better than to question Jim Kirk when his mind was made up. “What makes you think I’d let you go down there without me?”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

They materialized in a deserted corridor in a remote area of the base near where the ship’s sensors had located a concentration of life-forms that roughly corresponded to the origin of the transmission they had received. Kirk silently gestured his party in the direction of the life-form readings. The men moved cautiously, yet swiftly, two of the guards in front, and two continuously scanning at the rear to eliminate the possibility of being taken by surprise.

After some minutes the lead guard stopped abruptly and motioned for the captain. Around the corner and just ahead was a door flanked by two guards dressed in Starfleet issue. McCoy edged up behind Kirk and his tricorder, the sound turned down, was flashing wildly. “Someone is in there, Jim – ten or twenty of ‘em – and not a Romulan in the bunch,” the doctor said quietly. “And now that we’ve found them, Captain, Sir, how do we get in there?”

Kirk smiled slyly. “The direct approach, Bones – the direct approach.” He beckoned to one of the security men. “Watkins…” The largest of the men stepped over to the captain.

“Sir?”

“This is what we’re going to do…”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Hollingsworth shifted uneasily from one foot to the other and glanced across the doorway at Cooper, who looked as if he was about to not off. “Hey, Coop!”

Cooper jumped and leveled his phaser in the other man’s direction, then slowly lowered it in the face of Hollingsworth’s laughter. “What’s the big idea?” he grumbled.

“You should have seen yourself!” Hollingsworth laughed. “And just be grateful it was I who found you sleeping and not the commander!”

“Yeah. Sure.” Cooper didn’t seem the least bit grateful. “And just you be grateful I didn’t blast your ugly head off!”

“Ah, come on! It’s dead around here – we needed something to break the monotony, eh?”

Cooper shrugged.

“Anyway,” Hollingsworth continued, “Just what is it we’re supposed to be guarding against? This whole area’s been cordoned off and we’ve got those spies in custody, so just what’s left?”

“You talk too much, Hollingsworth.”

“Yeah? And who’s gonna hear me, eh? Barker can keep his triple pay for all I care. I can’t take much more of this, this…staring at green walls, waiting for something that is never going to happen. Give me action any day!”

Cooper turned his back to the other man and lounged indolently against the wall. “Like I said,” he said lazily, “You talk too much. The way I see it, the easier the job, the better the pay.

“Hey! Who’s that?” He pushed himself away from the wall and studied the cluster of people coming toward them from around the corner. There were two security personnel holding at gunpoint two other men, one wearing a Starfleet captain’s uniform. “Stop there!” Cooper waved his phaser at them. “State your business! This area is closed to all but authorized personnel!”

“We know,” Watkins replied. “We found these two snooping around and we thought that Barker would like to see them.”

Hollingsworth stepped over, sizing up the four men suspiciously. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you two around here before,” indicating the security guards.

“That’s right, you haven’t,” Watkins said. “But Barker hired us, same as you. If you have any doubts you’ll have to take them up with him.”

“I think I’ll just do that.” While Cooper kept his phaser on the group, Hollingsworth moved toward the wall intercom. But before he had a chance to hit the button, phaser fire erupted from the behind them, and both guards crumpled soundlessly to the floor, stunned.

Captain Kirk, stepping over Hollingsworth, gathered up the guards’ phasers, and gave them to the two men who were coming around the corner to meet them. “Now let’s raid this little party.” He glanced at his men, lined up alongside the door. “Phasers on stun.”

“Yes, Sir,” came the unison answer.

Kirk punched the intercom. “Security to commander,” he said, in his best imitation of Hollingsworth’s voice.

“Barker here. What is it?”

“We have a couple of unauthorized personnel who were snooping around down here – we thought maybe you’d like to have a word with them, eh?”

“You have your orders! Take care of them yourselves!”

“Yes, Sir. But,” Kirk paused for effect. “They say they’re from the Enterprise.”

Silence.

Kirk gave the motion to get ready and the door slid open. The men from the Enterprise went in firing. In the brief exchange that followed, Watkins went down under a phaser blast and McCoy was over him almost immediately. The melee didn’t last long. Taken off guard, those few of Barker’s men who were not stunned dropped their weapons and allowed themselves to be herded into a corner by the Enterprise team.

Kirk spotted Barker trying to slip unobtrusively out a side door. “Barker!” The outpost commander turned. Kirk quickly caught up with him and grasped his arm. Barker wrenched himself from Kirk’s grasp, just in time to see the captain’s fist connect with his face. He staggered under the blow, but rallied himself to meet a charging Kirk. Though older, he outmassed the younger man by several pounds and his strength was fueled by mad fury. Locked together, they grappled for several seconds. As they struggled, Kirk saw his opening in Barker’s unbalanced stance and wrapped one foot around his opponent’s leg, causing him to lose his footing. Barker fell, and Kirk pulled him into a choke-hold with one arm wrenched behind his back.

Maintaining his hold on his vainly struggling captive, the captain maneuvered Barker back into the center of the room and shoved him roughly into a chair, drawing his phaser. “Okay, Barker, where are my men?”

Barker’s chest heaved as he caught his breath. He looked with indifference at the weapon pointed squarely at his nose. “Dead. Romulans killed them. No prisoners, you know.”

“Damn it, Owen!” Kirk’s frustration was beginning to get the better of him. He grabbed the commander up by the front of his shirt and pulled his face toward his own. “There are no Romulans! It was all a hoax! Now I want my men and I want them now!” He released Barker to let him fall heavily back into the chair.

Barker looked up at Kirk and gave him a lopsided grin. “How did you know?”

Puzzled, Kirk asked, “Know what?”

“That it was me. I was very careful, you know.”

“You never were very good at poker, Owen.”

“That’s true,” Barker sighed. “Never try to bluff an old master. Is that the moral?”

“Something like that. Owen…” Barker seemed to be drifting into a world of his own. Kirk had to reach him. “Owen – where are Sulu and the others?”

Barker looked at him blankly. “What?”

“Where are my men, Owen? Sulu, Chekov and the others?”

The commander blinked. “They’re in a safe place. I’ve seen to that.” He smiled. “She was very beautiful, you know,” he said disjointedly. “She never hurt anybody. She didn’t want to be on Cygnus III – I made her come…” He closed his eyes tightly as if to shut out the implications of what he was saying. “Can’t you see?”

Kirk’s expression softened. Cygnus III. It was starting to make sense. “Owen…”

“And he was so little – just a baby…a baby…” Owen Barker sagged in the chair and his shoulders shook in small, silent sobs.

Kirk holstered his phaser and knelt before his old friend, shaking him gently by the shoulders. “The men, Owen. Please – tell me where they are.”

Barker’s tear-streaked face rose to meet his. “The men?”

“Yes, Owen. The men – Sulu, Chekov and the others. Where are they?”

The light of the present situation slowly dawned on Owen Barker’s face and he gestured toward a door to the rear of the room. “In there. The lock is coded to my voice print.”

Kirk rose and turned toward the door. “Let’s get them out of there.”

“Not so fast, Jim.”

Kirk whirled to face Barker, who was now on his feet and nervously fingering a small phaser. Kirk berated himself mentally. Why hadn’t he checked Barker? Why had he assumed that everyone would be armed only with Phaser II? Spock wouldn’t have missed it.

“Over there…” Barker gestured him back across the room so that he could keep him in sight with the other men. “Drop all your weapons!” Kirk’s men watched him, surrendering their phasers only when Kirk unholstered his and dropped it to the floor. Barker’s men immediately took up the cue and surrounded Kirk’s party.

“No, Captain.” Barker’s voice was eerily distant. “I’m not giving up now. Not when I’m so close. The Romulans must be crushed and it will take a war with the Federation to do it. I’ve arranged it all, right down to the last detail. It will work. Your ship now will think that you have been taken by Romulans. I will convince them of that. I’ll also convince them to go in fighting – the Romulans will be unprepared – the other Federation ships will get here soon – attack their bases – they’ll be helpless in a matter of months…” Barker’s eyes had taken on the glazed look of the insane and his ramblings continued to become more disjointed.

“Barker!” Kirk interrupted. “It won’t work!”

Barker snapped back to reality. “It will!” he cried vehemently. “It can’t fail!”

“Owen…” Kirk said calmly, taking a step forward. Barker pointed his phaser threateningly at the captain. Kirk stopped. “Owen. Your plan has already failed. Our presence here is proof of that. My full report is on its way to Starfleet right now. Nothing will bring back those who died on Cygnus III, Owen. Give it up.” He held out his hand and took another step forward.

Owen hesitated in a moment of obvious confusion, then took a stumbling step backward, brandishing his phaser. “No! All these years I’ve waited – planned. The Federation did nothing! Nothing! Said that Cygnus III was a civilian outpost – that they had no jurisdiction. It didn’t matter that the Romulans came in and slaughtered everyone! Your precious Federation was afraid of starting a war – ignored the attack – said they had no authority to retaliate! I can’t let the Romulans get away with it! It can’t end like this! It can’t! You’ll see – you’ll see, Jim – make them see – I won’t lose…”

“Of course not, Owen. Give me the phaser.” Kirk took another step toward him.

“Stand back! I’ll kill you all!” Barker looked around himself uneasily, suddenly with a distant look in his eyes that seemed focused on something only he could see. “Nora? Nora! I did it all for you – ALL!” A sob racked him. “I’m sorry, Nora. I wanted everything to be so perfect – then we could be happy again.” Another sob. Without warning, he turned the phaser on himself and in a blinding flash was gone.

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