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The only person more outspoken than Kirk about having to take part in diplomatic missions was McCoy. It was certain that the crew of the Enterprise all detested the protocol, spit and polish such missions entailed. Even Spock had been known to express distaste for such missions, which he regarded as an intrusion in the more important things of life. Therefore, when the Enterprise was selected to provide transport for Ambassador Stewart and his daughter to Delta Aurigae III, Kirk and his men were a great deal less than enthusiastic.
Ambassador Stewart, however, soon let it be seen that he was not going to be any trouble to them during the trip. After the formal dinner Kirk felt he always had to offer to visiting dignitaries, the Ambassador spent very little time with the crew. Both he and his daughter remained in their cabins. Just what they found to do there was a mystery; any computer or viewscreen activity would have been noticed by Spock. It was easy to assume that Stewart was studying details about his new job or the new planet that was his destination. But it seemed that he was not.
Several days from their destination, there was a frantic general call on the intercom from Miss Stewart.
"Help me! Someone help me, please!"
Kirk headed straight for the Ambassador's quarters and found the girl sobbing over the unconscious body of her father. He called for McCoy who responded immediately. He gave Stewart a quick examination and glanced at Kirk, shaking his head slightly. "Miss Stewart," he said, turning to the girl, "I'll need to take your father to sickbay for a more detailed examination. He's seriously ill."
The girl raised tear-stained eyes from her hands and nodded with an obvious effort. Both men were uncomfortably aware of her concern and grief.
In sickbay, McCoy completed his examination of the man. His face was set in grim lines as he reported to Kirk.
"He's dying, Jim, and there's nothing I can do for him. I could keep him on total life support for a while, but that's about all."
"What's wrong with him?"
McCoy shook his head. "All vital organs are failing to function, quite rapidly and with no obvious reason. You could liken him to a clock that's running down. Only there's no way to wind him up again. I've never seen anything like it."
"Have you told his daughter yet?"
McCoy shook his head. "No. I suppose I should; someone will have to, and I suppose it'll be better to tell her now, give her some warning... "
"I'll tell her, Bones." Kirk turned to the door, hesitated and glanced back. "How long?"
"Soon," McCoy relied sombrely. "That's as much as I can say."
The girl seemed to have regained a measure of control over herself; she was white-faced and trembling, but reasonably composed. Kirk looked at her sympathetically, and decided it would be kinder to come straight to the point. "I'm sorry, Miss Stewart," he said softly. "I've just come from sickbay. Dr. McCoy tells me your father is dying. There's nothing he can do."
"I see," she said quietly. "May I see him?"
"I don't see why not," Kirk replied. "I don't know if he is conscious or not, but - "
"He is conscious," she replied.
They left her alone with her father. She stayed for a few minutes and then the Ambassador sent her away. He called McCoy back in.
"The First Officer is Vulcan," he said; it was more of statement than a question.
"Yes," McCoy answered, puzzled.
"I want to see him."
McCoy lifted his eyebrows, but turned to the intercom. "McCoy to bridge. Mr. Spock, would you report to sickbay? Ambassador Stewart wants to see you."
He left Spock alone with Ambassador Stewart.
The dying man looked up at Spock weakly. "Mr. Spock... I understand you are half Vulcan, half Human?"
"That is correct, sir."
"You know the difficulties such a... hybrid... encounters."
Spock stiffened slightly at the man's statement. "Yes, sir, I know," he replied defensively.
"My daughter is also a hybrid. Her mother... was of a race living on a world that has no contact with the Federation. They were - are - an incredibly innocent race; contact with the outside Galaxy would destroy them. I will not say how I found them, but I chose not to reveal their existence to the Federation. I married there and remained with them until my wife died, then returned with my daughter to Earth. I let it be thought that I married on a small colony planet where proper records were poorly kept.
"During my years as an Ambassador she has always accompanied me.
"Mr. Spock, she does not know that she is only half-Terran; she was only two when her mother died. She will have difficulties - her mother's race is telepathic, but my genes in her have weakened her shielding and her control. I learned how to control when I lived there. I have been shielding her since we came back to live and work in the Federation. But I am no longer able to shield her." The man paused for a moment, then -
"Help her, Spock. Please. She will need all the help you can give her. Take her to Vulcan. Your people can teach her... She cannot go back to her mother's world, for I will not betray them by telling anyone where they may be found."
"Very well, Ambassador. I will do what you wish."
"Don't tell anyone except your people."
"I will probably have to tell Dr. McCoy, and perhaps Captain Kirk. But you can trust them implicitly."
Stewart hesitated. "Very well," he sighed. "If you must, you must." He closed his eyes.
Spock watched him for a moment, then turned to the door. "Doctor?"
McCoy entered the room. Even as he walked over to the Ambassador's bed, the needles on the diagnostic panel slid to zero. A scream sounded inside his head. Spock's hands went to his ears, then his fingers slid to his temples and he concentrated. He relaxed as McCoy's face tightened with grief. But it was not an easy relaxation; he looked more as if he were fighting for self- control. McCoy barely noticed; the feeling of desolate grief that welled up inside him was comparable only to the way he felt the day he first found out that his wife had begun to hate him for his dedication to his work, for what she took to be rejection.
Spock looked at McCoy, seeing the anguish on his face. He reached out to him. "Bones... be one with me," he whispered, his hands firm on McCoy's temples. "Whatever this is, it is not our thoughts. We are aware of it, but it is not ours."
McCoy gasped, drew a deep breath, "Thanks, Spock. What caused that?"
"I believe, Miss Stewart's grief at her father's death."
"But she doesn't even know yet."
"I think you will find that she does."
McCoy looked concerned. "Will everyone on the ship... feel this?"
"I would think so."
They looked at each other. Subjected to this wild grief, feeling it inside their heads - no-one on the ship would be able to function properly.
"How many... How many can you help, Spock?" McCoy asked finally.
"Not very many," Spock replied. "The Captain, Mr. Scott, Mr. Sulu, Mr. Chekov... Miss Uhura, too; they must be helped. But I do not think I can help more than those."
"We can't run a ship with seven people!" McCoy exclaimed.
"We will have to attempt it," Spock said quietly.
The sickbay door opened. Kirk stumbled in, his face a mask of sorrow, tears streaming down it. Spock looked at him, moved straight to him, fingers outstretched.
His grief assuaged, Kirk stared in horror at his friends. "What caused that?"
"We believe it to be Miss Stewart's grief. Her father is dead."
Kirk stared first at Spock, then at McCoy. "Everyone I passed was... "
"Yes, they would be," Spock told him, a little grimly. "Doctor, we need a full medical report on Miss Stewart as soon as possible. According to what her father told me, she is only half Human, and her mother's race was telepathic. She has no control, he said; he had been shielding her. But now that he is dead, there is no-one to shield her emotions from the rest of us."
"Can't you?" Kirk asked.
"I can shield some of the crew, enough to keep the ship operating, but I do not know if I can link with her. Although she looks Human, her mind may be too alien. That is why I need to know as much as possible about her metabolism as soon as possible."
McCoy nodded. "I'll get on to it right away."
"You get up to the bridge, Spock," Kirk directed. "Try to shield Scotty, Sulu and Chekov at least"
Spock nodded and turned to the door, Kirk at his heels. McCoy took a deep breath and headed for the stricken girl's cabin. Officially she did not yet know of her father's death. He would have to tell her... and he balked at the thought of going any nearer to her than he already was. The mind meld had helped, but it hadn't wholly banished the despair and violent grief McCoy sensed in the back of his mind as emanating from the girl. He was afraid that the nearer he got to the source, the more intense those feelings would be.
He hesitated again outside her door and had to force his hand to the buzzer. He got no reply - had barely expected one. Using his medical over-ride, he went in.
The waves of grief washed over him anew, but the meld at least helped him to control it. He put a sympathetic hand on the girl's shoulder.
He was startled when she jerked fearfully away. He felt her panic and jumped back involuntarily.
"Miss Stewart," he said gently. She paid no attention; he realised his voice had not penetrated her sorrow. "Miss Stewart!" he repeated, louder. She raised tear-stained eyes to him.
"I'm sorry, Miss Stewart," he said, taking refuge in formality. He decided that it would be futile to pretend that he didn't know she already know about her father.
He felt her uncertainty and realised that part of her emotional state was due to her fear of the future. She had always accompanied her father; he had made the decisions always...
"You'll manage," he said softly. "Have you no other relatives?"
There was no spoken answer; but he knew that the reply was negative.
"Will you come with me?" he asked. "I may be able to help you."
Her fear struck him like a blow. He recoiled, then forced control on himself again, glad yet again of Spock's assistance, of his solid presence in his mind.
"I can help you," McCoy insisted, gently but firmly. "I won't hurt you, I promise you."
She looked at him, shivering, but there was no recoil this time. She got up and began to move towards the door.
McCoy breathed a sigh of relief as he followed her. Her grief had not abated, but at least the fear was less.
As they went along the corridor to the elevator, they passed several of the crew - men and women. They seemed to be attempting to carry out their duties, but all were weeping uncontrollably. McCoy looked at them, concerned but knowing that there was nothing he could do for them at this moment.
Once in sickbay, he called Christine Chapel. Tears were pouring down her face when she joined him, but she was making a valiant effort to control herself.
"I'm sorry, Doctor," she managed.
"Not your fault," McCoy said gruffly. "You're getting the backlash of Miss Stewart's grief."
He turned back to the unhappy girl, reaching for a hypo as he did so. "Miss Stewart," he said reassuringly, "I'm going to give you a mild sedative. It'll help you to relax a little."
She shrank back again and her fear hit him like a blow. He fought for control again as the door opened and Kirk and Spock came back in. Kirk was again showing extreme grief and some fear. McCoy stared at him.
"I had to break the link with the Captain," Spock explained. "I could not maintain a meld with so many persons; and it was more important to have Mr. Scott, Mr. Sulu and Mr. Chekov, as well as yourself, functioning reasonable normally. But I am aware that Miss Stewart's reactions are getting more... unrestrained. Fear has been added to her grief."
"I know, Spock. She got scared when I asked her to come with me, and again when I suggested a sedative. It's as if she's afraid of me - afraid of people. I gather that her father always kept her with him - she probably doesn't know how to deal with other people."
"I believe you are correct, Doctor," Spock agreed. "I have tried to keep her influence on my mind to a minimum, but I have been aware of a fluctuation in the emotional reaction, with a peak very recently... "
By now Christine, not sure of what was going on but having grasped that the sobbing Miss Stewart was somehow at the root of it, had moved to the girl's side. She put an arm around her shoulders, comforting her, and was chilled by the girl's reaction. Miss Stewart stiffened as if she was remaining still by sheer willpower. She very clearly did not welcome the physical contact. Personal unhappiness at the rejection, plus the jumble of emotions Christine was receiving from the weeping girl, was almost unbearable; yet Christine persevered.
"We want to help you," the nurse murmured between her own sobs. "Please trust us. No-one is going to hurt you. Please... what is your name? It's much friendlier if we know your name."
There was no response - or rather, no verbal response. Only a renewed upsurge of grief. Kirk, tragedy on his face, looked at McCoy.
"Bones - you have to sedate her."
"I know, Jim. But I don't want to scare her further. Everyone will suffer if she's scared - don't forget that. I could try sedating the crew... " Thoughtful, he picked up the hypo and gave Kirk a shot.
The grief on the Captain's face relaxed a little. "That is better," Kirk said.
McCoy crossed to Christine and gave her a shot. She glanced at him gratefully. "You see?" she said to Miss Stewart. "We want to give you the same thing that Dr. McCoy has given me. It doesn't hurt. It will help, I promise you. He wouldn't have given it to the Captain or me if It was going to harm you."
Her reassurances were ignored. The bereaved girl's fear and misery continued unabated. Christine looked over Miss Stewart's head at McCoy with an expression that clearly said, What else can we do?
The surgeon glanced at Spock. "Can't you help her?"
"Doctor, she is already terrified by Nurse Chapel's physical contact with her. She would reject any attempt on my part to touch her."
"Leave Miss Stewart with Nurse Chapel, Bones," Kirk ordered. "Sedatives all round the crew. At least that'll keep them functioning. We can think what's best to do with her later."
McCoy nodded. He turned to the intercom. "McCoy here. All medical staff report to me in sickbay immediately."
One by one the rest of the medical staff began to arrive, Dr. M'Benga first. Once sedated, M'Benga relaxed visibly. McCoy explained quickly what had happened, and left him to see to the sedation of the nurses and the crew. Then the Chief Surgeon returned to the immediate problem.
He found that Christine had finally persuaded Miss Stewart to lie on one of the beds; Kirk and Spock were sitting beside it. Both were looking helpless. Christine had settled for holding her patient's hand, but even this minimal contact obviously worried the Ambassador's daughter.
"What I don't understand is why she's so scared of us," Kirk was saying. He glanced from Spock to McCoy. "You two may not wholly receive it, but fear is definitely predominant in her mind now. I find myself shrinking away from contact with anyone. I'm having to force myself to sit even this close to Spock. I'm feeling afraid of him, yet I know it's her fear."
"I think it's sexual," Christine interjected. "I can... recognise certain... certain elements in her attitude. She's less afraid of me than she is of you and Mr. Spock, Captain; but she's making me afraid of both of you, and it is definitely a fear of you as men. It's an attitude a lot of girls have at some stage in their lives, but they usually get over it a lot sooner than this."
"Do you mean she's afraid we'll... assault her?" Kirk asked blankly.
"I'm afraid so," she replied.
"There's no justification for it," Christine finished. "We know that, Captain, but she doesn't."
"Can't you make her realise that we won't hurt her?"
Christine shook her head sadly and McCoy cut in. "Her father protected her, Jim. She was never away from him. Jim - were you ever lost as a child? Wandered away from your mother in town, got lost in a crowd? Away from everyone familiar?"
"Maybe. I don't remember it if I was."
"Well, anyway, that's how she's feeling. But the only figure familiar to her is dead. She can't be found, and she knows it. Of course she's terrified. I can understand that; but that doesn't help me find a way to help her."
M'Benga came back in. "Everyone's sedated, Doctor."
"Thanks, M'Benga. Keep tabs on the situation. You can use your own condition as a guide. As soon as you feel the emotional effects are getting too strong, give out another round of sedatives."
"Yes, Doctor." He left the room again and McCoy looked helplessly at the others.
"Have you given her a medical inspection yet, Doctor?" Spock asked.
"No I haven't. And if you want to know why not, think about it for a moment. I don't even know if she's ever had a physical in her entire life."
"If she has, there should be a report on it somewhere in Starfleet's records," Spock suggested.
McCoy looked at Christine. "You're not really doing much good there, Christine. Go and check the records, would you?"
The nurse nodded and left the room. There was silence until she returned, each man occupied with his own thoughts. Kirk in particular was strained since he felt her fear more strongly than either of the others. He was afraid of Spock and McCoy, yet a corner of his mind was still uncontrolled by her, insisting that his friends were to be trusted and that he was still in command of some part of his being. In addition, however, he was afraid of himself.
McCoy saw Kirk's almost imperceptible withdrawal towards the door, as if he were trying to escape from himself. He opened his mouth to appeal to Spock, then closed it again. The Vulcan was already strained to his limit, protecting four of them as well as shielding himself. Kirk had considered that he was less important to protect than those who were being helped, yet...
Christine came back, carrying a tape. "She had a full physical along with her father when Ambassador Stewart was selected for this mission," she informed them. "These are the results."
McCoy slipped a tape into the viewer and they studied it. "According to this, Miss Stewart reads completely Terran normal," he reported.
"That is not accurate," Spock commented.
"Spock, how could it be anything else?" McCoy asked.
"According to Mr. Stewart, his wife was humanoid but not Human," Spock repeated. "Tell me, Doctor, can you think of any race that is exactly the same as Terrans, physically? Consider myself. Do I conform to Vulcan norms exactly? My physical type is Vulcan, but is it exact?"
"No," McCoy said, almost reluctantly. "There are Human factors... "
"I venture to suggest that the same should be the case with Miss Stewart."
McCoy considered for a moment. "Yes," he said at last. "It should be. But this physical was given her at the Surgeon General's headquarters, since it was tied in with an Ambassadorial mission. It must be accurate, the Federation's best medical staff is assigned there - and you can't fool medical scanners. If there's anything at all odd, it shows up somewhere."
"Not always, Doctor. Do you remember Mr. Harbi? His aberration did not show up on any test - it required telepathic contact to reveal it."
"But these results aren't on any abnormal medical condition. They're physical. You can't fake physical factors."
"You can forge the records," Spock countered. "The Klingon agent we encountered on Station K-7 must have accomplished something of that sort. His physical differences showed up clearly once you actually ran a medical tricorder over him."
"Spock, are you suggesting that Ambassador Stewart forged his daughter's medical records?" Kirk dragged his mind from his enforced misery long enough to ask the question.
"I think it is... possible, Captain."
"I'm not so sure, Spock," McCoy cut in. "The records might have been forged, but what about the doctor who ran the test? How about his observation of the exam? And his memory of it?"
Kirk stiffened. "Mr. Stewart influenced the mind of the doctor who made the examination," he said slowly.
Spock looked at him. "How do you know that, Captain?"
"The knowledge... just came into my mind," he answered, puzzled.
Spock nodded. "Miss Stewart must have known that, subconsciously at least. Our speaking of it brought the knowledge into her conscious mind. And since you are the one here most open to her mental influence... "
Kirk shuddered. "It wouldn't be so bad if her mind weren't so... undisciplined. Or if she weren't so unreasonably frightened," he said.
McCoy glanced at him. "What can you hear from her mind?" he asked curiously. All he had felt during the time before Spock protected him had been a mixture of fear and grief. Now, apparently, other thoughts were emerging. Kirk shook his head. "There aren't any words for a lot of the emotions," he answered. "Fear... grief... but under those, a longing for security. Memories of security... " His voice trailed off.
"Can you detect what she may think of as providing security?" Spock asked.
Kirk shook his head. "No, Spock. You might have the ability to reach that memory, I can only detect what she is broadcasting," he reminded the Vulcan.
Moving slowly and steadily, McCoy had by now reached the girl's side, carrying a hypo carefully hidden. He touched her arm gently. She flinched and Kirk jerked sharply away from the others. He had moved as far as the door before he managed to stop.
"It's all right," McCoy said gently. "I'm not going to hurt you. I promise you. This will help you, make you feel better." And us as well, he added silently. She shrank back from him, shuddering. Kirk gave an involuntary whimper of terror that was echoed by Christine as both also shrank back from McCoy. Then McCoy gave her the shot. She relaxed, and so did Kirk and Chapel. McCoy glanced at Spock. "Thanks," he said briefly, and Kirk realised that in that last minute, Spock had been giving McCoy a great deal of protection.
McCoy reached for his scanner and ran it over the girl's body. He grunted, then continued with his examination in silence. When he had finished, he glanced at the others.
"Physically, she's pretty Human," McCoy replied. "But there are differences, as you suggested there might be, Spock. Not major ones, but enough to register in her blood, including one or two antibodies I've never come across before. Her brain is rather more convoluted than is normal in Terrans, though not as much, in comparison, as in Vulcans. The main difference is an enlargement of what should be the pineal gland; but what its function is, I have no idea. Unless it's what makes her telepathic."
"Most telepathic races have a specific telepathic centre in their brains, Doctor," Spock put in. "You could easily be right."
Kirk looked down sadly at the still unconscious girl - McCoy had given her a large dose of sedative. "All right; we can take Mr. Stewart's story as confirmed. That still doesn't tell us what we're to do with her."
"Mr. Stewart did suggest taking her to Vulcan," Spock said. "My people could teach her control, at least. And they could shut out her more undisciplined thoughts."
Kirk took a deep, patient breath. "Spock, how far are we from Vulcan?"
The First Officer lifted an eyebrow. "I take your point, Captain. Unless we can teach her control ourselves, and quickly, we are unlikely to be fit to reach Vulcan. We will all be exhausted trying to cope with her... fears."
"Phantom though they may be," Kirk finished.
"All?" McCoy asked. "Won't you still be able to function, Spock?"
"No, Doctor. I am already strained to my limit protecting four of you as well as myself. I cannot continue doing so for very long."
There was a short silence while they digested this information. None of them had expected this. There was a tendency to think of Spock as being invulnerable. It always came as a shock when they found a situation in which he was not.
"Spock," McCoy said at last. "Couldn't you reach her mind now, while she's unconscious?"
Spock shook his head. "Not while my mind is fully occupied maintaining mind links with so many."
"All right, then, break the link with me. Try to reach her. If you do, it might mean that we could help her."
Spock glanced at Kirk. "Dr. McCoy's suggestion has merit," he admitted, "but I do not think he is the best person to sacrifice protection. We need him in full possession of his faculties for as long as possible in order to keep the ship running as efficiently as possible. I suggest that Mr. Chekov is a better one to sacrifice."
Kirk nodded. "Agreed, Spock. Chekov won't be needed until we need a course change."
"You had better warn him, Captain."
Kirk flicked on the intercom, calling the bridge. While he warned Chekov of his impending return to feeling the girl's presently subdued emotions, McCoy gave Chapel some quiet instructions. The head nurse left sickbay on her way to the bridge; Chekov would at least get the protection of a sedative.
Spock turned his attention to Miss Stewart. He gasped as the maelstrom of emotions hit him afresh. with even greater force than before, since he was now inside her mind and experiencing her emotions, her grief and her fear, at first hand. McCoy shivered with him, also feeling the terror through his link with Spock.
Then the Vulcan realised what was happening, and broke off his link with the Humans.
McCoy sighed his relief. On the bridge, Sulu echoed it; in Engineering, Scott drew a deep breath, wondering what on earth had happened, but glad that the sudden influx of disabling emotions had ceased. Sulu glanced at Chekov. "You were the lucky one," he said. "How Spock can stand it inside her head I can't imagine. The feelings we just got passed on from her were... terrible."
Spock was standing it because he had to. He had never experienced such a confused jumble of conflicting emotions from another mind, not even from his Human crewmates. He tried to sort through the unconscious rambling, finding the task impossible. There was no discipline in her mind. The Humans with whom he had occasionally melded were mainly trained Starship personnel, sensible - for the most part - with minds trained to think constructively. They were Humans who felt emotion, expressed emotion, but who had over the years of their lives learned some rudiments of control, so as not to make others suffer from their emotional state when they were afraid or suffering from strong emotional stimuli.
Spock began to probe through her mind, suffering because of his intense respect for the mental privacy of others, but aware that it had to be done. Somewhere there had to be some kind of shield he could activate, to let her learn to keep her thoughts from others. He probed and probed... and found nothing. Stewart's words came back to him. My genes in her have weakened her shielding and her control.
Weakened? Left her without any control at all, in fact. Left her without any way of keeping her own feelings from others... and, it seemed, left her unable to read others' minds, or she would have known for certain that they meant her no harm. He felt intensely sorry for this poor waif. There was little that he could do for her after all. He wondered if Stewart himself had known just how weak her control actually was, and decided that he could not have known. He had just known that it was weak, probably learned that it was so when the girl was still an infant and had set out then to guard her. He had continued to do so by habit, without checking whether her control was improving as she got older.
Spock could appreciate Stewart's wanting to keep his daughter by his side. Vulcans had an intensely strong family feeling, though they would have denied firmly that it had any emotional significance. But even so, he thought that Stewart should have made the attempt, years previously, to have his daughter learn control, on Vulcan if necessary. He should have tried to make some arrangement for what should be done with her on the event of his death, for she was no more fit to look after herself than a day-old han'gha.
He probed deeper. Still nothing. He linked on to her subconscious thoughts.
There was something... at last. Faint, distant, even to the subconscious. But the memory was there. Soothing thoughts... love... comfort. He realised that he had found her memories of her dead mother. No wonder they were so faint - she had only been two when her mother died. Could he build on them, those so-faint but happy memories? Teach her through them that other people could be as gentle, as loving? He began to work on drawing the faint mother-memories to the surface of her thoughts, then hesitated. She was grief-stricken at her father's death, the father who had been mother to her as well. How would she react to the conscious reminder of her dead mother? Admittedly she had been only two. Children of two do not normally feel anything greatly save a change in routine. But here they had a telepathic girl with no control. She must have been more than usually conscious of her mother's thoughts. She might have been more affected than he would expect. He decided that he didn't dare draw those memories to the surface.
What else was there? He probed deeper in the same region of her mind. Darkness... distant flecks of light making pretty patterns. A bright light shining above, a light that changed shape as it travelled quickly across the... sky? The patterns - could they be constellations? And the light, a moon? A moon with an orbit so close to its primary that it ran through its phases in a few hours?
Watching, Kirk and McCoy saw the Vulcan suddenly tense. He reached out his hand. "Jim?"
Kirk gripped it. "I'm here, Spock."
"Something... to draw on... "
Kirk glanced around helplessly. McCoy moved quickly, fetching a pad and stylus. He tried to give them to Spock, but the Vulcan seemed unaware of him, so he gave them to Kirk, who passed them to the Science Officer. They both watched, fascinated, as the Vulcan began to draw patterns of dots, some large and some small.
At last Spock sighed and raised his head. He looked exhausted. "Miss Stewart is regaining consciousness, Doctor. It might be better to keep her under full sedation for a little longer."
McCoy nodded. While she was unconscious the entire crew had some respite from the battering of her emotions. He gave her another shot.
"How are you feeling, Spock?" Kirk asked anxiously.
"I can... continue to function adequately, Captain," Spock replied. "But I still have work to do." He picked up the pad and studied it intently.
"What is it?" Kirk asked.
"I believe it to be a picture of the night sky as Miss Stewart saw it as a child on her mother's planet. Mr. Stewart would not say where that planet was. He did not want the people there disturbed by contact with the Federation; he said they were so innocent that contact with others could destroy them. I am of the opinion that he was correct; that that is what is wrong with Miss Stewart. She has inherited her mother's innocence, and she is picking up enough of the... the worldly-wise thoughts of the crew to be terrified. Destroyed, if you prefer the expression, for she will inevitably go insane from her fear if we cannot find an answer for her. Her only chance lies on her mother's planet, if we can find it."
"And our only clue is the memory of the night sky as seen by an infant in arms?" McCoy asked caustically.
"It is at least a clue, Doctor," Spock replied imperturbably.
"Spock," Kirk said. "Have you thought that this planet might be even further away from our present position than Vulcan?"
Spock nodded. "I think it extremely probable that it is, Captain, otherwise it would not remain unknown. It must be beyond the furthest limits that Federation vessels have gone."
"Then how did Stewart find it?" McCoy asked.
"He would not say."
McCoy frowned. "You know, considering his daughter's reaction to what you called the crew's 'worldly-wise thoughts', Stewart must have been pretty innocent himself if he was able to stay there for at least three years without creating havoc among the natives."
Kirk ignored the comment, laying it aside for later consideration. "What chance have we of matching the star patterns with any we know if the planet is beyond the scope of Federation influence?" he asked bluntly.
"Even although the area must be unexplored, the stars may have been charted from a distance," Spock replied slowly. He left the room, still carrying the pad.
McCoy looked helplessly at Kirk. "He'll spend God knows how many hours searching the records just in case the stars forming those constellations have been charted from a distance," he said.
Kirk answered simply, "Yes. Because it would appear to be our only chance of helping that girl."
Now that they had Miss Stewart under sedation, things were easier all round. She was still broadcasting some distress, but not enough to render the crew unable to function. McCoy had reluctantly decided to keep the girl fully sedated; as soon as she regained consciousness, he felt, she would again terrify them all. They saw nothing of Spock. The Vulcan had shut himself up in his cabin and was steadily working his way through the star charts. He was trying, with the help of the computer, to find even one of the constellations he had seen in Miss Stewart's mind. He reckoned it would take several days to work his way through all the charts; it took even longer than he had anticipated.
As the days passed, McCoy realised that he could not, in all conscience, keep the half alien girl unconscious any longer. He permitted her to regain consciousness, keeping her under light sedation. He left Chapel sitting beside her, although the nurse's presence hadn't seemed to help much on the previous occasion, and kept out of the way to see if the lack of male presence also helped to keep her subdued.
Sure enough, it did seem to help a little. Her grief again disturbed the crew, but not excessively so. And this time there was no fear. McCoy took courage from this and risked going in to see her - but his appearance was the immediate sign for her to shrink back in terror again. McCoy himself recoiled and the shock of sudden fear caused several minor accidents as various crew members also instinctively recoiled from anyone they were close to. McCoy swore to himself and withdrew to his office. The fear dwindled to bearable proportions.
The intercom buzzed. McCoy reached for it. "McCoy here."
"What happened, Bones?" came Kirk's voice.
"I thought she might accept my presence," McCoy replied. "I was wrong."
Nor was the terrified girl willing to accept more from Chapel than her passive, unmoving presence. When the nurse tried to move, the fear emanating from Miss Stewart forced her to return to her original position, sitting... watching. She tried to talk to the girl without success; nothing she could say seemed to penetrate the fog of fear enveloping the bereaved girl. She began to wonder what would happen when the next sedation was due.
Just as Chapel had feared, as the sedation began to wear off, the emotional aura from Miss Stewart increased. One of the other nurses appeared, carrying a hypo; McCoy had decided not to risk going in himself. A mental scream sounded inside their heads and Chapel gasped, then noticed that the other nurse was already sedated. McCoy was not a man who made the same mistake, or even a similar mistake, twice. The nurse moved slowly, straight to the bed, and the hypo hissed against Miss Stewart's arm. The terror faded, the girl's eyes closed and she slept again.
The sickbay intercom bleeped wildly. McCoy flicked it on. "Dr. McCoy to the bridge. Medical emergency!" came Uhura's voice.
"On my way!" McCoy grabbed his medical kit, and ran.
The bridge door swished open to a scene that might have been wildly confused if the crew had been less competent. Uhura sat at her station, looking down to where Chekov bent over Kirk - Kirk, who lay prone beside his chair bleeding from a gash on his head.
"What happened?" McCoy snapped as he bent over the Captain. Chekov looked up.
"He was just sitting down when... when the Stewart girl screamed. At least, I think it must have been her. We all jumped... we weren't expecting it. Captain Kirk... fell off the chair. He hit his head on the chair arm as he fell."
"Uh." The single grunt from McCoy told them very little. He gave Kirk an injection. "Uhura, call sickbay again and get them to send a gurney."
As she turned to her board, Sulu asked, "How serious is it, Doctor?"
"I don't know yet. Any head injury can be bad. It could, equally probably, give him nothing worse than a headache. I want him in sickbay, that's all."
The gurney arrived. He placed Kirk on it and took him away. He was more worried than he had indicated to the crew. The gash on Kirk's head was near the same place as an earlier injury. That could cause problems.
Kirk was lifted onto a bed in the examination room. He was already beginning to toss restlessly and mutter incoherently. McCoy's lips set in a tight line. He was puzzled that the diagnostic readings seemed normal and ran a scanner over Kirk's body. The scan confirmed the readings. Kirk should have been recovering quietly. Something other than the blow to the head was wrong.
Kirk suddenly sat upright and screamed.
McCoy reached over to quieten him. and to his utter amazement Kirk jerked away, terror on his face as he shrank back from McCoy. "Jim! What's wrong with you?"
Kirk stared at him, dread in his eyes. "Jim!"
Kirk did not seem to comprehend. He continued to stare at McCoy without recognition.
The nurse came back from Miss Stewart. "Doctor, Miss Stewart doesn't seem to be responding to the sedative. She was knocked out for a while, but now she's come round and she seems more frightened than ever." Her eyes fell on Kirk and widened in amazement. "She's behaving... just like the Captain!"
Just like the Captain. So that was the problem. Kirk was showing the girl's fear. His own mind was possibly still unconscious. McCoy thought more about the problem.
"Was the girl given the same sedative as last time?"
"Yes, Doctor." Her tone said, Of course.
She went to the medical cabinet and withdrew the drug. She loaded the hypo and went back. McCoy considered, then gave Kirk a shot - just in time. The mental scream sounded again inside his head. Kirk writhed, his face twisting in agony, but the shot McCoy gave him was effective. He slumped while McCoy was still fighting for control.
McCoy moved to the door of the other room. "How is she?"
"She isn't getting any more confident, Doctor," Chapel said. "If anything she's even more afraid of us now. She fought the sedative. She's scared of being asleep."
McCoy nodded, beginning to understand. "She's terrified of what we might do to her while she's sleeping."
"I think so, Doctor."
"Damn that father! He's ruined her... destroyed her. He may have thought he was being kind, but what he did was cruel. He left her with no personal resources, no ability to mix with other people, he kept her so wholly dependant on him. And because she's a retiring sort, she was happy to let him run her life, happy to be dependent. She'll never be able to adjust to life without him."
"She might find a father substitute," Chapel suggested.
McCoy shook his head. "She's too scared to trust anyone enough to make him a father substitute. If Stewart had actually told her to trust us, she possibly would have. But he didn't."
He walked back to Kirk. The Captain was resting more easily now, but every so often he would writhe as if trying to escape from... what? McCoy checked him again and gave him another shot. He could do no more. He hesitated, then reached for the intercom switch. He knew Spock was busy; the Vulcan ought to be left in peace to get on with his work. But he had to be told about Kirk.
"McCoy to Spock."
"Spock here. I am busy, Doctor. Please be brief."
"Jim's had a slight accident. He was taken by surprise when the Stewart girl 'screamed'. He fell and cut his head. He's being affected by the girl even in his semi-conscious state. I have him under sedation and Miss Stewart as well. But she seems to be broadcasting something still. We can't detect it, but he can."
"I will be right down. Spock out."
McCoy switched off. He was leaning frustratedly over the bed when Spock arrived. Spock moved beside him, giving the diagnostic board a quick glance as he surveyed the situation.
"The readings would appear to be normal, Doctor," he commented.
"They are. Jim should be recovering normally. But there are definite mental disturbances. Like that," he added as Kirk's face twisted with fear. "He seems to be reflecting her emotional state."
Spock looked fractionally disturbed. He left Kirk and went through to look at Miss Stewart.
"Couldn't you meld with her again? Persuade her that we won't hurt her?" McCoy asked from behind him.
Slowly, Spock shook his head. "Her thought processes are too alien," he said. "I managed to make contact once. I learned from that contact how little I could do, how little any Vulcan could do, to help her. There is no point in trying again. I have already obtained from her mind the only information that might be of assistance to us - there is no more I can do, nor any more I can discover."
"What about Jim, then? Could you help him? Separate his thoughts from hers?"
"I will try." He leaned over Kirk, his fingers outstretched. "You are yourself, James Kirk," he whispered. "You have nothing to fear, here on the Enterprise. You do not fear us... " He raised his head. "That should be sufficient, Doctor," he said, lifting his hand from Kirk's face.
McCoy looked down at his Captain. Kirk seemed to be resting more quietly. "What happens now?" he asked.
Spock shook his head. "I am uncertain, Doctor. My research has so far come up with no relevant stellar information." He hesitated, looking at Kirk, then turned for the door. "I am returning to my search, Doctor. I have done all I can to alleviate the Captain's condition. If it is not sufficient, there is nothing further I can do."
He went away, leaving McCoy feeling particularly helpless.
Once again McCoy kept Miss Stewart unconscious. He did not dare let her waken until they found an answer to her fears. However, he did let Kirk regain consciousness.
The Captain opened his eyes to look up at McCoy. "Bones," he murmured.
McCoy grinned at him. "Hello, Jim. How do you feel?"
Kirk grinned guiltily. "I've got a headache. Otherwise I am okay."
"Any mental... confusion"
Kirk shook his head, considering. "No."
"Any memories of mental confusion?"
Again he shook his head. "No."
"Well, that's a good sign... I think."
Kirk frowned. "Hold on, Bones. Why am I here?"
"You had a fall yesterday. Cut your head open and knocked yourself out."
"I see. But why ask me about mental confusion?"
"While you were out, you were picking up Miss Stewart's emotional aura like a mirror," McCoy explained. "Spock had to come and help you."
"0h. Has he found anything yet?" Kirk asked.
Kirk swung his legs off the bed. McCoy grabbed him. "Hold on, Jim. I haven't passed you as fit yet."
"I'm perfectly all right now, Bones."
"Lie still! Hmmm... the readings seem to agree. But take it easy!" He watched Kirk leave, sighing. One day, he promised himself, I'll manage to keep Jim in sickbay until he's really ready to be let out, instead of having him virtually sign himself out as soon as possible.
Kirk went first to the bridge, to check on their position. They were still two days from Delta Aurigae III, where the Ambassador's body was to be buried. Kirk considered leaving Miss Stewart there too, but he was afraid of the diplomatic repercussions of doing so. The planet was fairly recently linked to the Federation; it was not yet known what might or might not give offence. Besides, Miss Stewart was not the Aurigaens' problem; she had only been going there as a member of the Ambassador's family. No; Kirk had to solve the problem of the Ambassador's daughter. To take her to Vulcan was indicated; but hardly practicable, he reminded himself. Still, it might end up as the only logical possible thing to do. He sighed. He supposed the other starship captains had their share of problems too, but it sometimes seemed that he had more than his fair share of the problem missions. Oh, for one - just one - mission where everything went according to plan, where nothing went wrong or anything unexpected turned up! He allowed himself the luxury of dreaming of such a mission for two or three seconds, then punched his intercom. "Kirk to Spock."
There was a brief silence. It was easy to imagine Spock looking up from his study of the star charts, pulling his mind back with an effort to the confines of the ship.
"Found anything yet, Spock?"
"Negative, Captain. The most hopeful pattern so far has been lacking five of the major stars I saw in Miss Stewart's memory."
"Wait a minute, Spock. Any chance those 'stars' might have been planets?"
"They were quite bright in her memory, Captain. Few suns have as many as five planets appearing quite so bright, and high in the sky, from the surface of a sixth. Your own Earth has four - Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. A fifth planet - Mercury - is as bright, but is only visible relatively low in the sky for a few days at a time at each period of possible sighting."
"But it isn't... impossible?"
"It is not impossible. Merely unlikely."
"Where is this system?" Kirk asked. "Is it reasonably near?"
"I would estimate that we could reach a point where we would see the promising constellation within ten days of leaving Delta Aurigae, Captain."
"Delta Aurigae is fairly near the limits of Federation space." Spock hesitated, then added, "Ten days could be a very long time with someone like Miss Stewart on board, Captain. Remember, if we are wrong, it is ten days' journey back as well, and then nearly a month to Vulcan. In that twenty days, we could be two-thirds of the way to Vulcan."
"I thought we'd already decided that we wouldn't be in a fit state to reach Vulcan from this distance anyway?"
"True, Captain. But with Miss Stewart sedated into unconsciousness, it is much easier. I merely point out that if we risk going to this further area and are proved wrong, it will take that much longer to reach Vulcan."
"And if it's right, we're ahead. We'll chance it," Kirk decided. "Feed the course co-ordinates to Mr. Chekov."
They were delayed at Delta Aurigae, of course. The people had prepared a ceremonial funeral for their prospective Ambassador. Kirk had the feeling that if the Ambassador hadn`t died, the ceremony would have been to welcome him. The preparations having been all but finished when they got word of his death, they had been hastily altered so as not to waste all the effort that had gone into them.
The body was taken down by shuttlecraft; Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scott, as the senior officers, accompanying it. Because of protocol, they had to have a pilot other than Spock or Scott. One of the junior engineers fell heir to the duty and swore silently about it, since it meant being present, in full dress uniform, at the funeral. A guard of honour from security beamed down - also cursing among themselves the ill fortune that put them at the head of the duty roster in time for a 'spit and polish' assignment. Only the more observant among them realised that their officers were as disgruntled as they were.
The leader of the planet's government met the shuttle as it landed, also with his escort. Several of them took charge of the Ambassador's body and rushed it away to be placed in an ornate coffin.
"Welcome to Arvis, Captain," the leader said. "I am Bard Erwin."
"James Kirk, commanding the Enterprise. We had hoped that this occasion would be a more joyful one," Kirk acknowledged.
"Yes, indeed." Erwin glanced round at the officers and the assembled security guards. "What of the Ambassador's daughter, Captain? I understood that she was to accompany her father. Is she not to honour us with her presence?"
Kirk hesitated for a moment so brief that he was afterwards certain that the planetary leader noticed nothing. "She is prostrate with grief, sir. Mr. Stewart's death was, as you will understand, very sudden, totally unexpected. His daughter has not yet recovered from the shock - she had been her father's constant companion. We understand that her mother died when she was only two and she still cannot adjust to the fact that he is no longer with her. My Chief Medical Officer is keeping her fairly heavily sedated until she has had time to get used to the thought of her father's absence. Be assured, however, we will tell her how you have honoured him on his last journey."
Erwin nodded acceptance of Kirk's offer." What will she do now?" he asked.
"We plan to return her to her mother's family, since she has no near relatives on her father's side."
"This is what she wishes to do?"
"She is not yet in a fit state to make any decisions regarding her own future. We think that this will be the best for her, at least for the moment. When she has had time to think, time to recover from the shock, she will be better able to decide for herself what she wants to do."
"A wise decision, Captain."
As they went with Erwin to the ornate platform that marked where the important personages were gathered, Kirk realised that Erwin's reaction was one of relief that he and his world did not have to provide a home, however temporary, for the bereaved girl. The security men lined up at both sides, alternating with Erwin's escort as a guard of honour. The coffin already lay on a catafalque before them. The people of the capital city filed past in a seemingly unending line while those on the platform and the honour guard stood to attention in respect.
At last, hours later, the procession filing past the coffin terminated. A group of guards picked up the coffin and carried it through the crowd of those who had paid their last respects to the deceased. The chief mourners followed behind, the remainder of the guards behind them.
At last they reached an ornate building. The men carrying the coffin took it in. The chief mourners followed, but this time the guards remained outside. The coffin was placed on a shelf beside several others. Then the men went outside, leaving Kirk and his officers, and Erwin and the aide who had stood behind his shoulder throughout.
Erwin removed a ring that he was wearing, and moved forward with it. He slipped the ring into a slit in the shelf under the coffin and returned to his place. The aide went next, also placing a ring in the slit. Kirk glanced at Erwin for enlightenment.
"It is customary to place a personal item of value under the coffin so that the deceased knows that he is not forgotten."
"We do not have this custom," Kirk said slowly. "We have nothing we can leave." He noticed that Erwin was looking pointedly at the ribbons stitched to his uniform. "Will our medal ribbons be sufficient?"
"Indeed yes, Captain, for they are of value to you." He glanced at the aide, who brought out a tiny knife.
One by one they unpicked their medal ribbons and slid them into the slot under the coffin. Then, custom satisfied, Erwin led them out of the mausoleum.
There was also a ceremonial feast of course, one of many courses made up of food richer than they were accustomed to. They ate sparingly, uncertain as to how much they would be expected to consume, but sure they would be expected to sample every dish offered to them. Conversation was stilted. It seemed as if there was a set script for participants in such a feast. Even the guards participated, but one or two of them were less wise than their senior officers and ate so much that they were feeling acutely ill by the time they beamed up. McCoy's first job on his return to the ship was treating them, even though he had little sympathy with their gluttony.
Miss Stewart was still sleeping, thanks to the sedative. She had been given another dose of the medication while McCoy was away, since she had begun to regain consciousness. McCoy tightened his lips grimly on hearing this; the dose she had been given before he left should have held her until his return.
Protocol wouldn't let them leave at once, either. They had to waste several hours while Erwin finished preparing an official report on the number of people who attended the funeral procession; a report which was entrusted to Kirk for delivery to the dead man's family. Kirk wasn't sure that Miss Stewart would exactly appreciate such a document; he was quite sure that if the positions had been reversed, he wouldn't. But since it was the custom of the planet, he felt he had no option but to wait for it.
He had to go down to the planet for it, of course. This time he took only Spock, and beamed down. He had a fair suspicion that this would be another ceremonial occasion, and he thought it hardly fair to inflict another of these on more people than necessary. He wouldn't even have taken Spock, only he was certain that Erwin would expect him to have an escort - even if it was only one man, and that his second in command.
He was right - it was another ceremony, and attended by almost as many people as had attended the funeral. These people must really love ceremonies! he thought wryly, trying to gather his thoughts in preparation for the response he realised he would have to make as he listened to Erwin's speech; a speech that dragged on and on.
Finally Erwin fell silent, and Kirk rose to reply. Somehow he managed to stumble through a speech that he felt was long-winded and boring, but which was, in comparison with Erwin's, mercifully brief. And at last they were free to go.
They swung onto their new course at a desperate warp six. Miss Stewart was throwing off the effects of the sedative faster and faster. McCoy tried another kind of medication, which worked for one dose then began to fail too. Matters were getting urgent, and if they were wrong...
As they went, Spock set the computers to checking the stars ahead of them and comparing them with the constellations on his drawing. At this speed they were not so very far from the region with the suspected constellation, but once they reached it they had to compare other star groups until at last they found or failed to find the solar system from which the child's observation had been made.
Slowly the computer began to indicate that several of the star patterns in the sky ahead of them were indeed similar to the ones Spock had drawn from Miss Stewart's memory. Even more slowly, they moved to a position from which the star patterns began to take on the exact design that Spock had drawn. And at last they found a position where the patterns were exactly the same.
On the bridge, Kirk fought off the miasma of dull emotions that threatened to overwhelm him despite the sedation that was again being issued to all crew members apart from the handful of essential personnel that Spock could protect. Grief and fear had been difficult enough to live with, but now uncertainty was added to the jumble, faint at first but rapidly getting stronger. It was getting increasingly difficult to make decisions, especially rapid ones. Kirk looked down at Sulu and Chekov, momentarily envying them Spock's protection, even though it was his own choice to do without it.
The solar system they needed could be in one of two directions and they had very little time to spend in searching.
"Mr. Spock, was there anything, anything at all that would give us any help in knowing whether we're too far from those constellations or too near?" Kirk asked.
Spock shook his head. "No, Captain. We were fortunate that the child ever saw the night sky at all. But a child so young is unlikely to notice, even unconsciously, the subtle differences that would give us any further assistance. And, in addition, would probably only have vision acute enough to observe the brighter stars. It is the fainter ones that might give us a clue.
"No, wait!" Kirk exclaimed.
He shook his head trying to clear away the cloying mist of confusing emotions. Something about bright stars... Yes, of course! "Spock, that first pattern the computer identified... there were some bright stars in Miss Stewart's memory that weren't in the pattern the computer detected... "
"Five... yes. We decided that those must be planets. Try a long range scan for a solar system with five large planets."
"Captain, I must point out that one or more of those planets might have been small ones that were at perigee to the child's home world."
"High albedo planets, then," Kirk insisted. "Scan for both."
"Acknowledged, sir." Spock turned back to his station. There was a long silence. Apart from Sulu and Chekov, the Humans on the bridge were fully occupied struggling with their confused minds. On the rest of the ship, work was almost at a standstill. Only in sickbay and engineering was there any constructive activity. McCoy was busily occupied trying to synthesise yet another sedative in a vain attempt to keep the semi-conscious Miss Stewart from disturbing the ship even more. Yet it seemed she had developed an immunity to sedatives and the Doctor felt that he was struggling against hopeless odds.
In engineering, Scott was single-handedly keeping the engines going. Of all the men on the ship, he was not on sedatives but solely protected by Spock - although he was on stimulants to keep himself going until they found their destination. No-one dared to think of what would happen if they failed to find the world they sought... or if, having found it, the people there refused to accept Miss Stewart as being one of them.
At last Spock lifted his head. "There are three solar systems within the range of the scanners, Captain," he reported. "Two are comparatively close together, bearing 148 mark 3. The third is in the other direction altogether, bearing 321 mark 9. All three appear equally likely."
Kirk's lips tightened grimly. "Mr. Sulu, bear 148 mark 3. That gives us two chances to the other being only one. Keep scanning, Mr. Spock. Let me know a$ soon as possible which of the two appears more likely."
"Of course, Captain."
There was another long silence on the bridge and on the ship. The female crewmembers were being affected more acutely than the men. Very few of them were still capable of functioning rationally. Most had retired to their quarters to lie on their beds, screaming or sobbing Miss Stewart's fear, grief and uncertainty.
Suddenly Uhura leaped from her station on the bridge, panic in her eyes. Kirk whirled to her.
She shrank back towards the door and became aware of the security guards standing there. She pulled away from them. "Uhura!" Kirk snapped, drawn from his own preoccupation by her need. She stared at him unrecognisingly. "Uhura," he said again, more gently, realising her fear.
Recognition crept into her eyes and she made an obvious effort to relax. "I'm sorry, sir."
"Not your fault, Lieutenant. Can you continue?"
"I'll try, sir."
Kirk gave her a small smile before his attention was diverted to Spock.
"Captain, one of the solar systems shows no sign of life at this distance. The other shows signs of life on the fourth planet. Intelligent... humanoid... "
"Give Mr. Sulu the heading," Kirk ordered. It was becoming a terrible effort even to think when all he wanted to do was lie down and cry, to find someplace safe, away from all these horrible, dangerous men.
The ship swung into orbit. Kirk glanced back at Uhura. "See if you can raise anyone on the planet, Lieutenant."
"... Aye, sir." Her hands were trembling almost uncontrollably as she obeyed. It seemed eons before she turned. "No response, Captain."
Kirk looked at Spock. "Mr. Spock, can you continue to protect Mr. Sulu and Mr. Scott if you join a landing party?"
Spock looked doubtful. "I am uncertain, Captain. I have never attempted such a thing. But under the present circumstances, I would consider it unlikely."
"All right, Spock. You stay here. I'll go down alone. Come down to the transporter room with me, though. I'll need you to operate the controls - I doubt that Mr. Kyle is fit to do so."
Spock followed Kirk from the bridge. "Are you taking Dr. McCoy, Captain?"
Kirk shook his head. "I said alone, Spock. Bones is needed up here."
"He is doing little now for Miss Stewart," Spock countered.
"I know. But he is doing something for the crew."
They turned into the transporter room. As Kirk stepped onto the transporter pad, Spock said quietly. "Be careful, Jim."
Kirk managed a smile. "I will be, Spock. Look after my ship. If anything does go wrong, and I don't get back... try that other solar system if you can. If you can't - if Miss Stewart's effect on the crew gets to be too disruptive... "
Spock nodded. "I understand, Jim. I will do what is necessary. "
"Thank you." He straightened. "Energise."
The transporter hummed briefly, and he was gone.
He materialised in a forest glade, a small open clearing in which the grass stood almost waist high. There were several kinds of brightly coloured flowers twining on long stems in and out among the grass in a kind of floral follow-my-leader. Other flowers climbed on intertwining tendrils up the trunks of the trees that surrounded the glade. The branches of the surrounding trees leaned over the glade, almost blocking off any sight of the sky. From them hung other flowers, bright jewels hanging in mid-air, tantalising the eye with fragile beauty.
Kirk took a step forward and stopped. His feet would crush the delicate grass and flowers. He found himself reluctant to cause such damage to the tranquillity of the forest. Taking a deep breath, he searched for indications of intelligence and found evidence of it barely half a mile away.
He had to move. His ship was in danger from a hysterical girl. On this world he might find someone who could help her. But he would never find anyone if he remained standing there, unwilling to damage vegetation that would surely grow again very quickly. Lowering his tricorder he again started to step forward and was again stopped by his unwillingness to destroy. Instead, he raised his head.
"Help me!" he called. "Please help me!"
Nothing happened. For a moment he stood there, feeling foolish. Then he saw a movement among the trees, and a young-looking humanoid, dressed in a costume as colourful as the flowers, stood at the edge of the glade, looking at him. "Who are you?"
The question sounded naive, as if the young boy could not conceive of anything that could ever harm him.
"I'm James T. Kirk, commanding the starship Enterprise. I need your help."
The young being moved into the glade. "You are another from outside. But he promised that he would not tell anyone of us."
"Nor did he," Kirk returned. "But he died not long ago, and his daughter is destroying my ship in her grief at his loss, and her fear of the future. He told us only that her mother was of a race unknown to us, nothing more; and that only we could care for her. But she cannot control her feelings and there is nothing we can do to help her. One of my men is a telepath. He drew from her mind a memory of the night sky and so we were able to find you.
"But he can do no more for her. Only you, her mother's people, can - perhaps - do that. Can you help her?"
The being looked gravely at him, and Kirk felt afresh the intense innocence of this world and its denizens. Even the plants were part of the over-all sense of peaceful belonging that seemed to distinguish the place. He fully appreciated Stewart's decision to keep the secret of this planet; he had had doubts about Stewart's wisdom during the past days, but now found himself in agreement. The Federation must never find out about this world. Oh, the Federation authorities would agree that there must be no interference in so idyllic a planet, but they might offer the 'benefits' of civilisation. They might ask the natives to permit tourism, and the weary populace of other, less fortunate planets would destroy the very qualities that made this world what it was. And the people, subjected to all the rigors of civilisation without its checks and balances, would never recover.
It took only a moment for those thoughts to flash through Kirk's mind. He knew what he must do even before the native answered him.
"Where is she?" the youth questioned.
Kirk reached for his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise."
"Enterprise - Spock here."
"This is the right place, Mr. Spock. Can you beam Miss Stewart down, please?"
Kirk glanced at the native. "She'll be here in a few minutes. I would like you to know - I agree with her father. There will be no report put in on this planet by me. I don't know yet how I'll explain Miss Stewart's... disappearance, but I'll do it somehow without mentioning this place."
Spock headed for sickbay. He suspected that McCoy would probably need help with the neurotic girl. McCoy looked up as he entered. "It is the correct planet, Doctor," Spock announced.
"The Captain wants Miss Stewart beamed down right away."
"If we can," McCoy growled gloomily.
They turned and stood looking down at the girl. Thanks to Spock, both were still unaffected, but Spock was feeling the strain of maintaining the mind link as well as protecting himself for so long. He was privately certain that he would not be able to do so for much longer. This time was critical for him as well as for everyone else.
Miss Stewart stared up at them, her fear plain to see.
"Miss Stewart." Spock gently. "We want to help you. We are orbiting the world your mother came from. Wouldn't you like to go back there?" As he spoke he projected reassurance as strongly as he could. It seemed to have no effect; it was clear that she didn't believe him. He reached out to touch her and recoiled sharply from her as the contact forced her emotions into his mind. McCoy gasped too, suffering from the backlash as Spock endeavoured to throw off the effects of the emotional flood. They looked at each other.
"Can we get her down, Spock?"
"It would seem not, Doctor. I must report to the Captain." He turned to the intercom. "Miss Uhura - put me on to the Captain, please."
"We have a problem, Captain. It will not be possible to beam Miss Stewart down. She is now afraid to leave the security of the ship."
"Security? But she's scared stiff there!"
"Yes. But she is even more afraid of leaving, of facing the unknown. I have touched her, Captain. There can be no mistake. Even although she is terrified of us, we have come to represent security to her."
On the planet, Kirk looked helplessly at the composed being who had accosted him. "You understood that?" he asked.
"I am not sure," the native said. "She is afraid to come down here, to face a new situation. I can understand that. But she is afraid to stay as well?"
"She was always with her father. He helped her, protected her. When he died, she was left with total strangers. She was afraid of us... she still is. But we do represent something familiar."
The native thought for a moment. "Perhaps it would help if I were to visit your starship? Perhaps I can persuade her... "
"I would be grateful. Mr. Spock, two to beam up."
"In a moment, Captain. I must return to the transporter room."
They materialised to a fresh wave of misery, or perhaps it was only the shock of returning to the emotional overflow from the girl. The native raised his eyebrows and turned to Kirk. "I understand your difficulty," he said.
Difficulty, Kirk thought. That was the understatement of the voyage. "Can you help us? Can you help her?"
"I will try."
They went down to sickbay. The native moved over to the bed and stood there, watching the girl. The Enterprise men waited by the door.
As Miss Stewart saw the stranger, there was a fresh wave of terror. It slowly subsided. Then the fear diminished gradually, fading into nothing. The grief was still there, but even it was less. The memory of loss, rather than the anguish of recent loss. Kirk felt himself relaxing.
The native did not speak to the girl... at least not with words. Spock sensed a faint distant communication on a telepathic level, then the being looked over at Kirk.
"She will come with me," he said. "We will find a home for her where nothing can harm her, and she can find comfort for her grief. And you...?"
"Will say nothing of this planet," Kirk completed. "I appreciate having seen it, and I will not willingly do anything that might alter it."
The native nodded his appreciation. He held out his hand to Miss Stewart. She looked at it, hesitated, then took it. He led her to the door.
Kirk led the way back to the transporter room, Spock and McCoy at his heels.
The native encouraged Miss Stewart onto the transporter pads and stood looking at the Enterprise officers. "I appreciate your silence, Captain."
Spock raised his hand in a Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper, sir. And you, Miss Stewart." He moved to operate the controls and they shimmered out of sight. Peace and tranquillity settled over the ship.
Left alone, Kirk, Spock and McCoy looked at each other. They knew each other well enough to read each other's relief without words. In silence they moved out of the transporter room. McCoy accompanied them to the bridge.
Kirk sat in the command chair, his friends at his sides. He looked around, basking in the normality of the scene.
"Take us back into known space, Mr. Sulu," he said. "Ahead warp factor two."
*See Perchance to Dream by Sheila Clark