This first story in my new "To Hell and Back" series takes place shortly before Spock departs from the Enterprise to undertake the Kolinahr discipline. It has no connection to my other series.
Coming off a difficult mission, the men find a new member of the crew distracting. It's a good thing that the feathered Avitian is under Spock's tutelage. Or is it?
Image courtesy of TrekCore.
Original Series Characters:
Kirk, James T., McCoy, Leonard (Bones), Spock
Angst, Drama, FriendshipWarnings:
To Hell and Back
16 Sep 2015 Updated:
16 Sep 2015
1. Chapter 1 by M C Pehrson
2. Chapter 2 by M C Pehrson
3. Chapter 3 by M C Pehrson
4. Chapter 4 by M C Pehrson
HALFWAY TO HELL By: M. C. Pehrson
With a rush of anticipation, Jim Kirk envisioned the rendezvous ahead. Mason's Resolve. There was no place quite like it in the galaxy, at least in his experience, which was considerable. Mason's was more than a garden spot, more than a pastoral haven that drew philosophers and poets to its benevolent orbit. Maybe it was something in the air. It had been said that Mason's Resolve was a modern Shangri-La. Kirk himself remembered saying it. He had been a lieutenant commander back then, very young and intense and in desperate need of Mason's serenity. And now, after a long trying mission, Captain Kirk and his entire crew were space-worn and edgy. Yes, everyone.
Acutely aware of a steady tap-tap-tapping, Kirk gripped the arms of his command chair, frayed nerves at the breaking point. In the corner of his eye, Spock's drumming fingers were just barely visible at the science station.
Turning, Kirk looked his way and quietly said, "Mister Spock."
The hand went still. The Vulcan swiveled from his console, one slanted brow rising. "Yes, Captain."
Kirk felt his nerves slacken and smiled in relief. "Tense, Spock?"
An odd expression stole over the normally impassive features, or was Kirk's weary mind playing tricks? The hiss of the turbolift doors interrupted whatever reply Spock might have been considering. Kirk's attention shifted to Ensign Orella, and as she rustled fragrantly to Spock's side, he found his interest in the Avitian aroused well beyond a captain's normal concern for the newest member of his crew. Oh, that inborn scent of hers...and the way those pale, silky feathers nestled the collar of her shapely blue uniform. Even Spock seemed unusually attentive to the fragile creature sharing his duty station.
Kirk watched Orella's creamy feathers stir as she followed Spock's quiet instructions and peered into the sensor hood. Then letting out his breath, he forced himself to look away...and caught every male on the bridge staring at Spock and the Avitian. He cleared his throat meaningfully, and heads snapped back to their posts. All but one.
"Mister Walden," Kirk asked him, "have you computed the revised ETA?"
The navigation trainee jumped. "Uh...right away, Captain."
As the young man fumbled over his computer board, Kirk came close to rolling his eyes. A seductive bird and a feather-brain. What kind of kids were they sending him these days? He tried to remember who was currently in charge of final cadet assessment. This Walden better snap out of it fast.
The slight sound of a footfall distracted Kirk, and he swiveled just in time to see Spock disappearing into the turbolift, but it was too late to do anything but gaze bewilderedly. The Vulcan never left his post without some word. Rising, he went over to Orella. The soft plumage at her wrist drew his fingertips, but he stopped short of touching her as he said, "Ensign. Did Mister Spock mention where he was going?"
"No, sir," the Avitian replied in a melodic voice. Her rose-colored eyes turned wistfully toward the lift. "Shall I locate him for you?"
Walden chose that moment to pipe up. "Captain, at present speed and course, our ETA is eleven hours, ten minutes."
Not soon enough, Kirk mused. There was something in the air, alright, and it smelled like trouble.
Kirk's duties prevented him from leaving the bridge immediately, but when his first officer did not reappear after thirty minutes, he decided to investigate. There were half a dozen places the Vulcan might have been, all legitimately related to his work as science officer. There were an equal number of areas Spock frequented for strictly personal reasons. Among those was the most obvious of all: his quarters.
Kirk decided to start there. He was thinking of lunch as he approached Spock's cabin and pressed the buzzer. When there was no response, he triggered the door open, and all thought of food vanished in a wave of shock. It took a moment for the devastation to fully register. Spock's carpet was littered with all manner of belongings. Even his scarlet bed drapes had been ripped away, and Vulcan artifacts hurled in every direction.
Outrage welled up as Kirk entered the cabin and picked his way around the wreckage of his friend's room. This was a ruthless violation, and the guilty party would pay dearly.
Kirk whirled at the sound of Spock's voice, and found him standing beside his disheveled bed. The Vulcan seemed rather dazed.
"Spock, what happened here? Who..."
Spock slowly shook his head. A negation or a gesture of disbelief?
When no response was forthcoming, Kirk swore and headed toward the wall intercom. Broken. Then he found the desktop computer beaten into a crumpled wad of metal. He started for the door, saying, "I'll call Security from the corridor."
He had taken barely a step when Spock said, "Captain, I would rather you not report this."
Kirk stopped in his tracks and turned. "What?"
"I had not intended to issue a complaint," Spock continued.
Kirk abruptly pointed at the mess. "Look at this, will you? I can't allow vandalism to go unpunished. Not aboard my ship."
Spock faced him with stony determination. "It is, sir, my cabin, and I make no complaint. I ask only that you respect my wishes in this matter."
The Vulcan's attitude was baffling. "Mister Spock, I consider your request...illogical. Anyone with enough rage to tear your cabin to pieces might well turn that violence against you...or another member of this crew."
Spock raised an eyebrow. "Most unlikely."
"And on what do you base that assumption?" wondered Kirk, but the Vulcan offered no explanation. Letting out a sigh, he relented. "Alright. There will be no official investigation for now, but I want a record of every detail. If there's one single incident of a similar nature, I'll expect a full report on this."
"Agreed," Spock said. "I will get a tricorder at once."
It was a full hour before Kirk's appetite revived. Entering the officer's mess, he was surprised to find Spock already there. They had shared few meals lately. In fact, they had shared practically nothing beyond ship's business.
He selected a sandwich and coffee from the food dispenser, and then joined his exec. Though the vandalism was still very much on his mind, he decided not to mention it. "Well, Spock, you must be looking forward to all the cultural amenities on Mason's. In fact, I was hoping you'd take a bit of shore leave with me."
The Vulcan stirred his soup pensively before setting down his spoon. "Thank-you, Captain...but I had not planned to go ashore."
Kirk gave a short, incredulous laugh. "Not beam down to Mason's Resolve?"
"I see nothing humorous in the situation," Spock said stiffly, and tucked his hands out of sight.
It seemed to Kirk that they had been a little shaky. His smile fading, he leaned over the table. "Spock, what's wrong with you? I can see-" He broke off as an ethereal vision swept into the room and positioned herself at Spock's right elbow. A heady cloud of fragrance arrived one instant later.
Kirk got a firm grip on himself. "Ensign Orella, shouldn't you be manning the science station?"
She blushed a deep shade of pink, and her lovely plumage seemed to flatten. "Captain, I left Chekov at my post, but if you would rather I not eat now..."
Realizing he had been unreasonable, Kirk opened his mouth, floundering.
Spock awkwardly sprang from his chair. "Of course you may eat, Ensign. Take your time. I am going to the bridge." Stalking away like a nervous cat, he collided with a fellow officer at the doorway, then swiftly escaped into the corridor.
Kirk stared after him for a long, speculative moment.
It couldn't be. But after another trying afternoon of Vulcan finger-tapping and moodiness, Kirk formed a rather startling conclusion. Orella had to be at the heart of Spock's problem. What other explanation for his unusual show of tension? The Avitian was quite enough to upset even Vulcan hormones. Having worked cheek to feathers for weeks, Spock was bound to be affected. And maybe, just maybe, their rapport had grown beyond the purely intellectual. Beneath all the layers of self-imposed discipline Spock was, after all, a man.
That evening, Kirk invited his touchy first officer to the captain's quarters. He measured out two samples of fine Saurian brandy and passed one to Spock, which the Vulcan promptly and politely declined.
Nevertheless, Kirk pressed it into his unwilling hands. "No excuses, Spock, about the illogic of recreational poisons. I've seen you drink on occasion. And since this is an occasion, and I'm about to propose a toast, your refusal would be especially rude."
Spock reluctantly held the glass.
Kirk raised his and said, "To our first ten years together." And waited.
The color seemed to drain from Spock's face. "Captain. The actual date is..."
"I know the date, Spock. It's close enough. Will you drink to the past decade or not?"
Reluctantly Spock raised his glass until it clinked against Kirk's, and their eyes met over the rims. Then they each took a swallow.
Kirk suppressed a wry, knowing grin. Under all those soft, sweet Avitian feathers, the race was known to be temperamental. Ruffle their feather, and suffer the consequences. She might have had someone ransack Spock's cabin as repayment for a lover's tiff.
"To the next ten years," he said, lifting his glass again.
Spock set his drink on the table beside him, and then spoke in a strained voice. "Jim...I cannot."
Cannot? Toast our friendship? Drink brandy? Baffled, Kirk began to reach out to his troubled friend, but let his arm drop back to his side. "That's alright, Spock. Get some rest. I have a big day planned for us tomorrow on Mason's."
The Vulcan's mouth dropped open in protest. "For us?"
"Yes, a surprise." Kirk's belated smile only seemed to fuel a rising resentment in Spock's eyes, and he was tempted to cancel tomorrow's carefully laid plans. But no. If ever Spock needed a diversion, it was now.
The Enterprise was orbiting Mason's Resolve. Shore parties were flocking to its warm, inviting surface. Below decks, minor repairs were underway that would necessitate remaining in orbit for at least a week. All was...almost...right with Kirk's world.
He had been waiting with Doctor McCoy in the transporter room for the third member of their party, and after nearly ten minutes he was growing impatient. Spock suddenly arrived and positioned himself on the platform in icy silence.
"Better late than never," McCoy muttered.
Kirk held his tongue, and a moment later they materialized in a flower-strewn meadow. Taking a deep, satisfying breath of unprocessed atmosphere, he smiled. "Well, I have to admit. It feels good to set foot on solid ground again."
Spock raised a disinterested brow.
"This is be-yu-tiful!" McCoy crowed, flinging out his arms. "I think I'm fallin' in love."
If he had been within reach, Kirk might have poked his ship's surgeon for that "love" comment. But Kirk himself was already half sun-drunk, intoxicated by the warm, pollen-rich breeze stirring the wild blossoms. Turning around, he spied a squat stone building nestled into the hillside. "There it is, gentlemen-our destination."
McCoy knew all about the surprise Kirk was springing on their Vulcan friend. Eager to see Spock's reaction, McCoy charged toward the shady trees and tiered garden beds surrounding the home. Spock followed at a more dignified pace, maintaining his show of indifference all the way to the porch. A pair of striped, catlike creatures retreated into the shadows as Kirk knocked on a bright red door.
The door eased open, revealing a short, wizened man of Asian descent. His dark eyes sparkled, and the wispy beard on his chin perfectly matched his gray hair.
"Hotaka!" Spock blurted. After a fleeting, incredulous half-smile, he bowed respectfully to the chess master of galactic renown, and Hotaka returned the gesture.
Kirk laughed softly in relief. "Spock, I see there's no need for me to introduce you. Hotaka, this other man is my chief surgeon, Leonard McCoy. And of course I am Captain Kirk."
Hotaka bowed twice more. "Gentlemen, I am most honored. Please...come into my humble home."
They entered the dim, cool interior. The living room was tastefully furnished with padded cane furniture and intricately designed rugs. In one corner, an inlaid chess table and four chairs awaited them. The board was set with antique pieces reflecting Earth's medieval age.
Kirk silently congratulated himself. Arranging this match weeks earlier over subspace radio must have been an inspiration. But first, a bit of tea and conversation. As they sat speaking, the ancient chess master displayed the mental vitality for which he was famous, and Spock responded with rare animation.
"Enough chatter," Hotaka said at last. "I have made you wait too long." Smiling, he rose and motioned toward the chess table. "Who wishes to challenge me?"
Kirk went over and pulled out a player's chair. "Spock, you first." He was in no hurry to display his own questionable skill.
Spock accepted the seat, and Hotaka settled opposite him. One Vulcan eyebrow rose. "Traditional chess?" he noted with some disdain, having long since abandoned the two-dimensional format for the more challenging tri-dimensional game.
Hotaka searched the Vulcan's eyes. "It is my habit to study a new opponent in this manner. I do not belittle your skill, Mister Spock, but rather celebrate simplicity."
Spock's gaze dropped, and the stony Vulcan mask settled into place. Gone was the near awe-stricken admiration for the master; Spock clearly intended to win. Fingering an ivory pawn, he opened the game.
Hotaka countered with a dark pawn of his own. On the twelfth move, he said, "Checkmate."
Spock stared at his hopelessly trapped king, face devoid of all expression. Kirk glanced at McCoy and held his breath. It was not so much that Spock had lost, but that he was beaten so easily after voicing a subtle disregard for two-dimensional chess.
It seemed a nerve-wracking eternity before Spock looked into the Asian's deep-set eyes and stiffly admitted defeat. "Sir. You are truly a master. Will you honor me with a rematch?"
Kirk held his breath as the chessmen were set back into their orderly ranks. Then a new game began. As move followed move, he sat warring against a wild urge to whisper strategies into Spock's elegantly pointed ear. Though Spock was the highest rated player in Starfleet, never had he performed so miserably. A mere fourteen moves, and he was routed.
"Checkmate," Hotaka said.
Spock's terrible gaze remained fixed on the ebony and ivory pieces, his Vulcan complexion flushing to a sickly olive green. What had been meant as a pleasant diversion, had suddenly taken on shades of horror.
Then it happened.
With a savage swipe of his right arm, Spock sent the chess men skittering across the floor. Bolting from his chair, he strode out the door and slammed it behind him like a petulant child.
The three men sat in stunned silence. Hotaka, having no experience by which to judge Spock's behavior, was therefore the least shocked and first to speak.
"I apologize if I offended him in some manner."
"You apologize?" McCoy huffed. "He had no call to act like that. And if you'll excuse me, I intend to tell him so."
After the doctor left, Kirk began collecting the scattered remnants of Spock's tantrum.
"Captain, that is not necessary," Hotaka told him.
"But it is," Kirk insisted, his face burning with embarrassment. "I can't apologize enough for my first officer's rudeness. Believe me, sir, this is completely unlike him."
Taking leave of the chess master, he joined McCoy, who was out circling the grove like an angry parent.
"Jim, I checked, and he hasn't beamed up," McCoy reported. Putting his hands beside his mouth, he shouted, "Spock, come out of there! What in blazes has gotten into you?"
Some inner sense told Kirk that McCoy was right; Spock was still somewhere nearby. Something also told him that Spock would stay out of sight until McCoy was gone. Pulling out his communicator, he had the doctor transported back to the Enterprise. He was considering just how he would deal with his second-in-command when Spock came wandering out of the thicket and leaned against a tree.
Kirk closed the distance in a few strides, but his ready reproach died on his lips. It was clearly a struggle for Spock even to stand. The Vulcan shook with tremors as he clutched the tree trunk behind him for support.
"You're sick," Kirk said, reaching for him.
"No, don't touch me," Spock gasped. "It...it will pass in a moment."
Once again Kirk drew out his communicator and flipped it open. "You're going straight to sickbay."
"No." Spock shook his head forcefully, wincing as from some internal pain. "McCoy cannot help me, no doctor can."
Kirk's thoughts shifted back to another place, another time, when Spock stood before him flushed and strained from a very personal agony. Had it been seven years? That time, Kirk had drawn the truth from him bit by painful bit. That time, Kirk had managed to save him.
Forget apologies. Forget everything. All that mattered now was Spock. In a moment, they were aboard ship. Had the Vulcan allowed it, Kirk would have carried him from the transporter room to his cabin, but there was still Vulcan pride, and somehow Spock walked the distance, scarcely staggering until the end. Once inside his private quarters, he collapsed on his bed and curled in on himself, shuddering uncontrollably.
The room was hot by human standards. Kirk read the temperature at 100 degrees, and promptly boosted it by another ten. He arranged a blanket over Spock, then lowered the lights to a restful level and brought him a glass of water.
Spock refused it. "Lock me away," he said.
Setting the water on a bedside table, Kirk quietly told him, "I'm calling for a doctor. Who will it be-McCoy or M'Benga?"
"Neither," he snapped. "Don't you understand? Must I say it?"
Kirk turned from the wrenching sight of his friend's torment. He had known this might be coming. Inside every Vulcan ticked a biological clock, and Spock's human genes did not always deter it. The normal reproductive drive followed a seven year cycle, stripping away rationality in a fierce mating drive that, if thwarted, would culminate in death. A Vulcan in pon farr had little more than a week to find a suitable mate and join with her. Unfortunately the Enterprise was nearly three weeks from Vulcan.
"How long have you known?" Kirk asked.
"With absolute certainty, two days."
"It was you who ransacked this cabin."
"Yes," Spock admitted.
The Vulcan's voice was steadier now. Kirk looked at him hopefully and found that the distress had eased, just as Spock predicted. For a moment he let himself believe that Spock might master this. And if not, there was an obvious remedy at hand.
"Spock, we have women aboard ship who might be willing to help you. Chris Chapel. Uhura."
Spock gave a short, chilling laugh. "If only it were so simple. The pon farr demands more than a...joining of bodies. It demands a degree of mental bonding-a link that can only be achieved between Vulcans."
"Oh? Your father seems to have managed quite nicely with your human mother."
"Mother is exceptional. Even so, it took Sarek time to develop their natural mental affinity."
Kirk argued, "But even the two of us have some mental affinity. "Try melding with the women. Uhura's esper rating is pretty high, and..."
"And Christine longs to pleasure me," Spock noted dryly. "No, Jim. What you suggest is abhorrent. I will not...make use...of a female crewmate and then simply continue on, as before. There would be...lifelong complications." And so saying, he turned to the wall.
Back on the bridge, Kirk struggled to devise a solution. He did some of his best thinking in the comfortable upholstery of the command chair, and fortunately, Orella was busy elsewhere. Not only was she exquisitely distracting, but her presence would only have reminded him of his earlier unfounded suspicions.
Turning to the communications board, he watched Uhura carry out a quiet search for all unattached Vulcan females within a week's radius. She looked understandably concerned. Though Kirk had not offered any explanation for the search, she suspected that Spock was in trouble, and her captain's odd request held about as much chance of success as finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Spock was feeling better. Free of Kirk's presence, he had successfully imposed a measure of control over mind and body. He was able to leave his bed and sit at his new computer console. If his hands clenched convulsively, he willed them to open. Their trembling was scarcely noticeable.
Reaching deep into a desk drawer, he drew out an old computer disk and inserted it into the proper slot. A female child appeared on the screen-Vulcan, with a cool look of arrogance. Spock gazed longingly at his former betrothed, and was disgusted by this need that should have died with T'Pring's rejection seven years ago. Since that day he had scarcely given her a thought. She was Stonn's now, and though a vestigial link remained between them, it was degrading to desire another man's consort.
When the buzzer sounded at his door, Spock responded absently, "Enter".
An alluring fragrance signaled Ensign Orella's presence. He rose so awkwardly that his hand bumped the computer screen, swiveling it by ninety degrees.
"Mister Spock," Orella said softly. "I hope I'm not disturbing you."
Spock was, in fact, highly disturbed by her satiny plumage and the velvety pink facial skin that visibly warmed under his gaze. He could not tear his eyes from her, or stem a rush of madly illogical thoughts as he stammered, "No...certainly not, Ensign. You...you are most welcome."
Her head feathers shimmered as she glided fully into the room. "You seem unwell," she said worriedly.
"Do I? Perhaps you are projecting your own discomfort. My cabin must be oppressively hot to your species."
Her scent seemed to intensify as she smiled at him. "I'm never uncomfortable with you, sir." Catching sight of the viewer, her eyes lit with interest. "Why, she's lovely, Mister Spock. Is she a relative?"
Spock hurried over and switched off the screen, only to realize that there was now scarcely a feather's width between them. His heart went wild and he began to breathe heavily.
"Something is wrong," she whispered as her creamy plumage rustled and sighed an invitation to Spock's fingertips.
"Do not concern yourself," he said thickly. It seemed very important that he ask her to leave, yet somehow he was leaning closer and his hand was rising, fingertips extended. He touched her delicately feathered temple. The fine plumage was even softer than it appeared, far silkier than he had imagined. His fingers drifted to her pink, velvety cheek. In the midst of his rioting emotions, he could feel her responding.
The Avitian wanted him, and he wanted her.
His mind reeling with each breath of alien sweetness, he bent down and pressed his mouth to Orella's welcoming lips. His arms were moving around her when the door buzzed. Then again, insistently, but he was beyond caring.
The door slid open. Orella twisted free of his embrace, her feathers ruffling in acute embarrassment as Spock continued to clutch at her.
Suddenly a rival male was between them, and placing both hands on Spock's chest, the man shoved hard. Keeping his balance, Spock raised a fist to his captain.
"Stop it!" came the command.
It was enough.
Spock froze, horrified by his own behavior, yet still torn with desire.
"Leave, Ensign," Kirk said sharply, and as Orella slipped from the cabin, he demanded of Spock, "What the hell were you doing?"
Slowly Spock lowered his arm. "That...that is none of your concern."
"Leave me alone," Spock said bitterly and turned aside.
"Avitians are far too fragile, and you know it," Kirk reproached him. Then he spoke of Uhura's efforts on the bridge.
Spock faced him, one slanted brow rising in disdain. "Don't you think that I have already conducted such a search? You never could face a no-win scenario...but this time we have met our Kobayashi Maru."
"That remains to be seen. We may yet find an eligible Vulcan woman."
A tremor of despair passed through Spock. His insides twisted with nausea and his knees buckled. Somehow the captain was there, helping him back to bed, and he no longer had strength to protest.
Orella was back.
Or was it only a dream?
Burning with fever, Spock opened his eyes and found the Avitian seated beside his bed.
"You need me," she said softly, her plumage faintly iridescing in the shadows.
Orella's fragile vulnerability only added to her allure. Gazing upon her beauty, Spock became aware of his own ragged breathing. In his present state he dared not touch her, but as he lay stock-still, fighting for control, her slim feathered hand drifted up his arm. And reached his neck.
The naked caress jolted him upright. Rolling from the bed, he towered over her, every muscle rigid.
"No," he said fiercely. "You will not do this!"
"But I need you, too." Tears spilled from her eyes. Gazing up at him through wet lashes, she reached for his hand and pressed it longingly to her soft, pink cheek.
Spock cast about for some way out of this, but logic was failing him, and his survival instinct had already reached the point of crisis. There was no turning back. With or without her cooperation, he would have her...or die in the attempt.
Orella gasped as he crushed her to him.
There would be no charges. What happened between Spock and the Avitian had been a matter of Vulcan biology, and therefore considered a medical issue. It could be worse, Kirk told himself as he stood over her treatment bed. She might have died. Once her bones fully healed, she would have the option to continue her career in Starfleet.
As for Spock...
What was it that he had said beforehand? "Lock me away." And Kirk had disregarded the plea, choosing to trust his Vulcan strength, even knowing how little of it remained. A near-fatal error, and now it remained to be seen if even Spock would recover fully.
Orella's rosy eyes fluttered open, and seeing her captain, she gasped, "Sir...he...he didn't mean to hurt me. He...he tried..."
A lump formed in his throat as he said, "Yes, Ensign. I know."
Restricted to his cabin for "medical" reasons, Spock felt his health slowly returning. Memories pounded at him like the haunting aftermath of a nightmare, but this was no dream. He had only to look at the traces of blood scattered about, and know that it had actually happened. Dark hours of tears and pleasure, conquest and surrender. And when his mind had cleared enough to heed Orella's pleas and call sickbay, pon farr's ruthless hold released him. Since that terrible moment, he had retreated behind an icy barrier of silence, submerged in his private thoughts even while experiencing the Avitian's distress through the subtle link they now shared.
Keeping his own pained silence, Kirk let him be. Even Doctor McCoy had resisted his penchant for acerbic remarks.
Spock had never felt so alone aboard the Enterprise.
Rising, he headed to his shower for the second time in as many hours. As he lathered under a searing stream of water, a computer voice dutifully warned that "this violation has been reported". There were strict rules about water usage, and though he was breaking them, he continued to scrub his skin as vigorously as if the soaping could wash away every wretched memory.
Leaving sickbay, Kirk hesitated at Spock's door before moving on to his own quarters. Going for his stash of Saurian, he took a swig straight from the bottle.
A faint tone sounded from his computer. Putting away the liquor, he found his message board flashing. With a prickle of apprehension, he gave the appropriate command and watched a brief missive display in bold letters.
I respectfully request a meeting at your earliest convenience for the purpose of tendering my resignation from Starfleet.
A sinking feeling settled in the pit of his stomach. So this is it. There would be no stopping him. Spock would appear, blind and deaf to all but his own damnable Vulcan logic, as unyielding as durasteel. He would present his letter of resignation and stand silently impervious to every argument. Then he would go.
And so the meeting progressed; the first officer standing rigidly at attention, and Kirk seated behind his desk. In his right hand, Kirk held the Vulcan's resignation, the paper pressed tightly between his fingers.
"You don't want this," Kirk said in a forced voice. "There's no need for it. What happened...was not your fault. If anything, it was mine."
The hooded eyes briefly flicked his way. "It was I who...committed the act."
"Out of inherent Vulcan instinct. You warned me, but I didn't listen."
Spock offered no further argument, for there was none. He merely said, "Sir. My resignation."
"Perhaps...a temporary transfer."
With only the slightest of hesitation, Spock repeated, "I am tendering my resignation from Starfleet...and requesting transportation to Vulcan. Starfleet Command might arrange for a suitable replacement to meet you there."
"A replacement." Kirk could no longer contain his frustration. He leapt to his feet and was gratified to see the Vulcan flinch. "Alright, then, by the book! In the name of Starfleet, I accept your resignation...effective upon your departure...and will gladly deliver you to your port of choice."
Their eyes met. And for an instant Kirk saw a reflection of his own pain.
Yes. Spock is feeling this. Yet he could turn from their friendship as if it meant nothing.
He was doing it now. He had already reached the door.
Kirk stared at Spock's rigid back, suddenly hating every fiercely controlled muscle as he said, "You do blame me."
The Vulcan paused. His uniform stretched tautly across his shoulder blades. Then he was gone before Kirk's swift strides could catch him.
Kirk later thought there might have been a chance if, in that vulnerable moment, he had reached Spock and widened the crack in that stony Vulcan wall. If only they could have talked unselfconsciously, as they had so many times in the past. But the moment was lost, and Spock remained brutally aloof all the way to Vulcan. His few words were spoken only as duty demanded, in the chilling voice of a stranger. His dark eyes torched through friends and colleagues, alike.
News of Spock's pending resignation rocked the Enterprise. And of course there were rumors, some uncomfortably close to the truth.
Kirk's mood darkened with every parsec, and his flaring temper only served to fuel fresh rounds of speculation. Upon reaching Vulcan, he left the bridge for the solitude of his cabin, where he sat idly, with the lights turned low. He did not trust himself to see Spock one last time. There was no telling which direction his emotions might take.
As fate ordered, the buzzer sounded at his door.
"Who is it?" Kirk asked irritably.
There was a slight hesitation, and then...in a tone as forbidding as deep space, "Commander Spock."
Kirk straightened in his chair. A last minute change of heart? Not by the sound of it. He briefly considered denying him entrance, but knew he would later regret it. So steeling himself, he ordered the door open.
The Vulcan was still in uniform. Four paces into the room, he stopped-a good, impersonal distance from Kirk-and stood with his hands stiffly clasped behind him.
"Yes?" Kirk managed to say.
Spock gazed at him with cool indifference. "I wish to thank you for the privilege of serving board the Enterprise, under your command. These years have been...rewarding." Drawing a slow breath, he seemed to start over. "I am leaving for the mountains of Gol, where I will undertake the Kolinahr discipline. It is an emotional...purging...which demands that I put everything human behind me. From this day on, I will have no further contact with any of you."
Dumbfounded, Kirk watched him turn away. So Spock was scraping them off his shoes like so much crap. Though an ugly retort began to form, he held onto his temper. But it was all he could do to keep his voice steady as he said, "I was going to tell you to go to hell...but you're well on your way already. "
And then Spock was out the door.
With Spock's departure, Kirk descended further into his own private torment. The days crept by. Always before, there had been his ship and his command, but now even that refuge betrayed him, plaguing Kirk with memories at every turn.
Spock was gone. Yet like a restless ghost, he haunted every deck of the Enterprise. There was no escaping him, least of all in Kirk's favorite shipboard havens.
Bitterly, he felt his life collapsing. How short a time since he'd been hailed as some kind of hero for successfully returning a ship and crew from its second five-year mission. He had been praised and toasted and pressured to join the Admiralty. But despite certain material and professional temptations, he had declined, preferring the adventure of starship command.
Think about it, they had said. Just think.
Now Kirk absently caressed the arm of his command chair, as if the ship might feel the reassurance and be calmed by it. He glanced toward a junior officer at the science post. He saw Uhura staring glumly at her board, and Chekov and Sulu exchanging solemn whispers at their console. With Spock gone, there was a general ill-feeling among the crew. Their captain had failed. Even if Kirk hadn't actually driven his second-in-command away, he had not succeeded in stopping Spock, either. And oh, how they missed the Vulcan.
They were a good crew. Despite their current disapproval, they would miss Kirk, too, when he was gone.
And so, in a moment of silent reflection, James T. Kirk said goodbye to the starship that had been his life. And as if she understood, the Enterprise shuddered slightly.
Next in the series: Spock returns from Kolinahr to face a strange new challenge in "Wednesday's Child".
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