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Sheila Clark

My people are afraid of each other.

If one of us feels pain, others with whom we come in contact also feel pain. We can cure ills in others - but if this causes pain, why should we, unless the sufferer is one of our own family?

I never knew how the Vians managed to capture me; why they should pick me. I woke one day in a strange place, the Vians at my side.

Their words were meaningless sounds at first; my people cannot speak. Slowly, however, I began to understand the meaning of the sounds. They wanted me to heal others... others who were badly injured... The thought of the pain I would have to suffer terrified me.

They brought two men to me. The men were afraid; they could not understand what was happening to them.

The Vians hurt them. I don't know how. They could will injuries onto people, terrible injuries. How could they bear to hurt people so? I tried to help the men, I did try - I was too frightened of the Vians not to - but the men were afraid, even of me. I shrank from their fear, and they died.

For a while thereafter I had peace.

* * * * * * * *

One day three more men appeared. I felt immediately that they were different from the other two. One of them had a slight injury - a cut on the head. But whereas the other two had paid very little attention to each other's hurts, these men were concerned. One of them in particular tried to tend the cut, not very effectively. The other... He puzzled me. He so obviously felt concern, yet he did not express it. He looked different from the others - like no-one I had ever seen. His ears were strangely pointed.

Their concern for their hurt friend - I took the word 'friend' from their minds without wholly understanding what it meant - began to make me feel that I should do something. The cut hurt a little, but not badly. They were amazed that I could do this - and grateful. And strangely sympathetic. They seemed to want to help me. No-one had ever wanted to help me before. Not ever. I concentrated hard, trying to learn how they identified themselves. The one I had healed - the others thought of him as Jim. The one with pointed ears - they called him Spock; the other one, Bones. Strange names. They used a name for me, too - Gem. I thought as hard as I could, trying to warn them that the Vians were dangerous, but they could not receive my thoughts or feelings. Spock touched me - I learned a lot about them from the contact, but he could not understand me.

They had instruments, as the Vians did, but their instruments seemed to give them information only. With these instruments, Spock detected a way out. They took me with them. I tried to understand why; why they should want to help me, a stranger, but I could not. But the Vians knew. They came, and I knew our escape was only one of their illusions - and I had no way to let my... yes, my friends, know. Jim went back towards the Vians, hoping, I knew, to give us a chance to escape. Sacrificing himself... It was a new thought to me. Then the illusion broke, and Spock and Bones also knew it for what it was. They joined Jim.

The Vians told Jim that they were willing to let his friends go free. Again I knew it for a trick, but could not let them know. He agreed, then as they led him away, he turned to look at us - and although he was looking directly at us, he couldn't see us. Then we found ourselves back in my prison.

Jim was returned, badly hurt. Bones and Spock went to him, their concern, their... their love, so great it could almost be seen. Even I felt some pity for him.

Then Bones turned to me. I knew what he wanted, and I feared. Pain... weakness... I could not partially heal him. He must be wholly healed, or his injuries would recur. I feared the pain, but even more, I did not know if I was strong enough to survive the weakness. Even here - fearing the Vians - I did not want to die. The mental pain of their worry, sympathy and concern became greater than my fear. I had to help Jim.

The pain was almost unbearable. I shrank back; Bones urged me on. This time I knew it was within my ability to heal Jim - and I did.

I lay for some minutes, too weak to move, even to sit up. As soon as they were sure that Jim was healed, the others turned to me. I felt their gratitude - it healed me.

At the same time, I was worried. I knew the Vians by now; what would they do next? And sure enough, they came almost at once. They wanted Jim to choose one of the others to suffer next. They left him to think - and suffer - about it, then Bones gave him something that made him sleep.

It was difficult for me to understand the reaction of the others to the Vians' threat. Bones wanted Spock to remain with Jim, ostensibly to help him escape, and Spock... he behaved as if he wouldn't give Bones the right to do anything for him. I concentrated on them. I wanted to be sure how they felt. Bones was easy to read. He wanted to save the others. He was willing to sacrifice anything to save them. It was a new thought for me... And Spock; he was harder. I had to touch him. He felt the same. Indeed, his feelings were very deep: but he kept them at a level almost impossible to detect. Yet neither would admit, openly, how he felt. I couldn't understand. How could they bear to feel so, yet hide it?

Bones watched me. I knew then that he was reading in my face how Spock felt. He came over - and made Spock sleep too. Then he left with the Vians.

Jim and Spock did not sleep long. They were concerned for Bones - with good reason, as I knew. Meanwhile, Spock was working on one of the Vians' instruments, which they had captured. He made it work for him; he wanted to use it to get us to safety. I read him more easily now. He wanted to get us to safety - but stay himself, to try to help Bones. Jim may have guessed too - or perhaps it was his own desire to succour his friend that decided him. He chose to go to Bones.

We found him... tied, dying. They rushed to help him, give him as much comfort as they could. I shrank from his injuries. I couldn't survive those.

The others thought - if I could strengthen Bones, partly heal him - and I had no way to tell them I couldn't. All - or nothing. Part healed would be wasted effort. I felt Spock's bitterness that he couldn't heal as I could... his feeling that it would be almost a privilege to suffer for his friend.

Pain - a privilege?

Jim tried to persuade me to help - and the Vians stopped him. They forbade him to encourage me. I had to do it by myself, because I wanted to, they said.

I did want to help, even though I got no - no satisfaction out of helping them. It was more to ease the intensity of mental pain I was suffering because of the state of their minds. Yet I knew that they got satisfaction out of making sacrifices for each other...

Perhaps if I had been given time to get to know them...

The mental suffering intensified to the point where I could bear no more. I had to obtain relief - and I thought longingly of the gratitude they had given me before. I moved to Bones, and immediately felt their gratitude again that I was at least trying. It gave me strength to withstand the pain. But I weakened quickly. It was too soon after the last time. I had to regain strength. Perhaps if I was quick... perhaps I could recover a little before his injuries wholly returned...

* * * * * * * *

When I returned to him, he was strong enough to try to push me away. I couldn't understand. He had been anxious for me to tend to Jim... Then I realised. He was afraid that I would die. He preferred to die himself than cause my death. Yet I was still a stranger to him...

Jim was talking now to the Vians. I was too confused to know what he said - but it made the Vians themselves heal Bones.

Then they took me away. My last sight of my friends let me see their happiness, the last feelings they sent me were of relief and gratitude.

I slept. When I awoke, the Vians had gone. I lay in a sheltered place on a strange new world. I sensed my own people near; and I knew my destiny. I had to teach my people that it is no hardship to suffer for someone loved. That Love is reward enough, satisfaction enough, for any sacrifice.

It would not be easy. But thinking of the example I had been given, I knew I would persevere. And - eventually - succeed.


Copyright Sheila Clark