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As the Enterprise swung smoothly into orbit round Alpha Lyncis III on what everyone aboard expected to be a standard survey, Kirk looked over at his First Officer.
"Sensor report, Mr. Spock."
"Standard M-class planet, Captain. Oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere, gravity Earth normal. Extensive plant cover, no indications of sapient life, some signs of non-intelligent life forms. Indications of topaline deposits... Some volcanism in the immediate neighbourhood of these... "
"Topaline? That's worth investigating."
"The area is currently in darkness, Captain."
"For the next... four point seven hours, Captain."
"Hmmm. You'll be off duty by then, Mr. Spock. I'll go down with Carstairs."
"Yes, Mr. Spock?"
Spock hesitated, then - "It would be more logical for me to go down, Captain. I am the Science Officer - "
"Don't worry, Spock. Carstairs is perfectly capable of pinpointing topaline deposits we know are there. I know you don't mind doing extra duty - and it's easy for me to over-work you without realising it; so this time, I'm determined - Carstairs is doing the work; not you."
Spock hesitated again.
"Is there something else, Mr. Spock?"
"... No, Captain. It is not logical for me to insist... Mr. Carstairs is perfectly competent." He turned back to his console. Kirk watched his back for a minute before swinging round. Something was definitely bothering the Vulcan... but if he was unwilling to say what it was, Kirk thought it would be better not to press him. Spock would tell him eventually... In his own good time.
When Spock went off duty, he went straight to his quarters without even pausing to eat. He sat at his desk, fingers steepled, thinking.
The feeling of apprehension he had been experiencing ever since they achieved orbit deepened. He tried to dispel it.
This apprehension, fear almost, is not logical, he told himself. There is no reason for it. Everything is normal. It wasn't even as if the sensors had found any trace of inimical life forms. But - he admitted to himself - he would be happier if Kirk remained on board the Enterprise, and let him go down with Carstairs to the planet.
Foolishness, he told himself firmly. How could he go to Kirk with such reason-less fears, he who refused to acknowledge anything as illogical as intuition?
I have no reason to feel apprehension, he repeated to himself. It is illogical. Deliberately, he tried to put the matter out of his mind, sinking his thoughts into meditation, hoping that by doing so he could resume his normal state of emotional calmness and detachment.
Kirk collected Carstairs and two Security guards and beamed down just after planet dawn. They materialised in a sparsely-treed valley, its sides towering above them, the trees marching sedately up those sides in even files. Small bushy shrubs only a few inches high hugged the ground; many were dead, twiggy brown growths that snapped brittlely under the men's feet with their every movement. Young shoots were poking their heads up from the soil among those dead plants. Kirk looked round curiously.
Some of the trees were dead too, he noticed... No, not dead, he corrected himself. New shoots were beginning to sprout from the seemingly lifeless, leafless branches. Something had blasted those trees, something that had killed their leaves but not the trees themselves. Something capricious that had damaged some but left others intact, in a seemingly random pattern.
He glanced at his men, checking them.
The two guards had taken up positions, one on each side of their officers, gazing outwards with an apparent casualness that Kirk knew was deceptive. Carstairs was studying his tricorder intently.
"This way, Captain."
With the guards flanking them, they headed up one side of the valley. There might be no sapient life here, but the other life forms whose presence had been detected might include dangerous animals; the guards were young, enthusiastic, and taking no chances. There was a distant rumble, and the ground shook beneath them. The men braced themselves, then first Kirk, then Carstairs, dropped to his knees to steady himself. The guards tried harder to remain standing. One succeeded; the other staggered and fell as the ground shook again.
As everything steadied and the rumbling died away into silence, Kirk, Carstairs and the fallen guard regained their feet.
"Odd that there's no sign of an active volcano," Carstairs commented. He swung the tricorder round experimentally. "The readings show considerable instability," he went on, "though there's no surface volcanism. I wouldn't recommend this place for mining operations, sir."
"Recommendation noted, Mr. Carstairs. But if the deposits of topaline are rich enough, no-one will pay any attention to it. And miners will be found mad enough - or greedy enough - to come and work here."
Carstairs nodded unhappily. "I know," he said. "I wish we could put a flat veto on it."
Kirk looked at him in some surprise. "As bad as that?"
"Captain, if this area doesn't throw up an active volcano shortly - say within the next decade at the outside - I miss my guess."
They moved on, following the topaline traces, until they came to an area where no plants grew. Here rock dotted dusty black earth. The plants growing round the perimeter of this blasted area looked weak, sickly, and had many dead twigs. "Report, Mr. Carstairs."
"There is nothing to indicate the cause of this dead area, Captain," Carstairs replied slowly. He tried adjusting his tricorder, and shook his head. "Sorry, sir. Everything reads the same as back there - " he nodded back in the direction from which they had come - "apart from the absence of plants, that is."
"And the topaline?"
"About two hundred yards above us, sir."
They had covered about half the distance when the ground began shaking again, a shaking that was accompanied by a harsh, grating rumble that was more violent than the time before. It was impossible to remain on their feet. As the tremor and the noise intensified, all four dropped to hands and knees.
Carstairs managed to check his tricorder. "No sign of it slackening," he shouted above the din. Kirk nodded. His hand moved towards his communicator.
He never reached it. From a crack in the rocks just above them poured a cloud of evil-smelling, choking gas. Kirk gasped. Holding his breath, he made one final attempt to get his communicator - but the gas was too potent. The quantity already in his lungs was sufficient to poison him.
The four men collapsed and lay still. The poisonous fumes continued to pour from the crack and roll down the hillside, over the four bodies and on into the valley, to blast yet another area of vegetation and leave it dead.
When the time for their regular check had come and gone, Scott, in command, tried to contact the landing party. When he received no reply, he called Spock.
As soon as the intercom bleeped for his attention, Spock realised, with an unaccustomed sinking feeling, that the apprehension he had been unsuccessfully trying to banish was well-founded. But his voice was calm, almost supernormally so, as he replied.
"We can't raise the Captain, Mr. Spock.."
"Instruct a security detail to meet me in the transporter room immediately, Mr. Scott. I will go down to look for the Captain - "
"Is that wise, Mr. Spock? If something has happened to him - "
"I am best fitted to go down, Mr. Scott, since I have greater stamina than anyone else on board the Enterprise."
"But Mr. Spock - ! ... Aye, sir."
The search party materialised at the same co-ordinates as the earlier one had done. Spock looked round quickly, noting the dead and dying vegetation, then consulted his tricorder. He picked up the topaline deposit first; then, near it, faint - very faint - life form readings.
They started upwards, the guards fanned out round Spock, one of them, a man called Becket, in the lead. Until they knew what had happened to Kirk's party, the men were taking no chances, no chances at all, with the safety of their First Officer. They stared round intently, alert, ready for any likely contingency.
His eyes searching the slope above him, Spock moved steadily on. Then, ahead of them, he suddenly noticed a flash of yellow - Kirk's shirt? He speeded up, catching up on Becket. He could see the red shirts now, lying close to the yellow one, with blue fairly near.
Then the ground shook violently. Spock was forced to stop, to drop to one knee as he was shaken off balance. A clatter of stones, dislodged by the tremor, bounced down the slope towards Becket. Staggering, Spock lunged to his feet and forward, pushing the guard clear; but already off balance, he himself was wholly unable to take evasive action. One of the stones hit him full on the head. His last awareness before he collapsed unconscious was of Becket desperately trying to pull him clear of the falling rock.
Spock regained consciousness to a pounding headache that he found totally impossible to control. He blinked his eyes open and saw McCoy looking down at him.
One look was enough. Only one thing could make McCoy look so troubled, so unhappy. Spock closed his eyes again, knowing that Kirk was dead, and slipped back into unconsciousness.
McCoy glanced up anxiously at the fluctuating needles of the diagnostic panels and reluctantly decided that there was little he could do. He must leave it to the Vulcan's phenomenal healing powers. Unhappily, he moved back to the yellow-clad body that lay so still on the next bed.
When Spock next regained consciousness, the headache was gone apart from a residual ache that he proceeded to ignore. He was alone in Sickbay. He sat up, aware that something was wrong... McCoy came in, and then he remembered. Kirk was dead.
The premonition that he had forced himself to ignore because it was illogical had been proved accurate. His Captain was dead. And he might have saved him - if only he had not been so convinced that his premonition - his precognition - was illogical.
"How are you feeling, Spock?" McCoy's voice was strangely subdued.
"I am perfectly recovered, Doctor." At least his voice was decently steady.
"I'll decide that." McCoy ran his diagnostic scanner over Spock, and nodded reluctantly. "All right, Spock, you're fit enough. Just take it easy for a day or two."
"Yes, Doctor." He would have nodded instead of replying, but the faint ache in his head was persisting; he did not really feel all right.
"You're in command now, of course. Jim's body is in the morgue - we can bury him as soon as you feel up to holding the memorial service." McCoy's voice shook slightly and Spock sensed the surgeon's grief.
"It will not help to delay," he said evenly. "Have the body taken up to the chapel. The service will be... in an hour."
McCoy nodded, his eyes searching Spock's face. "Spock - Jim's dead. Don't you feel anything?"
"What do you expect me to feel, Doctor? I have seen the reaction of Humans to grief. Would you wish that on me?"
"I would expect more than... than apparent satisfaction that you're Captain at last!"
"Acting Captain, Doctor. I will never be the Captain." Without waiting for a reply, he walked out.
He got through the service somehow. He watched Kirk's body, wrapped in the Federation flag and attended by two space-suited guards, until the airlock door closed, then, his face more than usually mask-like, he activated the outer door so that the guards could carry out their final duty and give Kirk's body into the embrace of the space that had been his life. Soon - too soon - the signal came to repressurise the airlock.
With the Captain dead, Spock set course for the nearest Starbase.
It was several days before McCoy succeeded in waylaying Spock; the Vulcan, sensing his intentions, went out of his way to avoid the surgeon. Eventually McCoy managed to get hold of him by calling him down to Sickbay to have the almost-healed cut on his head checked - as a medical order.
McCoy's shock at Spock's changed appearance showed clearly on his face as the Vulcan entered Sickbay. "Spock - have you slept at all since... ?"
"Irrelevant, Doctor. I have had... several things to consider."
"OK. Just answer me this. Why did you say you would never be Captain? You're overdue for promotion, and everyone on board would rather have you for our next Captain than a stranger - "
"I regret disappointing 'everyone', Doctor, but I am resigning my commission. I will not be available to be Captain."
"Resig... But why? Why? Spock, Jim built up the Enterprise into the best ship in the Fleet. You're ideally suited to continue his work - much though I hate to admit it. Where's the logic in resigning? In letting someone else take over who might destroy everything Jim Kirk worked for?"
"Doctor, I knew Captain Kirk was going into danger. Such foreknowledge, however, was without logical foundation. So I said nothing. Did nothing. And he died. By my failure to act, I killed him. I killed him as surely as if I had turned a phaser on him. It is not logical to accept promotion - reward, if you like - when I am responsible for the death of my predecessor."
"Spock, you're not thinking straight. Do you mean to tell me you've never felt... say, worry-- before, when Jim was walking into something unknown? And nothing happened? This was the same. I was worried about him, too - but you can't call that foreknowledge."
"Doctor, this was not... worry. I knew. You cannot change my mind, Doctor; I have made my final decision. I am resigning. By permitting him to walk into danger unwarned, I killed Captain Kirk. I find I am not prepared to kill other men by ordering them into danger - something a Captain must be prepared to do. That would be an even worse crime than the sin of omission of which I am guilty."
"Spock, are you saying you think Jim was a killer because he sometimes had to order men to their deaths?"
"No, Doctor. I am saying that for a Vulcan, such an action is... unthinkable. There is nothing more to discuss."
But if Spock thought there was nothing to discuss, McCoy clearly didn't. He tried to re-open the subject many times, but eventually he had to give up when Spock flatly refused to respond. And in the end, Spock managed to slip away without even saying goodbye. When the Enterprise reached the Starbase, Spock left Scott in command while he beamed down to see the station commander - and he did not return. Someone went for his kit, which he had left prepacked - and no-one on the Enterprise saw him again.
Spock found it difficult to persuade the Starbase commander to allow him to spend the period before his resignation came into effect in seclusion. Eventually he stated that he was over-tired, had realised that he was not suited for command, and that he required a period of solitary meditation to allow him to recover from the strain of being in command.
But although he was in seclusion, his mind gave him no rest, no peace. He had caused Kirk's death... and it seemed that Kirk's ghost thought so too, for it gave him no peace either. He could hear Kirk's voice now - waking and sleeping, it filled his ears. It was impossible to make out what his Captain was saying, but the voice itself was clear. And he had never believed in ghosts...
His kit was brought to him. He sent it on to Vulcan, retaining nothing but the one suit of civilian clothes that he would soon need.
At last the waiting period was over. The Enterprise was gone now, with a new Captain and First Officer... Momentarily, as he thought of her, he wished his friends well.
He emerged, a pale shadow of his former self, showing the strain of the weeks of seclusion when he had refused food and had frequently gone without sleep in a vain attempt to quieten the voice that spoke on and on, unintelligibly. And he had found that when he woke from sleep with that voice in his ears, his first instinct had been to turn and look for Kirk... and the moments of realisation were almost unbearable.
This Starbase was a stopping-off place for space liners bound for the further reaches of Federation-influenced space, their last chance to replenish their stores. By chance - a chance for which he was grateful - the first of these liners to stop was a vessel run by a planet situated right at the edge of 'civilised' space; a planet that had trade links with other worlds beyond the Federation's sphere of influence. Spock took a passage on it; he would be able to lose himself in territory where Federation Starships never went... and then, perhaps, away from everything that could recall memories, he might... forget?
No-one asked him any questions. The members of the crew were not particularly interested in the passengers, nor the passengers in each other. No-one paid any attention to the anonymous Vulcan in slightly outmoded native dress who came aboard. No-one was interested in whether or not he ate or slept. No-one cared.
He disembarked, a shabby figure in once-expensive clothes that now hung loosely on a skeletal frame, and who looked at least twice his proper age. Lines of care etched deep into his face - lines that deepened every day as the voice from his recent past continued speaking to him.
At the perfunctory Customs clearance, he gave his name as Stane; stated that he was merely passing through, and was given permission to stay for not more than six months on a restricted work permit - since he claimed to have no skills. The restriction meant that the only jobs available to him were menial.
He found work at the space port, where he was employed as a sweeper, vainly endeavouring to keep reasonably clean the landing area that appeared to have been built at the centre of an eddy of the ubiquitous wind that permanently swept the planet. No matter how much wind-blown rubbish he cleared, within an hour it was as bad as ever. His conscientious nature would not permit him to skimp the job, although no-one would have noticed it if he had.
He stayed there for less than a month. The opportunity to move arose when a ship from beyond Federation space called in; and he took it.
It was in a vain attempt to shut out the persistent voice in his ears that the Vulcan Stane mixed with the other passengers on this new ship. He quickly came to be regarded as an eccentric, and speculation was rife as to whether this eccentricity was personal or racial; he would often, in the middle of a conversation, seem to lose track of what was being said, dropping into a private world of his own, recalling himself if addressed directly to make some comment on whatever matter was under discussion when he 'switched off'. The passengers began to regard him as something of a buffoon, useful to enliven the monotony of the trip; several of them became quite expert at noticing when he had gone into a reverie, and steering the conversation to a point where, whatever remark he made, it would sound incongruous. He knew he was being mocked, and it hurt even although his pride would not let him show it. But the alternative - to remain in his cabin haunted by Kirk's voice - was so much more unbearable that he tolerated it.
At last they made planetfall.
This world offered even less in the way of a cultured civilisation than the one he had just left, being at the least attractive level of an industrial era - advanced enough for spaceflight, not advanced enough to regard machines as servants to ease the daily toil. Smoke poured densely from factory chimneys, so thick that on the sunniest days the sky was still hidden by a pall of smoke and the light could not force its way through. Waterways were open sewers in which no life could exist. Bureaucracy proliferated; he had to sign many papers in triplicate, quadruplicate and quintuplicate before he was permitted to land, and then he could remain for only as long as it took him to board another ship.
He left the polluted world with relief, on a ship taking him even further from Federation dominated space. He moved from planet to planet, always going further and further into the unknown, always hoping that if he went far enough he would escape from the voice inside his head... the loved voice that so tormented him by its continual presence. Some of the planets he visited were cultured, with a welcome - of sorts - for aliens, though nowhere did he find the racial tolerance that existed within the Federation. Other worlds were backward, some of them exploited by more advanced races. A few had highly sophisticated technologies, but even there planetary chauvinism existed and he found himself, if not spurned as undesirable, at best regarded as inferior. Where he was permitted to work, he did so for a little while, then left before his host world decided that he had overstayed his welcome. The alien Stane, who had no planet, moved from world to world, a space gypsy. His clothes became a peculiar mixture of bits and pieces that he had picked up as his own wore out; trousers from one world, a jacket from another...
At last he took passage on a tramp vessel, working his way. He arranged to leave the ship at its furthest port of call; and so he came to Phalin.
He would have left again - the captain of the tramp would have accepted him back aboard - but by the time he had discovered what the planet was like - a matter of hours - his ship, and his last chance of leaving, was gone. And as soon as he had to spend a night there, he fell foul of Phalin laws.
Aliens were inferior; inferior even to the packs of half-wild canines that roamed the streets, neglected, starved, but encouraged by the authorities as a means of keeping people off the streets at night. Aliens had to pay, and pay dearly, for the privilege of a hole to sleep in to shelter them from the dogs, a damp heap of sacking to use as a bed, and a daily bowl of scraps from a 'food kitchen' - scraps that were regarded as unfit for Phalin consumption, being stale at best and rotten at worst. And like all the other aliens condemned to live in this hell-hole, the alien Stane was forced to work from dawn to dusk without a break at a mixture of menial jobs, and with no meals other than the one bowl of rotting scraps. He found sweeping the streets the least unpleasant of his jobs, for there at least he was out of doors, away from the nauseating stench that made most of the aliens' jobs so unpleasant. Their only companions, apart from the other aliens of several races, were the petty criminals, inept enough to have been caught, who were also condemned to this life - and even those criminals were prone to the racial bigotry that denied all aliens the dignity of being intelligent beings. They were, in truth, paid a pittance for their work - but nearly all their 'pay' was taken back in taxation to pay for their 'food' and 'lodging'.
The alien who had money could leave - once he paid the planetary authorities the excessive embarcation dues they charged. But Stane no longer had financial resources. His only hope of ever leaving was to save every penny that he was left with after the taxman had finished decimating his 'pay'. He estimated that it would take him ten years - if he lived that long.
He felt no bitterness towards the planetary authorities - they were the outcome of their training, their background, their culture; but he felt plenty of bitterness towards his erstwhile crewmates, who, knowing that he intended leaving the ship, had neglected to warn him. Perhaps it was the captain's revenge over him for choosing to leave...
Already undernourished, his strength was being further sapped by the poor and inadequate food that was his ration. He could, indeed, have spent some of the pittance that was left to him on augmenting his rations; most of his fellows in suffering did so. There were one or two shops in the slum area where the aliens were lodged that would serve them - at double the cost of the item to any Phalin. But if he did that, he would never be able to leave.
And his torment was further increased by the voice that still sounded in his ears despite all his mental attempts to block it; still speaking words that he could not understand...
He sat in the food kitchen one night, lingering over the unappetising and ill-nourishing and wholly inadequate bowl of scraps because this place was at least warm. He had long since abandoned vegetarianism; to adhere to it would have meant death by quick starvation, for absolutely no attention was paid here to dietary preferences - the scraps came according to what was available. He was being slowly starved to death now, but that death would not come for a number of years - and he was stubbornly determined to survive what he knew was a deliberate form of genocide, determined to prove to this bigoted planet that one alien, at least, could survive this treatment - not many of the aliens presently in the food kitchen had been there since before his arrival, although one or two who had preceded him to Phalin still clung grimly on to life. Most were more recent arrivals, and Stane found himself wondering why it was that aliens still arrived. Surely the planet was known to be chauvinistic to the point of paranoia? As for the handful of natives who shared their suffering... Stane wondered briefly just what their crimes had been, to be condemned to this life, but he lacked the energy to inquire - and anyway, even if he did, his lack of knowledge of the language, coupled to the natives' bigotry, would effectively prevent his getting a comprehensible answer. All his energy was devoted to trying to block out the insidious, familiar voice from which he had no escape. Even now, after nearly three years, the pain of that loss was as fresh as ever... even now, he still woke from uneasy slumber to look around for Kirk. Not even his present exhaustion could banish the ghost of his dead Captain...
The door of the food kitchen crashed open. Armed law-enforcers swarmed in, their weapons ready. All the occupants were forced out at gunpoint and into huge trucks where they were herded together like the cattle they were considered to be. After a short trip they were forced out and into a cramped room.
The alien Stane was not quite sure what all this was about, and in his uncertainty he had many companions. Denied all rights, the aliens had been unable even to learn the language - other than 'Do that!' There were shouted questions that they did not understand but that seemed to be connected with being where they had no right to be, questions that were shouted louder and louder as if sheer volume could lead to understanding - and at last all were herded back into the trucks again.
There was a long, jolting, uncomfortable journey in the darkened, airless trucks, during which time they were given no food or water and during which they could not even sit down, packed close together as they were. Stane found the close physical proximity of so many strangers the most wearing part of the whole trip; he had become accustomed to inadequate food, he had never needed much water and he frequently went without sleep - but in the physical contact, especially of one anonymous hand that had early in the trip clutched his and refused to let go, he felt anxiety and fear - fear of the future.
When at last the vehicle stopped, they were forced out, blinking in the brilliant sunshine and stumbling on stiffened legs - those of them who still lived. At least a quarter of their number dropped as the pressure holding them up eased; and most of them were dead. Only one or two revived to join their fellows. As he went, Stane wrenched his hand from the unexpectedly strong grip that had sought to retain it, but when he had recovered the use of his eyes and looked round, he could see no-one that it could have been. Instead, he saw the steep, vertical walls of a quarry.
They were hustled into a long shed. It was a sort of washroom. By gestures, it was made clear to them that they were to strip. They were forced through a bath of icy cold, evil-smelling liquid that they could only guess was a disinfectant - though most of them, compelled through no choice of their own to live in squalor, needed no forcing to wash. And certainly, after this bath, Stane stopped being bothered by the lice that had plagued him for altogether too long, despite all his attempts to keep free of them. Then they were given clothes, rough and ill-fitting but at least clean. Finally, they were fed. The meal was still hopelessly inadequate as far as quantity went, but at least the food was fresh and nourishing.
Then they were taken to another long shed. The floor was thick with straw, obviously intended as bedding, but at least, like the clothes, it was dry and fresh. There, they were locked in.
Next day, they discovered - those who had not guessed - why they were there. It was indeed a quarry, and they were set to work there, as slaves. But although the work was hard and the hours still from dawn to dusk, and their hands first torn and then calloused by the rough stone, at least they were kept relatively clean by an enforced wash (welcome to most of them) and disinfection every tenth day, given clean clothes and straw on the same day, and given better food than had previously been their lot. Stane wondered why; a momentary curiosity that surprised himself. Then he realised that, as work animals, they did have some value - minimal, perhaps, but some. For if mostly aliens were forced into this work, the supply was not unlimited. It did seem, however, that he had lost what little chance he had ever had of leaving this world.
Although weakened by poor and insufficient food over many months, Stane was still much stronger than many of his fellow workers. It was that strength that enabled him, on the twenty-third day of this new purgatory, to support a falling rock for long enough to enable one of his fellow sufferers who was in its path to scramble clear, though he did it at the cost of a torn and bleeding hand.
Bec - the man he had saved - was one of the handful of natives who had been rounded up with him and the other aliens. Rather to Stane's surprise, for these slum natives had appeared to be fully as bigoted as the overseers, Bec then cultivated him - Stane later suspected, cynically, that the man had, even then, seen a use for his strength. But for the moment he accepted that in the native he had found a friend of sorts. It was Bec who taught him the language of Phalin; Bec who, when his understanding of the language had progressed sufficiently, told him why they were there.
There had been a robbery in the town on the day of their arrest; and the aliens, naturally, were immediately suspected. Since the thief had remained undiscovered, they were all sentenced to labour - for life - in the quarry, as suspected criminals. The slum natives were included as their punishment for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"But - " Bec said - "for one or two daring men, escape is possible. I have friends in the city who would hide us. Your strength and my knowledge, Stane - how about it?"
Escape from here; it might eventually lead to escape from Phalin. Stane agreed.
Bec arranged for them to work together. Stane never discovered how Bec managed it. He also arranged for them to work near the perimeter and storage areas, a region where few workers were allowed and those only the ones considered least likely to try to get away, the broken-spirited ones. Somehow, Bec must have persuaded the quarry overseers that neither wanted to escape; and indeed, as the overseers well knew, it was in many ways an easier life than they had known previously. If they were surprised at a native's friendship with one of the inferior aliens, they did not voice it - it was always possible that they knew that this alien had saved Bec's life.
They were well supervised at first, but then, as they learned the skills necessary to this area, the obvious supervision ceased as the supervisors were lulled into believing them content. They continued working hard, however; Stane because it was his nature to do so, Bec because he was afraid - presumably - of losing his chance of escape.
They worked in the perimeter area for four months before a chance of escape offered itself.
A truck that was being loaded was inadequately guarded; they slipped aboard it and were driven away by the unsuspecting driver. At the first stop, several hours later, they peered out of the back, saw that they were unobserved, and climbed out. It was a long walk back to the town, but walking would be safer than risking being found if the truck was searched; they had little doubt that their disappearance had been noted by now.
It took them nearly a week to walk to the town; and every step of the way Stane was haunted by the voice, talking on and on, speaking words that he could... nearly ... understand.
Occasionally, one even made sense. But the sense added to his torment, for the words spoke of the past - of companionship and a contentment that he knew was gone for ever.
Bec indeed knew of a hiding place; and the alien Stane found himself mixing with the real dregs of Phalin society, men who would cut their own mothers' throats for a minimal payment, who barely knew the meaning of the word 'loyalty'. Barely. But some understanding of the word must exist, Stane realised, or Bec would have been betrayed to the authorities as soon as they appeared. He did not try to fool himself that he was owed anything - Bec must have some influence here.
And Stane himself? Since he had already been punished for something he had not done - and lost his savings at the same time - he reasoned that Phalin society owed him something. He joined Bec in his petty crimes, acting as lookout, helping when strength was needed, occasionally slipping out on his own to attack passing victims, usually in the half light of dusk and dawn when the dogs were not quite so active. He selected his victims carefully. Ordinary citizens he allowed to pass unmolested, little knowing the danger they had been in; but anyone in authority was subject to a quick attack from behind, the only thing of which they were conscious, a firm hand gripping a shoulder, then knowing no more until they woke to find themselves poorer by whatever amount of money they had been carrying. Stane began to feel happier. He had almost enough money now for the embarcation fee. If only the voice would give him peace! It kept calling him by the name he was trying to forget. He was no longer Spock. He was Stane - stained by his own actions.
This victim was walking confidently. Stane readied himself; but his intended prey must have heard something, and swung round. A hand holding a knife came up. In self-defence, Stane struck - a killing blow. The man fell dead.
Stane turned to run - and stopped. Behind him were two law-enforcers.
The trial was a farce - although Stane was forced to admit to himself that the verdict was fair. He had killed. He was condemned to work as an engineering labourer in the lower deck of one of Phalin's spacecraft. It seemed a strange punishment... until he started the minimal training that was to ready him for the job. These craft were atomic powered.
Although the Phalin knew that there were other, better, types of propulsion, they were so bigoted that they preferred to continue using these outmoded ships of their own design. And the radiation levels of the lower decks were such that only condemned criminals were set to work there, for life expectancy on those decks was very short. Most trips were of limited duration; Stane could expect to live through six or seven of them - though by the time he had completed one, he would be a dead man.
The ship took off. Stane was resigned to his fate now. And in death, at least the voice would be stilled. A ghost couldn't haunt a dead man - could it?
Two days out, the ship began to toss erratically. The labourers, with no-one to tell them what was happening, were mostly terrified; Stane could think of several things that could cause this; an ion storm, perhaps. It was unlikely to be engine trouble - down here, they would know about it if it were. Then one sharp jolt told him. The ship was under attack. Even as the fact registered he realised, with something of a shock, that the voice had stopped - had even it deserted him? Pieces flew off a machine under the force of the external impact, and a needle-sharp sliver pierced Stane's arm. Then another sharp blow hit the ship, and he was sent flying.
When he regained consciousness, it was to find himself, along with his fellow labourers, guarded by two strangers. They were rough-looking men; one had a bad scar on his face. Stane lay silently watching them, wondering what had happened.
He found out soon enough. Another stranger entered; a huge man, fully seven feet tall, who dwarfed everyone around. He looked over the prisoners critically. At last he said, "I know the Phalin way. You are all condemned criminals. I don't know or care what crimes brought you here - all that concerns me is that you are already condemned to die.
"Now - I have an offer to make to you. You may have realised; we are what are generally termed pirates. We need men. I offer you this choice - join us. Or remain here to die."
There was no real choice. All the labourers, Stane included, even those who knew they were already dying, joined the pirates. As he waited his turn to be taken aboard the pirate vessel, Stane admired the sleek lines of her through a port. Her name - Lynx - was painted proudly along her nose.
Once aboard, the new hands were taken to a fairly large cabin and left there with the assortment of pirates already in it. These pirates were gathered in groups, talking; but when the 'officer' who took the newcomers in had gone, they collected round.
One of the new recruits was a small, weedy-looking individual who was, as Stane already knew, an arrant coward. How he had ever summoned up enough courage to commit a crime in the first place was beyond Stane's understanding. One of the pirates noticed him.
"Well, mates, look what we've got here," he growled. He pushed the little coward roughly towards the other pirates. The man cringed in fear. It was no help to him. He was pushed roughly about from one to another of the pirates of the established crew; his pleas for mercy fell on deaf ears, until at last he was too out of breath even to plead. At last one of the pirates, tiring of the game, hit him hard enough to fell him, and they turned back to the other recruits.
They picked on another. This one was tougher, with the courage of a cornered weasel. He fought back, unskilfully; rather to Stane's surprise, he was granted fair play, with only one of the pirates opposing him. It was only a question of time before he was knocked down, and lay too stunned to rise. The pirates looked for a third victim to play with.
By now, Stane had grasped something of the rules of this fierce, lawless society. It was clearly a question of kick or be kicked. The hapless little coward was fair game for all, right at the bottom of the pecking order. The second one still had his place to find, but a rough estimate would have been formed already. Everyone above the man who had beaten him would be above him, but he would still have to fight the others to find his exact place. It would come when he won, but it would be subject to change. Life near the bottom of the pecking order here would in all probability be as bad, worse, than life on Phalin. Therefore, he had to be near the top, Stane decided. He would not wait for those brutal men to decide to test him. He would choose when he would fight - and the time was ... Now!
With a shouted Vulcan warcry remembered from history lessons, he leaped forward into the crowd of pirates. Three went flying before they realised what had hit them. He flung another over one shoulder into the faces of two others, whirling to face in yet another direction as he did so. He grappled hand to hand with a huge, brawny pirate and beat him to his knees by brute strength.
It was all over in less than a minute. The pirates crowded round him, patting his back, and he allowed the familiarity, realising that he must. The only one who held at all aloof was the brawny one he had just defeated - and he guessed that that was because he had just been beaten into second place.
Stane, his position assured, stood back and watched the pirates hazing the rest of the new men. Only one of them gained anything by his example, and attacked of his own accord. It gained him a lot, placing him third in status. But the very fact that he had the courage to attack meant that he also had to be out of the ordinary, anyway.
The battles for precedence fought, the newcomers were directed to their places in the cabin. Each level of fighting ability had its place. Stane and the other good fighter, a man called Leon, went with the brawny one and one other to beside where a radiator gave off heat; two chairs stood beside it. Someone kicked the little coward to where several chairs were stacked. It was made clear to him that he was to take two chairs to his betters. His status was fixed - the servant of all the others. Stane suspected that the kicker was the previous servant, promoted by the simple fact of their having found someone even more subservient than he. But in that one's place, Stane thought, he would not be too eager to kick hard; the worm might turn, one day, and the one he would take on first would surely be the one next above him.
Stane himself had no worries. He settled down beside the radiator, the man called Leon at his side, facing the other two men. Life here was easy, Stane discovered. Food was plentiful and nourishing, if monotonous. They raided when they could waylay a ship, cruised steadily at other times. Each man had his duties, but a crewman in Stane's position could easily force his underlings to do extra duty if he wanted to. Usually they did not - life could get too boring, they had found, as his new companions were honest enough to point out. Stane nodded understandingly. He had travelled enough as a passenger in the last four years to have learned that, for a passenger, a space trip mostly consisted of boredom.
The officers, such as they were, rarely came near them, and made no attempt to discipline the men, who had their own code, their own laws. The only general rule was that they obeyed the officers during raids and on such shipboard duties as fell to them. Stane quickly found that his three companions were more intelligent than he had at first assumed they would be. Their conversations around the radiator were at times surprisingly deep, and he found himself having to watch his tongue. Not that mention of the Federation, or of Starfleet, would matter; they were too far from Federation space ever to enter it. But he wanted to continue as a man with no past.
The voice, which had fallen silent during the attack so that he had dared to think he was at last free of it, had come back, too. And now he could understand it, all that it said. It spoke of days past, of friendship, of dangers braved and overcome... His companions began to recognise that Stane sometimes had odd periods of abstraction, but none of them dared to ask him about them.
The door was flung open; an officer stood there. The brawny Russ was first on his feet; Stane, realising that something was happening, close behind him, followed by their two companions. The others, slower to react, came to their feet one by one. The little servant shrank into a corner, hoping to remain unseen.
"Raid?" Russ asked harshly.
A stabbing finger pointed. The officer clearly knew the men's customs, for he picked first the four men of the elite group, then the members of the second group, leaving the dregs of the third group out. There was a concerted rush to the door by the selected men.
The attacked vessel was a freighter, but a freighter with some teeth. Her crew was unwilling to give up without a fight, and being without hope of escaping with their lives, they fought desperately.
Physically they resembled Klingons. Stane had no idea whether they resembled Klingons mentally as well as physically - he simply fought, and fought well, all of his warrior ancestry, mixed with his Human will to win, to the fore. Soon the remnants of the defenders were prisoners, not entirely without loss to the pirate crew; Stane saw at least one officer go down as well as three or four of the men.
The rest of the crew of the pirate ship was now hustled up, to shift the cargo into the hold of their own ship, the prisoners being forced to help as well. Then, rather to Stane's surprise, the prisoners were left in their own ship, which was turned loose. Stane commented on this to Russ.
"Better to do that," the brawny man replied. "That way, they recruit replacements for the ones who died, they're on their way with a new cargo inside a few weeks. Destroy the ship - it'd take months to build a new one. We destroy the radio equipment, of course - can't have them calling for help - but we leave the ship able to travel. And when the ship carries slave labour - like the one you were on - we recruit."
Stane nodded. "Practical," he said,
An officer came up to them. "You," he said to Stane. "Come."
Stane looked at him for a moment, wondering why, and obeyed. He was taken to the Captain - the giant who had recruited them in the first place. The man studied him for a moment. Then - "I hear you're top dog in the crew," the Captain said.
Stane grunted. "It seemed the best place to be."
The Captain chuckled. "You learn quick. And you're a good fighter, or you wouldn't have beaten Russ. We noticed that today, too." He was silent for a moment. "We had casualties today - we lost the officer in charge of the boarding parties. How would you like the job?"
Short and to the point, Stane thought. Well, why not? If they always let the survivors go free... The quicker the raided ship is captured, the more survivors there will be...
"Yes," he said firmly. "But - "
"Well?" There was an unfriendly growl in the Captain's voice.
"I'd like to have a picked group of the crew to work directly under me - men I'd trained to fight my way."
The Captain shook his head. "It won't work, Stane," he said. "We tried that once - I thought it would be a good idea. But the men won't do it. There's a limit to how much we can force them to do. They'll fight for their place in the crew; they'll fight for plunder. But they won't train."
"If I can persuade them, you won't object?"
"No. I won't object - just as long as you remember I'm the Captain of this vessel. And I mean to stay Captain."
Stane got his group of picked fighters. He started off by getting his three elite companions to join him, making it clear to them that they would be his immediate subordinates, with definite, as well as pecking order, authority over the crew. Then he gave them a crash course in Federation unarmed combat, reserving only one or two tricks to case Russ should get ideas and try to take him on again despite his officer status - for that was one of the ways in which an ambitious crewmen could rise to be an officer, to fight and defeat one of the established officers. They in turn instructed the others - also reserving one or two tricks, for the same reason. Stane guessed that they knew he had done that too. Only the two or three at the very bottom of the pecking order received no instruction; they were incapable of learning any form of combat except the knife in the back.
It was immediately clear that Stane's ideas were useful, for the next ship they raided was captured in half the usual time with very few casualties. And so it went on. Ship after ship was captured and left empty of cargo. They landed their stolen goods when the holds were full and the proceeds were divided between the men according to their place on the ship. They had no set base; when they made planetfall, they were free to spend their money as they pleased, if they pleased. Before they left the ship, they were told when it would be leaving again. If they were not on board, they were abandoned. On many worlds, this meant a fate worse than death, for a man drunk enough to miss lift-off had probably spent all his money and was left destitute; and Stane was learning that Phalin was far from being the only such bigoted world. He had simply not noticed it too much for a great part of his wanderings, since he had had money; a commodity that opens many doors, even on the most bigoted world.
They made their way onward, Stane neither knowing nor caring in what direction they were going.
At last they raided a ship whose occupants had a strange familiarity. He had seen beings like these once... somewhere... but the memory was elusive, drowned out by the voice he had still not learned to ignore in spite of all his efforts.
Four days later, they were attacked. Attacked! It was the first time that such a thing had happened in the memory of the oldest, longest-serving man aboard. Stane gathered his fighting elite - now swollen to six men including himself - and faced the enemy.
Red shirts. They were wearing red shirts. Behind the red shirts was a yellow one; behind that again, a blue one. These were Federation personnel!
He should have given the order to attack; he hesitated. And then, even as he began to run forward at the men, he was felled by something hitting his head.
He regained consciousness to realise that he was lying in a comfortable bed. He opened his eyes. He was in a Starship Sickbay. But that was... illogical. A pirate would not be given such treatment... The voice sounded beside him.
The turn of his head was automatic, as he had turned it on waking so often in the past years. He froze. For the first time, his hallucination had form. His dead friend was there...
"You're dead," he said clearly. "Can't you leave me in peace?"
"You're dreaming, Spock - "
"I know I am. You have been dead for five years." Deliberately, he closed his eyes again; he slipped back into unconsciousness.
Kirk looked up at McCoy hopelessly. McCoy, who had been standing at his desk where Spock had failed to see him, came forward, his eyes fixed on the diagnostic panel.
"You did reach him, Jim. Keep trying. It's all we can do."
When Stane regained consciousness again, it was to find himself in the brig with the rest of his elite force. It was almost a relief to find himself there; at least this was a situation he could cope with. And they stayed in the brig until the Starship reached a Starbase. There was a quick trial; the verdict was a foregone conclusion. He was readily identified by a survivor of the raided vessel. No wonder the people aboard seemed familiar he thought. They were Federation citizens...
He was found guilty; sentenced to death.
McCoy studied the diagnostic readings unhappily. Kirk looked at his face and broke off his steady monologue.
"Is it bad, Bones?"
McCoy swallowed, and nodded. "Life functions are failing, Jim. I don't know why. There wasn't any physical damage, only the head injury... Only!" he added bitterly. "Maybe that's what's wrong. Maybe it damaged the bit of his brain that helps control body functions. I just don't know. There's nothing in the records, anywhere, about a Vulcan being unconscious this long. There must be brain activity - all that delirious muttering. And what he said when he did come round. He's sure you're dead."
"But he did come round. He knows now that I'm alive. That's what I don't understand."
"No. He didn't accept that you were alive. You have to reach him again, Jim. You have to, or he will die."
The condemned prisoners were kept in solitary confinement, probably to preclude escape plans. Escape? Where could he escape to, from a Starbase? He was to die, he didn't know when or how.
And that was only right. He had killed. Unintentionally, perhaps... but by his failure to act, all those years ago, he had killed...
The voice was in his ears again, trying to tell him it was alive. He shook his head, trying to shut his mind to the steady, convincing tones, hoarse now but still persistent.
There were voices outside the cell 'door'; the forcefield was shut off; a man in command yellow entered, and crossed to the bed where he lay.
He closed his eyes to shut out the hallucination. "Spock. Wake up, Spock. Look at me."
No, he whispered silently to himself. No. You can't make me. You're not real. I'm only dreaming you're here.
"Spock." The voice choked on a sob. With something of surprise, he opened his eyes and looked round. He was no longer in his cell, but back in a Sickbay bed. And Kirk sat at his side... his face wet with the tears that trickled silently down his face. Kirk reached out and took his hand gently.
"Can hallucinations cry?" he asked, puzzled.
"I'm not a hallucination, Spock. I'm real. You can feel my hand touching yours, can't you? I'm really here."
"Yes, Spock. I'm here. I wouldn't lie to you."
Spock seemed almost to smile... then his eyes closed again. McCoy came out of his office, attracted by the conversation. Kirk looked at him.
"It looks more hopeful now, Jim."
"He's unconscious again."
"Yes, but it's not so long since his last period of consciousness. And I think he realises now that you're alive... the readings are looking much better."
The door slid open. Scott entered, accompanied by a tall Vulcan who looked familiar although Kirk couldn't place him for a moment or two. Then he recognised him, and wondered at his own obtuseness.
"Captain." Sarek showed no surprise at the sight of a Starship captain holding his son's hand; it might have been the most natural sight in the universe.
"What brings you here, sir?"
"Spock. Your message about his injury was relayed to me by my wife; I was in the vicinity, travelling in a small courier vessel on my way back to Vulcan from a mission. I instructed my pilot to divert in order to rendezvous with the Enterprise, and here I am. What exactly is wrong with Spock?"'
Kirk and McCoy looked at each other.
"We were investigating Alpha Lyncis III for topaline deposits," Kirk explained. "There was fairly heavy volcanic activity. The first landing party, of which I was a member, was knocked out by a concentration of gas. Fortunately it seems to have dissipated fairly quickly, otherwise I probably wouldn't be here to tell the tale. But its effects lasted for several hours. Spock led a search party looking for us, and he was hit on the head by a stone dislodged by a subsequent tremor. He's been in a coma since then... nearly a week, now."
"There's still no quick treatment for a coma." McCoy took up the tale. "The only treatment we know is the one that's been used for centuries now; someone close to the patient talks to him, non-stop, trying to break through to his consciousness. Jim's been doing that all week, almost without sleep apart from a couple of hours yesterday when I had to lance a concentration of poison in Spock's arm - he tore his hand open on a rock deflecting it from a crewman, and the cut became infected."
"From one or two things he's said, in delirium and when he came round for a couple of minutes, he thinks I'm dead, and blames himself," Kirk went on. "Certainly, just about the last thing he saw must have been the original landing party lying there. Though we think I persuaded him that I'm alive, a little while ago."
"Can you do anything, Ambassador?" McCoy asked bluntly. "There's so little I can do... "
Sarek nodded. "I can try," he said quietly. He moved close to Spock's bedside, placed his hands firmly on Spock's temples. His face went rigid with concentration. There was a long silence, during which the Humans hardly dared even breathe. Then Sarek raised his head and moved away from the bed.
"There is no need for me to do anything," he said quietly. "He is no longer unwilling to recover, Captain. You convinced him of your reality. He has initiated a heating trance."
"Unwilling?" Kirk asked curiously.
"During his coma, Spock has been ruled by his Human emotions. His thought processes have been illogical. But he is well on the way to recovery now." He turned to Scott, who had been a silent observer of all this. "I should return to my own ship now. Mr. Scott, if you would be so good... "
"Aren't you going to stay until he recovers, sir?" McCoy asked.
"There is no time. I must return to Vulcan quickly with my report. I could only spare an hour at most. But I am confident that he is in good hands."
"You understand why I don't accompany you to the transporter, sir?" Kirk said.
"Yes, Captain." He made for the door, and followed Scott out.
"Call me if there's any drastic change," McCoy said. He went back into his office, leaving Kirk watching Spock's relaxed face. At last Spock began to toss, trying to waken himself. Kirk obligingly slapped him hard, and again.
His hand came up and caught Kirk's wrist. Then he turned his head to look at Kirk.
"I was dreaming, Jim?" he said.
Kirk nodded. "You were only dreaming, Spock. It's you who nearly died." He blinked, suddenly aware of how sleepy he was, and gave a huge yawn.
McCoy came over from his office, and took Kirk's arm. "Bed for you, Jim," he said. "Over here... "
He turned from settling Kirk to find Spock already sitting up. "And where do you think you're going?" he asked.
"I am fully recovered, Doctor. I will be able to return to duty."
"Oh no you won't."
"Doctor, I assure you - "
"Spock, healing trance or no healing trance, you were out cold for a week. I'd be failing in my duty if I let you go back to work just as soon as you regain consciousness. I want you to stay put at least until you've had a proper sleep. After that... we'll see."
"Doctor... " His voice trailed off as McCoy continued to watch him implacably. He lay back obediently, and closed his eyes.
McCoy waited until he was sure that Spock was, in fact, asleep, not merely feigning slumber. Then he turned and went back into his office.
While the two most restless patients he ever had were asleep, he could relax.