Ghost In The Machine by karracaz
Summary: Spock is taken ill on the way to Sassandran. While there, Kirk is kidnapped. Can McCoy save them both before time runs out?


A loose follow up to Debt of Dishonour
Categories: Original Series Characters: Kirk, James T., McCoy, Leonard (Bones), Spock
Genre: Drama
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 8 Completed: No Word count: 18382 Read: 13761 Published: 13 May 2015 Updated: 04 Nov 2015
Story Notes:
Rating: Contains some scenes of a sexual nature. Readers should be aged 16 and over.

1. Chapter 1 by karracaz

2. Chapter 2 by karracaz

3. Chapter 3 by karracaz

4. Chapter 4 by karracaz

5. Chapter 5 by karracaz

6. Chapter 6 by karracaz

7. Chapter 7 by karracaz

8. Chapter 8 by karracaz

Chapter 1 by karracaz
If you need a friend,

Or a place where you can hide,

I will always be there,

Even though my hands are tied.

000



"Okay, you can dress now, Spock." Doctor McCoy stated levelly. "I'm all finished."

The Chief Surgeon turned away, his attention ostensibly fixed on recalibrating the diagnostic equipment as the Vulcan pushed his lean body upright and swung his legs to the floor.

Spock's uniform lay draped tidily over the end of the med-couch and the First Officer reached for the immaculate black trousers, shaking out the garment precisely before he enquired, "Well, Doctor. What is your diagnosis?"

McCoy's hands stilled briefly. However many times it fell to him to break bad news, it never became any the less painful. Whatever their differences in the past, he now bled for the man who coolly awaited his answer. "Spock I…"

He could feel Spock's dark eyes fixed unwaveringly on his back, the hawk-like face impassive. McCoy hesitated, picking his words with care, his voice cautiously neutral as he turned to face the First Officer once more. "I'm afraid, the results aren't good."

Already quite aware of McCoy's dilemma Spock interrupted, "Doctor, there is little need for equivocation. I assure you that I am quite able to accept the truth."

As if to dispel any lingering traces of sympathy McCoy may have harboured, he went on; "Or are you unable to define my…condition, perhaps? In which case, allow me to be of assistance. It should be filed under the medical term Acute Zonal Koreoretnal Syndrome, a condition affecting the choroid and sclerotic coats…."

He knew he had struck home base when McCoy abruptly leaned across the med-couch, so close that his breath fanned Spock's cheek. The First Officer drew back slightly as McCoy swore.

"Dammit, you smart-assed Vulcan. If you know what you've contracted you also know what the eventual outcome will be."

"Yes, Doctor. I know." Spock's tone of voice hardly changed, but for an instant the impassive fašade slipped and McCoy thought he glimpsed the vulnerable child within the man, the little boy Spock had once been, shrinking from the demons he imagined waiting in the dark.

McCoy closed his eyes, opened them again, cursing himself for letting Spock provoke him so readily, gathering up his professional composure with an effort.

"You must have been deteriorating for weeks. Godammit Spock, if you'd only come to see me earlier I could have…"

"Done what, Doctor? Spock asked equably, his voice quite serene. "We are both aware that, as yet, there is no cure for the condition."

Bones could not deny it. With an exasperated sigh, he paced up and down beside the med-couch, his helplessness masquerading as irritation. "I suppose you know that you could have put this whole damn ship in danger? What if…"

Spock's eyes tracked him unmercifully, apparently unaffected by the Chief Surgeon's bluster. "'What ifs' are illogical, Doctor. I have maintained my duties without any loss of efficiency, I believe. Nor has there ever been the possibility of danger to the ship. Now, of course, I can no longer guarantee that."

"And so you waited until the last possible moment before getting your verdict confirmed. Thanks, Mr. Spock."

"I intended no denigration of your healing powers, Doctor McCoy." Spock said mildly, one eyebrow elevating. "Although I have always found it discouraging that you call what you do, 'practice'. Is there not an aphorism assuring Humans that practice makes perfect?"

"Perfection is sometimes a moving target, Mr. Spock."

"Indeed, Doctor. That is also my own experience." The First Officer pulled on his trousers and boots, reached for the blue shirt.

It had slipped onto the floor and McCoy, feeling a twinge of guilt, retrieved it. "Here…"

Head tilted on one side, Spock reached for the softly rustling fabric, his fingers sure and unhurried. "Thank you, Doctor."

"You'll be needing something for the pain." McCoy offered, his blue eyes fixed on Spock's tranquil Mephisto features as the Vulcan negotiated the various openings and finally pulled the shirt over his head.

"Not required at this time, thank you, Doctor. For the moment it is under my control."

Feeling completely useless, McCoy lapsed into silence but he knew that he could not prevaricate for long. "However much I may want to, you know I can't let this ride, Spock. Jim will have to know…"

"Certainly." Spock's eyes hooded, his expression unreadable.

"I could… speak to him first, if that's what you want."

Spock inclined his head. "I appreciate the offer, Doctor McCoy. However, I have already requested that the Captain meet me here."

"You were that sure."

Spock folded his arms across his lean chest, grounding himself with a hip resting against the med-couch. "The evidence is somewhat difficult to refute, Doctor. It is time the Captain knew…"

They both turned as the doors to sickbay slid back and Jim Kirk entered as if on cue.

"It's time I knew what, gentlemen?" Captain Kirk's jocular mood faded abruptly as he glanced at each man in turn, noticing the anxiety in McCoy's blue eyes and the uncharacteristic tautness of Spock's narrow shoulders as he straightened. "Surely my senior officer's haven't been keeping something important from me?"

McCoy avoided the directness of Kirk's scrutiny. "Let's go through into the office."

Kirk frowned, over the last few years in his experience as Captain of the Enterprise, the Chief Surgeon's office and serious news frequently went together. He spared a glance at Spock but received little joy there. His First Officer remained unusually stone-faced, not even a suggestion of empathy upon his angular features.

What was going on here?

However, he obeyed McCoy's request, following the Chief Medical Officer into the adjoining room, aware of Spock trailing on his heels. He took a seat, leaning back, pretending a relaxation he no longer felt, watching as the Vulcan lowered himself warily into the chair beside his own.

"So," he asked as McCoy busied himself with a couple of glasses and the brandy bottle. "Why all the mystery, Bones? Mr. Spock?"

Spock squared his shoulders, but instead of facing Kirk, continued to stare straight ahead, dark eyes narrowed, winged brows drawn together in a frown. His long fingers, clasped together in his lap, tightened fractionally. "I requested your presence here Captain, to advise you that as from this moment I intend to resign my commission aboard the Enterprise."

Shocked, Kirk dropped his tranquil pose and sat forward, shooting a puzzled look at McCoy. "Explain?"

McCoy poured a large shot of brandy into Kirk's glass before pushing it across the desk. "Spock's developed an extremely rare medical condition, Jim. I have to recommend that he be relieved of duty. Immediately."

"What sort of condition? You look fit enough to me."

"In all respects but one, I am completely healthy, Captain." Spock explained, his soft baritone, firm and without acrimony. He drew in a deep breath; exhaled slowly, as if reluctant to continue. "Sir, as Doctor McCoy will advise you more fully, I have contracted a virus that attacks the cornea of the eye and causes severe visual distortions. There is also intermittent loss of vision and episodic hallucinations. I can no longer fulfil my obligations as either your First Officer or Science Officer on the ship. Therefore, I must resign."

There was a pause as Kirk tried to digest what Spock had said. He addressed McCoy. "And the treatment is … what, Bones?"

McCoy took a gulp from the brandy in his glass before replying. "There is no treatment, Jim. Not yet, anyway. I can help control the inevitable pain but Spock's sight is not going to improve. In fact, as time goes on the nerve endings to the brain will only degenerate further. He'll go completely blind in a matter of months, less if he doesn't follow orders."

"Blind?" There was open anguish on Kirk's face as he stared at his First Officer. He shook his head in denial. "There must be something you can do!"

"There isn't." McCoy's voice was suddenly harsh. "I've told you, Jim. There're no drugs, no surgical procedures, no miracle cure. I can't help him. No-one can."

"No, I won't believe that, Doctor." Kirk said with stubborn resolve, the muscles in his jaw bunching. "You have to help him. I don't care what it takes. Use every resource this ship possesses, but find a cure. That's an order, Bones."

000
Chapter 2 by karracaz
Chapter 2

Chapter Text

There has never been a better time,

There has never been a better place,

For you and I together here,

Alone and face-to-face….

O0O

The door buzzer chimed a fleeting burst of sound. Spock ignored it, went on playing his ka'ithirah, an upbeat, distinctly Latin dance tune, his hands swift and accomplished on the strings, eyes closed, concentrating wholly on the music he made.

The buzzer rang again, a longer surge, relentless and inescapable. Spock sighed with open impatience, put aside the ka'ithirah, before leaning over to release the door catch.

"Come."

"Good evening, Mr Spock." Kirk, prominently haloed by the light from the corridor, peered into the darkened interior of his First Officer's quarters, intently searching for an occupant.

"Captain." Spock automatically straightened his shoulders as he rose from the chair, eyes narrowed against the splintered glare from outside the room.

" I know it's late but I've just finished my duty shift. If I'm intruding, just say so and I'll … go sling my hook."

"You are not disturbing me, sir." A brisk order to the computer had the lights brightening immediately, softly golden, Terran normal, banishing the shadows and the pulsing, crimson radiance of the asenoi, the beast-like fire pot fixed to the wall of his sleeping area. "How may I be of assistance?"

"This is a social call, Spock." The door slid shut behind Kirk as he stepped over the threshold. "If Mohammed won't call on the mountain, the mountain must… call on Mohammed. Moreover, unlike Doctor McCoy, I do make house calls. May I sit down?"

Spock's eyebrow elevated both at Kirk's deliberate misquotation and at the pointed reminder that he was being less than gracious. Kirk had seldom visited his quarters and never on a social basis. Although they were friends, Spock's natural reserve and regard for the proper formality between senior and subsidiary officer meant they met either on duty or in the public recreation areas of the ship. Now, he inclined his head acknowledging the implied rebuke; "I was about to prepare some tsa'e, sir. Perhaps you have time to share a pot with me. It is nothing like your Terran coffee but you should find the flavour agreeable."

"Yes, thanks. I'd like that." Kirk took the chair on the other side of the desk. Wood scraped on carpet tiles. There was a soft creak as his weight settled, the fine rustle of synthetic clothing rubbing against the polished timber as he leaned back, a quiet exhalation, definitely of weary relief.

Spock listened, attentive to Kirk's slightest move, knowing that the Captain watched as he prepared the special infusion of herbs required for the tsa'e. Over the ten weeks in which his eye condition had developed, he had evolved several strategies in an effort to adapt to the strange fractured world that now confronted him; memorising the layout of most areas of the ship he frequented, especially his cabin and the bridge, counting steps between objects, using his other senses to the utmost. The policy had worked so well that no one, not even Kirk, had suspected his increasing disability.

He now relied exclusively on his sharp hearing, his sense of touch and his Vulcan spatial awareness to skilfully navigate the sparse furnishings to fetch boiling water from the selector and return to the desk. As he poured the hot liquid into the waiting china pot, gauging the level by sound alone, he heard the Captain's breathing hush. Only when he had safely completed the task did Kirk's breathing resume.

While the tsa'e brewed, Kirk said into the silence, "Your presence has been … sorely missed … on the bridge these last few days, Spock. How are you?"

"I am well enough, thank you, Captain."

"Uh-huh. I heard you playing the lyrette. That melody you were performing, it didn't sound Vulcan."

"You are quite correct, sir. The music on my world, at least to your ears, would sound inharmonious and dissonant." He looked straight at Kirk; dark eyes alight with the quiet humour that only the initiated could see, his attention fixed on the Captain's face. "It has an…economic quality, a lack of emotional content. My mother has often remarked that Vulcan compositions remind her of an animal being slowly tortured. I was endeavouring to lighten my …disposition with a Terran arrangement."

"And did you succeed?"

"Not entirely." He reached for the tsa'e pot, poured a tiny measure into a couple of miniscule bowls, head tilted, hand steady and unhurried. Not a drop overspilled.

"This condition…"

"Acute Zonal Koreoretnal Syndrome."

"Yes. How does it affect you?"

"It varies, Captain."

"How?"

"Has Doctor McCoy not explained, sir?"

"He gave me the medical details. Now I want to hear your appraisal."

Spock considered for a moment, gauging the Captain's mood, hearing the weariness, the stress concealed behind the professional manner. "My eyes supply an impression of what my brain believes should be there. However, the images are frequently false, constantly distorted, the colours strident and dazzling. On occasion, there are flashes of extreme brightness. My night vision is superior but even that is changing. It can be … unsettling."

"But you can see me now?" Kirk asked gentling his tone, the disquiet palpable, wanting to know the whole of this grim state of affairs afflicting his First Officer.

"An …interpretation only, Captain. I see you indistinctly, a contrast of light and shade, surrounded by an intense corona."

"What about the pain?"

"I am able to control it satisfactorily at the moment."

"But it will get worse?"

"Yes, Captain. It will."

Kirk fell silent, mulling the information over, sipping at his tsa'e. He inhaled the pleasant aroma, and felt heat disperse throughout his body as the first swallow hit his stomach. He had hardly slept since Spock had broken the news to him, concerned for his friend, thoughts and ideas circling repeatedly in his mind as he searched for some resolution to this unexpected and disquieting crisis.

He studied the Vulcan sitting opposite him, watching for any sign of emotion concealed behind the impassive mask. Spock remained tranquil, at least on the surface. Yet, as Kirk knew from experience, the First Officer had grown expert at disguising his true responses.

At last, he said, "I'm not accepting your resignation, Spock. No, hear me out. We have three months left of our present duty tour. I need you, even if it's in a consultative position. We'll find someone else to be your eyes, Chekov possibly. In that time, who knows what sort of cure McCoy might come up with?"

"Even the good doctor may find it impossible to produce a miracle in three months, Captain." Spock murmured sardonically, one eyebrow shooting upwards.

Kirk grinned, rubbing at his red-rimmed, gritty eyes. "I'm not so sure. Bones has always worked better under pressure. He won't let either of us down."

He suppressed a yawn, taking a gulp of the tsa'e. The beverage had an interesting flavour, nutty like almonds, and a little bitter on the tongue. Combined with the temperature of Spock's cabin, it had him breaking out in a hot sweat and he could feel the perspiration beading his hairline, trickling down his sides in fine droplets as his shirt stuck to his backbone. No wonder, Spock declined to drink either coffee or alcohol; neither compared with even one tiny cup of tsa'e.

If the Enterprise ever runs out of dilithium, I'll know what to use as an alternative, he thought as he pulled at his shirt collar, trying to dissipate the sudden heat.

Spock perceived his growing distress with some inner talent that did not rely entirely on vision. "You seem… ill at ease, sir. Is anything the matter?"

"It must be the tsa'e, or I'm coming down with a fever. What's in this concoction anyway? It's not a Vulcan narcotic by any chance." He caught his breath, tone suspicious. "The equivalent of hashish, or bhang, maybe?"

"Certainly not, Captain." Spock was quick to assure him. "Tsa'e does contain a slight sense stimulant, an aid to concentrating the mind, but the effect on a human should be minimal."

Kirk blinked, drew in a ragged breath, putting the tiny bowl carefully down on the desk; every movement exaggerated as his brain abruptly went to warp ten. Unfortunately, the rest of his body lagged behind at sublight speed. Something had also happened to his muscles; they responded only slowly, refusing to obey his commands. He stood up, knees turning to gelatine as the room swam before his eyes.

"Then, I … think I … must … be allergic." Kirk cleared his throat, hearing his own words distorted as time seemed to slow, drawn out syllable by syllable until speech became unintelligible even to his own ears.

"Perhaps I should summon Doctor McCoy, Captain." Spock's voice, quietly pitched, thundered inside his skull.

"No … I'll be … all right... Just tired, I … guess." The whirling in Kirk's head came hurtling back and he shut his eyes against the wheel of stars, suddenly nauseous. "I'm keeping… you … up. "

Spock came from behind the desk, supporting Kirk hurriedly with an arm around the waist, his voice wry. "I believe the reverse is true, sir. At the moment, it is I who am keeping you up."

Kirk registered the humour but could not respond as a charge of static electricity, a distinct jolt, surged through him at the Vulcan's touch. The room abruptly broke up into a kaleidoscope of brilliant colour, reforming rapidly, only to break apart again. Kirk watched, mesmerized, as fragmented patterns swirled and cascaded about him. His mind reeled, and blood roared in his ears.

Could he somehow be seeing what Spock now saw, this mad hallucination, the crazy whirlpool of intense light that defied his ability to sort into any rational order? Had the tsa'e somehow broken down his mental barriers allowing this connection to be forged?

"I think … I need to go … lie…down…" He heard his voice as if it echoed from some far distance, and he relied on Spock's strength to stop him from collapsing entirely.

"Perhaps if you rest for a time, sir?" The Vulcan held him lightly, impersonally, as they moved over to the bed surrounded by thick crimson drapes. "Let me assist you, Captain."

He lay back gratefully, felt the tug as Spock removed his boots and draped something very light and soft over him.

"Thank … you, Spock. I'm … sorry … for this..." his mumble trailed off.

"There is no need for apologies, Captain. Good night and sleep well, sir."

Moments later, as if from a million light years away, Kirk heard the soft bell-like tones of Spock's lyrette ringing gently, alien music, conjuring up strange vistas, intangible and otherworldly. With a shiver of presentiment, he finally surrendered himself up to the circling stars and plummeted into their scintillating brilliance.

o0o
Chapter 3 by karracaz
When you are weary, feeling small,

I am on your side,

Oh, when times get rough

And friends are just not around,

I will comfort you…

o0o

He stood above the mists on a ledge of rock, floating in a swirling ocean, a thick white blanket extending from horizon to horizon, a shimmer with foxfire, while ghostly breakers swelled about his feet. As pale as the mists, her strange eyes darkly aglow with some knowledge she did not wish to share, the girl standing beside him gestured toward the east where Wraith's huge sun rose above the vapour making a cerise and ochre spectacle of the dawn sky. The Enterprise, swan-like and mysterious hung suspended between the dying star and the rolling waves, and he knew that he had to make a choice…



S'kros, cho'nom Ra'el Kirrke quaer I naradzram…

The computer voice, speaking in Vulcan, penetrated Kirk's dream. He woke with a start, confused for an instant at finding himself still in Spock's quarters, realising that he had spent the whole night in Spock's bed. Embarrassed by the thought he sat up quickly and pushed aside the vaguely oriental throw that covered him. Swinging his legs to the floor he espied his boots by the door, exactly where he would have left them in his own quarters. Spock had got to know him entirely too well…

S'kros neh kharos'hin anh'kwet romeh …

Boots in hand, he straightened, listening to the mechanical female voice of his ship and what she/it was saying. The senceiver implanted in his brain translated the Vulcan words directly. It was a wake up call; one meant especially for him since Spock's internal timepiece required no prompting. So, where was his First Officer?

"Spock?"

There was no answer to his call. Not that he had expected one. Kirk glanced around the austere cabin, the billet of a soldier ready for battle, with few decorations and sparse furnishings, the one touch of individuality being Spock's Vulcan harp, standing where the First Officer had left it on the vacated chair behind the desk.

Kirk touched the strings with a tentative finger, and evoked a melancholy tinkling, a haunting quality of sound suitably in tune with his present mood. He realised quite well that Spock had left him sleeping off the effects of the tsa'e and gone elsewhere to find some necessary peace. Even a Vulcan needed time to adjust to such a drastic life change.

On the other hand, maybe I'm the one who needs to adjust, Kirk concluded, remembering Spock's stoic acceptance of something over which he had little control.

The thought stayed with him as he stole somewhat furtively out of the door and back to his own quarters, careful that no one should see him exiting from Spock's cabin, boots clasped under his arm. He could well imagine what ships scuttlebutt would make of that news.

Grinning self-consciously, he wondered if Spock had also stumbled upon the rumour circulating that they were, indeed, lovers. His mind's eye provided him with an image of Spock's brow elevating skyward in either disbelief or impatience at the very idea. As for himself, after the initial surprise, he found the possibility strangely tantalizing. His relationship with Spock had grown unusually close over the years they had served together and a warm, professional bond of mutual respect had thrived between them. However, to his knowledge, neither he nor Spock had ever displayed the slightest physical affection. At least not overtly although, apparently, a lot could be read into a concerned glance or a ready smile, or an upraised eyebrow.

Kirk had an open mind about sex in any of its various forms, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or xenogeneic. When the key fitted the lock, so much the better, but he had found that not all species kept their genitals in the same place. Resourcefulness, his middle name, had proved helpful on many an occasion when he had not been too sure what went where, or even if it could! However, he felt certain that Spock, while not condemning such nonconformity, might well be more reticent in his own dealings.

He knew, of course, of the old saw about Vulcans only being able to mate every seven years, and believed not a word of it. That belonged in the same category, as 'Vulcans could not lie'. Maybe true for some, but Spock could sure stretch the truth when it suited him. His First Officer had demonstrated that on several occasions and Jim acknowledged readily enough, that Spock had subtleties to his character that many a 'full blooded' Vulcan lacked.

Once the door shut on his quarters, he undressed and showered quickly, turning the sonics up to the highest setting, letting the vibrations pound against his flesh. He was used to being in control, he was used to acting. He was not used to standing idly by while his best friend went blind. Even without a diagnosis from McCoy, he knew his tension levels were way up high, and stress always made him horny, one reason probably why sex was on his mind right then.

That he had no way of sublimating the physical craving only added to his pressure. A shipboard romance as usual, remained out of the question. A starship was no place to get involved. Not that he lacked any number of eager candidates, able and very willing to ease his discomfort or scratch the slightest sexual itch. Nevertheless, it was one of his strictest rules to leave emotional entanglements with any of his crew sternly alone.

The Enterprise was a small community that functioned only by mutual support and interdependence. They all relied on each other, in the finely tuned, evenly balanced microcosm. A casual flirtation with any of his personnel could upset those scales to such an extent that it might conceivably bring the ship into danger. Kirk relied on his scrupulous self-command to avoid any such situation. In other, similar, situations he had usually suppressed the urge by less damaging bodily activity, playing ferocious games of velocity, occasionally with Bones but mostly with Spock, who proved a vigorous if defensive player. Now, with Spock out of action, even that release was denied him. It was little consolation to know that it must be a hundred times worse for his First Officer.

Deep down, Kirk knew the difficulty he had confronting Spock's blindness was his own terror, the realisation that 'there but for the grace of God'… thoughts he normally steered clear of, unwilling to deal with any suggestion of vulnerability, or helplessness. Now, he had no choice but to tackle the situation head-on. The notion of his self-contained, adroit, First Officer reliant on outsiders to lead him around and provide the essential amenities of life, alarmed him more than the thought of Spock actually dying. It came too close to home.

If he had suddenly contracted Koreoretnal Syndrome and gone blind, how would he hack it?

No doubt with anger at first, followed by increasing bitterness as he saw his career go down the tubes; there were no blind captains in Starfleet, nor likely to be any, as there were no blind first officers. What would be open to him, a teaching post at Academy, a desk job at Fleet Headquarters, a new career entirely? Would he waste his time chasing a cure or get on with a new life? Spock, of course, was essentially a scientist and not a soldier, though he had adapted skilfully to military life. His father, Sarek of Vulcan, also had diplomatic connections. Would Spock want to go back to Vulcan?

Ordering up a fresh uniform, he pulled it on, his skin still red and smarting a little from the punishing vigour of the sonics. There were too many questions without answers, too many variables. As Spock might well say, even speculation needed adequate data.

I need coffee, a large pot no, an enormous pot of coffee, and some ham and eggs to go with it. Damn the cholesterol for once.

He would square it with Bones later, even if it meant eating salad for the rest of the month. However, while his body sought the comfort of caffeine and saturated fats, his mood called for company. With that thought uppermost, he abandoned the selector in his cabin and went in search of camaraderie in the crew lounge on the main recreation deck.

Kirk liked the lounge area. He made it a rule to eat breakfast there most days, along with the other senior staff. It was hardly luxurious, though it missed none of the comforts of home. Here he could rub shoulders with the most junior cadet or midshipman and they with him, without the need for ceremony or the necessary discipline of the bridge.

The beguiling smell of percolating coffee enticed him through the door but he came up short at the threshold when he saw who had pre-empted his arrival.

McCoy, seated beside Spock at one of the many bench-style tables, noticed him almost immediately, subjecting him to a lopsided smile before beckoning him over. With his order safely ensconced on a tray, Kirk crossed to the table and sat down.

"Good morning, Bones. Mr. Spock." He poured himself a coffee, added cream, glancing at McCoy to see the reaction.

"Jim." McCoy raised an eyebrow at Kirk's tray but said nothing.

Spock looked at him as if he could still see, head tilted to one side. "Good morning, Captain. You slept well, sir?"

A loaded question if ever there was one. "I…slept very well, with no small thanks to your Vulcan tsa'e I think, Mr. Spock."

"Tsa'e?" McCoy asked wryly. "What in heaven's name made you drink that, Jim?"

Kirk shrugged, forking up a mouthful of his ham and eggs, watching the Vulcan's face. He saw a childlike innocence reflected there as if butter would not melt in his First Officer's mouth. "I'm beginning to think I might have been sabotaged, Bones."

"Sabotaged," McCoy repeated, looking from Spock to Kirk and back again before the penny finally dropped. "Ah, I see… prescribing without a licence again, huh, Spock?"

"Doctor?" Spock's expression remainedentirely virtuous. "I merely offered the Captain some … Vulcan hospitality. I may have made the tsa'e blend a little stronger than usual, unwittingly. I … apologise if you were unduly inconvenienced, sir."

"Uh-huh." Kirk took a gulp of his coffee, allowing himself the luxury of imagining for a moment that Spock could really see as he stared straight into the Vulcan's eyes. It was too easy. The First Officer had chosen to break fast with what looked like rice cakes in a rich, yellow sauce. Kirk had noticed on several occasions that the dish appeared to be a current favourite. Spock ate it with Vulcan jom'ir sticks, grace and confidence evident in every gesture, totally at ease with the mechanics of eating and drinking. Kirk had to pay strict attention to realise that he was, indeed, blind.

"You'll be glad to note I slept like a baby, Bones. Ever thought of marketing the stuff, Spock?"

Spock's lips curved in what might have been the briefest of ironic smiles, one eyebrow flicking upwards. "Vulcan already does, Captain."

McCoy grinned. "Tsa'e's a remedial herb, Jim. The Vulcan's tend to use it as a meditational support, but among the humanoid species, it seems to alleviate anything from haemorrhoids to menstrual cramps depending on the strength of the mix."

Kirk spluttered into his coffee. "Well … if I ever suffer from either, I'll certainly know who to consult…"

He changed the subject, his dream of the night before resurfacing. "Spock, what do you know about Wraith?"

"Wraiths, Jim?" McCoy asked puzzled, looking over the rim of his coffee cup at Kirk. "As in apparitions and ghostly portents?"

"No, Doctor McCoy," Spock interrupted. "As in the planet Wraith. At least that is its popular nomenclature. Officially, it is catalogued as Sassandran. A class M planet that has recently been purchased by a private individual who, I believe, has turned it into a vacationers resort."

"Somebody bought a planet?" McCoy asked, agog.

"Indeed. An exceptionally affluent someone, by the name of Hekmatyer Ryhanen, originally from Dha'kaht'chun, Doctor."

"So, how did it come to be called Wraith? By anyone's standards that's a pretty odd name for a planet."

Spock's head tilted, deliberating on his reply. "There is considerable opinion to the effect that the planet is haunted, Doctor McCoy."

"Haunted? So, we are talking about apparitions and ghostly portents! Surely you can't believe that, Spock?"

"Doctor, I merely report the legend, I did not say I accepted it as true." The First Officer stated dryly.

"It's a fascinating peculiarity though, wouldn't you say, Jim?"

Kirk nodded hazel eyes alight with amusement as Spock exhaled lightly at McCoy's emphasis on that particular word. "From what I've heard, that's not the only idiosyncrasy about Sassandran, Bones. Rumour has it that, except for the mountaintops, the world is habitually shrouded in mist."

"Which has added to the superstition, I suspect." Spock added, his inquisitiveness obviously piqued. "Moreover Sassandran, although unpopulated now, still has substantial ruins attesting to an earlier occupation by a … species unknown."

He fixed his unblinking gaze once more on Kirk. "As you are no doubt aware Captain, our present tour includes a stopover at Sassandran at the explicit request of Mr Ryhanen."

Kirk forked up the last of his breakfast and pushed his plate aside with a contented sigh. He poured himself more coffee and sipped at the rich and creamy beverage. "I am quite aware of that, Mr Spock. Not only is Mr. Ryhanen extremely wealthy but he also has a great deal of influence with the Federation High Council. His 'request' translates into a direct order from 'Fleet to be sure and go visit."

"Most certainly, Captain."

"Which … brings me to the matter of your duty assignments, Mr. Spock. Officially, you're on sick leave, of course. However, I don't want you skulking alone for hours in your quarters…."

"Skulking, Captain," Spock protested mildly, winged brows drawing together in dissent at the derogatory term. "I hardly consider…"

"Yes, skulking, Mr. Spock." Kirk affirmed. "You will draw up a schedule with Doctor McCoy so that you get the proper rest. The remainder of your time, until we reach Sassandran will be spent partly on the bridge and partly researching the Koreoretnal condition. Is that understood?"

"Indeed, sir." The First Officer murmured his expression enigmatic. "However, even with Mr. Chekov's help, as you suggested last evening, I… will be of limited assistance on the bridge and could, quite possibly, be an encumbrance…"

Kirk did not miss Spock's lack of enthusiasm and thought he understood the reason for it. He shook his head and then remembered that Spock could not see the gesture. McCoy merely shrugged as Kirk shot him an uneasy glance.

"I'm not making a request, Mr. Spock." He hardened his tone using his command voice with calculated intent, his regret immediate as he saw the wounded look, concealed almost instantly, on Spock's face. "I know it won't be easy, but I wouldn't ask unless I thought you were up to it."

"No, of course not, Captain."

An uncomfortable silence fell that McCoy rushed to fill. "What if we fixed you up with a sensor web, Spock? We could incorporate it into your uniform so that it's not too obvious. Then you'll have no need to rely on Chekov, more than is normal, that is."

"A sensor web, Bones?" Kirk asked. "You mean like the one Doctor Jones wore?"1

"Exactly, Jim. If we link it up with Spock's senceiver implant I bet he'll even be able to play chess with a little practice."

They both studied the First Officer intently.

"What about it, Spock?" Kirk asked.

Grave, entirely composed, he inclined his head impressed, not for the first time, by McCoy's acuity.

"Thank you, Captain, I accept. Doctor, it is…an excellent idea."

o0o

1 Is There In Truth No Beauty.
Chapter 4 by karracaz
Oh, when darkness comes and pain is all around,

I will take your part,

Like a bridge over troubled waters,

I will lay me down.

o0o

Kirk, sitting in the Captain's chair on the bridge, flexed his back muscles to ease the pressure ache across his shoulders before he turned to look at his First Officer.

Spock, at the science station, leaned over his hooded viewer, transceiver placed precisely in one aristocratic satyr's ear, apparently absorbed in the flow of information the ship's sensors imparted. His performance could have won an award for method acting. But even from the centre seat Kirk could feel Spock's controlled tension. He guessed from the stiff way the Vulcan held himself and the deep frown lines between his brows, that the pressure was fast taking its toll. Exhaustion hung over the First Officer like a cloak.

Spock had insisted that his condition remain private, and no-one apart from Bones and the Captain knew of it, yet Kirk had discerned the odd worried look mostly from Uhura and Scotty, as they detected an unusual hesitation in the First Officer, Spock's growing indecision when passing on information.

Options, what did you do when you ran out of them, Kirk thought tiredly.

He had wanted to keep Spock occupied, stop him brooding alone in his quarters, and show him that the ship still needed his services, but all he had done was to emphasize the Vulcan's predicament.

Unable to forget his friend's pain he faced the main view screen again, the question he had been about to ask left unvoiced. Although McCoy's idea of using a sensor web to help the First Officer 'see' seemed at first the answer to their combined problem, it had turned out something of a two edged sword. The strain of sorting and collating both the bizarre images that Spock's eyes provided, along with the sensor information from the mesh embedded into the material of his uniform, proved an arduous process.

Kirk had watched Spock deteriorate slowly over the week he had used the device until the lines either side of his mouth and between his eyes had become ever deeper engraved and the time he spent on the bridge became correspondingly shorter day by day.

There has to be something I can do, Kirk steeled himself against a wave of compassion. He despised the reaction, his growing sense of helplessness. I can't let this continue.

"What's the estimated time of arrival at Sassandran, Ensign?"He leaned forward in his chair, bracing his arms on his knees, attention centred on Chekov.

The young Russian answered immediately. "Approximately twenty-one point three five minutes, Kepten."

"That's very accurate for an approximation, Mr. Chekov." He rose swiftly to his feet, noting the quick grin on the boy's face as his compliment registered.

Kirk swivelled to address Uhura where the exotic Bantu woman sat at her boards on the upper aft circle. "Lieutenant, please contact Mr. Ryhanen and advise him a landing party will be beaming down as soon as Enterprise reaches orbit. Have Doctor McCoy report to transporter room three wearing his dress uniform."

With one stride, he ascended the pit steps, his restiveness of the last week finding a sudden focus. "Mr. Sulu you have the conn. Mr. Spock, come with me."

A chorus of acknowledgments in quick succession followed them both into the turbo lift. The doors shut with a whoosh of sound as Spock came to stand beside him and Kirk gave the order to the computer, twisting the angled control horn. "Deck Five."

The lift came to life, descended rapidly before it slowed again and shifted to a horizontal track, speeding them to their quarters.

"Dress uniform, Captain?" Spock murmured into the silence. "Mr. Ryhanen is honoured."

Kirk met his First Officer's dark gaze, "Just greasing the wheels, Mr. Spock."

He did not elaborate, waiting for the Vulcan's curiosity to get the better of him and ask the inevitable question. It came, as he knew it would.

"You believe Mr. Ryhanen may be helpful to us in some way, sir?"

"Who knows, Mr. Spock? Someday I might need a favour in a hurry. According to that research you did, our Mr. Ryhanen has a finger in any number of prestigious pies."

Spock nodded, musingly. "Indeed, Captain. He does seem to have an industrious nature. Was there a specific 'pie' you had in mind?"

The research, mostly busy-work to keep Spock occupied had, never the less, proved exceedingly informative to Kirk. Ryhanen, a true Dha'ka, appeared to attract wealth and prestige like a magnet attracted iron filings. However, Kirk found one fact far more interesting than all the rest of the biographical data put together. It appeared that Ryhanen headed, among half a dozen other concerns, a flourishing pharmacogenetics conglomerate presently researching nanotechnology and cybernetic procedures. Layman, that he was, even Kirk could see there might be possibilities in relation to Spock's situation. However, he did not want to raise any false hopes before checking with McCoy.

"I'm open to suggestions, Spock. Perhaps you can think of something during your mid-morning nap."

Though there was little outward sign, Kirk knew his words had exasperated the Vulcan. Spock shifted position, spine stiffening a little as he folded his arms across his lean chest. "Captain, I am gratified by your obvious concern where my health is concerned. However, I assure you I am able to function without a rest every two hours."

"McCoy doesn't seem to agree." Kirk contradicted, secretly amused.

Spock's arrow-sharp, dark eyes cast Kirk a decidedly probing glance. "If I may say so, the Doctor is being overly protective, Captain."

"You may well say so and you are probably correct, Mr. Spock. What you may not do is flout his recommendations."

"Captain, I must protest …"

"No arguments, Mr. Spock. Doctor McCoy bears the responsibility for the physical condition of every crewmember on this ship. That includes your well being … and mine. If he says you rest every two hours that's what you'll do. Understood."

Spock exhaled, lips compressed, but he had little choice other than to comply with what amounted to a direct order. "Understood, sir."

"Good."

The lift came to a stop and Kirk decanted, followed confidently by Spock who matched his stride as they headed down the corridor where their quarters stood next to each other.

Spock knew this territory, had charted it minutely. He stopped precisely before his own door and turned once more to face his Captain. "I trust that I will be allowed to accompany you down to the planet, sir?"

Kirk had deliberated on the wisdom of doing exactly that. However, he had finally concluded that Spock needed the change of scene, and could only benefit from the challenge of having a new environment to explore. Bones had not concurred, fearful of the dangers inherent in such a move, but Kirk had used his authority to override the doctor's objections.

"Doctor McCoy doesn't think that's wise at this time." He watched the Vulcan carefully.

Spock's eyebrows elevated in what Kirk took to be profound chagrin. "And are you of the same opinion, sir?"

"I can't disregard the advice of my Chief Medical Officer, Mr. Spock. Not unless there is a logical reason for doing so, that is." His hazel eyes lit with suppressed amusement as he continued to tease his First Officer. "You do … have a sound and consistent basis for violating medical opinion, I take it?"

"Apart from frustrating Doctor McCoy's inclination to become a mother hen you mean, Captain?"

"A mother hen with only one chick in the nest, Mr. Spock."

Kirk could almost hear the neurons firing. Spock shifted his weight to stand evenly on both feet, arms folded, and chin levelled. "Captain, if I may be so presumptuous, I am an essential component of the landing party in as much that I have more practical knowledge regarding Sassandran and Mr. Ryhanen than either Doctor McCoy or yourself."

"I wouldn't dispute that, Mr. Spock. Do you consider that explanation will be acceptable to Doctor McCoy?"

Spock tilted his head. Somewhere along the way, or from something evident in Kirk's tone, he had deduced that the Captain had already made his decision. Spock turned the tables on Kirk and did a little humouring of his own. "I do not believe I have to yield to Doctor McCoy's irrational predisposition on the matter, Captain. It is undoubtedly a command decision. Your decision, sir."

Satisfied, Kirk stifled a grin. "Then you have nineteen minutes in which to change and meet us in transporter room three."

"Nineteen point one four minutes, in actual fact, sir."

"Don't be late, First Officer, or we'll go without you."

Spock raised an eyebrow, " Then I will endeavour to be on time, Captain…."

He made it with two seconds to spare, locating the transporter room with little difficulty, his perception polished by the weeks of blindness to a pristine sharpness. He crossed the threshold with a poise only slightly feigned, quietly elegant in the high-collared blue jacket, the Vulcan IDIC fastened to his left breast, a tricorder slung across his shoulder. As the door hissed shut behind him he paused, head tilted, assimilating and processing the data routed through the senceiver in his brain by the sensor net embedded in his clothing. Spock still found it quite fascinating to watch information as if in fast-forward on a screen located within his very mind. It proved simple to locate the Captain and Doctor McCoy standing with Chief Kyle by the transporter console. He could even differentiate between the three if he concentrated hard enough, analysing specific details of anything from hair colour and skin tones to height and weight ratios. It still could not compare with his own vision, however, which unfortunately continued to deteriorate. All that remained to him now was a distracting glare so intensely bright that it caused him substantial pain. The only protection against it Spock had found, was to use the inner nictitating eyelid, filtering out the dazzle until his environment became a vague, shimmering place of mists and shadows; a familiar landscape made strange that had become progressively more hostile and intimidating, filled with indistinguishable shapes where a misstep could spell anything from mere embarrassment to severe calamity.

He continued to persevere on the bridge for his Captain's sake but his concerns grew hour by hour that he might blunder at any given moment, misinterpret an important readout, or commit some major error. The trip to Sassandran promised a welcome relief from the persistant strain, a time to evaluate his position and marshal his reasons against Kirk's stubborn refusal to accept his resignation. By no means did he wish to leave the Enterprise but he could not continue as he was and he knew the miracle awaited by the Captain had little chance of materializing. Kaiidth. What was, was. It would be illogical in the extreme to deny the reality of the situation.

Acknowledging both Kirk and McCoy with a brief nod he crossed the room and stepped boldly up onto the transporter, taking his usual position on one of the pads.

"I think Mr. Spock's ready to beam down, Jim." McCoy murmured sardonically, loud enough for him to hear.

"So I see, Bones." Came Kirk's mild reply. "Better not keep him waiting."

Without further ado they took their places either side of him and Spock heard Kyle call out, "Energising, Captain…."

Unlike Doctor McCoy who often complained about the process, Spock always found transporting an invigorating experience, entirely physical, akin to a sonic shower after an enthusiastic game of velocity or a bout of shan'gahza with the Captain, the Andorian martial art that Kirk at present enjoyed. The act of having his matter scrambled and rematerialized at the beam down point had never previously unnerved him. However, as the effect began and the iridescent sparkle surrounded him, the Vulcan experienced an unexpected disquiet. The normal restrained hum contained an unusual whine that he had never previously noticed. The IDIC medallion turned suddenly hot, burning through jacket and undershirt until it scorched the soft tissue of his chest. The skin everywhere on his body sizzled with a surge of static electricity. The fuzzy hairs that covered his flesh stood on end. The next instant an abrupt sensation of crackling energy whiplashed through every nerve and vein in his body. It wrenched him apart atom by atom in a fraction of a second, a second that lasted for eternity.

He materialised in what he sensed as a large open space with stone beneath his feet and a chilly, rarefied, mountain air upon the exposed skin of his face, throat and hands. The shriek of a large bird came wheeling sharply to his ears. Disorientated, he raised a hand to his throbbing temples staggering dizzily, the confidence he had learned aboard the Enterprise deserting him. Without walls to touch, or bounce back sounds, he had lost all his previous reference points. He took a hesitant step, the ground unsteady beneath his feet, before he swayed forward, grasping at empty air.

"Spock, what is it?" Kirk's alarmed voice came from beside him. An arm caught him around the waist, stopped him from falling as his knees gave way, and then lowered him gently to the ground, cradling him there. "Spock, what's wrong? Bones do something."

"Hold on, Jim. Give me a moment." The hum of Doctor McCoy's remote sensor penetrated the First Officer's confusion. He struggled to sit up but a hand on his shoulder restrained him. "Stay put, Mr. Spock. This won't take long."

He did not have the energy to resist. "Doctor, the sensor web is no longer functioning. I … cannot see …"

Although his eyes remained open, the universe had darkened, consuming the dazzling brightness that had plagued him for so long and for that fact alone, Spock knew only a profound relief. The warble of a communicator came from behind him. He half turned toward the sound, heard the case snap back. Kirk's voice again, sounding worried.

"Kirk here."

"Captain, are ye all right down there? " Scott's voice was distant, anxious.

"Doctor McCoy and I have transported safely but Mr. Spock's … unwell. What makes you ask, Scotty?"

"It's the transporter, sir. We've got a short in the main couplings, a possible feedback in the energy coils. I canna beam ye back up until it's rectified, Captain."

"Any idea what caused it, Scotty?"

"I canna' say yet, sir. We're working on it…"

"Very well. Keep me, posted."

Spock started as Kirk closed the communicator, senses whirling as he fought against a wave of vertigo, his forehead pounding in time to his beating heart. "Sir, I believe … the transporter malfunction may be connected with the … breakdown of my sensor web. Before … I dematerialised there was a definite energy overload…"

His words slurred as pain resounded within his skull, affecting his ability to think logically, to reason. He shivered, holding the back of his head with trembling fingers, trying to ease the ferocious ache. The ground still continued to lurch beneath him, spinning bizarrely, and he leaned back into Kirk's loose embrace needing something to cling onto, suddenly cold with the dread of falling into the void that had opened at his feet. Kirk's heart thudded strongly against his left ear and he groped blindly for the hand that tensely spanned the flesh across his lower ribs.

"Captain?"

"It's okay, Mr. Spock. I've got you." Reacting to Spock's unease, Kirk clasped his First Officer's hand, returning the pressure as if in reassurance. "Bones?"

"He could be right, Jim. Spock if I can have your tricorder for a moment." The instrument warbled as McCoy scanned the sensor web and senceiver embedded in Spock's brain. "It certainly appears as if the sensor webs shorted out. The discharge could have affected Spock's senceiver, too."

"How badly is he hurt?" Kirk asked and Spock heard renewed anxiety in the Captain's voice.

"There's been some neural damage, I can't tell how much yet. He needs to rest. Somewhere quiet and warm. I'll give him a shot of analgesic just to ease the discomfort."

Even as Kirk agreed, there came the sound of footsteps approaching. Then a powerful voice addressed them all in a deep, aristocratic bass baritone, steady and authoritative, used to command, the tone subtly restrained now as its owner greeted them.

"Meer'tchal, Sers. I am your host, Ryhanen Hekmatyer." the voice held a trace of concern, mixed with perplexity. "I have been remiss in meeting you and now there has been an accident."

"My First Officer is … ill, Mr Ryhanen. He needs to rest. If we could be provided with a room…"

"Of course, of course. Let me assist you."

Spock suddenly found himself lifted up into a pair of immensely strong arms and hoisted at least six foot off the ground as if he weighed no more than a child.

"If you will come this way…"

"Captain?" Spock queried uncertainly, but Kirk's reply became lost in the abrupt surge of blood booming in his ears. Pain exploded through his skull, blazing a fiery trail along his central and peripheral nervous systems, until not only sight but also hearing and touch were lost to him. All that remained was the pain, and soon enough even that faded leaving him in a limbo that he could not penetrate.


o0o
Chapter 5 by karracaz
Success is failure turned inside out

A silver tint on the clouds of doubt

But you never can tell how close you are

It may be near when it seems so far

You have to stick to the fight

And when things go wrong don't you quit….

o0o

The trees he walked amongst grew tall and thin. The only colour glowed in the parasitical moss that dripped from the overhanging branches in cascades of crimson, jade and amethyst against white bark and pale grey leaves. Low bushes abounded, choked thickly with distorted globular fruits of indigo, wound about with vines and strange climbing plants, all reaching for the translucent light glimmering through the mists.

Strange scents tickled his nostrils, unfamiliar and curiously intoxicating, the fragrances of an alien world. He saw quite clearly, despite the vaporous haze that churned and eddied around him, caressing him with unseen hands, brushing his feet as he continued to push, unperturbed, through the crowding vegetation.

There was, he realized, someone else in the forest beside himself. Someone or something that remained concealed among the thickets, travelling a parallel course, heading for the tower that he somehow knew lay just up ahead. It played a game of hide and seek with him, a glimmering radiance, appearing just on the edge of sight until he glanced in that direction, only to disappear again in an instant. Unafraid, he paid it little heed, though he recognised that it could mean him mischief. The mist continued to hold him captive, drawing him on, ever deeper into the secret realm of Wraith's interior.....

o0o

Spock sat up with a gasp. His heart hammered a rapid tattoo against his lower ribs, witness to the sudden spurt of irrational fear. With open eyes he stared into stygian blackness and for an instant, remained confused, unable to understand why he could not see. Then memory returned. The transporter had malfunctioned and he had sustained injuries - further injuries - he amended stoically, recalling that last burst of agonising pain as the Dha'ka Ryhanen picked him up like a babe in arms and carried him … presumably to the place he now found himself. No doubt, the quiet area Doctor McCoy had specified. He shifted on the bed, head tilted, listening.

"Captain?" He exclaimed softly, "Doctor McCoy?"

A faint echo returned, giving him the general dimensions of the room, but neither the good doctor nor Captain Kirk answered his call. Apparently, they regarded him well enough to remain alone, at least for a time. That encouraged him and without hesitation, he pushed aside the thick duvets and swung his legs out – only to find himself nearer to the actual floor than he had anticipated. Spock stifled a shocked cry as his left ankle, both knees and an elbow impacted on solid wood. Unbalanced, his momentum carried him forward until he collided with the corner of the nightstand, striking his brow against the wooden surface with a loud thud.

The sound of objects falling and glass breaking resounded through the quiet room. Stunned, he leaned back against the bed; essentially just a wide dais raised a foot or two above the floor and covered with assorted bedding. A little late he realized that lack of sight in this strange environment could prove far more hazardous than aboard the Enterprise. If nothing else, the experience taught him how much he needed to exercise both caution and coordination if he was to survive any additional unpleasant surprises. Further, that it was long past time he learned how to be blind.

He took in a deep breath, closing his eyes as he steadied himself, discovering an odd sort of peace in the gesture. Although the world was just as dark with eyes open or closed, he found the action focussed all his perceptions on those senses still available to him.

Spock pushed himself up onto his bruised knees and from there got slowly to his feet. A quick clap of his hands threw back a faint resonance, enough to tell him that a wall stood nearby. More guarded than before, he shuffled forward, his natural elegance distorted by the awkward stiffness of uncertainty. Arms extended at shoulder height, his intendion was to circumvent the room by using the perimeter and therefore find his way about without too much inconvenience. Before he did anything else, however, he had to find his clothes, for someone had thoughtfully removed them. Leaving him quite naked was no doubt McCoy's foolproof way of keeping him from wandering elsewhere. Fortunately, the doctor had also increased the temperature of the room to an almost comfortable level.

"I can't recall giving you permission to leave that bed, Mr. Spock."

McCoy's voice came from across the room. It startled Spock from his state of intense concentration. Only then did he become aware of the doctor's entry into the room.

"Besides which, it's a sure thing your hands aren't gonna be much use way up there. You're more likely to bump your shins than hit your nose. Try lower down 'bout waist high."

"Thank you, Doctor." Dutifully Spock dropped his hands in response to the logic of McCoy's statement and immediately encountered the back of a low chair.

How basic, he thought ruefully. How simple and eminently sensible. Spock would have missed it entirely with his hands held so unnaturally high, cracking his knees or stumbling as a reward for his efforts. "Perhaps you can help me further by describing this room and the rest of its contents."

McCoy stared at the First Officer in sudden absurd affection, though he would rather die than ever admit to the emotion, especially in front of Spock. Whatever life threw at the Vulcan, he managed to rise above it, seemingly without bitterness or anger, indomitable to the last.

The Doctor felt his throat constrict. Incongruous tears stung his eyes as he watched Spock trying to orientate himself. He wiped them away surreptitiously, clearing his throat before he complied with Spock's request, detailing the room in a clear and concise manner as if describing a tray of surgical instruments set before him. He made a special point of mentioning the large but delicate glass ornament set on a side table, an obvious danger to the blind First Officer.

"You have a distinct talent for observation and description, Doctor." Spock said appreciatively. "Perhaps you should think of changing profession."

"Yeah, as if I need a new career …" McCoy replied without thinking and then cursed himself for being so clumsy. "I'm sorry, Spock."

"Please, do not castigate yourself on my behalf, Doctor McCoy." The First Officer turned from his fingertip inspection of large floor to ceiling windows to stare in McCoy's general direction, his expression enigmatic. "It would be illogical to believe that I could remain on the Enterprise as I am. Vulcan's have a propensity for two or even more careers during their lifetime. I have merely reached the turning point sooner than I had expected."

He hesitated for an instant before going on, "What continues to perturb me is the Captain's inability to accept my … disability."

You're right about that, McCoy thought as he crossed the room to join Spock. Jim's an eternal optimist. He isn't gonna give up on you without a fight, that's for sure.

James Kirk was in his mid-thirties, the youngest captain in the Fleet, handsome and athletic, while Spock was six years older, tall and lean, typically Vulcan with an intellectual's wiry physique. Neither man resembled the other either emotionally or physically, yet there existed a likeness in spirit that nobody could miss. Those who knew them both well, and sometimes even casual acquaintances, were more impressed with their similarities than their differences. It was not something you could ever put your finger on exactly. Certainly, you could never mistake one man for the other. However, both had that air of command, a natural authority, so used to being obeyed that they did not have to raise their voices or resort to threats. Jim Kirk and Spock were a matched set. McCoy could understand Jim's reluctance to accept the inescapable; losing Spock would be like having his right arm amputated at the shoulder.

"Spock, there're three things that Starship Captains in general - but Jim Kirk in particular - advocate. Women and children first, always go up with the ship, and never forget a friend …"

Spock nodded, eyes hooded in thought. "Agreed, Doctor. However, he must be persuaded to acknowledge the reality of the situation for his own sake."

"Give him time. He'll come round eventually. You know, he never left your side while you were unconscious. It took a hell of a while to convince him you were going to be all right and only when he saw you start to recover did I finally get rid of him. You're an … important … part of Jim's life. Naturally enough, he's worried about you."

Spock frowned. He folded his arms, expression impenetrable, conscious that McCoy watched him with eagle eyes. "There is no need for his concern."

"No?" McCoy's tone was openly sceptical. It was then he noticed the blood on Spock's face. "Hey, what's all this?"

Spock gingerly touched the cut on his forehead, grateful for the distraction. "A … miscalculation, Doctor."

"Here, let me take a look. Hmmm, that's a pretty deep miscalculation." McCoy dipped into his medical pouch and came up with a portable tissue regenerator. It was a moment's work to repair the damage. "There, that should do it. Try to be more careful in future. Jim will have my hide if you get hurt again."

"The Captain cannot believe you were responsible for the transporter feedback, Doctor. That would be illogical."

"It was my idea to route the sensor web through your senceiver implant. I should have known better."

"I also sanctioned the procedure. It should not have proved unsafe or deleterious."

"At least the neural damage is already healing. You'll need to take it easy for a few days is all. Lots of bed rest, a few gentle excursions, no tilting at windmills. That sort of thing."

"Tilting at windmills, Doctor," Spock, perplexed, ignored McCoy's unpalatable statement about 'bed rest'.

"Walking into inanimate objects is definitely not allowed, Mr. Spock."

"Ah, I see." Spock's eyebrows rose in unison. He ran a finger over the insignificant new scar on his brow, head on one side, considering. "I will attempt not to do so in future, Doctor McCoy."

The First Officer's lips creased in what could have been a rueful smile as he went back to his exploration of the window, his hands roaming back and forth until he found the release. "Where does this lead?"

"We're in Ryhanen's private castle, really a small town, chiselled out of bedrock, half way up the side of a mountain. The window opens onto a balcony that overlooks the rest of the chain. He calls it Castle Cloud but it's more like Ryhanen's Folly if you ask me."

"Fascinating."

"You can say that again." McCoy retorted. He saw Spock's eyebrow rise again and forestalled the Vulcan's inevitable comment before he had chance to utter it. "But don't, Mr. Spock. And if you're thinkin' of exploring outside, it may be a good idea to get dressed. It's mighty chilly out there."

o0o
Chapter 6 by karracaz
In your eyes

I see ribbons of colour

I see us inside of each other

I feel my conscience merge with yours

Falling into you…..

0o0

Kirk, doing some exploring of his own, found a suitable distraction waiting for him on the dining balcony where he, McCoy and Spock had first beamed down.

The ancient sun had started to set. Kirk realised with some surprise that he had spent the whole day sitting beside Spock's prone body willing the Vulcan to recover from the trauma suffered in the transporter malfunction.

It had taken all of McCoy's reassurance to convince him that Spock's neural damage was superficial. But swayed at last he had left Spock's side to get some fresh air and work the kinks out of his spine. Given the choice, he would have preferred something more energetic to work off the nervous tension.

Like an all-out dogfight amid a whole bunch of enraged Klingons, for instance; or maybe a bare fisted brawl with Finnegan, his old enemy from the Academy.

Lacking either of those alternatives, a roll in the hay with a willing partner might just do it. The girl standing alone by the parapet with her back to him, looked out over the mountains. Dressed in a long robe of some iridescent silver-grey cloth, she appeared a part of the inevitable mist and intrigued him enough to divert - for a little while at least - some of his ill-omened thoughts.

Without stopping to consider his motives, he walked up to the parapet, and stood beside the young woman.

"I don't think we've met." His gaze caressed the fragile, strangely androgynous beauty of her face, the ivory skin pale as alabaster against a cloud of ashen hair.

The girl turned to look at him. A frisson of excitement shivered along Kirk's nerves. Huge obsidian eyes, on a level with his own, the lids shadowed with what appeared to be some dark cosmetic studied him. She wore some heavy, intoxicating perfume. It filled the air around her like a tantalizing haze. Kirk breathed it in, his lazy smile widening as he relaxed, enjoying himself for the first time in what seemed like weeks.

"No, I do not think we have."

Her cool, husky voice sent shivers of anticipation running down Kirk's spine. Yet, he realized, his sudden appearance came as no surprise to her. Whatever she professed, his presence had been expected. His smile deepened as his tensions took an entirely different turn. "Perhaps there's an easy remedy for that. I'm James T. Kirk, Captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise."

"Yes." She continued to stare at him with that startlingly frank, unblinking gaze, holding him mesmerized.

"You've never … heard of … the Enterprise, right?" Some cool lady, he admitted to himself, and felt the attraction grow even stronger, relishing the challenge of conquest. His grin vanished when sudden heat coalesced in the pit of his stomach and exploded outwards. Incandescent, flaming along his veins, it pooled in his groin.

"Should I have?" The unnerving eyes heartlessly weighed him up, like a cat hunting a particularly tasty mouse, or a spider chasing a bug.

"No … I suppose not." He swallowed, abruptly, thrown off stride, aware that he was acting like a tongue-tied college boy on his first date. He managed to drag his eyes away from her face, looked out over the balustrade. "It's beautiful, isn't it?"

Ryhanen had built his Castle Cloud atop the highest summit in the long mountain chain. All the other peaks had surrendered before the slowly rising mist and just one barbed dagger of scarlet rock jabbed into the sky, way off to the north. Kirk stared at the swirling outlier mist tendrils gently exploring his boot. "Is it always like this?"

"Every mist-rise and mist-fall." The girl replied. She gestured towards the west where Sassandran's sun had started to descend slowly towards the waiting vapours. "As Resyenyhah sinks, Sahasirana rises, conquering the mountains that his radiance held during the day. It is a war, ceaseless and eternal, but Sahasirana has the better of it, for she has the valleys, the plains, and the seacoasts. Resyenyhah keeps only the mountaintops and then only by day."

"You like it here, Miss …? I still don't know your name."

"Names are powerful things, Jaymztikuhkhq."

The girl tilted her head to one side. It reminded Kirk of Spock's habitual gesture. The cool breeze played with the silver-blond hair that cascaded down her back almost to the waist, a ghostly mist-fall of her own that he yearned to touch.

"Do you need to know my name before you make love to me?" She watched him intently looking for some reaction; the ebony eyes mostly iris and pupil with only a tiny rim of white showing.

Amazed and a little amused by her insight, Kirk floundered for an instant. He decided to stall. "Why should I want to make love to you? We've only just met."

"It is the truth, none the less."

"It's hardly surprising." Kirk laughed, deciding to come clean. "You're very beautiful."

Pale, blue-veined lids, dropped over the striking eyes, hiding her thoughts from him as she inclined her head, "Have you not made love to many beautiful women."

"None like you." He acknowledged softly.

The girl's eyes swirled open like dark flowers and he felt an uncomfortable sensation as if she were able to read his every intimate thought.

"I am Tel Shimaan." She conceded unexpectedly as if that explained everything, smiling at his gallantry. Kirk found himself smiling back, knowing that he had just lost the game they played. He was hooked.

"You live here permanently?"

"This is my home." She turned her profile to him, gazing out over the drop off beyond the balustrade. "It is an insubstantial world, Jaymztikuhkhq, where nothing is ever as it seems. A world of ghosts and mists and clouds, where dreams and reality mix."

"You look substantial enough to me." Kirk murmured, wanting to take her into his arms and crush her to him, flesh against flesh, to kiss the darkly sensual lips until she cried out his name in pleasure.

She smiled, glanced sideways at him then away again as if reading his thought, the look cool, merciless, and predatory, contradicting her fragile beauty. "I sense you are uncomfortable here, Jaymztikuhkhq, so close to the edge. The altitude worries you. Is such a height not meaningless after the cold voids of space."

Kirk did feel uneasy and found her shrewdness unsettling. "Why don't you call me Jim? I'm not worried, cautious maybe. In space, I have the walls of the Enterprise between the void and me. At least an illusion of safety."

"Illusions, Jimh?" The girl nodded. "Yes, illusions are sometimes important."

"I doubt Spock would agree with you there." Kirk grinned wryly.

"Spokhq?"

"My First Officer. He's a Vulcan. Sees everything in black and white…" Or, at least, he used to. Now all he sees is grey like the mist and shadows down there, an elusive abstraction, robbing him of his life …

However, she was not interested in talking about Spock. Her attention centred now on the drop, on the mists that swirled and twisted. "Do you not see how Sahasirana moulds and reforms, ever changing but always the same."

Kirk looked down and saw only that his feet had disappeared, devoured by the rising fog. He frowned, watching the wispy strands, the ghostly tendrils weaving an ethereal web between himself and Tel Shimaan until they appeared to merge into one being. It was an intriguing thought but one he found thoroughly daunting. He raised his head and found her lustrous eyes on him again, like the black empty space between worlds, ready to engulf him as the mists were doing. He shivered, chilled by the icy vapour that swirled about him, conscious that the haze was slowly reaching for his knees…

"Some say that our future can be glimpsed by seeking the patterns in the clouds. We only have to look close enough."

Kirk grinned but still looked directly where she pointed. The formless mist swirled all around him. "And you…believe that?"

"Of course." She smiled and stepped closer, strands of mist leading her advance. "I saw you there."

Her hands delicately touched his chest, moved up to rest either side of his face, her slender fingers cool. She described smooth circles across his brow, down his temples, her thumbs tracing either side of his nose, pausing to flick back and forth along his jaw. Her eyes remained wide open, fixed steadily on his face as if the feather-light touch was not enough to hold him.

He flicked nervously at his lips with his tongue just as her fingers wandered to his mouth, and she paused as if analysing the strangeness of the physical sensation. His eyes remained riveted on her face as she followed the pattern of his mouth with first one finger, then another, then all of them at once. She caught the fullness of his lower lip with a curious pressure of one thumb and Kirk felt again a burst of arousal, the abrupt need to draw in more air. His lips parted as he sucked in a deep breath. Her touch was incredibly sensuous and yet she seemed to have no idea of the response she awakened in him.

He knew that he had lost control and it unnerved him. To seize it back he covered her hands with his own, pulled them away from his face. He trembled suddenly, his fingers thick and awkward in contrast to hers. Then he reached for the back of her neck, brought her closer against his chest, covering her parted lips with his own. He captured her mouth gently enough but with a rising urgency as she melted into him, caressing and exploring, demanding an equal reaction as he tried to smother the violent throbbing within himself. At first her head pulled back against the unyielding pressure of his hand, then her lips moved beneath his, testing an unfamiliar awareness, unafraid, answering his need.

They parted with reluctance and Tel Shimaan opened her eyes, opaque and incalculable now as she gazed at him.

"You wished to prove something to me?" She smiled that half mocking, half sultry smile, her tone soft with pleasure.

"I thought you might like it."

"It is an extraordinary custom." She murmured softly. "But most agreeable. Why did you stop?"

"I've never kissed a Sassandran before."

"And I have never … kist … a Terranh. It is not our way to touch with the lips as you do. This is our way." Again, she raised her fingers to his face.

The mist followed, cobweb light, brushing his skin delicately, fluttering from brow to chin. Kirk shuddered at its touch, but he lacked the volition to pull away. He tipped his head back as her fingers moved on, slipping in unison down the smooth slope of his shoulders, pressing lightly against his well-developed biceps that contracted in urgent tension beneath her hands. His lids dropped like blinds, shading the fervent smoulder of eyes gone abruptly dark. Lips parting helplessly he pulled in another shuddering breath. Her wandering fingers rested for an instant in the centre of his chest concentrating his awareness there with an explosion of sensuality. The mist was all about them now, as substantial as her heavy perfume swirling through his senses. He shook his head in an effort to dispel the madness her nearness evoked, his body stubbornly refusing to move away from the electricity of her fingertips.

"Telshimaan..." His ragged breathing made it difficult to speak. His heart thundered, his pulses raced.

Her hands slipped in between their taut bodies, tracing his rigid stomach muscles, the outline of his thighs, the tendrils of mist following her deft fingers, touching him intimately. A startled sound flew from his chest and escaped his lips at the contact.

"Be one with me, Jimh." She whispered softly. "Do not resist. You are for me, Jaymztikuhkhq. You are for me."

O0O

The plexiglas opened with a quiet sigh allowing an influx of cool, mountain air. Spock stepped over the threshold, equally exhilarated and terrified, aware of the great open space before and beyond him, knowing that a false step here could mean his death.

"Your way ahead is clear space except for a few shrubs and trees in pots." McCoy watched him anxiously but let him find his own way without intruding, just close enough to act if the Vulcan should stumble.

Even sightless, Spock had a quiet dignity, an ingenuous poise. Head held high, gaze fixed on some vision only he could see, the First Officer proceeded with almost agonising slowness out onto the wide balcony, his hands extended from bent elbows in the way McCoy had suggested.

"There's a statue on your left, about twelve feet high. Ryhanen seems to like things big…"

"Dha'kaht'chun are themselves physically imposing, Doctor. At only eight foot in height, Ser Ryhanen is somewhat undersized by comparison to the rest of his race. Does the statue represent anything in particular?"

Appreciative of McCoy's presence, Spock concentrated on his first trip across virgin territory, his ears straining for any and every sound, the sigh of the wind among the crags, the melancholy cry of a bird, his own hesitant footsteps on rough hewn stone, and the doctor's quick, apprehensive breathing at his shoulder.

"A young hominid female, if secondary sexual characteristics are anything to go by, sporting a pair of curving ram's horns from the brow. It looks anatomically correct, the neck's thickened, the shoulders wide and muscular for a woman, but it could be a mythological representation of some sort. She's carrying a weapon, a crossbow, I think it is, and has what appears to be a large animal, vaguely bear-like with prominent tusks, accompanying her. I wouldn't like to meet either of them on a dark night, that's a sure thing. It looks old, too old to have originated at Castle Cloud."

Tendrils of mist brushed Spock's face, delicate fingertips, tentative and exploring as if searching each of his features one by one. The evocative scent of decaying leaves and damp earth pervaded the air, calling to mind his reverie of walking in the forest accompanied by that Other, insubstantial as a ghost, cloaked in mystery, yet with an underlying reality that was hard to refute. At the recollection, an eerie silence seemed to descend about him. He stopped, analysing the sensation, trying to pinpoint its direction.

"Doctor, I believe we are under observation…" He dropped his voice, speaking in an undertone as if afraid that someone would overhear.

"That's not possible, Spock. We're over a thousand feet above the ground. Nothing overlooks this terrace."

"Nevertheless…" Spock's voice trailed off into silence as he stared fixedly towards the waist high stone parapet that encircled the drop off .

"What is it, Spock?" Puzzled, and uneasy, McCoy followed Spock's sightless gaze.

The sun had started to descend. It gave way to the conquering mist tinged now with scarlet light that lapped like ghostly waves upon the shores of the balcony. Already the other mountains in the range had disappeared, swallowed up in the sinuous white ocean.

Then the tide seemed to turn and the mists poured over the balcony edge to close in upon Castle Cloud. An intense fog gathered a scant metre distant, in an opaque wall that grew thicker and stronger as the seconds ticked by, dwarfing the two officers as it towered above them. And within the mists, something started to form.

McCoy dragged himself from the stupor that held him transfixed, forced his feet to move, placing himself before the First Officer, a human shield against what he thought now threatened them. His heart thundered inside his chest as he sucked in a lungful of abruptly freezing air.

"Those rumours were true. It's a wraith, Spock…" He hissed over his shoulder, lips suddenly numb, so cold he could hardly form the words. "Get … back inside … now."

Without waiting for a response he grabbed Spock by the arm, spun him roughly about and propelled him back towards the open windows by brute force alone. They tumbled across the threshold in a welter of limbs; the wraith-like mist clutching vainly at their ankles as the Chief Surgeon instantly whirled, thumping the window release. It shut fast with a soft exhalation, echoing McCoy as he gasped in breathless relief.

"Doctor?" Spock blinked in bewilderment as if only just awakening from some bizarre dream Head tilted he stared up at the doctor from his position on the floor where McCoy's dramatic entrance had thrown him. "What has happened?"

Something thumped against the glas with such force the whole frame shivered. A banshee wail keened abruptly into the silence. McCoy launched himself away from the window. He echoed the fearful cry with one of his own, landing on his knees beside Spock, wondering what would happen if the panes should crack. Unwilling to look in that direction, worried by what he might see, he stayed on his knees, face averted, while something unknown rapped and scraped on the other side of the fragile barrier, trying to get in to them.

It seemed like an eternity before the sounds eventually faded and disappeared. McCoy risked a quick glance at the window. Thick fog writhed and twisted just beyond the panes but some unknown instinct told him it was just condensation, water vapour caused by the evaporation of warm air as night closed in. Whatever had hidden within the masking clouds had now given up and gone away.

At least for the moment, he thought with a shiver. With a weary groan, he got back on his feet, helped the First Officer up, and brushed himself off, trying to control his shaking fingers.

"I don't know 'bout you, Spock but I need a drink. Something large and one hundred per cent proof," he murmured. "Until we get some answers to what just happened, the rest of my exploring is gonna be from out of a glass…."

o0o
Chapter 7 by karracaz
And in the mirror I glimpse as I pass,

No reflection is revealed in the glass.

Can't you see that the blood in my veins

Is as lifeless as yesterdays rain?

I am nothing but shadow and mist,

And for you I cannot exist….

O0o

"And you're sure it meant to harm you?"

Kirk glanced towards the window, covered now by a draped curtain that McCoy had drawn to shut out the sight of the swirling fog, some obscure memory forcing its way to the surface of his mind. But the recollection sank again before he could examine it more closely.

"I'm telling you it attacked us, Jim. Came billowing over the balcony parapet straight for us."

"That is not certain, Doctor McCoy." Spock interrupted softly. "Its intentions, as far as I could sense, were ambivalent. Though assuredly not benign, neither was it malicious."

"You mean it just came to say 'ciao', Spock, or invite us over for dinner, perhaps? "

"Now you are being facetious, Doctor."

"You can bet your pay on it, Mr. Spock."

Kirk got up from the overstuffed hotel chair and started to pace. "Whether it meant you injury or not, it still doesn't explain what it is or what it's doing on this planet. Could it be native? Is it intelligent? It's a pity you didn't manage to get any tricorder readings, Bones."

McCoy looked abashed, but his concern for Spock had driven any such requirement out of his head.

"Perhaps those questions should be addressed to Ser Ryhanen, Captain." Spock suggested. "The original surveys of Sassandran were carried out by a company under his nominal control. The wraith legend has existed from that time, I believe."

"Agreed. The ideal opportunity will be the formal dinner our host has arranged for this evening. Think you're up to it Mr. Spock?"

"Indeed, Captain. It should be most enlightening."

"According to Mr. Ryhanen, the invitation includes all my senior officers. Scotty's still doing the final tests on the transporter but if everything checks out, he'll be beaming down with Uhura and Sulu."

"Sounds like a reunion, Jim." McCoy said, with a grin, cheering up. "Are we expected to be on our best behaviour or can we let our hair down at this junket?"

"The usual rules apply, Doctor." Kirk tried to sound stern but failed, his hazel eyes suddenly alight. He pushed his qualms about the strangeness of Sassandran back down into his subconscious. "Ryhanen's roped in half of his administrative staff, some of the residents at Castle Cloud, as well as the more prominent colonists presently on Sassandran. Our reputation is on the line. Discretion should be our byword."

"Dha'kaht'chun's have a philosophy of eudemonism, Doctor McCoy. Ser Ryhanen has a reputation for tolerating only the best. I believe even your Lucullan tastes will be effectively gratified."

"If that's a fancy way of saying we're going to eat and drink something apart from reconstituted chicken and synthetic coffee, then I'm all for it." McCoy declared. "A little self-indulgence is better than no indulgence at all in my book. Of course as the Enterprise' resident party-pooper, I suppose you'll stick to the usual mixed vegetables, salad, and rice bread, Spock?"

"My dietary needs are simple, Doctor McCoy, I do not pretend otherwise. I see no reason to overeat and disrupt my digestive system. However, if you wish to gorge yourself, please do not let my attendance interfere."

"Why, thank you, Commander. I'm relieved to have your permission to enjoy myself."

"Gentlemen. Gentlemen." Kirk interceded, rolling his eyes ceiling-ward. "Shall we declare a cessation of hostilities, if only for this evening? Our strength lies in unity before Mr. Ryhanen, not open warfare."

Spock lifted his face, his eyes serene and unseeing. "Of course, Captain."

McCoy harrumphed in grumpy disapproval, still upset by his recent unnerving experience but unwilling to admit that his bad temper originated from that source. "If you say so, Jim. I just hope Ryhanen's not placed us next to each other at dinner, is all. If I'm to get indigestion, I'd like it to stem from the food I eat, not from your First Officer's disapproval of my gluttonous behaviour."

However, they had all underestimated the Dha'kaht'chun's desire to accommodate his guests. The main dining area was a haven of cosy warmth and subdued lighting, with the soft strains of a live ensemble playing from the gallery above. A long table, elegant with china and crystal, mixed with arrangements of fresh-cut, exotic alien flowers and candlelight was the centrepiece of the room. Yet, it was the view through the floor to ceiling transparent shielding out onto the wide balcony that grabbed Kirk and McCoy's immediate attention. Only a few feet from where they stood the mists surged and pitched in ghostly swells, cloaking everything in a sea of white vapours. Castle Cloud floated alone, a stone galleon upon an insubstantial ocean. An eerie beauty existed in that one startling vista. Looking at it, Kirk felt unexpectedly edgy, understanding very well how Bones had become so easily spooked.

Ryhanen Hekmatyer excused himself from other guests and immediately came to meet them. His was an imposing race indeed; splendidly handsome, his mahogany skin emphasized a neatly clipped beard, eyebrows and thick shoulder length hair of startling white. The Dha'kaht'chun's quicksilver eyes had an intelligent, vital quality and a startling magnetism difficult to overlook. He also topped Kirk by more than two feet, and had the towering build of a grizzly bear. At Hekmatyer's side, the three officers resembled offspring of a much lesser God.

Bowing graciously, he acknowledged them all with the utmost respect, asked after Spock's health and showed them to their places where the other members of the Enterprise' crew awaited them.

There were seventy guests in all. A throng of different races and species intermingled about the extended table. A glitteringly, smart assembly, sedately noisy, enjoying the luxury and extravagance orchestrated by their magnanimous host. Kirk studied them, his eyes roving nonchalantly as soon as he had seen Spock safely seated on his left. McCoy, despite his earlier protestations in Spock's room, sat on the First Officer's other side. Sulu took the chair on Kirk's right with Scotty and Uhura sitting in the chairs beside him. On the other side of the table Ryhanen, with his Andorian aides, two of his wives and twin daughters, formed a group of their own. An expectant silence fell as Ryhanen rose to his feet and faced his guests.

"As we are a multicultural assembly this evening, I have taken the liberty of selecting a variety of dishes for your pleasure. Please be reminded however that one man's meat may be another's poison, and take suitable care when tasting each other's specialities. I would not wish the occasion to end abruptly for anyone here…"

There came a smattering of wry laughter as Ryhanen regained his seat, followed by the disciplined entrance of a number of attendants and servers carrying various gastronomic delights from numerous worlds. Soon after came the sounds of silverware scraping fine china, the low tones of conversation, and the fragile ring of crystal as glasses were brought together in diverse toasts.

The smokey white wine, made from a native grape - a fat grey monster the size of a lemon - tasted superb. After his first glass, Kirk started to relax. It felt good to sit at a table finely prepared, lulled by the murmurs of contented diners, surrounded by the sounds of a room devoted to elegance and people who appreciated it. He glanced at Spock. The Vulcan's right hand crept unobtrusively to his plate guided by the placement of the silverware. Spock examined the heavy matt tablecloth and the dishes before him with his fingers. In front of him steamed freshly baked pri tarmeeli, harageel and yorakar. A heavy crystal goblet nearby contained the finest of Vulcan riman cordials. Spock apparently, would not get the chance to eat his mixed vegetables and salad that evening. McCoy, without drawing attention to the fact, quietly informed Spock not only what was on the plate before him but also where the food was placed - and received a murmured 'thank you' for his efforts.

Kirk, trading meaningful glances with the Ryhanen women across from him, especially the beautiful twin daughters, suddenly caught the eye of papa Ryhanen and addressed himself to his own meal of thick beef sirloin, devilled potatoes and baby vegetables. The erection he currently sported withered to nothing as the powerful, all seeing, all knowing glance, searched his soul and found him wanting. To distract that glowing, quicksilver consideration, he chewed thoughtfully on a chunk of rare beef before indicating the transparent shield holding the swirling mists of Wraith at bay.

"I understand that you own this planet, Mr Ryhanen. If you don't mind me saying, it seems a strange choice for a resort world given the abundance of other, more suitable, locations."

"Hekmatyer, if you please, Captain Kirk. Or may I call you, James?" At Kirk's nod, he smiled graciously, a flash of startling white in that otherwise dark face, an expression that came easily enough to the patrician features. "Not so strange, surely? Castle Cloud has everything anyone might want, the finest food, entertainments, gambling, good company and all the comforts of home."

"You also have wraiths, sir" McCoy interjected sharply, looking up from his meal of southern fried chicken with green beans, bacon and spoon bread.

"A myth only, I assure you, Doctor McCoy." Ryhanen's subterranean voice rumbled appreciatively. "There have been a number of studies into the wraith legend but nothing conclusive has ever been found."

"Perhaps you dismiss them too easily, Ser Ryhanen." Spock's eyebrow elevated as he stared directly at the Dha'kaht'chun. "There is copious evidence to support the stories, though much of it is, indeed, subjective. Twenty-five disappearances since Sassandran was … rediscovered, with eyewitness accounts of wraiths by the dozen."

"That is quite true, Commander Spock. Four bodies were found, horribly mutilated, as for the others … who knows? However, individual accounts cannot be classed as real evidence. This is a beautiful planet and people come here for many reasons, to climb the mountains, to hunt and fish. It is a wild place and I do not intend to tame it. If some of my guests are unwary and get hunted in their turn by dream-spiders in the forest, the rock daemons, and the fire lizards of the southern plains, among our many other native predators, they are adequately warned before they leave the protection of these walls."

"Surely your duty towards the safety of your visitors extends beyond a mere warning, Mr … Hekmatyer?"

"James, you must realise that some of my guests disembark here precisely because of the tales told about the wraiths. They are an incongruity in this technological age, a romanticist's dream, and an unsolved mystery. Some individuals are drawn to that. People die on your worlds every day. However, if they die here, apparently, it is because the wraiths lead them astray. No, gentlemen, it is not enough to convince me."

Ryhanen fell silent as the serving staff noiselessly reappeared, cleared away the used tableware, and brought on the next course. Again, Kirk found the food varied and superb. After months of shipboard synthetics, it came near to the sublime. The mistwine too, proved exceptional. He sipped at a second glass, appreciating the mellow, lingering flavour. Sensing eyes upon him from further down the long table, he took time out to gaze at his fellow diners again,. His gaze locked immediately with a young woman who continued to stare at him from out of large obsidian coloured eyes, a seemingly innocent appraisal, guileless and without implication. He raised his glass in amused salute, watching as she mirrored his toast, her perfect alabaster skin flushing a charming pale aquamarine at his attentiveness. He turned away smiling briefly, his attention centred once more on Ryhanen.

"What about the ruins, sir?" He asked. "I understand they're extensive and quite well preserved."

"They are."

"Would that not add credence to the legends about the wraiths?" Spock enquired with the artless curiosity of one who seeks simply to decipher an intriguing conundrum.

"On my planet, Commander, this part of space - and Sassandran in particular - has long been regarded as the place where Dha'kaht'chun first began. Our homeworld, if you will, left long ago when this system's sun first started to fail. Those ruins are the homes of my ancestors, nothing more." Ryhanen picked up his glass and drank deeply. He dabbed genteelly at his lips with a napkin before continuing, mercurial eyes sweeping over them all. "The mists have a habit of playing tricks with the mind, gentlemen. It is easy to imagine that something inimical hides behind the vapours. Without the mists the wraith saga would have died long ago."

The coffee arrived in carafes of ornate silver accompanied by a pitcher of thick cream and flasks of Saurian and Armagnac brandies.

Ryhanen continued in his deep bass baritone. "All peoples have this need for a mystery, I believe. Did not Terra have its sea monster hiding beneath the waters of a dark lake? Moreover, on Vulcan, are there not tales told of a huge creature that lives beneath the desert sands? It has only rarely been observed, a glimpse here and there, but the conviction remains that it does indeed exist. Cognac Commander, or iced tea, perhaps? "

Spock, who had eaten sparingly even of the Vulcan dishes, covered the top of his glass with one hand, a winged brow shooting upward as he shook his head. "Sir, you are exceedingly well informed, and quite correct."

He discreetly smoothed the tension lines marring his forehead with the tip of an index finger. "Very little is known about the tcha-besheh, even now. However, our instruments, once we learned how to calibrate them, do suggest that it is real and not a figment of the Vulcan imagination."

McCoy leaned back in his chair brandy in hand and snorted cynically. "You surprise me, Spock. I didn't know Vulcans had any imagination."

"In that case I hope you have learned something advantageous, Doctor." Spock's comment was delivered without its usual sting. Rendered into a cat's emotionless mask, his face looked wan. McCoy raised an eyebrow, shooting Kirk a meaningful sideways glance.

Kirk picked up on McCoy's silent enquiry. He leaned in so that only the Vulcan could hear him, "Tired, Spock?"

Spock inclined his head, dark eyes heavy lidded, lips narrowed to a thin, pale line. "Somewhat, Captain."

"It's late. Perhaps you should call it a day. Go on, you need to rest. Get to bed. I'll see you in the morning."

Spock did not protest. "Thank you, sir. I believe I will."

Kirk, disturbed by Spock's uncharacteristic acquiescence, glanced at McCoy, "Bones…"

"With your permission Captain, I do not require Doctor McCoy's assistance. Please allow him to remain and enjoy the rest of the evening." Spock stood up, bowed in Ryhanen's direction. "Ser and Serai Ryhanen. Lieutenant Uhura. Gentlemen. The dinner was greatly pleasing. Thank you."

"Sleep well, Spock." Kirk's affectionate concern clearly warmed his voice.

Spock acknowledged him with a succinct dip of the head before turning casually away, his stride deceptively confident. All the same, McCoy, who still watched the Vulcan like a hawk, pushed himself out of his chair and followed a step or two behind until they were out of earshot of the rest of the guests.

"Spock, are you sure you can find your way alone?"

The First officer halted, half turned to face McCoy. "Perfectly sure, Doctor McCoy. There is no need for anxiety, I assure you. Please, return to the Captain."

McCoy, still worried, persisted. "C'mon, it'll only take five minutes to see you back to your room…"

Spock sighed audibly, "Doctor, I thought I had left my mother back on Vulcan."

"Grant me some self-respect, if you will…" He fixed McCoy with a glacial stare. "I happen to be blind not incapacitated. I am able to find my way on my own."

McCoy reassured by Spock's vehemence, retaliated in kind, "And I suppose you can even do it with your eyes closed, huh?"

"Your levity as always is unbecoming, Doctor. However, that is essentially the truth. Now, if you will be so kind as to return to your … merrymaking. I do not wish to keep you." Spock pivoted around without further ado. His steps faltered slightly giving the lie to his self-assurance as he fumbled for the wall.

"Well, if you happen to fall down a lift shaft and break your godamned stubborn Vulcan neck, don't come crying to me."



o0o
Chapter 8 by karracaz
Chapter eight

When the sky turns black with thunder

And you're adrift out on the sea

When the sun stops shining on you

And the night's eternity

Call on me, call on me….

O0o

Spock refused to acknowledge McCoy's parting shot. His eidetic memory retained the details of the descent to the dining hall they had made from his room earlier. All he had to do was reverse the journey in his mind.

His initial progress commenced slowly as he counted each step, his tread deliberate and his pace calculated. With fingers trailing the wall at waist height, the way McCoy had taught him, he found an elevator out of the array available in the reception lobby. He entered it without any problem despite McCoy's fabricated ill will. As the doors shut behind him he slumped against the wall and closed his burning eyes able to relax his guard for the first time that evening. He needed to rest. A pulse throbbed in his temple, heavy and intense, as pain spiralled across his forehead. Fatigue dragged at his limbs. The lethargy made it difficult to concentrate. Voice flat with exhaustion, he gave an order to the elevator which whisked him swiftly upwards with the speed of an accelerating rocket.

Castle Cloud, as McCoy had affirmed was, indeed, a small town. Within the confines of its perimeter walls, it contained a shopping mall, two, small, automated factories, a processing plant and a hospital as well as living quarters for Ryhanen's staff and the few colonists who made their homes there. Spock's room was located along with Kirk's and McCoy's, in the hotel complex, which also housed a casino, several restaurants, a professional sized swimming pool, health spa, sports hall, and the latest interactive holography theatre.

The elevator accessed onto level eighteen, a broad corridor with a number of doors leading to other guest chambers. Tubs of growing plants stood here and there along either side of the hallway, obstacles that Spock knew of from his earlier outward journey. He stared sightlessly into the distance as he took the first step, his hand brushing against lush foliage as he passed. It took thirty steps to reach the first intersection on his left that he required to reach his room. He moved cautiously down the centre of the corridor waiting to feel the tiny draft of cooler air on his cheek that warned of the junction.

It never occurred. Confused, his inner serenity dented, he continued for another five paces before coming to a perplexed halt. Counting steps, he realised belatedly, only worked if the strides were exactly the same distance each time. Disposition, tiredness, or lack of self-assurance all affected the way of walking. Earlier, Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy had accompanied him. Spock had felt confident in their presence, aware that he could come to little harm while they were with him. Now, he lacked that certainty, knew only the embarrassment of imprecision and doubt. He clenched his hands into fists by his side. Pain throbbed behind his eyes as he struggled for equanimity. Another tentative step and his innate spatial sense alerted him to something ambiguous a few feet distant.

Spock fought against the sudden flare of irritation, frustrated by his continuing lack of ability. Head tilted he reached out. His fingers floundered at the vacant air but found only empty space. He clapped his palms together. But though he listened vigilantly to the returning echoes he still failed to interpret what the signals told him.

It was only the thought of McCoy's 'I told you so,' that urged him into movement once more. He had to regain his room, find the calmness that was so obviously absent, and try to come to terms with his loss of sight. Either that or ultimately admit defeat and allow the doctor to smother him in cotton wadding for the reminder of his stay. An untenable idea, one he could never countenance and keep his self-esteem intact.

However, he soon found out that he had to consider far more than the counting of steps and length of his stride. What happened next came as a total surprise. Between one step and the next, the floor disappeared, and he toppled forward into empty space.

Prominent and well lit, any sighted being could not have failed to see the stairway, but it caught Spock completely off guard.

Thrown into disarray, his feet slipped out from beneath him and he pitched heavily down the short flight, striking the base of his spine on the edge of a step before he sprawled with startling force on hands and knees. He heard the ominous crack of his left wrist as it took most of the impact.

Cradling the injured appendage in his other hand, Spock immediately sat back on his haunches. Throat tight, breathing in short, shallow gasps, delayed reaction had his heart hammering against his side, the nape of his neck damp with sweat as he tried to come to terms with the sudden fear. A distressed inner voice cried out in dismay. This is illogical there must be another way. These limitations are appalling. How can I continue in this fashion?

Hunched over his knees, embracing the ill-treated and most probably broken wrist against his chest, he battled to contain his rage and humiliation. His imagination provided him with an image of what a ridiculous sight he must have posed as he sightlessly flailed the air before he somersaulted head first so ignominiously down the stairs. Finally, he leaned back on his heels, shuddering as he pulled in several deep, purging breaths. Using the wall beside him as a support, he waited an instant longer until his equilibrium returned and he managed to get onto his feet.

Half expecting the floor to part and swallow him whole at any moment, he ascended the stairs somewhat slower than his preceding journey down, tapping the riser of each step with the toe of his boot until he stood on the upper level once more. There was a wretched, frayed dignity in the way he straightened his shoulders, and lifted his chin in proud disdain at the pain emanating from his aching spine and rapidly swelling wrist, squashing the residual trembling of his hands as he took a further hesitant step in what he hoped was the correct direction.

Nevertheless, after wandering level eighteen for what seemed an interminable time but which his inner chronometer assured him was only fifteen point five three minutes, he came to the inevitable conclusion that he had blundered even more significantly than he had at first appreciated. He could not locate the intersection he needed because, he deduced finally, it existed on the opposite side of the hotel complex. In his urgency to show Doctor McCoy that he could survive on his own terms, he had patently entered the wrong elevator in the lobby. His obstinate Vulcan pride had without doubt contributed to his present bewildered state.

Spock sighed, concerned by his own intransigence. He knew that Doctor McCoy's anxiety for him went with the territory of chief surgeon and that the crustiness increased in direct proportion to McCoy's apprehension and worry. Spock could not deny that McCoy cared for him - just as the Captain did. The doctor wanted only to safeguard Spock's health and welfare, yet it had proved impossible so far for him to admit that he needed assistance. It felt infinitely more comfortable to continue to provoke the doctor whenever the opportunity arose. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately in this instance, McCoy's innate gruffness had prevailed over his compassionate soul. If pushed hard enough, he still tended to rise to the bait.

Spock rubbed his intact hand across his aching brow as he retraced his steps once more to the staircase, sagging against the wall at the top of the stairs as a strange prickling sensation unexpectedly started up somewhere inside his head It challenged the pain that thumped just behind his eyes. Spock tensed. He recognised that the unnatural tingling originated from the damaged senceiver implanted within his brain. He winced as his headache abruptly intensified, shuddering as tremors shook his lean frame. Had the senceiver somehow become active again?

He stared into the darkness, mind cleared of conscious thought, as he waited for the implant to create its imagery. An instant later, he perceived a ghostly resonance. It cried out his name, a voice he might have recognised if not for the pain thundering along his nerves.

Spock! Come for me. Spock, set me free! Spock!

"Who is there?" He turned on his heel, wheeling around in an 180 degree arc; but the astonishing reverberation lasted only an instant before fading again, leaving him shaken and taken aback. His heart beat fast and thick against his side; he heard as well as felt its demented throb.

Troubled by the incident, he recalled that hallucinations were a symptom of the Koreoretnal condition, and the apprehension at anyone observing him in such a revealing state spurred him into movement once more.

The easiest route to his room would have meant returning to the lobby which increased the probability of someone catching sight of him. He therefore elected to take the long way round, a trip fraught with unknown danger but which would enable him to remain undiscovered. Before the onset of his illness he had studied, as a matter of course, everything recorded about the planet Sassandran and Ser Ryhanen Hekmatyer, including the plans of Castle Cloud. Now he knew his true location he could find his way. All he needed was to trust in his own ability, the hardest and most important lesson he had to learn.

Yet, after his most recent mishap it brought home the fact that he might, indeed, warrant the joint anxiety of Captain kirk and Doctor McCoy. Had his vanity blinded his judgement as the Koreoretnal Syndrome had blinded his sight? Could the disability really be insurmountable? If he truly had to rely on the sympathy of others in order to survive it did not bode well for his future or his pride. He had to recover the middle ground, one where his blindness assumed the proper perspective.

Over the years of his service aboard her, the Enterprise had become more than just a Starfleet vessel to him as Captain Kirk had become far more than his senior officer. The ship was his home and he counted Jim Kirk and Leonard McCoy as two of his closest friends. They accepted him unequivocally, in a way that no one else ever had. He had no desire for that to end; certainly not in this manner, yet he could not deny that his career in Starfleet was over. He had to make a new life for himself. That new life had to start by knowing what he could achieve by his own endeavours. Finding his own room in this unfamiliar and alien environment was his beginning. There could be no guiding hand on his elbow, no words of direction, no sympathetic presence ready to pick him up when he fell. He had to rely on his own senses, use his own judgement, and realise his own goals. It was not an easy path, but in this, he could not permit himself to founder. Kaiidth. At least he had to try.



o0o
This story archived at http://www.adastrafanfic.com/viewstory.php?sid=2214