MEMORIES By: M. C. Pehrson
A writhing pillar of death twisted down from the scarlet sky. Fleeing its shadow, he tripped and landed hard in the sand. Desperately he scrambled up and ran on toward the mountain ahead, knowing only that he was about to lose something-or someone-terribly important here. The wind whipped him, the tortured earth heaved under his boots as he labored up a crumbling rise and sighted a woman standing near the mountain's summit. Was she the one? Then he remembered. His steps slowed under the sudden weight of grief. Realizing he would not reach her in time, he dropped to his knees. She was doomed-and with her, the entire planet.
"Mother!" he shouted, but it was too late.
Spock awoke with a gasp, the enormity of his loss echoing through his heart. Abruptly he swung his legs from his bed and sat up in the darkness. There was movement behind him. Feminine hands gently settled on his bare shoulders. He felt Nyota's breath on his neck as she kissed him. With an effort he pulled himself from the useless spiral of sorrow. It had been nearly five years since his mother's death and Vulcan's destruction. By now he should have suppressed the pain of that experience and moved on. Why did it still occasionally haunt him? And why did he have similar nightmares of Jim Kirk dying?
Near his ear, Nyota spoke. "You're thinking of it again, aren't you? Of Kolinahr."
When he failed to reply, her hands tightened. Spock could feel her anger building. As always, it turned his thoughts further from her, toward the refuge of pure logic that beckoned to him more and more.
She left the bed, waved up a light, and reached for her clothes. "You're half human," she fumed. "Learn to deal with your emotions like the rest of us. If you go to New Vulcan-if you let them strip out your heart-I won't know you anymore. It'll be over between us, do you understand? Is that what you want?"
Adjusting her uniform, Nyota stood before him. Since Spock could not answer her question, he merely met her eyes. Perhaps she found an answer there, for she turned and stalked from his cabin.
* * *
The alien city seemed lifeless, but the air was sweet and warm as Captain Kirk paused to wipe layers of centuries-old dust from some cryptic symbols on an apparent signpost. "Spock, Uhura," he said. "What do you make of this?"
Uhura came over and studied the markings intently. Though Spock had once been her instructor at the academy, she was the ship's linguistic expert and therefore reported, "It has similarities to early Trexlor, suggesting a common root."
"Agreed." Spock switched off his tricorder and cocked an angular eyebrow at the gray metallic structures surrounding the Enterprise landing party. "This complex dates from approximately 6000 years ago. The machinery is self-servicing and in remarkable condition. It may well be-"
"Keptin!" Nearby, Ensign Chekov grinned at a freshly stripped etching under his grimy hand. "Look, humanoids!"
The entire group gathered around the young Russian's discovery.
"Definitely hominid," agreed Uhura, tracing the forms with a fingertip. "They look like children."
Spock nibbled his lip pensively while his tricorder hummed over the weathered depiction. "Interesting. Judging by this representation, we may have found an educational center."
Kirk smiled. "A school, Mister Spock? Why not an amusement park?"
Dryly Uhura said, "Oh, no...not amusement. That would smack of emotion."
Spock's mouth tightened as he skewered her with a sharp look.
"Alright," Kirk intervened. "We'll pair up and fan out for some cautious exploration." Seeing Spock move for his usual place at his captain's side, Kirk waved him off. "No. I want you to go with Uhura. Report in every ten minutes." The two had been bickering all day; let them have at it. He turned instead to Chekov and said, "Come with me, Ensign."
Spock looked from Uhura to the nearest side roads, all lined with similar drab buildings, and appeared to select one at random. Uhura followed in silence. Each step raised fine gray dust that settled over their boots. As Uhura walked, she wondered about the people who had lived there when the dull surfaces were polished to reflect the sparkling sunlight. Aloud she said, "This must have been beautiful once. Just look at that sky."
Spock gave the emerald atmosphere an indifferent glance, then approached an oversized doorway and peered inside.
Uhura's temper flared. "Stick to business, right Spock? Never let anything disturb the pristine purity of those Vulcan brainwaves. Well, then, let's get on with it." She brushed over the dark threshold, into a startling blaze of light. Instantly Spock grabbed hold and yanked her straight back into the street. The room went dark again. Apparently her entry had triggered an illumination source.
Uhura jerked free of his touch and confronted him. "What are you doing? You don't care about me; you don't want to care about anyone, remember?"
Spock's eyes narrowed. His Vulcan features set hard as stone. "You are very fortunate. Such carelessness could have cost your life. Do not act so precipitously again."
Uhura stared back unflinchingly, but as Spock turned to point his tricorder at the opening, she muttered, "Aggravating man..."
Spock looked at her. "You spoke?"
"I said," Uhura repeated loudly, "you're in command. Sir."
* * *
With the hint of a wicked smile, Kirk acknowledged Spock's first report and tucked away his communicator. That edge to the Vulcan's voice had nothing to do with some lighted chamber he was investigating. The real trouble was Uhura, of course. They must still be feuding. Shipboard romances were notoriously messy.
Kirk squinted up the bland walls of yet another nondescript box of a building. "Well, Mister Chekov, at this rate your carving may prove to be the find of the day."
* * *
A large rectangular seam marred the perfectly smooth inner wall. It was a door-without latch or handle, but certainly an access to some other chamber. Spock pried his fingernails into the seam at various intervals. He pressed his palms against the door and pushed hard, without success. Finally he put shoulder to metal, exerting his full strength for several breathless seconds. When the door would not yield, he ended his efforts and stared at the rectangle in deep concentration.
Perched on a wall bench, Uhura had been watching the entire process. "Admit it, Spock. That's really bothering you."
"It is challenging," Spock conceded.
"Maybe if we both push." Uhura hopped down from the platform obviously designed for a taller species. And as if nudged by some unseen hand, the door swung open wide, spilling light over Spock's impassive features. Uhura smiled a bit smugly. "Well, look at that." Bending low in an exaggerated bow she said, "After you, Commander."
Tight-jawed, Spock updated the captain. Then he drew his phaser and slowly moved toward the brightness. He reached the doorway. Dwarfed within the great opening, he froze and blinked at a glowing jumble of faces, taking an instant to realize they were his own. Mirror images shone from every silvery surface in the cubicle.
Uhura appeared at his side and caught her breath at the sight of so many reflections. "Talk about your funhouse mirrors..."
"Hardly applicable," Spock said, putting away his phaser and taking up his tricorder. "While visiting my aunt in Minneapolis, I had the dubious fortune to enter such an establishment. Those mirrors produce highly distorted images, while these-"
Uhura interrupted. "It was just an expression."
Spock's attention was on the tricorder readings. "Low energy emissions from within the walls and..." He stepped toward an oblong platform sprouting from the floor's glistening center. "And this."
Uhura considered touching it. "Certainly looks harmless enough. Maybe it's a game."
Spock squatted down to examine the pillar-like base. "Keep in mind the savage forms of entertainment Starfleet has encountered elsewhere in the galaxy. If this is indeed a game, it was created by and for an alien culture whose concept of ‘fun' may be quite different from yours."
Shaken by a sudden chill, Uhura passed up the opportunity for a verbal jab. Her eyes were drawn back to her countless reflections-every one of which looked utterly miserable. There was no hiding the sadness. Her heart ached to settle the trouble between her and Spock. Why did he keep pulling away? And now he might leave her forever...
"Spock," she said softly. Hunching down beside the preoccupied Vulcan, she found four symbols encircling the base of the pedestal. "One looks like a flower," she observed aloud, "and a sun. And there's a leaf and a snowflake. The four seasons?"
Spock reached for his communicator. When the case flipped open without its characteristic chirp, an eyebrow rose quizzically. "Apparently this metal inhibits communication. Lieutenant, please step outside and report to Captain Kirk."
Lieutenant? Here she was, ready to call a truce, and he could not unbend even a little. "Yes, Commander. Right away!" Coolly rising, she stalked from the chamber.
Her boot steps reverberated off the sleek inner walls, leaving an uneasy silence. Spock kept his eyes on the pedestal and a firm grip on himself. He was weary of the tension between them, and though it was not logical, he disliked this room. It...yes...gave him a bad feeling. Perhaps that was why he had sent her clear of-
A faint, dreadful sound drew his attention. Turning his head, he found myriad reflections on a glistening, unbroken expanse of wall. A slim door seam outlined the only visible escape route. Sealed tight!
Heart slamming, he rose up and tested the heavy slab of metal. When it failed to budge, he refused a growing sense of panic and forced himself to consider the situation rationally. Nyota knew how to operate the door from her side. She would act immediately. Ordering his thoughts, he waited.
Time passed. Too much time. Where was she? Why had she not returned? How long would he be trapped in this disturbing place, ringed by the strangely sinister eyes staring darkly into his.
And then a new thought came. Had she deliberately locked him in?
With a sudden rush of anger, Spock threw himself at the sealed exit and flailed at its unyielding surface until his hands hurt and pain flared into his mind, steadying him. Then very slowly he backed away. What was causing his discomposure? This was reality, not a nightmare. He must not let his control slip so badly again. Even if Nyota had closed the door, surely she would not leave him here much longer. And there was no reason to suspect any imminent danger.
Now that some calm was restored, Spock became aware of a new problem. His inborn sense of time seemed skewed. He consulted his wrist chronometer and found the numbers holding steady at 1410 hours. Had time itself stopped? Setting himself firmly in the Vulcan discipline, he began a systematic hands-on search of the walls.
Suddenly the walls began to shimmer and slip away...
* * *
Out in the warm sunshine, Nyota was reaching for her communicator when she heard the huge door settle shut with a horrible whisper of finality. She turned, hoping to see Spock, but no one was there.
Nyota plunged through the outer opening and faced a solid wall inside. Knowing it was a futile effort, she pounded the door and shouted Spock's name. No sound could possibly penetrate that dense metal.
Getting a grip on herself, she backed away and applied hand pressure to the wall platform, then released it. Nothing happened. She climbed onto the seat and jumped down. Still nothing. With a sick feeling she yanked out her communicator and hurried back into the street.
* * *
An aroma of fresh fruit took Spock by surprise. Momentarily disoriented, he turned and stood still until his mind cleared. Now he remembered. Despite a faint tingle of guilt, he was glad that he had slipped from the house unseen. It was a beautiful evening, with the horizon flaming red-the very best time for feeding khree.
Sand heated his sandals as he hurried toward the hills, and before long he began to sweat. But out here, there was no one to stare at the faint sheen of moisture, no cruel remarks from pureblood Vulcan children who did not perspire so easily. He was alone and he liked it that way. Most of his summers had been spent in this high desert region where his human mother came to escape ShiKahr's blistering heat.
Young Spock followed the footpath until the ground rose, then climbed steadily. Beyond the first hill he reached a wide flatland studded by khree mounds and thorn bushes and brave tufts of grass. After testing the breeze, he hunkered confidently behind a boulder, downwind. No flesh-eating plants lurked among these rocks, and the day's lingering warmth would keep the sand-dwelling predators deep. This was his favorite spot, protected by stone outcroppings on three sides, with an unobstructed view of the khree colony. Perfect.
Quickly now, he unwrapped juicy chunks of plomeek and clawfruit, and lobbed them at the khree mounds. Then he licked his sticky fingers and rubbed them dry in the sand. Now for the waiting. Still as the stones around him, Spock held watch over the silent colony. Insects lit on his skin, muscles began to cramp, but he single-mindedly ignored every distraction. The waning heat, the scent of food, and perhaps his fierce willpower would serve to lure the skittish khree.
A faint sound stirred the sand, and Spock glimpsed movement. Here and there, sleek heads peeked out, noses twitching in the shimmery heat waves. Enticed by the scattered fruit, the khree edged warily from their burrows. Spock counted their mottled bodies-four, eight, twelve. Then he lost count as the creatures swarmed from every colony mound, milling over the food scraps, nibbling hungrily with their little teeth, making way for each other with remarkable equanimity.
The scene never varied, nor the yearning it evoked. Oh, how he missed the friendly comfort of his old pet sehlat, I-Chaya, gone now more than a year. If only he could tame one of these timid desert animals to keep as his own; if only his father would not think such a notion weak and foolish.
Sadly, Spock dissuaded himself from approaching the burrows; best to leave now, for the daylight was fast failing. He forced his eyes from the eagerly feasting khree to the desolate land surrounding his rock fortress. A sinuous motion caught his attention. Something large was coming his way, circling in, belly to sand. Concentrating, he tracked the wild creature's advance and his stomach knotted as he identified the savage predator. Le-Matya!
"What?" Tensing, Kirk bent to his communicator. "Repeat that."
Uhura spoke in a rush. "I tell you, it has him! It has Spock! He was inside when the door shut. Captain, I can't open it like I did before, and he's stuck in that thing, whatever the heck it is..."
Kirk cut her off. "Alright. Calm down. We'll beam straight over on your signal. Kirk out." Shifting frequencies, he contacted the Enterprise transporter room.
Le-Matya! Sleek and massive, a lithe powerhouse of deadly intent. Ever so slowly she moved in, her green leathery hide and gold markings rendering her nearly invisible in the dusk. On she came, muscles rippling with menace, eyes narrowed to ferocious slits above her poisonous fangs as she stalked the unsuspecting khree. Near the farthest mound, she paused and then bunched for one tremulous instant.
Spock dared not cry out to the hapless creatures in warning, and suddenly she sprang! There was a flash of teeth and claws, and fur flew amid shrill, terrified screams. Sand kicked up in a furious cloud that obscured the entire colony and rained down upon Spock in his hiding place. When the dust cleared, the ground was littered with torn bodies. Stunned by potent venom, the wounded khree lay helpless as their attacker walked among them, calmly choosing the youngest and fattest to begin her meal. Then the Le-Matya hunched down and gulped great mouthfuls of bloody flesh.
Spock's stomach heaved, but he did not turn away, despite the hateful memories flooding him. Just such a beast had fatally injured I-Chaya when the faithful sehlat followed him on a trial Kaus-wan. The unauthorized venture had cost the life of his pet. Remembering, he clung motionless to the hot stone, too preoccupied to notice a change slowly settling around him. But as the breeze stiffened and gusts began to riffle his dark hair, he came to realize that he might soon be in trouble.
The wind was shifting direction. A few more degrees to the west, and it would blow his scent straight under the predator's quivering nostrils. Unfortunately, the Le-Matya showed no inclination to leave. Yet if Spock moved, the tiniest rustling would alert those sensitive ears. She would be upon him, rending and tearing at his flesh. That was reason enough for concern, but there was something else that Spock feared as much as a Le-Matya-another desert savage that pounced boldly upon its prey with little warning. Now he sensed its approach in a nearby whirlwind. He sensed it in the sand, stirring like a great restless blanket over the plateau.
His barbaric ancestors might have clutched at their amulets, pleading to be delivered. But this was an enlightened age, an enlightened world. He was expected to control his fear and apply logic, to survive solely by the use of his wits. If in that moment the human part of him launched a prayer toward a heaven, it was due solely to his mother's influence.
Above the distant hills, the last blush of Eridani glowered. In all the darkening sky there was not a cloud, not a bird. And now, not even a breeze. There came a stillness so absolute that Spock heard the panicked thudding of his heart and was shamed by it.
With a startling swish of sand, the Le-Matya bolted. Abandoning her unfinished meal, she raced out of sight. Spock poised to run for the safety of home. Senses alert and reaching, he first listened. A faraway sound made his throat go tight...an ominous rush of wind, advancing...the heated clash of a thousand rumbling voices...the wrath of all the ancient gods descending...
Kirk closed his communicator with a snap that betrayed his apprehension, and looked at Uhura. He was more worried than he dared show. Keeping his voice steady, he said, "Ship's sensors can't penetrate that metal and get a fix on Spock to transport him. The material is so energy reflective, we can't phaser our way in, either."
Uhura paced as Chekov and a team from engineering probed every millimeter of the door's dusty surface. It was sealed as tight as a tomb.
Young Spock sighted a dark billowing curtain, and drew in his breath. Then the sandstorm struck and he fell to the ground, choking. With a pang of pure terror, he remembered the legends of S'Tradeh Veh, the destroyer. The great wind had been known to claim countless victims-animals, children, even grown men and women-filling rivers, moving hills, laying waste to entire towns.
Fighting for air, he peeled off his outer shirt and wound it around his face as a crude filtering mask. He fashioned a deep slit for his eyes, but there was nothing to see. The world had been turned upside-down and shaken. The evil brown tide clawed through his undershirt to his skin, making him want to scream. To remain here unsheltered was certain, horrible death-to be ground by S'Tradeh Veh to a bloody pulp and buried.
He began to crawl. With his back to the wind, he moved blindly, scraping against thorn bushes, bumping into rocks. He reached an incline and continued. Hopelessly lost, he struggled from handhold to handhold while the sand flayed him without mercy. At last he came to a level area. Body pressed flat against rock, he fumbled his way along a ledge, desperately searching for shelter. Inward the path twisted, and outward, then inward again, to a sudden shock of stillness. Numbed by his ordeal, it took him a moment to realize that he was in a cave.
His muscles went slack with relief. Peeling the tattered shirt from his head, he used it as a pillow. Never had cool, hard stone felt so welcoming.
Chekov had a fresh idea. "What about digging under the foundation?"
Uhura shook her head. "The floor in that chamber is metal, too."
With a shrug Chekov said, "Then maybe blast him out."
But they all knew that was impossible. Any blast powerful enough to penetrate the metal would instantly kill Spock.
Kirk said, "We'll proceed on the assumption that he's alright for now."
"Alright?" Uhura was openly distressed. "Excuse me, captain, but I don't feel very secure about his safety in there. How do we know this place isn't some kind of sausage factory?"
For a long while Spock lay listening to the wind howl. By now his mother would realize that he had left the house. She would be worried. What if she had gone out searching? What if she had been caught in the storm? Maybe he would never see her again.
Drowsing in a weary haze of pain, he only slowly became alerted to another presence-not by sight or smell, but by a more subtle form of Vulcan perception. Something was nearby, silently watching him in the cavern gloom.
Spock's sore skin prickled with apprehension, and belatedly he recalled his survival training. A boy who had passed the trial of Kahs-wan in his seventh year did not blunder into caves, particularly during storms. Boys were not the only ones seeking shelter at such times.
With agonizing care he raised his head, for abrupt moves invited attack. Whatever it was, must not be startled...or provoked...or...
Spock froze as a throaty growl vibrated to the core of his being. Even without seeing, he knew. It was her-the Le-Matya! How fitting an end, to suffer the bite of fangs, the sting of poison, the slice of claws-like poor I-Chaya, who had died protecting his errant young master.
Very carefully Spock let out his breath. Though fresh sweat began to break out, he felt cold-suddenly quite cold-and he began to shiver. The chill of that predatory presence was already unbearable.
"Come then," Spock urged, "kill me."
The creature snarled in response, and he imagined her muscles gathering to strike...
"Keptin! Come quick! The door opened!" Ensign Chekov's cry shattered the grim silence of the street where Kirk and Uhura were quietly conferring.
The two of them rushed over and found the inner door securely propped open. The engineering team stepped aside. Kirk, Uhura, and Chekov cautiously entered the now dim chamber. Near the central platform, Chekov's flashlight illuminated a body on the floor.
"It...it's Mister Spock," the young Russian stammered.
Fearing the worst, Uhura dropped to one knee beside the prone Vulcan and was relieved to see him breathing. "He's alive," she reported.
"Quick," Kirk said. "Let's get him out of here."
They laid him out in the street. Away from the chamber, his color rapidly improved. After a moment his eyes opened and he sat up with a dazed expression.
Hovering near, Uhura put a hand on his shoulder. "Take it easy. You were out cold."
"The door..." Kirk began, but there was no chance to finish the thought.
Spock's features hardened and he cast Uhura a sharp look. "Yes...I remember now. The door closed."
It had the sound of an accusation. Uhura backed off and reacted with fresh anger. "If you think for one second that I closed it!"
Eyes flaming, the Vulcan rose to his feet. As the two of them faced off, Kirk was tempted to knock their heads together. Were they going to air their personal issues in front of the entire landing party?
Curtly he ordered, "Chekov. You and the others, beam back to the ship." Once they were gone, he focused his attention on Spock and Uhura. "Now settle it!" he snapped. "Whatever your problems, you'll leave them down here. I've had a bellyful of you both."
Spock's slanted brow climbed.
Uhura turned to the Vulcan, who was now looking fixedly at a building. "Well?" she prompted. Spock ignored her until her patience failed. "You really think I did it-that I locked you in there!"
Spock cast her a rapier glance before turning his attention to the captain. Though he always replied on his inner time sense, he now asked, "How many hours was I trapped?"
"Hours?" Kirk replied. "It was only a few minutes. Uhura called for help, but there was hardly time to assess the situation before the door reopened."
"By itself," Uhura said tautly. "The same way it closed. All...by...itself."
"Probably operates on some automatic cycle," Kirk theorized.
Spock's head bowed and as his body sagged, Uhura reached out and snugged an arm around his waist. Looking into his eyes, she softly said, "You know I'd never endanger you like that."
Spock was drawing a deep breath when Kirk asked, "Exactly what happened in there?"
The Vulcan frowned as if the memory pained him. "A journey through time...back to a boyhood incident...involving a sandstorm and Le-Matya. I cannot describe the intensity of my experience."
Still close at his side, Uhura studied him. "Emotionally intense?"
Spock stiffened. "I hardly think this is the time or the place..."
"It never is," Uhura retorted, letting her arm drop.
Kirk cleared his throat meaningfully, and they fell silent. Obviously the two of them had not lost their taste for bickering. "So, Spock...you were on Vulcan?"
"Yes, Captain...in the Northern Encampment at Pashir. I relived a childhood experience that nearly took my life. If the Le-Matya had not gorged on khree, she would surely have killed me."
Kirk flipped open his communicator and paused. "A Le-Matya. Ought to be one hell of an interesting report. For now, you're going straight to sickbay for a checkup." He spoke into the communicator. "Transporter room, one to beam up. Lock onto Mister Spock."
As the sparkles of energy dissipated, Kirk studied Uhura's angry face. "Anything more I should know?"
"I'd say that's up to him, Captain. It's all up to him, now."
And so, not for the first time, Kirk was left to wonder.