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He had hoped that coming here would offer some relief from his torment, a soothing of the searing flashes of heat and icy blasts of cold that coursed through his nervous system at irregular intervals. But the privacy cubicle in the engineering hull of the U.S.S. Enterprise seemed oppressive and close. The air felt clammy, and served only to exacerbate his irritable, agitated state. Muscles knotted and unknotted in tense, bunched bundles on his lean frame. An involuntary shudder seized him; he clenched his jaw and folded his hands as he fought for control of his autonomic reflexes. If he were Human, he would be bathed in an ice-cold sweat by now.

But Vulcans rarely perspire.

Spock heaved a deep, troubled sigh. He had been fortunate up to now. The Enterprise was on light duty; Captain Kirk had cut rosters back to absolute minimum, giving his weary crew a brief respite from the demanding rigors of deep space exploration. When he had experienced the first hot flushes of his condition, Spock had used the opportunity to ask Kirk if he could be relieved of his duties for a while, claiming that he wished to use the time to meditate, something he had been neglecting of late. The captain readily consented, for the Vulcan had enough accumulated free time for ten men.

And so it was that Spock began his inner combat. Only the news that the ship would be laying over at Vulcan for five standard days sustained him through his ordeal. This time he would not be forced to submit to subterfuge to return to his homeworld. They would achieve orbit around Vulcan in another 43.31 standard hours, and Spock calculated that he would have almost a full day before total breakdown of his biological systems commenced. He avoided contact with the Enterprise crew as much as possible, and was particularly careful not to encounter the captain or Doctor McCoy. McCoy he avoided like the plague; he might be able to fool Jim Kirk, but the physician was another matter.

His trained eye would immediately discern the intermediate stages of pon farr.

Spock laughed bitterly. It was ironic; he should not have been beset by this uncontrollable physiological drive for at least another six months. All of his vaunted Vulcan logic could not help him now. Indeed, he was perhaps more susceptible to pon farr than most Vulcans by virtue of the emotional makeup of his Human half. And there was another factor involved, something which might even have caused the premature triggering of the seven-year cycle. His recent mind-link with the awesome being called V'ger had forced him to profoundly question the value of suppressing his emotions. Spock had taken a long, hard look at himself; he was shocked by the barrenness, the sterility, the loneliness of that omnipotent creature who had truly achieved total non-emotion, total logic. From that time on, the Vulcan was a changed man. He accepted his emotions as a valuable part of himself, and while he did not readily express them, neither did he deny them. There were no immediately visible clues; to the untrained eye, Spock had all the warmth and congeniality of a computer. But those who knew him well could tell. They would try to catch the occasional, fleeting ghost of a grin, the twinkle in the eye, the dry, caustic comment which might or might not have been a joke. There was a relaxation of that stony Vulcan reserve from time to time.

And that very relaxation may have been his downfall. Perhaps he had dropped his guard a bit too much, causing an acceleration of the chemical processes which brought on the Vulcan time of mating, an amok time. Spock shivered again. He stared out the port at the serene, heart-stopping beauty of limitless space, but he found little solace there. He could feel the tension building within him hour by hour. His blood sang with the urge to return home, to "seek a mate, or die." But this time, there would be no one waiting for him. He had not yet made arrangements, and it was too late to make them. Custom called for an elaborate arrangement to be made, and he had planned on making them during this trip. With pon farr already making his blood boil, he would be unable to secure a mate. There would be no T'Pring this time. There would be no one.

Spock was going home to die.

There was an alternative, of course. It was not absolutely necessary for a Vulcan to return to his home planet. Even though instinct drove him home, there was a way to circumvent pon farr. But to Spock, that alternative was worse than death itself. He had heard what had happened to the young Vulcan navigator of the U.S.S. Essex several months ago. The choice had been forced upon Lieutenant Siran; it was his first pon farr, and he had been unfamiliar with the warning signals. Finally, the mindless, animal drive conquered him. He had kidnapped an attractive, young engineering technician, barricaded himself in his quarters, and had brutally, repeatedly raped the woman until the madness passed. After he had come to his senses, Siran was horrified at what he had done, and he immediately surrendered himself to Security. The young woman almost died from her massive internal injuries. She spent a lengthy convalescence, and while the physical damage healed, she could not shake the psychological trauma of the horrifying attack. She asked for and was granted a medical discharge. Lieutenant Siran, meanwhile, was exonerated by Starfleet, but the shame of what he had done was almost too much for him to live with. Driven by his fierce Vulcan pride, and thoroughly disgusted with himself, Siran had also requested a discharge. He had returned home to Vulcan to become a hermit, living in the desert near Gol. It was rumored that he hoped to purge himself by studying under the Vulcan Masters, as Spock himself had done, and by attaining kolinahr.

The Enterprise's first officer shook his head. Two lives destroyed, two careers lost. No, that was not for him. There were no unbonded Vulcan females aboard, assuming he could find one willing to bond with him, and he could not ask a Human woman to risk her life for him (although, unknown to him, there were many who would be willing to take that chance!). Besides that, he did not think he could even ask a Human female to do such a thing. Spock was amazed by the libidos of the Enterprise's Human male crewmembers...Captain Kirk included. They seemed to be in a constant state of sexual arousal, ready to copulate at the drop of a skirt! And they were also very proficient at handing out a "line," a term which designated the verbal ability to coax a willing female partner into one's bedroom. This, of course, was something with which Spock had absolutely no experience whatsoever. No, there was no way he could even ask.

So he had chosen this way instead. He would beam down to ShiKahr, the city of his birth. He would use most of the time he had left visiting with his family one last time. Then he would go. There was a cave in the desert not far from his father's dwelling. He had often gone there with his pet sehlat, I-Chaya, to escape the stinging taunts and insults of his full-blooded Vulcan playmates. He would die peacefully; when the biological imbalances of his system boiled over, he would be sheltered in the comforting refuge he had so often sought out as a small boy.

The Vulcan thought of Kirk and McCoy, and felt a small stab of guilt and sorrow. He would not tell them, of course. It was something he had to do alone. Spock hoped that, when the time came, his two friends could understand and forgive him.

Spock stood up, gazing out the circular porthole one last time. He had been a fool to come here. Now he would once again be forced to risk contact with the crew, forced to risk the snapping of his tightly-wound nerves. He would be better off in his own quarters. He would not have to wait much longer; if only he could maintain control until they reached Vulcan! At any rate, he could not stay here any longer.

Spock activated the cubicle's door sensor, took a deep breath, and strode out into the corridor.


Captain's Log, Stardate 7380.6

The Enterprise is entering the 40 Eridani star system, home system of the planet Vulcan. We have been directed to attend a session of the Vulcan Council outlining recent attempts to achieve détente with the Klingon-Romulan Alliance. A small delegation of six "observers" from the Romulan Star Empire will be in attendance, which may make for some interesting by-play.

The meeting does not take place for four more days, which will afford my Vulcan first officer and second science officer opportunity to visit their families. Coincidentally, my first officer's father, Federation Ambassador Sarek, is also a member of the Council.

The panorama on the mainviewer was breathtaking, and as usual, James Kirk found that he could not tear his gaze away from it. The scene was dominated by the trinary star system of 40 Eridani, the yellow, class G, Sol-like star and its two tiny companions, a tiny white dwarf and a much fainter red dwarf. Over two hundred years ago, Earth astronomers had swept at the skies with the ponderous dishes of their primitive radio telescopes, searching for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. 40 Eridani was considered one of the more promising candidates. Little did those pioneering scientists dream that the remarkable triple star harbored one of the most advanced cultures in the galaxy, a scant sixteen light-years from Earth!

In the foreground, below and to the right of the multiple sun, the spherical bulk of the planet Vulcan glared in the firmament like an angry, crimson eye. Vulcan, the cradle of logic, a world which had spawned some of the finest scientific minds in the history of civilization, a planet as mysterious and enigmatic as it was lovely.

"That's got to be one of the most beautiful sights in the heavens," a voice whispered quietly behind the captain.

Kirk craned around to see who the speaker was, and was startled and amused to find Doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy standing behind his command chair. "Why, Doctor," Kirk needled, "it's not like you to wax poetic at the sight of a solar system!"

"Can't help it, Jim," McCoy grumbled, grinning sheepishly. "It is lovely...even if it is Spock's homeworld!"

"Which reminds me, I promised to roust our favorite Vulcan from his meditation when we entered the system." Kirk thumbed a button on his command array, paging the first officer's quarters. "Bridge to Mister Spock."


In his cabin, Spock gazed longingly at his desk viewer, which displayed a miniature version of the mainviewer's image. He stared, entranced at the familiar sight of his home and its sun, and was surprised at the lump which had formed in his throat. Just seeing Vulcan again had soothed him somewhat, but he realized that the pon farr was entering the advanced stage, for he was finding it increasingly difficult to harness his roiling emotions.

Kirk had to page him three times before he responded. Startled, Spock shook off his reverie and flipped on his comm unit. "Spock here."

"Well! I was about to send out a search party! Are you all right, Spock?" the captain queried.

"Quite all right, sir," the Vulcan replied. "I was...deep in meditation."

"Sorry to interrupt you, then, but you said you wanted to be notified when we reached Vulcan."

"That is correct, sir," Spock returned. "Thank you...Jim."

"Why, Mister Spock, how informal!" McCoy's voice crackled over the speaker grid. "If I were you, I'd be practicing my best Vulcan stone face before going to meet my father Sarek!"

"Fortunately for my parent, Doctor McCoy, you are not me," Spock retorted.

Kirk chuckled. "At any rate, Spock, if we don't see you before you beam down, give our best to your parents."

"I will, Captain. Spock out."

The Vulcan snapped off the intercom, fighting off a pang of painful remorse. He had experienced a brief irrational urge to blurt out the whole story to his two friends. Somehow he fought it down, even though he realized it would be the last time he ever spoke with Kirk and McCoy. Instead, he had elected simply to call the captain by his given name.

It was Spock's way of saying goodbye.

He moved quickly now, grabbing a small kit bag as he headed for the door. Kirk and McCoy were both occupied on the bridge, and everything he needed for his short stay he carried in the pack. He would beam down the split-second the starship achieved orbit. The time to leave was now,before his resolve weakened.


On the bridge, Lieutenant Commander Uhura swiveled toward the conn. "Vulcan Space Central welcomes us and has cleared us for orbit, sir."

Chief DiFalco consulted a readout on her navigational display. "Orbital insertion in three point four standard minutes, Captain," she sang out.

"Acknowledged, Chief," Kirk returned. "Helmsman, begin initial approach."

"Aye, sir," Sulu said, his strong, sure fingers flying over his board as he moved to comply. The starship pivoted gracefully under his guidance, coming about to its pre-selected glide path. Chekov, meanwhile, had come over to stand next to McCoy behind the conn, as there was nothing for him to do at the Weapons Control station.

"It is funny," the Russian officer said. "Wvulcan...it somehow reminds me of Georgia."

"It does?" McCoy asked, startled.

Chekov grinned. "I meant Eastern Europe's Georgia, Doctor...not your homeland. It's the color. Wvulcan's red color reminds me of the soil in Georgia...although the color of the soil in Georgia is much prettier, of course!"

McCoy groaned and avoided pointing out that his native Georgia's red clay was equally similar to that of Vulcan, and Kirk just shook his head helplessly. He had never quite gotten used to the security chief's outbursts of Russian patriotism, no matter how hard he tried. Kirk glanced at the science console, where Spock's understudy, Second Science Officer Xon stood quietly watching the screen, hands folded behind his back, his expression unreadable.

"Will you be beaming down to visit your family, Lieutenant?" Kirk asked.

"Yes, sir. I'll be leaving later this ship day," the young Vulcan replied. He paused, and there was something almost wistful in his tone when he spoke again. "I have not been since entering Starfleet Academy."

"It should be a welcome change for you, after serving with a shipload of illogical Humans for so long," McCoy remarked.

"Indeed it shall, Doctor," Xon shot back, without blinking an eye, as Kirk unsuccessfully tried to stifle a chuckle.

"Standard orbit achieved around Vulcan, sir," Sulu reported. "We've got her tucked in."

"Good job, Commander," Kirk said. "Commander Uhura, signal all levels that they may now begin furlough time. We'll cut all the way back to skeleton crews. We've been a really busy ship lately, and I don't want to risk any burnouts." He punched a hailing button on his arm console. "Bridge to "Transporter Room."

"Chief Rand here. Go ahead, Captain."

"Standby for a visitor, Chief," Kirk said. "There will probably be one anxious Vulcan down there to visit you shortly."

Janice Rand hesitated before she spoke again. "If you mean Mister Spock, sir, he was standing on a pad even before we went into orbit. The instant Uhura's signal came through, I beamed him down. He's already gone, Captain."

"Oh," Kirk mumbled uncertainly. He frowned at McCoy, who mirrored the captain's expression. "Very well, Chief. Carry on. Kirk out."

"Really in a hurry to get out of here, wasn't he?" McCoy asked.

"You think something's wrong with him, Bones? He's been awfully secretive lately, even for a Vulcan."

"Aw, you know how strange they get when they're in meditation, Jim." The physician threw a devilish glance in the direction of Lieutenant Xon.

The result was gratifying.

"Indeed!" the young Vulcan exclaimed. He arched one eyebrow in a characteristic expression of annoyance. With stiff, wounded dignity, he signaled a replacement tech and exited the bridge to a chorus of laughter.



The very name had a calming effect on him. Spock stood where he had materialized on the burning, arid sands surrounding the oasis-like city in the desert, gazing raptly at its lean, clean lines and rows of meticulously landscaped park areas. He drank in the beauty before him for a few moments more, almost forgetting why he was there. Then, with a weary sigh, he began the short trek toward the gates of the city of his birth.

Strange, cloying emotions snatched at him as he moved trance-like past familiar buildings and skywalks. As he headed from the city toward the outlying areas, it wasn't long before he came to an ornately carved, wooden gate set in a vine-covered garden wall. It was more beautiful than any he had seen thus far...and also more painfully, intensely familiar.

Spock hesitated before his parents' home, composing himself for a fraction of a second before tugging on the bell rope. The delicate crystal chime tinkled tenuously in the thin air, and it was only a moment before he heard the latch being thrown on the other side.

The beloved, fine-boned face that greeted his went through a quicksilver array of expressions in just a few seconds. "Spock!"

Amanda, wife of Sarek of Vulcan, quickly recovered her aplomb as she reminded herself of custom and decorum. She raised her hand in the Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper, Spock of Vulcan."

"Peace and long life, Lady Amanda, wife of Sarek," her son answered, returning both the gesture and greeting.

"Come into our home, please," she said, leading him into the cool comforting shadows of the lush gardens he had loved so well as a child. As he followed his mother, Spock realized how much she had wanted to rush forward and embrace him, as any Human mother would upon seeing her son. He had seen it in her face. But she had held back. She was the wife of a Vulcan, and she adhered to the Vulcan way, with all its constraints and restrictions. It was true that her life had been enriched in many ways by coming to Vulcan; she had gained much, but she had also lost much. A strange welter of feelings stirred inside him. Spock looked uncomfortably around the quiet garden. It would mean so much to her, if only he could...


It was a small thing, really, but to the woman who had once been Amanda Grayson of Earth, it was more precious than the greatest treasure in the galaxy. She turned, and her son embraced her warmly and kissed her. Spock pulled away awkwardly, his face and ears flushing bright green with embarrassment.

"There is something that I have never been able to tell you, until now," the Vulcan murmured. "I...I love you, Mother, though I'm sure you've known that in your own way all along."

She was speechless. Spock's spontaneous act had struck her with the force of a physical blow. All pretense of emotional control was gone now; her eyes welled up with tears, and her face crumpled.

"I have distressed you?" Spock asked, confused.

"No! Oh, heavens no!" Somehow she found her voice, and managed to smile through the tears. "Nothing in my life has ever made me happier. If you only knew how many times I've dreamed of this, always realizing that, because you are who you are, it could never happen. And now..."

"It was the least I could do, for all you've given me," Spock returned.

"And it means more to me than any gift I've ever received." She embraced him herself then, and Spock squirmed uncomfortably. The old Vulcan reserve was creeping back. Amanda looked up at him and chuckled. "Don't worry, son. This is between you and me!"

Spock allowed himself a small smile at that. "It will be our secret, then."

"I must look a sight," she said, dabbing her eyes with a clean, white handkerchief. "I don't want your father to be suspicious when he returns from the Council."

Spock stiffened. He was not quite ready to face Sarek just yet. "If you don't mind, Mother, I would like to walk through the city before dinner," he said. "My...time is short."

"Why, I think that would be all right," Amanda returned. She smiled brightly at him again. "Welcome home, Spock!"

She escorted him to his old room, and Spock quickly changed into a leisure uniform and left the house. He was finding it increasingly difficult to control the viscious mood swings that now beset him, using every ounce of his prodigious Vulcan will to maintain his equilibrium. He had arrived not a moment too soon; surely, by this time tomorrow, it would be at an end. He paid scant attention to all the old familiar scenes as he strode briskly through ShiKahr, pausing only long enough to offer perfunctory greetings to old friends and acquaintances. He walked until he noticed the brilliant trinary star sinking toward the horizon.

His father greeted him warmly when he returned home for dinner, and Spock found that he did not feel nearly as uncomfortable in Sarek's imposing presence as he might have imagined. Dinner was a battle of mixed emotions, however. On the one hand, it was warm and comfortable to dine with his family again, as he had in his youth. But he could never really relax, constantly keeping his guard up against the pon farr-induced emotional outburst that would betray him.

After dinner, Spock excused himself and went to sit in the garden. It was fully dark now, and he gazed up into the night sky at the star patterns that had delighted him in his childhood. He had spent countless hours stargazing as a boy, dreaming of the day when he himself would move among those beautiful and mysterious suns. He found himself tracing the regular outlines of the asterism known as The Le-matya, the bold constellation of Silan the Hunter, mighty warrior of Pre-reform Vulcan.

One particular "star" caught his eye, an exceedingly bright pinpoint of white light rising in the east. It climbed majestically toward the zenith, then followed an unhurried path toward the western horizon.

It was a star called Enterprise.

Spock felt a peculiar tightness in his chest. It occurred to him that this sleek, beautiful starship was as much his home as the modest house in which he grew up. A wave of remorse swept over him again. He thought of his companions aboard the vessel, thinking that their Vulcan friend had gone for a quiet visit with his family, never dreaming that he had gone to meet his destiny. He thought again of James T. Kirk, the only Human he could truly call "friend," and he almost groaned aloud.

Spock gradually became aware of a presence behind him.

"We have a visitor to our skies tonight," Sarek intoned, watching as the starship dipped lower in the heavens. He sat on the stone bench next to his son. "You have learned much in your travels aboard that ship, Spock. It has been said that you discovered much about the balance between logic and emotion when you encountered the consciousness of the V'ger being. I would be interested in hearing about it."

Spock hesitated, apprehensive. He knew from the beginning that Sarek would want to hear his impressions of the mind-link. His father had read the reports on the V'ger mission filed by various members of the Enterprise crew, and his all-consuming Vulcan curiosity had been piqued. But Spock was not sure how his father would react to what he had learned about the value of emotion. Nevertheless, Sarek's "request" had sounded more like a demand.

Spock cleared his throat. "I saw a being of such vast, immense intelligence that my mind could not fully comprehend it," he began. "Perfect, relentless logic, the logic of a perfect, sentient machine. V'ger had gathered the sum total of all the knowledge of the universe; it had 'learned all that is learnable.' In its configuration, it could do no more. It had to evolve. In order to do this, V'ger needed the spark of Human emotion, the ability to leap beyond the cognitive, beyond pure logic. Without that spark, V'ger was empty, cold...and lonely. It was not a good thing."

Sarek's expression was troubled. "You realize, of course, that this runs counter to all that we as Vulcans hold to be true and valuable."

"Not precisely, Father," Spock persisted. "I learned the value of my emotions, that they were as much a part of me as Vulcan logic. This is not to say that one should freely and indiscriminately express one's emotions. It only means that we should not deny them, or attempt to repress them. This is debilitating, and can transform one into an emotional cripple. We should not be ashamed of them."

It was many long moments before his father answered. "What you say has merit," Sarek finally began slowly. "However, you must understand, I must give it much thought. I cannot embrace this philosophy as readily as you, for I did not enter into the mind-link with that being."

Spock nodded. "It is to be expected."

Sarek stood up. "The hour grows late, and I must retire." He turned toward the house, then hesitated a moment, as though locked in some inner conflict. He gazed at his son again, his expression taut and inscrutable. "When you were a child, Spock, there were many times when I feared you would never fit into Vulcan society. I feared you had inherited too many of those traits that are more desirable in your mother's race. In so doing, I am afraid there were many times when I lost sight of just how difficult it was for you...a product of two cultures, at home in neither. I have learned over the years that my fears were groundless." He paused, and Spock was startled to see a glow of fierce pride in his father's eyes. "I believe I must tell you this, my son. In your own way, you have made me proud."

"Thank you, sir." It was all that Spock could think to say, despite the warm glow that swelled in his chest and threatened to burst out in a gush of foolish emotion. And it was not more than Sarek had expected.

"Good night, Spock," Sarek murmured.

"A moment before you go, Father," Spock interjected. "I wish to go into the desert of Sas-a-shar early in the morning. I wondered if you might be so kind as to lend me the use of your groundcar?"

Sarek's right eyebrow arched quizzically at the unusual request, but he made no comment. "Of course, Spock. I will not be needing it tomorrow."

"Thank you, Father," Spock returned. "And good night to you."

He remained outside a while longer, watching the stars as hot but gentle breezes wafted in from the desert. He finally retired just as the Enterprise began another stately circuit of the heavens.

But his sleep was fitful and troubled. He was plagued by dreams, not all of them pleasant. He saw the faces of his shipmates: McCoy, whose sarcasm and pointed barbs masked a deep and abiding affection, Christine Chapel, who loved him with a passion he could never possibly return, Engineer Scott, lovely Uhura. He saw Sulu, Chekov, DiFalco, Rand, his second officer, the young Vulcan, Xon. And Kirk. Again and again, he saw Jim Kirk, the man who was more than a brother to him.

There were other faces. His parents, the young faces of those playmates who had taunted and scorned him. And T'Pring, whose lovely, delicate features held only haughty contempt for him.

Spock awoke abruptly and sat up in bed, seething in a boiling rage that teetered on the brink of violence. He clenched and unclenched his fists, and a shudder racked his rock-hard musculature. His body temperature was beginning to rise. Sometime later in the morning, his blood would burn with the fever of plak-tow. After that, it was only a matter of time....

Spock sprang lithely from the bed. He pulled off his sleepsuit and donned a fresh leisure uniform. Outside, the first bloody streaks of dawn tinged the red sky. Now was as good a time as any to depart.

He strode out into the warm pre-dawn air, his enervated body trembling. He was gratified that the groundcar's ignition was almost noiseless. Within minutes, he had glided past the outskirts of ShiKahr and entered the Sas-a-shar desert, which Terran visitors had so colorfully dubbed Vulcan's Forge.

Spock was startled to hear something that sounded very much like a sob issuing from his throat. His vision blurred. He tried not to dwell on the reality that he had left his parents' home for the final time.

And he tried desperately to convince himself that the irritating moisture which stung his eyes was simply caused by the miasma of red dust that hung in the dry morning air.


She was startled from a light slumber by the soft chime of her scanner's sensor alert. He was moving! But why at so early an hour? A frown tightened her beautiful face, a face that radiated strength and dignity. She dropped lightly from the low tree where she had spent the night and sprinted through the early morning shadows of the parkland a quarter kilometer from the home of Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan. Within seconds, she had removed the camouflaging brush that concealed her rented groundcar. She climbed into the cockpit, brushed back a cascade of dark hair from a delicately pointed ear, and smiled tightly. Luckily, she had taken the precaution of attaching a homer to Sarek's vehicle. She could pursue her quarry at a safe distance now.

Her Romulan calling-name was Di'on. She was a full commander in the Romulan fleet, and she had been assigned as military advisor to the delegation attending the détente conferences here on Vulcan. She had absolutely no authority to do what she was doing; it was her play and her play alone. If she failed and was discovered, she would be in very serious trouble. However, if she succeeded.... The commander smiled. It would be quite a feather in her cap were she successful. It would make up for a lot of things.

Her career had never fully recovered from the so-called "Enterprise Incident" and the loss of the prototype cloaking device. While it was true that she had eventually been reinstated and had not lost any ground, it was also true that she had not progressed either. She most certainly would have made admiral by now if Fate had dealt her a different hand. Now she was trying to shuffle the cards herself.

Intelligence had closely followed the Enterprise's V'ger mission. They had been extremely interested in the report of First Officer Spock's mind-meld with the being. In his official summary, the Vulcan mentioned that, despite its awesome power and god-like omnipotence, V'ger felt hopelessly empty and incomplete because of its total lack of emotion. But it was Spock's next statement that interested the commander. "On a personal note," he had said, "this encounter has motivated me to drastically re-think and re-evaluate my own stand on the value of emotional response."

Her groundcar cleared the park buffer zone that insulated ShiKahr from the ravages of the desert. Although both the Vulcan and Romulan races sprang from a common forebear, her people had never ascribed to the Vulcan theory of rigid and total suppression of emotion. To her, it seemed that the Romulans had always had a healthier outlook on the subject. It was true that they exercised emotional control. But the Romulan race had always accepted the fact that they did indeed possess emotions, and here was how they differed from the stonily stoic Vulcans. Vulcans deluded themselves into believing that they had no emotions. In so doing, they condemned themselves to a life of inner warfare, constantly on guard against an outburst of the feelings that weren't there in the first place. Her people were spared this turmoil. It was no shame for a Romulan to express emotion...within reason, of course.

And now there was a chance that Spock himself might be more amenable to this Romulan philosophy. Perhaps he could be persuaded to experience life in the Romulan Star Empire, where he would be a valued member of the Fleet, a cruiser commander with of ship of his own. She smiled again. The legendary Mister Spock. There were many things the Empire could offer him. What a coup for her if she could convince him to defect!

She tried to assure herself that she was doing this solely for the good of the Empire, but deep down she realized that her own feelings were also involved. No man before or since had stirred her blood the way this Vulcan had. She had never really had a lasting relationship with a male because of her station in life, the responsibility of command. True, there was Tal, her sub-commander. She had even lain with him many times, but this was born from a mutual recognition of their physical needs rather than any feelings of love or respect. But there were other reasons. She was an extremely formidable individual. She could tell herself without conceit that she had simply never met a man who was truly her equal. Until Spock. She thought back to the lone, brief encounter they had experienced when her fleet had surrounded the Enterprise. Their minds had touched, and she had known a more scintillating, complete fulfillment than any act of physical love could ever hope to achieve. And despite the fact that he was only doing his duty as the starship's first officer, Di'on knew that Spock had been deeply moved.

She squinted into the blazing glare of the rising suns. A low mesa reared up from the flat desert floor in the middle distance. Spock had left the groundcar. Cautiously, she glided her own vehicle in next to his. In the shade of the outcropping, she could make out the black mouth of a cave among the broken jumble of igneous rock. The commander vaulted from the cockpit and set out after the Vulcan.

The cavern was deliciously cool and dry. Somehow, she could sense that this was where he had gone. She waited until her eyes were dark-adapted,then set out down the passageway.

Suddenly, a hoarse scream shattered the stillness, and the commander went to her knees, gasping as a flare of excruciateing psychic agony seared through her mind. She staggered to her feet, alarmed. He was in pain...no, more than that. He was dying. She set her teeth and hurried toward him, clenching her fists against her throbbing temples.

The passage abruptly opened into a spacious chamber, and there he was.

Spock lay on his back on a thin thermal blanket he had spread on the cave floor. His body shuddered uncontrollably, and he clutched his hands to his stomach. He whimpered softly, drawing himself up into a fetal position. Locked in some sort of empathic link with him, the commander felt his pain. It suddenly stabbed through her mind like a nail driven through wood. She screamed and fell to the ground, almost blacking out from it.

He turned his head then. Recognition flickered in his glazed eyes. "You!" Spock hissed. "What are you doing here?!"

"I...I was following you," she gasped. "I wanted to talk to you." Somehow, she forced herself to her knees.

"Leave here at once!!" the Vulcan spat. "There is great danger for you here! It is the pon farr madness! I will not be responsible..."

So that's it! Di'on stood up painfully. "Spock, I can help you," she grated. "Our minds have been joined once before. That will make it all the easier. You do not have to die."

"No!!" He shook his head emphatically. "You do not understand! I could injure you, perhaps even kill you! It is a mindless savagery that--"

"You fool!" she snorted angrily. "Do you think that I am unacquainted with it? And do you think I am some delicate little virgin who will fall apart the moment you lay a hand on me?! Your own mother is a Human, Spock, and she survived it!"

"NO!!!" Spock shrieked again. "I cannot...I can fight it no longer!!!"

Suddenly, the Vulcan was on his feet. His eyes had receded into his head. He clasped his hands together, touching his tented fingertips to his chin. The waves of pain vanished from her mind, only to be replaced by the flames of carnal lust. His own mind reached out to her as he sought a link with her, and the commander felt herself suddenly sharing everything that Spock experienced. She was startled to feel her loins grow wet with desire, and her vision blurred for several long seconds. When it cleared again, he stood before her, magnificently naked and in desperate need of her.

She looked down at herself, and was not surprised to find that she, too, was completely unclothed.

With a low, feral growl, he sprang upon her, pulling her to the cave floor. She struggled with him, but only as much as ritual demanded. She gasped at the stinging, ecstatic penetration; she felt an even deeper probe as his hand clamped over her head, burning to the very core of her consciousness as he achieved the total and complete union of mind-meld with her.

Then they were both falling, locked together, into a whirling vortex of oneness.


"For Christ's sake, Jim, if you don't slow down, you'll kill us both!"

Kirk paid little heed to McCoy as he recklessly swerved their groundcar from the path of an onrushing boulder. The call from Ambassador Sarek had taken them by surprise. There had been something odd in his son's behavior, something he had been unable to isolate. Early this morning, however, Sarek had discovered the reason for Spock's unusual tenseness. His keen hearing had detected Spock's almost noiseless departure. As he rose from his bed, the ambassador attuned to a psychic emanation from his son. Thinking his father was asleep, Spock had let slip the mental defense screen he had maintained ever since he beamed down to Vulcan. Sarek had caught a fleeting impression of agony and sadness, pon farr, death in the desert, sadness at leaving behind his family and friends. He was going into the Sas-a-shar wasteland to die, isolated from those he might inadvertently injure in the throes of his madness.

But Kirk was even more disturbed by what Sarek had said next. According to the diplomatic sensors built into the vehicle, another groundcar had followed Spock from the city, tailing him at a discreet distance. Spock had not accessed those sensors, and was completely unaware of being stalked. The Vulcan ambassador had no idea who this pursuer might be.

He and McCoy had beamed down as soon as possible. They held a hasty conference with Sarek. The Vulcan was almost certain he knew where his son had gone, and he gave the two Starfleet officers detailed directions to the cave in the desert where Spock had spent so many hours as a boy. And Spock had set off in that general direction. It had taken them quite a while to secure a groundcar at such an early hour, but, after what seemed an interminable delay to Kirk, they had finally set off at breakneck speed over the Sas-a-shar.

And now, Leonard McCoy was turning positively green. "Jim, please!" he rasped. "I think I'm gonna be sick!"

James Kirk still wasn't listening. Spock lay out there somewhere, dying in a cave in the middle of a sun-baked desert. And even if they found him, what could they do? Spock had told him what would happen himself that first time years ago when he had disobeyed direct orders from Starfleet to bring his first officer home. "To seek a mate or die," he had said. And the operative word was die. If only they weren't too late! At least he could be with Spock at the end. Memories of their years of friendship came back to him, and tears threatened to trickle from his moist eyes.

"Damn him!" Kirk exploded furiously. "Why didn't he tell me?"

"What would you have done, Jim?" McCoy asked softly. "Ordered one of the female crewmembers to mate with him to save his life?"

Kirk whirled savagely on his chief medical officer, glaring at him, but he said nothing.

They topped a small rise, and their destination loomed ahead of them. As they drew closer, Kirk saw there were two groundcars sitting at the foot of the mesa. His knuckles whitened as he tightened his grip on the steering controls. That was a little mystery he wanted to clear up, too!

"Here we are," Kirk muttered. He skidded the car to a hair-raising stop scant centimeters from the base of the rock formation. The starship captain flipped the canopy up, and he and McCoy clambered from their vehicle.

The two men bolted for the cave mouth, both of them desperately hoping that their dizzying journey had not been made in vain.


Spock drank gratefully from the cup of water Di'on brought him from her provision pack. He thanked her when he had finished, handing the plastex container back to her.

The Vulcan looked searchingly at the woman. Sore and exhausted from their savage coupling, they had slept briefly. Upon awakening, they had dressed once again, retrieving their scattered clothing from the cavern floor. Then she had talked. He had listened attentively; he owed her that, and much more.

"You saved my life," Spock murmured slowly. "Again, I thank you. But you must understand...I cannot go with you. Despite any way in which I may have changed, the fact remains that the philosophies of your Empire and the Federation are radically divergent. I ascribe to the philosophy; I owe my allegiance to the Federation and Starfleet Command. There can be no other way at present." He paused momentarily. "I hope the day will come when we can stand together as allies instead of enemies. I mean that sincerely."

Sadness flickered in her eyes, although it was not reflected in her impassive expression. "So you cannot tear yourself away? I saved your life."

Spock winced. "Do not attempt to make my going with you the price for saving my life, Commander. It is unworthy of you. Surely you of all people understand loyalty. I have many loyalties: to my homeworld, the Federation, Starfleet, and especially to the Enterprise, her captain, and her crew. I may not always agree, let us say, with the methods of Starfleet and the Federation, but I know that, logically speaking, their way is best for achieving total, lasting peace in this galaxy. Put yourself in my position; if I were to ask you to come with me, to join the Federation, would you do it?"

She was silent for a moment. Then a slow, sad smile lit her face. "No," she murmured softly.

"Perhaps now you can understand my reasoning somewhat more clearly." He held out his hand to her, and they touched palms. "Believe me, it is not because of you that I cannot go. If there were no other considerations involved, I would be honored by your offer, and it would be extremely difficult to refuse. But you are who you are, and I am who I am. You have your ship and the Empire, and I have the Enterprise and my loyalty to her captain. And neither of us can turn our backs on these things. We must get back to them." He pulled his hand away, raising it in the Vulcan salute. "Live long and prosper, Di'on of Remus."

"Peace and long life, Spock of Vulcan." She lowered her hand and sighed. "Perhaps some day we will meet when neither of us are constrained by Federation and Empire and ships...and their captains."

"There is the détente," Spock offered. "It is a first step. Perhaps one day there will be peace between the Federation and the Empire...and between you and me."

"One can hope," she said enigmatically. "Now I suggest we leave here."

They began to walk toward the passageway when they suddenly heard the clatter and commotion of running footsteps. Kirk and McCoy bustled breathlessly into the chamber.

"Spock!" Kirk's face was illuminated by astonished joy. Then he saw the commander, and he quickly drew his phaser. "Stand away from him!" the captain snapped. "Spock are you all right?"

Spock's eyebrow lifted slightly. "I am quite fine now, Captain."

"Jim," McCoy began.

"I assure you, Captain Kirk, there is no need for your weapon," the commander said. "I am weaponless and quite outnumbered."

"Are you sure you're all right?" Kirk asked, ignoring her. "Has she done anything to you?"

"Nothing painful, I can assure you, sir," the Vulcan replied, the corners of his mouth quirking in an almost imperceptible smile.

"Jim, don't you see?" McCoy exclaimed. "Spock should be dead by now! And he would be, if the commander hadn't...."

"Oh." Kirk lowered his phaser slowly. "Oh, I see. Forgive me, Commander, but I was so flustered and relieved to see Spock alive that I...." He paused, gazing piercingly at her. "You saved his life. Thank you. But despite all that, I'm afraid you've got a lot of explaining to do. Why were you followoing him?"

The commander stared at the floor of the cavern. "We had learned that Mister Spock re-evaluated his thinking regarding emotions after the V'ger mind-link. I repeated the offer that I made to him several years ago, hoping that perhaps I could persuade him to join us, given his new frame of mind. You'll be interested to know that he refused again, mostly because of you, I believe."

"That's pretty serious business, Commander," Kirk grated. "The Romulan détente delegation comes to Vulcan and promptly attempts to incite a Starfleet officer to defect. That's a grave offense."

"C'mon, Jim! She saved his life!" McCoy growled.

"This was my own affair!" The Romulan commander exclaimed, her eyes flashing. "The Romulan Imperial Government was in no way involved! It was between Mister Spock and myself! Arrest me if you must, but do not implicate the delegation!"

"She speaks the truth, Jim," Spock said quietly.

"Jim! Don't be such a hard ass!" McCoy persisted.

"Quiet, Bones!" Kirk warned. "I know my duty." He turned to the Romulan woman. "I owe you, Commander, and because I do, I'll make a deal with you. I want you to get out of here, get back in your groundcar, and drive back to the hotel where the Romulan delegation is quartered. I want you to attend those briefings and work to the peak of your abilities. And I most definitely do not want you to speak to Mister Spock about such things again while you remain on Vulcan! In return, I will swear upon a stack of Bibles that everything that happened here today never took place. Deal?"

She stared quizzically at him for a moment, then smiled. "Deal, Captain Kirk," she said finally. She turned briskly away and made for the cave entrance.

"One more thing, Commander!" Kirk called out. She paused to look back at him as his features softened into a warm grin. "Thank you...again!" he finished.

McCoy pounded him on the back as the commander exited the cave. "Now, that's more like it, Jim!" he exclaimed. He thumped Kirk affectionately once more for good measure, then he, too, started for the cave mouth. But Kirk held him back.

"Just a minute, Bones," he said softly. "Let's give her a head start." Kirk turned toward his first officer. "She's an exceptional woman, Mister Spock."

"Indeed," the Vulcan returned distantly, staring in the direction she had gone.

But McCoy was in a needling mood now. "Really, Spock. I mean, you've got class! Sneaking away to a secluded little hideaway like this...very impressive! And I admire your taste in women!"

Kirk took the cue. "You didn't have to be so secretive, Spock. If all you wanted to do was sneak away with the young lady, why, Bones and I would've understood. Right, Bones?"

"You said it!" McCoy replied.

Spock's eyebrows raised alarmingly, and his two friends broke into gales of laughter. Even though he didn't fully comprehend the cause of their merriment, the Vulcan allowed himself a slight smile. "I suggest we leave here before the full heat of the day is upon us," Spock said. "The temperature of the desert during this season would be more than either of you could withstand for even a brief stay. Besides, I believe my parents would enjoy visiting with you gentlemen for a time."

"Sounds like the best offer I've had all day!" Kirk said enthusiastically. "Let's go."

They left the coolness of the cave and strode out under the clear red sky of Vulcan. The trio of suns blazed mercilessly, but Spock permitted himself another of his almost-smiles.

It was a sight he had never hoped to see again.

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