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James T. Kirk breathed a sigh of relief as his cabin door slid shut behind him. The tension at the formal dinner had been almost unbearable; only the two Vulcans had seemed unaware of it, yet it was they who had caused it. No... not quite they; Kirk was still fuming on Spock's behalf, even although his First Officer had accepted Sepek's icily formal refusal to acknowledge his presence with apparent equanimity. But Kirk, who knew Spock so well, was sure that his friend was hiding a bitter hurt.
The conversation had come round to cross-breeding in animal strains - directed there by Sepek so adroitly that no-one could have claimed that it was deliberate - and he had indicated his disapproval, his utter condemnation, of such husbandry.
"Only the pure thoroughbred gives the most satisfactory returns," he had said. "Crossbreeding weakens both strains." The inference was more than plain.
As always on such occasions, McCoy had jumped to Spock's defence. "Thoroughbreds are often so over-bred that they're too delicate to be of full value. New blood is frequently required to improve the strain. The hybrid has greater stamina and more reliable a temperament - and often greater intelligence." His tone just stopped short of being insolent - not that the eminent Vulcan scientist was likely to identify his tone as such. Sepek had refused to listen.
"It is certain that pure-blooded species provide exactly what is required of them. It is an orderly process. Over-breeding is due solely to poor husbandry."
As McCoy opened his mouth to reply, Kirk had thrown him a warning glance, and he had subsided unwillingly. The conversation had languished thereafter, and the 'party' had broken up soon after.
Now Kirk was faced with the problem of getting the man to work with Spock. How he was going to do it, since the scientist gazed through the First Officer as if he didn't exist, Kirk didn't know. Come to that, why had Sepek ever accepted the assignment? As a civilian, he could have refused. Or... could it have been that he had accepted before he knew that Spock was the Science Officer he had to work with? And had then been unable to find a logical reason for changing his mind? But if so, what did the man have against Spock? His hybrid blood, an unpleasant whisper speculated.
Morning brought no inspiration, It did, however, bring his First Officer. On the surface, Spock was his usual imperturbable self, but Kirk could see below the surface now, and read the almost unnoticeable signs of tension. The Captain would in any case have smiled a welcome; now, he expressed his sympathy and the sense of unity that would have embarrassed Spock unutterably if it had been openly indicated by smiling rather more warmly than usual.
Spock sank into the indicated chair. It was a measure of his trust in the Captain that as he did so, he allowed his shoulders to droop fractionally. Kirk knew then that Spock was very, very disturbed by Sepek's behaviour.
Well, he could try to make things a little easier for his friend by relieving him of the necessity of mentioning the subject first.
There was, however, no tactful way of saying it. For a moment, he searched for words; then, afraid that if he delayed any longer, Spock would have to say it after all, "Do you know why Sepek doesn't like you?" he asked bluntly.
Spock sighed deeply, and shook his head. "Not really, Captain." He made no attempt to pretend that Kirk was wrong. "We were children together," Spock continued after a short silence. "He did not like me then... but he did not, then, ignore my very existence. It would have been easier for me if he had... " His voice trailed off uncharacteristically.
Kirk waited, offering silent sympathy.
"The other boys... they called me an emotional Earther," Spock said at last, very quietly. "Sepek... Sepek was their leader. He is slightly older than I, and at seven years of age was stronger than I, at six... so when I tried to prove myself... It was, perhaps, proving their point when I did something so illogical as try to defeat him physically when it was obvious that he was the stronger... " He fell silent again.
Kirk rose and moved to put a hand on his friend's shoulder. He gripped firmly, sympathetically. "Sepek perhaps was echoing his parents?" he asked.
Spock considered. "It is possible. There were those who disapproved of my mother, and thought that my father had acted unwisely by marrying her - even although, by the time they left Earth for Vulcan, she had learned Vulcan ways and Vulcan manners. But that is now in the past, Captain. There is a more important matter to consider; Sepek's refusal to acknowledge me, when we are assigned to work together."
"Perhaps his attitude was a kind of test of your Vulcan-ness?" Kirk suggested.
Spock shook his head. "No, Captain. He meant what he said. He despises me as a hybrid - and he is unlikely ever to accept that I can be as efficient in my work as a full-blooded Vulcan. Or even a full-blooded Human."
"Can you think, then, why he should have accepted the assignment?"
Slowly, Spock shook his head again. "No. He must have known, too, that the Science Officer of the Enterprise is Spock, the despised mongrel - "
"Spock, the best Science Officer in the Fleet," Kirk interrupted, speaking very gently. "And the only officer in the Fleet who could possibly combine that position with that of First Officer. Put against Starfleet's judgement - and my own - I don't think much of Sepek's."
He knew, by the fractional relaxation of the stiff shoulder still under his hand, that his words - or, even more, the obvious sincerity behind them - had comforted Spock. Kirk went on. "If necessary, I'll complain to Starfleet and get him taken off the research - and tell them why."
"That won't help, Captain," Spock said. "Too many of his fellow scientists agree with him. Perhaps if I had gone to the Vulcan Science Academy as my father wished... but I knew that I would meet with hostility there, no less real for being unvoiced... I decided that it would be less painful being alone among aliens than being alone among my own people but, of course, the decision simply confirmed the opinion of those who felt my Human heritage to be a fault." He fell silent for a moment. "What I did not expect was that among my mother's people... I would find friends. I had come to believe that friendship was not for me."
"Hostility," Kirk said. "That hardly conforms to the IDIC concept."
"Agreed, Captain. But even Vulcans can sometimes be cruel in their attitudes. Sepek... his dislike of me may be personal or instilled by his parents, as you suggested; he always used his undoubted ability as a leader to gain support in his... persecution. And his behaviour now is a logical extension of his behaviour as a child. It is easier for me to ignore, true... but it is not any easier to endure," he added, so softly that Kirk barely heard him.
"There's one big difference," Kirk told him quietly. "Here, he has no-one to back him up. You said it yourself - here, you're the one with friends."
"Yes, Jim, I know. I was grateful, last night, for your sympathy and McCoy's support. Without you both, I would undoubtedly have walked out, and thus shown him how successful his taunting still was. Knowing I have your support, I can continue to ignore his attitude. But that does nothing to solve the problem of how to convince him to co-operate with me in this investigation. I am loathe to admit defeat, but I very much fear that I will have to refrain from taking any sort of active part in these investigations."
"No!" Kirk snapped. "You're more essential than he is. He's the extra, the outsider, the supernumerary. If we're going to do without someone, then we'll do without him!"
"You can't do that, Captain."
"Try me!" Kirk growled.
"Jim, it could cause untold harm to Vulcan's relationship with the Federation. Sepek's family... Not all Vulcans agree that the Federation is a good thing for our world. Although Sepek is here now, his family is among the more important of those who would like to see a return to the old days when Vulcan stood alone. And Sepek is not above using his family's influence if he feels himself slighted."
And from those words, Kirk realised that he had been correct. Sepek was most certainly echoing his parents' views on Spock.
"What about the success of the mission?" he asked. "Isn't that important?"
"Captain, Sepek does have the ability to lead. He is fully able to direct matters."
"He has the ability to lead Vulcans. What experience has he of Humans? I know you remember the problems you had in your early days of Command, before you learned to understand Human reactions. And you had advantages Sepek doesn't have."
"The situation will not be quite the same, Captain. He would simply be directing scientific investigation. There would be no danger, no difficult decisions, no reason for Human illogic to disagree with him."
"Wrong, Spock. You know what the ship's grapevine's like. You've said yourself that it's almost telepathically swift. It'll take us three weeks to get to Lambda Aquarii; word of his attitude to you will be all round the crew before today is out; by tomorrow, there won't be a man aboard who'll be willing to oblige him in any way, or co-operate with him."
"That is hardly logical, Captain. Why should the crew be unwilling to work with Sepek?"
"To show him they're on your side. Spock, it isn't just among the senior officers that you have friends. You're well liked by everyone, you're one of us - one of the Enterprise family, that an outsider is trying to bully. The crew will hate him for it. Believe me, I know; after last night, Bones and I both detest his guts. Bones can avoid him. I can't, not entirely, and I'm going to find it very difficult to be civil to him."
Spock thought for a minute. "It might be possible to compromise," he said at last. "I could perhaps handle the routine shipboard research, making it look like nothing more than the compilation of the data, while Sepek handles the ground investigations."
"Yes... yes! It should be possible to persuade him that what he's doing is far more important than what you're doing, too, and we can persuade the men to work with him with the appearance of willingness when they think he's being fooled."
"I can almost find it in myself to feel sympathy for Sepek," Spock said wryly. "After all, it isn't necessarily his fault - you said yourself - "
"It is his fault," Kirk retorted. "He should never have accepted the assignment when he realised he'd have to work with you. Or else made up his mind that, having accepted it, he would have to make the best of it, and at least treat you with courtesy. He may be a brilliant scientist, but he's behaving like a spoiled brat, not like a Vulcan at all."
Spock sighed, accepting the unpalatable truth of Kirk's observation. Sepek's behaviour was, indeed, not Vulcan at all; it never had been, he suddenly realised. Whereas his Human friends' attitude showed all the compassionate understanding of the difficulties caused by his mixed blood that he would rather have expected from his Vulcan compatriots, for it was logical to assume that a hybrid would have problems. He felt the strangely accustomed warmth of his affection for those Human friends, as he thought how right Kirk was. Here, he had friends to stand beside him, friends who would, he knew, feel privileged to share those problems. He felt a sudden need to express something of how he felt. "Thank you, Jim. You always understand."
It was, as Kirk had foretold, a most uncomfortable three weeks. Sepek strolled round the ship freely, forever in and out of the laboratories, taking full advantage of the 'freedom of the ship' that Kirk had, from courtesy, extended to him when he came aboard. He seemed completely unaware of the hostility directed at him. It took a direct order from Spock, countersigned by Kirk, to prevent the entire crew sending Sepek to Coventry by the third day. As it was, people avoided him; scientists working on personal research - all had some pet scheme to occupy their duty hours when the ship was on a routine long haul between the stars - found an excuse to slip away any time Sepek came near. Kirk found himself wondering if the scientist was as thick-skinned and unobservant of peoples' attitudes as he appeared, or if he was just passing it off as Human rudeness that he was too polite to permit himself to notice.
At last the ship swung into orbit round the strange little planet whose complex and contradictory readings necessitated this high-level scientific mission. There were dangers here; the star's sole planet circled it at a distance of only fifteen million miles, and while the star was only a dim orange-red emitting little more than 3000 degrees Centigrade, barely half of the heat given out by Sol, and quite low-level radiation, the ship would have to move away at fairly frequent intervals while the shields bled off into the surrounding space the concentration of both that they absorbed.
Spock assigned his chief assistants, Carstairs and Thong, to work with Sepek; Kirk privately added to Spock's instructions, telling them that he was depending on them to make sure that Spock got all the necessary information - he didn't put it past Sepek to 'forget' to pass on to the ship some of the collected information, keeping it to process himself at his leisure. Several junior scientists made up the landing party. One security guard was included, for the sole purpose of satisfying the requirements of the book, since the planet read bare of animal life and only possessed minimal plant life. And this was one of the anomalies - for it had a breathable atmosphere.
Despite his orders to Carstairs and Thong, however, Kirk felt rather unhappy about entrusting the ground research solely to Sepek's guidance. He had every faith in Spock's senior assistants, of course, but... He tried to persuade himself that he was merely reacting to Sepek's attitude, but he could not rid himself of the conviction that Sepek was not wholly to be trusted. Not wholly. He was too sure of the... innate superiority of Vulcans over all other races? Kirk wasn't sure. But it was in response to this inner prompting that he decided to join the landing party; that it gave him an opportunity to show Sepek the extent of his trust in Spock was something he tried not to think about, feeling it to be a base, underhand motive, telling himself that he was going down primarily to ensure that his men did indeed accept Sepek's authority.
The planet was an unattractive place. The ground had been composed of rock and sandy soil, but it was now fused together by heat into a smooth glass-like substance that covered the surface to a depth of several inches. Below that, the ground's composition could be seen. It seemed as if, some time in the long distant past, the planet had been exposed to sudden extreme heat, possibly in the form of a solar flare - even an incipient nova that had failed to materialise, despite the lack of evidence in the surrounding space that such an event had occurred - it takes a long time for the radiation from a nova to disperse. Long distant - for the glass covered the entire surface and the little world no longer rotated as it orbited its primary but forever kept the same side turned to its sun. Radiation took some heat to the dark side, but there was no way they could investigate it without special equipment - equipment they did not have because the long distance survey that had brought them here had not shown that it would be needed. The landing party was to investigate the sunlit hemisphere, while the orbiting Enterprise garnered data about the far side and investigated the single, faint moon that whirled round its mother world in an almost unprecedented twenty hours. Here and there the solid sheet of obsidian-like material on the planet was broken by the unmistakeable crater left by a meteorite; and it was in those craters that such plant life as there was grew. They could only speculate on the distribution of craters between sunward and dark sides - even the ship's sensors, excellent though they were, could not detect more than the largest craters in the pitch-dark obsidian-covered frosted-over world of the sunless hemisphere.
Around their selected camp site mountains rose, low and erosion-rounded, with valleys cutting into them, but the sides were smooth and unclimbable.
Most of the research, if not all, would have to be on this plain that bordered what could have been a sea, eons before. For here, and only here on the entire planet, they had detected the existence of ruins buried under the obsidian that they had to break by phaser fire before they could erect their tents.
Sepek, despite Kirk's doubts, showed no desire to retain any of the information they gathered, transmitting it all to the ship. The Vulcan scientist knew his job, Kirk was forced to admit, although he still felt that Spock was the more able, and it wasn't only loyalty that brought him to that conclusion. There was a degree of... not uncertainty, exactly, but near hesitation before Sepek made his decisions, gave his instructions - a hesitation Spock never displayed. Kirk noted it to include in the log - he was still determined that he was going to report his opinion of Sepek for the benefit of Starfleet.
The first results all concerned the ruins. Little remained but the foundations, but these showed a well-thought-out design. This had once been an extensive settlement, and the very size of it made the lack of discernable ruins on the rest of the planet all the more puzzling, for even colonists settling a new world would not normally begin by building an enormous city. Except... how had these ruins escaped being fused into the general glass covering? Was that what had happened to all the other cities of the planet?
In the centre of the ruins was an open space which they came to use as their meeting place to compare notes as they worked. There were no recognisable artifacts, although as Sepek pointed out, they might in fact be seeing artifacts but not recognising them as such because of their alien appearance. However, a skeleton is a skeleton no matter how alien its owner, and the discovery of the first ones brought them all running, even the bored security guard, glad of something to occupy a few minutes of this interminable stretch of duty.
The skeletons were humanoid, but in no way Human. Each had a large cranium tapering to a long, thin nose and mouth; the ribcage was enlarged, the legs short and stumpy. The arms, in contrast, were long and must have nearly brushed the ground as the beings walked. That they walked upright was clearly indicated by the angle of the neck and head. The bones lay undisturbed, in a remarkable state of preservation for remains the tricorder indicated were nearly a million years old. Undoubtedly the glass that protected the planet had preserved the bones. But, considering the extent of the area covered by the ruins and the excellent state of preservation of all the skeletons that they found, there were in fact surprisingly few bodies. Most of them were lying in groups, although a few lay singly - a total of only a few hundreds, in a city that must have been able to accommodate millions. The scientists did not bother to break through the protecting glass to reach most of the bodies, but simply recorded them through it. But they were left with the additional question - as with the ruins, why had the bodies not also been fused into the layer of glass?
Meanwhile, the Enterprise had been gathering information on the little satellite. It also had an atmosphere, attenuated now but still breathable - barely. A landing party going down to it would certainly need environmental suits, Spock decided - or at least breathing masks. It was pitted with meteor scars, and had an earth rock surface completely different to that of its parent, being completely normal for planetary composition - there was no obsidian here at all. Here and there were sparse radioactive readings, almost gone now. One source was fractionally stronger than the others, but still so faint that Spock knew that its half-life was almost gone. The little world had an iron core, and deposits of iron were fairly wide-spread, but that metal was so common throughout the galaxy that it held no value for miners seeking rapid fortunes. Spock recorded the facts, and promptly forgot about the planetoid, turning his attention to the study of the dark side of the main world, and working on the data sent up by the landing party. If he had never known before what frustration was, he learned it in those hours as he studied the reports on items he would never be able to see.
When it was time for the Enterprise to veer away for several hours to lose the accumulation of heat and radiation in her shields, Sepek expressed surprise that Kirk did not return to the ship to supervise the manoeuvre. Kirk stared at him. It was not wholly unexpected, of course, but...
"Sir, I have every confidence in my First Officer. He is more than capable of giving the necessary orders. In addition, it is valuable experience for him, as he will almost certainly apply for a Captaincy one day - and get it." But his thought ran on, unbidden, after I have retired... he won't leave me. He's never said so, of course... but he's never needed to. We both know it.
Did Sepek know that Spock the Science Officer was also First Officer? Kirk had deliberately not said, hoping for a comment that would tell, but he got none.
As the Enterprise passed the little satellite on her way from the planet, an ancient circuit was triggered; relays, almost too stiff to move, creaked shut, sending their message to a machine long buried in dust. A pulsed signal sped silently down to the planet, failing to activate the warning bell that had long since disintegrated into dust, its remains fused into the sheet of glass that covered the surface. But the pulsed signal bounced back; and on receipt of it, the machine whirred stiffly into performing its function.
When the small red sun was only a pinpoint of light, Spock held the ship in position until heat and radiation levels were back to normal. For the first time in a month, the Vulcan relaxed. It was pure self-indulgence, of course, but he knew he would have liked Kirk to be present, with his aura of friendship and the never-failing trust that had done so much to help Spock's self-confidence over the years. Only the First Officer knew how artificial and brittle his Vulcan calm and self-assurance really were; the constant reassurance of Kirk's approval and faith had done much for him, so that now only Spock remembered the unsure moments of near-Human response that he had shown during Pike's rule and in the early days of Kirk's. He realised fully now that Sepek and his friends had nearly destroyed him by their behaviour so many years ago; had they realised just what they were doing to him? Probably not... yet Sepek, now, was just as sadistic, albeit in a different way... and now, as an adult, he must know, surely, how cruel he was being. Although he had not said one word to Spock, Sepek radiated dislike, disapproval, disdain; Spock's telepathic mind could not miss it, any more than it could miss McCoy's concealed affection. Only now he had a defence that as a child he had lacked; the simple fact that men whom he trusted, trusted and believed in him.
They needed to remain away for only a short time; Spock took the ship back towards the single planet, and swung back into orbit.
"Lieutenant, contact Captain Kirk and inform him of our return."
Uhura flicked switches; looked around with a bewilderment that was not yet alarm. "There's no response, Mr. Spock."
"Strange. What about the other members of the landing party?"
"Trying them now, sir... "
"... Enterprise! Thank God you're back, sir!"
Spock recognised the voice as that of the security guard. "Report, Mr. Mancini."
"Everyone else has disappeared, sir. One moment they were here - the next, they'd all vanished... except for their tricorders and communicators. But the Captain, Mr. Sepek, all the scientists... they've all gone!"
Taking a squad of security men, Spock beamed down to the camp site.
The tents stood in an orderly group, waiting patiently for their occupants to return to them; but of those occupants, only one stood waiting for them. Mancini, the puzzled and frightened security guard who had accompanied the scientists.
"Report, Mr. Mancini."
The guard looked at Spock as if he had suddenly sprouted horns. "Just what I told you already, sir," he said. "One minute everyone was there, the next - they'd all gone. But their tricorders and communicators are still there, sir; they didn't disappear like the men."
Sure enough, the communicators and tricorders were lying there in a scattered cluster as if their owners had simultaneously decided to drop them before vanishing.
"Was there any particular reason for them being in this area, Mr. Mancini?"
"Not really, Mr. Spock. It's a sort of central area; a kind of clearing among the ruins. The scientists have been using it as a meeting place. They were just gathering to compare notes on what they'd found before we broke off for a few hours. I was over here - " he indicated a spot not far from where they were standing - "as there wasn't any need for me to go over - I didn't have anything to report."
The man was very nervous. Spock could, in part, guess why; the Security Chief would certainly have a few words to say to one of his men who lost his Captain and an entire landing party.
Although he had no hope that he would discover anything, Spock swung his tricorder all round, examining every point of the compass. He might as well have saved himself the effort; the sensor showed absolutely blank; there was no trace of life whatsoever within scanning range.
The search party was despondent as it returned to the ship. While none of them had been anxious to discover bodies, at least that would have been something. This puzzling blank was an enigma that depressed them all more than the discovery that something unknown had killed the missing men would have done. None of them was superstitious; perhaps it was just as well. Spock ran the readings from the tricorders that had been left behind, but this also provided no answers. All of them had been switched off prior to their bearers heading into the area that had swallowed them up. It was further proof, if any had been needed, that whatever had happened had been completely unexpected.
The Vulcan First Officer turned command over to Scotty, then headed straight for his quarters, leaving orders that he was not to be disturbed for anything less than a message in Code Factor One - unless the missing men reappeared. This riddle, merely bewildering to his men, was his to solve - if he could.
Fingers steepled, Spock submerged his mind into his subconscious, there to consider the facts, few though they were. He lost all awareness of his surroundings as he pondered, sinking deeper and deeper into a state of meditation so intense that few Vulcans ever dared it, for it carried the risk of losing all track of reality and entering a catatonic state where nothing mattered except the subject under consideration, so that the absorbed mind forgot to sustain the body so dependent on it and the victim died shortly thereafter. But for Jim Kirk, Spock was prepared to risk even that.
After the Enterprise left, the landing party continued their research as usual, for a short time. Then, as the arbitrary time they had decided on should be their working day came to an end, Sepek called them together for a last comparison of their results. Kirk moved nearer to listen; only Lt. Mancini remained among the ruins, waiting until they joined him before returning to camp. There was a feeling of dizziness that lasted for a brief moment, and the air around them seemed to shimmer; then the faint dancing haze cleared, and they found themselves standing in darkened surroundings.
A huge moon hung in the sky above them, casting a faint light on the surrounding terrain. They could make out few details. Kirk glanced automatically towards the Vulcan, ready with the accustomed "Evaluation?" even although he was well aware that this Vulcan was not Spock; and the question was choked off unasked. Sepek was shaking his head in obvious disbelief, and Kirk was conscious of a momentary impatience. Spock, now...
Kirk shook his own head sharply, reminding himself that in this puzzling situation he did not have his Science Officer with him to advise him. He had a group of able scientists, true, but none had the experience - or, with the doubtful exception of Sepek, the logical intuition of Spock. Sepek was, in this situation, a completely unknown quantity. He had the intelligence, the scientific ability - but completely lacked experience in facing the entirely unexpected. Kirk looked around, trying to form his own evaluation, from his growing breathlessness already aware of the thinness of this world's atmosphere. There was not the gravity to hold the atmosphere; if the apparent age of the system was anything to go by, they were fortunate that any air at all still remained. The air was slowly bleeding away, and in a short time - geologically speaking - the planet would be an airless ball.
So they were no longer on the main planet; they could not be, unless some sort of time warp had pushed them forwards for eons and the 'moon' was in fact the almost-dead sun. But Kirk could not accept that; no, while all probabilities seemed equally remote, the most likely one was that they were actually on the planet's small satellite. And indeed, this guess was quickly substantiated as the moon in their sky, over the next hours, became gibbous, then half, then quarter, as it shot across towards the horizon. And it was very cold.
"This... isn't possible!" Sepek gasped.
Kirk couldn't resist the opportunity to get back at Sepek for at least some of his treatment of Spock. "Illogical, sir," he said, in Spock's exact intonation. "Since it has happened, it is clearly possible."
Sepek glanced quickly at him, catching the irony, then apparently decided to let it go, accepting the stupidity of his statement, realising that he, the superior full-blooded Vulcan, had reacted foolishly.
"Can you pick up any signs of life, gentlemen, or - " Kirk went on.
The question recalled the scientists' wandering attention, and Carstairs reached for his tricorder. "Captain - my tricorder's missing!"
"So's mine... " came in a muttered chorus.
With a sinking dread, Kirk reached for his communicator. "Did anyone retain his communicator?" he asked, knowing that the answer would be negative.
"Sir - Mancini isn't here!" Thong exclaimed.
Now how... Kirk rubbed his hands over his face tiredly. Then, with an unfamiliar hopeless feeling, he turned to Sepek.
"Vulcans have better night vision than Humans," he said. "Can you see anything that might account for this, sir?"
Sepek gazed around. He could see nothing but rocks and arid soil... and...
"There is something white over there," he said slowly, indicating. Kirk headed in that direction, the others close behind him, the exertion increasing their breathlessness.
A group of skeletons grinned mirthlessly up at them, skeletons identical to the ones they had found among the ruins. These ones also looked as if they had simply lain down to sleep but never wakened, a group of at least several hundred. Some must have been very young - tiny skeletons that lay with a long, protective, many-fingered hand and arm round them. It was mute testimony to a tragedy long past - even more poignant, somehow, than the ones they had discovered on the world below.
"Were they brought here the same way we were?" Kirk said softly. "And if they were - did they know how they got here?"
"Whether they were or not, Captain, we are likely to meet with the same fate, and soon," Sepek said quietly. Kirk glanced at him, aware that it was a very Spockish statement, but also aware that Spock himself would have qualified it with "unless... " Unless what? Unless we can discover how to get back, unless we are found...
"Why?" Kirk asked bluntly.
"The air is thin," Sepek replied as bluntly. "We - none of us - can survive the sparsity of oxygen indefinitely. We can manage for a short while, but lack of sufficient oxygen will kill us. I estimate that you Humans will be unconscious within ten hours, dead within a further hour. I am accustomed to a thinner atmosphere than you - I believe that I may have double the time that you have. Not more, however."
The Enterprise would soon be back, Kirk knew; it should not take too long for the unwanted heat and radiation to dissipate. But then... Spock would search, of course, but unless they could find some way of attracting his attention, the First Officer was unlikely to think of searching the satellite. After all, how could they have got to it? But there was no way... unless... Kirk looked thoughtfully at Sepek.
"Sir, I know you don't like Spock, but you're both Vulcan and therefore telepathic. Our only chance of survival is for you to try to attract his attention telepathically and let him know - " He broke off, for Sepek was already shaking his head.
"It is not possible, Captain," he said matter-of-factly. "It would be a simple matter if there were a full-blooded Vulcan aboard the Enterprise, but your Science Officer is only a hybrid and as such lacks the ability to communicate over a distance."
"I've seen him communicate over a distance," Kirk said sharply.
"A distance as great as this?"
"Well, no, but - "
"He cannot receive my thoughts, Captain."
"He felt the death of the Intrepid - "
"Over four hundred minds broadcasting together, Captain. A single mind is vastly different."
"Sepek, do you honestly think he can't receive your thoughts - or do you despise him so much you won't believe he can? If you disbelieve hard enough, you'll make yourself right! Or do you simply hate him so much you'd rather die than be dependent on him?"
The Vulcan was silent for a moment, then -
"I know he has not the full capacity of a true Vulcan," he said quietly. "As a child - "
"He's an adult now! An adult with a brilliant mind! There isn't another man in Starfleet who could combine a Science Officer's duties with a First Officer's, but he does and doesn't even consider himself worked to his full capacity!"
"The ability to read minds is innate. His ability is minimal."
"You just won't believe, will you. You won't believe because you don't want to believe. Well, I believe in him. Humans don't have much telepathic ability, and as far as I know I'm almost psi-null, but Spock's melded with me several times and I believe he'll sense my mind if I concentrate hard enough. And when he does - will you admit then that he is Vulcan?"
"He will not sense your mind, Captain. He has not the ability."
"I don't care, Sepek. I believe - and I'm going to try it. There's nothing else we can do."
The thought that touched Spock's mind was so faint that for a moment, he thought he had imagined it; barely a thought at all, only a failing echo of one. But, faint as it was, the touch was one familiar to him.
Spock... I need... help...
Jim... He reached out with his mind, groping for the source of the thought. Where are you?
Spock... It was only a repeat of the previous appeal, and he reached out further.
I hear you, Jim... Where are you?
Where are you, Jim?
Jim! It was a mental shout, pushed from his mind with all the force of his indomitable will. He strained for a reply, knowing that if there was none, he had failed his Captain... for the first time. And, also, probably, the last, for there had been the first touch of death in Kirk's desperate appeal.
Moon... Hurry, Spock... No air...
With a tremendous effort, Spock pulled his mind back into consciousness. He was trembling with sheer exhaustion as he reached for the intercom. "Spock to bridge; scan the satellite. I believe the Captain and his party... to be there." Then, forced by necessity, he sat back and, breathing steadily, concentrated on regaining a measure of relaxation.
It was several minutes before the intercom bleeped. "Spock here."
"We've pinpointed the landing party, sir. Beaming them aboard now."
"Get Dr. McCoy to the transporter room," Spock ordered.
When Spock entered the transporter room, McCoy was already giving tri-ox injections to the Humans in the landing party. The Vulcan ignored Sepek, the only one who was still fully conscious, and crossed to McCoy.
"We were in time, Spock, but only just. A few more minutes... "
Kirk grunted, and stirred. Spock turned to assist the shaken Human to sit up.
"0h, my head!" Kirk groaned.
"And how! "
The hypo hissed again. "That should help."
Kirk grunted his thanks as McCoy turned to Spock. "We thought you'd gone crazy," he admitted. "What made you think to try the moon?"
"The Captain told me he was there."
Kirk glanced towards Sepek. "Well, sir?" he challenged.
"It would appear... that I was mistaken," Sepek confessed. He looked straight at Spock. "You accomplished something I could not have done," he admitted. "I could not have detected a non-Vulcan's thoughts at that distance. I have believed all my life that you are less than a true Vulcan. It appears that you are more. I ask forgiveness for my previous behaviour."
"It is forgotten," Spock said quietly, then added, "I must admit, however, that there are only two men whose thoughts I could have detected over the distance." McCoy looked sharply at him, but having said so much, Spock would not say more. And at heart, the surgeon was grateful for his reticence.
"It is still more than I could have done," Sepek said. Kirk breathed a silent sigh of relief, feeling a hard knot of tension inside him loosen.
"Have you any idea of how you reached the satellite?" Spock asked.
"Mancini!" Kirk exclaimed. "He - "
"Is here, Captain."
"Interesting," Sepek commented. "He was not affected at all by whatever carried us off?"
"Not at all," Spock replied.
"Well, sir, I'll leave you and Mr. Spock to see if you can work out how it happened," Kirk said, crossing his mental fingers. The two Vulcans looked at each other.
"Will you work with me now - after I refused to work with you?" Sepek asked, a little diffidently.
Spock's face lightened. "It is illogical to dwell on what is past," he said. "I would be honoured to share your studies."
They left the transporter room together, already deep in discussion. Kirk glanced at McCoy and grinned. "Somehow, I don't think we'll see much of Mr. Spock for the rest of this mission," he said.
McCoy grinned back. "Probably not," he agreed. "Does it matter?"
"No," Kirk said. "We were there when he needed us - just as he'll be there when we need him. After all, isn't that the most important part of what friends are for?"