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.
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."
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.
"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.
"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.