The small planet spun lazily around its sun, rolling parklands and gardens waking to stretch in the growing light as day dawned; the flurry of early morning food-gathering giving way to tranquil night-time. Butterflies flexed their soft wings on warm petals; plaintive birds cooed in the cool depths of massive trees rimming the lawns. Each flower hung, jewel-still, its face upturned to warmth, rich carpets of living colour stretching beyond the horizon. The world dreamed on, undisturbed by the gentle breeze that rose as evening approached. Beneath the watching eyes, small insects droned sleepily on opalescent wings.
The girl came silently through the grass, bare feet scarcely pressing the turquoise blades, the floating gauze of her skirts sinuously caressing purple stems to the rhythm of her passing. Her pale hands moved, feather-light, among the growing things, face pensive, eyes half-closed, lips parted in gentle rapture. The evening air lifted her wild, white curls to brush the delicately azure cheek. The watchers noted her passing, red eyes unblinking in the shadows. Over the brow of the hill she went and out into the golden glow of evening across the undulating grasslands, to stand, arms outstretched to the rising moons. Above her head two white birds wheeled in silent dance, red eyes echoing the setting sun.
/She is here./
/I note it./
/Will it be as last time, so still, so long? Is it like this each night?/
/Maintain your watch silently./
/There is so little to watch. Nothing happens, the time drags out./
/Time will pass as it always does, neither faster nor slower. Impatience is unworthy. Be silent, your thoughts disturb me./
/My thoughts rise. I cannot stop them./
/Return then. I will watch alone. Withdraw. I will follow later./
The golden sunlight faded.
McCoy touched Kirk's arm, indicating the motionless, unseeing couple at the wire-tangled console.
"I still don't like it," he said softly. "We don't know what effect it's going to have on them - any interference with the brain is dangerous."
Professor Madison turned impatiently from his screen. "Doctor, you are aware that there comes a time when a new technique must be used to prove its worth?" He rumpled his silver hair thoughtfully. "In any case, I really do not see what can go wrong - nothing untoward has occurred during the laboratory tests, why should it now?"
"Sod's Law," said McCoy flatly. "If things can go wrong, they will."
"A layman's attitude." Madison dismissed it. "The implant has been tested most thoroughly and has never proved harmful even in the first crude experiments I have used one myself and suffered no ill effects." He waved an expressive hand. "My mind has not been affected, save that I have perhaps learned to take a less parochial outlook through seeing life as another creature sees it. An educative experience like that might almost be made compulsory, Doctor."
McCoy snorted. "It's people we need to understand, not animals. And who's to say it doesn't do the animal any harm - they can't tell us."
"The animal is unaware of our presence, Doctor. The directional nature of the amplifier doesn't allow our thoughts to enter their minds. Once the implant is made in the animal's brain the creature is released quite unharmed, and when the period of observation is finished the implant is removed again. It is the same for Human contact - with the bonus under the present circumstances that they remain quite safely on board the observing vessel and never have to submit to having their molecules scrambled all over the universe."
Kirk hid a grin. Someone had clearly been talking.
"The most important factor," Madison went on, "is to find two compatible observers."
"It's asking too much of anyone to stay linked to Spock for any length of time," McCoy growled. "Look at this reading, Jim. These peaks are far too high."
Madison got up and studied the screen over McCoy's shoulder. "Yes, she's coming over too strongly. We'll have to sort out some way of blanking her out when she's not trying to speak to him."
"'Blanking her out'," McCoy muttered, crossly. "She's not just a radio message."
"For the purpose of this work she is simply a transmitter and receiver, Doctor. The ultimate end of this technique may be to revolutionise communications entirely. These implants augment the rudimentary telepathic field and channel it directionally. Each person may be able to learn to be their own transmitter and receiver." Madison's voice warmed with his enthusiasm. "Think how that will speed up planetary exploration. No communicator to lose or damage, no tricorder to carry, all data given instantly to the computer and stored away!"
"It clearly has advantages," Kirk agreed. "Any time you're in trouble, Bones, you can beam up straight away, wherever you are. It will simplify a lot of things."
"I'll believe it when it's proved," McCoy persisted. "Anyway," he added sophistically, "if you're not going to have to beam down, you're not going to have to beam up. Jim! She's coming out of it."
Uhura blinked and moved, exercising cramped muscles. "The link is still too strong, Professor Madison, I disturb him. He manages to control his output because of his telepathic training and I can't hear his thoughts unless they are directed to me, but I can't blank my mind sufficiently. We're going to have to do more work on the damper."
"Agreed," nodded the Professor. "I will make some adjustments after your rest period. Come and sign your log report while it is still fresh in your mind. You will excuse us, Captain?"
"Carry on, Professor. Rejoin us when you're through, Uhura, I shall also need a report from you before we finish for today."
McCoy studied her retreating back. "Jim, you can see what it's doing to her. She's lost more weight in the last week than a hibernating Arcturan fencat. She's got to have a proper period of rest; don't let those two walking computers drive her too hard - Spock was born a telepath, it's not such a strain on him."
"Your comments are noted, Doctor, but I'd have to be pretty hard-hearted to deny her the chance to be in at the very beginning of a new era in communications. Besides which, Starfleet wants some answers about this planet and our orders are to give Professor Madison full co-operation in the trials of this telepathic amplifier to get those answers."
McCoy looked at him sourly. "I know they've tested this out in the laboratory and that nothing has gone wrong - yet, but new techniques like this should be tested out slowly. Why haven't they used Vulcans for a preliminary field test? It would make more sense to use a telepathic species."
"The Vulcan Science Academy is doing tests, Bones. You've read the reports. Since the loss of the Intrepid there isn't another Vulcan-manned Starship - we were on hand to collect Madison and we have Spock on board."
McCoy sighed. "I know, I worry too much."
"We all do. And in any case, there's not a lot of harm can come to them since they don't leave the ship and are under constant observation by either Madison or yourself."
"Both," McCoy said. "I don't trust that head-in-the-clouds scientist not to lose sight of the fact that it's a couple of human beings he's dealing with, not two computer terminals. He's no doctor, Jim, and I'm not leaving the laboratory while either of them is working."
Kirk nodded and rose as Uhura rejoined them. "Come and sit down, Lieutenant. How's the observation going?"
Uhura sank fluidly onto the chair. "There's nothing new to report, Captain. Nothing happens all day, and every night she stands in the fields without moving. It's been the same every night."
Kirk sighed. "Oh to be able to go down and say 'Excuse me, Miss, but would you mind telling me what a beautiful girl like you is doing in a place like this?'!"
Uhura smiled a little dreamily. "She's suiting her environment, Captain. She fits her setting like a flame gem in platinum."
"Poetry will not satisfy Starfleet," Kirk said curtly. "A whole planet supporting one humanoid life-form - apparently ageless and unchanging, if the Lexington's report of 3648 is correct - needs explanation. We have no hypotheses that satisfy the scientists. You know what Spock always says, we need more data. Well, that's what we're here to get and these amplifiers are going to help us to get it."
McCoy nodded in understanding. "It's frustrating just sitting here doing nothing," he agreed, answering the tone rather than the words. "You can only take it on trust that the pair of them are working and not just lazing around in the sun down there."
Uhura's face broke into a smile. "One day, Dr. McCoy, you may find out just what hard work it is being a bird. The amount of eating we put in is unbelievable." She touched her temple lightly. "It's still incredible, isn't it? Implant the other half of one of these within another brain and you pick up all the sensory perceptions within that mind. I never thought I'd know, really know with my own muscular memory, what it is to fly."
Kirk felt a strong surge of envy and wished, not for the first time, that he had undertaken this mission with Spock. He had no fear of a mind link with his friend, and only his strong sense of justice and his appreciation of her brilliance in her chosen field had made him admit to himself that the job was rightfully Uhura's. He thought back to the original briefing session and her instant grip of Madison's theories, also her helpful interjections on her Captain's behalf when Spock and Madison had raced ahead of his comprehension. The look in her eyes when he had assigned her the job had been thanks enough, and events were proving his decision to have been a good one, frustrating as it always was to be an onlooker. He drew his mind back to the present and looked across at the motionless Vulcan to see awareness returning to the dark eyes.
"Good," McCoy said with satisfaction. "Nice to have you back with us, Mr. Spock."
The mobile eyebrow lifted. "I have not left this room, Doctor."
Kirk raised a protesting hand. "Don't start again, you two," he said, "We've been all through that argument. Any change, Spock?"
"None, sir, although I have noted one or two facts for which I have no logical explanation."
McCoy groaned audibly.
"In spite of the abundance of insect life," Spock continued, "all the birds are seed eaters, some of them despite beaks unsuited to the purpose. The species Lt. Uhura and I are using have the talons and hooked beaks of a bird of prey, but all the flock feed on berries and seeds. I cannot understand how the species remains viable."
"Well, you don't eat meat," McCoy pointed out, "but your teeth are suited to an omnivorous diet."
"Vulcans have not always been vegetarians, Doctor. It has been a conscious decision on our part to abandon the unnecessary taking of life - a decision unlikely to be taken by avians when there is food in plenty in the form of small mammalian creatures. The time taken to collect the extra food needed by the non-meat-eater must be a serious handicap during the breeding season. My host is frequently still hungry when I leave him because I have wasted his time during the day by my other activities. It seriously limits the amount of time I can spend in watching an objective."
"Professor Madison has some new adjustments he wants to try," Uhura told him. "We should be able to achieve a finer tuning so that my presence does not distract you. It may also mean that I will have much more control over my own occupation of the bird's mind and will no longer have to have your help."
"Now wait a minute," McCoy interrupted. "It's one thing for Spock to be popping in and out of something's mind without a by-your-leave - he's used to it. But I've seen him have difficulty in withdrawing on occasions, even from you, Jim."
"Bones! Are you suggesting I'm a bird-brain?"
"I'm not being funny."
"Neither is the Captain," Spock said inaccurately. "I have difficulty in withdrawal only when the mind I occupy has a will as strong as, or stronger than, my own. The mind of a bird presents no problem to the practised telepath. Lt. Uhura lacks only confidence in her own ability to control the amplifier, that is all. I have no doubts of her capability."
Kirk nodded his congratulations to the gratified Uhura and rose. "Well, I think it's time we all took a break - those of us that need it will get some rest and some food. Uhura, ask the Professor to let me know when he's ready for you to begin observations once more. I'll see you at dinner."
/I welcome you. I have waited only seconds to feel your mind touch mine./
/A task achieved gives reward./
/Acknowledged. Pleasure also to float on the wind./
/Watch - silence./
/I keep my thoughts within./
The two white birds sailed majestically across the sky, wingtips almost touching, red eyes scanning the ground below.
/She is there./
/Beneath the trees by the stream./
/So still. Sleeping?/
The girl lay along the rough gray bark, ice-blue fingers stroking the trunk with loving touch. The birds took up their vigil within a massive tree nearby, snapping up the fruits in turn as they watched. At last she rose slowly and left the shadows, wandering out into the sunlight with delicate steps to continue her daily wandering across the flowery grass.
/I tire. My host still hungers./
/Withdraw and rest. Four hours have passed./
/You have done well. Silence until you spoke to me./
/Laughter. I withdraw./
The golden sunlight faded and the agitated face of the ship's surgeon took its place.
"Are you all right? Four hours and not a peep out of either of you."
She laughed with satisfaction. "No, not once. I needed no help at all. Professor, this thing works - even on a non-telepath."
"It has been working all the time," Madison pointed out. "You have been using it."
"I know - but I always had the feeling it was all Spock's doing, I was so conscious of him. This time I knew I'd done it alone."
"Will you be able to work without him from now on?" Kirk asked her.
Her eyes gleamed their pleasure. "Yes, sir. It will make life much easier for we can watch turn and turn about unless something happens which needs both of us."
"Good. Anything new to report?"
"I'm afraid not, sir."
Kirk breathed an exasperated oath. "Nothing on the sensor scans, nothing from either of you, the most sophisticated surveillance method ever come up with and still we get nothing, nothing, nothing!" He caught Uhura's stricken expression. "It's not your fault, Lieutenant."
"Perhaps if it hadn't taken me so long to get used to the wave amplifier, sir... "
"Perhaps if you weren't so good at your job you'd still be trying to make any contact at all, Uhura. I get reports from Professor Madison and Spock as well as you, remember. The Professor gives you full credit for that wiring job you did last night; he told me he'd never seen anyone handle the microfarad stabiliser with more confidence. I've logged his commendation and added my own."
Uhura smothered a fatuously gratified grin and mumbled her thanks to both men. McCoy patted her shoulder in a fatherly manner.
"He's also trying to tell you he's going to make you work even harder," he told her in a conspiratorial whisper, "but not until tomorrow. For the rest of the day you are going to rest, and I mean REST! Go to your quarters and get into bed and stay there until you're due on watch tomorrow morning. I don't want to see you again until then - that's not advice, it's an order."
She nodded in rueful agreement and rose to go. They watched the doors hiss to behind her.
"That is one very fine lady," McCoy said.
"Don't think I don't know it," Kirk told him. "She's unsurpassed in her own field end a delightful person to have around. I have a feeling Spock has a pretty high opinion of her, too."
"That's a recommendation?"
"When a person's competency is under consideration, yes," Kirk grinned. He looked across at the silent figure watched over by Madison at the console. "It all seems to be running smoothly now, I'll leave you to get on with it in peace. I'll be in quarters if you need me. Send him along when he's though for the day."
To Kirk's knowledgeable eyes the Vulcan looked a little weary as he came in to give his final report.
"Sit down," he told him roughly, "and have a drink, in consideration of my feelings."
Spock seated himself without comment and accepted the glass.
"Nothing new, Captain. In spite of its advantages this method of surveillance has its limitations. We must allow the host creature its own periods of rest and food gathering, which means a round-the-clock watch is impractical, although their shorter day has meant that, over all, we have watched all hours of their day and night at some time."
Kirk nodded. "The sensors report no nighttime movement, though, and you find her in the same place again each morning - there can't have been much happening during the hours you have missed."
"Something wrong with my logic?"
"Logically it is a period of rest for her as it is for all other creatures, Captain. There is no apparent reason why she should not rest as the other species there do."
"Some Earth species don't lie down to sleep, Spock, the horse for one. Maybe this is her way of sleeping."
"Perhaps. But we still have to account for the lack of food-gathering. There is food in abundance for her, but we have never seen her eat or drink."
"If it is the same girl from the original report then her species is clearly long-lived. Maybe they don't eat very often. We've only been here through ten of their days. We still have no idea why she's alone down there. Haven't you found any signs of anyone else ever having been there?"
"All the life forms are compatible with her possible ancestry, but the planet is clearly too young for evolution to such a high level to have taken place there."
"Are you saying it's artificial?"
"Not artificial in the sense of manufactured, no. However, the geological readings are incompatible with the plant and animal life. It seems likely that the environment has been created for a purpose, but I have no speculation to offer as to that purpose."
Kirk shrugged. "I guess we'll just have to carry on with the observations. At least the tests of this amplifier seem to be going smoothly."
"Yes, indeed. Professor Madison seems to be more than satisfied with the suggestions Lt. Uhura has made. Today's work was highly satisfactory and as a result we will be able to put in longer hours tomorrow since the Lieutenant and I need not work together at all times."
"You're quite sure she will be all right on her own?"
"Quite sure, Captain. She now has confidence in her ability to control the amplifier. If you wish, before we commence observation tomorrow, we will demonstrate her ability to call on me at any time she needs to. Indeed, were it to be necessary, I could speak to her at this moment."
"But you're nowhere near her!"
"Unnecessary with Professor Madison's amplifier insertion. Contact is theoretically possible over vast distances once the mind has adjusted to the idea. He does not yet know what the physical limitations will be."
"Then it's not electromagnetic magnification?"
"Basically, yes. Modified and amplified beyond the possibilities of natural processes, however. Initial tests have indicated that tight beam channelling should give a range in excess of two million light years."
"Two million? But that will mean an elapsed time of more than eight months at subspace frequencies."
"I expressed myself badly, Captain. I should have said instant communication at a range in excess of two million light years."
"Instant... " Kirk's voice failed him. "Is this based on the tachyon theories?"
"I believe Professor Madison has taken Mr. Scott's and my attempts to use tachyon particles into account, yes, sir."
"But... if everyone eventually can communicate across the galaxy and beyond, then the life we know now will be finished."
"All life must change, Captain. In any case, there is still much practical work to be done. It took several centuries from the early pioneering days to the perfected subspace radio. This is simply a possible route that might be taken; we are not likely to see the end of the work in our lifetimes."
Kirk contemplated the life of a super-being for a moment and was conscious of a mixed regret and gratitude that he was only to see the beginning of the process. Man had surely not reached his full potential as yet, but his fellow Humans were known and understood, their faults and weaknesses, goodness and strengths cloaked him comfortably at his own level of understanding. What kind of people would they be who would no longer be bound by the physical world around them; had this been one breakthrough the Organians had undergone and might it result in a crisis of the kind Zargon had told them? He drew his soaring mind back to the present.
"I'd like to see for myself that Uhura can cope," he said. "We're still at the crawling stage with this and I don't want anyone hurt. I'll be in the lab first thing tomorrow"
Uhura came through the lab door and blinked at Kirk. "Mr. Spock enjoyed his drink last night, Captain," she said a little blankly. "Yes, naturally."
"Naturally what?" McCoy asked, bewildered.
"I'll help to demonstrate that I can contact Spock any time it's necessary."
"Where is Spock?" Kirk asked, smiling at McCoy's expression.
"In the turbo-lift, sir. He'll be here soon. I'm sorry, in 29.4 seconds, sir."
Kirk grinned. "That's Spock, all right. But can you call him from a distance so that he doesn't have to remain in the lab while you are on watch?"
"I think so, sir. I don't see that there would be any problem. He suggests you accompany him to any part of the ship you choose while I remain here with Dr. McCoy."
It did not take long to convince Kirk that Uhura's control was sufficient and he was pleased to authorise her to watch alone while Spock rested. It would do them both good to put in more rest time than they had had over the past few days. Spock took the early part of the planet's day and then Uhura took over from him, sliding freely and easily into the consciousness of the great white bird she had come to know so well.
It was early afternoon now, the planet sleepily quiet under the warm sun; the only sign of movement the buzzing insects her sharp eyes saw so clearly, and the slow-moving girl wandering lovingly from plant to plant below. Uhura flexed the massive wings, riding the rising thermals to the sky, searching the ground beneath with eager eyes. A shaking in the long grass ahead of the girl caught her eye. It was a tiny, furry creature, scurrying towards its nest of young ones among the plaited stems. She swooped down to watch it closely. Strange that this bird, so clearly formed for hunting, should be uninterested in the potential food scampering below. She hovered only a few feet above the girl, remembering the eagles of her African childhood. She had once climbed the mountains to watch them carry their prey back to the voracious young in the eyrie, their curved beaks, like hers, so suited to tearing the warm meat.
Suddenly, overwhelmingly, the memory vanished and she felt the great bird she controlled begin to fall. She gave one despairing call for Spock before darkness closed over her mind.
Scott crossed the recreation room balancing his coffee carefully atop a sheaf of diagrams and notes. "Ah, there ye are, Mr. Spock. I thought ye'd be interested to see those latest designs for the beam propulsion unit, if ye have a wee moment to spare."
"Certainly, Engineer. I have time now and would like to study them."
"Good." Scott juggled for a moment with diagrams, chair and coffee, finally sinking into the seat with a sigh of relief. Spock stretched across the table to take the top diagram.
"Now that one is the port elevation of the... Careful, man, ye'll have the coffee... Mr. Spock, what are ye doin'?"
Spock jerked his arm back sharply, narrowly missing the coffee cup. He stood up swiftly, slamming his chair back and left the room, leaving the puzzled Engineer to stare after him in bewilderment.
The Vulcan entered the lab at an uncharacteristic run and found McCoy bending over the unconscious Bantu girl.
"The readings faded - I can't get any reaction from her. I've given her a stimulant - nothing!"
"Is she alive?''
"Yes, but I can't trace any brain activity. Can you make contact with her?"
"I heard her cry out," Spock said harshly, "then there was silence. I cannot hear her thoughts."
"Has the amplifier gone wrong? I might have known it would cause trouble. I'll get it out."
"Wait!" Spock knelt beside them and touched the dark face gently, his mind probing hers. He shook his head. "She is deeply unconscious, Doctor, at present her mind is completely closed to me. It is not the amplifier; something must have happened to the host creature. I will see."
"Spock, be careful. We don't want to lose two of you."
He was talking to himself. The Vulcan's blank eyes showed no comprehension. McCoy reached up over the console and thumbed the intercom.
"Captain Kirk to Lab 17. Emergency."
The white bird's wings beat strongly, carrying him across the gardens below. There! There in the distant grasslands was the girl, and in her hands a white bird hung, neck sickeningly limp. Spock sped across the sky, swooping in a vertiginous dive, hoping to make the girl loose her captive. She looked up at him; seconds before he reached the nadir he felt his mind slip from his control, his muscles weaken. There seemed no way to avoid crashing to his death among the purple grasses.
Aboard the orbiting spaceship, McCoy and Kirk looked at each other across the two still figures.
Spock braced the frail body for the impact, but it never came; slim fingers grasped the talons and held him firmly. His mind swam dizzyingly as he fought for control.
/I hold. No harm. Peace./
/No hurt. Controlled. Vicious./
/Not vicious. Gentle. Kind/
/Vicious. Blood food./
/Meat eater. Yes./
/Not I. Different./
/From other place. You also different. Release her. Not hurt./
/I will not hurt. Need knowledge, understanding./
/Understand me. All that I am./
/I understand. Restraint. Objectivity. Compassion. Acceptance./
/Not all. Seek deeply./
/Yes. Pride of heritage. Fear of sharing love. Loneliness that hurts./
/Needless. Need understanding of companion. Fear./
/Not fear. I with you?/
/Gratitude. Enter together./
/Uhura. No fear. We speak together./
/Yes. Spock. Yliaana. Together./
/Needless. Understand all that we are./
/Understood. Know all that I am. Love./
"I don't understand it." The Professor's hands were busy among the tangled wires. "There's no logical reason for the collapse, no cause that I can find."
"I shall beam down," Kirk said tightly. "The cause must be down there."
"You'll never find it in time, Jim. Brain damage happens within minutes. It's been more than three since Uhura collapsed."
"Tell the transporter room I'm on my way."
Kirk was out of the door when he heard McCoy shout for him. "They're coming round, Jim!"
He came back at a run. "Spock? Uhura? Are you all right? What happened? All the readings died for nearly four minutes!"
"Four minutes?" Uhura said blankly. "Only four minutes?"
"Only!" McCoy was outraged. "All bodily functions were suspended, another few seconds and the damage would have been irreparable. What happened?"
Spock got up a little shakily and helped Uhura onto her chair.
"We are both quite undamaged," he said quietly. "Professor, the equipment was not at fault. We have the information Starfleet requires. I suggest the host birds are beamed aboard for the removal of the implants."
Kirk nodded. "Carry on, Professor." As the doors hissed shut he studied Spock and Uhura carefully. They looked a little shaken, even Spock if you knew him well enough, but they seemed unhurt. "Do you feel up to giving a report now?"
They both assented.
"They could both do with some hot coffee," McCoy put in, "and perhaps something to eat. Then they can give it you in full."
"We'll have it in the briefing room, Bones."
"Nothing to eat, thank you, Doctor. Not yet anyway. It'll take a while to persuade myself that I can."
McCoy was about to protest when Spock intervened. "The lieutenant will eat later, Doctor. I understand her reluctance to do so just yet. When you have heard our report you will understand also."
"We'll have that retort now." Kirk touched the recording button. "Carry on, Mr. Spock."
"We made contact," he said soberly.
"With the girl?" Kirk demanded.
"Yes, Captain. There is no-one else there. Her mind is far above ours; I am not surprised that she could hold us so completely. Even I could not break free against her will. Her comprehension extends beyond the levels of higher minds, she understands the thoughts and feelings of all that surround her."
"You mean her people are telepathic?" Kirk asked. "We've encountered true telepaths before, Spock."
"Beyond that, Captain. I said 'all that surrounds her', and I meant just that."
"But there's no-one else there, you just said so."
"There are animals and plants, Captain."
"You mean she communicates with the animals?"
"She understands them," Uhura put in. "It isn't simple communication as we know it. She knows what they are and why they are and how they feel. She can sense their hopes and fears and know all there is to know about them."
"And not only of the animals, Captain," Spock added, "but of the plants as well."
"Plants!" snorted McCoy. "How the devil do you communicate with a plant?"
"Neither you nor I could do so, Doctor," Spook said placidly, "nor will any others of our species during our lifetimes, but there may come a time, if the development of Professor Madison's amplifier proceeds as the theories indicate, when we, too, will be able to reach out across space if we wish, to the other side of the galaxy and beyond."
McCoy's mouth hung, unbelieving, as he stared at the Vulcan but he offered no comment.
"And how do the plants come into it?" Kirk demanded.
"As you might expect, the telepathic ability does not only develop in one direction, it can also sink down deeply into the consciousness of any organic thing, even to the level at which the joy and sorrow of a plant can be understood. It is also the sorrow and joy of Yliaana's people."
"What do you mean?"
"Captain, you know that we Vulcans are vegetarians, but do you fully understand why?"
"I've always understood it to be the Vulcan reluctance to kill."
"It's not that simple. We are telepaths."
"I don't see... " Kirk began, then looking across at Spock, "you mean you know what an animal feels when it dies?"
"Yes. Once you have understood that you do not wish to kill unless logic dictates that you must."
Kirk sat, appalled. "And you say she has that level of understanding with plant life?"
McCoy looked from one to the other. "I still don't understand," he complained.
Uhura put her hand over his. "Doctor, if every mouthful screamed while you ate, could you bear to go on eating?"
McCoy looked at her in horror. "You mean that plants feel pain as higher forms of life do?"
"Apparently not only pain, Doctor. Even in the twentieth century it was suspected that plants react to their surroundings and particularly to the emotional radiations of those who tended them. Modern nursery techniques use this to increase a plant's potential - I'm no expert, you should talk to Sulu if you want to know more about it. I only know what he's told me. The first crude experiments in plant sensitivity were done back in the 1970s. They've come quite a way since then."
"But not as far as Yliaana's people," Kirk said grimly.
"No," Spock agreed. "As their minds developed they reached a point at which they chose to die rather than cause suffering; and so their race is slowly dying out. Yliaana's planet here was made for her because she is one of those who would prefer to die. She has lived here since her childhood, learning from the plants themselves, and she has survived to teach her own race how to live."
Kirk frowned. "Those nights out on the grassland, is that when she feeds?"
"Yes. Each night."
Spock shook his head. "The biochemistry is beyond my comprehension, Captain. We have no way to express the process in terms that we understand. It is certainly not a matter of simple photosynthesis. However, if Professor Madison's experiments follow his theoretical analysis, then both Humans and Vulcans will probably have to face the problem also. For Yliaana's people, space flight is far in the past; their ability to reach out to each other across space is useless because their needs are now concentrated on their contact with one place, the one place each one must make his own if he is to survive."
"Uhura had it right before all of us," Kirk said slowly. Uhura looked up, startled. "You said, 'She's suiting her environment'," Kirk reminded her.
"Correct," Spock agreed. "It is the only environment possible for her now. She has helped to solve her people's problem and is trapped by the answer for ever."
"What I don't understand," McCoy said bluntly, "is how you know all this. You were only unconscious for four minutes, Uhura, and you much less than that, Spock."
"A mind link," Spock said succinctly.
Kirk frowned across at his friend, knowing the Vulcan's reluctance to link minds deeply. "It must have been a pretty deep link for you to learn so much."
"Total?" Kirk shot a startled glance at the Bantu girl. "You too, Uhura?"
"Yes, sir." Uhura studied her hands a moment before looking at Kirk. "It's a strange experience, Captain, but I wouldn't have missed it. It was right and beautiful." She dropped her head to hide her face, wanting to keep the revealing expression from embarrassing Spock.
The Vulcan met Kirk's eye calmly. "We learned all we needed to know of Yliaana, nothing was hidden. She was chosen to represent her race because of her deep sensitivity to all living things. They left her here when she was a child, after she had learned how living things suffer to sustain us. All the life on the world they made for her came to love her and would not let her die. The plants have taught her how to take the food she needs from the air - much as the epiphytic plants of Earth and Vulcan do."
McCoy looked baffled. "I don't understand it either, Doctor," Uhura told him, "and I've had second-hand experience of it. It was like trying to understand one dimension too many, we're just not equipped to grasp what happens. But all the creatures there love her and don't want to hurt her, so all the meat-eaters have changed their feeding habits and feed only on the seeds and berries the plants give them."
"Give them?" McCoy and Kirk echoed together.
"Yes, they all help each other to live, as though the whole planet is one entity. I don't begin to understand how the plants arc willing to sacrifice part of themselves, or why that part should apparently be insensitive, but that's what happens; but I do know how terrified they are of eaters of animal flesh. While I was flying over Yliaana I remembered African eagles taking their young a baby sheep to feed on and I terrified her. I've never been more grateful to Spock for being a vegetarian."
"You mean she liked him better than you?" McCoy was incredulous. "Well, each to his own taste!"
"So we can leave her here alone?" Kirk asked the Vulcan.
"We have to. That place is almost part of her - to take her away would be to kill her. All her people on their own world must find a place of their own to live out their lives."
"Putting down roots," McCoy grinned.
"Not literally, Doctor, but in effect, yes. An evolutionary blank alley both our races may be wise to avoid."
Kirk rose. "We'll give Madison a full report to take back. It seems we'll be giving him a good deal to think about and work on." He switched off the recorder, and thumbed on the intercom. "Stand by to take us out of here, Mr. Sulu."
"But to leave her alone... " McCoy began to protest.
"Alone, but not lonely," Uhura reassured him. "You simply haven't felt the love and trust down there - " She broke off. "It was something special in my life and I don't ever want to forget it."
"I will remember too, Lieutenant," Spock said quietly.
Across the table Kirk gave them each a swiftly penetrative glance and raised one speculative eyebrow at McCoy. His friend's usually inexpressive voice had deepened just a little as he answered Uhura. He wondered just what that total mind link had meant to them both. Maybe he'd learn - one day. He got to his feet.
As McCoy followed Kirk from the room, Spock put a restraining hand on Uhura's arm. "The mind link was necessary, Lieutenant."
She met his eyes bravely. "Yes, I understand that, Mr. Spock, and beyond our control as well. I could not have withstood Yliaana."
"No. Neither of us could."
She smiled a little. "Words are unnecessary, Spock. You know all that I am, and I learned all of you. For the moment we need say no more."