Spock opened his eyes, and squinting, raised a hand to block the painful glare. He was lying in sickbay, clad in temperature-regulating pajamas. Every inch of his body warned him to lie still.
"Doctor," he rasped, mentally groping through a strange tangle of thoughts.
"Feeling like hell," McCoy answered himself. "And I filled you with enough Counternol to sober a snarth."
"Counternol!" Swallowing a bitter surge of stomach acid, Spock reared up from the sickbay mattress. "Why," he demanded, "would you inject me with an anti-ethanol drug?"
McCoy broke into a lopsided grin. "Well now, Doctor Chapel performed the actual rite. I was too busy holding down a snookered Vulcan. Bombed. Sloshed to the gills. Falling down drunk. Got it now?"
Spock searched his shipmate's weathered face, wanting badly to disbelieve the absurd statement, but there was no denying the unpleasant aftertaste of liquor in his mouth. Without further comment, he settled down on the bed.
McCoy looked intolerably pleased. "Well, that's more like it. Just rest easy. What you're feeling is no doubt uncomfortable, but seldom fatal. The correct medical term is ‘the morning after'."
Spock closed his eyes, one of which was swollen and sore, but the weird blur of memories were even more painful. Unable to deal with them just now, he swept the tangle into a deep corner of his mind. The room grew so quiet that he thought the doctor had left.
Then, still quite close, McCoy asked, "Would you care for a drink?" With an annoying chuckle he quickly clarified, "Water? Juice?"
As Spock accepted a swallow of water, he noticed a wall chronometer and gave a start. "I am late for duty," he said, attempting to rise again.
McCoy placed both hands on his chest and laid him flat. "My Vulcan friend, you are currently relieved of duty...on Admiral Kirk's orders. What happened last night is just a little more serious than spoiling our tour of the town. Jim is...." He must have seen the questions forming. "You don't remember, do you? At least not all of it."
Spock raised his right hand and stared at the splayed fingers. He was not sure why he had even moved it, but the action triggered a sharp recollection-clasping Kirk's hand while struggling to describe his life-changing meld with the machine-entity, V'Ger. And then another, more recent meld came to mind. Direct mental contact could be most disconcerting...
Wearily he admitted, "My...memory is...uncertain."
McCoy gave a nod. "Well, try and get some sleep. Your head will clear up when you feel better."
All that day, McCoy kept Spock shut away in sickbay. No one entered the private room without clearance, and that meant no one...including Admiral Kirk. Twice Kirk stopped by to rail at that "groundless, arbitrary restriction", but McCoy held firm. Over the years he had become an expert at pulling medical rank, and at his age, he was not easily intimidated. There was good reason to keep Spock secluded. By nature, Vulcans craved privacy, even in the best of times. Any Vulcan who had lapsed as badly as Spock deserved a chance to get a grip on himself before facing the world again. He had probably needed a blowout after three rugged years pursuing the discipline of Kolinahr. Three years away from family and friends, holed up in some Vulcan wasteland. Whatever Spock had been trying to prove, he had failed, returning to the Enterprise newly fallen from the esteemed pinnacle of Vulcan logic.
More than once, McCoy had felt like walloping that fiercely insular Spock. But then, whether through heroism or self-interest, the Vulcan had risked his fool neck to join minds with a machine entity that was endangering Earth. And what Spock found in that solitary meld changed him, for V'Ger's barren intellect showed him the value of emotions-the very humanness he had always fought so hard to repress.
But now was Spock becoming too human? Perhaps the recent episode at Helexia had been more of a shock to him than McCoy had realized. Dorian Wren's unethical experiment. The sight of his dying replicate. Since that wrenching day, the Vulcan had not been the same.
Corridors were dimming for the ship's night cycle when a clean set of clothes arrived in sickbay. McCoy delivered the underwear, pale blue tunic and trousers to Spock, who had emerged from his shower clad only in a towel.
"Boring color," McCoy said, tossing everything on a chair. "And the tan's just as bland."
"We are not dressing for aesthetic effect," Spock reminded him.
"The designer must've been color blind," McCoy muttered, looking down at his own plain white outfit. "Admit it, Spock. You hate these new uniforms, too." The Vulcan clothed himself in noncommittal silence. Noticing that Spock had to suck in his stomach in order to fasten his trousers, McCoy said, "So the readings didn't lie-you are putting on weight. I thought I've seen you going for second helpings."
Spock gave him an icy glare, and then reached for his tunic. The black eye and bruised lip served to accentuate the overall satanic effect.
"Never mind, you look just fine," McCoy said, deadpan. "For Halloween."
It was a very tired joke, and not deserving of a comment. Yet as Spock went out the door, he could not resist saying to the doctor, "Trick or treat."
Once beyond sickbay, his pace quickened. Everyone who caught sight of him, lapsed into staring-at a wall, at the deck-anywhere but the source of their astonishment, Spock's battered face. He felt their eyes boring into his back as he walked the corridors, pretending indifference. No doubt the crew was already gossiping, trading stories about the humiliating behavior that he only vaguely remembered. He longed for the privacy of his cabin, but Kirk might seek him there and demand answers he could not give.
In those troubled days after returning from Gol, Spock had occasionally sought meditation in the private cubicles nested between the ship's inner and outer hulls. Now the interhull seemed like the perfect retreat. As he roamed through the skeletal maze, past occupied cubicles, his sensitive ears overheard sounds of human sex play. He should have been able to ignore it. Instead, his footsteps slowed and he found himself actively listening and responding to the sensual pleasures that the sounds evoked. His right hand was on a door, his mind voyeuristically seeking beyond the barrier, when approaching footsteps startled him. Guiltily he jerked away from the cubicle and prepared to bolt, but found himself trapped amidst frightening shadows.
Nowhere to run, no escaping the punishment...
Hurried steps bore down on him. Firm fingers clamped over his shoulder. Crying out, he wrenched free and fled deep into the strange, dusky world.
Perhaps instinct had led Kirk to the interhull, or perhaps the bond that had grown between him and Spock over the years. Whatever the cause, he came away stunned at what he found. Was that cringing, frightened creature really Spock? It hardly seemed possible, yet Kirk had been close enough to touch him. Even in the shadows, there had been no mistaking those pointed ears and that smooth dark hair. Yes, Spock. The same man who recently shrank from him in a squalid jail cell, drunk. The same man who now stood before him, as rigid as Vulcan granite.
"Sit down," Kirk said, indicating an office chair.
With the Vulcan obediently seated, Kirk settled behind his desk. The hour was late, but Spock had finally responded to a thrice-repeated intercom summons and presented himself. Kirk glanced over the list of complaints on his monitor, and silently wondered how he would get through this. There were official formulas meant to ease such situations and keep them on a professional level. He knew the words by heart. For that matter, so did Spock. But Kirk realized there was no way to detach himself from his personal feelings for this man.
"Spock," he said as a friend. "Why did you run from me tonight?"
Emotions stirred the usually impassive features, but Spock quickly recovered his composure. "Admiral," he replied in a formal tone, "I cannot answer that question."
Kirk was both mystified and annoyed. "You can't...or you won't?"
Spock averted his eyes, coldly silent. Here was the Vulcan deep freeze all over again, and Kirk was not about to let him get away with it.
"Never," Kirk snapped, "not once in all your years of service have you ever abdicated a command. Yet last night you beamed off this ship without assigning the conn, without so much as logging your departure." He gestured at the screen. "It's all here. Dereliction of duty...absent without leave...public drunkenness...disorderly conduct..." He paused in the litany to take a breath and found a look of controlled horror in Spock's eyes. "Not to mention the various assault charges, including those on the arresting officers. It was no easy task settling all this with the local authorities. Now, Mister Spock, you must settle with me."
Spock spread his hands on his thighs and stared down at them. "I...remember little of it. Music. Colors. Faces."
One slender hand rose to his discolored eye. He frowned slightly. "You say there are assault charges. Are any of them...sexual in nature?"
Kirk was only mildly surprised by the query, for three years ago Spock had seriously injured a female shipmate while in the throes of pon farr. Was that what this was all about? Was he still struggling with the aftermath of that terrible time?
"There was a woman involved," Kirk told him, "though not directly. You tangled with a Belsarian over some exotic dancer, but apparently you were both too drunk to inflict any serious damage." Spock was visibly relieved. Though it was none of his business, Kirk wondered, "Were you meeting a woman at the interhull tonight?" Those secretive compartments were popular for intimate rendezvous among the crew, and contrary to popular belief, Vulcans were quite capable of mating at any time.
Spock gave him a strangely guarded look. "I was seeking meditation. There are cubicles reserved for that purpose."
Though not entirely convinced, Kirk let the matter drop. "Irrelevant, in any case. What concerns me most is your conduct last night. You left the Enterprise without leaving an officer in command." Beaming aboard ship with vomit on his shoes had dampened his initial twinge of amusement. Discovering that Spock abdicated his duty had wiped the smile permanently from Kirk's face. "Why?" he demanded. "Just tell me why."
"I...do not know," Spock replied after a moment of thought. "The memories are clouded."
"Were you drinking before you left the ship?"
Spock's distant, haunted eyes turned from his. If ever there was guilty-looking man, this was it. Swallowing his person feelings, Kirk stood, and the Vulcan rose respectfully to attention. But the eyes, the fathomless brown eyes remained fixed on some faraway point.
Kirk broke the silence with an admiral's well-seasoned authority. "No man, Mister Spock, no one is so valuable that I will place him above the welfare of this ship. No one who fails in his duty to this ship and crew will go unpunished." He paused, a frown of doubt creasing his brow. These past years had brought pressures on Spock that might have broken a lesser man. The Vulcan was not indestructible. Relenting a bit, he continued, "For now, you are suspended from duty and confined to the ship. I'm postponing a formal captain's mast until you submit to a psychological examination."
Spock stirred. "Permission to speak, Admiral?"
"Sir, Doctor McCoy has released me from medical care."
"Nevertheless, Mister Spock, you will present yourself for examination first thing tomorrow. Those are Doctor McCoy's orders...and my own."
The Vulcan bowed his head in apparent acceptance. Kirk dismissed him before personal interest won out over his own responsibility as ship's commander. He had meant every aching word about duty. Yes, he may have used the V'Ger crisis to regain command of the refurbished Enterprise, but that command was now temporarily his, and he would not compromise it. But his private wish to install Spock as the new captain now seemed but a distant hope.
Glancing at his wrist chronometer, he sighed. He must get some sleep if was going to function tomorrow. Correction: today. Warp out in five hours, a new course to of all places, Mason's Resolve, where they would take on a medical team bound for a conference on Vulcan. It would be his first visit to Mason's since Spock's ill-fated pon farr, and the timing could not be worse.