In the rational portion of his mind, Spock knew there were not many paces separating the turbolift from his quarters, but tonight it seemed uncomfortably far in the night-dimmed corridor. He covered the distance quickly. Even so, his heart was pounding by the time he reached his door. For a moment he stared at the smooth metallic surface, not quite remembering how it opened. Then the door sensed his presence, opened of its own accord, and he was safely inside.
The cabin was swathed in deep shadows. A single flame guttered near his meditation alcove, in peril from stray air currents and neglect. Its hypnotic writhing briefly held his attention before he turned to the room's control panel and abruptly switched on every light. Yet somehow it still seemed wrong.
He closed his eyes, and a dreamlike wraith seemed to reach for him, tender and inviting with her promises of sensual pleasure. So near. So very near. A delicious yearning was rapidly overtaking him when he abruptly came to himself and ended the troubling fantasy. It was not the first seductive episode of this type, and they were becoming harder to resist.
I am Vulcan. I am in control.
Carefully regulating his thoughts, he made his way to his bed, but the mere sight of the narrow bunk was enough to set him burning again. A pon farr image of Ensign Orella rose in his mind, and was instantly superimposed with that of a red-haired human female. He turned away. Confused, he reached out, and his fingers rammed into an unexpected surface.
He stared steadily at the partition until it became familiar again. Then slowly he sat on the bed, watching his spectral reflection move in a nearby mirror, and it was as if he were viewing a stranger. Hardly logical, but there was little logic in seductive visions...or in recurring dreams full of desperate, unanswered pleas.
Let me go! Let me out!
"Who are you?" Spock asked the entrapped image.
In the silence that followed, his shoulders slumped and he made no effort to straighten. There would be little rest tonight. Even if he forced sleep on himself, the dreams would come again. At last he rose, put on a meditation robe, and assumed the traditional posture. He would try to empty his mind and open himself to a'Tha, using the ancient Way of Kril'es, or harmony with One and All. It differed from any exercises of the Kolinahru, and even those he had practiced in earlier years, for since V'Ger, he had begun to seek a more personal relationship with the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Perhaps there he would find the strength he needed.
"Conscience can be a marvelous rudder," McCoy said as he bit into his toast, "guiding an individual along on an even moral keel."
"Through life's ocean of good and evil," Kirk finished with a wry grin. He swallowed some hot black coffee and glanced once around the officer's lounge. Though no one was near enough to overhear them, he lowered his voice. "But Bones, Spock is a Vulcan, not a boat."
"Spock is Spock." Scowling, the doctor scooped up a forkful of scrambled eggs. "He's not any more Vulcan than human, despite his physical appearance."
"And you think he's suffering an attack of conscience?"
Kirk shifted in his seat. "Hell, we've all done things that we're not particularly proud of. With Ensign Orella, pon farr gave him little choice. And with Tobias, he had no culpability at all."
"True," McCoy said, "but the way Tobias died still concerns me. Spock in there all alone with him..."
Kirk stiffened. "Surely you aren't suggesting that Spock..."
"Did him in?" McCoy waved the thought aside. "Of course not, but Spock has been acting mighty strange since that night on Helexia. I'm going to put him through every test in the book."
Kirk pushed up from the table. "When is he due in sickbay?"
"Thirty minutes. I'd like you there, if possible."
Kirk managed a wan smile. "Reinforcements?"
"I'll take all I can get."
Kirk was in sickbay nursing a second mug of coffee when Spock punctually arrived. The Vulcan looked as if he had spent the night in an anteroom of hell.
McCoy dropped any semblance of a professional manner, took Spock by the shoulders and said, "This has gone about far enough, my friend."
The alien eyes shifted to some terribly neutral point between the two humans. "I do not understand your meaning, Doctor."
"Oh, I think you do," McCoy countered. "I think you understand with painful clarity. Self-recrimination. Gut-wrenching guilt. I've heard tell that Vulcans consider such things illogical...like other bothersome emotions they sweep under the rug. Don't they?" Spock remained stock-still, yet there was a sense of something stirring beneath that rigid exterior as McCoy pressed on. "A man...a feeling man can only operate like that for so long. Then the pressures make themselves known in unpleasant ways."
Looking coldly at McCoy, the Vulcan said, "Remove your hands."
With an angry little shake, McCoy released him and went over beside Kirk. "Jim was there, we both were. Friends. Remember the word? We cared enough to stand with you on Helexis, but you stayed behind in that basement...and you came out a changed man."
Kirk set down his mug. "McCoy is right. At first the difference in you was so slight that I wrote it off as a contemplative mood. Understandable for someone who'd met and lost his double in the space of an hour. But since then you've grown steadily more withdrawn, and now this destructive binge. It's all connected, isn't it?" Rising to his feet, he promised, "Nothing you say will go beyond this room. Let's have the truth. What went on between you and Tobias?"
Spock's gaze dropped. After a silent moment, his hands began fidgeting and he glanced around the deck as if wrestling some private sin. "I...I won't be punished?" he asked in an uncertain voice.
Kirk cast the doctor a startled look, then said, "Let's hear it."
Now Spock's normally composed features shifted into a nervous mask. "I was so sick...when the other came. Somehow I thought I knew him...and then when he touched my face..."
Kirk opened his mouth to speak, but a meaningful glance from McCoy silenced him.
Facing Spock, the doctor gently asked, "He touched you?"
"Yes. He was...in my thoughts. I begged him to help me."
"Tobias," Kirk said.
Spock turned suddenly to Kirk, eyes brimming with anguished tears. A shiver began in the admiral's back and swiftly chased over his entire body. This was not Spock. This could not be Spock. He had responded to Kirk's voice as if Tobias were his name!
McCoy had reached the same conclusion. "So you begged Spock to help you. And then what?"
Tobias/Spock repressed a sob. "I could feel his disgust. He...he...didn't like me."
McCoy shot Kirk a worried glance, then went over and put an arm around his troubled patient. This time Tobias/Spock seemed to take comfort in the touch.
"Well now," McCoy said, lapsing into his country doctor drawl. "There's no need to get upset." He gently guided the Vulcan to the diagnostic table. "Just wait here a minute and Doctor Chapel will see what's ailin' you."
"I'm not sick anymore," Tobias/Spock insisted, but nevertheless he obeyed.
McCoy stepped out of the room with Kirk. Grim as death, he waved Christine Chapel through the sliding doors. "Give him a preliminary exam, Chris. And don't be surprised if you find his behavior...a little odd."
No need to tell me that, thought Chapel as the door sealed her and the patient in privacy. Since V'Ger she had seen many new sides of Spock: laughter, exhilaration, tears. Yesterday she had even seen him drunk and helped nurse him through a Vulcan-sized hangover. At this point, very little would surprise her.
Businesslike, she strode to the diagnostic bed and set its programming as she chatted. "I could tell you this isn't going to hurt a bit, Mister Spock, but neither of us would believe that. Just consider it payment for all the trouble you caused around here yesterday."
She paused in her work to glance over at him. Spock's eyes were on her. Oh, but he was handsome-shiner, banged lip, and all. Another kailoscopic treatment would help bring down the last of the swelling.
With a gentle smile she said, "Please slip out of your tunic and undershirt, then lie down."
Once he settled on the diagnostic bed, she studied the readings displayed on the wall monitor. Autonomic functions were a little high for his hybrid physiology, but within acceptable limits. After entering a notation on his chart, she turned to find all the readings at peak level.
Her heart gave a lurch. What was going on? Taking the Vulcan's wrist, she searched out his elusive, racing pulse. His skin felt burning hot. His bare chest rose and fell too rapidly.
Suddenly he asked, "Will it really hurt?"
"What?" Chapel laughed uneasily. "Of course not. I was only..." Dragging her eyes away, she tried to focus on the examination.
"You are quite beautiful," he told her.
For an instant she doubted her hearing, but then her gaze locked with his. Clearly, he had meant it. And in those smoldering eyes, she read a great deal more. Stunned, she released his wrist, but he immediately seized her arms and brought her down firmly against him. She was too shocked to resist as his fingers slid into her hair, forcing her nearer and nearer, until their lips touched.
No, her mind cried, this is wrong! But she could not hide the feelings he aroused in her as the kiss deepened and their thoughts brushed.
Not here, she objected. Not like this.
But I want you, he answered.
Yes, and almost from the beginning, she had wanted this man. Despite all his repressive ways, she had loved him, even knowing that he could never behave differently, never return even a small part of her affection. In the interest of sanity, she had refined her hopeless passion into friendship. But the tinder was still there.
Somehow she pulled away from the seductive lips, and with his hands still on her, looked down at him. Yes, she reassured herself, this really is Spock. A Spock she had seen only in dreams, breathless with lust and damnably desirable. Here was the secret face had always longed to uncover. Spock, wanting her shamelessly.
"Let me...let me lock the door," she managed to rasp.
Yes, his mind answered, but come back. Come back quickly.
Burning with need, she hurried to the control panel.
"Jim, a meld with Tobias would explain a lot. There's something I want you to see." McCoy ushered Kirk into his sickbay office and pulled a printout from a desk drawer. "I requested this data on Tobias from the Federation Science Board. It's a personality profile compiled by Dorian Wren. I had no idea how relevant it would turn out to be."
The mere mention of Doran Wren set Kirk's blood boiling. In a fit of professional jealousy, she had used a novel technology to duplicate Spock, and though Tobias was now dead, the repercussions of her twisted experiment seemed to be living on.
Kirk skimmed the report. Whatever else the blue-eyed, blond Tobias might have been, he was darn near identical to Spock and reflected what Spock might have been, raised apart from his rigid Vulcan culture. Compared to their own Mister Spock, his replicate sounded downright hedonistic.
"Jim, he could feel so conflicted about Tobias dying, that he's taking on his duplicate's personality."
Kirk no longer saw the doctor's worried face. He saw a decorated First Officer leaving his post; he saw a once strong shoulder shrinking fearfully from his touch, and cast about for some plausible explanation. "Alright, Spock might have been disturbed by his meld with Tobias, so he forgot to assign the conn before leaving the ship. So he went out and got drunk and picked a fight over some floozy. Does that make him nuts? And maybe now he's still a little hungover, a little confused, that's all."
McCoy sighed. "Do I have to list all the parallels in their behavior? For Pete's sake, you saw Spock respond to the name ‘Tobias'."
"I'm not sure what I saw," Kirk shot back. Tossing down the report, he stalked out of sickbay as if the devil were at his heels. Sure, someone could interpret Spock's behavior to fit the doctor's theory, but he preferred waiting until all the facts were in. When every test was complete, they would sit around a table and analyze the results. And by then Spock would probably be just fine.
But later that day, Kirk's hopes were dashed when Spock became violently ill. Not liquor this time, but meat-a childish excess of the same animal flesh that Spock had carefully avoided all his life. Suddenly anything seemed possible. In a galaxy where a Vulcan could go mad, Kirk marveled that time still flowed smoothly forward. The Enterprise would arrive on schedule at Mason's Resolve in fifteen hours. As commander of the ship, he would welcome the medical delegation aboard, smiling as usual. Only instead of Spock at his side, the Vulcan would be in sickbay, under psychiatric confinement.