dorian.gif (2359 bytes)

Holly S. Trueblood




"He’s dead, Jim."

Kirk watched the ship’s doctor rise slowly from his knees. The crumpled form of the crewman remained prone on the transporter platform. The blood that seemed to be everywhere showed in dark contrast against the gray of the tattered tunic and the black of the body armor.

The other two crewmen who had beamed back from the landing party with the dead boy hovered nervously. Kirk dismissed them with a gesture. They look shaken enough, he thought. They couldn’t be blamed for the great beast that had lanced out from the cover of the rocks and mauled their comrade past saving in the brief seconds before they could turn their phasers on it.

The doctor shook his head as he descended from the platform. "If only I had been there..."

Spock interrupted, "Realistically, Doctor, could you have done any more for this crewman if you had reached him less than a minute sooner on the ground?"

"Well, no. I suppose not," McCoy answered grudgingly. "It’s just that...Why do you always have to be so damn logical, Spock?"

"It is who I am, Doctor," the Vulcan replied.

Despite his own grief and the sense of frustration he shared with the doctor, Kirk realized that Spock’s question was meant for both of them, and that it was more than simply cold-hearted rationalization.

"Come on, Spock, just because a minute’s difference wouldn’t have helped this boy, doesn’t mean there’s any reasonable basis for the new ruling. It’s absolutely ridiculous for captains to sit on the bridge waiting for reports, or worse yet, unforeseen tragedies." He pointed with his chin at the still corpse. He was lying in the position in which he had fallen, but now on the sterile, featureless transporter pad orbiting above the planet in the great white starship, rather than in the grubby dirt of the planet which still soaked in his blood.

Remembering his immediate duty to the crewman, Kirk signaled to the transporter officer. "Get him out of here, Chief."

"Aye, sir," Janice Rand replied.

Kirk led the others toward the exit so that the clean-up detail could do their work without the senior staff getting in the way.

As the doors swooshed shut behind them, Kirk started off in the direction of his quarters with Spock keeping pace effortlessly on his right, and McCoy trailing half a step behind on his left.

Kirk resumed the thread of his argument. "I still say it’s bad leadership for a captain to have to direct a landing party at arm’s length."

"The loss of a captain is more detrimental to the ship and the mission than the loss of a crewman," Spock reiterated the rationale behind the new Starfleet edict.

"You know, Jim, I can almost see my way clear to agreeing with Spock and headquarters on that one..."

Spock arched an eyebrow in exaggerated surprise. McCoy returned the implied commentary with a sour scowl. "Quit it, Spock. I didn’t say I agreed with the whole thing. It’s one thing to keep the captain out of danger in an unknown and dangerous situation. It’s another thing entirely to keep the ship’s doctor out of the action. The unknown or dangerous situation is when he’s most likely to be needed on the spot."

"If you had been there, could you have prevented the creature from attacking?" Spock asked.

"I don’t know. I suppose I..."

"And is it not true, Doctor, that the facilities available to you in Sickbay are far more complete than anything you would be able to carry with you into a field situation?" Spock asked.

"Well, of course. But..."

"And further—please do not take this any more personally than it is intended, Doctor—but is it not also true that the absence of a physician on board a ship would be at least as great a loss to the rest of the crew as the absence of the captain?"

"If not more so," Kirk chimed in. "I agree with the need to protect the doctor. The more you can do to safeguard him the better. But not the captain. It’s the captain’s role to lead, to give example, to be the first one in and the last one out." As a matter of fact, Kirk knew himself well enough to understand that those were precisely the elements he loved most about his position at the helm of a starship.

"I still don’t like it one bit," McCoy said.

"Doctor, our technology allows us to transport the injured back to the ship, within seconds upon their request, or upon command of the first crewman to see them fall. They are materialized in precisely the position they fell, without risking further injury, to a sterile, non-hostile environment where a physician can concentrate on tending to their needs without having to be concerned for his own safety. And the perscan units we now wear transmit all the vital medical information a physician needs to make an immediate diagnosis. Progress, Doctor."

McCoy had run out of arguments, but not out of steam. "Still not the same as being there," he muttered as they turned into the doorway of Kirk’s cabin.

They sat without the need for formal invitation. Kirk pulled out a bottle. Although he knew from long experience that the Vulcan would decline, he offered it to each of them in turn. As expected, Spock shook his head. McCoy, on the other hand, took longer to say "when" than usual. Kirk poured an equal measure in his own glass. He turned his desk chair and straddled it, facing the others and swirling the golden liquid in his glass.

"Bones, I know how you feel, even though Spock’s argument..."

"Starfleet’s argument," Spock reminded him.

"All right, Starfleet’s argument. I can see keeping the doctor out of harm’s way, but not the captain. A captain shouldn’t ask his men to do anything he wouldn’t first do himself," Kirk continued.

"But, Jim, where would a ship be without its captain?" McCoy asked.

"That’s what the chain of command is all about. No man is so unexpendable that he can’t be replaced. But it’s just wrong to say that some men are more expendable than others. That just because they haven’t attained command rank, or just because they chose to go into security or research or whatever, their lives are any less valuable than some captain who sits safe in his ivory tower while they take all the risks." Kirk knocked back the entire contents of his glass. "It’s like asking someone else to go out there and take your knocks for you. It’s morally wrong, and I don’t like it one bit."

"Had you been there, it could just as well have been you that was transported back dead, Jim. This was not an instance where leadership would have made a difference," Spock said.

"It was a pointless death, all right," McCoy agreed.

"And it would have been a terrible waste for a captain to be sacrificed in such a random and meaningless situation," Spock continued.

"That’s just the point, Spock: It was just as tragic for that boy to lose his life for no reason as it would have been if it was me. Worse, because he went down there following orders, not because he had a choice to go down there or sit safely in the captain’s chair watching the whole thing recreated on a viewscreen."

Spock’s reply was cut off by a chime, followed by the voice of the chief communications officer.

"Captain? Are you there?"

"Here, Commander. What is it?" Kirk answered in the general direction of the comm pick-up.

"Message transmission from Starfleet by way of Starbase Forty-Three. New orders, Captain. Shall I transmit?"

"Send it to my screen, Commander."

"Sending now, sir. Uhura out."

Kirk turned the chair to face the viewer on his desk. He nodded to Spock and McCoy to tell them that it was all right to look over his shoulder at the directives now scrolling beneath the fleet insignia. His official permission was the barest of formalities: both of his officers were already out of their seats and moving to positions behind him.

The new orders rolled up on the screen. Despite his prevailing mood, Kirk couldn’t help but respond to the adrenaline rising in his bloodstream.

A first contact mission. One of the most interesting and important tasks assigned to a starship on long range patrol. This was what it was all about.

A Class M planet. Promising. At least these would be some familiar frames of reference.

Fourth from the sun in a system in unexplored and undisputed space, about as far as one could simultaneously get from both the Romulans and the Klingons. That meant they would be able to concentrate on the mission without complications from competing interplanetary confederations.

Early investigations indicated humanoid life forms at a mid-level stage of industrialized development. Interesting.

"Wonder what’s going on here," McCoy mused aloud. "We don’t generally get to introduce ourselves unless a civilization has obtained some verifiable evidence that they aren’t alone in the universe on their own."

The background information continued to spool out onto the screen.

"Ah, there it is." Kirk underlined a section with a finger tip. "Looks like our advance boys got a little careless."

Sentinel satellites had been placed in wide orbit around many such planets during the last century or so. They were designed to passively record any transmissions escaping from the planet until both the mode and the implied technology of the broadcasts reached a certain predetermined level of sophistication. That would be the indicator that the civilization should be more closely evaluated for its readiness for a first contact.

The jargon Kirk was reading on the screen about "pre-anticipated evidentiary implications" boiled down to the fact that one of the observational satellite orbits had decayed, dropping it into the atmosphere. It had created an observable arc of fire across the horizon, leading planetary investigators right to the location where it had fallen. Normal shielding had kept it from total destruction upon reentry. So, whether they had found it by means of their own technology or not, the population of Doria now had pretty hard evidence that they were not alone.

The Federation Council had decided their best course of action was to go in directly, despite the unusually early phase of planetary development. As long as the damage had been done, they might as well try to make the best of it.

The Enterprise’s destination was only a day or so away, and Kirk was directed to make top speed in getting there. In the meantime, the remaining satellite would be broadcasting reassuring messages to announce their coming and to welcome the Dorians to citizenship in the greater universe.

After managing all possible damage control, and setting at ease the minds of the inhabitants about the friendliness of their nearest neighbors, Kirk was to make an assessment of whether this was a race that showed potential for Federation membership.

"Pretty tall order, Jim," McCoy observed.

"That’s what we’re here for, Bones," Kirk replied. "Looks like we have work to do, gentlemen."

"I’ll see to the course corrections, Captain." Spock moved toward the door.

McCoy took the hint and also offered his good nights.

When they were gone, Kirk restarted the message and read it over again slowly. A tall order, indeed. But no more daunting than the first obligation he must perform: notifying the dead crewman’s next of kin. He had to find some way to justify the boy’s loss to his family and—perhaps even more difficult—to himself. Even worse was the prospect of the funeral which would take place the next day on their way to the new assignment. He dearly hoped that the whoever or whatever to which he commended the care of the boy’s soul was really listening. Sometimes lately, it just felt like he was talking to empty air.


Anticipation built among the crew during the next day as they warped into unfamiliar space toward the planet Doria. En route, they continued to receive information about the planet based upon the scans recorded by the observation satellites.

Dorian technology was sufficiently advanced to include the use of radio signals, but only at minimal levels. Radio was not yet being used for entertainment or advertising or even for general information as it would eventually be if the Dorians’ technology evolved parallel to that of Earth and several other Federation planets. That severely limited the information on culture and values readily available to the observer satellite, but at least it gave the translator programs a starting point.

Spock condensed and interpreted the reams of data for Kirk. "As expected in a pre-information age technology, Captain," the science officer explained, "there is not yet a planet-wide standardized language. There are fewer main language stems than might be expected, although each has an almost infinite variety of dialects and variations.

"Indications are that most verbalizations can be easily replicated by the Human vocal physiology," Spock continued.

"But we’ll still be using translators, won’t we, Spock? Starfleet’s not going to ask us to actually speak the language?" McCoy interjected.

"Of course we will be using translators, Doctor. The significance of the similarity to Human speech sounds is simply that it confirms additional shared physiological characteristics, hence a greater degree of common ground from which to begin our relationship with these people."

"Still no visual images of them?" Kirk asked.

"Not as yet. Our observers can see geographic features, architecture, even individuals moving about in the streets, but the resolution at orbital distance is insufficient to reveal facial features or other such details."

"Too bad they haven’t invented visual transmission technology," Kirk sighed.

"That does make assessment of new planets easier and more complete," Spock began.

McCoy interrupted, "Sometimes it can be pretty misleading, though. Funny how some people’s ideas of entertainment is so totally removed from reality."

"Indeed, Doctor," Spock nodded. "When Vulcan first evaluated Earth, we were particularly struck by just such a phenomenon. You cannot imagine the poor impression made by centuries of situation comedies and game shows."

McCoy started to object, but Kirk pulled the conversation back to the Dorians. "So what do we know about them, Spock, without the ability to monitor visuals?"

"We know," although Spock did not go through the motions of ticking off each item on his fingers, his tone implied the gesture, "that the Dorians are within Human norms of size and bodily configuration. We know that they build cities: small cities built according to plans, and using a fairly simple, low rise style of architecture, primarily of stone. There appear to be minimal to adequate road systems, which indicate the potential for a limited amount of trade. Technology concentrations seem to be highest in the area of agriculture."

"They can grow it, but how well do they distribute it?" McCoy asked, drawing on his knowledge of Earth history. "How are they doing on feeding the underdeveloped areas that seem to get worse instead of better in the early stages of industrialization?"

"Captain, the doctor brings up a very interesting point. This planet seems to have a uniquely equalized distribution of technological advancement. The satellites have picked up no evidence of either pockets of underdeveloped population, or deteriorated and overcrowded center cities. This appears to be a uniquely well organized society for this stage of technical development."

"If they’ve managed to avoid the world hunger phenomenon that affects most civilizations at some point or another and to have done it so early in their development, I’d say we’ve really got to hand it to them," McCoy allowed.

"Gentlemen, it looks like we may have found a new member for the Federation that can teach us something, rather than the other way around. We may be very glad that we decided to contact them earlier than the usual protocols would allow."

"Indeed, Captain. while it is very early to make such an assessment, all indications seem to support your hopes," Spock agreed.


Within hours, the Enterprise reached the Dorian system and took up orbit around the planet. Satellite monitoring had identified a primary contact within the governmental structure. The society had not yet achieved planetary government. That was typically two or three centuries farther along the developmental scale. The current organization seemed to follow Earth’s ancient Greek model of city-states, loosely confederated around one preeminent metropolis. From their observations, all roads did indeed seem to lead to the city of Edliw. It was the hereditary leader of this city, Delessix, the Exceeding Urbanity of Edliw, whom Kirk would be contacting.

While the Enterprise was in transit, the satellite broadcasts had been modified to inform the Dorians of the time, date and intended recipient of Kirk’s first live transmission. The captain shifted anxiously in his chair on the bridge as the moment approached, hoping that this first contact would be well received.

Kirk checked the chronometer in the arm of his command chair and signaled to Uhura, bringing his hand down like a starter at a race to mark the moment. "Open a channel, Commander."

"Aye, sir. Open now."

Kirk did not turn from his position squarely facing the view screen. There would, of course, be no visual transmission to accompany this conversation. The Dorians could neither send nor receive images of the speaker’s faces. But still, it seemed the correct position from which to hold this dialogue.

Kirk took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "This is Captain James T. Kirk of the Federation starship Enterprise. Calling the..." he paused ever so slightly to consult the compuclipboard immediately at hand on the chair arm. He smiled consciously, knowing that even though they wouldn’t see him, the smile would show in his voice. "...The Exceeding Urbanity, Delessix of Edliw. Are you there, sir?"

There was a delay of several seconds while the primitive radio waves made their way to the planet by way of the satellite, where they were translated into Dorian for the Urbanity’s benefit, then back again to Kirk by the reverse route. Around him the rest of the bridge officers, along with McCoy who had taken up a position behind the command chair, held their collective breath in anticipation.

When the voice finally came through, it was crusty with static. The pitch and pace were very Human-sounding, even to the extent of being identifiable as a male voice. It was not punctuated with trills or screeches or clicks, and yet at the same time it was totally alien. There were no recognizable sound groups.

Even though Kirk himself was mono-lingual, speaking only English and relying on the translator for the rest, he could at least come close to recognizing and correctly identifying old Terran languages, or the relatively similar sounds of the Cassiopian or even the less Terran sounding Vulcan or Klingon tongues when he heard them. The sound of the Dorian speech was disconcerting—simultaneously familiar and not. Almost, Kirk thought, as if they’re speaking some form of English backwards—well not backwards, exactly—more like sideways.

In only a moment, the translator took over. Because of the delay in transmission, the translation was able to catch up with the speaker almost immediately. The sound of English covered the alien speech, fading it to a background echo.

"I am Delessix, the Exceeding Urbanity of the City of Edliw. I greet you, Kirk of the City of Enterprise." Kirk could hear the Urbanity’s voice struggle with the pronunciation of his name. The translator rendered it "Kirkix." Recognition that the suffix might be either an honorific or a rank designation, crossed Kirk’s mind in the pause that followed. Then his attention snapped back to the message itself.

"Word of your coming has preceded you. I am most anxious to greet you." Kirk knew that the satellite transmissions had been intended to prepare the Dorian people for these visitors who were completely outside their experience. Still, he couldn’t help admiring the composure with which their leader spoke to the first non-Dorian he had ever encountered; one whose very existence had not been suspected until only a few weeks ago. Then he heard the Urbanity’s tone slip from ponderous formality to allow for at least a little of the sense of wonder he must be feeling. "Is the day-star in the sky above the City truly a City that flies?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes," Kirk answered. Parked in a geosynchronous orbit around the planet directly above the City of Edliw, the Enterprise would appear as a point of light, bright enough to be seen by day. "We are a small city of only four hundred ninety-eight, but we do indeed travel among the stars," Kirk answered.

"You are truly a city of small size," Delessix preened. "The City of Edliw holds sixty thousand."

Kirk took no offense at the Urbanity’s pride in Edliw’s superior size. The events of the last few days would leave any man in his position feeling threatened. If the relative size of the Enterprise helped to allay his fears, so much the better for the future of the negotiations.

Spock looked up from his viewer, and spoke quietly to the captain. "Our information suggests a population of at least twice that."

Kirk shrugged. "Probably a mis-translation somewhere along the way."

Spock’s subtle expression said he wasn’t satisfied with that explanation, but that he could wait to discuss it at a later time.

"," Kirk trusted the translator to get the mode of address corrected, "We would like very much to show ourselves and meet with you. Our‘city’ has small vehicles which can fly several of us back and forth between our city and yours. With your permission I would like to bring a few of my officers with me to meet you."

Starfleet protocols were clear on this issue. It was stretching the limits far enough to make first contact with a pre-space age race; showing off the higher levels of Federation technology, like transporters, was considered far too invasive to be prudent.

"You may come in your bird-wagon," the translator slipped and repeated the literal transliteration before recognizing that it should have substituted "shuttle." Behind Kirk, McCoy suppressed a snort.

"Thank you, er, your Urbanness." Kirk hoped he would figure out the correct form of address soon. "We will arrive..." he looked at Sulu for coordinates.

"There’s a field we can set down in just outside the city, sir. Given our directional mode, we’d call it to the west of the city, Captain."

Kirk turned slightly to his right, facing Spock’s station. "Time, Spock?"

"About two hours from now, Captain." Then, recognizing that they knew very little about how the Dorians marked time he made a swift approximation. "The sun should just be setting from their perspective when we land."

Kirk turned back to the still blank screen. "We will arrive outside the city in the direction of the setting sun at just about the time the sun meets the horizon, if that is acceptable to you, Urbanity."

"I shall greet you, then, at day-end, Kirkix." The Urbanity signed off.

"Well, then. To the bird-wagon, shall we?" Kirk grinned as he rose. He looked around the bridge. "McCoy, Uhura..." His eyes rested on Spock for a moment, then slid past. "Sulu. You’re with me." He turned to his yeoman, Carla Sommers. "Assemble the usual gear, lay out a dress uniform and so forth for a stay of several days and send it to the shuttle."

"Aye, sir."

Kirk headed for the turbolift, but before he could reach it, Spock’s low but insistent voice reached him. "Captain, a word?"

Kirk sighed. "All right, Spock." He gestured with his head to invite the Vulcan to join him in the lift. Spock was already on his feet, anticipating the invitation. "I’ll call you from the shuttle bay when it’s ready for take-off," he told Lieutenant, j.g., Chekov. "You’ll have the conn until I return."

"Yes, Captain," the security chief answered as he moved to the center seat.

Kirk spoke his destination, then waited until the turbolift doors closed, and the car started to move. "All right, Spock. What is it? If you’re going to give me some song and dance about the new ruling prohibiting captains from..."

Spock declined the opportunity to quibble about theatrics, and pleasantly surprised Kirk when he said, "Not at all, Jim. We have seen nothing on this planet that would indicate that there is hidden danger. This is not a wild environment. It is a formal first contact mission. As such, it is only appropriate that the captain be among the first landing party."

"What, then?"

Spock stiffened and paused in the Vulcan equivalent of shuffling his feet. "I wish to know why I was not included in your selection for the landing party."

It was Kirk’s turn to feel uneasy. "I, uh, don’t want to overwhelm them with the size of the party, Spock."

"Then it is only logical, in facing a new culture whose technology needs to be assessed, that your science officer would be a part of the landing party." Spock was obdurate, but Kirk knew that this was no mere childish jealousy about getting to be among the first to see the Dorians. Spock’s logic was not merely logical; it was also right.

It wasn’t that Kirk wasn’t confident in his decision, but he was uncomfortable explaining it, although he didn’t quite know why he should be. "All right, Spock," he began. "What I really don’t want to overwhelm them with is our, ah, diversity. They’ve never seen a being from outside their own world before. I thought it might be easier for them to assimilate if I start by just introducing them to Humans."

Spock’s face showed even less animation than usual. Kirk understood the inverse relationship between Spock’s emotional intensity and his expression. He really wished Spock hadn’t challenged him on this.

"Yet," Spock objected, "the Dorians already know that the Enterprise comes from a federation of planets, not only one. It should not be surprising to them that there would be diversity among peoples separated by interstellar distances."

"I know, Spock. I just didn’t want to spring that diversity on them all at once, that’s all." Kirk could feel the sands of certainty slipping beneath his feet.

"Then you have still made an illogical choice of landing party."

"Illogical? The doctor for biological/psychological observation. The communications officer is an obvious choice. Mister Sulu? No, I don’t need a helmsman down there, but he is being groomed for command track, and this would be an excellent opportunity for him to..." Kirk trailed off. He could see that he wasn’t making any headway with Spock. The lift doors opened, and Kirk turned toward the shuttle bay, with his first officer in lock-step right beside him.

"Although I still suggest the need for a science officer in a first contact situation, it is not the functions of your choices which make them illogical, Captain. It is their very diversity. To someone who has never seen a Human, I am no more different from you in appearance than Uhura or Sulu."

"Their..." Kirk began. Then the confusion cleared. Uhura was a female. And Sulu’s features were indeed different from his or McCoy’s. For that matter, Uhura’s beautiful dark skin set her off from the men in the party as much as did her gender. He wondered fleetingly in reviewing the remaining member of the party if "crotchety" was considered an element of diversity, too. At least on the surface of it, Spock’s argument had merit. The landing party he had named really was diverse. Except that he never thought of Humans in those terms.

If Kirk had any lingering phobias based upon race, they were about the really different races: the huge ones and the creepy crawly tiny ones; or the green ones or the blue ones; or the ones with antennae or wings; the water dwelling ones or the multi-legged spidery ones. At least that was where Kirk thought he drew the distinction between like-us and not-like-us. Now he realized that in choosing his landing party he had subconsciously placed the man he called his friend on the far side of the line. Now he knew why he had felt uncomfortable about justifying his decision to Spock.

The shuttle bay door opened. Kirk stepped inside and turned to the comm plate just to the right of the door. He hit the red button, then spoke into the grid, but his eyes never left Spock’s face. "Kirk to bridge. Landing party to Shuttle Bay. Lieutenant Commander Sulu, bring an extra tricorder. Mister Spock will be joining us."

"A logical decision, Captain," was all the response Kirk’s announcement got from his first officer. But the carved-in-stone mask that indicated an irritated Vulcan was gone.

Rather than belaboring the conversation, Kirk climbed inside the waiting shuttle and busied himself checking over the controls, even though he intended for Sulu to pilot the vehicle. Spock assisted with the pre-flight check with silent efficiency. He had made his point, there was no need to say more.

In a matter of minutes, the rest of the appointed landing party bustled into the shuttle bay, loaded down with gear.

Excitement about being part of what could be an historic first contact mission crackled in the air. It emanated particularly from his helmsman. Adventure was Sulu’s lifeblood. Kirk saw it and allowed himself a small smile. He recognized a kinship with the officer in that feeling of excitement. He’ll go far, as long as he keeps that sense of wonder.

The others entered the shuttle and stowed their gear. Uhura had demonstrated the forethought to have extra uniforms and so forth procured for Spock. "Hope you don’t mind that I took the liberty, sir," she apologized, "but you couldn’t very well spend the whole mission with nothing but the clothes on your back and a spare tricorder." Kirk found the image amusing, in addition to feeling a little chagrined that as a man he had thought first and only of the need for technical equipment.

Spock, however, gave no hint of how he might have felt about Uhura’s thoughtfulness with this solemn, "Thank you, Commander," delivered with barely a glance up from the check-in chart in his hands.

The crew distributed themselves around the seats, clicking their restraints in place. Kirk noticed that the doctor chose a seat at the back. He hated shuttles almost as much as transporters, and had the unfounded, but oft espoused theory, that if the shuttle went down, his fall would be cushioned by those in the forward seats.

As was typical when the doctor wanted to cover his own nervousness, he reached out to needle Spock. "So, Spock, you let your curiosity get the better of you, eh? Just couldn’t allow the captain to leave you behind?"

Spock didn’t deign to dignify the comment with a response. Kirk, however, after first raising a hand to signal Sulu to begin departure procedures, turned casually to look at the doctor over his shoulder. "It was the logical thing to do."

Before McCoy could sputter a response, Sulu was engaging thrusters and turning the shuttle toward the opening bay doors. Any comment the doctor might have made was lost in the sound of the engines, and the anticipation of the moment.


Through the forward port of the shuttle, Kirk could see the features of the green-blue-and-white swirled planet below them increase in size as they drew closer. He was always surprised at how much less distinct and yet somehow infinitely more beautiful and exciting the objects in space were when seen with the naked eye from the shuttle instead of on the huge, computer-assisted image on the bridge view screen.

Doria was a classic Class M planet. Less blue than Earth and more green, and decidedly smaller, yet similar enough to awake a wave of nostalgia like the one Kirk always felt upon sighting Earth from space. It was a sense of familiarity; a sense of being at home. Kirk could see from the quiet, relaxed smiles on the faces of his crewmates that they were sharing his experience of this well-known phenomenon. Only Spock’s expression was devoid of that look of recognition. But then, Spock’s expression was usually devoid—of much of anything.

There was the usual jostling as the inertial dampers adjusted when they entered the atmosphere. Other than McCoy, who simply grew more white-knuckled, and Spock who showed no change in demeanor, the transition into atmospheric flight heightened everyone else’s anticipation. They could see land features now, where breaks in the cloud cover permitted. There was no ocean to rival the broad Pacific of Earth, but there were many smaller seas the size of the Mediterranean or thereabouts, Kirk reckoned. The uniform lush green coloration proved that there was no shortage of water, even though it was distributed differently from Earth’s. Sulu remarked upon it, and Spock elaborated.

"Without great bodies of water or high mountains there is less opportunity for storms of significant magnitude to gather. The weather here..."

"No mountains, Mister Spock?" Uhura interrupted. "I see a beautiful range just over there to the right."

"Yes, Commander," Spock explained. "There are mountain ranges. However, they are very old ranges, not unlike your Appalachians. There are no high, raw ranges from more recent upheavals akin to your Himalayas, Alps or Rockies." He compared them to the North American ranges with which the rest would be familiar from the time all of them spent at the Academy. "That would indicate that while the civilization is several centuries behind either of our own, the planet itself is either much older or much less volatile than Earth or Vulcan."

"Less tectonic shifting because of small bodies of water, Mister Spock?" Sulu hazarded a guess.

"A good working hypothesis, Mister Sulu. Well drawn." Spock nodded approvingly, and Kirk noticed that Sulu sat just a little straighter in the pilot’s seat.

"But you were saying about the weather, Spock?" McCoy asked. Mention of any similarity to the south-eastern North American mountains of his youth made him a bit more animated and allowed him to loosen his grip on the seat arms just a bit.

"While there are the expected extremities of temperature associated with distance from the poles and seasonal changes, based upon a year about one point three seven nine the length of Earth’s, on the whole the climate is mild, with a long growing season and a lack of cataclysmic storms or pockets of severe drought."

"Sounds almost perfect, doesn’t it?" McCoy was actually smiling now. "That’s what I like to hear from you, Spock—good news for a change."

Before Spock could come back with a disparaging word, Kirk interrupted. "How much longer, Mister Sulu?"

"I see the city of Edliw now, sir," Sulu answered. "See, Captain?" he pointed, "that one right on the north bank of that big river over there."

They had passed over several recognizable metropolises by now. Most were located near water, which was almost unavoidable in this landscape checkerboarded by placid seas. Grid patterns clearly visible from the air showed them to be planned cities. Edliw was larger than most, and a more hodgepodge pattern of streets near the center suggested that it might be older than most. It had more likely grown organically rather than according to plan during its earliest days. Perhaps, Kirk thought, that had something to do with why it was considered the primary city of this loosely organized society.

Once Sulu had identified it, the shuttle closed in on the city rapidly. Just as the satellite surveys had shown, there was a field to the west of the city where they planned to set down. And, just as Spock had predicted, the sun was already low in the sky, casting almost horizontal light across the field and adding a warm glow to the richness of its green. A gathering crowd and a moving stream of odd, bulbous land vehicles converging on the field confirmed, if there was any doubt, that they had found the right place.

"Easy does it, Mister Sulu," Kirk cautioned. "We don’t want to land on anyone’s toes."

It was not that Kirk didn’t give his helmsman credit for either the importance of caution or having the skill to manage it. It just seemed the right thing to say at the time.

"No problem, sir," Sulu grinned, knowing that Kirk had meant no slight to his abilities.

A final loop, during which they were able to see the upturned faces and pointing fingers of the crowd, then Sulu used the hover gear and set straight down as gently as a falling leaf, right in the center of the field, and a good twenty meters from the nearest Dorian. He popped the hatch and the landing party stood, stretched, straightened their uniforms and filed out into the warm golden sunlight.

By the time the five of them were assembled in a loose wedge with the captain at the center, one of the Dorians had detached himself from the crowd and was moving toward them. A contingent of his fellow citizens backed him up in a mirror image of Kirk’s crew.

Kirk checked the translator, waited until the welcoming committee stopped a cautious two meters away, and spoke the traditional words that never failed to send a thrill up his spine, "We come in peace."

The Urbanity and his party acknowledged the greeting by crossing their arms over their chests and bowing from the hip, while keeping the head tipped up and maintaining eye contact. It was a gesture which nicely conveyed respect without subservience. Kirk nodded slightly, being sure to keep his eyes up as he had seen them do. A rustling of motion behind him told Kirk that the landing party was following his lead.

In that moment of mutual regard, Kirk took in the simple, yet elegant costumes worn by the Urbanity’s party. All were trousered, both the men and women. And yes, the gender differences were both obvious and very Earth-like. Short jackets, nipped at the waist, showed the males of the Dorian group to be trim and well built. Looser garments, cut low but within the standards of Earth-modesty displayed the women to full advantage.

The men wore their hair longer than Kirk’s, with bangs almost like Spock’s, but long enough on both the sides and back to cover the ears. The women’s was similarly styled, but longer. And it was a color Kirk had never seen before on such Human-looking faces. He guessed it would be called burgundy, or wine. Although, among the Urbanity’s party and the eagerly watching crowd he saw rich shades of purple and others tinting more toward red. Not the copper or even carroty color Humans called red, but a true, bright scarlet, occasionally tending toward the darker shades of ripe bing cherries.

There were five in the Urbanity’s party. Two women, two men, and a child, all beautiful specimens of glowing health. Kirk guessed the Urbanity to be about his own age. The others were younger. One of the women held the small child on her hip. Kirk’s limited experience of children led him to a more or less accurate guess that it was of an age comparable to three or four Earth years. The child’s hair was a mass of loose curls, shorter than either the men’s or women’s, making it impossible to use that feature as a clue to its gender.

All this Kirk noticed in the few seconds it took to return the Urbanity’s bow. He held it as long as he judged he graciously could, in order to give himself as much time as possible for observation. The Urbanity held the pose of crossed arms a second or two after he straightened from his bow, probably also postponing the need for verbal response while he assessed his visitors. With his hands thus displayed, Kirk was able to note a sixth finger on each hand just before the Urbanity returned them to his sides.

"In peace are you welcome," came the translation of the Urbanity’s reply to Kirk’s greeting.

"I am Captain James T. Kirk," the captain introduced himself.

"And I am Delessix. I need no titles when being addressed by an equal."

Kirk was pleased to be considered an equal, but wondered if he should read a subtle rebuke in the Urbanity’s statement, since he had used his own title in his introduction. He decided to let it pass. "Allow me to present members of my crew." He stepped back and indicated each of his officers in turn. Kirk omitted their ranks, however, in deference to the Dorian’s name-only protocol. "This is Spock. He is my first officer, my next in command. Spock is also a scientist."

The Urbanity looked at him curiously, but said nothing. Kirk went on. "Uhura manages our communications. She sends and receives messages and operates the technology that allows us to do so at great distances. She also studies languages and social customs."

Delessix regarded her with interest. It seemed to Kirk as though several thoughts crossed his face before he spoke. "We, too, have long distance communication."

"Er, yes. Yes, you do. That is how we learned about you before we came." Kirk decided to leave unremarked the vast differences between radio waves and subspace squirts.

"Allow me to go on. This is Sulu. He, uh, steers the ship—the city of Enterprise—through the, uh, sky." Kirk was finding it difficult to choose words which conveyed his officers’ functions without a mutual frame of reference.

"We are experimenting with flying machines, too," Delessix bragged. "Soon we will join you in your flights between stars."

At best, Kirk knew, the current state of their flying experiments could not be much beyond the Wright brothers’ stage. But again, he held his opinion to himself. It was important not to intimidate a newly contacted culture with superior technology.

So, instead of replying, Kirk merely continued with his introductions. The doctor had been holding his smile of greeting too long, and he was beginning to look impatient. Kirk took a step closer to him. "This is Doctor McCoy, the ship’s physician."

Delessix studied McCoy even longer than he had each of the others. "He is..." Delessix seemed to be looking for clarification.

"A healer. He helps the sick and injured. He fixes us when we are hurt." A corner of McCoy’s mouth twitched at Kirk’s simplistic explanation. The captain had to sympathize—he had effectively reduced McCoy’s profession to the level of ‘kiss it and make it better.’

Suddenly, however, a wide smile of understanding animated Delessix’s face. "Ah! He is your ‘Nafaris.’ You call them ‘ductur?" The Urbanity struggled to produce the sound he had heard in the translation. "Is he your own ‘Nafaris,’ Kirk?"

"My personal physician, er, doctor? Yes, he is."

The doctor in question was looking more and more uncomfortable as the subject of such prolonged discussion.

"And you brought him with you," Delessix said brightly. But one could hear a patronizing but unspoken "How quaint!" tacked on to the end of his statement as clearly as if he had said it aloud.

"You and your party are welcome, Kirkix. Allow me to present to you the House of Edliw." Delessix moved back toward the group standing behind him. He took the nearer woman, the one about his own age, by the elbow and escorted her a step or two forward. "This is my allied, Alinar."

The woman repeated the crossed hands bow in Kirk’s direction. She was a stunning woman. The rich garnet of her hair set off the brilliant emerald of her eyes. Her softly draped tunic had the shimmer of crystal. Her bearing was regal and her smile unafraid.

Kirk returned her bow with his echoing nod, reminding himself sharply, as he maintained unflinching eye contact, that Delessix had introduced her as his "allied," and ten to one that was the Dorian equivalent of ‘wife.’"

The Urbanity moved on to the next in line, the woman with the toddler in her arms. He led her a couple of steps toward Kirk. "This is our daughter, Amalia, and her daughter, Analiss."

The woman’s bow was impeded by the child in her arms. She made a compromise between the crossed-arms gesture and a makeshift grip on the little girl, then executed the heads-up bow, her chin above the child’s curly, pink-lemonade locks.

Kirk was almost too stunned to return the gesture. This was Delessix’s daughter? And his daughter’s daughter? The Urbanity could have passed for no older than Kirk himself. And his wife was certainly not a day over thirty. Nowhere near old enough to have a grown child. Much less a—Oh my God, Kirk thought, still mentally comparing the ruling couple to himself—much less a grandchild! Perhaps their apparent ages had something to do with the difference in planetary rotation? But no, that wasn’t enough to explain it. Maybe these people married very early. He did some quick mental calculations, but was perplexed to discover that the subtraction led to a physically impossible conclusion, at least as far as Humans were concerned.

Then he remembered his manners and returned the young mother’s greeting. She had held her bow until he bent his torso in return, and the weight of the child in her arms was threatening to topple her. He could see the relief in her eyes as she straightened.

At a cue from Delessix, the last member of his party stepped forward unescorted. He was a handsome young man. The short, wine colored page boy framed a face with fine, strong boned features. He was slighter than the Urbanity, but straight and square shouldered. He bowed with assurance, yet without arrogance.

The pride was all in Delessix’s eyes. Despite the seeming impossibility of their relative ages, Kirk knew paternal affection when he saw it. So it came as little surprise when the Urbanity introduced him as "My son, Doranix." Kirk recognized the use of the suffix again. The Urbanity confirmed his deduction as he continued, "The hereditary heir of Edliw."

With the introductions complete, the Urbanity invited the Federation landing party to return with him to the city, to be his guests for the evening meal and to accept the hospitality of his home while they stayed in Edliw. Kirk accepted, of course. That was what they were here for; to learn all they could about the planet and its culture in order to make a recommendation regarding Federation membership.

The Enterprise party adjourned briefly to the shuttle to collect their gear. In the meantime, two of the lumpy, self-propelled vehicles were pulled up into the now-vacant space where the two groups had stood making their introductions. The Dorian drivers indicated that the visitors were to get inside for the ride back to the city.

Kirk was not anxious to split up the party quite so early in their experience with this planet, but investigation into the vehicles interior space showed that they were designed to hold only two in addition to the driver--maybe three at a pinch. On the one hand, it made good common sense to put Spock with one part of the party and himself with the other half. On the other, Kirk was anxious to talk with his science officer about what they had seen so far. The patterns of command caution took precedence. Besides, Kirk consoled himself, there wouldn’t be much opportunity for private conversation with the Dorian driver present. To switch the translators off would be rude.

So he sorted Spock, Uhura and Sulu into one car, and urged McCoy ahead of himself into the other. By the time Kirk and his officers were loaded, the Royal House of Edliw and many of the others who had come to witness the event were already speeding away toward the skyline of the city.

Once their vehicle was in motion, McCoy turned to Kirk. "I didn’t like the way he looked at me, Jim," the doctor complained.

Kirk didn’t answer. He just cocked his head in the direction of the driver and scowled a cautionary expression at McCoy.

The doctor grumbled something inarticulate, but held his peace.

Ahead of them, Kirk could occasionally see Spock turn awkwardly, wedged as he was between the helmsman and Lieutenant Commander Uhura, to look back and be sure that the vehicle carrying the doctor and the captain did not lag far behind.

The city proved to be very pleasant, with long blocks divided by broad, boulevarded streets. The houses were large and low, squarish and plain, but graceful in their simplicity. The unadorned facades came right up to the edges of the streets, with elaborate landscaping on the low, flat roofs rather than Terran style lawns. Along the route Kirk could see families gathered on the roofs amid the gardens, watching the procession pass by.

As they approached the center city, only ten or fifteen minutes ride from the outskirts, the buildings began to show more exterior decoration and to be set back farther from the streets which took sharper angles.

Soon, a low stone wall appeared outside the left-hand window. They traveled along side it for about a kilometer, then turned into a gated entryway. The vehicle slowed to a stop in the circular drive, where about half a dozen others were already parked. The Urbanity had already gone inside. His wife, the dazzling Alinar, stood waiting for them on the wide ramp that sloped up from the parking area to the tall doors.

"Please, citizens of Enterprise, accept the hospitality of our home." Her voice, when she spoke, was low and musical. Even though the language she spoke was decipherable only to the translator, the sound of it had the unmistakable timbre of culture and grace.


"Delessix hopes you will be able to stay with us while you learn about our world and tell us about yours," Alinar offered.

"Yes, thank you," Kirk answered. "We would like that very much. As a matter of fact," he gestured at the stack of luggage and equipment the drivers were piling up inside the massive doors, "we had rather hoped that you’d ask."

"I hope we aren’t imposing ourselves, ma’am," McCoy spoke up. The presence of the luggage in the first place did make their intentions rather obvious.

Alinar looked at him curiously for a split second before she answered. "No, not at all. You are...Makkoi, is that right?"

"Close enough, ma’am, close enough."

"Allow me to show you to the guest wing. Delessix often has visitors from the other Cities. We have quite a bit of room."

Shouldering their bags and parcels, the landing party followed the Urbanity’s wife through a maze of corridors. The halls were broad, the floors done in mosaics not unlike the styles of ancient Rome on Earth. Many walls had hand-painted murals, mostly of trailing vegetation, but occasionally there were tableaus with people in them. Being unfamiliar with the history of costume on Doria, Kirk had no way of telling whether these were scenes from mythology, antiquity or recent history. The style of painting, however, was naturalistic and representational rather than stylized as the Earth art from, say, Egypt or the orient might have been. All the Dorians in the pictures, Kirk noticed, wore their hair in the same Dutch-boy style he had seen on the people he had already met.

Some walls were covered in unfamiliar characters arranged in regular lines. They had the look of writing, although the script was unfamiliar. The impression that they were words to be read was reinforced by the presence of benches on the opposite walls facing these non-pictorial walls. Kirk guessed that these were sentiments intended for contemplation.

They passed arching doorways into various chambers along the way. Most were closed to sight. Some of the interior doorways were fitted with tall, narrow, double doors echoing the massive entryway into the palace. Most, however, were hung with huge, heavy tapestry-like draperies which continued the patterns painted on the adjacent walls.

Those rooms that were open tended to be sparsely furnished, but with massive, imposing pieces. Tables looked to be higher than normal, and if the individual pieces assembled around them were chairs, Kirk thought that they looked positively torturous, as if not designed for the Humanoid form at all. Before he could remark upon it, Alinar led them around a final corner and brought the party to a halt.

"This is the guest wing. There are adequate accommodations for all of you. But, you," she turned to the communications officer. "I am sorry. Your name again, my dear?"


"Yes. Oohara. Please forgive me. Your names are so unfamiliar and so unlike one from the others. It is difficult to remember," Alinar explained, then continued. "Which of these is your allied?"

"My...allied?" Uhura repeated.

"Your...mate? So that I can put the two of you in a larger room. I assume, of course, that you are allied to Kirkix, although, knowing that your customs are different from ours, I thought it best to ask."

Already Alinar was suiting action to words and leading Uhura to a doorway on the left, while beckoning to Kirk with an upraised palm.

McCoy grinned and bounced a bit on the balls of his feet, looking around with exaggerated interest in the wall murals. He was enjoying Kirk’s embarrassment to the hilt. Sulu simply looked embarrassed himself, while Spock, as usual, showed no expression at all.

Uhura diplomatically disengaged Alinar’s hand from around her forearm. "I’m sorry, Alinar. Wrong assumption. I’m..."

"The Urbanity of the City of Enterprise does not travel with his allied? Your customs are indeed different," Alinar said with some surprise. But, to her credit, Kirk thought, no hint of disapproval.

"Then which is your... Not Makkoi, of course," she dismissed the doctor out of hand, and McCoy looked completely crestfallen. Kirk spared a momentary glance at the doctor to acknowledge that he was appreciating the fact that it was now McCoy’s turn to be zinged by Alinar’s casual assumptions. Then his attention returned to their hostess who was appraising the remaining members of her visitors’ party. Sulu managed to look even more embarrassed when her glance fell on him, and even Spock seemed to brace with unease when Delessix’s wife look at him and cocked her head slightly in consideration.

Uhura touched Alinar gently on the arm, distracting her from her speculations about the male members of the group. "Sorry, still wrong. I am any of these men, not to any at all, for that matter. I hope it will not inconvenience you further, but each of us will require separate rooms. Or, if you don’t have enough, perhaps the men could double up."

"What a strange thought!" Alinar marveled. "No, I have ample space. Are you sure, though, that you will be all right in a room by yourself, Oohara?"

"I am sure that there is nothing in your home for me to be afraid of ," Uhura answered diplomatically. "I’ll be just fine by myself."

"But then," Alinar turned to Kirk, "who will act as your hostess?"

"My...hostess?" Kirk asked.

"One who acts in the social roles, as I do for Delessix," Alinar attempted to explain.

"As long as that’s all that’s required," Uhura asked warily. "With your permission, Captain, I guess I could volunteer to take that job."

"Excellent!" Alinar seemed satisfied that all was in order now. "I shall see you to your rooms, then. You will want to rest after your journey. I will return to announce dinner and lead you to the hall in a short while. You are, of course, welcome to explore and make use of all of Delessix’s home. However, you may wish to wait until after dinner. I can explain the floor plan to you in greater detail at that time. If there is anything you require in the meantime, there is a bell system in each of your rooms."

Alinar ushered each of them into individual rooms along each side of the corridor. All of the rooms were hung with draperies over the entries instead of doors, and Kirk was concerned about security. However, he reasoned, if they had anything to fear while they were inside the security of the palace, it would pretty well have to be the inhabitants themselves. The ruling family had given him no reason to distrust them. Still, it made him uneasy when Alinar simply lifted aside one of the heavy drapes and showed him into his room.

"This is the largest room, Kirkix. Even though you do not have your allied with you, it is still befitting of your station."

Kirk thanked her and stepped inside. It was, indeed, a large chamber, brightly decorated with floral motifs. It would be lighted by day from a large bank of glass-like windows along one wall which was covered with some slatted device for diffusing light. Now, however, the windows were dark. Night had fallen since the shuttle first touched down. An overhead light fixture lit the room. It was probably the equivalent of an electric bulb, but Kirk could not see the actual source because of the elaborate shade that covered it.

The furnishings were few, but tended toward opulence. There were two beds, more like overstuffed divans, to be exact. A couple of matched, free standing closets flanked the doorway. A low, round table sat in the center of a deep plush rug, between the divans. A long, cushioned bench stood beneath the windows.

An interior curtained alcove led to private sanitary facilities. The shapes of the fixtures were not exactly what he was used to, but the functions were fairly unmistakable. It took a minute of jiggling levers and pushing, pulling and finally twisting at knobs to see how everything worked, since such things were not on automatic sensors here. He was rewarded eventually by hot and cold running water in the sink and tub, although there was no shower, and a startling whoosh of water in the third amenity.

Turning to go back into the main room, Kirk was taken aback to see Spock standing between the armoires inside the door. The Vulcan always seemed to come and go on cat feet, and the absence of a mechanical door had allowed him to enter completely unheard.

Kirk recovered quickly, "Yes, Spock?"

"I merely wanted to assure myself that everything was as normal as it appeared to be. A reasonable concern when a landing party is split up as we have been, no matter how cordially."

Kirk couldn’t help but bristling inwardly with the feeling that Spock was acting like an over-protective mother hen. This Starfleet nonsense about keeping captains out of danger seemed to be affecting everyone around him —or maybe it was the other way around. Maybe he was just becoming hyper-sensitive to simple security precautions that he would have considered basic before. Controlling a tendency to overreact, he sat down casually on one of the plumped-up divans and motioned for Spock to do the same.

"Set your mind at rest on that one. I haven’t seen anything for us to be concerned about so far, except maybe our own inability to live up to their social customs. What do you make of it so far?"

"Technologically speaking, the Dorians seem to be at a stage equivalent to early twentieth century on Earth: Radio but none of the more advanced communication of the information age. Evidence of some basic industry, but also quite a lot of hand craftsmanship and reliance on natural rather than synthetic materials."

"Electricity," Kirk said, gesturing toward the lighted ceiling.

"Yes, but so far not much evidence that it is used for much besides lighting."

"They said they had flying machines, and there were those vehicles we rode in," Kirk added.

"Some sort of mechanical engine. From the odor, I surmise the possible use of fossil fuels. But again, you noticed that there were very few of those vehicles on the roadways, nor were the roadways adequate to handle heavy traffic."

"So they’re right on the cusp of the information and space eras, then, with their technology about to explode," Kirk surmised. "They would have been ready for first contact within the century anyway."

"Perhaps," Spock said, "but I believe I see subtle signs that their technological development may have been stagnated at this stage for some time."

"How do you figure that, Spock?"

"For instance, the vehicles were quite old, although well maintained. If there were continuing advances in transport technology, surely the Urbanity would have the most up to date version for his private use." Spock shook his head dismissively. "There is still relatively little evidence from which to draw that conclusion. Consider it no more than what you might call a hunch at this point."

"So either way, we’re dealing with a society not unlike the...what?... 1920’s or ‘30’s, then?" Kirk concluded. Spock had said early twentieth century, but that was so long ago Kirk wasn’t sure he could correctly discriminate between the characteristics of the first and latter half of that century, or even, for that matter, from either of the ones immediately preceding and following. He’d learned dates in school, of course, but the levels of technology and, even more so, social customs and issues of the period tended to lump together in one antiquated blur. He forgave himself with the rationalization that as long as Spock’s encyclopedic memory could handle it, he didn’t really have to. He was a commander, he reminded himself—mentally doing an impersonation of the doctor—not a calendar.

Spock’s next comment unwittingly spoke to Kirk’s fuzziness about historical detail. "I would caution you, Captain, that while there may be technological parallels, there may be social differences which are not so readily apparent. For instance, we know that there seems to be some extreme differentiation of gender roles. Although the Urbanity’s wife seems to enjoy high social standing, there is still this ‘hostess’ business."

"Is this a private party, or can anybody join?" McCoy stuck his head around the side of the doorway drapery. Kirk had halfway heard him coming even before he spoke. Only Spock moved so noiselessly that he was able to startle Kirk on occasion.

"Come on in, Bones," he answered, almost quickly enough to make it sound like an invitation rather than a statement of accomplished fact.

McCoy chose to perch at the opposite end of the divan where Spock sat facing their captain.

"So, Doctor, what do you think of them so far?" Kirk asked.

"Remarkably robust, healthy, pleasant people, from what I’ve seen. Once you get past the wine cellar assortment of hair color, that is. Oh, and the extra digit. Looks to be universal from what I’ve seen so far. And fully manipulative, which I’ve never seen on people who look so Human otherwise."

"Aren’t Humans sometimes born with extra fingers, though?" Kirk asked, remembering that he had found a reference to it somewhere.

"Yes, but extra fingers in Humans are usually just fleshy appendages. That’s one reason why they’re so easily removed. No bones, no connection to the basic structure of the hand. On these people, it seems to be an integrated, functioning part of the hand. Wonder if they have extra toes, too," he mused, getting absorbed in his own speculation.

"I don’t think that’s necessarily germane to our evaluation of these people, Bones," Kirk interrupted McCoy’s train of thought, which was getting tedious as far as the captain was concerned. Once he was off into his own realms of expertise, McCoy could get just as mired in irrelevant detail as Spock could.

Fortunately, the need to curb McCoy’s enthusiastic pursuit of speculation was abetted by Uhura’s appearance at he doorway.

"May I come in, Captain?" she asked, glancing around and registering that everyone except Sulu was already there.

Unlike the first two visitors, the lieutenant commander hesitated until Kirk’s nod gave her permission to enter.

"You, too, Commander?" Kirk smiled.

"Well, sir, this er..." Uhura hesitated, still standing in the doorway. "This ‘hostess’ thing. I just didn’t quite know what was expected..."

"Your guess is as good as mine, Penda," Kirk shrugged. "Come in, come in," he motioned to the divan, where McCoy took the hint and made room for her to sit. "We’re just debriefing and speculating a bit on what we’ve seen so far. Anything to add from your perspective?"

Uhura seated herself between the doctor and the Vulcan. "I’m intrigued by the writing on the walls. I’ve been looking at the ones in the corridor between my room and here. As soon as we have some beginning points of reference for translation I’ll be able to start..."

She was interrupted when a deep but tentative voice outside the room called out, "Uhura?...Doctor?..."

"In here, Sulu," McCoy answered.

Following the voice, Sulu pulled aside the drapery and started into the room, then stopped when he realized that it was the captain’s room and not the doctor’s.

"Might as well make it a party, Mister Sulu. Come on in," Kirk set him at ease.

"I was just going to compare notes with Lieutenant Commander Uhura, but she wasn’t in the room I saw her assigned to, then neither was the doctor..."

"I think we all had the same idea, son," McCoy piped up. "Been interesting so far. I guess we all kind of wanted to get each other’s take on the Dorians."

"So far they appear to be very gracious hosts, I guess," Sulu said. "Technology’s pretty backward, of course. Doesn’t seem to be moving very fast, either."

"That’s what Mister Spock said earlier," Kirk agreed.

"Very rich culturally, though, it seems to me," Uhura chimed in. "But very... how should I say it...tradition bound."

"Like this ‘hostess’ thing, you mean?" Sulu agreed.

"Well, yes, that and the wall paintings and mottoes or stories or whatever they are on the walls. That indicates a certain reverence for the past, whether the scenes represent historical or mythological events."

Kirk leaned back, taking in his officers’ speculations. It was always instructive to see how each of them picked up on different elements of a situation depending upon their specialties and interests.

"Judging from the types of weaponry depicted in the paintings..." Sulu began, then jumped and let out an uncharacteristically high pitched squeak when the curtain in front of which he was still standing bumped him from behind. He stepped out of the way just as the drapery was pulled aside to reveal Alinar framed in the archway. She had changed to a lovely midnight-blue garment. Kirk blinked in the realization that Spock was no longer the only person he knew who could approach silently enough to surprise him.

"Ah, so I have found you all together," Alinar smiled, then frowned. "I hope you found nothing to displease you in your accommodations?"

"Not at all, not at all, "Kirk assured her. "My officers and I were just..." he hesitated, feeling a bit awkward about Alinar finding them all together in one room. It could look like they were huddling together like a bunch of frightened puppies. Or it could look like the truth—that the first thing they had done upon being left along was to compare notes about their hosts. Neither was an image he was anxious to present.

"Of course, of course. Unfamiliar surroundings..." Alinar glossed over whatever her interpretation might have been, continuing, "I was coming to invite you to dinner. You have saved me having to collect you individually."

Uhura rose, "Excuse me, Mrs., er, Alinar. I’m...I’m a little unclear about my responsibilities as...hostess."

Alinar smiled sweetly, taking Uhura’s hand and wrapping it into the crook of her own arm. "Come, my dear." Alinar led Uhura toward the doorway, motioning the men to follow. "Just look to me. It will all come naturally to you, I’m sure."

Alinar led the Enterprise party back through corridors they had traversed before, finally pausing at the entry to the room where Kirk had noticed the long table surrounded by oddly shaped and cushioned wooden constructions. Upon entering the room he saw that additional long, narrow tables were placed around the perimeter of the room in front of a collection of traditional chairs and divans backed up against the wall.

Seated or reclining behind the narrow tables were a group of sumptuously dressed Dorians. Most were dripping with jewels, unlike the more simply adorned members of the Urbanity’s family they had met thus far. All wore turban-like headdresses which hid their hair, making it more difficult to judge their ages, although they all looked older than Delessix and Alinar. Perhaps these were the senior members of the Urbanity’s household. Kirk filed away a mental note that although the Urbanity’s title was hereditary, maybe it was not for life. Maybe one only held the responsibilities of office while in the prime of life, being promoted to some more honorary level with age.

Whoever they were, these elder Dorians looked up with interest, but did not speak as Kirk’s party was ushered into the room and assigned to places at the central table.

Kirk was just making a quick count of the places set at the table and trying to decide if it was short one setting, when Alinar approached him. She gently took his arm and drew him toward her so that she could speak discretely. Kirk noted through the scent of her heady perfume, that these people certainly did not demonstrate many taboos about personal space. They approached and touched the strangers like intimate friends.

Alinar’s question brought him back from his mental note taking. "It is our custom to honor the traditions of our guest. Does your...does Makkoi sit beside you or in the place of honor?"

Kirk was taken aback by the question. The Dorians certainly had latched on to the doctor as someone of special standing. Kirk glanced out of the corner of one eye to recognize that the doctor had overheard the Urbanity’s wife, despite her effort at confidentiality. McCoy was waiting with a sardonic twist of his mouth to see how the captain answered.

" custom is to sit as equals when we take meals together. No particular honors are necessary." He sensed an unvoiced "harumph!" from the doctor’s direction, but chose not to acknowledge it. Besides, he was too busy wondering at Alinar’s effort to control her surprise, or was it disapproval?

"Amalia," Delessix’s wife summoned her daughter. "Fetch another setting at the center table. Doranix, a chair, please."

The two royal offspring hastened to fulfill their mother’s requests, taking the plates and setting from one of the perimeter tables where a place was vacant. At the same time, Alinar shepherded Kirk’s crew members to their places. Once assigned, they stood, as their hosts did behind the oddly shaped pieces of furniture.

Delessix stood at the head of the table, with his wife on his right. His son, daughter, granddaughter and a young man he introduced as Amalia’s husband, Darien, were ranged down the side of the table to his left. Kirk was placed at the foot of the table, with Uhura on his right, corresponding to Alinar’s place at her husband’s elbow. McCoy’s place setting was squeezed in on Uhura’s right, next to Darien. Spock and Sulu were seated at Kirk’s left, along the same side as Alinar, leaving the arrangement much more crowded on one side of the table than the other, in compliance, no doubt, with some social protocols Kirk still didn’t understand.

In the rearrangement caused by adding McCoy to the table, Darien had to move his place closer to the baby to make room for the doctor. Watching him, Kirk couldn’t decide whether the extra space he left between himself and the doctor was a result of deference or his wish to maintain distance. Kirk hoped that he hadn’t already made some egregious social error in asking to seat all of his crew members at the same table, but neither Delessix nor his wife gave any indication of being inconvenienced.

"Please be seated," Alinar announced the beginning of the meal. The Dorians slid into the curves of the strange seat, arranging themselves more in it than on it. Kirk and his officers did their best to follow suit. Once he had fitted himself around the curves and cushions, with his weight somehow distributed among thighs, shins and elbows, the captain found that it was not nearly so uncomfortable or off balance as he had expected it to feel.

As soon as they were they all seated, the two Dorian women and the crown prince, Doranix, were on their feet again. At an encouraging gesture from Alinar, Uhura did the same. Silently, mother, son and daughter addressed themselves to the task of serving the three men seated along the walls.

The man Doranix served was laid out on a divan. A twisted foot protruded from beneath the hem of his beautifully embroidered robes. Even the misshapen ankle was adorned with jewels. He took the plate from Doranix and began immediately to feed himself, while Doranix stood by, ready to hand him a drink or refill the plate.

Of the two men served by Alinar and her daughter, one appeared to be blind, and the other had a withered arm. Consequently, two women spoon-fed them.

The youngest of the women at the perimeter tables was seated next to the lame man Doranix served. Kirk’s attention was drawn to her when she dropped a utensil which clattered to the floor

Amalia said, "I’ll get it," and started to turn from the man she was assisting. But Doranix had already bent to retrieve it. It seemed to Kirk that the young man lingered over replacing it carefully beside her still-empty plate. The captain thought he understood the younger man’s apparent show of interest. Despite the turbaned headdress, she seemed pretty, if a little pale for his taste.

"Oohara," Alinar said, with a tinge of reproof in her voice, "your Makkoi is waiting for his meal."

Slowly and uncertainly, the lieutenant commander filled a plate from the servers on the main table and set it down in front of the doctor. She filled a spoon from the plate, lifted it, then hesitated. Kirk saw the look McCoy shot her that said, even in the silence of the room, "Don’t even think about it!"

The doctor snatched the spoon out of Uhura’s hand, but paused before lifting it to his mouth. Kirk realized his awkwardness at being the only one at the central table with food in front of him.

Apparently Delessix also noticed the doctor’s unease. "Please, go ahead. Those who we honor are always served first."

"Those you honor?" Kirk repeated.

"Those who enable us. Those..." Kirk thought he’d have to ask Spock or Uhura to check the translator. It had said, "those who age," rather than "those who are aged." There must be some peculiar syntax to the Dorian language that was causing it to glitch now and then.

"Surely you do not find it unusual to honor those to whom you are indebted among your people? We consider this respect the highest mark of our civility."

"No, no, of course there are those to whom we show, er, special deference," Kirk agreed. "You seem to take it to greater lengths than we are accustomed to, and you are to be commended for that. Perhaps we ought to show greater courtesies to our elderly and infirm."

McCoy was eating now, albeit still a little self consciously. Doranix returned to the table, and Alinar and Amalia went on to prepare plates for two of the older women, now. One was a really venerable old crone. It was Amalia that tended to her with solicitous care. Alinar’s charge was a woman who looked to be about a generation older than herself. She was being remarkably patient and encouraging as the older woman seemed to lack interest in her food. She sat with her arms wrapped across her lower abdomen, rocking back and forth, a pained look on her face. Alinar was barely able to get her to accept a few bites of the meal set before her.

Uhura stood uncertainly, not sure of who else her hostess duties required her to serve.

Noticing her, Amalia looked up from her charge. "Please, Oohara, be seated. Mother and I shall only be a little while more."

Uhura returned to her chair. The child stirred restlessly, but otherwise no one else at the table had made a move yet toward the covered servers from which Doranix and the women had stocked the plates of the honored ones. Conversation had stalled again, so when the elderly woman burped loudly, it resounded in the silence. A sharp look from Kirk quelled any expression of amusement Sulu might find necessary to control. Otherwise, no one seemed to take notice.

"I am interested," Delessix addressed Kirk with the air that he was inaugurating the formal dinner conversation, "your flying city, your ship as you call it, what population number do you carry?"

"Four hundred ninety-eight." Kirk rattled off the usual response.

"Nearly five hundred people," Delessix marveled. "Plus your honored ones, those must be very close quarters indeed—and still be a very large ship."

"Er, no, sir," Sulu answered. "It’s only just the four-hundred-and-some of us."

"We do not carry the aged and infirm with us," Spock added. "Crewmen who are not able-bodied are dropped off at medical installations, or returned to their home planets."

"But you carry Makkoi with you." Alinar had finished serving the woman Kirk judged to be only a little older than himself, and had returned to the table, rejoining the conversation.

"There are, of course, exceptions," Spock agreed, poker faced.

Kirk shot a quick look at McCoy, trying not to smile as he watched the doctor puzzle over whether he had just been insulted or not.

"But there are those whom each of you holds in honor?" Darien persisted.

"Of course," Kirk answered. "We all have older relatives, teachers, mentors, personal heroes and so forth. But we can’t impose on them by bringing them all along on a star ship. They have lives of their own to lead."

"But who cares for them? Who brings them the honors which they merit?" Alinar asked, concerned.

"Mostly, where we come from, everybody is able to take care of themselves. But if they cannot, they or their relatives hire someone to do that for them."

"They hire people?" Amalia had finally returned to the table, having prepared a plate for the last of the remaining honored ones, a woman Kirk judged to be about his own age, although he was beginning to doubt his ability to make such judgments about these people.

"How odd," Amalia continue, "that those who benefit do not likewise serve."

"Your own duties will be lighter after the ceremony, dear," her mother commiserated.

Amalia made a little face, "Not until Analiss is properly trained. Until then..."

As if to illustrate her mother’s concern about her lack of maturity, the little strawberry-haired girl chose that moment to push off from the table edge with the toes of her tiny white sandals, tipping her chair enough for her to lose her balance and fall backwards onto the floor.

Every one of the Humans reflexively made a start toward getting our of their chairs to go to her, but the child’s family showed less concern. Amalia sighed a deep sigh of barely contained patience, slid sideways out of her chair and bent to pick up her daughter. The little one appeared startled by the fall, and by the time her mother reached her, chagrined by her naughty behavior, but otherwise unhurt. She never let out so much as a whimper, which surprised Kirk, since it had sounded like she cracked her head pretty hard on the mosaic floor.

The royal family went on with their meal while their youngest member was restored to her chair and pushed firmly up to the table. When Amalia resumed her place, her father picked up the thread of conversation where it had been originally interrupted.

"Think about what Kirkix has said for a moment, Amalia. The odd practice of using surrogate servers pales beside the greater issue of being able to travel so far away from those they leave behind. How far away from your home planet are you, Kirkix?"

"A distance which it would be difficult for you to grasp, Delessix, unless you are familiar with the concept of light-years."

"Light. Years?" the Urbanity repeated. He exchanged gestures with Alinar indicating that he was ready for her to begin the family meal, but kept his attention on Kirk while his wife and daughter rose from the table again to fill plates for their husbands. Uhura attempted to follow their lead, and with an exchange of nods and glances was given to know that it was now time for her to wait upon Kirk.

Darien spoke up, "I believe it is a term which has something to do with how far light travels while the planet makes one whole rotation around our sun."

"Actually, that is a fairly accurate description of the concept," Spock complimented the younger man. "However, Captain," Spock reminded Kirk, "the explanation of the actual distance would be complicated by Doria’s longer rotation, while the expression of the resulting numbers would also be affected if the Dorians calculate in base twelve which can be inferred from the presence of six digits on their hands, making the equivalent in Dorian terms on the order of..."

Seeing the Urbanity’s eyes begin to glaze over, Kirk interrupted just as Uhura slid a plate in front of him. "Spock, perhaps we can just approximate by telling Delessix how many days away from Earth we are." This would also help skip over a discussion so early in their acquaintance with the Dorians of the actual distances Federation technology allowed them to travel.

"Thirty-four point one nine days, Captain," Spock responded almost immediately. "Dorian days, that is, of course."

"Of course," Kirk repeated, realizing that Spock had made the transposing calculation in his head without missing so much as a beat in the conversation.

"Thirty-four days!" Darien marveled. "And that’s at flying speed. Our air ships..." Kirk noticed that the translator was working well enough now to have made the sensible rather than literal translation, and was no longer referring to ‘bird-wagons.’ "...Our air ships must attain a speed of over two thousand tarks per dessiod just to get off the ground. Can you imagine how far one would go in thirty-four days?"

Kirk had no idea what either a tark or a dessiod was, and he was sure that whatever the calculation indicated, it was a minuscule distance compared to warp speed. However, this was no time to overwhelm their new acquaintances with more than they were ready to understand. Let them think in terms of tarks and whatever for the time being.

"And at this great distance from home," Delessix marveled, "not only you, but your whole crew are able to maintain your vitality and health. You certainly appear to be hale and well."

"He has me to thank for that," McCoy interjected, finally finding his way into the conversation.

The table fell silent for a moment, all eyes riveted on McCoy, then almost instantly averted.

"Er, yes, of course he does," Delessix broke the awkward quiet.

"But I’d venture to say," Doranix added, "that Kirkix must lead a protected life. Makkoi seems very his position as Kirkix’s healer."

"Don’t you believe it for a minute, son. Putting him back together again after some of the scrapes he’s gotten into has taken years off my..." McCoy wound down rapidly when he realized that everyone was suddenly studiously intent upon their plates.

There was another awkward pause, then Kirk was relieved when Alinar turned the conversation toward the meal in front of him. He hadn’t liked the reference to his newly protected status, even though it must have been made in complete ignorance of the current nuances of Starfleet policy. Nor was he quite comfortable with the odd way in which McCoy seemed to be repeatedly singled out.

"Those of you without hostesses to attend upon you may now begin." The royal mother and daughter finally began filling plates for themselves, with Doranix doing the same. Apparently, although he was heir to the throne, and had done his share in caring for the old ones, without a wife to serve him, he was expected to shift for himself.

Sulu reached for the nearest serving dish, but Spock hesitated. Kirk noticed Uhura watching their science officer and then, in the most graceful and spontaneous fulfillment of her role as hostess for the men of the crew she asked, "Alinar, perhaps you could tell us what some of these dishes consist of. Some of us," she politely neglected to indicate which one, "are bound by our respective traditions not to eat meat."

"Meat?" Alinar repeated blankly.

"The flesh of animals," Spock clarified.

Amalia’s hand sprung to her mouth. The others’ expressions carried various looks of shock and revulsion.

Delessix fixed Kirk with a disapproving stare. "In your culture you feed upon your fellow creatures? Perhaps we do not have so much to learn from you after all."

"Uh, actually..." Kirk fished for an answer that would not escalate the Dorians’ reaction into a failed first contact mission.

Surprisingly, it was Spock who came to his rescue. "In our travels, we have encountered many different races with different ethical considerations in regards to the consumption of animal flesh. Uhura was simply attempting to clarify whether or not—"

"I should say not! Image even having to ask such a thing!" Delessix was mollified somewhat, although still mildly insulted that the Dorians, after their great show of civility, should even be suspected of such barbarity.

Kirk breathed an unobtrusive sigh of relief and glanced over speculatively at his first officer. Ever since the mind meld with V’ger, Spock had really gotten the hang of Human communication. He would probably never really manage an all-out lie, but he had mastered omission, and now it seemed he was becoming adept at misdirection. He would have to congratulate his first officer when he got the chance. And thank him.

The remainder of the meal was occupied by a simplified discussion on the subject of Dorian technology, artfully led by Darien, the Urbanity’s son-in-law.

When the servers and plates alike were empty, and the clatter of utensils had ceased, the two Dorian women rose and began to gather up the remains. Uhura started to unwind herself from her chair to follow them, but was motioned back by Alinar. "Stay and enjoy the conversation, dear. A visiting hostess is not asked to participate in the work of the household here."

However, when both the central and perimeter tables had been cleared, Doranix, the Urbanity’s son also rose and Alinar gave Uhura a pointed look. The lieutenant commander returned it blankly, not sure what was expected of her.

"You wish to conduct Makkoi back to his room, do you not?"

"But I’m not..." the doctor in question protested, but he was shushed by a shake of the head from Kirk.

"Local customs, Bones," he muttered under his breath, imploring the doctor to go along with this most recent aberration in the name of harmony.

"You do know how to find your way back?" Alinar asked solicitously.

Uhura nodded. "Yes, I’m sorry I just..." She took McCoy by the arm as she had seen Amalia escorting the blind man.

"It’s all right." Kirk overheard Alinar reassuring the lieutenant commander. "I know you’re not accustomed to acting the hostess role for Kirkix. The occasional reminder is not meant to be taken as criticism." The Urbanity’s wife took the remaining man among the "honored ones" by his good arm and led him toward the door. "We’ll see you back here in a few minutes then, Oohara," she said over her shoulder.

McCoy shot one last dark glance at Kirk as the communications officer led him out of the room.

Kirk watched as Doranix bent over the lame man’s divan and adjusted something that lowered small casters underneath so that he could push the whole divan out the door. Then Darien, Amalia’s husband, resumed the discussion of current Dorian advances in long range communication which had been interrupted by the women’s departure.

The captain found it difficult to keep his mind on the conversation, as the Dorian women returned to wheel or assist each of the rest of the "honored ones" out of the dining hall in turn, while the heir apparent resumed his own seat and joined back into the conversation.

The oldest woman must have nodded off. Amalia tried unsuccessfully to rouse her, and ended by pushing the slumbering old woman, chair and all, out of the room. Kirk thought it was no wonder that she had fallen asleep. For all the solicitous care lavished on them by the woman and the Urbanity’s son, no one had actually spoken to one of the "honored ones" throughout the meal, nor had any of them been included in the conversation. Some additional odd quirk of tradition, no doubt, but he couldn’t blame the old woman for losing interest in the proceedings.

McCoy must have detained Uhura with his complaining. That or she had purposely lingered until the Dorian women returned in order to follow their lead. In any event, the three of them came back into the room together and resumed their places at the table.

As soon as Doranix allowed himself a moment’s pause in their current discourse, his father broke in to change the subject. "Enough of mechanics for tonight. I for one, would like to hear a song before retiring. We would not wish our guests to think that we are remiss in our pursuit of the finer arts."

Both young men arose without further coaxing. Amalia checked the little one, who like the old woman had allowed her head to fall forward over her arms and was soundly asleep. Then she, too, rose to join her brother and husband. The three young people assumed a formal stance several steps behind their vacated seats and began without preamble to strike an a capella chord, which modulated into an ever more complex entwining of voices, then soared into song.

The lyrics were in a Dorian dialect still unfamiliar to the translator which was able to pick up only a few scattered words. Kirk mentally tuned it out in order to concentrate on the purity of the sound, devoid of any meaning but its own beauty. He was no expert in musical theory, but he sensed that there were different basic assumptions to the musical scale around which this melody was composed. Meter, likewise, was not entirely foreign to his ear, yet it was fraught with the occasional unexpected emphasis or syncopation which gave it an exotic and ethereal feeling.

A second song followed, more staccato and intricate than the first. When the voices fell silent, Uhura began spontaneously to applaud. Sulu joined her, with Kirk also clapping enthusiastically. Even Spock followed suit, albeit in a more restrained fashion. His appreciation, however, was visible in his eyes.

At the sound of the clapping, all five of the Dorians turned, startled, to look at their guests. Kirk raised his voice over the applause, "Allow us to indulge in a custom of our own, Delessix. Applause. It means we were very moved by the singing."

"It was very beautiful," Uhura added.

"Approval, you say?" Delessix repeated, a smile replacing his look of alarm.

Kirk nodded.

The Urbanity cupped his two hands, bringing them together with a resounding, hollow sound. Then repeated he action several times in quick succession. "I, too, approve, my children. Your achievement always brings pleasure to my ears," he beamed.

The clapping finally subsided, having been prolonged by the Urbanity’s enthusiasm to the point where arms were becoming tired and Kirk’s crew were beginning to exchange surreptitious glances.

"I am sure our guests are tired, Delessix," Alinar said. "They have traveled many days to meet us, and travel is always so exhausting. Shall we allow them to take their rest?"

"Of course, of course," their host agreed. "Enough for tonight. We shall have many days to demonstrate the arts and sciences of our people. Perhaps tomorrow you would like to inspect our flying machines, Kirkix?"

"And I shall show Oohara our art galleries," Amalia offered.

"But now to bed," Alinar rose and began shepherding her family and guests toward the corridor.

Kirk was certainly tired. Although travel aboard the Enterprise was nowhere near as tiring as the Urbanity’s wife assumed it to be, it had been a long day. However, he hung back to speak quietly to his officers. "My quarters. Ten minutes. Spock, see if you can find Bones and bring him along."


In less than the time allotted, Kirk heart the quiet shuffle of four pairs of feet approaching his doorway. "Come," he said softly.

Then, when they had all found seats on one of the twin divans or the deep plush rug between them, he asked, "Impressions?"

Kirk was not surprised when McCoy was the first to speak. "How’m I supposed to have any impressions when I was ushered out of the proceedings before they were even over. Like I was some little kid who couldn’t stay up late with the grown ups."

"May I point out, Doctor, that the child remained with the company. It was the elderly and infirm who were removed early. I believe you have some Human colloquialism about shoes fitting..."

Before McCoy could get to his feet and launch himself at the impassive Vulcan, Kirk cut in. "Just one of the curiosities of the evening, Bones. You were there for most of it, and I expect you to have made some useful observations. We’ve got some customs here we don’t fully understand yet. And besides, even though you did miss the musical entertainment, you did get to eat first."

"If anyone ought to take exception to being included in their customs, it’s me," Uhura interjected. "I was the one who had to fetch and carry like a serving wench."

"That’s just what I mean," Kirk said. "If we can get past the personal affronts and take a look at the culture itself and what some of these traditions mean, we can start the analysis we’re here to make. I repeat, impressions?"

Repentantly, Uhura began, now effectively translating the personal to the objective observation. "Okay. We saw further demonstration of the gender role differentiation we had noted earlier. The women serve the men and the old people."

"Further than that, Commander," Spock prompted. "Which people did each woman serve and in what order?"

"Well, let me see," Uhura reflected. "Alinar took care of the two men and a woman. Amalia served first one of the men, then the old woman, and then one other woman. I was expected to wait on both Doctor McCoy and you, Captain."

"So what do you perceive to be the order of precedence?" Spock asked.

"The older men first, then the older women, and then their husbands. I guess." She frowned. "But that doesn’t make sense. Why, when he was seated at the main table, would I serve the doctor before his superior officer?"

"You forget," McCoy suggested, "that I was supposed to be seated at the other tables with the..."

"With the old and sick," Sulu said helpfully.

"With the ‘honored ones,’" McCoy corrected archly. "It was those special people that were served before the royal family themselves. And besides, they weren’t all old and sick. One of the younger women at the side tables looked perfectly fine to me."

"Don’t forget, Uhura," Sulu added, "It wasn’t just the women doing all the work. Doranix, the heir apparent, fed one of the old folks, too."

"However," Uhura mused, "Darien, Amalia’s husband, isn’t blood-related to the royal family, and yet he wasn’t expected to serve anybody else, even though his wife served him."

"Maybe that’s the operative word; wife," Sulu suggested. "Nobody served me or Mister Spock because, like Doranix, we were the single men at the table."

"Well, so were Jim and I," McCoy contested Sulu’s theory.

"But you were placed in the role of ‘honored one,’" Spock said. "While the captain, although unallied, was assigned to receive Uhura’s ministrations as if she were his spouse."

"I’m sure it’s nothing more than some complicated social hierarchy which we’ll get the hang of eventually. And they probably wanted to put McCoy with the older people as some subtle way of getting him to offer to take a closer look at them and maybe use some of our more advanced medical techniques to help them out," Kirk said.

"I hadn’t thought of it that way," McCoy said. "Maybe I should have checked them over more closely. For all the care they lavish on those folks, their medical skills seem to be sorely lacking. Even in a fairly primitive society, there was no excuse, for instance, for the crooked way that one man’s foot had been allowed to heal. I’ll have to ask tomorrow if they’d let me try to help them out."

"The Prime Directive, Doctor..." Spock began.

"Oh, to hell with the Prime Directive; it doesn’t apply to what I’m talking about," McCoy said impatiently. "I’m not talking about enrolling them in Starfleet medical school—just helping out a few people with some relatively simple problems."

"Gentlemen," Kirk held up a hand. "It’s late and I, for one, have had a very long day. Could we try to stay on track and stick to relevant observations? Commander," he looked to Uhura, "anything else?"

"Well," she said tentatively, "the young people in the royal family have beautiful voices."

Kirk sighed, "Is that relevant, Uhura?"

"Perhaps so, Captain," Spock came unexpectedly to her defense. "Relevant in that the entertaining was done, as well as the serving we discussed before, directly by members of the royal family itself. We saw no servants or entertainers this evening."

Kirk nodded, "Perhaps a uniquely classless society, then. Good observation." He made a point of including Uhura in his nod of approval, hoping to make up for his previous impatience.

"Educated, too," Sulu added. "Darien and Doranix both seemed very interested and well-versed in the technologies and sciences of their world; even though it’s pretty early-stage stuff. Darien especially. Doranix was a little less talkative, but apparently just as bright."

"So, we have a classless society where even the royal family seems to take care of itself, where young people are well educated in both science and the arts, where the old and feeble are venerated, the cities planned..." Kirk began to list their findings.

"Where contemplation of history or mythology is encouraged by including it in their wall decorations," Uhura added.

"And privacy, or maybe secrecy is not an issue." Sulu gestured toward the draped doorway.

Spock added a comment of his own, "And animals are not raised for food."

"And animals are not raised for food," Kirk repeated, ticking off one more finger. "On the whole, high marks for the Dorians as potential Federation candidates. They seem to be uniquely civilized people for this early stage of their development."

He arched his back, stretching against the tiredness of a log, intense day. The delicacy involved in a first contact; the sense of walking on eggs all night to avoid an inadvertent breach of local customs, while keeping one’s eyes open to observe every relevant detail could be more exhausting than a day outsmarting the Klingons, which was more likely to leave him energized than exhausted. "A good night’s work, everyone. I won’t keep you any longer. Back to your rooms and get some sleep. Tomorrow we get to see the flying machines."

"Some of you do," the chief communications officer pulled a mock pout. "I get to see the art galleries."

"All of it is important, Uhura," Kirk said, knowing that the lieutenant commander would probably be more interested in the cultural and communications implications of a gallery tour than in antique flying machines, anyway. She was just making the point to reinforce her observations about gender roles among the Dorians. "The more different aspects of the culture we can explore at the same time, the more quickly we can complete the mission. Now, the lot of you, get out of here, and let’s get some rest."


"Perhaps you can read some of the mottoes off the wall for me," Uhura asked Amalia as they wound their way through the corridors of the palace. "As you know, we have a translating device which allows us to understand your spoken language, but it doesn’t help with the written word."

The communications officer didn’t add that there were indeed visual devices, special programs available for the tricorder, which could have decoded the calligraphy. But they had intentionally brought no more examples of Starfleet technology than they absolutely needed. The fewer opportunities for cultural contamination the better.

Uhura had fought to bring along those devices which would have aided her communications analysis, arguing that between the crashed satellite, the translators, the shuttle and the unusual features of their esteemed science officer, there were already sufficient sources of cultural contamination. One more could have little impact. But she was overruled, and took it gracefully since even the doctor and Mister Spock had some of their requests refused as well.

Of course, as negotiations progressed toward the signing of treaties, translators for the written word would have to be brought into play, but that was a while down the road yet. For now, she would have to make do with what Amalia could tell her.

The Urbanity’s daughter was most willing. "Certainly, Oohara. As you may have guessed, the writings on the walls are sayings of great truths about our Way of life. We are meant to take leisure and to contemplate them so as to remember our good fortune and those to whom we owe it."

Suiting action to words, she led Uhura to a sleigh-shaped divan and sat them both down, facing the decorative script on the opposite wall. "This one says, ‘Honor those who carry the burden of age.’ And the one below it says, ‘Remember that youth carries with it responsibility.’"

Amalia didn’t rise immediately, but sat focused on the homilies, apparently engaged in the requisite contemplation. Uhura kept the same silence for a moment. They were noble sentiments, she was sure, and it was good to be reminded of them, but she wasn’t getting the same emotional intensity from the words as Amalia seemed to be experiencing. Uhura could see wetness rise in her guide’s eyes as she gazed intently at the writing on the opposite wall.

Finally, when Amalia’s concentration seemed to be breaking, Uhura took the opportunity for more personal conversation. "Your own personal burden is absent today," she observed.

"My...?" Amalia looked at her blankly.

"The little one. Your daughter, Analiss?"

"Oh! The burden of my daughter is not mine to bear."

"Baby-sitter? Nanny?"

Amalia tasted the unfamiliar words. "You have some interesting words, Oohara. Baby-sitter I think I understand. Nanny?"

"Much the same thing. Someone who assumes responsibility for a child."

"Yes, I do understand you correctly. You saw Analiss’ did you call her...nanny?...last night at dinner, among the honored ones."

"Oh? Which one was she?"

"The oldest and most venerable. She also served me when I was an infant," Amalia answered.

Uhura thought back to the row of older people. The "nanny" wasn’t hard to pick out. She was ancient, and gave the appearance of having been somewhat childlike herself in the unselfconscious way she allowed her digestive eruptions to be heard by the room at large without so much as an "excuse me."

In Uhura’s opinion, despite her long history with the family, the old woman was neither the model for alertness or table manners which should have qualified her to be given responsibility for the youngest member of the royal family. She’d fallen asleep at the table—apparently undisturbed when the child supposedly in her charge fell out of her chair and gave herself a good whack on the head. Even though the little girl seemed not to be hurt, it wasn’t the way Uhura would have expected a nanny to react.

As she thought back about the old woman, who had even needed help with her food, the crone’s features came more clearly to memory. There had been a nasty skin irritation or rash, Uhura remembered. She hoped it wasn’t a contagious condition if the old woman had daily contact with pretty little Analiss. All in all, she hoped that perhaps the title of "nanny" was more honorary than functional.

"Oh, but I must continue your tour," Amalia broke Uhura’s train of thought by suddenly leaping to her feet. "You will be more interested in the pictorial tapestries down this corridor." She began to lead the way. "I realize that you cannot yet read our language and that the contemplation of the written word does not carry the same meaning for you that it does for us. Come. I will show you the story of the founder of our Way."

Amalia gestured for Uhura to follow, which the communications officer did eagerly. Amalia was right; this promised to be a much more interesting and revealing part of the tour.

They passed several more pieces of what appeared to be homilies in the script of the Dorians before turning a corner into a corridor which seemed somehow older than the ones where they had been walking. This hallway was narrower, the ceiling lower, the walls thicker, if the doorways were any indication. If Uhura guessed their location correctly, they had been winding their way deeper and deeper toward the center of the palace. This, then, might very well be an older section, perhaps the very oldest, which had been surrounded by the additions which completed the modern palace over time.

This room was more like a gallery unto itself than a mere passageway. Like several other corridors through which they had passed, it was hung with woven tapestries. The hangings here, however, were much larger, pictorial rather than written, and faded with age.

"The story begins here," Amalia led her toward the first hanging on their right. It depicted a tall man in pale blue robes. Next to him, and much smaller in size was a man in yellow robes and a turban. Gathered around their feet, were a crowd of what looked like beggars, their arms raised in supplication. From their gaunt faces, and the fact that some were holding up empty bowls, Uhura surmised that they were hungry in addition to whatever else may have afflicted them. The tall man at the center looked solemn.

Uhura could not be sure, since the colors were so faded, but it appeared that there were stylized tears on both his cheeks and those of the yellow robed man next to him.

"This is Danix. The first to Exceed. And with him, his servant, Nafar," Amalia explained. Her voice had the tone of one reciting from memory. "His people suffer, and he does not have enough to give."

Amalia led the way to the next picture. From the colors of the robes, Uhura recognized that this might be the same Danix from the previous picture. But now he was seated at a desk, studying scrolls by candle light. The turbaned man, Amalia had identified as Nafar stood to one side, holding a pitcher. Above the left shoulder of the figure of Danix there appeared to be a bleached out spot on the canvas. Just a small spot, but dead white and featureless. Uhura’s artistic sensibilities regretted the apparent damage to the ancient artwork.

"Danix was a scholar," Amalia said without further explanation, and then moved on to the next picture.

This one showed the character Uhura now recognized as Danix tinkering with a contraption that reminded her of illustrations she had seen involving DaVinci with his inventions. Again, Nafar hovered in the background.

But then Uhura noticed that bleached out spot above Danix’ shoulder again. She glanced back to the very first picture and saw it again. She hadn’t noticed it before, because rather than resting above Danix’s left shoulder as it did in the second and third pictures, the featureless spot was smaller and higher up in the scene, seemingly falling through the dark, woven sky. Perhaps, she thought, this was the Dorian artists’ version of the halo that appeared behind the heads of revered figures in renaissance and medieval art, or the cometary shapes that were shown reflected in the eyes of the mystics in pictures from the early post-millennial era.

"Danix was a discoverer of the mysteries of mechanics," Amalia intoned, leading the way to the next picture. Here, Danix was shown standing on a hilltop, gesturing to a pristine and well ordered city in the valley below. Again, the character of Nafar stood beside and slightly behind his master, still much smaller in stature. Again, the halo-dot, as Uhura had begun to think of it, rested just above the central figure’s shoulder.

Amalia continued her rote explanation: "Danix planned our cities and made them rise."

"But Danix grew old and unwell, and his work was not finished." Amalia stepped along, to stop in front of the next in the series. It showed a man, recognizable by his pale blue costume and the ever-present halo-dot, but with a long beard and sunken eyes. He stooped over a walking stick, his back hunched and his head bowed. Nafar stood at his elbow, now closer in size— enough to be of some practical use as support for the feeble older man. His concern showed even through the formal attitudes of the artistic style.

"His servant came to him." Amalia recited the ritual. "Danix’ servant, Nafar, said to him, ‘You are a great leader. You have done much for our people. Your death would be a great loss for your work is not yet finished. I would lift your burden so that you can continue to lead our people and complete your work.’"

The next panel showed both men, now of equal size, standing side by side with hands outstretched toward each other. The white spot had migrated in this picture to just above the place where their fingers almost touched.

The Urbanity’s daughter paused in front of this one in reverent silence for several minutes. Then, just when Uhura was beginning to think that they would pass this picture without comment, Amalia said, "And Nafar extended the hand of healing that his beloved master might live."

She walked quickly now to the next picture, continuing to speak as she walked. "And it was so."

In this next hanging, Danix was shown standing straighter and handing his walking stick to his servant.

Uhura had been so intrigued by the story of the tapestries, and Amalia’s reverence for the legend they told, that she was surprised to find that they had circled the room and now stood back near the doorway where they had entered. Only one more hanging remained on their tour.

In this one, two men stood side by side, now depicted as equal in stature. It was difficult at first to be sure which character was which, for now both were bearded. However, one still wore the simple blue robes she had come to associate with Danix, while the other was dressed in finery. Uhura guessed, however, that this was still the figure of the servant, Nafar, because of the turban that remained from all the earlier depictions of that character. She also assumed that some significant time had passed between this and the last picture, because not only did Nafar still hold the walking stick which Danix had handed to him in the last picture, he now obviously leaned on it for support.

Amalia intoned: "And Danix grew strong again, and lived to complete his work. The cities grew and our poor no longer hungered. From that day, our wise lived unfettered by the burdens of the body, so that they could realize the full potential of their wisdom for the good of their people. And as his servant grew old beneath his burden of love, Danix honored him above himself. It was the beginning of our Way."

Uhura nodded her understanding of the story, although she could not find it in herself to be as moved by it as Amalia apparently was. She thought, however, that Doctor McCoy would probably appreciate the tale more than she, as it glorified the healing arts with such ritualized reverence.

Uhura felt she had to say something, so she ventured, "Danix must have been a very wise man to found your cities, succeed in ending hunger and everything else. A scholar and a leader is a rare combination."

But Amalia’s answer was unexpected. "Equally responsible was Nafar, who enabled him."

"Well, yes, I suppose so," Uhura mumbled. Surely there was something to be said for the old saying, "You don’t have nothin’ if you don’t have your health," but she had never seen a people acknowledge their physicians’ role in their personal successes to this extent. Doctor McCoy would become impossible to live with once he really understood this aspect of the Dorian culture.

The tour over, Amalia suggested a light lunch on the rooftop garden. The men were all off on an inspection of factories and flying machines, so it would only be the women. Uhura didn’t mind waiting alone while Amalia went to fetch her mother to join them. She occupied herself in appreciation of the lovely exotic blooms planted artfully around the perimeter of the rooftop in stone planters. Benches and tables were placed to define conversational areas and pathways intended for strolling wound among the gardens. The view over the top of the city and into the valley beyond was pastoral. She was aware that it was taking Amalia a long time to rejoin her, but she didn’t mind.

Uhura sat back on a divan of some wicker-like material, turning her face to the sun and closing her eyes. She was thinking that she didn’t get to enjoy this kind of simple peace and quiet nearly often enough, when the peace was broken by the sound of running footsteps. She looked up to see that Amalia had brought not only her mother, but the little girl back with her. Both women carried plates and baskets of delicacies for their lunch.

Analiss had an open basket of linens swinging from a pudgy little arm. In her childish enthusiasm, she tripped over a flagstone and fell headlong, the snowy white napkins fluttering from the basket like confused birds.

Uhura dashed to the little girl and knelt over her, helping her up. "Are you all right, honey? Where does it hurt?"

"Hurt?" the little girl repeated.

"Analiss, you must be more careful!" her mother scolded from where she was picking up the napkins and shaking them out.

"It’s all right," Uhura called to her, inspecting the child’s knees as best she could before Analiss scampered away again. "She doesn’t appear to be hurt Not even a little skinned up."

The little girl was incredibly lucky, Uhura thought as she rose to her feet. Her own knees were deeply dented from the tiny gravel that paved the path, just from the few moments she had knelt there.

Alinar took the child firmly by the arm as she was about to dash past, then crouched to meet her at her own eye level. "Analiss," she said sternly, "you know that it is dishonorable to take chances."

"But, Eemie, I was just..." the little girl defended herself.

"She wasn’t really..." Uhura began, but then decided it was not her place to interfere with the family’s discipline, even if she thought the child’s grandmother was taking it a little too seriously.

"Analiss, you are nearly at the age of your ceremony. A responsible child does not knowingly put herself at risk. It is time for you to think before following every silly impulse. You will not always have the old one to carry the consequences of your wantonness."

"Yes, Eemie," the child lowered her eyes in suitable contrition.

The youthful grandmother rose gracefully and took the child by her chubby little hand, the storm clouds now past, and said, "Come. Let us see what your mother has set out for your lunch."


The men of the Enterprise party spent the morning on the official tour of the accomplishments of Dorian technology. The invitation had not included the doctor, who made a show to Kirk and others of being mightily offended, but Kirk suspected he was not really disappointed, as the doctor probably had agendas of his own to pursue.

Delessix and his son and son-in-law conducted a narrated bus tour of the outlying farmlands and vineyards. As the tram-like vehicle covered the distance to the agricultural sites on narrow roadways, and the scenery drifted by, and the summer scented air wafted through the open sides of the vehicle, Kirk sat back and enjoyed the simple pleasures of this planet which was so much like home.

As they left the city, fields of knee high dense greenery bordered the roadway, followed at a greater distance by vast stretches of taller, grass-like plants which rippled in the light breeze. All the fields were cultivated, none left for pasture, because, Kirk remembered, the Dorians raised no cattle or other meat animals.

Periodically, they passed under elevated structures which Spock ventured to identify as analogous to old-Earth rail lines.

"They are indeed transportation lines," Delessix confirmed in response to their speculation.

"I surmised as much from the fact that the pathways of the transport lines seem to parallel a series of silos." Spock explained. "These would be collection points from individual fields."

Kirk continued the thought, "Then there are centralized processing plants farther up the lines?"

"Yes," Doranix answered. "It is most efficient for those who own each parcel of land to be concerned only with farming it. Processing and distribution are best managed at a more centralized level."

"Are the processing plants owned by the government, then?" Sulu asked.

"Owned?" Delessix thought about the concept of ownership for a moment before answering. "The government does not own anything as such. Families own the land and the crops, collectives of the farmers in each City’s outlands own the processing and the transport lines. All is managed for the general welfare, however. According to the Way of Danix."

"Danix?" Kirk repeated.

"The first of our leaders to Exceed," Delessix replied, without really enlightening them. "It was he who designed our way of life, planned for the future of our civilization."

Kirk heard Doranix, the Urbanity’s son add, under his breath, "Nor could he have done it without the acquiescence of Nafar."

Despite the low tone of his son’s comment, Delessix must have heard him. And from the curtness of his answer it appeared that the Urbanity had heard the same comment more than once from Doranix. "The Contribution of Nafar is equally a part of the harmony in which we live," he responded with equanimity.

Then, as if to change an overworked subject, the Urbanity turned back to the fields passing by in the wake of the tram. "There are some of the farmers in the field over there," he said, pointing. "Farming families consist of a number of offspring and extended relations. That way some will work directly on the land and others will participate in the work of the processing plants or distribution systems."

"If each city has only one farming collective surrounding it, then there’s no competition, no branding of products, no..."

Spock stepped in, "No profiteering, no price wars, no speculative trade in basic commodities. Clearly a more efficient system for the production and equitable distribution of agricultural products."

"On our home world," Kirk cautioned, " we learned that if all an individual’s physical needs are met, regardless of what they contribute, it doesn’t take very long for them to cease contributing. In the short run that kind of thing leads to the trap of a welfare society, and in the long run to the complete breakdown of a society where nothing is done well, including the redistribution process on which the system was originally based."

"Wel-fare?" Doranix repeated.

Delessix shook his head emphatically, "In our world everyone is proud to do their share. Everyone works, everyone is fed and everyone has leisure to pursue learning and the arts."

"What my father means is that everyone works except those who do not," Doranix said.

"‘Those who do not?’" Sulu questioned.

"Those who bear the burdens of age and infirmity," Darien responded quickly, with a sidelong glance of warning at his brother-in-law.

"Well, of course not," Kirk agreed. "No system would expect an equal contribution from those who cannot carry their own weight."

"As I said," Delessix preened, "we are a very civilized society. The Way of Danix has worked for us since ancient times and worked well." His words were directed at his guests, but Kirk had the feeling that they were also meant for the benefit of someone else in the party.

"What about the people who work in the cities?" Kirk asked. "I can see how the agricultural segment becomes kind of a continuous flow, with members of the farming community also having a say and being responsible for the processing and distribution of their crops. But what about the...the doctors and lawyers and accountants and..."

"I suspect, Captain, that many of those professions do not proliferate as they do on Earth. For instance, Urbanity," Spock turned to address their host, "when there are disputes about property and the like, how are they settled?"

"Within the family, of course. The senior member of each family has the final authority, and if a dispute exists between families it can be brought to a relative which both families share in common, or to the Seat of the Urbanity."

"But not all crimes are disputes about property, what about crimes of...of passion?"

"They are rare," Delessix glossed.

"But they do exist, Father," Doranix pushed.

"And they, too, are handled within the family," Delessix said firmly.

This undercurrent of strain between father and son was making Kirk uncomfortable. He tried to divert the conversation by returning to his original question.

"The legal system aside, what about the workers? The people who run the trains, or build the buildings or," he searched his brain for occupations which would be appropriate to this earlier stage of development which would not be related to the production and consumption of food or the law. "...Or design and build your machines," he finished.

Darien, the Urbanity’s son-in-law, answered. Kirk guessed that it was because he, too, was trying to defuse whatever disagreements his wife’s father and brother were engaged in. Whatever its sources, it had the sound of a long-running discussion.

"Family is a major determining factor in the work people choose. A man is likely to do the same work as his father did. But it is not rigid. We know that a man must have choices and be able to follow his own interests. Therefore, a man may marry and enter the work of his allied’s family. Or he may simply apprentice himself to another family and cement the repatriation at a later time by choosing an alliance with a woman from that new family’s trade."

"That sounds a little like what my ancestors did," Sulu remarked. "In our world today, the choice of spouse and the choice of career are made pretty much independent of each other."

"We find that it is more harmonious if the woman is at home with her allied’s work. She can be a great source of support," Darien countered.

"On some worlds women have careers of their own," Spock added.

"I cannot imagine the confusion and disharmony that would cause," Darien shook his head in wonderment.

Kirk knew in his heart of hearts that the Dorians were clinging to a very unenlightened attitude toward gender roles. They were in for some rocky times as the culture evolved, which would be worth it in the long run. But, at the same time, he couldn’t help but wonder about how much easier it might have been to have a spouse that really understood his work and didn’t have a career of her own. If Carol... But no, that was unfair to her. Would he have had her be no more than his "hostess" and cook? Heaven knew it wouldn’t have suited her—especially the cooking part.

Delessix’s announcement snapped Kirk out of his reverie: "We shall arrive at the east processing plant in a few more moments." Kirk could see the low, rambling shape of a simple geometric building rising beyond the broad field of golden, waist-high grain passing on his right.

"Kirkix, perhaps you would like to pause there to see the plant at work?" Delessix invited.

"And perhaps," Doranix interjected, "our other two guests would like to return with Darien and me to tour the flight laboratories and give us the benefit of their knowledge of flying machines."

"I’d love to!" Lieutenant Commander Sulu replied with relish.

Kirk surmised from Delessix’s expression this was not exactly the way he had planned the morning’s tour, but now that one of his guests had demonstrated such enthusiasm, he could hardly renege on his son’s offer.

"And you, Spock?" Darien extended the invitation.

"With the captain’s permission," Spock deferred.

Kirk figured Sulu was more likely to avoid sharing more information than was appropriate if his more guarded first officer was with him. So, he nodded his permission, although he himself would rather have been going on the tour of the flight laboratories instead of watching the agricultural processors shuck whatever passed for corn on this planet.

In no time at all the tram had arrived in front of the rambling plant. Delessix was already extolling the productivity of the food packing industry as he hustled Kirk off in the direction of the wide, square doorway. The captain cast an envious look over his shoulder as the remainder of the party pulled away in the tram.

"Don’t worry, Kirkix," Delessix beamed, "we will catch a ride back to the city in one of the transports when it comes by. That way you will have a chance to make the whole circuit of the outlying farm lands to see the richness of our lands."

Kirk managed an interested smile despite the inward groan of boredom he already felt. 


The tram quickly found a cut-off road that led back in the direction of the City of Edliw.

"I hope you weren’t offended that I suggested we break up the tour," Doranix turned to Sulu. "My father is always so anxious to show off the farms and processing plants. Every time we have visitors from another of the Cities he has to make the grand tour of the farms and plants a formal part of the visit."

"We do eat well here, compared to the simpler fare in some of the other Cities," Darien put in.

"We do. Indeed, we do, I have to admit that. But my father takes such great pleasure in the overstatement of that fact to any visitor who is obliged by courtesy to accept his invitation. I appreciate the work of our farmers as much as the next man, but a vegetable is only a vegetable. One is pretty much the same as the rest."

"No," Sulu assured the Urbanity’s son, "I really was looking forward to seeing the...the flying machines. I can live without the tour of the grocery store."

"Good." Doranix said. "I hoped I wasn’t being rude in pushing my preferences off on you."

"Not at all," Sulu answered.

"Only, perhaps, a little...obvious," Spock concurred.

"Nothing new about that," Darien teased his brother-in-law. "Nothing subtle about Doranix when he thinks the Urbanity needs to have a little air let out of him."

"As he so often does." Doranix’s tone lacked some of the bantering quality of Darien’s remark.

No, Spock concluded, very little subtlety to the persistent current of friction that seemed to exist between father and son, despite the Urbanity’s obvious pride in the young man. It was a contradiction with which he, himself, was sufficiently familiar.

A fast-moving shadow rippled across the pale gold field of vegetation to the right of the tram. Doranix grabbed an overhead rail and leaned out from under the tram’s canopy as far as his reach would allow. With his free hand, he pointed up toward the sky. An abrupt turn in the road brought the spot at which Doranix was pointing into everyone else’s view.

Silhouetted against the sky was one of the oddest contraptions Spock had ever seen. It was all struts and framework with sheets of canvas held out at what appeared to be random angles. Some were stretched tightly on all four sides, with others flapping in the wind. Behind it trailed long, billowing streamers, like multiple tails on a kite. The whole misbegotten construction was painted a gaudy red. If this was the extent of the Dorian’s success with flying machines, Spock thought, then...

"Look out!" Sulu yelled, cutting off Spock’s train of thought. The fragile craft began to loop perilously, dipping sharply down toward the tram and recovering itself mere inches before colliding with the canopy. One of the red streamers snapped in the wind as it sailed by. It was so close that Spock would have sworn he saw it deal a cheek-smarting lash to Darien’s face. It must have missed by less than a centimeter.

Only as the shuddering craft soared upward again could Spock make out the tethering string attached to it.

"It is a kite, then." He voiced his thought.

"Of course!" Darien looked at him as if he had said something far too obvious.

"You didn’t think...? Put a pilot up in something like that? Of course not!" Doranix scoffed.

Spock didn’t bother to reveal what he really had thought.

"That’s just experimental stuff. Something I think they’re working on with the tensile strength of the canvas or whatever," Doranix said. "The real flying machines are housed in that building over there." He pointed to what looked for all the world like an early Earth-style hangar. Spock saw no reason to be surprised at the similarity. Certain sizes and shapes and ways of doing things just naturally evolved similarly when they were intended to serve the same purposes under similar conditions.

"We really have made some wonderful advances with our flying machines," Darien said, as they drew closer to a huge, half-dome shaped building. "Already we have pilots carrying messages between cities in a fraction of the time it takes by water or even by road."

"Probably faster than the rail lines we saw out in the fields, too," Sulu concurred.

"The...? Oh! The transport lines serve the City of Edliw. It would be an impossible task to erect them between Cities," Darien corrected.

Spock remembered what the younger men had said about the Urbanity showing off the superiority of his fields and factories to visitors. Apparently there was no significant trade between individual cities. And yet they had noted the spoke-like pattern of roads, all of which seemed to terminate at the City of Edliw.

When he asked about them, Doranix replied, "Well certainly, everybody has to come here at least once in their lives for the ceremony. But otherwise there is very little reason to travel between cities. One’s work and one’s responsibilities are at home."

Spock assumed that this ‘ceremony’ Doranix spoke of might be something like the Human pilgrimage to Mecca, or the rarely fulfilled promise of ‘next year in Jerusalem.’ He tried to imagine the isolation of living in a world where planet-wide communication was not instantaneous. Especially in a civilization like this, where each little city-state was largely self-sufficient, the limits imposed on the exchange of ideas could easily result in a stagnation of progress rather than the reverse.

He remarked, without being too specific: "I imagine you will find that as your ability to speed up communication increases, that there will be some cultural changes as a result of closer relations with other Cities."

"It can’t come too soon for me," Doranix replied, although Spock was uncertain whether he meant progress in general, or the implications of cultural change.

The hangar loomed in front of them now. It really was huge. A wide doorway gaped open in front of them, and they drove directly into the building.

Inside, the entire enclosed space was a mass of purposeful activity. At least half-a-dozen flying machines occupied floor space. They were different in many details, but the general shapes were recognizably suggestive of the early attempts at flight of many races who later found their way to the stars. There were wings, fins and rudders of all shapes and configurations, some suggesting a comprehension of the principles of aerodynamics, others which would only have flown in a child’s fantasy. Engines and fan-like propellers were attached fore, aft, and even on top of various crafts.

Sounds of machinery whirred and rat-a-tatted in all directions. Flashes of welding tools, accompanied by low roars and hisses of flammable gasses, intermittently lit the farther corners like striking fire-snakes. Overhead, the arms of great crane-like machines swung, maneuvering huge and unidentifiable components into the hands of waiting mechanics who reached for them from the tops of turrets or the precarious tips of wings.

Workers waved greetings to the heir-apparent and the Urbanity’s son-in-law from across the work area, calling to them familiarly by their first names. Spock concluded from the easy way in which the two young men fit into this milieu, that they must spend a considerable amount of time here.

Darien and Doranix led their guests among the pathways between the various experimental machines. They stopped here and there, raising their voices above the din to add an encouraging word, or ask a question which displayed a thorough knowledge of each project they passed.

Some of the flying machines were practical little field-hoppers, just large enough for a single pilot. Other, more ambitious models, towered over the touring party and the men who worked on them—so huge that the wheels of the landing gear were taller than the men standing next to them while the belly of the beast towered another meter farther overhead.

Sulu took an interest in one of the smaller planes, and barely waited for the response to his eager, "May I?’ before clambering into the open-hatched pilot’s seat between two banners mounted on either side of the plane’s small body. His fascination with anything that flew by mechanical means showed plainly in his face.

Spock stood beside the little red craft, close enough to see into the cockpit. Sulu ran his hands over the controls, not moving anything, but caressing each switch and lever just to see how it felt in his hands. Spock noted, with what would have been amusement if he had not been a Vulcan, that try as he might, Sulu’s hand-span didn’t quite stretch to accommodate the controls designed for six-fingered hands.

"This baby is a real classic!" Sulu enthused.

"It was originally just a prototype, but it is now used regularly on a weekly route between here and the City of Enrev," Darien said. "It serves more as a demonstration than being of practical use, though. As there is so little commerce between Cities, very few of Edliw know anyone in Enrev to send messages to. Mostly it is just pleasantries between the two Urbanities."

"It’s this one that will change the world as we know it," said Doranix, leading the way toward a much larger vessel, which was a streamlined imitation of the shape of a bird. It was even painted with a feather pattern over an iridescent silver background.

When Sulu caught up with them, after climbing out of the cramped cockpit of the little field-hopper, he cast a quick, appraising look over the big bird, then shook his head ever so slightly at Spock.

Spock attempted to convey by a subtle alteration in expression that he didn’t think the craft was sky-worthy either, but that it would do no good to deflate their hosts’ enthusiasm. The dynamics were all wrong, and unless they were working with hyper-lightweight metals, which they probably would not invent for generations, the thing would never be able to lift off under its own power.

It would be some time before it would demonstrate its earth-bound nature, however, as the craft was still under construction. Spock decided not to call attention to its deficiencies. Even mistakes could be a learning experience— sometimes the best learning experience of all.

One of the high cranes cast its long-necked shadow over their heads, as it swooped a massive construction girder toward the crew perched overhead, waiting to receive it.

Spock stepped back from under the shadow of the huge craft to watch the work crew swing the girder into position. Sulu was immediately at his elbow, watching in fascination.

"Mister Spock, I just realized what strikes me as unusual about all these aircraft," Sulu said. "Not a one of them has a weapons system. Not a gunner’s bay, or an onboard weapon anywhere."

"Yes, I noticed that, also," Spock said, his eyes still on the process going on above their heads. "It is, perhaps, not so unexpected. In a culture where each city is self sufficient, each has ample land to feed its citizens, there is no oppressed underclass to foment revolution, and all are united under a single political philosophy by common consent rather than force, there is very little reason to fight each other."

"Wow, I never thought of it that way." Sulu was impressed. "This early leader of theirs who put this culture together, whoever he was..."

"Danix," Spock supplied.

"You are discussing the One who created our Way?" Darien came closer to join their conversation more easily.

"Yes. This Danix of yours. He must have been a really incredible mind. He accomplished so much."

"He was very wise," Darien agreed

"And what really amazes me is that he did so much in a single life time," Sulu continued.

"He was the First to Exceed," Darien affirmed, as if it was an explanation.

"Indeed," Spock remarked.

Their conversation was interrupted by a rending screech of metal, joined almost immediately, in a disharmonious chord, by the screaming of voices.

Spock’s attention snapped back to the operation being conducted above. The huge beam had slipped in its cable noose which suspended it from the arm of the crane. The noose now held it precariously near one end, while the other end arced wildly, out of control. For a split second, it looked as if some of the work crew were actually going to try to stop it as it swung past, but even before the broad steel reached them they recognized the utter futility of their attempt and scattered. Some ducked flat to the work platform, others jumped or slid down the sides of the great bird some ten meters to the floor of the hangar.

The end of the huge beam struck the platform where they had been standing and seemed to stick there, immobilized between the cable at one end and the mooring of the debris of the work platform on the other. Then the moment in time unfroze and the cable slipped free of the higher end of the beam. It dropped with a crash onto the top of the big metal bird, smashing what would have been its spine, had it been an animal rather than a structural representation. The end trapped in the ruins of the work platform now was higher, changing its balance once again. The beam began to slip down the side of the wrecked plane, pulling out of the tether at its upper end as its tremendous weight gathered momentum.

All of this happened in far less time than it would take to tell, almost too fast for comprehension, even Spock’s. Yet, as he watched it was obvious what would happen next. The beam would impact the great wing just below where it joined the body of the plane, the force inevitably snapping that appendage off at the joint.

"Doranix!" Spock shouted a warning.

The Urbanity’s son was still standing under the shadow of the wing, crouching beneath what he mistakenly thought was its protection when the racket of the unseen catastrophe broke out. He turned when he heard his name, faint among the competing noises of splintering wood, crumpling metal, running footsteps and the hollering of Dorian voices too cacophonous for the translator to handle.

Before Doranix could respond, before Spock, Sulu or Darien could move toward him from where they stood, came the inevitable crash of the beam ramming into the wing. The wing broke at the point of impact, swinging down toward the floor. Its trajectory now unimpeded, the leading end of the monstrous girder finished its descent and slammed into the floor, sending cracks radiating into the concrete around the hole it dug for itself.

In the meantime, the section of the wing still attached to the plane reacted to the impact and the sudden weight of the beam balanced on the fulcrum of its broken edge. It detached, with a screaming of metal and bolts flying as they were ripped from their anchors, and dropped straight to the floor, obliterating Doranix from sight.

In a final, splintering crash, the higher end of the beam crashed once again onto the backbone of the mutilated bird where it finally came to rest.

For a few, freeze-frame seconds there was silence. Every Dorian in the room had stopped in their tracks to watch the great disaster, which they were completely powerless to prevent, unfold before their very eyes.

Then Spock shouted again, urging the frozen tableaux into action. "Doranix! He’s trapped under the wing!" Even as he spoke he was moving toward the wreckage, seeking for any sign, however unlikely, that the Urbanity’s son might still be alive.

In seconds, a crowd of Dorians had gathered around him where he knelt. "Doranix!" he called. "Can you hear me?"

Remarkably, a voice answered. "Trapped!...Can’t move!"

"We’re coming, Doranix," Darien yelled. "We’ll get you out of there. Hang on!"

Darien ordered the crane, which had been the start of the catastrophe, into place. The girder had to be moved before they could begin to get at the fallen wing. This time, with slow, carefully controlled movements, the huge bar of metal was lifted by degrees just enough to clear the wreckage beneath it. Despite their care, one end dragged through the tangle of metal and wiring at the broken end of the wing, shifting it with yet another gut-wrenching screech.

There was no sound from the man who must be crushed beneath the wreckage as it ground over him, adding insult to what must already be frightful injury. Darien bent low to where the broader edge of the wing rested on the concrete.


"Get" The muffled reply sounded as if it was coming from behind a heavy prison door.

"We’re coming. Hold on!" Darien reassured his brother-in-law.

The errant girder was lifted to an empty space just behind the tail of the mangled bird and lowered slowly toward the floor. Even from a height of less than a meter, it shook the floor as it was released and made a deafening clanging noise that rang in Spock’s ears for several seconds.

Darien was on his feet again, talking one team of workers through the delicate process of attaching the cable of the crane to the most stable looking section of the collapsed wing. Others were scrambling to prepare a makeshift scaffold to support the weight and stabilize its movement as the crane’s brute strength began to lift the wreckage.

Spock was very impressed with the efficiency with which Darien mounted the rescue. His orders were calm and authoritative, and the aircraft workers accepted them in a willing and orderly fashion. The Vulcan’s estimation of the Dorians rose another notch as he observed how organized and dispassionate they were as they began immediately rigging levers and pulleys to lift the huge slab of metal from their Urbanity’s son. No hysteria or hand-wringing here to get in the way of simply getting the job done.

Spock and Sulu stepped back. There was nothing they could do at this point which was not already being done.

Little by little, the metal screaming in protest as new stresses tortured its already contorted construction, the wing began to rise clear of the floor. With each minute increment of progress, well ordered teams of workers carried out the tasks of clearing away debris which was freed by the process, and inserting jacks, levers and bracing to keep the main weight from shifting and settling again.

Darien continued to talk to the trapped man, offering calm reassurance, while reassuring the rest by calling forth the voice of the man they were working to save.

When the main bulk of the wing had risen about a meter into the air, Spock caught his first glimpse of the downed man. He was lying prone, face to the floor, but his head and arms were free of the surrounding debris. At least that much of him appeared undamaged.

"Doranix," Darien called to him. "Can you crawl out of there now?"

"Can’t! Still trapped!"

Spock flattened himself on the concrete to get a better look at Doranix’s position. While the outer sheet metal skin of the underside of the wing was clear of him by at least half a meter, some supporting structure from inside the wing had broken loose, pierced the metal sheathing and lay firmly across Doranix’s hips, effectively pinning him to the floor.

The crane heaved up on the wing again, and immediately the work crews repeated their efforts to support it in this new position. However, as the wing rose, the weight of the support strut only made it rip further through the metal skin, holding its place while the rest of the wing rose around it. Spock could see that, although it pinned Doranix to the floor beneath it, one end still disappeared inside the torn sheath of the wing. He had no way of knowing whether that end was still attached to something inside. If they continued to raise the wing it might refuse to move, or worse, tear loose, potentially bringing something else with it through the gash it had torn in the outer covering of the wing to fall on the Urbanity’s son and do him even greater injury.

Darien had backed away to gain line-of-sight with the crane operator and was giving him the signal to pull up again. Spock instantly recognized that such a move could be disastrous.


The shout halted Darien mid-gesture, and before he could ask for an explanation, Spock was scrabbling under the wing toward the fallen man. His quick assessment assured him of the relative stability of the wing above him. The only variable was the disconnected strut.

When he reached Doranix he rolled on his back to test with his hands the weight distribution and probable movement of the buried end of the strut inside the wing where he could not see it. There was some freedom of movement, but not much. It would be possible, but he would have to work fast. Rolling back to his elbows and knees, Spock crawled around to the other side of the prisoner. He positioned himself for the best possible leverage at the lower end of the strut.

"Mister Sulu!"

"Yes, sir?"

"Get as close as you can without actually coming under the wing, and reach for Doranix’s hands. When I give the word, pull him out as quickly as you are able."

"Understood, Mister Spock." Although Sulu exceeded the letter of the instructions by extending his own head and shoulders under the shadow of the wing in order to get a firm grip on Doranix’s reaching hands before Spock gave the word.

"Doranix," Spock explained, " I am going to attempt to lift this encumbrance. Mister Sulu will assist you. Will you be able to move quickly out of the way? I anticipate that the rest of the strut may pull free of the wing if it is disturbed. Time will be of the essence."

"Ready, Spock." Doranix answered with a level of confidence which reassured his rescuer.

"On the count of three, then." Spock positioned his hands around the strut, glanced over to see Sulu tensed for action and holding firmly to Doranix’s in a mutual hand-to-wrist grasp, shifted his own position to increase his leverage, and began the count.

"One...two..." the word three was lost in the grunt of a mighty effort which required all of his Vulcan strength. The upper end must have been wedged in a way which prevented the strut from hinging as the lower end was lifted. As Spock heaved on it, he could feel the whole mass of the wing shift slightly above him.

"Pull, Mister Sulu! Pull!" he strained the words between clenched teeth.

"Stuck!" Doranix shouted.

Pushing himself to limits rarely explored, Spock increased his efforts, a green haze rising before his vision. But he was rewarded by scrabbling sounds that told him that the Urbanity’s son had pulled free and was sliding along the floor toward Mister Sulu and freedom.

"He’s loose!" Sulu’s triumphant cry confirmed the evidence of Spock’s hearing.

"Out from under the strut! You can let it down now!" Sulu called again.

Spock held on for another long moment, realizing the uncertain consequences which could result from his actions, and wanting to give Sulu and Doranix all the time he could manage. Then, slowly, the strain not lessening, but actually increasing as he inched the end of the strut back to the concrete, he prepared to make his own get away.

As soon as the strut touched down and the weight began to transfer itself from Spock’s aching muscles to the concrete below, he straightened his body in a motion as swift as a striking snake, and began to roll.

As he moved, Spock could hear the sounds of metal stressing and settling above him, a rising tide of voices from the surrounding crowd of Dorians, and Sulu’s voice becoming frantic, urging him to hurry. He heard a resounding crash, which he realized was the strut pulling free and landing with its full weight across the spot where a man had lain only seconds before. Spock could see that Doranix’s feet had still not cleared the shadow cast by the precariously balanced wing, and he was forced to change direction, rolling toward a smaller opening between squat towers of scaffolding. His boots thumped against wood as he kicked free, into the light at the same moment Sulu dragged the Urbanity’s son out from under.

In what would have been called the same moment before the definition of nanoseconds, the rest of the hulking wreckage swayed and shuddered despite the bracing that held it, and then dropped with a deafening slam to the floor.

Then something really unexpected happened.

Leaning on Sulu’s arm for balance, Doranix got to his feet and walked away.

Sulu gaped at Spock in utter shock. The first officer was equally stunned, although he controlled his reaction somewhat better. Doranix had been buried under all that mass of metal, the heavy strut weighing across his body. He should have been maimed, his pelvis crushed like a shattered teacup. Or so it had appeared.

Thinking back to those fleeting, frantic minutes spent beneath the wing, Spock could not remember seeing any blood. Furthermore, at no time that he could recall had he heard Doranix call out in pain. When Darien called to him to ask him how he was he had answered "trapped," not "hurt."

In the realm of infinite possibilities, Spock supposed it was possible that there had been a concave surface on the underside of the wing large enough to create a bubble of safety around the fallen man. It had not appeared that way when they had first surveyed the plane before the accident, but such a depression could have been created by the buckling of the metal as it fell. And the bar that had rested across the younger man’s end was touching the ground. It was possible that the actual weight rested on the floor rather than the body, with only the circumstance of its position, rather than its full mass, holding him to the floor. Yes, it was possible; but for this particular combination of possibilities to exist would require an infinite stroke of what Jim called luck.

And yet, the evidence was before his eyes. Brushing the flakes of concrete from his trouser legs, Doranix stood unhurt beside his brother-in-law. He ran a hand through his vineyard hair, returning it to a semblance of order, then he sighted his rescuer.

"Spock! That was some fast acting! I can’t thank you enough! And you, too, Sulu."

"It was the necessary thing to do at the time," Spock minimized. "Had they continued to lift the carcass of the wing, disturbing what had become a delicate balance, the whole thing might have come down on top of you again at any moment."

"And then they would have had to start the whole process all over again. We would have been here all afternoon," Doranix replied.

Spock blinked once in flatfooted amazement. He had thought himself to be a master of understatement, but Doranix’s skill was positively epigrammatic. And delivered with a perfectly straight face, too!

"I suggest we plan on staying at least part of the afternoon, anyway," Darien put in. "There’s a tremendous amount of work to be done cleaning up this disaster."

Doranix nodded in willing agreement, then thought to ask their guests, "You wouldn’t mind pitching in a bit, would you? I know it’s no proper introduction to visitors, but..."

Sulu saved him the necessity of explaining, "Of course. We’d be happy to help any way we can. I, for one, would like to get a better look inside this thing," he waved a hand at the wreckage, "and see where you went off course in the design."

"Off course?" Darien repeated, defensively.

"Well," Sulu shrugged, "obviously, you were never going to get it off the ground."

"And why not?" Darien demanded, more curious than offended.

Spock shot the helmsman a cautionary look, warning him to remember the fine line between first contact diplomacy and the doctrine of non-interference.

" aren’t designed to support..."

"Wait a minute," Doranix raised a finger on that still-disconcerting six-fingered hand, "If I remember correctly, that box-shaped thing you came in didn’t have any wings at all. But it flew."

"The...uh...dynamics of flight outside the planetary atmosphere are...uh..." Sulu struggled to come up with a plausible answer that didn’t carry too much information.

"That’s right, your craft had no wings at all! And it can’t be explained away by talking about thinner air and lighter gravitation," Darien said. "You have some entirely different technology which allows you to..."

"Not a different technology, just a substantial extension of our understanding of the same principles by which you work," Spock said, satisfied that he had both extricated Mister Sulu from a difficult conversation, while at the same time flexing his talent for understating the obvious.

"You are on the right track, and with time will undoubtedly attain the same level of understanding of physical principals which propel our shuttle. However, the technology needs to be built up one level at a time, one layer upon the other. It is not intended as condescension to say that explaining how our wingless shuttle operates would be meaningless to you; only that to fully understand its principles, you would need a thorough understanding of all the technological steps between the developmental stage of your flight technology and ours."

Placated, but not entirely satisfied, Darien changed the subject. "Come on, enough time for theory later. Right now there’s work to be done."

And there was. The crews who had formed themselves into such an efficient rescue team, now exhibited the same practical diligence in falling into groups to clean up, salvage and haul away the remains of the wreckage.

Spock and Sulu joined Doranix, while Darien circulated among the various work groups, offering guidance and suggestions. The Urbanity’s son-in-law seemed to fit into this milieu with easy familiarity.

For that matter, even Doranix was at ease, working shoulder to shoulder with the technicians and construction crews, already past whatever anxiety his earlier close-call might have stirred.

They worked at dismantling sections of the fallen wing, taking off parts with the equivalent of a screwdriver in order to both salvage what they could, and reduce the size of the mangled mass of debris which would need to be hauled away. Once the tools had been distributed, and the plan of action agreed upon, they worked in concentrated but relaxed silence, establishing a rhythm and flow as they went.

"My father says," Doranix said conversationally, "that neither of you...well, really, none of you have alliances yet?"

"Wives, you mean?" Sulu asked. "Actually, I had a two-year contract only a few years ago, but we didn’t renew it. It’s kind of hard to leave a wife behind when you’re off in space for years at a time. But there are a few ‘allied’ couples on board the Enterprise."

Sulu stole a quick glance at Spock to be sure he wasn’t pushing the limits of what he should be revealing in a first contact situation. Spock’s barely perceptible shrug said he was on safe enough ground so far.

"There are also complications inherent in having personnel allied with each other among the crew," the Vulcan allowed.

"But you said sometimes they do," Doranix pressed Sulu.

"Well, it’s kind of like the other side of the same coin." Doranix didn’t seem to misunderstand the colloquialism, so Sulu went on. "Sometimes all those years in space in close quarters with the same people, some are bound to pair up. Personally, though, with only four-hundred-and-thirty people on board, less than half of them women, I find the field kind of limited myself."

"I understand what you mean. When a certain number are attainable, and others proscribed, it makes the ones you have to choose from seem less... less...I don’t know..."

"Interesting?" Sulu supplied, somewhat distracted by a particularly recalcitrant bolt.

Spock noticed Sulu’s struggles, watched for a minute to be sure he wasn’t interfering too quickly, then offered his help. It was a tricky bit; the slot was stripping rather than being turned by the tool. Besides, even for a tool as simple as a screwdriver, the feel was subtly altered by the fact that it was designed to fit a six-fingered hand.

Spock gave the spot beside the head of the stuck bolt a calculated rap with the back end of the tool, then tried it again. When it began to loosen he handed the tool back to Sulu and returned to his own section of the wing.

"Not that I wouldn’t like to have an allied...a wife..." Doranix mused, his head still bent over his work.

"I can imagine. Among your people, having a wife really seems to make a man’s life easier," Sulu noted.

"Do the women in this culture not have lives of their own?" Spock asked. He realized that he had seen no women working in the hangar; none in the fields earlier today.

Doranix shook his head, his silky, burgundy page-boy rippling as he did so. "Women have no time to work. Their lives are full of managing households and caring for their families and the honored ones who are their responsibility."

"And the men don’t do housework?" Sulu asked, a little enviously.

"Only if they have not yet made an alliance," Doranix replied. "It is an incentive, if an unintentional one."

"No women have of their own?" Spock persisted.

Doranix shrugged, and lifted his eyebrows. "If they did, who would take care of the children? And those of honor in the households? Labor in the fields and factories is the lot of men. The work that we do is necessary; the responsibilities of the women are an honor."

"A unique point of view," Spock remarked, not anxious to debate the issue with their host.

"And those you ‘honor,’ the aged and infirmed, does every household have some of them, then? Not just the ruling family?" Spock asked.

Doranix looked at him as if Spock was a simple child. It was not a look Spock had directed at him often. "Of course! It is the very heart and center of our Way. Each of us is responsible for the care and honor of those who age."

"And a part of that responsibility," added Darien, who had finished his circuit and returned to join them, "includes staying out of reckless and dangerous situations."

"I was just standing there!" Doranix complained. "How was I to know a wing would fall on me? I am aware of the distress such an incident causes." He lowered his voice, "and I am really very sorry. You know I don’t feel comfortable about others having to suffer the consequences of my carelessness. But this was not something I could have prevented."

"No, you couldn’t, really. And I know how badly you feel," Darien patted his brother-in-law’s shoulder.

"Darien! Could you look at this for a minute?" a tall man with hair the color of concord grapes waved from across the room.

"I’ll be back later. Thank you both for your help," he smiled at the strangers.

"No problem!" Sulu waved after him. Then speaking to Doranix, he said, "and you don’t have to feel bad about asking us to help you clean up the mess. It’s no big deal, really."

Doranix answered with a puzzled look, followed by a dismissive shrug before he bent again over his work.

This time it was Sulu who broke the silence. "Darien seems really at home here. Not just knowledgeable, but he really fits in; the way the men look to him for direction and so forth, like he really kind of belongs here."

What Sulu described was something Spock had noted, too. Doranix’s explanation made the reason clear.

"He does. Even before he was allied to my sister, Darien was on his way to becoming the manager here."

"But he’s part of the royal family, now," Sulu interjected. "The men don’t seem to feel he’s intruding, though. They appear to welcome him."

"As well they should. Darien may be part of the royal household, but he still does constructive work. Besides, it’s more than a job for him; he really loves this stuff. I am fascinated by machinery, especially the flying machines, but I don’t have the expertise Darien does. Sometimes I almost envy him for it. So anyway, he keeps a hand in here against the day when he will come back to it full time."

"Come back to it? When will that be?" Sulu asked.

"If anything ever happens to my father and I become the Urbanity."

"That’s probably a long way off," Sulu predicted. "Your father...well your father and your mother both look so young. Almost too young to have grown children."

"He’s plenty old enough to be stuck in his ways. But you’re right. He’s so cautious and conservative, he’ll probably live forever."

"But you were saying about Darien and when you assume the throne—or whatever—whenever that may be," Sulu reminded him.

"Yes. Darien and my sister will return to private life—a privileged private life, but all the same in a household of their own—while I will be expected to become patriarch of my own household. Frankly, sometimes I envy them that, too. By the tradition of the Way, we follow in the footsteps of our fathers. Darien’s was a mechanic, and he has not only inherited the trade, but he has a real love for it. I stand to inherit my fathers trade, but I often feel constrained by the responsibility of adhering to the status quo. Being Urbanity lacks the opportunity to innovate or build."

"I would think that the very position itself would allow you to make of it what you would," Spock commented.

"Not really. It was all mapped out ages ago by Danix. And while we continue to make technological advances, the social system, which is what being Urbanity is concerned with, is surrounded by a stone wall. Immutable. Unchangeable."

"That’s because it works." Darien had come back from whatever the grape-haired man had wanted him to see.

"It works, all right. Like a well oiled machine. Everything locked in place, every cog and gear going about its own appointed job. A closed little world."

"That’s right," Darien said firmly. "Just as it should be."

Then he stood, hands on hips, and surveyed the interior of the hangar. "I think they’ve pretty well got it under control by now. You’ve got this hulk disassembled to the point where they can move it without the use of the crane, now. Why don’t we leave it to the experts and take our guests back to the City?"

"If you are certain we are no longer needed here?" Spock asked.

"No, Darien’s right; let’s leave it to the experts. We’ve done enough damage for one day. Let’s head back into town. There is a place where we can purchase food on the way back. It’s long past the mid-day meal."

"I could use a little lunch," Sulu agreed as they walked back toward the sunlight and the waiting tram.


Kirk got up from the luncheon table still feeling hungry. He knew both the doctor and his first officer would disapprove, each for different reasons, but he’d give a day’s pay for a steak about now. He’d really only been confined to the vegetarian diet of the Dorians for just under twenty-four hours. Not all that long, really. But knowing that roots and leaves and fleshy fruits were all that lay in store for the rest of their stay made the craving worse.

Besides, he’d seen enough of growing things in the Urbanity’s company that morning to last him for a fair while. The endless fields were covered in vegetation which, although unrecognizable, all looked suitably lush and healthy. He’d made all the proper appreciative noises, or at least he hoped he had.

Jim Kirk might have been born in Iowa, but he hadn’t had the heart of a farmer back then, either. After all, if he had, he wouldn’t be in space, wouldn’t be on a first contact mission, exploring strange new worlds, and consequently wouldn’t have spent the morning watching grass—or whatever it was—grow. Kirk was sure there was a healthy dose of irony in there somewhere, and he was damned if he’d appreciate it.

Then there had been the processing plants. All very antiseptic and gleaming with chrome. All very efficiently mechanized—as much as the processing of natural products could be. Even his own culture probably didn’t handle food products with much more automation, he suspected. But then it wasn’t a subject he particularly cared to become expert in. Again, he had tried to find words which would show proper appreciation. At least the sight of all those hair-netted, fruit-juice-haired men working the machinery had been a break in the monotony that kept his eyes from glazing over permanently.

After watching innumerable barrels of produce arrive by transport and work their way down the assembly lines and into sealed containers at the other end, Kirk was ready when Delessix suggested they start back to the city. Kirk hoped for their sakes that the younger Dorians and Kirk’s two crewmen who had taken their tram for their visit to the flight center had had a more interesting morning than his.

The plant manager offered the use of his own vehicle and a driver to take them back to the City. The little three-wheeled, motorized transportation was also open-air, and whatever was growing in one of the wide fields to the left of the narrow utility road brought on a fit of sneezing most unbecoming to a starship captain.

When they arrived at the palatial home of the Urbanity, his wife Alinar, was waiting for them at the door. She looked stunning today in a wheat colored tunic. Kirk rolled his eyes in recognition of the fact that even when looking at a beautiful woman the only metaphor supplied by his vegetation-entwined mind was agricultural.

The rest of he household had eaten earlier, but a mid-day meal was set up for Kirk and the Urbanity in the dining room, awaiting their return. This was the impeccably fresh, but unsatisfying meal from which he had just arisen, and then excused himself to his room. Something about all that fresh air, he decided, made him yawn. Air was supposed to smell like recyclers, and it wasn’t supposed to blow in your face. It brought on a case of drowsiness, which was probably enhanced by the intense fascination the morning had held.

Kirk kicked off his boots and lay back on one of the divans. He noticed that the room had been straightened in his absence, and felt another momentary qualm about the lack of privacy provided by the curtained doorways. But that didn’t really matter right now. Right now all he wanted was to close his eyes—just for a few minutes, he told himself.

"Jim," came a whispered voice. "Pssst! Jim! You in there?"

Kirk rotated into a sitting position, hanging his socked feet over the side of the divan, and sighed deeply.

"What is it, Bones?"

The doctor bustled into the room. "So, there you are!" He plumped himself down on the couch opposite the captain, oblivious to the evidence that he was interrupting what was about to be a nap.

"I’ve been looking for you. I’ve seen some really interesting things this morning while you were out gallivanting around seeing the sights. I don’t know what to make of all of it, but I’ve got something really important to tell you!"

Kirk forced the drowsiness away, and made himself pay attention to the doctor. "Okay, Bones, tell me about your day. It has to be more interesting than mine was."

"Well, at first I didn’t expect it to be. All of you are trooping off on the grand tour, and I find myself pointedly uninvited. Let me tell you, I don’t think it’s such a great ‘honor’ to be left out of all the good stuff."

Kirk sighed. He knew what the doctor meant about having been ignored when the invitations were going around, but there really wasn’t anything he could have done about it at the time. Now he just wanted McCoy to get on with the story. "All right, all right. I know you didn’t get to go out with the rest of us. And I’m sorry. Not that you missed much. So what is it you’re so anxious to tell me about?"

"Oh. Right. Well anyway, I was stuck here with the rest of you gone, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to show myself around the place. Explore a little. Let me tell you, this is one vast place. The rooms and corridors we were in last night aren’t even the half of it.

"So finally," he went on, "I’m just wandering around, not really knowing where I’m going, and I stumble into this courtyard, and here’s all the old people from dinner last night. The ‘honored ones’ they call them, all sitting around in their jewelry and turbans under the shade trees. The really old lady must be going on a trip of some kind, because one of the younger women was saying how she’ll miss her when she’s gone. She’s a real case, that old one. I’ve heard of societies where the rich don’t adhere to the same moral standards they demand of the poor, but this old lady doesn’t even have decent table manners...forever making rude noises. And you’d think she’d take better care of herself for all the jewels and perfumes, but she’s got a god-awful rash on her face and arms. Looks like old fashioned hives if you ask me."

"Um...Bones...I’m sure the old woman’s skin condition is quite fascinating, but is that what you came in here to..."

" No, obviously not. So anyway, everybody is sitting around, chatting or napping in the sun, and then I realize that Alinar remember which one Alinar is? The Urbanity’s wife."

"Yeah, Bones, I remember." How could he forget. She was a most stunning woman.

"God, she’s really gorgeous, isn’t she?"

Apparently Kirk wasn’t the only man who had noticed.

"So anyway, Alinar is actually serving these old people. The Urbanity’s wife, carrying trays of fruit, and glasses of whatever; seeing to their comfort. They really take their obligations to the old people seriously here. Some of them aren’t even so old, but maybe the others are war heroes or something to be as beat up as they look." A momentary cloud came over McCoy’s features, as if he was just hearing what he had said. Then he shook his head and resumed.

"So she sees me come in, and she makes a big deal of making me welcome, having me sit down...put my feet up, she says. Asks me if I want anything and then offers...get this, Jim, the magnificent Alinar asks me if I’d like her to massage my shoulders. And before I can even answer, she’s standing behind me, leaning over the back of my chair, that fantastic candy-apple red hair of hers swinging back and forth against her cheeks as she works her hands into the muscles of my neck. You know, the feel of that extra finger is really strange."

So that was it, Kirk thought, McCoy’s interrupted a perfectly good nap just to gloat. And he wasn’t finished yet, either.

"She’s kneading those long fingers into my shoulders, and I’ll tell you this much, relaxation wasn’t what was on my mind! And then she says the strangest thing! She asks me if Uhura does this for me on the Enterprise! What kind of a party ship does she think we’re running up there, I wonder. After all, she thinks Uhura’s your ‘intended’..."

"That’s ‘allied,’ Bones..."

"Yeah, whatever. She thinks Uhura’s yours, and she asks me if she—Alinar, that is—if she ‘comforts’ me as well as Uhura does. That’s the word she used... ‘does she comfort me?’ Maybe people here are a little more free with their wives, or intendeds or whatever than we are at home."

"Don’t count on it, Bones. Non-interference, remember?" Kirk inwardly cursed the roots and berries and amber waves of grain among which he had wasted his morning. He’d obviously missed more than he realized at the time.

"What about ‘when in Rome...?’" McCoy retorted.


"Yeah, yeah, I know. As it turned out nothing happened, anyway. I was just sitting there, leaning back with my eyes closed and thinking how lucky I was, when all of a sudden one of the men across the courtyard started to scream like he was in terrible pain."

"What happened?" Kirk sat forward, more interested in hearing about this new development than the direction in which the earlier part of the doctor’s narrative seemed to be going.

"I looked up, and he had fallen face down on the cobbled pavement of the courtyard. He was the one with the bad foot. He probably tried to get up and lost his balance between his own lameness and the uneven footing. He must have fallen pretty hard, because he was just howling with the agony of it."

"Then what happened?"

"Well, naturally, everybody crowded around him. The blind guy kept asking ‘what’s going on? what’s going on?’ I had to shove my way through the bunch of them to get to him. It’s not like anybody was doing anything useful. They were mostly just standing around him in a tight little circle wringing their hands and looking useless. God, it’s no wonder these people’s injuries heal so badly. They don’t seem to have the slightest notion of what to do when somebody gets hurt. Of course, even under the circumstances I didn’t want to go waving medical scanners around under their noses. But I’m a pretty good country doctor if I do say so myself..."

Kirk certainly agreed with that. McCoy had more skill in his bare hands than most physicians with a case full of instruments. Even so, the ‘old country doctor’ line got a little thin on occasion.

"...So I checked him out as best I could. Looked to me like the poor guy had broken a hip in the fall. Really badly, too. It seemed to be broken in several places. It was a lot of damage for just a simple fall. I wonder if these people are prone to osteoporosis."

"Osteo...?" Kirk repeated.

"Another one of those things nobody gets anymore. Makes the bones brittle."

Kirk shuddered at the thought.

"So I had them knock the top off a table to make a stretcher. Jeez, you’d swear this bunch never worked a day in their lives. Here’s this poor guy, lying on the ground in terrible pain, and they looked at me like they were offended when I asked them to help me move him to his own bed. It’s funny, because Alinar isn’t like that at all. She did everything she could to help. Age must have its privileges, all right."

"And then?"

"Well, we got him rolled over onto the makeshift backboard. It took four of us to carry him back through the halls to his room, what with one of the men being blind and the other one with only one good arm. The women weren’t much help, either. Except for Alinar, of course. She walked beside him, holding his hand and looking like she wished she could take on his pain herself.

"I had them help me get him onto his bed, and then I shooed the bunch of them out of the room, even Alinar, although she, at least, might have been of some use. I wanted some privacy to break out the few instruments you let me bring along. I figured he was so out of it with the pain that he wouldn’t be likely to notice what kind of gadgets I used on him."

"You really have had quite a day! No wonder you were so anxious to tell me about it," Kirk allowed.

"Oh, but that’s not what I wanted to tell you about!"

"It’s not? You mean there’s more?"

"Oh, yeah! Not that getting a back rub and then having to play ‘historical emergency room,’ weren’t both interesting enough, each in their own way. But this is the really important thing: When I got the others firmly outside the door, and pulled the curtain tight against prying eyes, I got out my scanner and started to examine the patient and...nothing."


"No sounds, no lights, no readings, nothing. The thing didn’t work at all. The hypospray was all right, although I had to load a cartridge of sedative manually. The drug selection feature didn’t respond either."

"That’s odd, isn’t it? You’ve never had equipment fail like that since I can remember."

"Me either. That’s simple technology, but it was as dead as a piece of silverware. But wait, it gets even stranger."

"It does?"

"You bet it does! As soon as I got the patient sedated and relieved his pain, I dug out my communicator to call the ship and have them send down some replacement equipment. Jim," the doctor paused dramatically, "the communicator is dead, too."

Kirk was immediately concerned. "You couldn’t raise them?"

"Couldn’t raise anything. Not even static."

"You couldn’t raise the Enterprise? She’s not up there?" Kirk indicated a skyward direction with his eyes.

"I didn’t say she’s not up there. I said the communicator’s dead. The ship could be right next door, and I wouldn’t be able to raise her. It’s dead, Jim," McCoy repeated, holding the inactive wristcomm upside down and shaking it slowly.

Kirk reached for his own wristcomm. He moved toward the windows, as if he might make a more direct connection from there instead of inside the room.

"Kirk to Enterprise. Come in Enterprise...Commander Scott? Anybody? Enterprise...Come in Enterprise."

Absolutely no sound came from the device. There was no distinctive chirp. Just like McCoy had said, no blinking lights, no sound, not even static. It even felt inert in his hand.

"Damn!" he muttered.

"So aren’t you going to ask me what I did?" McCoy asked.

"What did you do?" What was with McCoy’s cliff-hanging narration today, Kirk wondered. Was it his revenge for being left behind?

"Well, I went back to doing things the old way."

"You what?"

"I went back to knives and needles and other nasty old fashioned techniques and put the patient back together again as best I could with the tools at hand. I could have done a lot better if I’d been able to get some equipment beamed down, but at least he’ll walk again. As well as that crippled up foot will let him, anyway. I’ll have to try to work on that later, after we can get some proper equipment sent down."

"Yes, yes, I’m sure you did a great job with the patient," Kirk said, distractedly, "But what about the communicator? What about the ship?"

"That’s why I was so anxious to tell you about it," McCoy replied, exasperated. "You’re the captain. That’s your problem. I’m a doctor, not a..."

"Thanks a lot, Bones," Kirk cut him off. "I really needed a complication on this mission. Just when everything seemed to be going so well, too."


Any hopes Kirk had for a nap were ruined. Why did this always have to happen? There they’d be, cruising along on some milk run of a mission and all of a sudden all hell would break loose from some unexpected direction. Here they’d been so awfully concerned about showing off their technology to a more backward race, and the damn stuff didn’t even work when they needed it.

Remembering something the Urbanity had said when they first met, Kirk moved again to the open window, this time leaning well out and looking up at the late afternoon sky. The day-star that was the Enterprise was still visible. She glowed a fiery gold in the reflected rays of the low-angled sun.

It should have been reassuring to know that she still orbited serenely above their heads, but without the ability to contact her, she might as well have been on the other side of the galaxy. He hoped Spock would return soon, or Uhura. First of all, he wanted to test their equipment and see if it was similarly affected. And if it was, in the absence of Mister Scott, he wanted the help of his next-best experts in communicators and technical tools. There was nothing to do now, however, but wait. And Kirk was no good at waiting.

"I’m going to get back to my patient," McCoy said. "As long as I’ve left this little glitch in your capable hands. I left him with Alinar sitting with him. There’s not much she can do for him but look sympathetic and hold his hand. Not that I wouldn’t enjoy her doing the same for me..."

"Bones!" Kirk warned.

"Just an observation. But seriously, since I can’t monitor him remotely, I really do need to keep an eye on him until I’m sure he’s stable."

"That’s all right, go ahead. I’ll just tinker with this thing," he held up his own dead communicator, "and see if I can figure anything out."

McCoy left, and Kirk went back to puzzling over this latest development.

It was quite some time before he heard voices, one deep and one deeper, conversing as they came down the corridor toward him. Spock and Sulu were back. The footsteps and conversation paused outside his door.



"In here."

The curtain moved aside, and they were in the room with him.

"Jim, we have had the most remarkable..."

"Later, Spock. We’ve got trouble with the damn equipment. Communicators are out. The doctor says some of his medical instruments don’t work, either. Here, let’s take a look at yours."

Already both of his crewmen were reaching for the wrist communicators concealed beneath their tunic sleeves. Sulu handed his over into the captain’s outstretched hand. Spock tested his himself.

"The doctor is correct, Jim. The communicators seem to be completely non-functional. There does not appear to be any signal generated, or any internal exchange of energy."

"Suggestions, Spock?"

"I can take them apart, compare each of them, but without diagnostic tools I would not expect to find anything conclusive."

"What do you think is causing it, then? Some kind of atmospheric interference?"

"Insufficient data. But I am inclined to think that while atmospheric interference could account for our inability to get a signal through to the Enterprise, it would not explain the total malfunction of the equipment— especially since Doctor McCoy is experiencing the same difficulties with diagnostic instruments which do not rely on communication with the ship for their normal ability to function."

"What are we going to do, Captain? Abort the mission?" Sulu asked.

"No, Mister Sulu," Kirk sighed, "this is going to cause us some inconvenience, but as smoothly as things have been going, I don’t think we’re in any real danger if we’re out of contact with the ship for a few days. We know she’s still up there," he cast his eyes upward, "and we know we can get back in the shuttle any time we need to. It’s not like we’re depending on the transporters to get us out. They may have a few worried hours if we don’t check in, but then again, they may be able to track us by the transponder implants. And if they can, they’ll know we’re all right down here."

"Uh...Captain?" A light, musical voice asked from behind the drapery at the door.

"Commander," Kirk acknowledged his communications officer.

She pulled the drape aside to look into the room. "Alinar asked me to invite you in to dinner."

"A little early isn’t it?" Kirk asked.

Uhura shrugged. "I don’t know, sir. Just trying to do my duty as your hostess. I don’t know whether they ate later last night on account of our arrival or what. But I was asked to call you in to dinner now."

"All right, Commander. We wouldn’t want to interfere with the performance of your appointed duties." Kirk heaved himself off the divan and began searching for his boots, the absence of which on his feet reminded him that he’d never managed to have that nap after all. He remembered being hungry after lunch, but somehow the prospect of another plateful of greens and tubers didn’t do much to whet his appetite.


Alinar met the visiting party at the door of the dining room. "I must apologize for our informality tonight. There is so much to do before Analiss’ ceremony tomorrow. I hoped you wouldn’t mind a lighter meal a bit earlier than usual so that Amalia and I can get to our other work."

"Not at all," Kirk brushed aside her concerns. "I must apologize. It appears we have arrived at a bad time for you. You have this...ceremony tomorrow and apparently a lot of preparations to make, and here we have disrupted your schedules and kept you from your preparations all day while you showed us around."

"It was a pleasure to have your company, Kirkix," Delessix spoke up from the head of the table.

"There is only so much that can be done in advance, and Amalia and I have spent weeks making those preparations. But there is still much that needs to be done tonight," Alinar said.

"Come, then, Mother, let us get on with it, so that we can leave time for all this work you speak of," Amalia encouraged gently from her place at the table.

They all began to find their places from the previous evening. As Alinar passed behind her son, Kirk saw him reach out to catch her by her sleeve and detain her. "How is...he, Mother?"

"He will be able to attend tomorrow, but the damage is severe. What...?"

"Come, Alinar," Delessix urged her, "let us begin."

Alinar patted her son on the arm and moved on to her place at the table. As before, no sooner than they were all in place, but the two women jumped back up to begin waiting on the turbaned group seated along the walls.

Kirk noted that there was one place vacant. It must belong to the man who had taken such a bad fall earlier in the day. In fact, that was probably who Doranix and his mother had been discussing. Lucky for him McCoy had been there. And it looked like McCoy’s patient wasn’t the only one who had taken an unfortunate spill that day. The old crone’s forearms were scratched and scabby.

He couldn’t guess what might be wrong with the youngest of the women, but there was a mute expression of pain or desperation in her eyes that reminded him of the look his old dog, Blue, had given him when eleven-year-old Jim Kirk had ridden along with his father to the vet to have the tired old creature put down. The look on the woman’s face sent a chill up his back, and he looked away. Then, glancing around the table, he saw that her pleading gaze was locked on the Urbanity’s son, who was returning it with the same intensity, and a forced, tight smile. Then Analiss passed in front of the woman, inadvertently cutting off her line-of-sight to Doranix. When she moved on, the woman’s eyes were downcast.

"Eemie, Eemie! Can I help, too?" Little Analiss squirmed around in her chair to intercept her grandmother as she passed from one of her charges to the next. Kirk still couldn’t get used to labeling that delicious, strawberry-haired woman as anybody’s grandmother.

Alinar, balancing the plate and cutlery she was holding with one hand, patted the little one on top of her ice-cream curls, "Tomorrow, my love. Not until tomorrow."

"Yes, tomorrow," Doranix echoed. But turning quickly at the sound of his voice, Kirk realized that he was looking beyond the little girl to the woman seated near the wall. Kirk could not see her reaction, as she was blocked from view by Doranix’s mother.

"Er, yes. Tomorrow," Kirk began, somehow feeling like he was entering into a conspiracy he didn’t quite understand. "The ceremony you spoke of..." he asked Delessix.

"Yes. Our little Analiss is of age," Delessix said, with the doting tone of grandfathers everywhere.

"This is a major event among your people?" Uhura sought clarification.

"Of course," Alinar answered.

"Family..." Uhura continued.

"The most important time for a family, when one of their own enters fully into the Way of Danix." Amalia turned to look at her daughter fondly.

"Then we really have come at a bad time for you," Uhura apologized. "All the...preparations to make...and outsiders to entertain at the same time."

"Not at all! Not at all!" Delessix exclaimed. "To think that the ceremony of our little Analiss coincides with the first visit from beings from another world. This is a momentous occasion! An honor! A day which will go down in the history of our people, your visit is, and will ever be associated with the ceremony of our little Analiss."

"You are indeed welcome among us at this time," Alinar said, more quietly. "I trust that you will join us in celebrating Analiss’ ascension into the Way."

"We would be..." Uhura started, then curbed her enthusiasm, and looked to the captain for his approval.

"We would be very happy to witness’ ceremony," he finished Uhura’s statement, still unable to bring himself to say "granddaughter."

"Witness? You will join us, of course, won’t you?" Delessix invited.

"Join...?" Kirk said, warily. "We...ah..."

"All who are present take part, Kirkix. Is it not so on your world?" Darien asked.

Kirk wanted to be sure just what he was getting into. Respect for the customs and beliefs of others did not necessarily extend to taking part in them himself. Or asking his crew to do so. "On my world," he answered carefully, "there is much diversity of belief. We do not require anyone to participate in the... ah...rituals of others if it is not the way they have chosen for themselves."

"But you are obviously like us," Delessix assured him. "Not some foreign barbarian. Your Makkoi travels with you," he said, as if that explained everything.

There was something puzzling there. The presence of the physician in his party appeared to be the mark of civilization as far as Delessix was concerned, and yet McCoy had said...

"Is that not a problem, Mother?" Amalia asked. "They have only the one Makkoi with them. What about the others?"

"That is curious." Alinar’s alabaster brow furrowed beneath her straight-cut, claret bangs. "Perhaps we could supply..."

Her son cut her off. "No, Mother. Remember, the honored ones of the others have been left at home. The ties among their people must be very strong indeed. And we do not wish to disturb what already is."

"But..."Alinar persisted.

"If I may, Mother," Darien said reasonably, "if we were to tie them to those who age in our world, who will care for them when Sulu and the others are gone away again?"

Still looking concerned, Alinar agreed, "I suppose you’re right. It’s just that..."

"It is settled, then." Delessix decided. "Kirkix and his Makkoi will affirm what is with us, and the others will just have We must make accommodations to the traditions of our guests."

Kirk felt like the term "railroaded" had just found its ultimate illustration. But what harm could it do? This was obviously a naming ceremony for the child, probably a lot like those found in societies galaxy wide. He could stand with the congregation and say the words along with the rest if that was going to make his hosts happy. The presence of physicians must be kind of like the visits from the fairies in the old story of Sleeping Beauty—some sort of christening blessing to wish for good health. And the insistence upon having old people related to his other crewmen in order for them to participate? Well that probably had something to do with affirming the values of family. This culture was really big on honoring ancestors. Just as long as they didn’t try to saddle him and his crew with "adopted grandparents" they would be expected to send credits and cards to on whatever passed for Mother’s Day on Doria.

The notion of grandparents got him to thinking about the "honored ones" that lined the wall of the dining room. The old crone could easily be someone’s grandmother, or even great grandmother. She was obviously the matriarch of the clan. The other two women, the ones served by Alinar and Amalia certainly looked older than each of them, respectively. But not that much older.

If the fussy eater Alinar was trying to feed was her mother, she certainly didn’t look much like her. Neither did Amalia’s charge, and besides, he already knew who Amalia’s mother was. This woman had to be some other relation. Especially since he noticed that whenever Amalia’s attention was directed elsewhere, the turbaned woman seemed to be exchanging meaningful glances with the Urbanity’s son. Funny set of relationships among these people, he thought. Maybe the lines of ancestry ran through uncles and nieces or something else rather than direct lineal decent. He’d seen stranger customs.

Maybe the woman Alinar was trying to feed wasn’t her mother, after all. There certainly didn’t seem to be a full generation of difference between their ages. But then again, just looking at them, there didn’t appear to be a generation between the Urbanity’s wife and their daughter, either. He found that he liked the idea that there might not be a direct heritage between Alinar and her "honored one." He’d hate to think of the magnificent woman being genetically predestined to become so faded and lined. All the jewels and satins did nothing to improve the pained and distant look in the older woman’s eyes. It would indeed be a tragedy to see the Urbanity’s beautiful wife reduced to the shadow of the woman before her.

His gaze lingering appreciatively on Alinar, Kirk was startled by Spock’s inquiry, "Don’t you think so, Captain?"

"Er...think so, what?" He pulled his attention back to the conversation at hand.

"Don’t you think a tour of the rooftop gardens would be a pleasant diversion after the meal, as Darien suggested?"

"I just thought it might be doing Mother and Amalia a favor to get out of their way for a while so that they could make their preparations for tomorrow in peace," Darien offered.

" four go ahead if you want," his gesture included all of his crew members. "I want to...I’m a little tired, myself," he said.

"You, ‘tired,’ Captain,?" Sulu raised surprised eyebrows.

The fact that he realized he really was tired after he said it aside, what Kirk really wanted was more time to tinker with the inoperable communicators. He wished he could ask some of the others to remain behind and work on the project with him, but he didn’t want to turn down Darien’s offer.

"You’ll come along, too, won’t you Father? Doranix? We’ll take Analiss with us and keep her out from under her mother’s feet."

The Urbanity smiled broadly at the little girl. "Shall Grandpa carry you up to the rooftop and hold you on his shoulders to let you touch the stars, little one?"

Pale pink curls bobbed enthusiastically as the little girl nodded in anticipation.

"I’m afraid that, like Kirkix, I have had a long day," Doranix said. "I must excuse myself from your excursion and will retire early."

"Doranix," Darien said, meaningfully.

"I said I was tired. Leave it alone," Doranix snapped back.

Kirk could certainly sympathize. Spock had mentioned in passing that Doranix had only narrowly escaped a serious accident earlier in the day. He knew from experience that the aftermath of that kind of adrenaline rush could catch up with you with a vengeance several hours later.

The light meal was soon over, hastened toward its end by the impatience of a little girl who seemed more excited by the prospect of a starlight walk with her grandfather than the more momentous event tomorrow for which her mother and grandmother would be up half the night preparing.

"Can we go now, Grandpa. Can we?"

"The sky is not even dark yet, my love. The stars will not be out."

"There’s one you can see before the sun sets, darlin’," Uhura smiled at Analiss. "If you look straight up, day or night, you can see the ship we came in, shining like a bright star way up in the sky."

"Can Grandpa reach me high enough to touch it?" the little girl squirmed with delight.

"Not near high enough," Sulu’s deep voice was edged with indulgence. "But she’s up there, all right. And you can see her any time you look."

"Like the day-star in the story of Danix Mama told me?"

"Well..." her grandfather temporized.

"Will it ‘bring a great change to the people,’ like in the story, Grandpa?"

"It has already brought a great change. It has brought us visitors from worlds we never knew existed. Your ceremony will be remembered in the history of our people, little one, because the day-star came." Delessix settled back in his seat smiling broadly.

"We could use some change around here." Doranix unwound himself from his chair. "I for one am going to bed."

His mother looked after him, worry lines marring her forehead. There even seemed to be an uncomfortable stirring among the honored ones.

Darien made his best attempt to smooth the waters stirred up by Doranix’s abrupt retreat. "Come, then. Let’s all go outside and look at Analiss’ day-star."

"Mother and I are still for the kitchens," Amalia reminded him.

"Shall I help you?" Uhura offered.

"No, dear, you go with the others," Alinar insisted.

"And I’m still for an early bed, myself, I’m afraid," Kirk apologized.

"I ought to beg off, too," McCoy said, " I have a patient to look in on."

Darien rose, "Let’s go then, before anybody else decides they have something better to do. We can’t have Analiss out on the rooftops looking at the stars by herself."

"Wouldn’t do at all," her grandfather agreed, indulgently.

The party rose from the table, and headed off in their several directions.


Over an hour passed, and Kirk was still having no luck with his communicator. The damned thing was still as totally lifeless as it had been earlier in the afternoon. He’d waited for sunset to see if perhaps solar radiation on this planet had had something to do with the malfunction, but he knew he was reaching. He sat by the window, lost in thought and gazing up at the Enterprise, and almost missed hearing the shuffling of feet in the corridor, and whispered voices.

"Back so soon?" he wondered. He waited expectantly for some member of his crew to come knocking...or his curtained doorway. But no, when he really would have liked somebody to talk to, somebody to give him ideas about what had caused the equipment failure, it appeared that all of the rest of his landing party was really as tired as he had professed to be. Because no one came.

Finally, still frustrated, but recognizing the irony in the fact that he had resented their intrusion when they disturbed his nap earlier in the day, he made an effort to recapture that sensation of drowsiness. As Kirk habitually succeeded in whatever he attempted to do, he similarly succeeded in this effort, and was shortly sound asleep, boots and all.


Another hour later he was sleeping too well to hear muted voices at his doorway.


"Captain Kirk?"


Each inquiry was followed by a slight twitching aside of the curtain, and when they had each confirmed his presence, his safety, and his deep, heavy breathing, the curtains dropped back into place, and quiet footsteps faded down the hallway.


Four hours later, the footsteps didn’t stop at his door, the voices didn’t call his name, but both were loud enough to wake him from a sound slumber. The edge of alarm he heard in the voices brought him immediately to his feet and full alertness.

"Where could she have gone?"

"How could she have got out of the palace?"

"Are you sure you’ve searched everywhere? How about the family quarters?"

"Don’t be ridiculous! How could anybody hide..."

"Well how about our guests..."

"Unthinkable! Why would they....?"

"How can you be so sure? What do we know about...?"

"What if we don’t find her in time? Has anybody thought of that? What am I going to do?"

Kirk thought he recognized the hysteria-edged voice as Amalia’s.

"Don’t worry, child," the deeper voice, trying to be calm but underscored with concern, must be Delessix, "Someone else will be found for you. Perhaps the child’s mother."

"That actually would simplify things, wouldn’t it?" Alinar’s voice.

"But Mother, I’m so used to..."

The voices moved down the hall. "Find someone else for you?" That didn’t sound like the answer to the question "Where is the baby?" Which is what Kirk had first feared. Someone was missing., but it was someone who could be replaced.

More footsteps, more voices. The two younger men, this time, keeping their voices low.

"Doranix, did you have anything to..."

"Leave it alone, Darien!" came the warning in reply.

"I can’t leave it alone. I have my allied to be concerned about."

"So do I!"

"She’s not your..."

"And my child. Leave it alone, Darien."

"I can only cover you just so far in this."

"I know."

And the footsteps hurried on.

By the time Kirk poked his head through the curtain into the hallway, it was empty. But within a minute, other heads up and down the hall were peeking out of draped doorways. Seeing the captain, his crew, looking sleepy and disheveled came out into the hallway like tentative, nocturnal animals.

"What was that all about?" a querulous doctor wanted to know.

"It would appear rather obvious that someone has gone missing," Spock answered. The effect of his usually acerbic sarcasm was somewhat blunted by the sight of him in night robes with his hair flattened on one side from sleep.

"Obviously, Spock," the doctor repeated

"But who?" Sulu asked.

"Not the little girl?" Uhura asked, apprehensively.

Kirk remembered someone saying something about a child, but somehow, he didn’t think it was Analiss they were looking for. "Probably not, Commander."

"Should we offer to help them look for whoever it is?" Sulu offered.

Kirk pursed his lips and gave the idea a minute’s serious thought. Something, he wasn’t exactly sure what, in the hurried conversations which he had unwittingly overheard, told him this was a family matter which they might be better off staying out of.

"We’re guests here. We don’t want to interfere if it’s none of our business."

"But someone’s lost..."

"...and we could help," Sulu and Uhura said almost simultaneously.

"And we will," Kirk answered, "but only if they ask us to. We don’t know enough about their social niceties to be sure our interference would be welcome."

"I concur," Spock added. "Many cultures put a higher priority on privacy within the household than Humans do."

" I for one would feel a lot more private with a door that closed instead of a curtain," said McCoy.

"As would we all," Spock said, ambiguously.

While the doctor puzzled over whether he had just been insulted or not, Kirk concluded the matter. The lateness of the hour was beginning to neutralize the effect of being jolted awake. Am I doomed to spend the entire mission in search of a decent stretch of sleep? he wondered.

"Spock’s right. We’ll do all we can if we’re asked. But for now, back to your rooms. We’ll see them through this...ceremony tomorrow, which may give us some new insights into the culture. Then we have to figure out a way to contact the ship and get them to beam down some replacements for all the equipment that’s gone dead on us."

"What do you think of them so far, Jim?" McCoy asked. "We gonna be here much longer, do you think?"

"I’m impressed so far. They seem like really civilized people," Kirk answered. "It may be a little early to go straight into negotiations for Federation membership..."

"Why’s that, Captain?" Sulu asked.

"They are technologically behind virtually every single world of the Federation," Spock answered for him.

"But they’ve solved so many of the social problems that usually accompany this stage of development," Uhura defended the Dorians. "In many ways, they’re really a lot farther ahead than some of the worlds who have the capabilities but don’t know how to deal with it."

"That is just my point, Commander," Spock replied. "Their social structure seems very stable for the level of technological development. To expose them to too much technical change too rapidly, might overtax the ability of their social systems to maintain the kind of optimally functioning society they now appear to have."

Kirk yawned. "Spock’s said it in a nutshell." He was tired enough that he couldn’t help the image rising of a very large nutshell, filled to bursting with multisyllabic words, with Spock speaking into it like a giant megaphone. When did Spock ever say anything in a nutshell? He shook his head to clear the ludicrous idea. "Enough, everybody. Back to bed. We’ve got a lot more data to gather before we make our recommendations. And even then it won’t be entirely up to us. So let’s give it up for tonight. Please?"

"Don’t have to tell me twice," McCoy started down the hallway toward his room. The others followed. Kirk sighed heavily and turned back to his waiting couch.


Even so, morning seemed to come too soon. The light from the slatted windows was still pink with dawn when Kirk heard the voice of his "hostess" outside the drapery.

"Captain? Captain? I’m sorry to disturb you, but Alinar sent me to tell you the household’s getting up for the ceremony."

Kirk rolled out from under the coverlet, regretting the hour, but instantly awake, nonetheless. "What do you think, Uhura? Dress uniforms? Do you think the occasion requires them?"

"I’m afraid so, Captain. Everybody I’ve seen so far this morning seems to be decked out in their best."

"Very well the. Tell the others for me, will you?"

"I already have, sir. Doctor McCoy said his collar made him feel like a strangled chicken."

"Don’t we all, Commander?"

The current dress uniforms were the most impractical, unforgiving things Kirk could imagine wearing by choice. Tight, high collars, and a hot, shiny fabric that clung to every contour so that you had to strut around like a peacock holding its breath to avoid looking slightly potty, even when you were in as good a shape as he was. Of course, Bones has less right to complain—his nickname could as well have been a reference to his physique as his profession.

Nevertheless, Kirk headed into the enclosure for a quick shower which washed the last of the sleep from his memory, and in a matter of minutes was shrugging into the iridescent dark grey and white tunic and hooking the tight collar beneath his chin.

As he closed the double doors on the armoire, he noticed his communicator on the shelf where he had stowed it. Wondering if the device was still dead, or if it had regenerated by some miracle all by itself, he reached for it and tried to activate it. Nothing. He walked over toward the window, shaking it as he went, then tried again.

"Almost ready, Captain?" came Uhura’s voice at the doorway again. "Doranix is here to escort us to the ceremony."

Instead of answering, Kirk stepped out into the hallway, dropping the useless instrument into his pocket as he went.

The rest of his party was either already in front of the door or on their way. He noted that Spock had opted out of the military dress uniform in favor of his black meditation robes. It was an acceptable choice under the circumstances, as this was a religious or cultural occasion rather than a civil or military one. Nonetheless, Kirk envied his first officer his costume, both for the comfort it offered and for the fact that it its flowing austerity it looked even more formal than the best that Starfleet had designed.

He also couldn’t help but noticing that Uhura’s blue-gray satin outfit was much less difficult for him to look at than it probably was for her to wear.

McCoy reluctantly lowered the fingers that were pulling at his collar and assumed the proper demeanor when he saw that a member of the royal household was there to meet them.

"May the wisdom of Danix and the comfort of Nafar sustain you," Doranix said formally, executing the deep, heads-up bow. It appeared that the ritual of the ceremony, whatever it was, began even before the festivities got underway.

Kirk took at stab at guessing an appropriate response. "And you, also."

The answer seemed to satisfy the royal heir, and he looked relieved to drop the formal posture once the greeting had been recited, "Did you pass the night well, Kirkix?" he asked.

"Funny you should ask..." McCoy began.

But Kirk interrupted him, "Actually we thought we heard some commotion in the hallways a couple of hours ago."

"We were...looking for someone," Doranix said.

"I hope it wasn’t the little girl?" Uhura asked.

"Analiss? No, she is safely with my sister and my mother awaiting the assembly."

"Then who..." McCoy started to ask.

"We wondered if we might have helped..." Sulu said.

"The captain thought it best, as guests in your home, not to get involved unless we were asked," Spock said firmly.

"I hope our assistance wasn’t missed," Kirk said.

"Not at all, Kirkix," Doranix assured him. "Everything is quite as it should be. But, come. It is time for us to go in to the assembly."

They began to follow him down the hallways. It seemed to Kirk as if they were winding their way toward the center of the palace. The walls were thicker, and in some places constructed of more primitively finished stone.

"Of course," Doranix fell back to a level with Kirk in order to speak to him, "you and your Makkoi will be the only ones to participate. That is as we discussed last night. The others will merely watch. That is unusual, of course. Everyone present is expected to renew with the ascending one, but Mother could see no other recourse under the circumstances."

Kirk nodded.

"You are, of course, familiar with the ritual?" Doranix asked.

"Well, not exactly."

"I suppose there would be some differences in how it is done. After all, your Way would have evolved differently, since Danix brought the stone only to our own people. You know, we used to have long, late-night discussions about whether there were other intelligent life forms out there."

The hallway narrowed and when they came around a sharp bend, Uhura said, "Oh, Captain, there’s the gallery Amalia showed me. The one with the story of Danix done in the tapestries."

"You’ll have to show it to me some time, if we get the chance, Commander," Kirk replied.

"You know, that’s what always puzzled me," Doranix resumed. "Everyone else always assumed that the Way was universal, but I always wondered how, if there were other beings out there in space, how they would know the Way if the stone was only here on Doria. I always thought that perhaps it was possible that in some cultures—who might be intelligent after a fashion but not necessarily life as we know it—that some of those creatures might survive without knowing the Comfort of Nafar. That maybe civilization of a sort could evolve without it. It usually ended with people throwing up their hands and telling me they just couldn’t reason with somebody who’s ideas were so heretical and impossible."

They turned a corner into a windowless corridor. This part of the palace was not wired for electricity, or whatever source of light was in use throughout the rest of the building, and the rough tone walls were lined with sconces where thick candles burned.

Doranix sighed as if he were sorely disappointed. "Then you came, and since you brought your Makkoi with you, I guess I have finally been proven wrong. I guess things are pretty much the same wherever there is life in the Universe."

Kirk was only half listening to the Urbanity’s son. He wasn’t making a whole lot of sense. Why would he hope for a culture without the presence of physicians? Whoever else the young man had been talking to was obviously right: a civilization wouldn’t get very far if they faced the possibility that every illness or injury from childhood on could become fatal. Nobody would live to grow up at that rate.

On the other hand, McCoy had said that the state of medical care on this world was probably the most backward of their technical achievements—well behind most other areas of knowledge. It seemed really funny that a culture that had such reverence for physicians didn’t seem to have any that were capable of doing even a fair job.

The speculation was interrupted when their party came to a halt in front of two tall, wooden doors. The finish was darkened by age and candle smoke. Those places at a level where a hand would knock were shiny. They were nicked and marred by time and stood as an imposing testament to the antiquity of the ceremony which took place behind them.

In their presence, Doranix’s rambling discourse stopped and he became solemn again. His mouth twisted as if in distaste, but his hand rose to push the great door aside. He held it for them, and motioned them into the room.


As Kirk started forward, Doranix touched the tip of his sixth finger against his lips. "We must take care not to disturb the ceremony in progress. The group from Enrev arrived very early this morning, and they hope to return home in time to hold their child’s feast by evening."

The Enterprise party filed quietly past Doranix and into the great hall. Even so, their entry caused heads to turn as the visiting party caught their first glimpse of the strangers from another world.

The Urbanity’s son indicated that they were to stand along the wall near the doorway. Kirk recognized the other members of Doria’s royal household ranged along the same wall. All of the Urbanity’s family except Alinar stood together, along with a turbaned group consisting of some of the honored ones they had dined with, if not actually met, and a few other unfamiliar faces. Delessix watched them file in, then turned a look that could only be called smug on his curious counterparts in the other party.

Alinar, herself, stood at the center of the room with the visiting group, also consisting of berry-haired Dorians and their bejeweled senior members. It appeared that she was acting in some official capacity in the ceremony. This other group was larger than the Urbanity’s family. There were a number of children of various ages, and, Kirk was surprised to note, several children dressed in the finery and turbans he had come to associate with only the elderly.

He felt McCoy’s elbow in his ribs, and turned toward the doctor with an admonishing expression. Then he realized that it was a pointless caution—the doctor was going to have his say anyway, so he leaned closer to encourage McCoy to speak quietly.

"Damn it, Jim, if they’d spend half as much taking decent care of those kids as they do draping them with jewelry and silk...Look at them! Scrawny, sickly bunch; all runny noses and sores. Look at that one little boy. Birth defects like that are completely avoidable. No excuse for it at all."

"They don’t all look sick, Bones. The other little boy is a picture of sturdy, happy well-being."

"So what is it with these people? The regular kids are all right; it’s only the rich ones they neglect?"

"Did you ever stop to think that maybe that’s exactly what it is? The normal kids are left to be just...normal kids, but they make a big deal over the more frail ones to kind of...make up for it in some way." Kirk kept his voice to a bare whisper, hoping McCoy would take the hint. He was letting his passion get away from him.

McCoy considered for a moment. "Hmm. Never thought of it that way. But, damn it, a little better care and feeding would go a lot farther to ‘make up for it’ than all the grand gestures," he returned in a whisper.

"But you said yourself, Bones, that the state of their medical knowledge was really primitive. Maybe they think this is the best they can do."

McCoy made a sour expression that said it wasn’t a good enough answer for him, but this time when he realized that heads were beginning to turn in their direction, he had the grace to rest his case until they could talk more freely.

Returning his attention to the ceremony itself, Kirk watched the group form itself into two straight lines, each stretching out from a central point like a long V. The turbaned group formed one line, while the more simply dressed, bareheaded group made up the other. At the apex of the V stood a small pedestal, perhaps a meter tall. Its top was hidden from sight by a three sided screen of white drapery, about half a meter high. Alinar stood behind it, formally greeting each pair, for it now appeared that there were a nearly equal number in each line, as they advanced one pair at a time, toward the curtained pedestal and the Urbanity’s wife.

The pairs were matched men with men, and women with women, although among the adults the turbaned half of the pair was always significantly older than their wine-haired counterparts. To Kirk, it appeared that this was some sort of formal renewal of the pledge of homage and duty each Dorian made to care for a selected ancestor, if indeed that is what the relationship was. He noted with approval, that the children of this culture were taught their responsibilities to the less fortunate early in life, as each of them was paired with one of the weaker children McCoy had complained about.

As each approached the...he could not help but think of the pedestal as an altar...the citizens of Enrev gifted their appointed honored one with an additional bit of finery, then turned to Alinar, looking every inch the priestess in a simple, loosely draped white tunic and pants. At first the words were indistinct, but as they were repeated over and over, Kirk began to make them out.

First, Alinar would greet the pair with, "Follow now in the Way of Danix and Nafar."

Then each member of the pair would extend a hand into the space hidden by the curtain. The elder half of the pair would speak first. "I give you the blessing of Nafar."

To which the younger member would reply: "Those who exceed give honor to Nafar."

The words were recited fervently and with great solemnity. Not even the smallest of the children needed to be prompted in their parts.

After that simple exchange, repeated in exact detail by each pair of participants, Alinar would raise her hands toward their foreheads, not quite touching them, and repeat the phrase they had first heard from Doranix when he greeted them in the hallway that morning: "May the wisdom of Danix, and the comfort of Nafar sustain you."

The pair would then turn together and proceed to the opposite side of the chamber, where they waited for the rest of the party to complete their respective turns at the altar.

Most of the party from Enrev had completed the ritual, when a young woman, barely out of her teens, if Kirk was any judge, approached the curtained pedestal with an infant in her arms. The woman behind her in line hovered close. Beside her, from the opposite queue, a very old woman stepped haltingly up to the altar.

Kirk felt an elbow prodding him from the other side, "Captain," Uhura whispered, "isn’t that..."

"Shhh!" he hissed sternly.

Being a lieutenant commander, and not a doctor, his communications officer obeyed.

As he refocused on the activity at the center of the room, he saw Alinar come around the little pedestal to take the child in her own arms. The young mother and her guardian stepped back, and the Urbanity’s wife took the position next to the aged crone. Kirk couldn’t help thinking how like a claret-haired Madonna she looked, the newborn infant in her arms, and a radiant look approaching holy rapture on her face. She shifted the baby into the crook of one arm, and placed the other hand out of sight behind the ruffle of the curtain. The old crone leaned forward to peer into the infant’s face, then gave a shuddering sigh before raising her own hand and placing it near Alinar’s.

By this time, the baby had grown restless from all this handing back and forth and was making fussy noises, on the verge of building up to a really good squall of protest.

The old woman’s quavering voice broke over the ritualistic words, and could barely be heard over the baby’s cry. Kirk thought he saw the glitter of tears on her face. Alinar gave the response, trying to maintain the formality of the ritual above the infant’s protests. She then lifted her hand toward the old woman, and gave the final blessing, then bent her head to kiss the infant on its forehead. Immediately, its crying ceased.

The young mother, who had been standing by with barely contained apprehension came forward on Alinar’s cue to claim her child. She, too, kissed its little face. Then she turned to the old woman and escorted her to the side, where she passed the baby, yet again, to a young man who had already completed his vows, and went back to resume her own place in the line.

The woman who had hovered over the young mother was just completing her own statement of the ritual. Alinar, who had reverted to her former position on the far side of the covered pedestal gave them the blessing.

Then the young mother took her vow to honor and care for the lone remaining turbaned woman in the opposite line. While she was probably no more than ten years older than the young mother herself, this woman looked terrible. She had a blackened eye, fresh and nearly swollen shut, and bruises showed on her wrists and forearms beneath her robes.

Farther down the wall from himself, Kirk could overhear Doranix speaking to Darien. The Urbanity’s son was livid. "...No excuse for that! What are they, animals?"

"I never said I condone....Of course it’s terrible, but it’s their business..."

Farther away, the Urbanity himself cleared his throat noisily. Although it was unclear whether he was responding to the tittering that was beginning to arise from the other group as those who had finished their ritual had the leisure to stare and speculate about his guests, or to restore decorum among his own, it effectively brought both sets of commentary to a halt.

Almost as if she were oblivious to the signs of recent violence on her charge’s face and body, the young mother draped a huge medallion about the older woman’s neck, and proceeded to complete her vows.

Kirk searched Alinar’s face for some sign of disapproval, and was gratified to find it, but even so, she said nothing and proceeded with the blessing. Then she dismissed this final pairing to join the rest of the party from Enrev. Once their group was complete, they filed together out a side door, leaving the Urbanity’s group to begin their own phase of the ritual.

Alinar left her place at the altar and came over to greet her family. She began to help them arrange themselves in two orderly lines. It was a bit more difficult than it might have been, since the man Kirk recognized as McCoy’s patient was able to be present only through the use of a wheeled divan, his injuries not permitting him to stand. The oldest woman was not with the group today. Either she had taken ill herself, Kirk surmised, or perhaps Uhura had been right in suggesting that it was the same crone who was now leaving with the other group.

There was a child among the household’s honored ones now, too; a little girl, about the same size as Analiss. She looked perfectly healthy. That ought to put McCoy’s concerns to rest, Kirk thought, ignoring the fact that the child’s apparent well-being also contradicted his own theory about special treatment making up for some other disadvantage. He wasn’t sure if he recognized the woman whose hand the little girl clung to. He didn’t think so, but the headdresses made it harder to distinguish one person from another.

As they sorted themselves out, Kirk realized that all the members of the Urbanity’s family were pulling out rings and pendants and other jeweled baubles in readiness for presentation to their partners. As the three members of his crew who would be only observers were getting their instructions about where they were to wait, he realized that he and McCoy were expected to walk through the ritual with the family and he hadn’t come prepared with a trinket to give to the doctor.

"Commander," he called Uhura away from Spock and Sulu who were starting toward the other side of the room where they would stand to watch the proceedings.

"Let me...borrow an earring if I might," he whispered.

At first she looked at him as if he might be losing his mind, then comprehension dawned, and she hastily removed it from her ear and placed it in his hand. "Good luck, Captain," she said, as she hurried to catch up with Spock and Sulu.

It wasn’t clear whether it was a general statement, or a reference to the doctor’s likely reaction when presented with an earring by his captain. Either way, it would have to do.

Alinar was holding a hurried conference with her daughter. Kirk overheard just the end of their exchange. "I’m sure she’ll be just fine, dear."

"But, Mother!"

"It couldn’t be helped, Amalia. And she’s the child’s own mother. It will work out. You’ll see."

"After all, they’re all alike, aren’t they? Interchangeable, just like gears in a machine," Doranix intruded with viscous sarcasm.

His sister shot him a furious look, and his mother wheeled on him. "That’s enough. I will not have you desecrate the little one’s ceremony with your heresy." She turned and walked away.

But Kirk could also hear Darien’s response to the Urbanity’s son’s outburst. "Come on, Doranix. Drop it. Wherever she is, she’s not here. You have what you wanted, so drop it for now, will you?"

Doranix jerked away from his brother-in-law, but said nothing further.

When Alinar had her family and guests arranged to her satisfaction, she led the older woman—Kirk thought it was the same one he had seen her feed at the dinner table—toward the altar with her. Just as she had done when she held the Enrev woman’s infant, she skipped over the greeting she would have done as officiating priestess, and simply made the gift and the exchange of vows with her counterpart.

Then the Urbanity’s wife escorted her charge solicitously to the opposite side of the room and sat her in a chair next to Uhura, tenderly seeing to her comfort. That done, she returned to her position behind the pedestal and indicated that the rest of her family was to come forward.

Kirk and McCoy found themselves in the middle of the line, behind the other men, and in front of Amalia and the little girl. By the time Darien and the man with the crippled arm had made their exchange of blessings, the captain was close enough to the altar to catch a glimpse of what the short curtains concealed. It appeared to be nothing more than a large, irregularly shaped gray rock, perhaps a meteor of some sort.

Then his view was blocked again by the rolling divan and its injured passenger, as Doranix positioned it so that the man lying on it could reach the stone. Kirk saw McCoy hovering over his patient in concern, trying to help. But Doranix managed it deftly by himself, making it clear that McCoy’s help was not welcome.

When it was over, the Urbanity’s son wheeled the divan away and stood beside it as the line formed along the far wall.

Then Delessix led the blind man to the altar. Kirk watched attentively as the Urbanity helped the older man to locate the stone and carefully wrap his hand around a rounded knob that protruded at one end of the gray mass, while he positioned his own hand on the top of the stone. When both men had a hand placed firmly on the rock, he looked up and indicated to Alinar that they were ready for her to begin.

Kirk listened carefully to the words. He and McCoy were next, and if the children could do this by rote, he certainly wanted to do as well.

"Follow now in the Way of Danix and Nafar," Alinar invited.

"I give you the blessing of Nafar," said the blind man.

"Those who exceed give honor to Nafar," Delessix responded.

"May the wisdom of Danix and the comfort of Nafar sustain you." Alinar raised her hands in blessing. The two men turned, and the Urbanity led his charge to a seat along the wall.

Kirk and McCoy stepped up to the altar with as much decorum as they had seen in the others. Kirk held up the borrowed earring, and to McCoy’s credit, he made no protest, but pinched a fold in his dress tunic, above the rest of the fruit salad, and offered Kirk the option of attaching it there. Grateful that McCoy was going to make this easy, Kirk hooked the decoration into the shiny blue fabric.

McCoy extended his left hand toward the rock, but hesitated uncertainly. Maybe, Kirk thought, he’d had a better view of the proceedings than the doctor had. So he nudged him toward the rounded protrusion at the end of the stone. McCoy wrapped his hand around it. Its smooth shape filled his palm.

Then Kirk raised his right hand, as he had seen the others do, and began to place it on top of the stone when he realized, now that he was close enough to see it, that there were six indentations in the top of the stone, clearly visible in spite of the otherwise irregular surface. Five hollows in an arch-shaped row, and one more off to the side. Clearly a series of finger holes shaped to accommodate a six-fingered hand.

Instinctively, Kirk placed his thumb in the lower shallow space, and stretched the fingers on his strong, squarish hands into the first four of the five remaining spaces. When his hand rested securely in position, he looked up at the beautiful woman before him and listened while she intoned, "Follow in the Way of Danix and Nafar."

Apparently McCoy had been paying the same attention he had, for without so much as a nudge of encouragement or a twist of sarcasm, McCoy recited, "I give you the blessing of Nafar."

Kirk answered as he had heard the others do, "Those who exceed give honor to Nafar."

Alinar raised graceful hands toward their faces, the loose sleeves of her robes falling back to reveal alabaster forearms, and completed the exchange. "May the wisdom of Danix and the comfort of Nafar sustain you." She lowered her hands and smiled radiantly at them.

That wasn’t so bad, Kirk thought, as he and McCoy retreated to join the others who had completed the ritual and the remainder of his landing party. In fact, there was a pleasant buzz of well being that seemed to come over him as he stood before Alinar and her ordinary looking rock. But then, the proximity of a beautiful woman often had that effect on him.

The two little girls were next, their mothers exchanging nervous glances. The Urbanity’s granddaughter was prepared with a multi-stranded collar of bright beads, which she fastened with her mother’s help around the neck of the other child. At first, the other little girl seemed to shrink back from Analiss and had to be encouraged by her mother. But she became fascinated by the pretty bauble Analiss held out to her, and stepped forward bravely to receive it. Although she was dressed in beautiful fabrics, this was the only bit of jewelry the little girl wore.

Alinar beamed with maternal love at her granddaughter, and even spared a fond glance at the other child as she began the ritual. When their turn came, the children’s voices rang out high and clear, repeating the words that had been drilled into them in preparation for this moment.

As they turned from the altar and started to join the others, the new little girl looked back uncertainly at her mother, but Analiss’ chubby hand held on tightly, tugging her along behind. The child’s mother was already stepping into position next to Amalia, and when she didn’t even return the child’s pleading look, the little one became resigned and followed her new friend docilely.

When they reached the rest of the family, Analiss was still fairly bouncing with excitement, climbing into her grandfather’s arms and receiving a big bear hug in return. But the other child appeared to have lost interest in the proceedings and was absently scratching at a rash on her arm which Kirk had failed to notice before. However, as soon as the two young mothers completed their part of the ritual, the new child’s mother hurried to her, and bent to kiss and caress her, straightening the child’s tiny urban with a tug and kissing her forehead. The child held out her itchy wrist for her mother’s inspection. The woman kissed that, too, then hugged her child again.

Alinar joined the group, taking her granddaughter from Delessix’s arms and giving her the fond caresses due to the star of the day which she had not been able to bestow during the ritual itself.

Looking over the child’s curly head, she said, "It is finished satisfactorily then. Why don’t you men and our guests go outside for a while, or find something else to do while Amalia and I settle our new honored ones and prepare the meal." Kirk took note of how easily she slipped from the ethereal role of high priestess into the more earthy one of grandmother, hostess and even cook. None of those roles being what he would expect of the first lady of the city.

"May I, uh, help you?" Uhura offered. Kirk knew that Uhura didn’t consider herself much of a homebody, but he appreciated her attempt to fulfill the role they expected of her.

When the other two women accepted gratefully, she shot a rueful glance at the captain, which he returned with an encouraging smile that said, "Be brave."

"With your permission Ma’am, I’d prefer to stay with your, uh, honored ones," McCoy ventured.

"Of course." Alinar looked as if the doctor as if he had overstated the obvious.

Both Kirk and McCoy caught her look and exchanged bemused shrugs. As the others began to move away the two of them hung back.

"Going to look in on your patient?" Kirk assumed.

"Him and as many of the rest of them as I can get a look at. I don’t understand why people who all seem to start out so healthy all seem to go to pot as soon as they hit middle age."

"Watch yourself," Kirk cautioned. "Prime Directive and all that."

"Yeah. What threat am I to the Prime Directive without any of my instruments working? Not much I can do that they couldn’t do themselves if they had the inclination and the training."

"I suppose not, but be careful."

"You know the one I’d really like to get a look at," McCoy said, "is that lady in the bunch from the other city."

"The one that..." Kirk dropped his already lowered voice to a whisper, "...looked like she’d been beat up."

McCoy nodded grimly. "That’s not the result of aging or disease, and probably not an accident, either from the look of her. There’s something going on here I don’t like one bit."

"Unfortunately, they’re probably already gone by now."

"Too bad. I’d really like to know how she ended up looking like that," McCoy shook his head.

"Coming, Kirkix?" Delessix asked.

"I’ll be right along," Kirk answered. Then, turning to McCoy: "Sorry you weren’t..."

"Better this way. I’ll get some time alone with these old folks...see what I can do for them. Besides, I’m really too tired to go gallivanting off with the tour. Guess I didn’t sleep as well as I thought last night. It just hit me a couple of minutes ago. Feel like I haven’t slept for days." He yawned.


"Coming." Kirk and the doctor went their separate ways.


At first, Sulu was relieved when the two younger Dorian men seemed to lag back and separate themselves and him from the more official, and less interesting conversations in which Delessix was avidly engaging the captain and Mister Spock. The Urbanity, standing near the northern edge of the rooftop garden, was directing their attention out over the city, apparently pointing out the stops on the distant transport line.

"Let’s sit over here in the shade," Darien indicated a circle of carved stone divans and lounges, patterned to resemble the overstuffed upholstered furniture in the house below.

When they had settled themselves, Sulu said to Darien, "I guess congratulations of some kind must be in order for your little girl. This was some kind of...big day for her?"

Darien smiled, proudly, "The day when a child embarks upon the Way of Danix is perhaps the most important of their lives."

"Interesting," Sulu commented. And he was interested. The Dorians were fascinating people. "So, the baby with the visiting party from the other city," he couldn’t quite recall the name, "this was her big ceremony, too?"

"Oh, no. An infant cannot become Nafaris. Too many risks, too complicated. They are given into the care of an old one until they are old enough to speak their own commitment."

"Kind of like what we’d call a nanny..." Sulu made the same assumption Uhura had done earlier, but subsided in his comparisons at Doranix’s muttered comment:

"Oh, no. Too risky for an infant to become Nafaris—but not a destiny they can escape for long, either."

"Please, Doranix," Darien said, almost as if he was forgetting that the two of them were not alone. "You seem to have had your way, not that anybody should have any sympathy for what you have done, especially Amalia. And as her allied, I shouldn’t forgive you, either. I have tried to understand." He shook his head despairingly. "But must you harp on the subject every time it comes up? It is our Way, Doranix. You can’t threaten our whole way of life just because you’ve ignored..."

"I won’t stand here and be lectured by you! You can sit here and take joy in your child’s ascension into your damnable Way. I shall feel no such joy for mine!"

"Doranix! Shhhh!" Darien’s littlest finger touched his lips surreptitiously, "Your father..."

"A curse on my father," Doranix said venomously, although his voice was lowered.

"Your father loves you. He only wants what’s best for you," Darien pleaded.

"He wants what’s best for his son, but what about his grandchild?"

"My brother, you know that can never be..."

"This is pointless. I’m going inside." Doranix turned to leave.

Sulu tried to fade a little farther into the background to give the two angry men the privacy of their disagreement, but the very movement which would have taken him outside the conversational circle caught the heir’s eye.

"On your world, Sulu, does love not sometimes strike from unexpected places?" he asked.

Thinking back to more than a couple of girls over time, Sulu replied, "It sure doesn’t seem to ask for credentials up front. Sometimes it just happens." Then, remembering that none of those young ladies was still with him at present, he added, "and I guess it sometimes turns out to be pretty inconvenient at times, too."

"Inconvenient? Forgive me, Sulu, but if you and Spock are any indication of the men of your world, then you are truly a race without passion. Excuse me. I am going inside."

Spock? Sulu had always considered himself a hopeless romantic. The last thing he had ever expected to hear was the accusation that he was as passionless as Mister Spock.

Before he could give that strange idea any more thought, Darien sat down beside him with a heavy sigh. "Sometimes Doranix seems to think that he’s the only one whose feelings matter. That centuries of tradition and..." He paused. "I love him like a brother, but he’s gotten himself in too deep. I’m not sure I really want to know how deep. And I don’t know how to help him. How to make him see reason."

He didn’t want to embroil himself where he had no business, but Sulu’s curiosity was piqued. Well then, he decided, say something neutral and if Darien wants to reveal something further, so be it. And if not...well, it’s up to him. "Is there anything I can do to help?" Sulu asked.

Head in hands, Darien answered, "I don’t know. Maybe being from another world, maybe having seen so many other cultures you won’t be as shocked by this if I tell you."

Still trying not to be too inquisitive, Sulu just waited.

"My wife’s brother has done the unthinkable. He has allowed his heart to lead him where it should not have gone."

Darien paused, and again, Sulu waited.

Darien straightened and looked Sulu in the eye, watching for a reaction. "Doranix fancies himself in love with one of the honored ones."

Sulu didn’t flinch under Darien’s scrutiny. It was not as if inter-class love affairs were not common in civilizations with rigid class structures. Even in old Earth literature, such things were the staples of the great romances. As a matter of fact, something in the tragedy and futility of falling in love above one’s station in life appealed to Sulu’s swashbuckling soul.

However, he supposed, it was one thing to appreciate such stories as drama, and quite another when seen from the point of view of the offending or offended class.

He realized that Darien was waiting for a response. "It is not the first time such a thing has happened, nor, probably the last."

Darien sighed again, "Perhaps not on the backward worlds you have seen, but not on Doria. It is against all tradition."

"But if it is just an infatuation..." Sulu began.

"Unfortunately not. It has gone beyond that to the unthinkable. The woman is with child."

Again Darien paused as if expecting a horrified exclamation from his visitor.

Again, any reaction of surprise Sulu might have felt was more on account of such instances being so apparently rare on Doria. The history of most worlds was peppered with such miscalculations.

"I see," he commented carefully, giving Darien to opportunity to continue or not, as he chose.

"At first," he began, now staring at the distant clouds over Sulu’s shoulder, "I was so torn between my friendship for Doranix and my loyalty to my allied that I’m afraid I did not discourage him as I should have done."

"Your allied?" Finally he had said something which did not fit into the usual picture. "How does the lady Amalia fit into this?"

"Oh, didn’t you realize? The object of my brother’s affections is...was... the one honored by my wife."

This time Darien got more of a reaction than he was expecting.

"Ince..." Sulu drew back the accusatory word. "Within the family?" Although he had seen strange societies which considered inbreeding, especially among the royals, to be the norm, his Human sensibilities still recoiled at the notion of incest. Especially as he recalled that there was now a baby involved.

"Ah, now you see the complexity of it all," Darien noted Sulu’s expression of revulsion.

But actually, Sulu realized, he still wasn’t clear on the details, "If I may ask, what is she to your wife...your allied? Cousin? Aunt?"

"‘Cousin?’ ‘Aunt?’ I do not understand these words."

Sulu recognized that while lineal descent was pretty clear in most societies, the sideways relationships were often counted differently. "Well, an ‘Aunt’ would be your mother or father’s sister. Or maybe your mother or father’s brother’s wife, er, allied. And ‘cousin’..."

"That would make Amalia’s Nafaris a blood relation to the family! I told you, that is strictly forbidden by the Way of Danix. That is exactly why what Doranix has done is so reprehensible! Sulu, I fear your exposure to the ways of so many inferior worlds has tainted your judgment of morality."

"Wait, Darien, you are saying that your honored ones are not relatives, not ancestors?" Sulu asked.

"Of course not! That would be sheer perversion!"

"So, this woman Doranix has taken up with, is not related to him in any way?"

"That is what I just said."

Well, that’s something, anyway, Sulu thought, although he was now more confused than ever. Apparently every family had their cadre of honored ones—mostly the old and sick—who they were responsible for caring for, even to the extent of making gifts of jewels and ornaments to them, when they obviously had none themselves. He supposed that it was an efficient way for the needs of the disabled to be met. Even more noble, now that he realized that the responsibilities were accepted without the ties of blood to require the attention of the caretakers.

But the real dilemma was still unexplained. The class lines were so stringently drawn and enforced that it was considered an unspeakable disgrace for even a member of the royal family to aspire to a woman of the upper class. And therein lay the rub: If the pampered and bejeweled honored ones were of a class so far elevated above Darien’s family, then why did the title of Urbanity belong to Delessix instead of one of them? Could there be a caste of people so infatuated with their own importance that they considered even the tasks of ruling their own world beneath them?

"You are silent, Sulu. I did not mean to offend you," Darien apologized.

"Oh. No. Just thinking. Sorry, Darien. Yes, you’re right, I have seen some pretty strange societies. And sometimes they’re more complex than they appear to be on the surface."

Darien nodded, thoughtfully. "And it is easy to lose your moral compass when people you care for are involved." Darien continued, "Even I could have found some sympathy for my brother’s feelings under other circumstances. But," he paused, "you saw that my wife accepted a new Nafaris in today’s ceremony?"

"I thought there was someone new in the group. Yes. The little girl, too."

"She is the child’s mother. Sometimes it is better that way. But regarding the absence of Amalia’s original Nafaris, I hate to say this, but...I believe that Doranix...Shhh!" He touched a surreptitious little fingertip to his lips and shifted his eyes to indicate his father and the two other officers from Sulu’s ship were approaching.

Sulu was immensely frustrated that their arrival had interrupted what might have been the most interesting revelation of them all, and he resolved to talk to the captain about his discoveries at the first opportunity.


It was midmorning and Captain Kirk was jammed in between his first officer and Delessix in the back seat of one of the squat, lumpy vehicles which had driven the landing party to the Urbanity’s palace two days ago. They were bound for an inspection of a road building project some distance from the environs of the city. If possible, this promised to be an even more stultifying day than the last. He shifted his shoulders, thinking that it was a good thing that their host was in as good a shape as he and Spock themselves. Otherwise they would not have fit. There was room in the front seat with the driver, but some obscure protocol seemed to forbid splitting up the party. It was getting stuffy, even with the open windows.

The last of the homes on the outskirts of the city passed out of sight. The simple, low buildings looked as if their most important function was to serve as pedestals for their manicured and lovingly cultivated rooftop gardens. Once they were past, the countryside opened up to sweetly scented fields. A long stretch of what looked like a vineyard passed on their right. However, what glimpse Kirk could catch of the fruit revealed it to be blue-green. Fancifully, he thought that all the colors of wine were already taken on this world by the Dorians’ port and claret and merlot and zinfandel hair.

That thought led him to the conclusion that the lovely teal colored beverage served at the Urbanity’s table might just be wine after all. If so, they could be thankful that it didn’t pack near the punch to the Human system as some other distillations they had encountered in their travels. That Romulan ale, for instance...he was sure that stuff was going to get him into trouble some day.

"Captain?" Spock interrupted his mental grape-gathering. Having gained Kirk’s attention, Spock addressed his question directly to Delessix. "Sir, am I correct in my recollection that we have come this way before?"

As the Vulcan leaned past him to speak to the Urbanity, Kirk was sure that Spock’s dark eyes held an unvoiced message intended only for him. But just then they passed under the local extension of the overhead transport line that connected the fields to the processing plant, and in the brief moment while its shadow obscured his vision, the fleeting message in Spock’s eyes was lost.

Seconds later, Delessix’ answer made clear what Spock had been trying to tell him. "The clearing in which we first greeted you lies over there." He pointed.

Kirk hoped that the Urbanity was not going to ask for a tour of their little craft which he was not ready to give. He asked, "So, where are we going today?"

He repressed the sigh of relief when their host pointed in the opposite direction, into the hilly terrain to the north of the field where the shuttle sat untended. He should have known that he could count on Delessix to be more interested in showing off his own accomplishments than asking about theirs. For a change, he was grateful for the Urbanity’s obsessive pride in what was his.

The road passed quite near the empty shuttle, close enough to see its outline against the more distant trees. Then it turned, and they were headed toward the rolling hills. Delessix began a discourse on what they were about to see: an ambitious new road, cutting directly through the higher country rather than snaking around it. It would lessen the journey from the nearby but inaccessible City of Elyod by about two thirds.

"Lanarix, the Urbanity there, is working toward us from his side. It is our intention that the new thoroughfare will join in the middle by the end of the year," Delessix explained.

The road climbed a ways into the hills, then, after winding around a bend, came to an abrupt stop. About ten meters beyond rose a sheer cliff, standing foursquare in the way of further progress. A broad but shallow niche opened at its base, but otherwise it looked impervious.

At first, Kirk wondered why the Urbanity had brought them all the way out here to show them a project gone awry. Usually he was more interested in demonstrating their accomplishments. Perhaps he wanted to ask for their assistance in solving the problem that lay ahead.

Delessix opened the door and encouraged them out of the vehicle. Kirk unfolded from his awkward position, and slid ungracefully out the side door. Once on his feet, he gestured toward the wall of stone. "Up against a rock and a hard place?"

The Urbanity’s blank look indicated that the colloquialism didn’t translate to include the intended pun. "It is a great obstacle, is it not?"

"Perhaps," Spock began, "we could give you some assistance in choosing a more accessible route for your road builders."

"Another route? Go back and rebuild in another direction? Oh, no, my friends! You underestimate our abilities."

"But, the site is abandoned. There are no workers here," Kirk noted.

"Of course not. My granddaughter’s Day of Ascension into the Way is a six day holiday. Our builders will return when it is over. And then they shall commence to go not around the rock, but rather through it! That is why I brought you here. To see this marvel of engineering which will take us straight through the rock to join the builders from Elyod on the other side."

"And how do you propose to accomplish this?" Spock asked.

Delessix leaned close, as if to impart a great discovery. "Explosives!" he said in a stage whisper. Then, stepping back and waving his arm in a sweeping gesture, "A huge tunnel, blasted with the power of a fine black powder developed in our research laboratories. It has the power to crumble even such solid rock as this."

Kirk recognized that Delessix was probably describing some analog to primitive dynamite. "A dangerous process, Delessix," he cautioned.

"Rather an impossible one," Spock added.

"Impossible, Spock?" Kirk asked.

"The explosive is capable of accomplishing what Delessix describes, but, sir," he turned part of his attention on the Urbanity, "the tunnel will never be built."

"Why not?" the Urbanity demanded.

Spock pointed, and Kirk’s eyes followed the direction of his long, extended arm up to a dark, jagged, line on the cliff face. "A fault line, which combined with the observable composition of the surrounding strata makes the whole area unstable. To disturb this formation with explosions nearby could bring it down. To center the explosives directly beneath it, while at the same time removing the base of support of the existing rock, will most surely bring the whole edifice to a state of collapse."

Delessix, too, followed the line of sight indicated by Spock’s pointing finger. He stared for a moment, before shaking his head. "I don’t believe it. Not that I’m not grateful for your concern, Spock, but my engineers assure me that this is the safest, most efficient way to join the road approaching from the other side. It is up to us, after all," he said with condescension. "Elyod does not have the technology to attempt such a great undertaking."

"Maybe we could...climb up there," Kirk pointed to the crest of the cliff, "and take a look from the top."

"My flyers have already done so. That is how we have assured that the courses of the two roads will meet," Delessix said.

"Yet, we may be able to observe in greater detail from the ground rather than from the air," Spock countered.

"Very well, if you wish it," Delessix offered.

"I’m a pretty good climber, myself," Kirk couldn’t help but succumb to the urge to do a little bragging himself. He stepped back to survey the possible approaches, then set off decisively along the right hand side of the cliff face. "I suggest we start over here, gentlemen. This..." He placed his hands on two outcroppings of rock and tested the first footing. "...looks like..." His boot held firm and he boosted himself up, seeking the next set of hand holds. "...a pretty good place to..." A second step up. This was going well. He’d chosen an easy access. It was like climbing a ladder. "...Start....Whoa!" Loose shale slipped out from under his left foot at the same time that the rock he held on to with his right hand revealed itself to be mere clay by crumbling in his palm. He started to slide, and only stopped himself by coming to rest with one knee smacked hard against the first outcrop of handholds, about a meter below.

He rested for a minute, getting his breath and his dignity back. Surprisingly, his pride appeared to be the only casualty. He’d expected to find pain from the knee he had landed on announcing its presence to his brain by now.

It took no longer than those few seconds of thought for Spock to be clinging to the rock face beside him. "Are you all right, Jim?"

Kirk gingerly pushed himself back to a straightened out position, and tested the knee again. It held his weight and still didn’t hurt. With mild surprise in his answer, he responded, "Yeah, Spock. Yeah, I’m all right."

He looked his first officer up and down. Spock had swarmed up the rock in mere seconds without so much as breaking a sweat.

"Well, as long as you’re up here, let’s get this show on the road." Kirk reached for the next hand hold and, avoiding the path that had done him treachery by veering off to the side, he completed his ascent. It took the better part of an hour, but the accomplishment of reaching the top felt good, satisfying, especially after the rough start.

Spock climbed evenly right beside him, reaching the top just enough after the captain keeping Kirk’s ego intact. As the Vulcan regained his feet to stand beside Kirk on the ridge, the captain surveyed the vista. Delessix waved at them from below. For whatever reasons of his own, he had declined to make the climb with them.

Kirk turned to Spock, "Thanks."

Instead of his usual "One does not thank logic," which Spock trotted out when he had really done something requiring serious gratitude, he said, "For what, Captain? I did nothing to assist you when you lost your footing. You regained yourself without my aid."

"Damn lucky, I guess," Kirk shrugged. "What are you looking at?"

Spock was crouched down, parting the low growing vegetation with his hand to peer at the ground beneath.

He looked up. "As I suspected, the Dorians are embarked upon a very dangerous course. See this?"

Kirk dropped to a crouch beside the Vulcan to look at what Spock wanted him to see.

"Notice the difference in coloration here," he pointed with his finger. "It extends throughout the entire edifice in a networked pattern. This lighter vein is of significantly different density from the surrounding material, and it acts like a fault which honeycombs the whole cliff. If the citizens of Edliw persist in their plan to blast their way through the base of this cliff, they will surely come to failure, and quite possibly to harm."

"It’s not outside the parameters of the Prime Directive to warn them, is it Spock?" it was less of a question than a decision.

"If they will listen, Captain."

"Seen enough?"

"Enough to confirm my concerns."

"Let’s get back down there, then, and test our powers of persuasion." Kirk led the way.

"I fear we may have a barrier as implacable as this rock in dissuading the Urbanity from his course of action," Spock cautioned.

"Ah, but even this rock has its weaknesses," Kirk reminded him.

The rest of the conversation was postponed in the concentration required to make the descent.


Sulu was glad when Amalia came to their rooms to invite them to dinner and then left them to find their own way to the dining room. He hadn’t had a chance all day to talk to the captain and tell him what he had heard about the scandal in the royal family. As a matter of fact, he’d heard Mister Spock and the captain coming back from their day with Delessix only a few minutes ago. He had gone to try to talk to the captain shortly thereafter, but had stopped at the captain’s curtained doorway when he heard the noise of the water shower being run inside.

Maybe now on the way in to dinner they’d get a minute for some private conversation.

He and Uhura reached the captain’s end of the hallway, where he stood waiting for them, at about the same time.

"Oh, Captain," Uhura hurried forward, then stopped to look around quickly as if trying to be certain she would not be overheard by anyone outside their own party. "It’s amazing what you can pick up when a bunch of women stand around the kitchen talking. I heard the most awful thing today. Wait till I tell you!"

Sulu decided to give Uhura’s news priority. Maybe it was another version of the same story he had heard, which would be enlightening from the women’s point of view, or maybe she had found out something even more important.

"Yes, Commander," Kirk followed her lead and kept his voice low. "What did you hear today?"

"Well, we were working on the banquet for tonight, and Amalia was talking about the little girl that joined the honored ones this morning and her mother. It seems to be unusual. Most of the time they actually adopt the little ones right out from under their natural parents. If that other woman hadn’t gone missing..."

"Just a minute, Uhura. Hold that thought," Kirk interrupted, looking past her to the other two members of their party who were coming down the hall toward them.

"Please, Doctor, allow me to assist you," Spock was saying.

"Get your damn hands off...oh!"

Sulu turned at the sound of shuffling feet and a body falling hard against the wall.

"Oh, all right, give me an arm, damn it!" McCoy took the arm Spock offered and righted himself.

"Bones! You’re limping! Are you hurt?" the captain hurried to close the few steps’ distance between them.

"Damn knee," the doctor grumbled. "I was trying to take a look at the rash on that little girl. It had just blossomed out all over since only this morning. I was crouched get to her level, you know...and all of a sudden, the knee just gave out. Hurt like a son-of-a-bitch! Lost my balance and dropped right on my... Well, I felt like an ass, too. Just tipped over like you’d knocked the props right out from under me. Still hurts, too."

"I’m sorry, Bones. Is there anything I can..." Kirk offered.

"Nah. Just let me hang on Spock, here, until we get in to dinner. Wish my instruments were working. Now more than ever."

"I’ll bet," Kirk agreed.

"The captain took a spill of his own today," Spock made an attempt at causal conversation.

"What happened, Jim?" the doctor immediately put away his own concerns to worry about the captain.

"Oh, nothing. I was doing a little climbing and lost my footing on a loose rock. Came down kind of hard," he said lightly, making as little as possible of the event. "On the same knee you hurt, actually."

"Hurt?" the doctor inquired.

"Surprisingly, no," Kirk answered. "When I started to feel my footing slip, I really expected the worst. But it turned out to be no big deal after all."

Then he appeared to remember, and turned to Uhura. "You were saying, Commander?"

"We’d better go on in to dinner, Captain." Uhura’s expression said more than her words. They were close to the dining room door, now. Close enough to hear voices on the other side of the drapery. And she didn’t want to be overheard. "I’ll tell you later."

Sulu decided that his story could wait, too. After all, sordid as it was, it was really nothing more than gossip.

They went in to the meal, which was long and tedious tonight. Analiss made her first attempt at carrying food to the little girl she was now responsible for. She didn’t make too bad a job of it, but the other little girl wasn’t particularly interested, scratching at her arms and ankles most of the evening.

As they had the first night of their visit, the younger members of the family entertained with music. Again, it was beautiful, but precluded much conversation. Sulu caught himself yawning before it was over.

On the way back to their rooms, with McCoy again leaning on Spock’s arm for support, Uhura asked, "Conference, Captain?"

"You look tired, Commander. You’ve worked harder than the rest of us today. I can wait till morning if you can."

She nodded gratefully, and Sulu decided that the same delay wouldn’t matter much to his story, either. They split up at their respective doorways, and Sulu went gratefully to sleep the minute his head hit the divan.


Despite the early hour at which he had been awakened that morning, Kirk didn’t feel the least bit sleepy. Neither had the afternoon in the sun been followed by the usual lethargy. So when a late rustling disturbed the curtain over his doorway, he was pleased rather than disturbed.

"Jim!" The rustling was followed by a whispered voice. The whisper did not disguise the identity of his visitor.

"Come in, Bones."

McCoy entered, carrying a small black case which Kirk recognized as his first aid field gear. The doctor still limped as he crossed the room and sat down heavily on the divan opposite Kirk.

"Sorry, I don’t seem to have been provided with anything to offer you for a nightcap," Kirk gestured in the general direction of the twin armoirs.

"The last thing I need is something to make me sleepy," McCoy shook his head and stifled a yawn.

"Then what are you doing here? You ought to be in bed," Kirk scolded.

"Too bad, though, about your lack of provisions. You might be in a better frame of mind to hear what I have to say after a shot or two of something potent," McCoy continued, ignoring Kirk’s suggestion.

"Bones, you’ve come up with some pretty strange announcements in the time I’ve known you, but when have I ever not believed you—with or without the aid of a little Saurian suspension of disbelief?" Kirk asked, smiling.

"This is different, Jim," McCoy said, soberly.

"How different can it be? Come on, Bones, out with it. What’s so important that it can’t wait till morning?"

The doctor hemmed and hawed for a minute, shifting his position and wincing when he moved his game leg. "It’s this knee, Jim. Remember I told you that I wasn’t doing anything at all this afternoon when the damn thing suddenly gave out? Not climbing, not lifting, not twisting it, not even standing on uneven ground. Just standing there. When all of a sudden it just collapsed. Damn near dropped me on my fanny."

"Funny how those things happen," Kirk commiserated. "Old injuries come back to haunt you, or something just wears out all at once..."

"I don’t have any ‘old injury’ to that knee to come back, and I’m not old enough to be disintegrating before my own eyes!" McCoy shot back.

"I’m sorry, Bones, I didn’t mean to say..." Kirk started to apologize. But the doctor cut him off.

"But you did!"

"Huh?" was all Kirk could say. "I did what?"

"You took a fall this afternoon."

"Yeah, pretty hard one, too," Kirk remembered.

"And you came down on the same place. You said so yourself at dinner," McCoy persisted.

"Yes, but what..."

"But you didn’t get hurt," McCoy said meaningfully.

"Just lucky, I guess," Kirk shrugged.

"I don’t think so." McCoy pulled his field case up beside him, opened it and began fishing around inside. "Jim, I want to try a little experiment."

"Captain? Jim?" another low voice at the curtain.

"What is it, Spock?" the doctor snapped, irritated at having his conversation with the captain interrupted.

Taking the doctor’s question as an invitation, the Vulcan stepped into the room. As the drapery settled back into place behind him, he took in the scene: the doctor seated opposite the captain, one hand absently massaging his knee, the other holding a shiny instrument from his bag.

"I surmise," he said after a long moment, "that Doctor McCoy has come to the same conclusion I have, and is here to confirm his suspicions."

Kirk realized he was blinking like an owl at the two of them and made himself stop. First McCoy comes in bitching about his knee and talking melodramatic nonsense, then Spock drops by and with no more than a glance comes to the conclusion that, not only does he know what’s going on—even though Kirk, himself, was still in the dark—but for once his first officer agrees with the doctor.

Spock compounded Kirk’s confusion by apologizing, "I regret, Jim, that it took me so long to decipher what is going on among the Dorians. It appears that what they call their ‘Way,’ is quite foreign to anything we have encountered before. But so sophisticated, so neatly arranged, that we persisted in misinterpreting it, even when the evidence was right in front of us all the time."

"Unbelievable, isn’t it?" McCoy agreed.

"And I am most distressed that even I was not able to see through it more quickly," Spock went on. "Especially as it now appears that you and the doctor have become ensnared by their appalling social contract. Had I exercised more logic and less benevolence, I might have understood in time to prevent the current difficulties."

"What difficulties? What...what did you say?... ‘Social contract’? What are the pair of you talking about?" Kirk felt like the only sane resident of a madhouse. What could his two most trusted advisors have found out about these apparently delightful people to have turned their estimation from approval to ‘appalling’?

Instead of either of them answering Kirk’s questions, McCoy spoke directly to Spock. "I was just about to perform an experiment which would prove my point and demonstrate to the captain just exactly what we’re talking about." He held up the old fashioned scalpel in his hand.

Kirk stared at it in startled concern.

"Crude, but effective," Spock agreed.

The doctor limped across the space between their two divans to sit beside Kirk. "Give me your hand, Jim."

When Kirk hesitated, Spock urged, "I believe if you follow the doctor’s instructions, all will become clear, Captain."

Kirk held out a hand, which McCoy grasped, and turned over. Selecting the pad of the index finger and holding in firmly, he poised the scalpel point over the soft flesh.

"Sorry about this, Jim, but if I’m right, this is going to hurt me more than it does you."

Kirk grimaced. He’d heard that line before, but not since childhood. And it generally meant that somebody was going to hurt plenty—usually him.

But when the tip of the scalpel touched his skin he felt nothing. A thin red line appeared in its wake as McCoy slowly drew it the length of his fingertip, then closed to invisibility even before the instrument was withdrawn.

While Kirk himself felt none of the anticipated pain, the sharp intake of breath between clenched teeth told him that somebody else had. He glanced up at McCoy’s face to see it set with grim determination, then back down to the scalpel he was holding against Kirk’s fingertip. As the captain stared in fascinated horror, a stream of bright blood ran down the length of the shiny instrument toward his extended finger.

It was dripping from McCoy’s hand.

Kirk jerked his hand away. McCoy set aside the scalpel and stuck his bleeding finger in his mouth.

Spock said, "I believe you have proved your point, Doctor."

"Proved what point!" Kirk exclaimed, still not comprehending what had happened.

Rather than answering immediately, McCoy took his finger out of his mouth and started rummaging in his field case for something to stop the bleeding. With his laser and sonic powered instruments still out of commission, he had to settle for a spray of plastiskin.

Kirk waited until the doctor had stopped dripping to insist, "What point, Bones? What just happened here?"

"You tell him, Spock," the doctor deferred.

"I would think it was obvious, Jim. I am only distressed that it took me so long to see it."


"Think about it, Jim," McCoy put in, looking away momentarily from the continued examination of his wounded finger. "I cut you with the scalpel... and I bled."

"Yes, I saw that. But what does it mean?" Kirk asked again.

"Apparently," Spock explained, "the bond that exists between the Dorians and their so-called ‘honored ones,’ allows the physical effects of illness or injury in one partner to manifest in the other. With the transferal going in only one direction."

"What?" Kirk began.

"When a younger Dorian gets a cold, one of the ‘honored ones’ sneezes," McCoy quipped without humor.

"I suspect that the process is not limited to illness and injury, Doctor, but also includes many of the deleterious effects of aging itself," Spock suggested.

Even McCoy was taken aback by that. "You mean...Damn, I never thought about it that way. But I do believe you’re right Spock. That would explain..."

"Wait a minute. Wait a minute," Kirk interrupted. "How would that explain... this?" he held out his finger, where not so much as a mark remained from the slice McCoy had made with the scalpel.

"Obviously, the bond or transference is connected in some way to the ritual we witnessed today," Spock prompted.

Slowly, Kirk began to put the pieces together, "But Bones and I didn’t just... witness it..." He couldn’t bring himself to finish the thought.

"Correct, Captain. You participated with the Dorians. And tonight if your finger is cut, the doctor bleeds."

"And if you take a fall climbing some damn-fool rock, my knee goes out and just about drops me on my keester." McCoy rubbed resentfully at his kneecap.

"" Kirk denied. "It can’t be. I just don’t believe it."

McCoy sagged where he sat. "I’d prove it to you again, Jim, but I think I’ve suffered enough damage today. What’s it going to take? A black eye? A bloody nose? A knife in the belly?"

Kirk didn’t answer. He just sat dumbfounded.

McCoy snatched up Kirk’s hand again and held it in front of the captain’s face. "What do you see here? What did you feel?"


"And what about here?" McCoy held his own bandaged finger under Kirk’s nose. Blood still seeped around the edges of the plastiskin.

Kirk only nodded in response.

"And let me tell you, in case you didn’t guess—it hurt. Still does." McCoy looked speculatively at the finger tip, trying to decide the wisdom of sticking it in his mouth again for solace, but apparently dissuaded by the presence of the plastiskin.

"Let me get this straight. You two think that...ceremony...this morning had something to do with this." Kirk held up the uninjured finger while nodding in the direction of the one McCoy was still nursing.

McCoy looked up and both he and Spock nodded in agreement.

"Then do you think that rock had anything to do with it?" Kirk pursued

"There is an excellent chance that there is a correlation," Spock affirmed.

"Then lets go back down there, and undo this thing." Kirk stood decisively. He wasn’t about to let this craziness go on a moment longer than he had to.

He was halfway to the door when McCoy’s question stopped him. "I don’t like this any more than you do, Jim. But what are we gonna do when we get there?"

Kirk didn’t have an answer ready, but he was certain that activity was a better recourse than simple theorizing. "We’ll figure it out when we get there," he said over his shoulder on his way out the door.


Once in the hallway, both Kirk and McCoy found themselves deferring to Spock’s sense of direction. The passageways were labyrinthine, and somehow less familiar than they were in daylight. Spock paused outside the rooms occupied by Sulu and Uhura, and raised a silently inquiring eyebrow. Kirk shook his head. The larger their party traipsing through the night-quiet halls, the more likely they were to raise the household—and he wasn’t ready to confront his hosts quite yet.

At first, as they wound through the maze of halls, their way was lit by artificial light. There were no windows in the galleries, the entire wall space being taken up by painted murals and homilies, or hung with tapestries of a similar theme. Then, when the floor became more uneven, the walls closer together and more roughhewn, Kirk assumed that they were getting closer to their goal. They were within the area he had surmised to be the oldest part of the palace, deep in the center where it had been surrounded by concentric rings of newer construction over the years. Flickering lamplight from tiny live flames, rather than artificial overhead light confirmed the antiquity of this part of the building.

In the morning, although there were no windows or skylights, the passages had been brightly lit with torches. The little lamps placed at intervals along the walls now were more on the scale of night lights which cast moving shadows across their path. They were assured of their path, however, because the rooms and passages that branched off the main corridor were entirely black. So dark that the far walls could not be discerned at all, and it was actually impossible to tell whether one was peering into the darkness of a shallow closet, an endless corridor, or into the dark void of space itself.

At least Kirk hoped that the night-lights marked the way to the ceremonial room. If they did not, it was going to be much more difficult to find their way to it through the unlit maze that branched out around them.

All was silent. Kirk tried to match his own steps to the soundless tread of Spock’s, which only made the uneven gait of the doctor, as he favored his painful knee, more pronounced in the cave-like silence.

The party breathed a collective sigh of relief when a pair of huge doors became visible in the lamplight. By their design, and their very mass, they were unmistakable as the portals through which they had entered so naively this morning. Kirk laid his hand against the wood, afraid for a minute that they would find the great doors locked. Then the inertia of their massive weight yielded to the pressure of his hand, and the left-hand door swung soundlessly inward, into the pitch black room.

Kirk hesitated in the doorway, trying to let his eyes adjust to the absence of light. Spock and the doctor gathered close. It was McCoy who pointed, stretching an arm past Kirk’s shoulder, and holding out a finger in the direction of the center of the echoing darkness. A light. Or rather a light which was not a light. A point of white, which neither glowed nor illuminated, and yet was visible itself, there, hovering in space, unmoving.

Behind him, Kirk heard a whispered, word. "Fascinating." For once, Spock’s tone spoke more of awe than curiosity.

Together, the three of them moved cautiously into the darkness. A faint sense of movement behind him told Kirk the great door was closing, and suddenly the wavering illumination from the lamps in the hallway went dark. Too dark now to see so much as a hand before his face, Kirk felt the hands of his two companions come to rest on either shoulder, assuring him of their presence.

Together, the three of them approached the suspended white shape several meters away. Kirk could feel the irregularity of McCoy’s gait through the hand which rested on his shoulder. Knowing that the doctor’s pain was somehow, unwittingly, his fault, made him wince inwardly.

The white object loomed closer. It was irregular in shape, and perhaps the size of a man’s head. As they drew closer, Kirk could make out shadows of bumps and rough spots on its surface, and discern that one end had a rounder protrusion.

Close enough now to touch it, he reached out and laid a hand on it, not really surprised by now to feel the rough, coolness of a chunk of rock beneath his hand. Then, suddenly realizing the havoc that could seemingly be caused by merely touching the thing, he snatched his hand back as if the stone were heated by all the fires of hell instead of being a few degrees below the ambient temperature of the room.

It was, without doubt, the same rock that had been the center of the ceremony this morning, now undraped, and suspended...suspended? He passed his hand through the air above the thing, expecting to feel a string of some kind, but his hand encountered nothing. Then he reached beneath it, again passing his hand through the darkness. But this time his fingers immediately came up against finished wood. A quick feel around it identified it as the pedestal upon which the stone had been resting throughout the ceremony this morning. The rock was not suspended at all, but firmly supported, just as he had seen it before.

At first, Kirk wondered why his brain had insisted, against all logic, that it was hanging in space. Then he realized that the illusion was produced because despite the white visibility of the rock itself, it emitted no light at all so that not even the platform upon which it sat—or for that matter, his own hand—were visible by any light cast by the only visible thing in the room.

"Well, looks like we’ve found it." McCoy’s voice was loud in his ear. "What do you propose we do now, Jim?"

"We...uh..." Kirk reached his hand toward the rock, but stopped a few inches short, beginning to think better of touching it. "What do you think, Spock?"

"Frankly, Captain, I would advise against laying hands on it without the presence of a controller acting in the capacity of priestess or the equivalent. We do not know how this phenomenon operates. Indeed, we do not really know that this rock has anything to do with it. Its presence in the equation may be merely circumstantial. On the other hand, it may possess a power with which it would be wise not to tamper."

Kirk had withdrawn his outstretched hand long before Spock finished speaking. Truth to tell, he really had no idea how to go about undoing whatever had been done to him and McCoy. Nor did it look like Spock had any viable suggestions. They had discovered one thing, however, in their midnight explorations. Maybe Spock could at least shed some light on that.

"Any idea why the thing...glows like this, then? What can you tell us about the rock without instruments?" Kirk pressed.

"Insufficient data. One of the possibilities which comes immediately to mind is the presence of radiation—although that would be more likely to ‘glow’ as you put it, rather than merely..." He searched for a word which adequately described the property of light without luminescence, and did not find one. "," he finished, gesturing in the general direction of the rock. "Did you notice any evidence of this characteristic when you approached it this morning? You were both much closer to it than I at that time."

First Kirk, then McCoy shook their heads.

Spock circled the pedestal, trying to see it from every angle, peering close but being careful not to touch. "Another possibility would be a structure so dense that it does not absorb light in the same manner as normal matter."

"How could that be, Spock?" McCoy asked.

"It is a reasonable assumption that this is a meteorite of non-planetary origin..."

"I’d thought that very thing earlier, Spock," Kirk interrupted. "It seemed otherworldly this morning."

Using his hands to indicate specific parts of the rock as he described them, while being careful not to touch the surface itself, he went on, "This end would seem to have been the leading face of the stone upon atmospheric entry. It appears to have been heated to a nearly molten state, and then cooled into this softer, rounded shape. Here...and here, note the fissures which would have been caused by some more volatile mineral being melted or burned away in the heat. In general, the configuration is typical of a meteorite."

"But what about the finger holes?" Kirk started to point, then keeping to Spock’s example, merely waved his fingertips above them.

"Probably entirely natural at first, then made smooth and more distinct by use. It is a characteristic of most sentient and semi-sentient beings to respond to any anthropomorphic characteristic they see in the natural world. In other words, if you see a surface that appears to fit your hand or foot, there is a universal urge to try it out; to fit your own hand against the dimensions of the shape you observe in nature."

"Okay, I’ll buy the meteor theory," McCoy began.

"Meteorite, Doctor," Spock corrected.

"All right, damn it, meteorite. And I’ll even grant you the fingerprint issue. But too heavy to absorb light?" McCoy drew the line.

"Rather too dense than too heavy," Spock corrected again.

"You know what I mean," McCoy almost raised his voice in exasperation, then remembered to control it, and repeated himself in a whisper, as if that would negate his previous volume.

"Even among Terran minerals there are natural variations in density. Lead is heavier than iron. Titanium is lighter than both."

"But I don’t know of anything that is so dense it is unable to absorb light," Kirk agreed with McCoy.

"Not on Earth, not on Vulcan, and not, from what we have seen so far, on Doria or any other planet we have visited. Given, however, the apparently non-planetary origin of this material, and the unknown distance through which it may have traveled, it is remotely possible that it is composed of a material with which we are not familiar."

"So how could you tell...if it was some new, more dense element, Spock?" Kirk asked.

"Without the use of a scanner or tricorder...such a characteristic could be confirmed at least roughly, by the simple expedient of picking it up, or attempting to. The perceived weight, relative to the observed size..."

"Well then, what are we standing here jawing about!" McCoy sputtered. "Pick the damned thing up and find out!"

"I hesitate to do so," Spock demurred.

"The possibility of radiation, remember?" Kirk reminded the doctor.

"Aw, hell, we touched it...Jim and I...and we didn’t have any ill effects from any radiation. Nothing happened to us at...oh..." he stopped himself. "Guess you’d better not pick it up, after all, Spock. Sorry I suggested it."

"Your impatience is understandable, Doctor. Even I am frustrated by our inability to obtain information."

"So, to return to my original question, Jim," McCoy turned his attention to the captain, "What are we going to do now?

Kirk hesitated. He hated having to settle for a course of non-action or action-postponed. But there was nothing else he could think of to do. "I guess we go back to bed and wait until morning when we can ask our hosts how this thing works, and how to turn it off."

"We must also reconsider our entire evaluation of this society," Spock added. "If the sole reason for travel between cities is to visit this rock for the effect that it generates, we may be looking at a whole society, split in half where every man, woman and child is bound to another in the same manner as you and the doctor now find yourselves. A whole planet where, as you so succinctly put it, Doctor, when one half is hurt, the other half bleeds."

McCoy shuddered visibly, his sensibilities so offended by the thought. Kirk felt a damp, oppressive chill wrap itself around his spine. What were these people that they could to this to themselves...and each other? He suddenly had an irrepressible urge to get away from the dead white stone, from the room where these misbegotten beings bound themselves to each other in this unholy symbiosis. "Let’s get the hell out of here."

He led the way toward the door and down the corridors, passing from torch-lit passages to broader hallways and back to the doorways to their rooms. He knew there wouldn’t be much sleep to be had among the three of them. But there wasn’t anything more they could do until morning.

As they split up to go to their respective rooms, McCoy said, "Sleep tight, Jim. And do me a favor...don’t fall out of bed."

Kirk was momentarily overwhelmed by the courage of a man who could find the words to make light of the situation when he had just discovered himself to be irrevocably at risk from dangers beyond his control, and bound in an unnatural body-slavery to another man’s pain.

Swallowing down the lump in his throat, Kirk put a reassuring hand on the doctor’s arm. "I won’t let anything happen to you, Bones. I promise."

Still bearing up bravely, despite the fact that his voice was gravely with emotion, McCoy replied, "Get in there and get some sleep, then. I’m tired."


Even though Kirk realized that getting some real rest was probably the best thing he could do for McCoy at that time, sleep eluded him. He kept going around and around in his mind about the implications of the discovery they had made—both for the Dorians and, more immediately, for McCoy and himself.

Once he got up to check his communicator. Without much hope, gave it an activating flip. As he expected, nothing happened.

He folded it closed and sat back down on the divan, resolutely pulling his feet up and forcing himself to lie back down. All right. So they couldn’t contact the ship. What good would it do, anyway? If they really needed to get back they still had the shuttle. They didn’t need to call the Enterprise to pick them up by transporter.

But even so, what was the point in returning to the ship? Whatever had happened to create the symbiotic bond between him and the doctor had happened here—as a result of that damned white stone, or the ritual or something else. But it had happened here, and it was here they would have to find a way to reverse it. It would solve nothing to return to the ship now and spend the rest of their natural lives locked in interdependence. No, the solution was here. And as soon as morning came, he would demand that the Dorians release them from this unnatural partnership.

The thought of morning reminded him that McCoy needed the respite only Kirk could provide right now by getting some sleep himself. For about the twentieth time, he hauled the thin coverlet over his shoulder and rolled into the pillow, holding his eyes closed by force of will.

He had been taught all the tricks of catching shut eye even under the least opportune circumstances. He would recall them now, and make himself relax. Make himself breathe slowly. Deeply. Rhythmically. Darkness rising behind his eyelids. His ears ceasing to recognize the soft sounds of the night. Stillness settling deeply into his muscles and bones. Drawing in the darkness with each slow, deep breath. The coverlet a cocoon, comforting, isolating, a soft-sided capsule of peace and...

"Doranix! How could you?" A woman’s shrill voice split the chrysalis of silence he had finally invoked around himself, and Kirk came bolt upright in bed, every muscle on the alert.

"Right here in our own home! What were you thinking!" The female voice rose.

"Amalia! Listen..." Kirk identified Doranix’s pleading tones. Apparently the other party to the argument was his sister.

"It’s just!"


"Get your hands off me." Her voice turned cold and biting. "You’ll leave marks, Doranix. But then, you don’t care about all of them. As long as the one you pant after like an animal doesn’t suffer."

"Amalia!" There was fury there, now. The heir apparent sounded like he was about to go over the edge of control.

Instinctively, Kirk leaped to his feet. Giving no more than a passing thought to his clothes—better to save the lady in his shorts than be too late—he covered the distance between his bed and the door in a single movement. He flung back the curtain, assessing the scene while still in motion. Doranix held his sister fiercely, by both arms, his face nearly purple with rage. Adrenaline beating now in his veins, Kirk drew back a fist and focused in on a point on Doranix’s jaw line. If Doranix wanted to fight, let him do it with another man, not his sister.

The fist arced forward—then just before it made contact Kirk remembered what he had learned that evening. If he hit Doranix, someone else—the vision flashed in his mind of the crippled man, now also suffering a crushed hip— someone else would feel the pain. He pulled the punch just in time to miss Doranix’s face. But not soon enough to prepare himself for the heir’s reflexive response.

Letting go of his sister, Doranix broadsided him across the chest with the rage-enhanced strength of his forearm.

Kirk slammed backward, the edge of the doorway meeting the center of his back and twisting him into the drapery. The breath knocked out of him, Kirk was even more staggered by the strangeness of the sensation. He was no stranger to hand to hand combat, or to more basic brawling, truth be told. But this was unique to his experience. He had felt the force of Doranix arm slamming into his chest, felt himself lose his balance and fall backward, felt the sharp stone edge of the doorway digging into his back, lost his breath to the impact. Yet he felt it all without pain. It was the most unsettling sensation—not that the experience of pain would have been preferable...

He disentangled himself from the enveloping drapery and started toward Doranix again, running on pure instinct. He landed a punch solidly in the heir apparent’s mid section, only peripherally aware of Amalia standing clear of them and begging them to stop in a high, near hysterical voice.

Doranix recovered from Kirk’s well placed punch more quickly than he had any right to, and caught the captain unprepared with a roundhouse which connected squarely on his jaw, and snapped his head back with its kinetic momentum. Again, something in the back of his mind found time to marvel that it didn’t hurt the way it ought to. The blow had been hard enough to rattle his teeth all the way back. Again, he recovered his balance, and lowered his head for a charge designed to bring his opponent to his knees.

Then, suddenly, the small voice that had been conducting a running commentary in the back of his head shrieked "Stop!" and cut through the buzzing of the adrenaline to seize his conscious attention. The charge slowed and turned clumsy, too much motion behind it to be stopped entirely. He collided with Doranix haphazardly, so off balanced that he brought them both down.

Falling as he did on top of Doranix, Kirk still had the tenuous upper hand. He settled for pinning the other man down by his wrists, kneeling over him, and panting to get back his breath.

McCoy, he thought, as his breath came back in great gasps. My God, McCoy! What have I done to him?

But there was another matter to be dealt with before he could ascertain the damage his foolhardiness had wreaked on his friend. "What the hell is going on here?" he demanded of the man laying pinned beneath him. Even Kirk wasn’t sure whether he referred to the argument he had intercepted outside his bedroom door, or the whole twisted mess this planet turned out to be mired in.

He decided to settle the simpler, more immediate issue first. "What were you two fighting about?"

Doranix resolutely shut his mouth and turned his face away.

With an urgency that surprised even himself, Kirk leaned into the other man’s face and demanded, "What was it, Doranix? What made your sister so mad at you?"

Getting no response, he looked up at Amalia, still standing with her back against a wall where she had withdrawn to get clear of their brawling. "Well?" he pinned her with his eyes.

She took a deep breath to compose herself. "My brother has brought disgrace to our house."

Kirk felt Doranix trying to twist away, but he held his grip on Doranix with his hands and Amalia with his eyes.

"Oh?" his tone left no room for reluctant answers.

"He has broken faith with our Way. He has crossed the line with a Nafaris," she said it with such a withering glance at her brother, it was as if she had accused him of making love to a snake or eating vermin.

Kirk kept silence, waiting for her to tell more. He didn’t have to wait long. She had a grievance, and she was ready to give it vent.

"It was not enough that he had to abase himself, and dishonor one of those the family held in its care..."

Kirk felt the wrists beneath his hands go limp, as Doranix allowed himself to be shamed by his sister’s words. But he did not look down. He kept his eyes on the woman, insisting that she go on, fascinated in the unclean way of a spectator at an accident by her bizarre revelations.

"No, that was not enough. He had to choose her! My own Nafaris, bringing shame to me. Forcing me to take another at the last minute. And so now he has what he wanted, she is cast off. Replaced."

She turned her disdainful look toward her brother. "I hope you have what you wanted now, Doranix. I hope you know what you have done. Wherever she is, she belongs to no one. No one will take her. No one will care for her. She lies between two worlds in the darkness. Useless to you. Useless to me. Run off in her shame because of your perverted fancies!"

Doranix pulled himself lose from the grip that Kirk had relaxed and came to his feet, facing her down. Kirk stood at the ready to hold him back again if the need arose, but his newfound fury at her taunting was cold now and restrained.

"She did not run off, Amalia. And call her by her name. She has one. It is Namar. Not once in all the time you served her did you call her by her name, for all your talk of honor. I did not shame her, Amalia. I do not shame her. I love her."

Amalia nearly swooned with revulsion at such a declaration. "Love? How can you..."

"And she has not run away. I have taken her away."

"Taken..." she repeated in disbelief.

"Taken her away and hid her until you bound another to you. Taken her away from this place to somewhere where she can be safe. If she lies between the worlds now, then so do I. I will not forsake her, I will not abandon her. And I will not allow her to be ‘honored’ by your contemptuous care."

"Contemptuous?" Amalia fixated on his criticism of her now, rather than the larger revelations.

"Not just you, Amalia. All of us. Our whole world. We used to feel true gratitude to those who enabled us, those who accepted our aging and our injuries. Now it is merely a perfunctory courtesy that we consider it ill bred to allow them to take hurt from our carelessness. You have been no worse a caretaker than others, but it is all around us, Amalia."

He took a step toward her, and Kirk immediately set himself between them, ready to protect her if Doranix began to rage again. But the Dorian had calmed. His eyes still burned with passion, but it was now more of a passionate sadness than a readiness to do violence. Kirk took a pace back, still watching warily, while listening in growing awe to what they said, still trying to piece together the enormity of this strange world, while at the same time becoming uncomfortably aware that he was standing in a hallway in his shorts in the middle of the night, rapidly becoming a third party in a two way conversation.

"Look at that woman from Enrev we saw this morning. It is obvious that her allied treats her cruelly, and she stands for it and does nothing to protect the one she ‘honors.’ I have even heard of those so perverse that they do intentional harm to themselves or each other simply to enjoy the effects on the helpless ones."

Amalia flinched at that.

"Not you, my sister," Doranix reached out and gently took her hand, "not you. And yet how far away is such casual violence for all of us? My own Nafaris was nearly killed by the accident in the flight hangar."

Kirk felt sick in his gut. The critically injured man was the logical extension of what he and McCoy had learned tonight, but to have it confirmed, and no longer merely an subject for speculation turned his stomach and rocked his sensibilities.

"I, myself do not know whether my own carelessness caused it to happen," Doranix continued. "Could I have been more alert, more wary? I do not know. The habit of fearlessness leeches away our caution. Even Kirk," they both turned to look at him, and he felt like a bug on a pin, "thinks first of action and not about the consequences to his Makkoi."

The pain in his midsection that had not been inflicted by Doranix’s fist a few minutes ago, now bored into him from Doranix’s words.

"It is insidious, Amalia," her brother continued, gently. "Sooner or later it happens to us all. And if not to us, then to our children or our children’s children. It has to end. No matter the thousands of years of our Way. It has to end, and for me it ends here."

At first Amalia seemed to be affected by his plea. But then, by degrees, her harder edge began to reassert itself. "If you have decreed that it ‘ends here,’ my brother, then why did you not release your own honored one instead of stealing away mine?"

Ignoring the taunting in her tone, Doranix appeared to be giving her objection serious consideration. "You are right, Amalia. I should also find a way to cast loose ‘he who bears my burdens.’"

"Ah!" Amalia played her trump, "But he is used and injured, and if you cast him loose, who would care for him? Without you he would be between the worlds just as you have condemned...Namar." Her tongue wrapped around the unfamiliar syllables and spat them out with distaste. "You claim, brother, to act from love," she said the word with ridicule, "but you act out of haste and selfishness."

"Don’t worry about Namar. I will take care of her. And..." he seemed on the verge of saying something more, but held it back. "Amalia, listen to me. Leave it be for now. You have another to take her place. And she is the new little one’s own mother. It’s a blessing in its own way. You know how much harder it is the other way. I will find a way to care for Namar, and someday, perhaps, I will find a way to change the way things are."

Her voice was still disapproving, but there was a hint of sympathy there, too, as Amalia cautioned, "Be careful, brother. You can’t know what havoc change might bring. What would we do without them? What would they do without us to care for them. It is not so unfair an exchange, Doranix. They give us the only thing they can. They are fit for nothing else. And in return we care for their every need. How would they fend for themselves if we did not take on the responsibility? All is in balance. It is our Way."

"Things change, Amalia. Things always change," he replied, quietly.

"I hope, for all our sakes that they do not," she answered. "You have caused enough change already, Doranix. Take care that your personal aberrations do not destroy us all."

She turned from him and walked steadily down the hall. Completely ignoring Kirk’s presence, Doranix allowed her to vanish around a turn in the corridor, then he followed, taking a different turn leading to another part of the palace. Kirk’s heart ached for the young man who stood alone in his world against the perversion of this all-pervasive and most unholy partnership: a young man whose love was itself seen as perversion amidst the twisted mores of a society gone mad.

A shuffling sound behind him caught his attention. He turned to see McCoy coming out of his room at the far end of the corridor. His arm was wrapped tightly against his side, and he leaned against the wall for support. Kirk rushed to him, biting his lip as he saw the dark purpling bruise along the doctor’s swollen jaw line.

Speaking painfully through the effort to move his lower mandible no more than was necessary, McCoy managed a wry, "Couldn’t sleep, eh?" Then, sagging against Kirk’s shoulder, "Just what in hell is going on around here?"

Helping the doctor solicitously back into his room, Kirk told him what he had learned.


The call to breakfast came before Kirk ever got back to bed. He didn’t feel particularly tired from missing a night’s sleep, but McCoy’s eyes were haggard above the bruised jawline.

"What happened to you?" Uhura asked, shocked, when she first saw the doctor in the hallway that morning.

"Restless night," he answered.

"Wow, Doctor," Sulu expressed the same surprise upon seeing McCoy’s battered face. "Fall out of bed?"

"Didn’t have to. The captain does that for me now."

"I’ll tell you all about it, later," Kirk scrubbed at his forehead with the heel of his hand as if he already had a headache—which of course he did not, even though he felt he had earned one.

Spock came into the hallway just then, took an appraising look at the doctor, raised an eyebrow and turned to Kirk. "Further difficulties, Captain?"

"Look, everybody," Kirk took them all in with his eyes, "There’s something really big going on here. Whatever you’re invited to do today, get out of it and let’s get together right after breakfast..."

"What?" Uhura started to ask.

"I’ll tell you everything. But later. They’ll be expecting us by now."

He started to lead the way toward the dining hall. Still unsatisfied, the others followed. Looking back, Kirk realized with a twinge of guilt that Spock had

thought to offer the doctor the support of his arm. In the face of last night’s damage, Kirk had all but forgotten that McCoy still limped on the knee Kirk had gifted him with from his fall yesterday.

When they reached the hall, McCoy held back, and wordlessly took a seat along the wall with the other victims of Doria’s Way, rather than sitting beside Kirk at the family table. The gesture went to Kirk’s heart like a knife.

Conversation around the breakfast table was constrained. The little girl who had newly joined the ranks of the "honored" was restless, and had to be chastised by her mother for her unseemly behavior. Her whimpering drew all the more unwanted attention because of the long, tense silences stretching out between the members of the family.

The Enterprise party was relieved when Delessix said, "You will pardon us, today," addressing Kirk, "if we do not arrange entertainment and tours for you this morning. There is still much I would show you, but there is a matter which requires the attention of the family this morning."

Kirk muttered something amenable about making do on their own. Ignoring him, the royal family exchanged glances all around: accusing, defiant, injured, self-righteous, regretful, sad and angry. The network of tension woven by those looks, Kirk thought to himself, makes a Tholian web look like a cat’s cradle by comparison.

Kirk excused himself and his shipmates as soon as it was politely possible to do so. This time he consciously remembered to help McCoy to his feet himself, and made more of a display than was necessary of his solicitous help for the doctor in a gesture he meant for the Dorians to observe.

He doubted he had made his point, however, for the Dorians’ attention had already focused inward on the matter at hand, and before the drapery over the door dropped back into place in the wake of their departure, loud voices began to explode from the room behind them.

Uhura winced at the vehemence they overheard.

Sulu asked again, "What’s going on, Captain?"

Spock raised an eyebrow, "Curious."

"What, Spock?" McCoy demanded, testily.

"That the Dorians have so little regard for their so-called ‘honored,’ that a family discussion of such a sensitive and emotionally volatile matter may be argued in front of them as if they were not there at all."

Kirk took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. This whole place was getting more unpleasant by the minute.

"Let’s get out of here." He led them through the corridors to the rooftop garden, outside the confining walls of the palace.

As they settled themselves on the stone benches in the flowering arbor, Sulu asked again, "So what is it, Captain? What’s going on?"

And Kirk began to tell them.

He started with the injury to the doctor’s knee, and the test that McCoy and Spock had performed on his finger. He held up the uninjured digit for their inspection. But it wasn’t until McCoy stuck out his own hand, with the scab still stitching a straight line across his finger pad that Kirk got a reaction from his listeners. It wasn’t the severity of the injury, but its significance that made Uhura’s color drain away, leaving her face a dusty gray.

"You mean that anything that happens to you, Captain, hurts the doctor, but leaves you unscathed?"

Kirk decided that this was not the time to weigh the relative pain of the guilt he felt into the equation, and settled for the simpler answer. "That’s about it, Commander."

She shuddered, and reached out to lay a hand on the doctor, who was seated beside her on the bench. "" she was lost for a word to express her revulsion. "...How awful!"

Sulu leaned forward, "How could it happen? What could make such a thing happen?" he demanded, looking first to Kirk, then to Spock for some sort of explanation that would make this thing comprehensible.

"We don’t know for sure..." Kirk began.

"There is insufficient evidence to completely assign..." Spock started.

"It’s got something to do with that damned rock," McCoy explained.

"Rock?" Sulu asked.

"The white rock that everybody touched during the ceremony they had yesterday," Kirk elaborated.

"We didn’t all touch it," Sulu reminded him.

"And nothing happened to the rest of you," McCoy answered. "Only Jim and I laid our hands on the thing and only the two of us got wired together. Pinch yourself," he added, apparently apropos of nothing.


"Pinch yourself."

Sulu did. "Ouch!"

"See? You felt it. Uhura didn’t. Spock didn’t—unless he’s keeping it to himself. Only the two people who put their hands on it at the same time get roped into this thing."

"We think that when people touch the rock, or meteorite or whatever it is, it does something which we don’t understand, but which has this effect that..." Kirk began.

"Pardon me, Captain, you do mean the big rock that was on the pedestal in the center of the ceremonial room..." Uhura stopped him.

"Of course."

"It had this white curtain-like thing around it on three sides." She described it with her hands.


"But the rock itself. I caught a glimpse of it, and it was dark gray. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to split hairs. I was just confused because I thought you said it was a white rock. I wondered if I had missed something," Uhura explained.

"White?" Kirk thought back. "You’re right. It was gray when you saw it. But then last night, when we first started to figure this thing out, the three of us," he indicated Spock and the doctor with a glance, "we went back to the ceremonial room to take another look at it, and in the dark it looked...well... white."

"It glowed in the dark?" Sulu asked.

"Not exactly..." Kirk began.

"Neither was it phosphorescent or reflective," Spock continued. "It shed no light, nor was there any other light in the room. It was simply...white."

"What do you think..." Sulu started.

"Wait a minute..." Uhura interrupted. "Just wait..." She was thinking, reaching for something she couldn’t quite put words to. Kirk could see the wheels turning behind her eyes. The whole party began to incline in her direction, as if trying to lend their own assistance in helping her to pull out whatever significant thread she had seemed to have got hold of.

"The tapestries," she finally said with a note of triumph.

"Tapestries?" the others echoed almost with one bemused voice.

"Amalia took me through the galleries the first day we were here. There’s one whole room where the wall hangings tell the whole story of Danix and... what’s his name...Nafar. How Danix did this, and Danix did that, and Danix parted the Red Sea, or whatever, but Danix took sick before his work was finished, and Nafar healed him so that he could go on..."

"Except," McCoy interrupted, "we know now that this Danix guy was not a ‘healer’ in the ordinary sense."

"You’re right!" she exclaimed as more of the pieces fell into place. "In the pictures Danix seemed to grow younger when he recovered, but Nafar became an old man." Then the reality of what she was describing hit her, and she shuddered.

"But what about the white rock, Commander," Spock prompted. "What is the connection between the meteorite in the ceremonial room and your tapestries?"

"Meteorite?" she asked.

"We believe that is a possibility," Spock answered.

"Well...that explains it even further," Uhura said with excitement, "You see, in the tapestries, there was always this white spot. At first I thought it was just damage to the weaving, but then it showed up consistently from one to the next. In the early part of the story, it was always over Danix’s shoulder. I thought it was some kind of artist’s symbol—like a halo in old Earth religious art. But maybe it was meant to be something way up in the sky instead."

"Like a comet or something like that," Sulu supplied.

"Possibly," Spock agreed.

"In the pictures, the spot was white. Just dead white...featureless. I would never have made the connection to the rock behind the curtains if you hadn’t said it looked white in the darkness."

"But you said that it appeared over the figure’s shoulder—or up in the sky, whichever the case, only in the early part of the story," Spock continued, bringing Uhura back to her previous point.

"Exactly! When the pictures show the part where Nafar saved Danix, the two of them are standing side by side, with their hands extended toward each other," she held a hand out, as she described the pose in the picture, "and the white star or whatever, had come to rest just above their hands."

"That cinches it," McCoy said. "It’s that rock. Something about it, some property or power or force field or something makes this transfer thing happen when two people touch it at the same time."

"It is one possible explanation," Spock qualified.

"Come on, Spock," Kirk said impatiently. "It’s obvious. What do you mean ‘one possible explanation?’"

"As we are unable to run conclusive tests on the object, due to the ineffectiveness of our scanning equipment, we cannot define or evaluate the unique properties which would be responsible for this effect. Since we have never seen a similar cause and effect relationship in connection with the physical properties—whether they be magnetic, radioactive, temporal, gravitational, electrical, or any other interactive field, force or emission—in relation to any other object we have encountered, either personally, collectively or historically, it would be a substantial leap of conjecture to assume that the rock was the sole, primary, or indeed in any way causal factor in the establishment of the symbiotic relationship we have observed."

"What the..." McCoy began, but Kirk cut him off.

"You’re saying that the rock isn’t the cause of what happened..." He toggled a finger back and forth between himself and McCoy. " us?"

"Not conclusively. There is insufficient..."

"What, then, Spock? What else could it possibly be?" Kirk demanded. "You heard Uhura, this rock first appeared in the sky back in the time of Danix. It fell to Doria...and when this Danix and his healer touched it at the same time, it worked its...magic...on them and started the whole thing. Once these people found out what it could do..."

Kirk felt his stomach roll over at the very idea of what he was about to say, but it was the only logical progression that proceeded from the facts, "...they used it to make half the population slaves to the other half, binding them to suffer helplessly, while the lucky half did anything they wanted to, lived their lives, took risks, grew old, without every having to worry about how it would affect them." He grew more and more agitated with the injustice of it all as he spoke, ending on a fiercely bitter note.

"Not necessarily, Captain," Spock insisted.

"What do you mean? Of course they did. We’ve seen it all around us since we got here. We were just too blind to..."

"Remember, Captain, that Nafar is seen as a hero, an ‘honored one,’ not as a victim. The ritual speaks of the blessing of Nafar, not the subjugation..."

"That’s just semantics, Spock," McCoy interrupted. "Over the years they’ve wrapped this thing in fancy words to make it seem more respectable. Nobody even half way civilized would want to admit to themselves what they were really doing here."

"No," Uhura spoke up, her natural feelings obviously at odds with the facts she could not deny. "Even in the tapestry story, Nafar is seen as making a willing choice, almost a gift, of taking on the burdens of Danix so that a man who was universally recognized as a great leader could live to finish the work he had begun. In the ceremony too: Nafar is seen almost as an equal to Danix. Danix was the leader, the engineer of the society, but he couldn’t have done it without Nafar..."

"‘The wisdom of Danix and the blessing of Nafar,’" Sulu quoted. "It does fit, Captain."

"Indeed,’ Spock nodded, as if his point was proved.

"But why would that conflict with the idea that some...power...within the rock allowed it to happen...made it happen?" Kirk challenged his first officer.

"Because volition is also present as a possible cause. And perhaps a more plausible one."

"‘Volition?’ You mean these people wanted it to happen? You’re crazier than I thought you were!" McCoy dismissed Spock’s assertion.

"Aside from the fact that I agree with Bones—I can’t believe that these people do this to themselves on purpose—let’s just grant for a minute, for the sake of argument, that they’re crazy enough to want to do this to themselves. That for some misguided reason this Nafar really wanted to make that kind of sacrifice for someone he considered to be a great leader; he couldn’t just make it happen because he wanted it to," Kirk argued.

"Wishing doesn’t make it so, Spock," McCoy chimed in. "I would have thought you’d be the last one to suggest a fairy tale explanation like that!"

"Not at all, Doctor," Spock answered. "Volition, in conjunction with societal expectations and conditioning, especially when reinforced by ritual can indeed produce physical manifestations."

"Like what?" McCoy challenged.

Spock looked uncomfortably at Uhura and Sulu. It was obvious that he would rather not include them in this conversation, but after a moment he plunged on, "Like Vulcan...marriage rituals." He said just enough for Kirk and McCoy to remember the very physical manifestations of Spock’s recent blood fever.

Uhura looked embarrassed. She had not been included in the landing party, not been taken into Spock’s confidence, but communications officers often knew more than they had been explicitly told. Sometimes more than they really wanted to know.

Sulu had been more on the fringes of that particular episode of Spock’s life. With less awareness of the taboo nature of the minefield he was now treading, he asked with perfect innocence, "What kind of rituals, Mister Spock?"

Kirk held his breath. He hadn’t meant for this conversation to turn into a breach of his friend’s privacy. Somehow it had just suddenly arrived there.

"Vulcan children would call it betrothed, prior to adolescence," Spock began, carefully. "They come to the ritual already aware of the cultural expectations for the outcome. A bond, a symbiosis if you will, is formed between the two, so that when the time comes later years, there is a...physical manifestation of sufficient magnitude as to cause death if the...marriage does not take place."

Kirk let out the breath he had been holding. Spock had handled his answer with decorum, making his point, yet telling Sulu no more than he needed to know.

"Wow!" Sulu nearly whistled. "What does..."

Kirk caught Uhura sending Sulu a very strong signal that he had heard enough. He made an effort to cover the exchange for Spock’s benefit, but McCoy beat him to it.

"Wait a minute. I thought that was a biological condition, not just some psychological mumbo jumbo. Looked pretty physical to me at the time."

"A biological manifestation of a psychological imperative, or a psychological manifestation of a biological imperative. Which came first, Doctor? The le-matya or the egg?"

"That’s ‘chicken,’ damn it, and in spite of your Vulcan mysticism, no Human I’ve ever seen can just talk themselves into a physical reaction!"

"What about psychosomatic illnesses, Doctor?"

"That’s a mental illness. An aberration, not something a sane mind wills upon itself."

"And stigmata?"

"You mean when somebody’s hands begin to bleed like the wounds of Christ? Superstition, Spock. Lots of speculation, but no documented histories."

"Wait a minute," Uhura spoke up, "I read once where..."

"Stories, Commander, just sensationalist stories, just like weeping statues and faces in clouds or ink blots," McCoy assured her. "Keep tryin’, Spock," the doctor challenged.

"Of course, you must admit to the efficacy of ritual to create physical change in the absence of physical cause."

"Like what?" the doctor rolled his eyes.

"Adoption gives a child new parents."

"That’s a legal process, not a ritual."

"Marriage, which in the Human rituals declares that the two participants are made one flesh,"

McCoy’s mouth twisted, "Doesn’t always work that way. I know from personal experience there, Spock."

"Baptism, which is supposed to consecrate the soul irrevocably to one deity above and to the exclusion of all others."

McCoy looked uncomfortable until he found the loophole. "That’s a change for the soul not the body."

"Which affects physical behavior and choices," Spock countered.

"Not always," McCoy had to admit. "Lot’s of people don’t grow up to be what their Momma and Daddy thought they were committing them to at birth."

"Another ritual which is supposed to literally transfigure fruit and grain into bodily components..."

"Fruit and grain," McCoy pondered, "oh, you mean bread and..." Kirk watched McCoy’s hesitation with concern. The doctor was not an overtly religious man, but the captain knew he had grown up in an observant family. While he might not practice himself, he would balk at denying the tenets of faith by which his father had lived. Finally, the doctor found an argument which did not require him to declare for or against the validity of the ritual in question. "That’s about a change to the bread and wine, not the person who eats them."

"Really?" Spock pressed.

"Quit trying to confuse the issue!" McCoy retorted.

"The issue being?" Spock asked mildly.

"The issue, Spock," Kirk answered him, "is what kind of a man...or being... would willingly enter into that kind of relationship with another being when he knew that he would be putting the other person at risk with every action he took? How can one man ask another to suffer for him? What kind of a man can protect himself at the expense of another?"

"A leader, Captain," Spock answered. "One upon whom many depend. One whose loss would mean the loss of a greater cause."


Kirk’s rebuttal was cut short by the sound of shouting and running feet. At first the ruckus seemed to be approaching the guest quarters, then it turned and receded down a connecting corridor.

There was a moment’s hesitation when Kirk’s crew looked to him for direction, and he debated with himself about the propriety of getting involved. The debate went to instinct over prudence in less time than it took to weigh the arguments, and his crew seemed to let out a collective sigh of relief when he stood and committed them to action. Moving as one, they brushed past the doorway curtain and followed the sound of voices down the hall and around the corner.

As the sounds of the disruption came into closer range, Kirk paused for a moment to look back. Seeing McCoy hanging back and Uhura turning to lend him her arm for support only increased the captain’s desire to bring this thing to a head now, once and for all, and to find out what the Dorians had done to him and the doctor, and why and how.

The voices were closer now. Close enough for him to make out the words of accusation and defense and attach the attacks and denials to those who spoke them.

"Doranix!" Amalia’s voice was edged with a cold steel Kirk would have thought her incapable of. "Under our own eyes! And a member of our own household!" while she paused, seeking a sufficiently demeaning word, her son cut her off with biting sarcasm.

"Worse than that, Mother. Oh, so much worse. Or haven’t you heard? Not only have I disgraced you by loving her. Not only have I inconvenienced my sister by hiding her away and forcing Amalia to take on a different Nafaris. Not only have I broken all your sacred taboos by acknowledging one of the honored as an equal to a Dorian. No, Mother. More than all of that, I have bred a child with her. A child, you hear that, Mother?"

Kirk halted, holding out an arm to stop the others, at the anguished cry that followed Doranix’s revelation. He felt like an eavesdropper just standing there, listening to the private agony of this family being laid bare just around the next turning of the corridor, but neither could he bring himself to intrude on this terrible and terribly private moment.

Despite his mother’s shriek of protest, Doranix went on, the momentum of his own pain and anger carrying him forward. "A child of my blood, of your blood lives within the body of one of the ‘honored,’ one of the untouchable, one of the sub-Dorians who we use up and throw away. Only this time when a child of royal blood is born, it will not be a Nafaris who bears the birth pains for one of our women, but a Nafaris who bears the child. And I will not have her child—my child, Mother—I will not have my child torn from her at the time of some Dorian toddler’s ascendance into the Way to be made the recipient of every childhood injury or illness. It will not grow up to take the blows and accept the pains of age for another."

"Doranix!" the Urbanity’s voice boomed. "Stop this. Can’t you see what you’re doing to your mother?"

"I am shocking her, Father. I am holding up to her the mirror of our Way of life and showing her how her precious well being reflects on the others. I am telling her an ugly truth, Father, but I do her no harm. In any case, I can do her no harm that would not fall on her Nafaris," he said bitterly.

"Doranix, stop!" his mother sobbed.

Behind Kirk, Uhura stifled a little sound of sympathy.

"No, Mother, because you are asking me to bring harm to someone I love. If I allowed Namar to remain among the honored ones, it would be she who would be hurt—she who would suffer the pains of the one to whom she was bound!"

"Fool!" spat Amalia’s voice which had until now held its silence. "Either way she will suffer pain. She will bear the pains of childbirth to bring your ill-gotten bastard to life. She will grow old in due time, as you will not. Or do you propose," she sneered, "to give her a Nafaris of her own as a wedding present?"

"Damn you!" Doranix began, then it seemed to Kirk as if the fight had gone out of him at last. When he spoke again his voice was heavy with sorrow. "Don’t you see? Our Way is wrong; wrong at its heart, at its very core. To feel the pangs of the results of our own actions, to live so that we have to deal with the consequences of our own choices is the natural way of things. Not to elevate ourselves above suffering by placing the weight on the shoulders of another. I would never propagate this insanity into which we have evolved by asking another unfortunate to act as Nafaris for Namar. If she endures the pain of birth, she will have her own child to show for it, and I will be there to bring her what comfort I can. If the years show on her face, yet will I love her in honor of the time we have spent together. I only wish I could rid myself of the responsibility of the one who suffers for me..."

"Doranix, no..." his mother’s voice protested weakly through her tears.

"Where is she, son," his father said softly.

"You know I cannot tell you, Father. I can rail against our Way until the stars go out, but I know I will never convince you of the truth of what I feel," Doranix said sadly. "If I tell you where she is, you will be compelled by your own sense of right to bring her back and return her to the life from which I have freed her. Even though you would condemn your own grandchild to the status of those who suffer in silence...I know you, Father. You believe in the Way of Danix with all your heart, and though it might break your heart to uphold it, uphold it you would. You have no other choice."

"Where is she, damn you!" his sister demanded, her own fury still hot.

"Where you’ll never find her!" Doranix snapped, and Kirk heard the sharp sound of his boot heels approach as he stalked away from his family, and into the knot of Humans huddled just around the corner.

"What are you doing..." the startled heir began.

Quickly, Kirk grabbed him by the shoulders and spoke low and urgently close to the other man’s ear. "Shhh! Doranix! We heard..."

The heir twisted to break free of Kirk’s grasp, but the captain held on. "Don’t! We want to help you! We heard what you you want to save Namar from the rest of the honored ones."

Still Doranix struggled to get away. "We’re on your side. We want to help you!" Kirk repeated, desperately trying to cut through the other man’s preconceptions.

For a moment, Doranix stilled, searching his face, and then turning from Kirk to study the faces of the others. Uhura met his gaze evenly, although her eyes were moist with emotion. Spock’s face was without overt expression, yet there was no mistaking where he stood. Sulu’s eyes flared with passion, his whole form tensed with the desire to take action in the prince’s cause.

Doranix stilled his gaze upon McCoy. "And you?"

The doctor straightened, willing his damaged leg to carry its fair share of his weight so that he could stand tall. He held his battered face high. "I’m with you, son."

Kirk gave the heir’s shoulders a shake to regain his attention. He indicated the doctor with a backward twitch of his chin. "That wasn’t supposed to happen, Doranix. We’re not like that where we come from. We didn’t understand...didn’t know what we were getting into. What you are rebelling against...what you, what your people call their Way...its so far from our way... from what we consider the proper...order of things, that we simply couldn’t see what was going on right before our eyes. Not until we were ensnared in it..."

"We’re on your side," Sulu repeated the captain’s words. "We want to help you."

"And we want you to help...them," Uhura’s eyes took in both the captain and the doctor with the indication that she understood full well that they were equally caught in a trap not of their own making, although only the doctor’s bruises showed.

Again, the Urbanity’s son searched Kirk’s eyes for confirmation. He would be risking everything if he trusted these strangers too easily. Kirk poured all the sincerity he felt into his eyes, returning Doranix’s gaze with all the confidence and reassurance he could muster. He let the Dorian probe his soul through his eyes, not trusting to words the profound level of truth he must convey in order to win the other man’s trust.

After an endless interval of breathless silence, Kirk saw the heir’s expression change. It became the look of a man who had made a commitment to leap into the unknown, a man who had made his choice and was prepared to accept the consequences. As he straightened, Kirk dropped his hands from where they had remained on Doranix’s shoulders. "I accept your help,’ he said. Then, more softly, "Help me. Help us," and finally, his voice nearly breaking, "Help all of us."

Uhura spoke into the silence, "And will you help us? Help them to break this unholy bond your Way has bound them with?"

Doranix took a long breath, looked away, then forced himself to look back at her. "I can’t." He transferred his gaze back to Kirk, shaking his head, "I don’t know how."

"Time for that later, son," McCoy said. "Take us to your lady friend, and let’s take it one thing at a time."

Doranix gave the doctor a long look, then stepped back to peer around the corner to be sure his parents and sister were gone. They had not followed him, but in the intensity of his encounter with the Humans, none of them had heard them go away, either. Still, the corridor where they had been was empty now.

"Come," he motioned for the Humans to follow him, and started off purposefully down the hall.

Kirk, Spock and Sulu followed him at his own eager pace, while McCoy lagged behind, leaning heavily again now on Uhura’s arm for support.

"Where are we..." Uhura started to ask, but Kirk cut her off with a shake of his head. They’d convinced the Urbanity’s son to trust them this far. The best way to keep that tenuous trust was to go along now without asking a lot of questions.

Doranix led them into a dead end hallway, stopped and looked behind them, then when he was satisfied that they had not been followed, he pulled aside one of the wall hangings, to expose a dark doorway behind it. It was a narrow opening, coming to a pointed arch at the top. Doranix stepped into the darkness, motioning for them to follow him. As Doranix entered the opening, Kirk realized that the floor immediately dropped off into a stairway.

"It’s perfectly safe, just dark. Follow me," Doranix’s voice echoed hollowly off the walls.

Kirk sent Spock and Sulu ahead of him, and waited until Uhura and McCoy had started down the descent before he took the first step down into the dark and pulled the tapestry securely back into place behind them. "Bones," he whispered, his voice louder than he expected in the close confines of the stairwell. "Are you doing all right?"

"I’m fine, Jim. Just keep coming," came the stolid reply. But Kirk could tell from the slowness of their progress and the sounds of labored breath and scuffling on the stairs just ahead of him in the dark that the doctor was less fine than he was willing to say.

The sound of the footsteps of the others up ahead of him changed. In a few moments, Kirk discovered that the reason was a sharp turn in the corridor, where the floor leveled out to a flat plane. Even more welcome was a pale glimmer of light which rapidly became the shape of another arched doorway at the far end of the tunnel. He could see in the dim light how much faster the others in the party had been able to travel while he was held back by the doctor’s impaired pace.

When the last three of them caught up with the others they found themselves in an outdoor courtyard, where several of the bulbous little land cars were parked in the moonlight.

"We won’t all fit in one," Doranix frowned. "Do you think one of you could manage to work the controls well enough to pilot one of these?" he asked.

Sulu stepped up before Kirk could volunteer. "If I can fly a space ship, I can figure out how to drive this."

"That’s what they all say," McCoy grimaced.

Kirk ignored him. "Bones, you and Uhura ride with Sulu. Spock and I will go with Doranix. Mister Sulu, you sure you can handle this thing?"

"No problem, Captain," Sulu assured him.

"Well, take it easy on the doctor, then, and try to keep up."

"Aye, sir," Sulu saluted with a grin.

Doranix was gesturing anxiously for them to sort themselves out and get into the vehicles so they could be away.

The minute Kirk and Spock were inside the vehicle, Doranix gunned its motor and sped off.

Kirk turned to see McCoy still easing himself into the seat, while Sulu frowned over the instrument panel. "Sulu..."

"He will mange, Jim. The device is well within Mister Sulu’s abilities," Spock assured him. Still uneasy, Kirk turned to observe the landscape speeding by. Seen at night, as dark silhouettes against an only slightly less dark sky, the outline of the city passed from view and the byways of the countryside rapidly became unfamiliar. Yet, Doranix drove into the night with determination.

Again, Kirk looked back over his shoulder. He still couldn’t see the other land car behind them, and he supposed that the distance between them was lengthening by the minute. Finally, he allowed himself the voice the question he had kept Uhura from asking back in the corridors of the palace. "Where are we going?"

Rather than answering at once, Doranix pointed. Kirk peered into the darkness, and as his eyes adjusted, he was able to make out the rounded hump of the massive range hills they had visited with the Urbanity himself, what was it...only the day before?

"The new road to Elyod, is it not?" Spock asked, confirming Kirk’s own identification of the place.

Doranix nodded, and accelerated into the straight-away stretching pale before them in the moonlight.

"But your...Delessix said that road was not completed," Kirk remembered. "It’s a dead end. It ends at the base of the hill." He turned to Spock, whose nod assured him that this was, indeed, the case.

Doranix drove without answering them for several long seconds more. Then he said, "Not at the base of the hill, but inside."

"What?" Kirk asked.

"The road builders have excavated deep into the mountainside, and once inside, they found tunnels...caves...a whole network running deep under the hillside. Namar is there. I took her out of the palace two nights before Amalia would have renewed her vows and bound her even more tightly to my sister’s service. Actually, I’m surprised you didn’t hear us. I had to take her directly past your rooms in order to avoid the family corridors."

Kirk thought back. So much had much of it started by noises in the hallways which were so easily overheard through curtained doorways, that he couldn’t recall which set of comings and goings might have actually been the heir and his lover escaping into the night.

"Surely you do not plan to live out your lives together in the caves," Spock put in.

Kirk picked up his train of thought. "Aside from the isolation and uncomfortable conditions, the Urbanity told us that that they planned to blast all the way through and lay the road all the way to the neighboring city. They’d find you in no time."

"In addition," Spock added, "my analysis showed the entire formation to be radically unstable. It is not a safe place to house someone you are trying to protect."

"So, what is your plan from here out, then?" Kirk asked.

The land car passed beneath the dark shadow of the overhead transport line, making a momentary flash of darkness in contrast to the moon-bright sky before Doranix answered.

"I had hoped," he began, "to disband our Way in an orderly fashion after my father was gone and I had attained the power to do so. It will not be a popular transition for my people, but hereditary power does have its advantages."

"But Edliw is not the only place on this planet where practiced. How could you convince all of the people of Doria to accept this reform?" Spock asked.

"That is where I am at the greatest advantage. To be an Urbanity carries significant power. To be the Urbanity of Edliw carries with it access to the Stone of Blessing."

"Stone of...? Oh, you mean the stone in the ceremonial room?" Kirk figured out. "‘Blessing’ is not exactly what I would call it." The oblique reminder of McCoy made him look out the back window once again. Still no sign of his crewmates, but perhaps a glimmer of light far down the road which might be a following land car.

Spock picked up the inquiry, already drawing his own conclusions. "You would deny access to the stone and without it the binding ceremonies could not occur."

"It would take a lifetime," Doranix sighed, "and it would be very unpopular, especially since it would affect the babies first."

"The babies?" Kirk asked, returning his attention to the conversation.

"The first to be denied the blessing of our Way would be the newborns who would not have an old one to bear the trials of infancy."

"Surely, some will not survive," Spock cautioned.

"I know, and I am ready to face that tragedy for the sake of freeing my people...all of my people...from the burden of our so-called blessings."

"A high price to pay," Kirk said, pictures of young mothers weeping over cradles already forming in his mind.

"In practice, Captain, the mortality rate would be no higher than on any world which does not practice the Dorian’s Way. It is only the comparison to universal survival which they now enjoy which gives this measure the taint of cruelty."

"I suppose you’re right, Spock, but it will be hard to explain that to the first mother whose baby dies," Kirk said.

Doranix picked up the thread of his plan. "Not only the infants, but because the children are bound to their own Nafaris when they come of age, like Analiss’ ceremony yesterday, there is another opportunity to block a whole series of bindings. And, it is not unusual for the Nafaris of adults to die and need replacements. Counting the old ones who bear for the infants, the average Dorian is bound to three, four or even five Nafaris during their lifetimes. At each opportunity to prevent a new binding, another member of the population would be freed."

Doranix had raised an interesting question. "What happens to the Dorian when his Nafaris dies? Does all the...burden...the aging, the injuries, the illness revert back to the Dorian until a new binding is made?"

"Not old injuries, no. Nor would the years catch up with him all at once. When a Nafaris dies, his burden is ended. Of course, everybody dies eventually...roughly over the lifetimes of three Nafaris.

"What about an unhealed injury?" Spock asked.

Doranix hesitated, "It’s been known to happen that if something so terrible happens that your Nafaris dies, it can come back on you. It can even kill you, too, if a new Nafaris is not found in time. As a matter of fact, they lost the last Urbanity of Elyod that way. He didn’t survive the journey around the mountain to reach the Stone of Blessing, That’s what prompted us to try to cut a new road to shorten the distance. That’s a rare case, though."

"So at least people wouldn’t suddenly start aging or becoming incapacitated as their...Nafaris...died off," Kirk concluded.

"No, but without an honored one to pick up their burdens, they would begin to age from that day forward, and any accident or illness which might befall them would leave its mark. You know, Captain," Dorian turned in the drivers seat to look at him, "When you have to ask questions like that, I begin to believe that our Way is truly not the norm for the universe."

"Of course not," Kirk agreed.

"Ending the traditional Way would have been difficult, there would have been resistance, but it was possible..." Doranix continued.

"Was?" Kirk repeated.

"If Doranix had come to the Urbanity’s seat in the usual manner," Spock supplied.

"But then Namar came into my life. I didn’t want to wait until my father was gone to free her. I couldn’t make her wait so long. I loved her, and we followed our feelings and now there is the child. And for the sake of the child, the Way of Danix has to be ended now."

"And you are not yet on the throne, not yet empowered to carry out your plan," Spock concluded.

Kirk could see the tension in Doranix’s shoulders as he nodded grimly.

"And so," Spock continued, "the plan which you so carefully crafted..." He paused to let Doranix fill in the rest.

Doranix took a deep breath and slowly let it out. "The in ruins. The timing is forced, and the power is not mine. I have done all that I could think of to do; I took her away, freed her at least from renewing the vow to my sister."

"And yet, there is no where for you to seek refuge," Spock said. "Every city on the face of Doria practices the Way of Danix."

"We’ll help you, Doranix," Kirk averred. "You are right...the Dorian Way is unnatural. It is not the way of the Federation."

The Vulcan spoke softly. "Jim, we cannot interfere here. As abominable as this place is, it works for them. Their culture has developed this on their own."

"The Prime Directive be damned," Kirk answered. "Natural development is one thing, Spock, but a whole culture based upon a perversion this vast had to be the exception to the rule. And what about the meteorite? We could argue that their society changed as a result of interference from it. We stopped an asteroid from destroying the Amerind planet and the people there. This meteorite has virtually destroyed the natural development of the Dorian society."

"A clever argument, Captain," Spock cautioned, "but possibly indefensible in a court-martial."

"Mister Spock, I for one have sworn to uphold the Prime Directive, but there’s no way I can allow this slavery to continue," Kirk stated. "And since Doranix here—the lawful heir to the throne, as it were—wants to bring about change, who are we to decline his request for aid?"

"You may find this is a slippery slope, Captain."

"I know, Spock," he answered.

"And remember, Jim, that if it comes to outright revolution—to bloodshed—it will be impossible to deter the ruling class by force without doing injury to those we seek to protect."

It took Kirk a moment to digest the implications of that analysis. This could not be accomplished by his usual, straightforward approach. Spock was right, it would be difficult. But somehow...

"We’ll help you, Doranix, if you want us to," he repeated. "Somehow... whatever it takes. We’ll find a way." The confidence in his voice was more the product of the need to reassure, and his own determination to bring an end to this peculiar institution of the Dorians, than the manifestation of any real plan forming in his mind.

"We’re almost there, Kirkix," Doranix said, as they passed into the shadow of hills which rose dark before them, shutting out the faint light from the stars. "Let me introduce you to Namar. We can stay the night in the caves. Once we’re inside, we can work out what to do next."

Doranix pulled the lumpy little land car just inside the entrance to what had looked like just a shallow depression in the cliff wall when Kirk saw it the day before. It turned out to be much wider inside than the size of the entrance indicated. The pavement ended outside, but the roadbed was flattened from the comings and goings of the heavy excavating equipment poised to dig its way into the heart of the rock when the six day holiday ended. The heir eased the vehicle into a side niche off the main tunnel, which was invisible from the outside. Then he stopped, and got out, squeezing himself through the tight space between the wall of the tunnel and the side of the vehicle.

Kirk pushed open the door on his side. The wall stopped it leaving an opening of mere inches for him to sidle through, scraping his back along the rough stone wall as he inched out from between the side of the land car and the tight berth provided by the inside of the hill.

Spock followed, as soon as Kirk was out of the way. Being the taller of the two, and on the far side of the seat, he had even more difficulty than Kirk maneuvering himself through the small doorway and into an upright position. However, once outside the car, his narrow frame slid just slightly more easily through the narrow passage than Kirk had done.

Once the Human and the Vulcan were clear of the land car, Doranix motioned for them to follow him. He led them back into the main tunnel, across the excavated opening and into another side tunnel. As they passed the main entrance again, Kirk stopped to peer down the road one more time to see if there was any sign of the second vehicle. Although he expected the car with Sulu, Uhura and McCoy to be gaining on them by now, there was nothing on the road that stretched silent, and to all appearances, empty, back in the direction they had come.

He shook his head, worried, but unable to do anything other than follow Doranix into the dark opening in the cave wall. This one was also narrow, and low besides. They had to go through single file, and bent nearly double to pass through. After a while, their progress was made easier by the pale glow of a light at the other end.

The light was sufficient to show them the inside of the tunnel they were now traversing. The walls were slightly rippled, but smooth; the top organically rounded.

"A lava tube from some earlier volcanic activity," Spock surmised from behind Kirk.

The captain’s primary interest in the geology of the formation was centered on when would it get higher and wider, and what was the source of the light? His questions were answered only a few steps farther along, when the tunnel seemed to grow a second story. A ridge, just above head height seemed to indicate where a second tube-like corridor followed the course of the one they were in. The ceiling of the second story, however, was much higher. Within another twenty paces or so, the roof vaulted to such a height that it was lost in the darkness above.

Kirk spared little attention, however, to the change in the geology of his surroundings beyond the simple relief of being able to stand upright and move forward more quickly.

Within another fifty meters or so, the tunnel opened up into a well lit space about four times the size of the Urbanity’s dining hall, although the ceiling was still raised to a much more impressive height. This room had more of the appearance he was used to in caves. There were the usual columns of stalagmites and stalactites, giving the space the feel of an ancient and alien pillared hall. Incongruously, the space was furnished for habitation.

Broken columns, larger rocks and natural ledges served as makeshift furniture. It was arranged, however according to the whims of nature rather than the convenience of the inhabitants. The haphazard stone furnishings were Humanized—or rather, Kirk thought, Dorianized, by the addition of cushions and other draperies, a camp stove, boxes and baskets of provisions. Several lanterns, the source of the light that had guided them here, hung from the walls, or perched like table lamps on the flat tops of broken formations. Most incongruously, a woman sat alone, propped against a tasseled damask pillow, sewing by the light of the nearest lantern.

When she saw them come in, she leaped to her feet, and started to run toward Doranix. Then she froze, when she noticed the two men with him. Her eyes took on the huge, frightened look of a wildlife reserve doe caught in the headlights of a hovercar.

"It’s all right, Namar. They are friends. They are going to help us," Doranix assured her.

Still keeping a wary eye on Kirk and Spock, she skirted around to Doranix’s side. He put a protective arm around her shoulders.

"Friends?" she repeated.

Kirk realized that this was the first time he had ever heard one of the so-called honored ones speak. It was hard to tell from a single word, but he thought there was a different inflection in her voice than he heard in the Dorians’ speech.

"That’s right," he took a single step toward her. "Where we come from, there is no such thing as the Way of Danix. No one suffers for the convenience of another..."

"Captain, that is not entirely..." Spock began.

But Kirk cut him off before he could enumerate exceptions to Kirk’s sweeping generality. "Not like this, Spock. Never, anywhere have we seen anything like this."

He spoke to Namar again. "We believe the Dorian Way to be affront to nature...and we are committed to helping Doranix free your people...all of your people...from this..." He stopped, at a loss for further words.

Kirk realized that he had seen Namar before, although it had been difficult to recognize her at first, since her hair was now uncovered and fell in soft blonde waves over her shoulders. She was the same woman who had been seated with the honored ones that first night at dinner. He looked closely at her, now. Already, since the breaking of her bond to Amalia, the tired and beaten down look she had worn that night was gone.

While she was obviously still frightened, even in these strange surroundings, she seemed healthier, more alert and alive. Her features were not at all unpleasant now that they were animated by something other than despair. She appeared to be closer to his own age than Doranix’s, although Kirk now knew that the members of the royal family must all be older than they appeared. He made a mental note to himself that despite appearances, Doranix was probably much older than the cadet-like age he looked to be. Kirk would have to remember not to think of him as a youngster just coming of age, but rather as a peer, with a maturity equal to his own.

Namar seemed to be gaining confidence in the presence of Doranix’s new-found allies, but she was still not certain. She peered into his face, then glanced down, as if uncertain whether she dared to address him directly. Then she gathered her courage and said, "But you came with your own Nafaris. He was with you at the meal."

"He didn’t come here as my...Nafaris...but as my friend and an equal member of my crew. But something happened to both of us, at the ceremony after Doranix helped you to escape. Without our knowing what was happening to us he did become...bound to me, as you were to Amalia. And now he suffers for me as you did for her. We would have helped you anyway, I and all the people who came with me, but now I have an even more urgent reason. I am as anxious to release someone I care about as Doranix is to release you and all the others like you. We will help you. We will end this thing!" he said with finality.

A smile broke over her face, and in that instant Kirk recognized what Doranix saw in her. She was radiant. She pulled away from Doranix’s protective grasp, and rushed toward Kirk, falling at his feet and grasping at his hands, to hold them reverently against her forehead. Embarrassed, he tried to pull her up, but to no avail. So he crouched down to where he could tilt her head up and look into her eyes. "Don’t," he said. "Don’t ever abase yourself like anyone...ever again."

He stood, pulling her to her feet with him as he rose. "Not ever," he repeated.  


Sulu slid confidently into the driver’s seat of the lumpy little land car. Before Uhura and the doctor were settled behind him and had their doors securely closed, he was running his hands over the control panels, looking for the way to turn the little vehicle on.

Doranix’s land car, carrying Spock and the captain, peeled out of the drive, spewing gravel and heading for the main road.

"Ready?" he asked, and without waiting for an answer, he punched the starter and let out the accelerator stick.

Nothing happened.

"Ready," McCoy said from the back seat.

Sulu punched the starter again. Still nothing.

"Whenever you are," McCoy said.

Sulu hit the starter a third time.

Doranix’s car disappeared around the gateway in the high brick wall.

"Maybe if you..." Uhura leaned over the seat-back in front of her to peer at the controls.

"Wait a minute...let me try..." Sulu was already patting down the dashboard like a blind man as if to find something he’d missed.

Soon McCoy was leaning over his shoulder, too. "What about that one?"

Sulu touched a switch.

"No, that one next to it," McCoy corrected.

Sulu shrugged and gave it a flip. An unholy screech, like feedback, filled the car. Quickly, he snapped it back, and the noise stopped.

"...wake the palace!" he heard Uhura finish after the sound cut out.

"Maybe I was right the first time," McCoy amended.

Sulu’s hand moved back to the first switch he had touched. He looked back at McCoy. The doctor raised his eyebrows. "Couldn’t be any worse."

Grimacing in anticipation, Sulu flipped the switch. At first, nothing seemed to happen, then a squeegee-like rubber strip on a transverse arm slid down the length of the wind screen and then, back up again.

Sulu’s shoulder’s sagged, as he turned it off. The mechanism stopped in the middle of a stroke, bisecting his view out the front window.

Again, Sulu ran his hands up and down and across all the controls, still hoping to discover by sense of touch and instinct what progression of movements would "feel" natural to a driver of one of these things. Even in something this primitive the basic engineering of laying out the series of controls to be activated in some easily reachable and logical order should hold true.

This time he found something promising. A ring around the steering column which had appeared to be no more than a casing turned out to be mobile. It slipped up and down on the shaft. Tentatively he pushed it down. A button popped up from beneath it. He pushed the button and felt the satisfying thrum of the car coming to life around him. With gathering confidence he punched the starter again. This time the motor roared to life. Feeling in control again, Sulu let out the accelerator lever...and barely managed to steer the nose of the car away from imminent collision with the wall surrounding the compound. He found the brake by instinct and sheer luck just before impact, throwing himself and his passengers jarringly back in their seats.

"Watch it, will you?" McCoy muttered from behind.

"Sorry," Sulu apologized, while he eased the little vehicle backward and pointed it at the open entryway. This time he took it at a crawl, only putting on speed when they reached the turning into the main road. By this time the other car was long gone.

"Did we lose them?" McCoy asked.

"How are we going to know where they went?" Uhura sounded worried.

"This road doesn’t have many turn offs, so we stand a pretty good chance." Sulu gunned the engine. "But our best bet is to catch up as soon as we can," he hollered over the roar of the motor. "Hang on!"

Sulu grinned, taking the little land car rocketing along the old paved road. He found that the physical connection to the roadway, rough though it was without the glider effect he was used to, gave him an exhilarating sensation of speed. Its blurry headlights illuminated the road before them, barely keeping ahead of the little vehicle that pursued their moving circle of light like a hunter gaining on its prey. Beside them in the darkness, the night-black trees and fields sped by like cast off memories.

Was that the light of another car ahead of them? There! Mounting a rise along the farther reaches of the road, its headlamps glared at the sky then disappeared as it started down the opposite slope. Sulu pushed the little vehicle harder, leaning forward over the controls as if to impel it to greater speed by the power of suggestion.

But rather than gaining on the other vehicle, it seemed not to respond to his urging. Seemed to falter instead of plunging on. The trees to the left and right, slowed and came into sharper focus, passing more and more slowly until the little car coughed and rolled to a dead stop.


Kirk, Spock and Doranix had been sitting for an hour now, perched on the forward edges of piled cushions or conveniently placed rocks. The three men all leaned intently into the circle of their discussion. Namar, less accustomed to being included as a voice in the affairs of the ruling class, nevertheless attended closely from her seat outside the circle of would-be plotters. The outcome of their plans would determine the future for her, for her child, and now that Doranix had broken with his family, for her lover...the man whom, against all tradition, she hoped one day to call "allied" in the manner of the Dorians.

"If we simply remove the Stone of Blessing from the palace...take it out of commission..." Doranix began.

"You said it could not be damaged or destroyed," Spock clarified.

"That’s right. But if we were to take it somewhere. Somewhere where its power would be contained. Where no one could lay hands on it..."

"Then you achieve your original intention of simply stopping access to the stone, first for the children and then up through the population as older people needed to have their Nafaris...replaced," Kirk reiterated.

"As a matter of fact," Spock said, "it is likely that even if you were acting with the authority of the Urbanity, it would still have been necessary to adopt the measure of removing the stone to a place of complete inaccessibility. Otherwise, you would be at constant risk of having to defend it against those who would seek to access its powers."

"So the question remains, of where we could take it, to keep it safe and beyond their grasp," Doranix said.

Kirk had a sudden inspiration. "How about here? Right here inside the mountain. You said the caverns run deep. We could carry it as far inside the mountain as we are able, and then blast the mountain down around it. You have explosives strong enough to do the job; you’re using them to blast the tunnel for the road."

"I don’t know. I hate the idea of keeping it right here in our midst. Perhaps it would be safer if you took it with you," Doranix suggested. "Back up to your day-star ship. Your people are so much more advanced than ours. You would know how to control it."

Kirk recoiled inwardly at the idea of carrying the poisonous thing into the midst of his own people. He looked to Spock and saw by his expression that cool logic arrived at the same conclusion as his own gut reaction.

"I don’t think so, Doranix," Kirk answered him. "No race I’ve met, including my own—perhaps especially my own—can be trusted to resist the temptation of invulnerability, if not immortality. It’s too easy for each man, in his own self-absorption, to consider himself—or even more seductively, his work—to be important enough to sacrifice others in order to achieve it. It’s the easiest, the most insidious of all...the notion that one man’s passion is worth any price simply because he believes in it. No race or people I’ve ever met would be wise enough to be trusted with the device that could be bent to those ends."

"Not even my own," Spock agreed, almost surprising Kirk.

He’d meant it when he said that no race was immune to the temptation of longevity. But he’d expected Spock to at least stand up for the Vulcans in his usual superior way. Maybe with something about being less susceptible to the call of near immortality when their lives were already so much longer than the Human span. But he still didn’t believe it for a minute. No matter how many years a man—or a Vulcan—might expect to live, the possibility of doubling them or more was still a temptation almost impossible to resist. He had to give Spock credit, though, for the self-knowledge and, more so, the honesty to admit it so readily.

"But what if you took it to another place, a barren planet where it could do no harm," Doranix persisted.

Kirk considered that alternative. It carried less risk.

But this time Spock answered for him, "To leave such a thing unprotected, unidentified, would open the possibility of its future discovery by some unsuspecting race who, when they eventually realized its power, would do just as the Dorians have done with it; institutionalize its perverse power and give rise to another society of the kind you seek to eradicate."

"I hadn’t thought of that," Doranix admitted.

"Indeed, the potential for its use to enslave populations would be increased under that scenario," Spock continued.

Kirk started to think through the process by which Spock had arrived at that conclusion, but Spock was ahead of him, and voiced his thinking for the benefit of his listeners.

"According to Dorian tradition, the stone fell into the planet’s atmosphere from some unknown origin. Its potential was eventually discovered and put to use. However, any race discovering a planet where we might have placed it for safekeeping would have already achieved the capacity for spaceflight. The potential for spreading its effects would be exponentially increased over the relative condition of quarantine imposed by the Dorians’ current level of technology."

"But if you posted warnings...told any possible finders about the danger..." Doranix persisted, although he seemed to realize that is was a losing argument.

"If we left warnings describing its powers," Kirk said, "the more unscrupulous races would waste no time in stealing it. And if we simply quarantined it without explanation, we’d immediately have everyone in the galaxy trying to figure it out. Nothing is more alluring than a mystery. Posting a fence around it would lead to its discovery even faster than random chance."

"It is best," Spock picked up where Kirk was leading, "to leave it here. Here, where your people know what it can do. Once you have achieved freedom for the half of the population which is currently bound through its power, you will have ready defenders against those who would attempt to put it back to use."

"Once we have collapsed the mountain, with the stone hidden way down deep inside, it should not be so difficult to guard the mountain with all of those who remember being Nafaris and who do not wish to go back. Surely the kind of full-scale excavation it would take to find it inside a pile of rock this high could not be accomplished under those circumstances," Doranix said, coming to terms with Kirk’s plan.

Then he frowned, "Do we really have the explosive power it would take to bring the whole thing down?" he asked Spock. "Our construction crews move forward only a few di-bennetars at a time. We would have to be able to bring it all down in a single blast, before we were found out and stopped."

"I have observed a major fault line which permeates the entire formation," Spock answered.

Kirk remembered his remarking upon it when they had first visited here on the inspection tour of the new road.

"If we position our materials correctly, we should be able to take advantage of that inherent instability and accomplish our intended ends most satisfactorily," Spock continued. "As a matter of fact, the structure is so unstable that the road could never have been completed as planned. It has already been weakened to a point where any disturbance of significant magnitude would collapse the mass of the mountain in upon itself."

"That’s settled, then," Kirk said with satisfaction.

"So it only remains for us to figure out how to get back into the palace and retrieve the Stone of Blessing," Doranix reminded them.

Kirk heaved a deep sigh, and leaned his back against the support of the chipped off stalagmite behind him, thinking. He could feel the others watching him, depending upon him for inspiration. Finally, he leaned forward again, his elbows on his knees and hunched forward conspiratorially. "Okay, here’s what we’ll have to do..." he began.


Kirk’s plan required them to act immediately, while the darkness of the night would remain their ally. In a move as audacious as this, they’d need every advantage they could muster. First, they would have to wind their way back out of the hiding place Doranix had provided for Namar, get back to the land-cars, and hope that they would be able to intercept the rest of the starship party on the road.

The three men moved as quickly as they could through the dark passages. The light from the large cavern which had shone as a beacon to lead them on when they first entered the caves was now behind them, and its primary manifestation was to throw their shadows hugely on the walls and floor of the passageway they were trying to negotiate.

Spock, and Kirk behind him, held their flickering lights high and tried vainly to merge their meager circles of lights with Doranix’ lantern bobbing ahead of them. As it was, however, it was only possible for each of them to stumble along in the faint glow of three separate bubbles of visibility.

The lights were so faint that if Kirk held his high enough to keep from bumping his head on irregularities in the ceiling, he couldn’t see his boots at all. And if he carried his lantern low, watching for pitfalls at his feet, it cast the spaces ahead of him into even deeper shadow.

The other two were making similar compromises with their lanterns, alternately watching their footing and protecting their heads. The sound of boots stumbling against blockades of stone was often followed by a light being carried lower for a time, until more muted bumpings brought the lantern back up to eye level to warn against low hanging protrusions. The captain conked his own head against a rock he had not observed while he was concentrating on his feet. He supposed he’d catch hell from McCoy for that when they finally caught up with the missing members of the party. Again, he wondered what had detained them.

Meanwhile, the constant bobbing up and down of the lights kept Kirk guessing about whether a change in the position of the lamps ahead indicated a slope in the path or merely someone else’s decision to look out for his head instead of his feet for the time being. It made their progress slow.

Kirk called out to Doranix, "Are you sure Namar will be all right back there?"

"Of course," the answering voice drifted back to him, echoing oddly off the walls. "The danger is outside, not in least until we are ready to set off the explosives."

Kirk really didn’t need the explanation. He’d asked as much to hear his own voice as to make a really meaningful remark.

"Kirk?" Doranix said.


"So if we do find your Makkoi, and the others, and if they are able to set up enough of a distraction for us to get into the ceremonial room unobserved, how are we going to carry out the stone?"

"I suppose..." Kirk wondered at the question. "...just take it and go. We can slip back out to the land car by the same back door you let us out of earlier, and if we can get a decent head start before they begin to pursue us..."

"No," Doranix interrupted. "I mean..." A pattering of falling dirt cut him off. Ahead in the darkness, Kirk could hear the heir of Edliw spitting at the dust that must have rained down on him like a sudden spring shower.

"What I meant was..." Doranix began again. Again, a rain of gravel, harder this time, cut him off before he could finish.

This time the drizzle of loose dirt went on for at least ten seconds—although it seemed much longer.

Then it stopped.

And then it started again.

The rain grew into a hailstorm. Kirk brought his arms up around his head to shield his face—and, by extension, McCoy’s—from the falling bits of stone.

Again it stopped.

"Uh...Spock?" he said around a growing lump in his throat which was due to something more than the dirt he had inhaled. "Analysis?"

"Run, Captain!" Spock answered. His tone could be called calm only by comparison to the scrambling speed of his boots along the floor of the cave as he suited action to words.

Kirk didn’t need to be told twice. As a matter of fact, he didn’t need to be told once. He was already moving as fast as he could before the words were out of Spock’s mouth. Something was going on here. Something that didn’t fit with his plans. Something bad. Really bad.

He ran. His lantern, swinging wildly, created panicked and monstrous shadows on the walls. It was as if somewhere deep within the mountain a beast was awakening, a monster that added its voice to the aura of desperate fear now pursuing them down the dank corridors. A rumble vibrated the air. A roar shook the ground beneath them. Growling, snarling, rending and crashing, the mountain seemed to recognize the destruction they had planned for it and began throwing itself down in a torrent of rage, thwarting their plans, by bringing down the rocky curtain one act too soon.


A wail, hollow and desperate echoed off the vaulted walls, then died under the rain of dust and pebbles still showering down from the roof of the cavern. It was as much the sudden muffling of the sound as the chilling fear in her voice that stopped Kirk in his tracks.

"Namar!" Kirk heard Doranix’s tortured scream. "Namar! I’m com..." The mountain roared again and the rest of Doranix’s futile promise was lost in the thunder of falling rock.

The ground heaved beneath his feet, dashing him momentarily against the cave wall. His lantern smashed against the rock and went out. He dropped it, and regained his footing, both hands against the rocky wall, feeling it shudder and tremble as the mountain tore itself apart.

Kirk stood, rooted to the spot, although his feet shifted dangerously on the unstable path beneath him. Ahead of him the rending sound of stone sliding against stone halted with a jarring thud. He was reminded, unaccountably, of a documentary he had seen as a child. It was about the building of the pyramids of Egypt, with a dramatization of the complex engineering which sent a series of fitted slabs careening down an intricate system of tunnels, setting off chain reactions like the ponderous workings of a great and primitive machine, the massive blocks sliding irrevocably, inexorably, into place and sealing the burial chamber behind a solid barrier of rock forever.

There, in the dark, his mind’s eye replayed the scene that had so terrified him as a little boy. Jim Kirk was a man who always found a way out, a man for whom there were always possibilities. The whole idea of being sealed up in that ancient tomb, where there were no exits, no possibilities, only silence and the weight of the stone, was the grist of his worst nightmares. In times of greatest stress his sleeping mind reminded him of that claustrophobic terror, driving him to seek for the loopholes, to find the alternatives.

The collapsing stone settled into place. The sounds that reminded him so much of the terrible work of the ancient engineers, ceased. He heard only the pattering of loose gravel, loud in the sudden silence. Then the wailing scream began again, eerie and terrified. The sound rose higher and higher into the keening of an abject soul who has abandoned all hope.

Behind him Namar’s wailing went on and on. Before him, rose the wall of rock—and somewhere, beyond it...or beneath it...was Doranix. And Spock.

For a brief moment, he weighed the urgency of Namar’s situation. Her scream was one of fear, certainly, of terror, of despair. But not of pain. The interior avalanche had fallen here, on the path, not back in her cavernous hideaway.

He felt his way along the wall. He ran probing fingers into any chink or crack in the angle where the displaced slab of rock barricaded the path. The corridor was barely head-high at this point, so it was soon easy to tell that climbing over the top of the barrier was not an option. The massive chunk of stone stoppered the passageway as neatly as a cork in the neck of a bottle.

It had missed him by only a few feet. The moment when he had first heard Namar scream, the hesitation that stopped him on his headlong plunge through the tunnel, had saved him. If he hadn’t stopped, torn between his own impulse to flee and the terror he had heard in her voice, he would be under that stone right now. Instead of...what? Trapped inside the heart of the mountain without any way out.

Again he worked his hands across the entire face of the unrelenting stone, following it out to where it met the sides of the tunnel in all directions. Nothing.

"Spock!" he called. His voice came out faint.

"Spock!" Louder this time.

"Spock! Doranix!" Demanding an answer.


"Spock!" He could hear an edge of panic rising in his voice.

He beat his hands against the stone, tore at it with his fingers. Nothing moved. He hammered his fists against the rock, giving in to the fear.

He could feel himself slipping into the oblivion of irrationality, but something in his basic nature feared the loss of control even more than the dark, sealed cavern. He forced himself to back take stock. Wherever Spock and Doranix might be, they were not with him now, and not within his reach. Even if they needed his help, there was nothing he could do.

Yet, he was not alone. Namar was here. From the sound of her voice, she was already hysterical. One of them must keep a cool head if they were to find any hope of escape. He fought down his own fear. Resolutely he shut down the part of his imagination that was showing him ever more gruesome images of a crushed body in Starfleet blue. He seized hold of the terror called hopelessness, turned his back on the abyss of despair. He called out, forcing confidence and power into his voice. "I’m here, Namar. It’s Kirk. Don’t worry, I’m coming."


"Sssst!" McCoy inhaled sharply between his teeth.

Sulu was buried head and shoulders under the engine-lid of the land-car, trying to figure out why it had stopped, and more importantly, how to get it going again.

Uhura hovered outside the car, alternately keeping tabs on Sulu’s progress and McCoy’s condition. Her attention had been concentrated on the doctor, however, since his forehead had mysteriously begun to develop bumps and abrasions. So far it was nothing serious, but it was most disconcerting. He’d just be sitting there and suddenly his head would jerk back, as if he’d been hit, and a new skinned place or purpling bruise would appear.

About the same time, he’d begun to complain about his toes and shins. He had his boots off in the back seat, now, and was rubbing gingerly at a series of new assaults, hidden beneath his socks and trouser legs.

She was checking on the progress of the frustrated mechanic when she heard this new sound of pain through the open windows of the land-car. She poked her head in to see McCoy holding his hands out in front of him and staring at them as if they were some rare and faintly disgusting specimen.

His fingertips had begun to bleed. As she watched with him in helpless fascination, his fingers grew raw. The nails chipped and peeled back, bleeding from the quick. The skin of his hands scraped into ribbons that welled blood which pooled in his upturned palms until it dripped onto his lap.

"I’ve got it!" Sulu crowed triumphantly and the engine coughed back to life. He dropped the engine lid and headed back into the driver’s seat, herding Uhura back into the car in front of him. She crawled into the back seat beside the doctor, holding his bloodied hands in her own, as the little land car lurched into forward motion.

Suddenly the ground shook, like an earthquake compounded by a distant explosion. The car bucked in response, but then shot forward, as Sulu urged it down the dark road.

She looked from McCoy’s battered hands to his face. She saw a tear track down one cheek, and she knew it wasn’t just about the pain.

"What’s happened to Jim?" he asked her plaintively.


What’s happened to Jim? The voice inside Spock’s head hammered over and over again.

He replayed the moment in the slow motion of memory. The warning patter of loose gravel...the sudden sound of rending rock...lights playing wildly over the cave walls...running...the sound of running feet ahead of him, behind him...a distant scream...and then the thunder of the cave-in. He had plunged on...catching up to Doranix and pushing him along in from of him...calling back to the captain, Run, Jim. Run! Then there was light up ahead...pale light...only moonlight, but enough to outline the mouth of the passageway and beckon them with the promise of open air and freedom.

They had rushed, panting with the exertion, coughing out dust, into the cool night air. They ran until they were out from under the shadow of the mountain. They ran until the thunder ground to a halt. Then, finally, they stopped, collapsed to the ground and listening to the silence. Then Spock turned...and saw that Jim was not behind them.

"Jim!" Spock called, urging him to come out of the cave and follow them out into the air.

Then, when no one answered, "Captain!"

He scrambled to his feet again...breaking into a run...back the way they had come. "Captain! Jim!"

Spock felt with both feet and hands along the floor and sides of the passage way. Light suddenly cast long shadows before him. Doranix was following him with one of the lanterns. The light only showed him for certain what he already knew in his gut. Kirk had not tripped and fallen somewhere in the open passageway behind him. The rocky corridor was empty save for the dust that still filtered from the ceiling through the yellow lamplight.

The distance back to the solid wall formed by the cave-in seemed shorter than when they had run through it only minutes ago. Spock took the light from Doranix and held it high, looking for chinks in the rubble. He tore aside loose stones but came, almost immediately, to the broad surface of a single great slab that closed the way securely with its huge mass.

What’s happened to Jim? Only the silence of the stone answered him.

"Namar!" The cry of utter despair was wrenched from Doranix as he came to the same, inescapable conclusion.

"Namar!" He threw himself against the stone, beating and pounding on it with his fists, calling her name, over and over, sobs wracking his voice.

Spock pulled him back, tried to stop him from hurting himself, which he was bound to do if he kept this up. As he wrestled with the distraught Dorian, pinning his arms to his sides and leading him away from the sealed end of the passage, Spock could not decide whether he was grateful for the training that allowed him to remain master of his actions despite the pain, or whether he envied the other races the freedom to vent their grief when it was as overwhelming as this.

He was what he was, however, a Vulcan who only knew how to deal with reality in a rational way—no matter what the excruciating pain he felt behind the protective facade.

"Doranix, come. Come out of here," he said, leading the sobbing man into the open air again. "They are gone. It would have been over in an instant." The statement was intended to comfort. Vulcans weren’t supposed to lie. And he fervently hoped that what he had said was indeed the truth...not for Vulcan’s sake...but for Jim’s.

"We have escaped. And even without her, you have a mission to..."

Once outside, Doranix’s head jerked up though the haze of his misery and he listened. Spock heard it, too. The sound of a motor. A land-car. It was coming fast down the road toward them.

"My father..." Doranix hissed a warning. Then he grabbed Spock by the arm and led him hurriedly back into the caves, just inside the entrance where they could watch, hidden.

While they watched from their hiding place, a lumpy little car came over a rise and into view in the moonlight. It rolled to a stop near the huge earth moving equipment, silhouetted dark against the night sky.

"Listen!" Doranix whispered.

Spock craned to hear. With his more subtle hearing, he recognized, even before Doranix did, that this was not a party from the palace come looking for them. It was the other half of the group that had set out with them what now seemed a lifetime ago.

Boots crunched on the roadbed. "Sulu, I don’t see the car. Are you sure they came this way?" Uhura’s voice asked.

"I...I don’t know. I didn’t see any other turn-offs, did you?" he returned, uncertainly.

Spock stepped out into the moonlight.

"Mister Spock!" Uhura started running toward him.

Sulu heard her, and turned.

"You are..." Spock intended a sardonic "overdue." But what he heard himself say, quite without volition, was, "..too late."

"‘Too late?’" Uhura repeated. "Too late for what? The captain..." She looked around and concern registered on her face when she didn’t count him among their number. "What’s happened to the captain?" she demanded. "Doctor McCoy is..."

"Yeah, what the hell did happen to the captain, Spock?" the doctor unfolded himself from the back seat of the car, moving awkwardly, and holding his hands carefully out in front of him as if they cradled an injured bird.

"Just look at what’s happened to Doctor McCoy while we were separated!"

Spock took a step toward the doctor, his eyes taking in the new bruises, the matted blood in his hair, then moving to hands that looked as if they were wearing rusty red gloves. If those injuries had come upon the doctor because of something Jim had done...A picture formed in his mind of Kirk scrabbling against the fallen rock, tearing his hands to shreds without even knowing it, almost like Doranix would have done if Spock hadn’t stopped him. What a terrible way to...

Wait! Spock appraised the doctor with fresh eyes. He was standing on his own two feet. No broken bones. He was conscious. He was alive!

Spock controlled his reaction quickly enough to stop the grin of relief that wanted to show itself on his face. "Jim is alive in there!" He started to turn in the direction of the mountain, then stopped, reining in his impulse long enough to give orders.

"Sulu, take Uhura and McCoy back to the palace where she can look to his injuries."

"But you need me here, Mister Spock!" Sulu protested.

"Come back, then, as quickly as you can. But first, the doctor needs to be taken somewhere safe. Somewhere where you can see to his needs," he amended. The doctor could never be safe until the bond between him and the captain was broken and they were far away from this bizarre place.

"See what you can do to keep the family off the trail for as long as you can," Doranix added.

"If you’re back before morning, they may not realize you were with us at all." Doranix waved a hand toward the horizon where, although a faint blush of light was beginning to appear, it had yet to put out the still-bright stars hanging above them.

"Play innocent," he said. "Distract them and give us some time."

"But what if you need me here?" Sulu protested.

"Doranix is right," Spock agreed. "All of us are safer the longer the Urbanity doesn’t suspect what Doranix really plans to do."

"So far, all my mother and father know is about Namar." He stopped and turned to Spock, his eyes pleading. "Do you really think she’s all right in there?"

"As long as we know the captain is alive, there is logic to support the assumption that the farthest internal reaches of the caverns may be undamaged," Spock answered.

Doranix nodded. "They don’t realize yet that we plan to bring the whole Way of Danix to an end."

"You’" Uhura asked.

Spock realized that much of the detailed planning had taken place after the party became separated.

"For now, the less you know, the better. Go on, now. Get the doctor back to his room and do what you can for him."

He could see that Uhura was torn between compassion and the duty to act. She looked again at the doctor, and what she saw stopped any further protest.

"Come, on, Doctor," she took him gently by an elbow, and tried to lead him toward the land-car.

But he wouldn’t be budged until he said, "Find him, Spock."

"I will, Doctor," Spock answered.

Then McCoy allowed himself to be bundled into the car for the trip back to the palace. 


"Namar! I’m coming, Namar. It’s me; Kirk. Stay where you are. I’m coming," he called out to her as he felt his way back down the corridor, deeper into the heart of the mountain.

Progress was slow. There was no beacon of light coming from the far end of the passageway as there had been before, when Doranix had first led them to Namar’s hiding place. All of her lights must have gone out, too, when the mountain began to shake.

He felt his way along, running a hand along the cave wall. In places it encountered cool slimy stuff, cave crud, which grew there in the dark. He kept close to the left-hand wall, using it as a guide.

He shuffled one foot slowly in front of the other, testing the ground with the toe of his boots. There was rubble in the path, and more than once a fallen rock big enough to have to climb over. His real fear, however, was the possibility of a hole in the floor. The fault could have opened a sink hole or a crevasse that dropped down who knew how far.

The going was slow. His left hand trailed along the wall; his feet shuffling along, feeling for the solidness of the ground in front of him, seeking warnings of stumbling blocks in his path. The focus of his mind narrowed down to nothing more than the feel of the cave wall under his palm, and the irregular, sometimes shifting surface beneath his feet.

He was aware of an intangible sense of closeness, maybe it was a change in the way his breathing sounded in the confines of the cave, or the density of the air, or some extra sensory awareness of the outer edges of his personal space. He didn’t have time to analyze it before he was given physical proof. A shard of rough stone snagged across the fabric of his right shoulder.

He shot his right arm out and discovered that it was not a singular protrusion; the cave wall was much closer than he expected on that side. As a matter of fact, the corridor was now no more than a meter and a half wide, maybe less. He stood still and raised one arm over his head, stretching. His fingertips brushed stone there, too.

Having got his bearings, Kirk started forward again. He had carefully kept his left hand in contact with the wall as he explored his surroundings with his right. There was no chance of getting turned around and heading off in the wrong direction as long as he kept one hand touching the wall at all times. Now, he used both hands, feeling along the narrow sides of the passage as he went.

In no time, his hands were crushed up against his shoulders on both sides, his head turtled down between his shoulders to avoid the roof of the tunnel, now no more than two meters high, and still slanting downward.

Soon, he had to drop his hands, and turn his shoulders sideways in order to pass. He felt ahead of him with his left arm. The passage continued to narrow as it went on. Worse, the ceiling began to arc downward at a sharp angle.

He had gone as far as he could go. Another step, maybe four or five, and he would be wedged into the angle of the walls with no hope of going any farther.

Standing uncomfortably, with both his shoulder blades and his chest touching rock, and his head bent at an awkward angle, he stopped and forced himself to try to consider the situation calmly. He had noticed that there seemed to have been very little disturbance from the quake or avalanche or whatever it was here. The walls were knobby but smooth, no sharp edges where chunks had recently been broken off. No loose rubble on the floor. It was unlikely that this part of the passage had been narrowed by the collapse.

Logic, he told himself. What would Spock say? Fact: He had not passed through a section of tunnel like this before. Fact: This section showed no evidence that it had been altered by the cave-in. Deduction: He had not been in this part of the tunnel before. Conclusion: He was lost.

Two parts of his personality warred within him: The more basic one, which was in terror of being closed in, shut off with no route of escape; against the more evolved trait, which had grown out of the first—the part that insisted that there was always a way out, always a trap door, a loop hole, a way to alter the parameters of the situation, change the rules of the game. His sanity relied upon—insisted upon the condition, that he believe with all his heart that there was always a way out. So far, throughout his adult life that belief had served him well, often giving him the added certainty that led to solutions in seemingly hopeless situations.

He stopped to reconsider: he had kept his hand in contact with the wall of the corridor all the time, every step of the way, so he was not turned around. He had heard Namar’s voice when he had started to wend his way back through the caverns in the dark. The way to her was not blocked by another rock-fall like the one which cut off the passageway through which he had entered.

Kirk took a deep breath and let it out, calmer now in the realization that the only answer had to be that by keeping to one side of the corridor he had inadvertently followed a side tunnel, which ended here. He would just have to regain the main passage and he would be on his way again to where Namar was waiting. He backed up until he was standing comfortably again, able to straighten his neck and shoulders. An exaggerated stretch relieved the stiffness caused by a combination of the cramped quarters and the muscle clenching physical reaction when he discovered himself to be lost.

Then, standing perfectly still for a moment, he rethought his position. Holding up first one hand, then the other in front of his face, even though he could not see them in the dark, he assured himself that it was still his left hand which should work its way along the wall in order to guide him out. Left hand wall leading in...turn around...left hand wall now leading out. And once he regained the main corridor, the left hand wall should continue to lead him deeper into the cave system to where Namar was.

With renewed intent, Kirk set off down the passage. He was moving faster now, since he was reasonably sure that there were no pitfalls in his path, since he had already come this way safely once. His progress was given further impetus by his haste to make up for the time lost to the diversion. He picked up even greater pace when he began to realize that there was now a light at the end of the tunnel!

It was faint. It didn’t appear suddenly at all. But as he neared the junction of this side passage with the main tunnel, he began to sense a contrast in the shade of darkness surrounding him. The further he went, the clearer it became. Soon, he could see the irregular shape of the mouth of this tunnel where it pierced the primary corridor.

In minutes, he regained place where he had first become diverted. There was enough light here to see how he had been led astray. The side passage curved gently to the left, while the main corridor veered right. In the dark, he had been easily misled.

Once he regained his original path and made the turning around a right-hand angle, the light became brighter. He could see the path ahead of him now, although dimly, and he made much faster progress.

The light was yellow and quavering. Kirk automatically surmised that Namar must have gotten some of the lanterns lit while he had been wandering along the false passageway. Sunlight would have been vastly preferable, but at least this was a start.

In thinking about Namar, Kirk suddenly realized that he was no longer hearing the abject wail of fear that had first led him back through the caves toward her.

"Namar!" he called out. "Are you there, Namar?"

"Kirkix? Is it you? Oh, come quickly!"

He was reassured to hear her voice. At least she did not sound as if she was in serious pain, although she still sounded frightened. Very frightened, he decided.

He heaved a heavy sigh. He felt as if he had walked half way around Doria already, and still Namar’s voice had sounded very far away.


"Over here, Doranix!" Spock called, pointing to the turf at his feet.

The Dorian heir scrambled over the ridged spine of the mountain and panted up to where Spock was waiting. He looked down to where Spock was clearing away a spot of moss with the toe of his boot. The early morning light was now bright enough for him to be quite certain that he had found what he was looking for.

When Doranix caught up with him, Spock knelt, indicating that the other man should crouch down to look at the spot he was inspecting. The Vulcan brushed more of the ground-cover away with his hand.

"See here?" he asked, then moved his finger to trace an irregular line on the ground between them, then raised his hand to indicate where Doranix should follow the continuation of the narrow, meandering depression in the ground with his eyes.

"That is where the fault line picks up from the far side of the ridge. We saw evidence of the complete collapse of the interior cavern structure directly above the cave-in." He indicated the far side of the ridge over which they had climbed. The terrain had been raw and rugged on the first part of their ascent, great rocks were wrenched apart and tumbled in upon each other, making the climb both difficult and dangerous.

Yet, once they had cleared the ridge, the ground was relatively undisturbed. "Here," Spock continued with a sweeping gesture, "we see no such cataclysmic activity. The physical evidence suggests that we are now standing above a section of the cavern which has remained intact."

Doranix looked up, hopefully.

Spock nodded. "Based upon my admittedly rough calculation of our position relative to the caverns, I would venture to say that we are above the main chamber."

"Then they’re alive!" Doranix leaped to his feet with excitement.

"We know that Captain Kirk was alive, at least at the time when we sent Doctor McCoy and the others back to the palace, before we began our investigations. I would, however, caution you that we do not have any such conclusive evidence of Namar’s safety."

"She’s alive, Spock! She has to be!" Doranix ran ahead, following the faint depression in the ground that marked the fault line.

Spock was still kneeling, examining the geological evidence, when he heard a shout from behind him.


He turned to see Doranix teetering on what appeared to be the edge of the horizon. By the time Spock reached him, he had regained his footing, and was staring down, looking deeply concerned.

"Look! The fault opens up again here."

Spock didn’t need the explanation. It was quite obvious what had happened. Here, on the down-slope the fault-line took a sharp turn, and the whole face of the mountain had sheered away, leaving a vast abyss which dropped perhaps thirty meters straight down to the chaotic rubble below.

Some part of the interior caverns had, indeed, collapsed. Judging from the scope of the damage on the surface, it was surely all or part of the huge main cavern which had fallen in upon itself.

Doranix was near panic again, and Spock also realized that the assurance of Kirk’s safety was also open to doubt.

"Spock! Help me!" Doranix demanded. He was on his belly on the ground, legs extended over the cliff face, searching for purchase with his feet.

"Wait, Doranix. Don’t put yourself in jeopardy, too," Spock cautioned.

They had set out without anything resembling mountain climbing equipment. When they had left the palace there had been no thought of ropes and grapples and whatever. Mountain climbing was Kirk’s area of expertise, not Spock’s. Unfortunately right now, Kirk was inside the mountain—clearly the wrong side to be of any help.

Before Spock had finished speaking, Doranix hauled himself back to his feet and began dashing back and forth along the lip of the cliff like a frustrated terrier. After another moment of frantic searching, Doranix stopped and pointed down.

"Spock! Here!" he shouted, then turned and backed down over the edge of the precipice.

Looking down after him, Spock saw that the Dorian heir had discovered a spot where the surface of the terrain had dropped off in measured sections, instead of collapsing all at once. It was as if the fault line had fragmented at this one particular spot, and where each separate finger of the fissure traced its line into the earth, the ground had dropped away to successive depths, forming what looked like nothing so much as grand, curving, giant’s stairway. The stair steps were each a good meter high, and the "treads" narrow, but it was negotiable, as Doranix was already proving. In the time it took Spock to justify what his eyes perceived with a geological analysis of what made it possible, Doranix was already a third of the way to the foot of the cliff.

Spock turned, and backed his way over the edge of the drop, lowering himself to a solid footing on the first "stair." The second was more difficult, as the ledge he was standing on was no wider than the sole of his boot. The going was easier, he found, if he kept moving; the continuous motion not unlike backing down a very steep ladder.

Spock was gaining on Doranix, who had paused for breath, when the toe of one foot became wedged in a crack in the stone. It wasn’t stuck tight, just enough to off balance him briefly, and pique his curiosity enough for him to peer into the crack as he descended the next step, and the offending indentation came up to eye level. At first, it was just a passing glance, but something struck him as odd, and he paused to take a better look.

The sun had risen and was well up in the morning sky by now, but its direct rays were blocked by the ridged back of the mountain they had crossed, and this side of the cliff face was still in deep shadow. It would be afternoon before the sun shone on this cold, raw rock. But there, on the ledge, was the remains of a yellow flower. Uprooted by the cataclysm, trampled, probably, by both Doranix and himself, yet the brightness of its crushed petals caught his eye. It was as if a tiny spotlight shone on it, illuminating just this one bit of brightness amidst the slate-gray desolation.

Light. Spock looked up. Not the sun. Definitely not the sun. He held a hand over the flower. No ray of light played across the back of his hand. He moved his hand and looked again. The light was coming from behind the flower itself. Leaking up through the tiny crack in the rock from inside the mountain!

Spock wedged his fingers inside the crack. He felt something move.

"Doranix!" he called. "Come and look at his!"

Meanwhile, he scraped and worried at the tiny opening with probing fingers. Some flakes of stone fell away, and he was able to wedge his hand well into the space. Beside his palm, something felt loose, like a brick held in place by crumbling old masonry. He worked it back and forth, hearing the protesting scrape of stone on stone. By the time he succeeded in pulling loose a two handed sized chunk of rock, Doranix was beside him, watching Spock’s work intently.

He helped Spock pull the stone free and sent it tumbling down the stair-steps to the rubble below. It made a clunking racket as it fell away, but more importantly, they heard a sound from inside the hole. A sound of falling gravel, loosened when they had dragged out the slab of stone. They both leaned into the hole they had made to listen. It was a hollow, echoing rain of small stones into an empty chamber. They had found an entrance into what remained of the cave system. Furthermore, there was light inside!

But the space they had made was still not large enough to put one of their heads through, much less a whole body. While his hands felt and tested for other signs of loose stone which could be dislodged, Spock called into the empty space, "Captain!...Jim?...Are you there?...Can you hear me?"

Doranix crowded Spock away from the hole, setting his face against the rock and shouting, "Namar! Namar it’s me! Are you all right? Can you hear me?"

Spock was about to try to ease Doranix away from the hole so that he could resume his work, when against all the odds, voices answered.


"I’m here, Namar! We’ve found an opening in the side of the mountain. It leads right to you. We’ll get you out of there! It’s all right! We’re here!"

Now Spock elbowed Doranix away from the hole. "We must enlarge the opening before we can get anybody anywhere."

Nonetheless, as soon as he was positioned back in front of the opening himself, he called in, "Namar! Is Kirk with you? he there with you?"

There was a long beat of silence, then a sound which first renewed Spock’s efforts, then made him pause. Kirk’s voice.

"Spock! My God, is that you?"

"Captain?" Spock answered.

The captain sounded whole; not in pain or laboring for breath, but something...wasn’t quite right. Something...

"Spock?" Jim’s voice came again. Spock’s sensitive hearing identified what was troubling him. Despite the distortion caused by the echo inside the cave, he was sure that the voice was coming from a different angle than Namar’s...and from farther away. Much farther away.

"Jim? Are you all right?"

Again, the answer seemed to come from deep inside the cavern, far from the opening they had found.

"Uh, Spock? We seem to have a little problem in here."


Kirk stood poised at the edge of the precipice where he had come to a teetering stop several minutes before.

As he raced headlong through the tunnel, the light had grown brighter, and Namar’s voice stronger. One impelled him to speed, the other made his path easier as he found his way back through the deepest recesses of the tunnel system to the main cavern where they had hatched their now-thwarted plans.

He had been moving forward so quickly and confidently that he had almost hurtled over the edge where the path dropped off into an abyss. His leading foot met thin air just at the same moment that Namar’s cry of warning, "Look out!" made him recoil instinctively. It was a close thing, and there was a heart-stopping minute when Kirk wasn’t sure whether he could recover his balance in time. But in the end, he stood with both feet firmly planted, looking down to where Namar stood on the opposite side of the cavern...and about eight or ten meters below him.

Inside the cavern, the quake had caused the floor to separate along a neat, straight line. The tunnel side stayed intact, while the floor of the vast open space slid down beside it, like a massive turbolift stuck between decks.

The cavern was littered with the broken columns of stalactites which had dislodged from the ceiling and lay about looking like the ruins of an ancient temple. To all appearances, Namar had not been injured. In fact, she had already set about the task of lining up and lighting the lanterns which had not been broken by falling chunks of stone. It was the light from these massed lamps which had led Kirk through the corridors to her. But although he could see her plainly, there was no way for him to reach her.

"Jim! Captain! What is the difficulty?" Kirk’s attention was pulled from contemplation of his predicament back to Spock’s insistent voice coming from...where?

"Yes, Spock," he answered, while he scanned the far wall for the source of the sound. "We’re all right. Wait just a minute." His gaze raked up and down the opposite face of the cave wall where Spock’s voice seemed to be coming from, seeing nothing out of the ordinary.

Then a movement caught his eye. It was hard to tell which he noticed first, Namar raising her hand to protect her head from a rain of loose dirt, or the motion at the source of the disturbance. He followed the shower up to where it seemed to be coming from, and yes! There was a spot on the wall, maybe the size of a man’s head where...was that light coming in from the outside?

"Spock?" he called. "Where are you?"

The light seemed to blink out, but a voice answered, "Here, Captain."

A hand, followed by a blue sleeve appeared in the spot where Kirk’s vision was focused. Unfortunately, it was about three meters above Namar’s head.

"Uh, Spock, I’m really glad to see you, but we do have kind of a problem in here."


"Come on, Doctor; let’s get those hands washed off and bandaged." Uhura helped the doctor out of the land-car, steadying him by the elbows, in an effort not to touch his injured hands.

He muttered about the indignity, but did not protest as Lieutenant Commander Sulu led them unerringly through the back entryways of the palace and back into more familiar halls.

"Come on in here," Uhura pulled aside the drape at the door of McCoy’s own room. She looked around. She hadn’t had occasion to be inside his guest quarters before this. "Nice! My room is pleasant enough, but this is positively..." She searched for a word to do it justice, and found one. "...opulent!" Then she turned an accusing look at Sulu. "Are all the men’s quarters this much nicer than the women’s?"

He shrugged and started to shake his head, "Not mine."

"Remember...ugh..." McCoy eased himself down on the overstuffed divan, clumsy without the use of his hands. "Remember, I’m one of the ‘honored ones.’ Ouch!" he said, as Uhura turned up his left palm for inspection.

"Seems to me you could do with a little less honor about now," she said, making a face at what she saw. "Sulu, get me some water in that bowl. And a towel, please."

Moving to fulfill her request, Sulu said, "Yes, ma’am." Then leaning over her shoulder to look for himself at McCoy’s hands he said, "Doesn’t look to me like the benefits of all this ‘honor’..." He waved a hand to take in the ornately appointed room. "...are worth the price." He winced in sympathy as Uhura dabbed the wet towel around the edges of the crusted blood on McCoy’s palm.

"You’ll get no argument from me on that point!" McCoy declared. "Ow! Watch it!"

Unperturbed, Uhura, went on with her work, ignoring his protests and professional criticism until his hands were clean and bandaged. He looked like he was wearing mittens, for heaven’s sake. What he wouldn’t give right now for a working protoplaser!

"All right. That’s good enough. Now let’s take a look at that face," Uhura offered with determined brightness.

McCoy groaned out loud at the prospect.

"Is everything all right in there?" came a voice at the door curtain. It had to be Amalia or her mother. McCoy realized that their voices were enough alike to make it difficult to tell the difference.

"Er, yes. Fine," Uhura answered.

"You were missed at the morning meal." The drapery moved to the side and Alinar stood framed in the doorway. God, she’s beautiful, McCoy thought. A day ago he would have shooed his crewmates out of the room and fawned like a sick puppy to indulge in the gentle comfort of her caring hands.

But not today.

Not after he’d come to recognize that the injuries she nursed so solicitously among the so-called "honored" were those of her and her family’s own making. Especially not after they had all witnessed, as eavesdroppers, the heated conversation that precipitated their headlong middle-of-the-night dash to the mountains.

It chilled him to think of how coolly this woman cared for the ills and injuries of people whom she considered it her God-given right to maim or murder as it suited her vanity or convenience.

"Nothing to concern you here," McCoy said, brushing Uhura aside with a white-mitted hand. "We’re fine." He heard the sarcasm leak into his voice unbidden.

"Nonsense! You’re hurt!" Alinar glided forward in a graceful movement to kneel at his feet, and take both of his hands into hers. He tried to flinch away, but her grip was strong. "Your hands! And, oh, your poor face! What has happened?"

Interestingly, he noted, she looked to the others, Uhura and Sulu, her peers, for answers, not to the poor unfortunate, but essentially inanimate subject of her concern.

Her lovely brow furrowed. "Have you considered that your Kirkix may be in danger if his Makkoi shows such damage?" she asked them.

"He is..." Uhura began.

But McCoy was suddenly struck with the urgent, although seemingly perverse desire to keep the truth from the wife of the Urbanity. He quickly cut Uhura off. "The captain has nothing to do with this." He held up his bandaged hands. "I...I...fell. That’s all. I tripped over...a crack in the sidewalk and..."

"And there was broken glass on the ground, and it cut him up pretty badly when he tried to break his fall with his hands." Bless Sulu, he seemed to have picked up on McCoy’s reticence to let Alinar in on the whole truth.

"I hit my face at the same time," McCoy added, dabbing at one of the sorest spots with the back of a mitted hand.

"Oh, dear." Alinar’s face was a perfect mask of sympathy. "Broken glass." She turned to Uhura. "You will have to show me where it was so that I can have it cleaned up."

" need." Uhura answered. "I...uh...I, uh, cleaned it up myself."

"Before even ministering to Makkoi’s injuries?" Alinar queried.

"Couldn’t risk having anyone else hurt. Like the little girl, maybe," McCoy volunteered. "Can’t let anything happen to the Urbanity’s pride and joy, now can we, Ma’am?"

The doctor was spreading his patented Southern charm on thick, hoping to obfuscate a pretty obvious lie with honey. But it wasn’t having the desired response. Alinar looked at him as if his interruption was most unwarranted. When she replied, "How thoughtful," her tone didn’t match her words in the least.

Then she continued, speaking again to Uhura. "And this crack in the pavement, perhaps I should ask someone to have a look at that, too. Just so that little Analiss does not also trip over it."

In for a penny, in for a pound, McCoy thought. As long as the lady already thought him uppity for a member of the "honored" class, one more unasked for remark couldn’t do any more damage. Again, he treacled his words, in direct contradiction to the tone he’d really like to take with her. "Don’t bother, Ma’am. Nothing really there to look for. Just clumsy of me. I’d probably trip over my own shadow if the sun was shining bright enough."

This time his interruption gained him a withering stare. Then the Lady of Edliw pointedly turned her attention back to his shipmates. "And where is Kirkix? If Makkoi sustained his injuries through his own carelessness, as you say, we can assume that no ill has befallen your captain. Yet, he and his serious companion were also absent from the morning meal. Nor have they been seen this morning."

So, McCoy thought, there’s a little more going on here than friendly concern. He noticed that she hadn’t mentioned that Doranix hadn’t been seen around the palace this morning, either. But she neglected to mention his absence, or to suggest outright that Spock and the captain might be with him. He figured she was feeling them out to see how much they knew or were willing to tell. Well, as far as he was concerned, the lady wasn’t going to find them very informative. He hoped Sulu and Uhura were on the same wavelength with him.

"Yes," Uhura answered, "we were with them this morning."

McCoy’s heart sank, then revived as she went on.

"We had all gone out on an early morning excursion this morning. You have made us feel so welcome here we didn’t think you’d mind our taking it on ourselves to do a little exploring on our own."

Bless her sweet soul, McCoy thought. Uhura may not have been raised in Georgia, but she sure had the gift. She was ladling out the honey-covered guilt trip like a Savannah society matron. He half-expected to see her flutter her eyelashes next.

Sulu picked up on Uhura’s opening without missing a beat. "We had planned to make a visit to the mountains out near where the road construction is going on. The captain, er...Kirkix...had been out to see them with the Urbanity, but the rest of us didn’t get that part of the tour."

McCoy winced. What is Sulu thinking, telling her where we really had been?

"They said the countryside was really lovely out that way," Uhura chimed in. "I was especially interested to see it while we were here." McCoy wasn’t sure, but he thought he actually did catch a fleeting glimpse of a flutter of lashes accompanying that last statement.

"We borrowed a cars," Sulu went on. "But after we got there, McCoy fell and hurt himself. So we had to bring him back. Kirkix and Spock decided to stay on awhile."

"What a shame," Alinar sympathized. "When it was you who wanted to see the scenery and the others who had already been there."

Uhura smiled sweetly, "Well, we certainly couldn’t expect Kirkix to...uh... comfort McCoy. And, of course, I couldn’t drive him back here all by myself."

Alinar considered for a moment, then replied, "Well, of course not, dear. I’m sure you did what was best."

McCoy couldn’t make out whether she really believed the story or not. He recognized with admiration that he was in the company of highly accomplished prevaricators on both sides. The Urbanity’s wife might not believe them, but she wasn’t getting anything out of them, either. And Sulu may have been exactly right in his tactic of mentioning the mountains: the greater Alinar’s disbelief, the more likely she was to think that they were lying about the location and suspect that they had been someplace else.

The Urbanity’s wife looked around the room, but apparently found nothing else to sustain the conversation. "Are you all right, then? Is there anything more I can do?"

"I think we’re under control here, but thank you so much for your concern," Uhura answered.

Moving toward the doorway, Alinar paused with the drapery in her hand. She turned, and said, seemingly as an afterthought, "Oh, by the way, did any of you see Doranix this morning?"

"Wasn’t he at breakfast either?" Uhura answered with only mild apparent interest.

"," his mother answered without elaboration.

"No, Ma’am," Sulu added. "We left early. Didn’t see anybody on the way out. And came straight here when we got back."

"Oh, well, if you should run in to him, his...uh...Darien is looking for him."

"We’ll be sure to tell him, Ma’am, if we should see him," Sulu said politely.

Alinar hesitated, but said nothing more, then finally passed through the doorway, and let the drape fall back into place behind her.


"What manner of ‘problem,’ Captain?" Spock asked, from the outside of the opening in the cave wall. His voice echoed hollowly off the cavern walls.

In his head, Kirk took stock of the situation once again, to be sure he hadn’t missed something in his first startled appraisal of the difficulty he faced. First and foremost, rescue was at hand. Somehow, Spock and Doranix had found a way into the cavern from the outside. Probably as a result of the shifting of the mountainside, the inner wall of the cavern was now only a few feet from the open air. Fortunately, Namar was unharmed by the cave-in. And, he, too, had narrowly missed being crushed by the falling rocks, and had also succeeded in finding his way back to Namar. By a series of nothing less than miracles they were all alive and within shouting distance of each other again.

It was a cruel fate, Kirk decided, that led them this far, only to leave the last part of the rescue hopelessly impossible. The hole Spock and Doranix had opened was not large enough for them to pass through it. That might be remedied if the stone surrounding it was loose enough to be moved. But Namar could not reach the opening. It was far above her head. And Kirk could not reach her. The drop from the shelf he stood upon to the level where she waited was an impossible three or four stories down.

He considered trying to climb down, but he had no gear. His first thought was that he might be able to tie his clothing together to make a rope. It wouldn’t be long enough, but it might help a little. He lay down flat on the shelf of rock to sight along the face of the drop-off. What he discovered only made things worse. The break in the rock was clean and sheer. And at the bottom waited a black chasm that separated his part of the broken path from the slab where Namar waited, stranded. His heart sank. Even if he could climb down, there was no way to cross that empty space leading down into the very roots of the mountain.

He checked the angles where the floor of the passage met the wall of the cave, and saw, that what appeared to be shadows in the flickering lantern light, were really extensions of the crack which opened down below his feet. Even if there were hand holds to aid his climb, there was still no way to get to Namar’s side of the rent in the earth. It was hopeless.

Throughout this investigation, which narrowed his options with every new bit of new information, he and Spock kept up an echoing dialogue through the hole in the wall. As the possibilities dwindled, their exchanges came farther and farther apart.

"It’s no use, Spock," Kirk said finally. "There’s nothing I can do from this side. You’ll have to send for help. Get some heavy earth-moving equipment to break us out."

"Impossible, Captain," came Spock’s reply. "There is no way we could get such equipment to our location."

There was a sound of movement, and the light from the opening flickered on and off. Doranix’s voice now came across the chasm to Kirk. "We can’t afford the time, Kirkix! If we go back to the palace for help, our greater plan to end the Way of Danix will be in jeopardy. They’ll know where I have hidden Namar. They are probably already looking for us. We can’t risk going for help!"

"Doranix," Kirk answered, "I know what you’re saying. I am as anxious to help you carry out your plan as you are. But we’ve spent the last half hour ruling out possibilities. Namar can’t get to you and I can’t get to her. What do you expect me to do?"


It took a while before Kirk could even summon his voice to answer. He was utterly stunned by the impossibility of the suggestion. Finally, he simply repeated, "Jump?" with all the irony he could muster in a voice already getting tired from so much shouting.

Again, the daylight coming through the hole wavered.

Now it was Spock’s voice again, "Captain, do I understand you correctly that Namar is too far below us for her to reach us, or us her?

"Yes," Kirk answered, wondering where Spock was going with this line of questioning.

"But if you could reach her, you could probably boost her up on your shoulders far enough for one of us to reach through and pull her up the rest of the way?" Spock suggested.

Kirk gauged the distance with his eyes, and answered cautiously, "Well, I suppose..."

"And I know you to have physical strength greater than Namar’s. Do you think you would have any success moving the fallen rock formations into a position where you would be able to reach us by climbing on them after you helped Namar to escape?"

Again, Kirk assessed the situation as critically as he could, given that Spock was asking him to hypothesize based on an impossible premise. There was a fallen column that looked like he might be able to move it. If he were able to get one end up on one of the boulders he just might...He played out the primitive engineering in his head, and finally answered. "Yes, I think so, Spock, but..."

Spock cut him off, decisively, "Then you must jump, Captain. It is the only logical thing for you to do."

James T. Kirk was no coward, but he wasn’t stupid, either. "Spock, it’s at least eight meters down from here, with a hole in between that goes all the way to hell if I miss the far ledge. Even assuming I made it to the other side, I’d be smashed to a pulp...or worse. Either way, I wouldn’t be much help to Namar."

"Under ordinary circumstances, Captain, you would be correct. But, I remind you that, as a result of your experiences since we came to Doria, you will be able to make that leap with no injury to yourself, and you will then be in a position to assist Namar and then to aid Doranix in his campaign to end the very effect which now empowers you."

It took a minute for Kirk to assimilate what Spock was trying to tell him. And then it hit him, like a blow to the gut. No, he would not be hurt. Could not be hurt. But McCoy could. The doctor could be hurt or even killed. And would most certainly be if Kirk did this terrible thing.

Loophole...there has to be a loophole. "How do we know the...the connection is still there?" he asked.

Doranix answered. "The bond is for life, Kirkix."

" broke it for Namar," Kirk countered. "How do we know it still... exists between McCoy and me? After all, we’re not Dorians. We’re different from you," Kirk tried a logical sidestep.

"We have seen the doctor," Spock said.

"They finally caught up to you? Is he with you? Is he all right?" Kirk asked anxiously.

"We sent him back to the palace to try to throw them off our trail," Doranix answered.

"And is he all right?" Kirk persisted.

"His hands were torn and bleeding." Spock paused. "As if he had been a rough surface, like rock." The Vulcan let his statement speak for itself.

Kirk’s heart lurched. He had done that to McCoy by his thoughtless actions. And now he was being asked to do worse. Much worse.

When Kirk didn’t answer, Spock repeated, "The only logical option is to jump, Captain. You will be uninjured and able to help Namar so that we can all help Doranix to end this thing."

"Good God, Spock! Don’t you understand that’s an even better reason not to...take the risk? McCoy could be...killed!" Kirk insisted, his voice hoarse with more than just the effects of continued shouting.

"The probabilities weigh in favor of his survival, Jim," Spock answered.

Under his breath, Kirk said, "How can you stand out there and calculate the probabilities..." But he realized, of course, that calculating the probabilities was something he had come to rely upon his first officer for. Especially since Spock was seldom, if ever, wrong.

A movement below him caught his eye. Namar had been silently observing this argument about her fate without so much as a word of comment. But now, Kirk noticed her crouching over one of the lamps, fiddling with it to no avail as it sputtered out. Instantly, the light level in the cavern dimmed. The ray of sunshine from the hole where Spock waited seemed brighter now, by contrast.

"But I can’t just put him at this kind of risk without any warning. He’s alone out there. He’s..." Kirk trailed off, barely believing that he had begun to admit to himself the possibility of doing such a dreadful thing.

"He’s with Sulu and Uhura, and he’s back at the palace by now, near his own medical equipment," Spock countered.

"His equipment doesn’t work here." Kirk was grasping at straws now.

"Even his simplest instruments are better than anything the Dorians have," Spock reminded him.

Kirk heard a grunt of effort, and a muttered conversation outside. Then a spatter of small stones rained down from the hole to the cavern floor. The opening in the wall widened.

"But...but Sulu and Uhura won’t know how to..."

Another rattle of stones fell from the widening gap. One of them smashed into the lantern directly below it. There was a brief flare as the spilled lamp oil was consumed all at once by the flames. Then it went out.

A second later, another one of the lanterns guttered, flared—blackening its glass chimney, and then expired.

"Kirkix?" Namar asked tentatively.

"We can get you out now," Spock assured him. "The hole is almost of sufficient size." Hands and elbows were visible now, working around the edges, seeking more loose matter that could be dislodged.

The shower of stones continued now at a steady pace. The incessant rattle irritated Kirk, making it harder for him to concentrate on the decision he must make. How could he just make such a choice without even warning the doctor, much less asking his permission? How could Spock and Doranix even assume that he...

The noise of falling stones and gravel grew louder. "Damn it," Kirk, thought to himself. "Stop for a minute and let me think!"

Something cold sifted down the back of his neck. He jerked his head around to see a thin, but continuous stream of dust pouring down from the stone ceiling above his head. Then he realized that at least part of the pattering gravel he was hearing was coming from behind him. It almost looked like the leading edge of a moving curtain coming toward him, or a solid waterfall, seen from edge-on. He glanced up to see a widening crack in the ceiling. It started well behind him, but was moving forward with determination.

Then, a thunderous boom echoed from the depths of the tunnel through which he had come, belching out a rolling cloud of dust toward where he stood.

"Jim!" Spock’s voice sounded worried, even for a Vulcan. And Kirk knew his concern was justified. No more choices. He had to make the leap.

"Spock! I’m com..." The roar of falling rock was so loud now that even Kirk himself couldn’t hear the end of his own sentence.

He could see Namar screaming, but the thunder of the mountain made it a soundless pantomime.

He looked down. The phrase "leap of faith" flashed through his mind as he teetered on the brink. But no, that was wrong. This was no leap of faith. This was purely a leap of despair.

Ducking under the pebbles salting down upon his head, he braved a few steps backward to get a running start. Once he stepped off, he knew, he still had to clear the black chasm that yawned at the base of the new-made cliff within the mountain.

As if in response to his black thoughts, the last of the lanterns quietly dimmed and went out. They were plunged into cave-darkness, the only source of light coming from a hole high on the opposite wall of the cavern.

A fist-sized rock bounced off his shoulder. It threw him off balance but, he realized with anguish, it didn’t hurt.

No time now. No time for thought...or regrets. This was what he had to do. And, he told himself, it was not just for himself.

Kirk fixed his eyes on the sunlit opening outlined by the unforgiving blackness of this literal hell hole. Another thump of a rock bouncing against his heels urged him on. He ran forward, unable to see even where the pathway ended in empty air.


A scream of anguish rent the air of the royal palace, echoing, even after it came to an abrupt end. 


Lieutenant Commander Sulu startled upright in his bed. In the split second before the sound of the scream brought him to full consciousness, his dreaming mind replayed for him a scene from a Klingon attack a few months before near Eta Scorpii VI. There had been plenty of screaming then, and Sulu was momentarily disoriented when he opened his eyes, expecting to see a bridge in flames and chaos. Instead, he was surrounded by his drapery hung guest quarters in the royal palace of Doria. Afternoon sunlight streamed in around the edges of the curtained windows, edging them with gold.

That he should be in bed asleep in broad daylight further confused him. Then he remembered that he and Uhura and the doctor had been up all night, chasing around the Dorian countryside. After they came back to the palace and Uhura patched up the doctor, they had all decided to stay out of the way of the Dorians and catch up on a little sleep while they had the chance.

Sulu remembered that he and Uhura had argued. He wanted to go back to the mountains where Spock and Doranix were trying to find the captain.

Uhura said she was worried about Kirk, too, but that Spock had ordered them back to the palace to keep the Dorians off the scent of the errant heir. Sulu had chafed at Uhura’s admonition that "they also serve who only stand and wait." He had to agree that McCoy’s relatively minor injuries gave them positive assurance that Kirk was alive and in one only slightly tattered piece. But he would still rather been have part of the rescue effort than part of the decoy party. What if Kirk was uninjured, but trapped deep inside the mountain? What if they needed his help to reach the captain?

With all his preference for being up and doing, he was surprised how quickly sleep came when his head hit the curving arm of the sleeping couch.

Now, he blinked a couple of times, and shook his head, trying to clear away the remaining flame-edged mists of his flashback-dream. He wasn’t clear whether the scream he thought he heard had been inside the dream or outside.

Before he could arrive at a conclusion, the question was answered for him as another paralyzing scream went up. This one was higher pitched. And it had his name at the end.


He found himself standing in the doorway, without any memory of his feet hitting the floor. Where had Uhura’s scream come from? Her room was to the left. McCoy’s to the right. Something told him without thinking that he was being summoned to the more distant corridor where the honored ones were quartered. He dashed for McCoy’s room.

The doorway was surrounded by a turbaned group. The blind, the halt, the aged. The ones who bore the wear and tear of their masters. They milled around the doorway, looking sympathetic but helpless. Sulu elbowed them aside, thinking only of the doctor.

Once past the curious crowd, he stopped dead still inside the doorway. Doctor McCoy was on the floor beside his sleeping couch. However, what had happened to him was not the result of a fall out of bed. As a matter of fact, from the evidence of the bloody tangle of sheets still draped across the divan, the injuries had probably happened to him in his sleep. The fact that he was now on the floor was the likely result of his trying to either get up, or escape what was befalling him.

One stockinged foot bent at an odd angle where it extended from his right pant leg. There was blood, dark against the darker black of his trousers soaking through the fabric near his knee. His bare arm on the same side was raked along its whole length, with several deep cuts near the shoulder. His nose was smashed and his right eye purpled shut. More blood ran from a gash on his head. As Sulu watched, the thick white mittens of bandage encasing both of the doctor’s hands oozed from white to pink to scarlet as blood soaked into them from the inside.

Uhura was kneeling over him. Her hands fluttering near but not quite touching first one dreadful injury and then another. She looked up at Sulu, her face wet with crying. "Help me! For God’s sake, help me!"

Her words broke the shocked freeze frame that had held him standing just inside the door, and he fell to his knees beside the doctor, facing Uhura across his motionless body.

"What should we do? I don’t know how to help him—what to do first."

Sulu could tell that she was nearing the edge of shock herself. He didn’t feel much better, but they had to put McCoy ahead of their own panic.

"Should we try to get him back up on the bed?" he asked.

Again, her hands hovered nervously over the doctor, not quite sure what it was safe to touch him. "I don’t know. What if we hurt him more by moving him?"

Sulu had already got one hand wedged under the doctor’s knees, and the other was inching its way beneath his shoulder. Her question stopped him, and he slowly eased his hands back out from under McCoy, trying not to move anything. "You’re right. There may be...other things we don’t know about."

"Oh my God, Sulu, what are we going to do?" Uhura rocked back and forth on her knees, with her arms wrapped around herself as if she was freezing.

"May we help you?" a voice said from the doorway.

Sulu looked up. The blind man and an older woman had separated themselves from the group at the door and stepped inside. The voice belonged to the man, who was lightly holding the arm of the turbaned woman.

"Help?" Uhura said blankly, looking up at them without comprehension.

"We have some experience in these matters. Nothing like the skill of your Makkoi, but we have been Nafaris for a long time," the woman said.

The blind man nodded in agreement. "Over the years, we have seen much." He smiled slightly at the contradiction between his words and his disability. "We have learned a few things about caring for each other when we are called by the Way."

At first, Sulu had to stop and think about the odd construction of the man’s statement. Then he realized that to be "called by the Way," was a delicate euphemism for the brutal results of trading ones body for "honor."

"Here, let us help you," the woman stepped forward toward their stricken visitor, the man moving forward in step with her.

"Help?" Uhura repeated with skepticism as the pair knelt beside the doctor. Sulu moved out of the way to give them room.

"Narann sees more with his hands than I do with my eyes," the woman explained. "He will tell me what to do, and I shall do what I can to ease your friend’s pain. He is your friend, isn’t he?" she said, as if making some leap of understanding that recognized friendship as much more to be sought after than "honor."

Uhura nodded mutely.

The blind man who was called Narann reached out a hand. Uhura covered it with hers and led his fingers to the center of McCoy’s chest.

He held his hand there for a few moments, frowning in concentration. "It is bad, but his heart maintains a steady beat, although rapid."

Then Narann began to move his hand away from McCoy’s heart, feeling in a widening spiral for damage and injury. He ignored the blood that soon covered his hands with crimson, losing its brightness and becoming sticky as it cooled there. His face showed alternating signs of concern or relief, although most often the former, as he felt and probed at McCoy’s wounds and injuries.

When he reached the damaged right shoulder, he explored the area extensively with his blunt, strong fingers. Then looked up in the general direction of the woman and said, "Hold him."

They must have been through this before, Sulu thought, as he watched her rise and circle around to McCoy’s opposite side. She knelt again and using the weight of her whole torso for ballast, kept the unconscious man immobile while her blind partner grasped McCoy’s bloody upper arm and gave it a sharp yank.

McCoy moaned through his unconsciousness, and Uhura started forward in protest, but Sulu stayed her with a gesture.

As if sensing Uhura’s concern, the blind man explained, "Dislocated. It is better now." Then turning to his helper, "Clean these wounds now. Have a care to close the deeper cuts tightly."

She nodded and went to fetch water and towels. When she came back and settled herself beside McCoy’s shredded arm, Uhura moved to lend a hand where she could.

The blind man moved out of their way and worked his way down McCoy’s legs. He tore the trouser leg, and removed the sock while the women worked elsewhere. Sulu’s stomach flipped over when he saw the mangled mess of the doctor’s leg just above the ankle. While Narann examined it, he asked Uhura. "The bandages on his hands?"

"From an," she explained.

"I suspect there are new injuries. You will want to unwrap them when you have done with the other."

"How were his hands injured?" the older woman looked up from the bloodstained towel in her hands to make conversation with Uhura.

"He..." She looked up at Sulu and shrugged. He guessed she figured there was no point in hiding the truth from these people. "The captain was trying to move some rocks. There was a rock slide or a cave-in. He didn’t realize..." She trailed off, concentrating on her work.

"From the look of him," the blind man ventured, "the rocks must have gained the ascendancy over his captain."

The realization struck both Sulu and Uhura at the same time. The captain! Even after watching McCoy’s hands being raked open before their eyes, neither of them had grown accustomed to the altered relationship of cause and effect on this world.

"My God! Has the captain been killed?" Uhura stared around wildly, begging for the universe to answer.

The turbaned woman shook her head, and put a calming hand on Uhura’s arm, where it left a red handprint. "This one lives."

Sulu understood the unstated corollary that if one lived, the other did, too. Even so, what must have happened to Kirk for McCoy to end up like this? "The captain must be..." he said aloud.

"Your captain is unharmed," the woman reminded him.

"But something terrible’s happened. Even if he’s not hurt. From the look of McCoy the whole damn mountain might have fallen in on him! I’ve got to go back. I don’t care who follows me...what they find out...I’ve got to try and help him!" He was already on his feet, heading for the door.

"Sulu! Wait!" Uhura called. He turned. He could see her dilemma on her face. The captain needed her. The doctor needed her, too.

"Stay here," he said. Then, knowing inaction was as hard for her as it was for him, he added, "Maybe you can help throw them off the scent. Although once they find out about...this..." His gesture took in the whole bloody scene. "...they’re bound to know something’s up.

"Do what you can, Penda, I’ve got to go help Mister Spock..." He stopped in mid-sentence. Mister Spock. In spite of—because of—the terrible injuries to Doctor McCoy, they had some assurance that the captain was alive, whatever other dire straits he might be in. But the first officer had not participated in the ritual. He had been an observer, as Sulu and Uhura had been. If he was hurt there was no one who could take those injuries away from him. Both he and Kirk could be trapped, each unable to help the other. He had to get back to the mountain, and he had to go now.

Sulu bolted from the room, without another word.


"I regret that I can not help you, Captain," Spock called through the opening.

"It’s all right, Spock. I’ve almost got it...I think." Kirk grunted with the effort and the huge column of rock moved another inch. Piling up enough of the fallen formations to give himself something to climb up on to reach the opening was hard, heavy work, made infinitely more difficult by the fact that he was doing it in the dark. And it was not in Spock’s nature to keep up a running stream of encouraging conversation.

At least the darkness wasn’t quite complete. The light coming in from the hole in the wall diffused enough for him to make out shades of black which defined the larger objects around him. As long as he didn’t look straight at the light, it was better. When he looked directly at the source long enough for his eyes to adjust to it, everything else became darker by comparison; the way it had been when he jumped.

In the darkness and silence, while his body strained against the weight of the rocks, his mind tortured him with speculation about what that jump had cost McCoy.

As the sun moved through the afternoon, the beam of light it shed into the cave became more focused. Slowly measuring his progress, it crawled up the face of the new-made cliff where the two sides of the cavern floor had separated and slid away from each other. By now, it revealed the ledge where he had stood...from which he had leaped. The lip of the ledge had broken off and tumbled into the abyss below. The rest of the path was now a mound of fallen rock and rubble that nearly filled the passageway. He reasoned with himself that hesitation could have produced even worse injury than what he had done instead.

He recognized, too, that it was the only way he could have helped Namar. Once he reached her, it had been relatively easy to boost her up on his shoulders so that she could touch the hands that waited to pull her up the rest of the way. A few more minutes now, and he would be able to reach the outside, too.

The first thing he wanted to do was to find McCoy and beg his forgiveness. Captain or no captain...Doranix’ plan, Namar’s danger, and the needs of the whole damn Dorian society aside... he had no right to do what he had done to the doctor.

Once again, he ran the moment over in his mind. The moment of free-fall in the dark had been almost dreamlike, as if it was being played out in slow motion. With nothing to see around him, the sensation was almost like weightlessness. He had been unprepared when his feet impacted the ground, because he had no way to gauge where it was. His his foot...he was sure it was just the one foot that took the first impact. It was harder to tell when the experience was simply one of hard contact but not of pain. Without pain on impact there was less about the second-to-second experience of his landing to imprint it on his memory. Without lingering soreness, there were fewer clues to help him reconstruct what had happened.

He had landed on one foot, then. He was reasonably sure it was his right. But it didn’t support him. As a matter of fact, it gave way oddly, keeping him from gaining any sense of balance at first. He was prepared to tuck and roll when he landed, knowing that was the best way to get away from the chasm edge and to minimize injury. He pulled into that protective ball as the support of his foot gave way, but he was late, his timing was off. He recognized it instantly as he fell heavily on his right hip. Instead of rolling he felt himself skidding. Completely disoriented in the dark, he had envisioned himself sliding down into the open chasm.

His arm shot out, reaching for anything he could grab to halt his motion. His hand touched the rough surface of a huge boulder, and he threw his other arm around it, the lower half of his body slewing around with the motion and his face bashing into its unseen surface as he flipped over on his belly and came to a stop.

He lay still for a few seconds, his arms wrapped around the boulder, and his face resting against its hard surface, getting his breath back, taking stock and getting his bearings. The first couple of breaths had been hard to pull, but got easier as his heartbeat slowed from a full gallop to a brisk trot. He could feel it in his chest, pounding against the stone beneath him.

Finally, he looked up. The light still streamed from the hole in the wall, now above instead of across from him. He also realized that Namar was beside him already, crouched down to peer into his eyes.

"He’s all right!" she announced to Spock and Doranix, and Kirk realized that he had been hearing their voices for some time, now.




He ran a mental scanner down the length of his body, and decided that he was, as Namar had pronounced him, "all right." He’d better make answer for himself and get on with the rescue. They weren’t out of the woods...well, caves...yet.

He pulled his knees up and pushed off with his arms. At first one arm, his right, didn’t seem to respond to commands. He pushed himself upright with the other, and by the time he had regained his feet his right arm seemed to be working again. He shook it once to assure himself of its restored mobility, stretched his shoulders and prepared to get down to the business at hand.

Again, he gauged the distances between their heads and the light source high on the wall. Somehow it looked farther away from this perspective than it had when he was standing nearly opposite it on the no-longer-existent lip of the cliff. "Spock!" he called. "If I get her up on my shoulders, how much help can you give me from up there?"

"I will lower myself as far as I can through the opening," Doranix answered. "My reach ought to extend at least half my height into the cave toward Namar."

"Spock?" Kirk asked for confirmation.

"Doranix has estimated correctly; we should be able to offer you about one point three meters, of extended reach, Captain. However, I will be the one coming through the opening to get her," Spock replied.

Kirk heard some hurried conversation taking place up above. The overheard fragment—" allied....should be the one..."—from Doranix was answered by Spock’s voice—"...greater physical strength...if you desire the best possible chance for your child..."

"Let me know when you two have finished playing ‘mine’s bigger than yours,’ so we can get on with this rescue, please," Kirk called up to them.

Another couple of muted exchanges later, and Spock’s silhouette appeared at the opening. He inched forward until the whole top half of him was hanging forward into the cave. He reached out his arms. "Ready, Captain."

Kirk turned to Namar. "Ready?"

She nodded, but seemed unsure of how to begin. Kirk crouched and had her go around behind him and climb onto his shoulders.

"Shall I stand now?" she asked.

"Wait until I get standing up myself," he oofed, suiting action to words. He planted his feet firmly, and held up his hands for her to steady herself on. "Okay, now, see if you can get your feet up on my shoulders....easy foot...that’s foot at a time." He got kicked about the ears more than once in the process, and felt the oddness of the sensation that her shoe heels were digging painlessly into his shoulders. It was all he could do to keep her steady and prevent her falling while she scrambled around seeking stable footing. But finally, she seemed to be in position. He let go of her hands as she straightened up, teetering only for a second. He felt her evenly distributed weight resting solidly on his shoulders, and reached his hands up to hang on to her ankles for added support.

"How does it look from up there, Spock?" he asked, not daring to move his head and look for himself.

"Good, Captain," came the Vulcan’s steady voice. "Just a few more inches."

"I haven’t got a few more inches to give you, Spock! This is as good as it gets! Can’t you come any closer?"

"Not without significantly reducing the leverage needed to pull her up the rest of the way."

"What do you want me to do? Stand on tippy-toe?" Kirk asked, at his wit’s end.

"That would help, Captain," Spock said impassively.

"Wait...I..." Kirk had one last inspiration. "Namar. I’m going to let go of your ankles. One foot at a time now, I want to try to put my hands under your feet. Between your feet and my shoulders." Elbows out, he wedged first one hand, then the other under her feet, so that she was now standing on his hands.

"Spock, don’t think I’m going to get more than one shot at this, so be ready."

"Ready, Captain."

Taking a deep breath, and bracing himself, Kirk breathed a silent prayer that his muscles would allow him to do this. "Reach up, Namar. Reach for Spock’s hands. I’m going to try to lift..."

He gritted his teeth and began to push upward. Sweat broke out on his forehead and ran cold down his back. He could feel his muscles begin to tremble, but finally he began to break the inertia and he got his hands above the level of his ears. After the soles of her feet passed the top of his head, it began to get easier, then harder again as his arms reached toward, but had not yet quite attained their full extension.

Then his elbows locked and at the same time the weight lifted. He was certain that she had lost her balance and in a split second would fall past him to the rocky floor of the cave. However, the breathless moment passed when Spock’s voice confirmed: "I have her, Captain," and he realized that he had transferred his charge to his first officer’s keeping.

He shifted his hands to grasp Namar’s ankles again, and give her the final boost upward to supporting Spock’s efforts for as long as he was able.

He watched while Spock pulled her up, securing his hold on her forearms while she held his. Then Spock began to inch backwards, assisted, Kirk supposed, by Doranix on the outside. Soon Spock was more outside the hole than in, and Namar was close enough for Doranix’ arms to reach in and help Spock pull her the rest of the way to safety.

That had been well over an hour ago. As soon as Kirk got his breath back, he had started to prepare for his own escape. He put his back to a fair sized boulder nearest the position he needed, and inched it into place. The stone scraped loudly in protest, and it took several minutes of tremendous effort for each centimeter of gain, but finally he had it where he needed it to be.

The darkness was deepest directly below the opening in the wall, and that was precisely where he had to work in order to get himself out. As much by feel as vision, Kirk located the thick, unshattered column of stalactite he had sized up before making his jump.

Bit by bit he half rolled, half dragged it near the large rock he had positioned. Using an assortment of smaller bits to ramp up one end, he painstakingly raised one end of the long, calcified formation to rest on the boulder. Then, putting his back into it, he eased the end which still rested on the floor closer and closer to the huge rock, which had the reciprocal effect of raising the high end farther and farther into the air.

The work was slow. Kirk worked carefully, ever mindful of the greater damage he could do to McCoy by allowing the column to roll sideways or slip back down and crack into a leg or smash a foot. He was learning by now to exercise greater care on McCoy’s behalf than he normally would if it were only for his own sake. Recklessness might be acceptable if only his own hide was at risk, but not now. Not the way it was between himself and McCoy. So he worked with care, even though he recognized the irony of guarding against a stubbed toe when he had already in virtual fact hurled McCoy’s unsuspecting body off a ten meter cliff.

The thought made him pause, to finger for the hundredth time the rents and shreds in his uniform. While he only wore the tattered cloth, McCoy must have sustained injuries beneath every tear, and probably many more that wouldn’t show on the uniform. He stood paralyzed for a moment by the horror of it all. He bit his lip, releasing it suddenly when he realized that the sobering pain he had intended to inflict did not come. Then he steeled himself for another mighty shove at the precariously balanced column.

It slid a little ways, then stopped. He took a breath and shoved again. Still it was immovable. Good. He hoped that meant that the far end had made contact with the rock wall below the opening. He didn’t want the thing to teeter totter on the fulcrum made by the boulder when he tried to climb it. Then, satisfied that it was securely butted up against the solid wall, he began to search for something else heavy to brace the lower end. Even if it didn’t tip, he didn’t want it to backslide once he trusted his weight to it.

Spock’s voice called down his regret at his inability to be of assistance, and Kirk answered, "It’s all right, Spock. I’ve almost got it...I think."

Slowly and carefully, Kirk tested his weight on the inclined ramp he had made of the stalactite. The angle was steep enough now that he had to shinny up its length. There was no question of actually walking up it. Aside from the angle being too steep, it was round and smooth surfaced and more than likely to throw him off. So he laid the length of his body along the shaft, wrapped his arms and legs around it and began hauling himself up and away from the cave floor.

As he crawled into the darkest space, directly below the beam of slanting light, it was comforting to have his whole body in contact with the natural stone column. The darkness was so deep that Kirk was surprised when, as he slid his hand forward to find his next grip on the cylindrical stone, his knuckles encountered the cave wall. He slid the rest of his body as far forward as he could, arrayed his limbs to give him the most stable position possible and then, finally, looked up.

To his dismay, the opening in the wall was still far above his head. It had been hard to estimate, and impossible to see, how far up the wall the higher end of his stalactite-ramp would touch the solid rock beneath the opening--but he had thought, or hoped, that it would be much closer than it now proved to be.

"Spock! I don’t think I can reach you. I’m at the top of the...the column...and even if I stand up..." Kirk knew that the very idea of standing up was very near the wrong side of the line between possible and impossible. The stalactite was narrower at this end, round and smooth. The cave wall sloped slightly inward, back toward him. And it was pitch dark.

Nevertheless, he had to try. He inched his knees closer to his elbows, hunching his back. Then he reached one hand unsteadily off the column, and toward the rock wall. He slipped and barely avoided swinging around to the underside of the column, where he might have hung like a helpless sloth. Hanging on for all he was worth, Kirk averted the worst, but still, he was no closer to reaching the outside of the mountain.

"Captain? Are you all right in there?" Spock asked, hearing the scuffling sounds from within.

Kirk took a breath to steady his voice. "All right. But no closer to getting out. I’m too far from the opening, and I can’t stand up to get the extra reach. There’s nothing to hang on to...and the footing’s too..."

The light was blocked, as Spock pushed his way into the hole. "Captain, I am holding my shirt toward you. If you can catch hold of the sleeve, it may give you the balance you need to straighten up. Can you find it?"

Carefully maintaining his hold with his feet, knees, and one arm, Kirk reached out the other hand into the darkness above him. He tested the air. First in a methodical pattern, then waving his arm in ever widening circles.

"It’s no use, Spock! It must not be long enough! I can’t reach it!" Kirk gritted his teeth in frustration. So near and yet so far!

He heard sounds from above, as if Spock was shifting his position. At the same time, his fingers brushed something that wasn’t rock. He lost it again, and spent another anxious moment trying to feel for the same shoulder wrenching position in which he had first felt fabric. Then, there it was again. He pinched the edge of the sleeve between two fingers so as not to lose it again.

"Can you give me any more, Spock?"

Again the sound of movement, and a fine spray of dirt spattered in his face. He resisted the urge to shake his head to clear it from his eyes, and concentrated all his effort on improving his grasp of the uniform sleeve. This time, he was able to get a whole handful of the fabric, the gold braid of the cuff stiff under his thumb. He tested it against his weight.

"Got a good grip on it?" he called to Spock.

"I will not let you fall," Spock said with a confidence Kirk hoped was justified.

Slowly, bit by bit, Kirk eased forward toward the top of his stone incline. Eventually, he was able to let loose of the rock with his other hand, and make a flying grab for the dangling lifeline of Starfleet fabric. With both hands now clinging to Spock’s tunic, he was quickly able to pull himself up, hand over hand, to an upright position, straddling the column. Then he realized that there was no way to bring his feet up under him from such a pose, and had to back up a couple of hand-holds in order to get enough slack to get both legs together and kneel on the stone shaft. Then he had to release his hold with one hand while he braced himself against the rock to situate first one boot, then the other on the narrow end of the column.

True to his word, Spock held the makeshift rope steady and taut, giving Kirk the balance he needed for these midnight-dark gymnastics.

As soon as his feet were steady on the column, his boot heels hooked around the curving surface, he grabbed for the shirt with the hand he had been using to support himself, and with one long pull, he was standing upright.

He reached upward for a new handhold and nearly lost his advantage, when he heard a crack. Suddenly, his right boot was suspended over empty air. He hung on to the shirt fabric for dear life, shifting his weight to the other foot, and trying to bear as much weight as possible on his arms.

He inched one hand higher up the lifeline, straining upward, every muscle tense. Then, in the flash of a second, he felt his remaining footing give way. His senses couldn’t discriminate whether he first heard or felt the crack as the column snapped and fell away. At the same moment, something solid impacted his wrist. Something warm, and hard, gripped his forearm like a vise, and took his weight, while the Starfleet shirt went slack in his other hand and fell past him to the dark cave floor below.

"I have you, Captain," Spock said, reassuring him. "Give me your other hand."

Kirk reached up and felt his left hand held in a similar grip. He returned the grip, hanging on to Spock’s forearms with all his strength. Beyond that there was nothing he could do to help himself. He dangled from Spock’s hands in the empty darkness, chest and arm muscles protesting against gravity. Then he felt his body begin to sway. Above him, Spock was inching his way backward, onto the solid ground on the outside of the mountain, each centimeter gained on the outside, pulled Kirk closer to freedom. Each movement on the outside caused equal and opposite motion of the man hanging like a pendulum from his first officer’s hands. The light shifted and wavered as Spock snaked his body backwards through the hole.

Then, just as he had done when they brought Namar out, Doranix’s arms reached through the opening beside Spock’s. Doranix took Kirk’s left hand with both of his, while Spock shifted both of his hands to haul against Kirk’s right arm. In less than a minute, Kirk was able to assist in his own rescue, grabbing for hand holds on the outer side of the opening, while his rescuers pulled at his belt, then his knees, until the last boot tip emerged into the light.


Sulu cleared the ridge and looked across the bleak crest of the mountain searching for the sounds of grunting and scuffling he heard. He proceeded hesitantly, trying to follow the sounds to their source, but he was confused by the wind and the odd feeling that the noises were coming from everywhere and no where at once. His feet found the edge of a sheer cliff, and he started to turn away, seeking a more probable direction. Suddenly, a renewed burst of the scuffling sounds made him look down—to see what appeared to be a three-way wrestling match between the captain, his shirtless first officer and the Dorian prince, with a blonde woman looking on. On second glance, it looked like Kirk was materializing an inch at a time from the solid cliff face below.

It took only a second or two for Sulu to readjust his assumptions, and get at least the gist of the action. While he watched, Kirk was pulled free of whatever had obscured his lower body, and all three men collapsed, panting, to the ground.

So, he had found them. But how did they get down there in the first place? "Ho! Mister Spock!" he called, waving his arms to help them find the source of his voice.

The Vulcan looked up, nudged the captain, and pointed. "Sulu!" Kirk acknowledged, raising a tired hand in greeting.

"How...?" Sulu began. Then he saw Spock point a finger toward a steep, skittery slope off to the side which must have been, Sulu realized, their pathway to the lower ledge.

Sulu started toward it at a trot, but Spock’s voice stopped him. "Don’t come down. We need to get back up. You’ll be more help up there."

Although he understood the logic of Spock’s admonition, Sulu still seethed with the desire to be more immediately useful—and to get a look first hand at what was going on below. Why had they descended the perilous way down to that shelf? What had happened to the captain?

"Spock!" he called. "Is the captain all..." he started to ask after the captain’s well being, but stopped mid sentence. Of course, the captain was all right. No matter what calamity befell him, he was practically invulnerable. Any injury he might suffer was instantly transferred to the body of the ship’s surgeon. That was, after all, why Sulu had come here in the first place—the sight of the doctor’s mangled frame. The scene flashed on him again as he remembered the twisted leg, the pasty, unconscious face, and the blood. So much blood.

The best he could do now, Sulu recognized, was exactly what Spock suggested: remain where he could be the most help to get everyone safely back up the path—especially the captain—for McCoy’s sake as much, or even more, than his own.

Kirk got his wind back surprising quickly, after all he had been through, Sulu thought. He was an asset to the party, now, rather than a victim to be rescued. They traversed the giant’s steps and the treacherous shale-slippery incline to where Sulu waited to offer his help. By the time they reached the crest of the ridge from which they could look down on the Dorian side of the mountain, Kirk had subtly resumed the leadership of the party to himself.

Sulu hung back a few steps to marvel as that certain quality which made his captain a leader of men just naturally rose to the surface while the others, just as automatically, acknowledged his primacy. He grinned. Heaven only knew what made Kirk what he was, but Sulu was glad to serve under a man who knew how to lead.

The rest of the descent was easier, slowed only by the fact that it was getting dark. It was hard to see their footing by the time they caught sight of the dark-against-darker silhouette of the land car which Sulu had appropriated for his wild-hare chase to the site of the cave-in. It still stood where he had abandoned it in the middle of the road.

It was darker, still, when they ducked into the cave mouth where Doranix had left his vehicle out of sight of the road. He opened a storage compartment and pulled out a pair of torches. They used the lights to examine the entrance of the passage way which had once led to the heart of the mountain. Sulu shuddered when Doranix explained how narrowly he and Spock had missed being buried in the rubble which now blocked the passage solidly from ceiling to floor.

Their morbid curiosity satisfied, the party found a small chest of non-perishable rations which Doranix had hidden inside the mouth of the cave for Namar’s use, but had not yet been taken all the way down to her secret cavern. The five of them, Sulu, Kirk, Spock, Doranix and Namar, sat cross legged on the ground in the gathering gloom to share out the cracker-like squares and what Sulu assumed to be dried domestic fruits.

"So, what are we going to do now, Captain?" Sulu finally asked when everyone was seated, and the meal, such as it was, had been passed around.

Kirk was sitting next to him. Even in the flickering light of the massed torches, he could see the pain in the captain’s face. It took Kirk a long time to answer. When he did, his voice was low, speaking only to Sulu. "How... how Were you there? Did you...see?"

There was no question in Sulu’s mind that the "he" the captain referred to was the doctor. Sulu considered his answer.

What to say? What else but the truth. He looked away, then forced himself to meet Kirk’s eyes. "Bad, Captain. Very bad."

"But he’s alive?" Kirk sought to reassure himself.

Sulu’s lips formed the word, "barely," but before he could get it out, Doranix intervened, reminding them of the bitter irony of the Dorian Way. "If your Makkoi were dead, Kirkix, you would most certainly know it, as all of his most recent injuries would rebound on you. As long as you remain whole, you have the assurance..." There was a terrible sadness in his words. "...that you have not heaped quite enough abuse upon your Nafaris to kill him."

He stopped and put his arm protectively around Namar, and Sulu understood that in other circumstances she could have been in McCoy’s place. God, no wonder Doranix was willing to move heaven and earth to save her.

It was quiet for a long time around the little circle. Kirk chewed his lower lip and stared into the light of the torches. His chest rose and fell in a deep sigh. "How bad, Mister Sulu?"

"Pretty bad, sir."

The expression in Kirk’s eyes demanded a full report.

Sulu had seen that look before. He began the catalogue. "A broken leg, I think. A lot of cuts, some of them deep. A bad knock on the head. And his hands," Sulu remembered most of all watching the doctor’s already bandaged hands turning from white linen to soggy crimson rags as new injuries manifested beneath the thick coverings. "His hands..."

"And what was being done for him at the time you left to come here?" Spock asked, practically.

"The...some of the other...uh...honored ones heard his...heard the commotion. One of them, an old blind man, seemed to have some experience in at least basic first aid. I guess he’s tried to help out some of the others when..."

"Namar?" Doranix asked.

She nodded, shyly. "The Nafaris to the Urbanity. He sometimes tried to help when..."

Sulu saw her face darken with embarrassment. It was probably another one of their stupid taboos about not acknowledging outright the terrible things one half of their race did to the other.

"Is he any good, this self-made healer of yours? Does he know what he’s doing? Can he really help people recover from their injuries?" Kirk pushed.

Namar bit her lip in her reluctance to answer, "Sometimes." She looked up at Doranix. "It is important that a Nafaris lives to serve."

Doranix pulled her close and kissed her forehead in reassurance. But the look on his own face was stricken.

"Captain," Spock said, "you need only look at the others to see the extent of his skill. Bones are set, but heal crookedly. Wounds are closed, but leave deep scars. Many people appear to be in constant pain."

"To suffer pain brings honor to a Nafaris. It would be a dishonor to seek release from pain," Namar said, quietly, as if by rote in some twisted catechism.

"That settles it." Kirk squared his shoulders, his face grim. "Mister Sulu, you asked what we were going to do next. First and foremost, we’re going to get McCoy out of here. We’ll try to contact the ship one more time, and if we can’t get through to call for a transport, you and Uhura are going to take him back in the shuttle."

"But, Kirkix..." Doranix protested.

"Don’t worry, Doranix. I said we’d help you end this thing, and we will. But I’m not leaving a member of my crew to the primitive ministrations of a blind man who’s been taught that it’s wrong to alleviate suffering. He’s going back to my ship where they can put him back together properly." He lowered his voice, "Where I can’t do him any more harm." He looked across the circle at the Urbanity’s son. "I can’t be of any use to you, Doranix, if I have to worry about every step I take and what I might be doing to him."

"Captain," Spock reminded him softly, "we don’t know how permanent or how long range the effects of the stone and the ritual may be."

Kirk looked at him as if he had been struck.

Sulu shuddered—was there no way they could escape the perverse effects of this place?

"At least, Captain, you will be able to act with the assurance that anything that may befall Doctor McCoy once he is back on the ship, will be dealt with by a trained medical staff who have the best possible equipment available to them. They will be able to repair almost anything that could happen to him."

Sulu noticed that Spock had said "almost." Even in the most earnest attempt to console, the Vulcan could not promise anything more than the precise truth. There were always things that could not be fixed, injuries too terrible, diseases too arcane. But many deaths from injuries were more a matter of not getting to the victim in time. If someone had bled out, or had massive system failure, or total destruction of vital organs, there wasn’t anything a med team could do if they arrived too late. However, he reasoned, McCoy’s chances of surviving even massive trauma were multiplied a hundred-fold if he was already in Sickbay and under close observation by Doctor Chapel at the moment they happened.

He watched the captain’s face. Sulu couldn’t be sure whether the same reasoning was spooling out in his mind, or if he was just building up a wall of denial around the word "almost" so that it wouldn’t bind him to indecision with its implications.

At last, Kirk stood up, brushing the dirt from his pant legs. "Mister Spock and I went out on our own before dawn this morning astronomical readings from the perspective of this planet. Doranix offered to come with us as guide. We needed to get away from the city lights to improve visibility. So we came here, to the mountains. There was a mishap, which caused Doctor McCoy’s injuries. Mister Sulu came after us to try to help. We are going back now, with tales of our adventures."

Recognizing that Kirk was describing for them the alibi they would adopt for their day-long absence, he and the first officer nodded in agreement.

"Namar," Kirk continued gently, addressing her rather than Doranix. She’s a pretty brave woman, Sulu thought, and more likely to accept her role than Doranix would have been to agree to it. "Will you be all right here...alone for a few more hours? You won’t have the...comforts of your hide-away, but you can shelter in the car, and there’s more food left," Kirk gestured to the box they had passed around. It was at least a quarter full after four hungry people had eaten their fill.

"It won’t be for more than a day at the most..." Kirk went on.

Namar pulled away from Doranix’ shoulder and held herself upright, although she kept his arm around her. "I will be just fine, Kirkix. The price of freedom from the Way is being able to take care of oneself."

"Your understanding is commendable," Spock said. "It is to be hoped that all of your people exchange one burden for the other so willingly."

"Why wouldn’t they, Mister Spock?" Sulu asked. "They suffer so terribly the way things are."

"And in the future Doranix hopes to create, they will suffer the need to provide for themselves, to work, to find their own roofs to cover them, their own food for their tables, and whatever honor they may find will have to be earned by their own courage or wisdom or labor. And yet, disease and injury and age will still befall them, although it will not be multiplied by the burdens of their masters. There may be some who will not wish to give up a life of being waited on and cared for, no matter how high the price has been."

At first, Sulu could not imagine how anyone, anywhere, would be willing to exchange their bodies for security and the hollow trappings of lip-service "honor." Then, against his will, examples began to bubble up through his brain and burst unpleasantly on his memory. Spock was right. People did the same all the time in little ways, giving up a sliver here, a sliver there, never realizing that in exchange for what they thought was security, they were selling not just their bodies, but their souls.

Around the light from the torches, silence fell. Spock’s words had thrown the pall of reality over the pursuit of a noble ideal.

"No Mister Spock, the price is too high," Namar said, rising. "It’s not just the pain and the sickness. We have become as pampered longer people. I, for one, and many of the others will welcome freedom no matter what the cost. And if there are others who would choose the coddled life of a Nafaris, it is only because they don’t really understand."

She turned to Doranix, who rose to take her hands. "Please don’t give up! To keep us in the Way harms not only our flesh but our selves. Free us before we forget how to be people."

Sulu, Spock and Doranix now rose to their feet, too. "It is my responsibility to see that the man who was injured in my place is cared for. He didn’t ask for any of this. I’m going to do everything I can to help him. And then, for his sake as much as the rest of you, we’re going to help Doranix end this thing. It’s wrong. You’re right, Namar; it’s fundamentally wrong. And anybody who doesn’t recognize that is too far gone to know what they’re choosing."

He turned to the other men. "We’ll all fit in the car Sulu came in. We can leave the other one for Namar. It’s still hidden from the road. She’ll be relatively safe there. Let’s go get McCoy and get on with what has to be done."


The new day had risen over the city when they reached the palace.

Alinar and Amalia greeted them with a frenzy of questions. Where had they gone? What on earth had happened to Kirkix? Why had they gone so early without telling anyone?

The conspirators managed to bury the more difficult questions in their detailed and expansive recounting of their adventures. Leaving out Namar, they still had enough of a tale to tell. And, with that single omission and the details that pertained to it, they kept to the truth, which made the telling more cohesive.

They surely looked the part of adventurers returning from an expedition gone wrong. All of their dirty faces were owl eyed from lack of sleep. Doranix and Sulu were filthy and thoroughly scuffed up. Spock was shirtless, his pants torn and dusty, his boots scraped and scarred, his hair matted with sweat and dirt. Kirk, the centerpiece of the story, was a veritable scarecrow. His clothing hung in tatters, the natural color of his hair completely obscured by dust and dirt. The only thing missing was the blood from what should have been a hide scraped raw beneath the beribboned tunic and pants. But the family had already seen McCoy’s evidence of Kirk’s injuries.

Any lingering concerns they might have had about the real purpose of the band of adventurers was deflected by their visitors’ immediate concerns for their honored one. For that matter, McCoy’s condition lent surety to the story of their rock climbing mishap.

It was all Kirk could do to restrain himself from rushing off to see the doctor instead of making polite answers to Alinar’s questions about where they had been. Sulu recognized the barely-reined-in tension, watched the captain’s eyes seeking the door whenever they were not on their hostess.

Then, when they were finally released from the inquisition, Kirk demanded to be taken to McCoy’s room. But when they got there, Sulu knew from the way he hesitated with his hand on the closed curtain of he doorway, that it was all Kirk could do to bring himself to pull the drape aside and confront what he would find inside.

But Sulu’s captain had the heart to face anything, even the consequences of his own actions. He pulled aside the curtain and stepped into the room. Sulu followed, a few paces behind, with Mister Spock.

The scene was more ordered than it had been when Sulu had gone flying out to discover what cataclysm had befallen the captain. The bed was clean. The tangle of bloody sheets gone. McCoy’s gray face lay unresponsive against clean white linen. Stark white wrapping swaddled his head, new mittens of gauze covered his twice-battered hands, one arm was folded across his chest and bound in place with strips of cloth. A soft blanket, fluffy as new-fallen snow, drifted over his chest and lower body concealing beneath its folds the maimed leg and other injuries.

The turbaned ones were gone. They had done all they could do. Sulu wasn’t sure that this silent air of resignation wasn’t even harder to witness than the initial carnage when McCoy had been surrounded by the activity of those who were at least trying to help.

Uhura sat alone at his bedside, compulsively stroking the hair on the uninjured side of his head with the back of her knuckles. She stopped when she saw the captain come in, but did not stand as military protocol might have required. The doctor was implicitly the senior figure in the room.

Kirk flew to McCoy’s bedside. There was no room to sit beside him on the narrow divan, so he fell, unselfconsciously, to his knees beside the couch, looking up at Uhura across McCoy’s slowly rising and falling chest. Up close, he could see the hatchwork of cuts and scratches across the doctor’s chest and upper arms. There wasn’t an unmarked place large enough for him to lay his hand on his friend.

Sulu watched Kirk take it all in, his gaze traveling slowly down the length of the doctor’s body, before he asked. " he?"

Uhura catalogued his injuries, her voice as impersonal as the ship’s computer, then concluded with, "He’s hurt so badly, Captain, and there’s nothing..." Her voice broke in a sob. "...nothing I can do."

Unable to touch McCoy, Kirk reached out his hand to cover hers. She bit her lower lip and, as if drawing strength from the captain, brought herself under control again, a last involuntary sob hitching in her throat.

"Can he be moved?" Kirk asked.

Sulu could see her taking inventory of the doctor’s injuries before making her answer. "They’ve stabilized most of his injuries with splints and bandages. I don’t know about the head injury. He’s unconscious. I can’t tell if it’s..."

"But he’s not going to get any better lying here?" Kirk said. Although it was a question, there was no doubt about the answer.

"No, sir, but..."

"We’re taking him back up to the ship. You’re..." He stopped to indicate her and Sulu with nods in their respective directions. "...taking him back to he ship," he finished.

As much as he sympathized with the need to help the ship’s doctor, Sulu also remembered the promise Kirk had made to Doranix about supporting his efforts to overthrow Doria’s whole way of life. If he was assigned to taking McCoy back to the Enterprise... "Captain, what about..."

It was as if Kirk could read his mind. Sulu could see it in his eyes. But the captain was still going to have things done his way. "We can’t communicate with the ship, Mister Sulu. So we can’t call for a transport. You’ll have to take him back by shuttle. And since we can’t depend on the shuttle’s communications system being able to call for tractor beam retrieval, somebody’s going to have to pilot her. And..." He looked down at McCoy, one of his hands hovered just above his bandaged head, afraid to touch him for fear of causing him pain. "And somebody’s going to have to stay with the doctor. Both jobs will require someone’s complete attention. So it will take two of you to make the trip."

Spock spoke up. "Once she is back on the ship, with its full technology available to her, perhaps Lieutenant Commander Uhura will be able to solve the difficulty with our communications devices."

Sulu perked up. Just because they were being assigned to the shuttle run didn’t mean their involvement was necessarily over. "And I can come back with..." He lowered his voice in case anyone should be listening at the curtain. " that we can help Doranix..."

Kirk cut him off. "You will come back with the shuttle, Mister Sulu, so that when the time comes Mister Spock and I will have a way back to the ship in case there’s still trouble with the communicators. But you will come...alone. No security team, no weapons. We’re here to help Doranix in his...revolution; not to overwhelm these people with advanced technology."

"These are a non-violent people, Commander. To introduce weaponry into the situation would be a contamination of their natural evolution," Spock added.

"There is the Prime Directive to be considered," Kirk reminded him.

The Prime Directive, Sulu mused. The captain sure did know how to interpret that rule to his own specifications. They had come here, only a matter of days ago to engage in a delicate first contact mission. Now they were engaged in supporting a revolution. But that wasn’t a violation of the Prime Directive. Sulu was sure the captain would say that they were simply facilitating the next step in the natural evolution of the society. After all, the revolt was Doranix’ idea, not theirs. So, that made it all right. Yeah, right...

And as for reinforcements, as long as it was only two Starfleet officers—three if he made it back in time—helping the Urbanity’s son to change the world order, that wasn’t the same as bringing in an army. Kirk would justify it by saying that, after all, the three of them were here already.

No, what they had promised, what they were planning, didn’t fit the James T. Kirk interpretation of interference. But phasers, well, there was an obvious violation if he had ever heard of one. Yeah, right.

But then again, Sulu realized that when all was said and done he agreed with the captain’s reasoning. Given the same authority, he would probably have made the same decision himself. So he came smartly to attention, his bearing marred only by the hint of a grin on his face, and said, "Yes, sir!"


At Kirk’s request, Doranix located a vehicle with an interior cargo space large enough to accommodate a stretcher for McCoy. He and Uhura stood by and watched while Spock, Sulu, Doranix and his brother-in-law Darien loaded the unconscious doctor through the hatch at the back end of the oversized land car. Kirk couldn’t get past the image of pallbearers lifting the corpse of their departed loved one into the hearse for its final ride. A cold chill ran up his back.

"Doctor Chapel will be able to help him on the ship. With all the resources of the Enterprise at her disposal, she’ll be able to do something."

He said the words in Uhura’s direction, but they were as much for his own benefit as hers. He needed to hear it out loud. Needed to break the silence that reinforced the feeling that he was witnessing a funeral procession, and a lonely one at that. A quiet passing of one who had died so far from home that only four of his friends remained to mourn him. So alone that strangers had to carry his bier through the soft rain that pattered down, adding the final touch of melancholy.

They closed the doors at the back of the van. Sulu and Uhura rode with, not "the body." With McCoy. His friend, to whom he had done terrible wrong. But who would be all right once they got him back to the ship.

Kirk slid into the back seat of a second land car with Spock. The two Dorian men rode in front, with Doranix driving. Only Sulu an Uhura would make the journey back to the ship with McCoy, but the others would be needed to move him out of the van and settle him safely on the shuttle.

They’d be able to help him on the ship. God, he hoped it was true! How could he have done this to McCoy? If he’d known...if he’d only realized the damage his actions would do, he would have...what? Stayed on the lip of the cliff until both he and Namar starved to death or died of old age? Damn the Dorians and their perfidious, insidious Way! The choices would have been so different much cleaner without having their consequences ricochet on McCoy. And yet, until he saw McCoy’s broken body with his own eyes, how easy it had been to take advantage of the options opened to him by having a surrogate to take the blows.

Kirk picked absently at the rain-damp fabric of the Dorian trousers he wore. He had managed a hurried clean-up and exchanged his tattered uniform for borrowed clothes while McCoy was prepared for transport. Now, except for his sandy hair, he looked like one of them. He was uncomfortable with the loose garments. He didn’t want to look like a Dorian, feel like a Dorian. And yet, how easy it was to assimilate.

Oh, he knew the Dorian’s had tried to maintain their sense of responsibility by honoring those who bore their pain, living with them, dressing them in finery and jewels, tending their wounds. But lip service is always easier to give than real care. Medical science did not advance, because those who might advance it had no real stake in relieving pain they never experienced. It was unreal to them, and so very easy to learn that one could take chances or put themselves in harm’s way when one would never feel the resultant injury. Kirk knew how easy. He had begun to be careless with that immunity in only a matter of days. How much different when one is raised lifelong to that freedom, and more so when taught that it is not a privilege but a right.

The weight of his own guilt pressed on him like the G-force of an oversized planet. When the two car caravan reached the clearing where the shuttle stood waiting, Kirk took Darien’s place at the head of McCoy’s stretcher and helped to carry him aboard. He tugged at the coverlet trying to keep the rain off his friend.

"It will be all over soon," he promised, although he knew the doctor could not hear him. "You’re going back to the ship. They’ll take care of you there. Chapel will..." He heard an echo of his mother’s voice... "Do you want me to kiss it and make it better?" It would take a lot more to make McCoy better than any number of mother’s kisses. A whole lot more.

"Chapel..." He repeated as the doors of the shuttle closed on McCoy’s stretcher.

Uhura moved closer, touched his hand. "We’ll take care of him, Captain. He’ll be all right."

Kirk nodded, the lump in his throat closing off any possibility of words. He squeezed her hand, then let it go. She took a few steps toward Sulu, who was waiting for her to board so they could take off. She turned. "Jim, he will be all right."

Now Spock moved to his side, as they stepped out of the way for the shuttle’s lift-off. Characteristically, Spock did not try to placate with platitudes. Even in the foreign-looking Dorian tunic he had borrowed to replace his lost shirt, he was still Spock. He was never one for talking about feelings, although Kirk knew the Vulcan’s ability to feel them was deeper than many Humans he knew. And, just as it was meant to, Spock’s stoicism and quiet strength lent Kirk the renewed resolve to bury his own maudlin feelings and get on with the task at hand.

He squared his shoulders and led the others back to the land car before the shuttle was fully out of sight.

They had all been quiet on the ride to the clearing, but as soon as they regained the main road, Darien broke the silence. "Doranix," he paused. Kirk sensed that their communication was as evolved as his and Spock’s. A lot got said in a single word.

Even though he was sitting behind the Urbanity’s son and could not see his face, Kirk could tell by the subtle change in the set of his shoulders that Doranix was opening himself to answer Darien truthfully. But, at the same time, he was waiting for the outright question.

Darien said, "There’s more to it than the story about an early morning rock climbing excursion."

Doranix didn’t answer or even nod. He just kept driving, staring ahead into the rain. But his silence was answer enough in itself.

"Namar comes into it somehow, doesn’t she?"

This time Doranix nodded once.

"You were out in the mountains. That much is true, isn’t it?"

Again, the absence of denial meant "yes."

"And that’s where you’ve hidden Namar. Out there in the caves somewhere." His voice became truly gentle and concerned. "Is she all right, Doranix?"

This time there was an answer. "Yes."

Now it was Darien’s turn to hold his tongue and let the silence draw the rest of the story from Doranix. Darien was turned in his seat, watching the heir’s face intently, but with patience enough to wait as long as it took. Kirk judged that a good three kilometers rolled by while he waited. He and Spock held their peace. For the moment, this was between the two Dorians.

"We’re going to end it," Doranix said, finally.

Darien nodded, as if that was what he expected to hear. "And you have a plan?" Now he looked back at Kirk and Spock, as if to say that he knew their continued presence here was a part of it. Darien’s gaze came to rest on Kirk, and Kirk met his eyes and held them steadily.

"We are going to take the Stone," Doranix said.

His eyes still on Kirk, Darien asked the Human rather than his brother-in-law, "You are going to carry it away from Doria?"

"No," Kirk answered.

And Doranix completed his thought, "It is ours. Whether it is our gift or our burden, it will stay here. But we plan to take it where it cannot be used any more."

"To the mountains?" Darien guessed.

"And seal it up inside," Doranix affirmed.

"That will not break the bonds that have already been made, you know," Darien reminded him.

"I know...and perhaps that is for the best. We cannot change the world overnight. Those who we now honor do not know how to fend for themselves. And many are crippled, or old and sick. They need someone to care for them. But if the stone is hidden away, no new bonds will be formed. Children of both the honored ones and the Dorians will be born free of each other, and learn to take responsibility only for themselves. In a generation, the world will have been changed."

Doranix turned the land car around a corner, and the low skyline of the Edliw came into view.

"It will not be as easy as you think," Darien cautioned.

"I do not think it will be easy. But I think it must be done," Doranix answered.

Darien sighed deeply. "I know," he said.

Doranix slowed the land car, the roughness of the road was magnified as it rolled to a stop. He turned to face his brother-in-law and his friend . "Will you help us, Darien?"

Darien did not look away, but he shook his head slowly. "You know I cannot."

Instead of arguing, Doranix let the unasked "why" hang in the silence between them. Darien dropped his eyes. "I have an allied and daughter to consider."

Now Doranix was quick with his rebuttal. "But if we only hide the Stone, nothing will happen to them. My sister will have her Way as before, she will remain young and beautiful and bear you more children if you want her to without any of it causing her hurt or harm. Analiss can run and fall without fear of skinned knees, and grow up to remain an ageless beauty like her mother..." Doranix’ tone was becoming sarcastic, but Darien took no offense.

"But what if something should happen? What if Amalia’s Nafaris should die in childbirth? Or Analiss’ should fall from a rooftop instead of just on her knees. If either of them should ever be without a counterpart to honor through their bond, and the Stone was hidden away, they would be alone. Amalia could never...And what about Analiss’ children and her children’s children. I cannot make that choice for them."

"I have an allied and child, too, Darien. And I must make this choice for their sake," Doranix said.

"I know," Darien said. He bit his lip and reached out a hand to touch his friend’s arm. "If it was just for myself...but....she is your sister, too."

Doranix covered his friend’s hand with his own. "I know." He released Darien’s hand, and his friend took it back, putting distance between them inside the confines of the little vehicle.

"Will you try to stop me?" Doranix asked, his eyes beseeching and challenging at the same time.

Instead of answering, Darien unlatched the door on his side of the car. "I think, perhaps I should walk the rest of the way back,’ he said, opening the door and stepping outside.

"Darien!" Doranix leaned across the seat, looking out through the open door at his brother-in-law.

Kirk saw a sad, half-smile before Darien straightened, gently closed the door and turned away.

The rain had stopped. Doranix watched his friend start walking up the muddy road toward the city walls. Then he gunned the motor, and the car jumped forward. As they passed the man on foot and left him well behind them, Doranix explained, still staring intently ahead, "He’s giving us a head start."

Kirk hoped he was right.

"We will not have the cover of darkness," Spock cautioned, giving voice to Kirk’s first concern. "Nor will we have the advantage of reinforcements from the ship," he continued. Kirk agreed with him on that point, too. All they had going for them was speed, surprise and determination. But given the choice between action and waiting, Kirk knew where he would place all the chips at his command.

He leaned forward to speak near Doranix’s ear, "Let’s go!"


By the time they reached the palace, they had the rudiments of a plan. Kirk was concerned because it would require them to split up, dividing their meager forces even further, but their roles were dictated by necessity. The ceremonial room was deep in the heart of the palace, reached only by a labyrinth of corridors, and with no direct way to the outside. Worse, the theft would have to be carried out in the middle of the day, with all the residents awake and about their business in the halls. There would need to be a distraction to keep the Urbanity in one place and occupied for as long as possible.

Kirk’s diplomatic mission was the perfect cover. They had been the guests of the Dorians for several days, now, and it was the right time to get down to business. Not only that, but it would give Kirk an authentic chance to broach the subject of reform of the Dorian Way with Delessix directly. Kirk told himself that it might be a chance to resolve the problem through diplomacy rather than overt action, but he didn’t really believe it. After all, the planned theft of the stone would be taking place at the same time.

As much as he enjoyed the intellectual rush of playing mind games with people or entities to corner them into agreement with his way of thinking— he’d even talked a few artificial intelligences into terminal self-contradiction in his time—Kirk would much rather have been a part of the action. But it was not to be. Not only was he the appropriate person to engage the Urbanity in diplomatic discussion, but Spock’s particular gifts were their only hope of removing the stone.

The simple fact was that, according to Doranix, the Stone of Blessing was incredibly heavy. It was a good sized rock to begin with, but whatever its mineral composition it must contain some preternaturally heavy elements. Doranix said that there was a whole sub-story in the legend of the Coming of the Way that dealt with the difficulty of moving it. It took at least four strong men to carry it on a reinforced pallet. Kirk thought at the time that the story about the various materials that had been tried as a carrying-platform and failed as the weight of the stone dropped right through them was reminiscent of the Four Little Pigs with their succession of houses of straw, wood, brick and duranium.

So, if any of them stood a chance of moving the stone by brute force, it had to be Spock.

When they entered the palace, Spock remained with Kirk. Once Kirk had found the Urbanity and engaged him in discussion, Spock would excuse himself and meet Doranix at a prearranged place and they would commence with their part of the mission. A signal would call Kirk to join them once they were outside, and then it would be just a matter of speed and luck to get far enough away before the theft was discovered.

They would need to get up and over the mountain, dragging the weighted stone along with them, until they reached the hole through which Kirk and Namar had been rescued the day before. They would drop the Stone of Blessing inside, and then dynamite the already unstable mass of the mountain down around it. It was going to be both a difficult and time consuming task, and once they were discovered, time would be at a premium.

But at least they had covered the same ground before, while any who came in pursuit would be at a disadvantage. Even the road-building engineers who had been working on the mountain would have difficulty recognizing its contours after the massive cave-in that had occurred.

With plan and signals firmly in mind, the trio wished each other luck, all except Spock, who wished the others peak performance and the most fortuitous opportunities offered by statistical randomness. Then they went inside. 


Doranix split off from the others as soon as they passed through the door of the palace. Kirk gave him a terse nod acknowledging that they’d see each other again when the plan began to bear fruit. He and Spock continued to the guest quarters. Kirk wanted to get back into uniform, specifically his dress greys and whites if he was to make the Urbanity believe that they were settling in for official diplomatic talks.

He splashed quickly through a cursory wash-up, and struggled into the satin tunic as speedily as his still-damp skin would allow. Once he felt and looked like himself again, he summoned Spock and they headed for the presence chamber. Spock appeared on cue, looking as if he had just stepped off the bridge, composed and unhurried. Kirk drew a deep breath, and tried to bring his level of visible anxiety down to match that of the Vulcan.

Together they strode through the halls, through the labyrinth they were beginning to know well, coming at last to the chamber where Delessix conducted City business. They encountered a visiting family delegation which was just leaving as they approached. They went inside to find the Urbanity sitting at a small, high table writing notes on a sheaf of pale blue papers.

"Ah, Kirkix! I have heard that you have had quite the adventure!" He gestured for them to come closer. "Sit. Sit. Tell me about it."

Delessix stacked his papers on the desk, then moved to an opulent, high backed semi-throne faced by two chairs in a conversational circle. The two Starfleet officers settled into the huge armchairs. Kirk felt at a disadvantage, sinking deeply into the oversized and overstuffed upholstery. He edged forward to sit erect on the edge of the chair, while trying to still give the impression of ease by resting his forearms on the high, rounded arms. He looked over at Spock, who seemed even more out of place than he himself felt, enfolded in the deep cushions.

Kirk was about to speak, getting right down to business, when a giggling streak of color bounced into the room. "Grandpa! Grandpa!" Analiss cried, running toward the object of her affection with her arms reached out in front of her and her pink lemonade hair flying out behind. The Urbanity stood just in time to catch her up in his arms, and divert her momentum into a swing into the air that ended in a bear hug against his broad chest.

He held her to him, and settled her on his lap when he returned to his chair of state. "We must sit very still, now," he informed her. "Our guests have come to talk with me about grown-up things, and we must show them the courtesy of our attention."

Kirk couldn’t help but feel the infectious pleasure the Urbanity took in the child, but at the same time he was disappointed. He had intended that these be serious talks. The presence of the child changed the tone considerably. In fact, he couldn’t quite be sure if the Urbanity’s use of "we" was just a convention of speech or actually meant that he, too, would rather be playing than attending to affairs of state. Kirk leaned forward, trying to look businesslike which was difficult while he was facing a man who was having his long burgundy hair absently twirled around the chubby fingers of the little girl while she pouted prettily at him.

Delessix himself seemed less abstracted by the presence of the child than Kirk was. Although he continued to squeeze her against him, and poked occasional tickle-fingers into her ribs, setting off new ripples of giggles, he had not lost the thread of their previous conversation. He turned at least nominal attention back to Kirk and remarked, "My allied said that you had gone out quite early and had a serious mishap in the mountains. You should have waited and asked for someone to guide you." Without losing eye contact with Kirk, Delessix reached up to untangle a strand of hair from Analiss’ fingers, then gently hold her hands between his big ones in her lap.

"You are my guests, I would have been happy to send someone along to watch over you," he chided, while one little hand escaped and crawled spider-like, finger over finger, up the front of his tunic.

"Yes. Well...we..." Kirk started.

But Delessix went on, beaming. "But, happily, you came to no harm. You sit here before me as fit and polished as the day you first stepped off your sky ship."

"I remember, Grandpa! I remember! They came in a big square sky wagon. And it was all shiny and..."

"Yes, little one," Delessix soothed. "You remember. You were there. Weren’t they grand...stepping out the doorway...the first visitors we have ever had from out in the sky. But they are very important visitors, and Grandpa must speak to them like grown-ups now. And if you are to remain here with us, you must not interrupt."

Again, he turned his attention to Kirk, seamlessly picking up the conversation where he had left off. "I understand that your Makkoi was seriously damaged by the incident. How very fortunate for you that he did not die! But that is neither here nor there. You are unharmed, and he lives to serve you another day, thanks be to the blessings of our Way."

"That’s just what I came here to talk to you about," Kirk seized the opening.

"Tanks be to the bless of the Way," Analiss lisped after her grandfather, as she had undoubtedly been taught by rote, without really understanding the terrible implications of what it all meant.

No wonder, Kirk thought, these people accept their perverse culture without question. They’re brought up to accept it from babyhood.

"Yes, Analiss, that’s right," her grandfather complimented her. "But hush, now, so that Kirkix and Grandpa can talk together.

"Okay, Grandpa," she whispered loudly.

"Captain," Spock stood. "If I might be excused to allow you and the Urbanity the privacy to conduct your business?"

Kirk looked up at his first officer, trying not to give away anything in his expression. It was beginning. From here, Spock would find Doranix and they would head for the ceremonial room. It was incumbent upon Kirk now to hold the Urbanity here as long as he could, to give them an unimpeded head start.

"Thank you, Commander Spock. You are dismissed," Kirk answered his request, hoping that Spock’s withdrawal would encourage the Urbanity to send his granddaughter away, too, so that he could draw the leader into a long and complex discussion which would hold his attention.

But it appeared that he would have no such luck. The Urbanity settled back into his chair, still holding the little girl on his lap, although he reminded her to "Be a good girl, now, and be still for Grandpa."

Kirk sighed inwardly. This was not going to go quite the way he had planned. But on the other hand, with the little girl interrupting and snagging her grandfather’s attention every third sentence, maybe it would take quite a while, after all.


Spock bowed out of the room, showing deference to the captain and their host. Then, when the drapery over the chamber door dropped back into place, he turned on his heel and headed purposefully to the intersection of corridors near the dining hall where he was to meet Doranix.

The Urbanity’s son was seated on a plush and tasseled divan, appearing to contemplate solemnly the motto on the opposite wall when Spock came upon him. Doranix greeted him as if taken by surprise.

"Ah, Spock. I had wondered if I would see you today," he said loudly and with believable heartiness.

Spock answered in like mode with a greeting worded as if this was merely a chance meeting. However, he drew his brows together in a facial expression that said, "Explain."

Doranix continued the banal line of conversation, while inclining his head toward the dining hall and holding his little finger near his lips.

At the same time, Spock’s acute hearing picked up women’s voices from beyond the curtain. He nodded in understanding, and continued his side of the meaningless conversation, while following Doranix’s lead and raising his voice ever so slightly.

"And what was the cause of your interest in seeing me today?" he asked, pretending innocence.

"I...uh...wanted to show you something. Out at the...uh...flying machine factory. They have made great progress in repairing the damage after the... ah...incident that happened when you were there."

Spock recognized the attempt as misdirection. The hangar and construction facility was on the far side of the city from the road they would take to the mountain. Doranix was attempting to explain their absence, and provide a false lead if anyone should wonder where they had gone.

"I should be most interested to see their progress," the Vulcan replied.

Doranix gestured for Spock to follow him, and they made a somewhat noisy exit. Once around the corner, Doranix dropped the pose, flattened himself against a wall and became the conspirator again. "Do you think they bought it?" he whispered.

"I would suggest that we do not rely too heavily on our acting ability. Haste is still in order," Spock replied.

Doranix nodded rapidly in agreement, and led the way through the labyrinth to the ceremonial room. They passed through the hall of tapestries which told the story of the first Nafar. The meanings were quite clear now that Spock knew how to interpret them. How different, he reflected briefly, when one man chooses to give his life for another, than when the process is institutionalized and the element of choice and the individual are no longer a part of the equation.

Pausing before the final tapestry in the sequence, Spock asked, "How are we going to cover it? We cannot be seen strolling through the palace with the sacred stone tucked under one arm."

In answer, Doranix reached up and ripped the ancient hanging from its moorings. He wadded it up into an untidy bundle. "Fitting, don’t you think?" he said sardonically.

"Perhaps, but almost as obvious as the stone itself. The occasion calls for camouflage. There will be time for symbolic gestures later."

Doranix looked back and forth from the wad of faded, dusty fabric in his hands, to the anchors in the wall that still held scraps of material where the top edge of the fragile old hanging had torn away. There was no way to replace it now, nor was there time. After a moment, he simply flung the scene of Nafar’s Blessing into the corner.

Looking back into the corridor from which they had come, Spock spotted a long table he remembered seeing as they passed by. It was tall and narrow with massive, ornate legs. An urn that looked like antique brass sat in the middle, holding a flower arrangement. Beneath the urn, the table was draped with a heavy fringed and tasseled black velvet throw.

Spock lifted the urn. "Take the cloth," he instructed the Urbanity’s son.

Doranix dragged the heavy cloth past the bottom of the urn, and off the table. It whispered like an old man’s sigh as it slid across the wood.

Spock replaced the urn on the bare table. At least this theft was not as apparent to the casual passer-by as the blank space on the wall of the next room would be when their absence was discovered.

They passed back through the tapestry gallery, and out the far doors, on through the old section of the palace until they came at last to the tall, heavy wooden doors. As before, when he and Kirk had come here to examine the stone, the room was dark. The stone was a spot of cold whiteness in the heavy dark, alit but casting no light.

They walked carefully toward it, feeling for their steps like blind men, since the light from the stone would not give them warning of furnishing or other obstacles in their way. As the only source of brightness in the room, Spock’s eyes were drawn to it, focused on it, and he blinked hard when he realized that the single point of light felt as if it was searing a hole through his eyes and straight into his brain.

The floor was clear, and they encountered no obstacles. Yet, when they stood before the stone both men hesitated with the realization of the enormity of what they were about to do.

Spock broke the inertia of the moment. "Give me the cloth."

He felt rather than saw the heavy throw being thrust into his hands. He knew he would prefer not to touch the surface of the stone itself. Knowing it would enshroud the only light in the room, Spock dropped it over the dead-white stone. Even so, when the black velvet dropped over the stone, hiding it from sight, the rest of the room did not become appreciably darker.

He let the retinal ghost-image of the stone guide his hands to the surface of the velvet drape. The irregular shapes of the stone’s surface were hard through the soft fabric. It communicated its weight through his hands even before he slid them down its sides and prepared to lift it from its pedestal. He moved his hands to the underside, molding the cloth to the curve of the stone, and tested its weight.

As Doranix had warned him, its mass was entirely out of proportion to its size and appearance. It was like pushing against the earth itself, as immovable as a mountain, harshly reminding him of his insignificance beside its sheer power. He experienced a wave of defeat. This was the end, despite all their hopes and plans, despite what was right, despite the pain and deformity of civilization it caused. It sat immutable, immovable, holding its power over the Dorians by the simple power of inertia.

A black feeling of despair washed through him.

But it was turned back by a core of fierce defiance. He remembered that this stone had been moved before. It might have taken the strength of many men, and it might have reduced the platforms on which it was carried to splinters. But it had been done. And it would be done again. It must be.

Spock called to himself all the powers of mind over body, exerted all the disciplines he had learned as a young man bent on total mastery of the heritage that was Vulcan. He reached inside himself to banish any shard of doubt, concentrated his will on the work to be done. It was awkward, since he could not get his hands underneath the bottom of the stone. He would have to lift from near the edges, where the contours gave him some purchase, but not as much as if he had been able to lift from nearer the center.

He set his feet, set his mind, breathed deeply and lifted. The stone came up off the pedestal by a hair’s breadth. Slowly, he worked his fingers farther under it, inching the velvet drape ahead of his hands, keeping it between the stone and his flesh.

The stone came up.

He blocked out everything else from his mind. Visualized the stone moving through the darkness. Up. Bringing it toward him, repositioning his hands, pulling it against his chest for balance. Settling it against himself, and straightening, letting his back take the weight, letting the heaviness of the stone flow into his body, become one with it, so that it responded to his will and not the dead-weight of itself.

"Spock! Can you do it? Can you lift it?" Doranix’s question almost broke his concentration. He realized that in the blackness of the room the other man had not been able to watch his struggle or to see his success.

"I have it," he answered. His voice sounded strained, even to his own ears.

"You have it! You were able to raise it?" Doranix repeated excitedly.

"Let us go. Now," Spock said. He turned and waited while Doranix shuffled through the darkness to the great doors. A sliver of light lanced through as he opened one just a crack and peered out. The sliver widened. Spock blinked into the light. He could see the silhouette of his co-conspirator peering around he entryway into the corridor.

Doranix stepped back, holding the door open. "It’s clear. Come on," he whispered.

Spock shifted his balance, partitioning his mind so that one level could watch and think and respond, while the rest of his being concentrated its will on supporting the ponderous weight of the stone he held cradled in his arms. He forced himself to put one foot in front of the other, and moved toward the door.

When he came close to Doranix, the heir fluttered around him. "Can I help you? Where can...what can"

Spock just shook his head, as if trying to rid himself of an insect. He was in control, and it would be harder to share this burden than to carry it alone.

Doranix seemed to understand, as he stopped asking, got out of the way, and merely hastened ahead to hold doors and scout the corridors before they passed through doorways or around corners.

Spock simply followed, concentrating on keeping his feet moving forward, relegating the awesome strain to another part of his mind.

They came, at last, to the puddled yard at the back of the palace where several vehicles were parked. Doranix selected one and moved off to open doors. As he approached, Spock asked. "Will it hold?"

"The Stone?" Doranix looked uncertain for a minute. "By the Way, I hope so! After all, when they first found it and brought it here, we didn’t have land cars, or..." he trailed off. "It’s reinforced metal under here," he grabbed the brace between the windows and shook the little vehicle. "If this can’t carry it, nothing..." again he broke off.

Doranix had popped open the cargo hatch, but Spock thought it would be better to put the stone in the back passenger compartment. The springs and upholstery of the seat would put more matter between the stone and the framework, and position its weight more centrally. The back cargo compartment might be able to bear the weight, but without counterbalance, it could also simply raise the opposite end of the little land car right up off the ground.

It was a struggle to get the stone onto the seat. Spock gladly accepted Doranix’s assistance to shove and manipulate it once he had put it down, although in truth the extra hands were not of much help. He was not at all sure how he was going to maneuver it back out again when they reached the mountain, but the first issue of business was to get it away from the palace.

First, though, they had to alert Kirk and let him know it was time to join them for the last step of their plot. Doranix walked around the side of the building until he stood below the window of the Urbanity’s presence chamber. He cupped his hand to his mouth and did a passing imitation of a native Dorian bird. Kirk had said that he didn’t know much about bird calls, much less Dorian birds, but Doranix told him not to worry—he’d be able to recognize the call by the long hoot followed by three short calls.

Then Kirk had worried about the possibility of confusing it with the call of a real bird. Doranix told him that the real gray winged sap swallow’s call consisted of a long hoot with only two short chirps. However, if anyone in the house was listening, it was highly unlikely that they would be counting chirps. His call would just be the background noise of a bird outside and would attract no attention.

Glancing back nervously at the car where Spock waited, Doranix waited for a interval, then raised his hands to his mouth again and hooted once, then chirped, once, twice, three times...


Kirk thought that he had finally gained Delessix’s undivided attention. He was telling him about the history of the Federation, and what the advantages of membership might mean for the Dorians. The Urbanity was leaning forward in his chair, his eyes on Kirk, a thoughtful furrow between his brows. The little girl still sat in his lap. She was playing with the hem of her tunic, bored but trying to be the good girl her grandfather wanted her to be.

"In many ways your society is very advanced socially, in relation to your level of technology. For instance, equal and sufficient distribution of agricultural products, and so forth. But the Federation will be able to bring you some other very significant resources. Like the best in modern medical care, for instance..."

"Yes," Delessix considered, "but we do not need..."

"Well, you see..." Kirk interrupted, "that’s a very important point for us to discuss before we can seriously consider extending membership to Doria as a Federation world. This...Way...that you people ...depend upon..."

Kirk was so intent on choosing his words, now that he had reached the most delicate point in their discussion that he wasn’t sure whether he had just heard the signal he had been waiting for. He listened, distracted for a minute, but it was silent now.

"The...uh...Way," he continued. "You see Delessix, the Federation has a very...specific...standard in regard to the rights of personhood."

Kirk saw the line between the Urbanity’s brows deepen.


There it was again! Kirk broke off and listened. He knew he had heard the long hoot. And had there already been one chirp? Was that the first or the second? Another chirp. The second or the third? How could he be sure it was the signal and not just some Dorian songbird. Another chirp! That had to be Doranix. They were ready! He had to make his excuses and get out of here.

"Er...Doranix. I...have to....I’m sorry, but I just remembered..."

A look of confusion crossed the Urbanity’s face as Kirk stood abruptly. But before he could voice a protest at Kirk’s odd behavior, the little girl slid off his lap and grabbed at her grandfather’s hand.

"Grandpa! Grandpa! Did you hear the birdie? Want to see the birdie! Hold me up to the window, Grandpa!"

The Urbanity’s attention was immediately on the little girl. And so was Kirk’s! He couldn’t let them go to the window and see Doranix and Spock standing down there like boy scouts doing bird calls!


"In a minute, Kirkix," the Urbanity rose to his feet, with Analiss still pulling at his hand.

"No, wait...I..." Kirk started toward them, not knowing what he could do short of physically restraining them from going to the window.

"Grandpa!" Analiss whined impatiently. "The birdie..." She reached upward toward the window and accidentally tipped over a crystal vase of flowers that was perched on the sill. It fell onto the floor of the room, spattering the child and her grandfather with stale water as it fell. The cut stems of Dorian flowers were flung onto the carpet in disarray and the vase itself shattered when it hit the floor.

"Oh, dear!" Analiss made a pouty face and shook her head in imitation of an indulgent parent. "Look at the bad thing I done."

The Urbanity swiped at his wet tunic with his hands. He shook his head at her, and Kirk knew immediately where the child had picked up the gesture. "What a mess you have made! Come, help Grandpa pick it up."

Delessix knelt among the scattered flowers, gathering them up in his hand. With the headman of the planet down on his knees cleaning up spilled water and flower petals, Kirk couldn’t do much else but offer to help, too.

"Be careful," Analiss warned in her best pretend-adult voice, "the glass is pointy. We must be careful of doing things that can hurt somebody."

"That’s all right," Kirk said. "I’ll be...ouch!" He looked down to see blood welling around a sliver of clear glass wedged point-first in his finger.

Analiss dropped the flowers she had gathered and ran over to look, "Ooooh! Look, Grandpa! Kirkix is bleeding." She watched for a moment in fascination. "Grandpa, is Kirkix a Nafaris?" That thought seemed to horrify her, something akin to finding a snake in the parlor.

"No, Analiss, of course not!" In all the fracas this was the first time Kirk had heard the child’s grandfather sound the least bit perturbed with her. "Kirkix had a Nafaris of his own, but he sent him away."

Kirk plucked the sliver out of his finger, sucked for a minute at the blood, then wrapped it in a handkerchief. Yes, he’d sent his Nafaris—McCoy— away. And now, suddenly he wasn’t invulnerable any more. He savored the taste of blood on his tongue. He was bleeding. Him, not McCoy. Perhaps getting McCoy far enough away from the influences of this planet had broken the bond between them. McCoy was back on the ship where they could take care of his injuries, far enough away that Kirk couldn’t hurt him anymore.

The bird call came again. No mistaking it this time. A hoot and three chirps. Clear and distinct as he could wish. McCoy was all right, Spock and Doranix had the stone. He just had to get out of here and join them and all the insanity would soon be over with, once and for all.

"But Grandpa, Kirkix is bleeding!" Amalia protested. "Doesn’t that mean his Nafaris is dead?"

Kirk’s heart stopped. 


Three times Doranix made that conspicuous bird call. Spock was growing concerned that it would attract attention if he kept it up much longer. Kirk couldn’t help but hear it. Doubtless it would take him some time to disentangle himself from Delessix. He’d have to make some excuse, he wouldn’t be able to just up and run out of the royal audience. But he ought to be arriving soon.

Footfalls on the wet gravel. Kirk was coming. Spock motioned for Doranix to come away from the window and get in the car so that they would be ready to move as soon as the captain reached them.

As they slid into their respective seats, Spock heard the footfalls drawing closer. More than one set. And voices. Women’s voices.

"Who would do such a thing! The tapestries are sacred! Who would..." Spock recognized Amalia’s near-hysterical tone.

"Now, Doranix! Go!" he said sharply.

"But Kirkix..." Doranix hesitated.

Spock realized that his superior hearing had given him the warning a split second before Amalia’s brother could discern her voice.

"We are found out! Go!" Spock urged.

Understanding registered on Doranix’s face as the sound of voiced drew closer, and he popped the throttle and spun out of the gate.

Spock looked back and saw Amalia and Alinar waving frantically after them. They probably didn’t realize what Spock and Doranix had in the car with them. After all, they were supposed to be going to the airplane factory. Perhaps they did not even know yet that the stone was missing. Most probably they just wanted to tell Doranix about the desecration in the tapestry gallery. In any case, they did not follow. But Spock knew that it was only a matter of time. He was sorry to leave the captain behind, but he knew that Kirk would have the presence of mind to be of some help wherever he was.

The car sped down the road. After the rain, the afternoon sun cast a long shadow before it, which it pursued as if there was actually hope of overtaking it. Spock could feel the strain the added weight was putting on the land car’s frame and engine, but so far it was holding up as well or better than they had expected. Their only hope was that it would hold out long enough.


Kirk sat immobile, staring at the new drop of blood welling up at the tip of his finger. "From the mouths of babes," he thought.

He automatically assumed that if the sliver had caused him pain, then the bond with McCoy must have been broken by distance or something else they had been able to do once he was safely back on the ship. But Analiss had reminded him of the other alternative they had been warned about. The only other reason that his own injuries would not be instantly transferred to McCoy was if McCoy, he couldn’t think about it. But he couldn’t help thinking about it. His mind poked and prodded around the edges of the thought he would not acknowledge. What if...

He was startled by voices. Women’s voices, loud beneath the window. He saw Delessix get to his feet and start in the direction of the sound. He had to stop him. Spock and Doranix! They were down there. They would be seen. He shot to his feet, but Delessix was already at the window, looking out. In seconds, Kirk was beside him. The women, Amalia and her mother, the coldly beautiful Alinar were calling up to them in obvious agitation. Spock and Doranix were nowhere in sight.

Delessix raised the window in its casing. Their voices became louder now. Kirk could understand the words. Something about vandalism in the hall of tapestries. The sound of a motor caught Kirk’s ear. Of all of them, only Kirk noticed the land car spinning through the turn and out the gate.

They were leaving without him! How long had the bogus bird hooted and chirped at the window before he heard it? There had been the delay with the broken vase and the cut on his finger, and now the women coming into the courtyard. Spock and Doranix were lucky they had managed to get away at all! Kirk had to assume that they had the stone with them, otherwise there would be no reason to peal off in such a hurry.

He let his mind focus on the women, hoping for some clue, some clarification of what was going on. He wouldn’t know how to play it himself until he knew where he stood. Delessix was leaning out the window. Kirk moved up beside him, sticking his head out into the open air.

Amalia was nearly in tears. "You must come and see it, Father! Stolen! Ripped from the wall by some maniac! The shreds of the corners all torn away and still hanging there..."

"It may be completely beyond repair...assuming that we ever find it," Alinar added.

"You must come and see, Father!" the Urbanity’s daughter repeated.

"Coming! Coming! You wait right there!" Delessix pulled his head back inside.

"Grandpa! Grandpa!" Analiss tugged at the edge of his tunic. "Did something bad happen? Something badder than the broken flowers, even?"

Delessix stopped and crouched down to take the child’s face between his hands, "Yes, little one, something much worse." He stood, taking her hand. "Come, we must see for ourselves." He turned toward the door. Little Analiss could barely keep up, her hand still clutched in his, her little legs scrambling to match her grandfather’s pace. Kirk fell in behind, uninvited.

All the women had talked about was the tapestry. What did a tapestry have to do with it? Anything? Nothing at all? Somehow he was sure there was a connection, but at least no one had mentioned the stolen stone. Not yet, anyway.


The women had not waited beneath the window. They were at the turning of the corridor when Delessix, Kirk and Analiss reached the transition point to the older section of the palace.

"This way, Father, this way!" Amalia urged, as if the Urbanity didn’t know his own way to the gallery. When they reached it, his daughter held back the door drapery, while the keeper of the Dorian Way strode into the room. A glance showed him the bare space on the wall. He stepped up to it and simply stood for a moment, apparently stunned at the travesty before him.

Kirk hung back, trying to keep his face neutral at least, if he could not work it into a proper expression of sympathetic outrage. He said nothing, afraid to give himself away.

"Ohhh, Grandpa, it’s tore..." Analiss marveled at the singularly bad thing that had been done. She looked up at her mother, "I didn’t, Mama. I didn’t do the bad thing. I was with Grandpa." She shrunk back against her grandfather’s trousered leg.

He reached down a hand to pet her pink curls absently. "Of course, little one, of course."

"What’s that?" the little girl pulled out from under his hand and ran to a corner of the room where a ragged bundle lay on the floor.

Amalia was instantly on her knees beside her daughter. "Don’t touch, honey. Don’t..." Gingerly she pulled at a corner, then unfolded another, slowly and with great reverence opening up the rumpled ball to reveal the missing hanging. Gently, she fingered the torn places at the top corners. "Oh, Mother...will we ever be able to fix it?"

Alinar stood over her daughter, looking down at the faded fabric and shook her head sadly. "Oh, my..." she said, at a loss for words. "Delessix, why would anyone..." Her eyes remained on the desecrated symbol of all she held holy.

"I don’t..." Delessix started to say, then, with a look as if he had been hit by a thunderbolt. "Wait here!" He spun on his heel and took off like a man fearing the worst. It took Kirk only seconds to figure out what the Urbanity suspected, and he fell in right behind him, with the women and the child in his train.

The Urbanity pounded through the hallways, reaching the heavy wooden doors in a matter of a few heartbeats. More than a few in Kirk’s case, as his pulse was beginning to race. Delessix threw open the door, then stood in immobile silence staring into the darkness while the others crowded around him.

There was nothing to see. Nothing at all.

"Bring a light!" the Urbanity demanded.

His daughter leaped to comply, lifting a lamp from a wall sconce, and carrying it to him as quickly as she could without letting the flame go out. Delessix took it from her and extended it at arm’s length into the room. Its faint light illuminated a dim circle, reflecting off nothing, casting no shadows.

With no hesitation in his steps, Delessix stalked into the center of the room. As he approached, the flame picked out details. A dark shape rose, waist high, in the middle of the room. Kirk recognized it as the pedestal which had held the sacred, damned stone. As he had both hoped and feared, the pedestal was empty.

Amalia stifled a gasp.

Alinar whispered her allied’s name.

For once, the child was still.

Delessix backed off and paced out the perimeter of the room, going slowly and holding the flame first high, then low, bringing every square centimeter of space into the circle of light in turn. The others stayed near the pedestal, turning slowly to watch his progress. He completed the search and was just returning to the empty pedestal, when the tall wooden door slammed open, echoing hollowly.

From the light behind him in the hallway, Kirk recognized Darien, the Urbanity’s son-in-law. "Delessix!" he was nearly panting with exertion. He must have been running, searching frantically through the palace for them. "The stone..."

"Is gone," Delessix completed his sentence.

"Daddy! Daddy!" Analiss squealed, and threw herself at her father, arms wide. Darien paid her no attention. He stepped into the room with the little girl clinging to his leg. Expression intent, his neck craning forward toward the light, he peered into the far recesses of the room.

"It’s not here," Delessix shook his head.

Darien turned his eyes on Kirk. He was trying to understand Kirk’s presence here if the stone was already gone. Kirk watched the play of uncertainty across Darien’s expression. His loyalties were mixed: a friend and, perhaps, reason on the one side; family and what some would construe as duty on the other. Kirk held his breath, willing Darien to at least keep his peace about what he knew.

Finally, his voice low and, at least, without overt accusation, he asked Kirk, "Where are they?"

While Kirk hesitated, Amalia pulled at her husband’s sleeve. "Who, Darien? Where are who?" She looked around the circle of light as if counting faces.

Comprehension began to register on her face even before Darien answered, "Doranix...and Spock."

Alinar stepped forward, there was both dawning understanding and fear in her eyes. "We heard them talking, Amalia. Do you remember?"

Kirk breathed easier. The focus was off him, without his having to answer or come up with a lie.

"That’s right, Mother. They said something about going to the airship factory," she said.

Kirk recognized that Spock and Doranix had apparently planted another bit of misdirection. Would it work? Would they take the bait?

"The airship factory," Darien repeated, considering. Kirk watched his eyes to see if he spotted a ruse. If he did, would he choose to go along with it to give the conspirators more time? There was a quirk at the corner of Darien’s lip. Then a single, slow, short shake of his head. A furrow formed between his wine-tinted eyebrows. He seemed to finally notice his daughter hugging his knee. He reached down to stroke her hair. Then a decisive look came into his eye, and he repeated, "The airship factory," accompanying the words with a sharp nod. He shook Analiss off his trouser leg and turned resolutely, heading back down the corridor the without another word.

The others rushed after him, crowding through the still-open doorway into the corridor. The heavy door swung closed behind Kirk as he followed the Dorians out of the ceremonial room.

"Darien! Wait! Where are you..." Amalia called after him, but he was already gone beyond another corner.

Alinar clutched at her allied’s sleeve. "Go after him," she urged.

"Father, where is..." Amalia begged for an explanation.

It took a while for the Urbanity to answer. When he did, his voice held a profound sadness. "He knows something about all this."

"Delessix?" Alinar asked.

"I’ll go after him. Kirkix..." His eyes met and held Kirk’s like a tractor beam. "I think you’d better come with me."

Kirk didn’t know whether he was being summoned to help, or to keep him from acting independently to warn or aid the thieves, but there was no arguing with that invitation. Even if he might quibble with the Urbanity’s motive for hauling him along, it was the best way for him to stay close to the know what was going on...and to be in place to help Spock and Doranix when, and if, the time came.

"Wait here," Doranix told the women, and then he led Kirk back through the labyrinth and out to the courtyard where the land cars were garaged.

The Urbanity selected one, then paused noticing the empty space next to it. He circled the empty parking slot, inspecting it carefully. There were sooty black marks on the ground where the back end would have been. A scuffle of footprints along one side, and deep ruts in the wet gravel marked out the position of the wheels. Kirk watched as Delessix’s eyes followed the path the ruts made to the gateway. His own gaze tracked the same line.

The Urbanity straightened, and motioned Kirk to get into the vehicle he had chosen. He started the engine. Instead of throttling up and pursuing with all deliberate haste, Delessix opened the driver’s side door, and watched the path of the ruts, keeping just to one side so that he could see them.

Looking out the front window, Kirk could see that another pair of tracks joined those they were following as the gravel-paved area narrowed at the exit gate. When they reached the gate, Delessix paused, apparently studying the two sets of wheel marks and trying to determine which was which. It would be important because they diverged again on the other side of the gate.

Two cars had left the palace in the last hour. They had gone in different directions. Kirk recognized that one set took the road that led to the mountains, and the other took the sharper turn that would circle the palace and led to the airship factory. But which was which? Had Spock and Doranix gone to the factory as they had been overheard to say? Had Darien remembered that the plan was to take the stone to the mountains and gone there instead of where he said he was going? Or had both cars taken the paths their drivers had announced?

Kirk had no way of knowing which was which. But at least, he consoled himself, wherever each of them had gone, the divergent tracks said that at least they were not going to the same place. Darien was not going to find Spock and Doranix on whichever path he was on. Of course, depending on which set of tracks was which—and which one Delessix chose to follow, Kirk and the Urbanity might not find the thieves of the stone either. 


Even though this was the third time Spock had made the land journey to the mountains on the newly-constructed road, time seemed to spin out on an elastic thread that just got longer and longer no matter how far they went. Each landmark Spock remembered only served to remind him of how many more there were to go. He could hear the strain on the engine. He could feel through his own body how the framework of the land car labored under the weight of the sacred stone. The sun moved toward afternoon, and the shadow cast before the little car on the roadway grew longer and longer.

The line of the mountain range on the horizon came into view in the way that such things do: first it wasn’t there, and then it was. But it was still so far away, looking like a paper cut-out against the sky.

Anxious? Perhaps anxious was not the right word, it smacked too much of emotion. Ready? Yes, Spock was quite ready for this adventure to be over.

He turned slightly in the seat. "Doranix, when we get there, the explosive material is still where we left it?"

Spock had no reason to think otherwise. The cache of quasi-dynamite should be stockpiled near the cave entrance where the workmen left it, right where Spock had first noticed it. It was a good idea, though, to talk it through, so that when they got there, if they ever got there, the rest of the operation would proceed smoothly. There was no way of knowing if, or more properly, how soon they would be pursued, and there would be no time to waste on inefficiency.

"It hasn’t been moved," Doranix assured him.

"And you will be able to manage transporting it up to the opening? It is all the way beyond the crest of the ridge and back down again," Spock reminded him. "And you will have to take a substantial length of fuse and the detonator, too."

"I’ll carry it in my teeth if I have to," Delessix assured him. "If you can haul the dead-weight of the Stone up the mountain, I’ll manage anything else I have to. By the Sacred Way, Spock, I am amazed at your strength! I have never seen the stone lifted in my lifetime, and all the legends tell of it being virtually immovable. When we put it in the seat I don’t think any of the pushing and shoving I did moved it at all. It felt like trying to move the weight of the world itself."

Spock remembered that sensation all too well, himself. It had been one thing to carry the stone through the corridors of the palace and out into the courtyard. Up and over the mountain was going to be an entirely different proposition, especially now that he had already mustered the resources to do it once today. He would have to bring himself to that peak of concentration and will yet again, this time sustaining it for a much longer, more arduous time.

He knew that doubt was his first enemy, and attempted to banish it from his mind. "I shall do what is required of me. There is no other choice," he answered Doranix. If a Vulcan can be said to hope, Spock hoped that he had it in him to keep his word.

The ragged skyline of the mountain range was appreciably closer now. Spock had just completed measuring the remaining distance in his mind when the engine coughed. Spock shot a quick look at Doranix. He could not have helped but notice the mechanical stutter, but his face was set in grim determination, as if ignoring it would make it go away, or if not, then force of will would.

And, for a while at least, one tactic or the other seemed to be working. The mountains had risen to an imposing height, and the road was beginning to rise on an incline, when they hit a rough patch that started a labored shimmy vibrating through the vehicle. The engine coughed again. The control panel lights flickered once, and seemed dimmer when they flashed back on. Or maybe, that was just the effect of the sunlight, now shining in directly through the back window onto the controls and making them harder to see by contrast.

Rocky terrain began to spread out on either side of the road, the roadbed taking practical curves around some of the more substantial impediments in its path. He mountain towered over them, looming higher and higher as they approached.

As they came around a sharp turn, the framework of the car seemed to groan beneath them. Spock turned to look into the back passenger area. Still wrapped in it velvet mantle, the image the stone raised in Spock’s mind was a child’s rendering of a black hole. The stone was deeply imbedded in the seat cushion, nestled in as if the sturdy upholstery and underlying springs were of no more substance that the marshmelon Kirk had once tried to obtain from the replicator. The machine had not been up to the task, as it produced not a fruit or vegetable, but an odd, mushy pillow with a sticky inside and no seeds at all.

Spock would have spared a moment’s unexpressed amusement over the memory, except that the car hit a trough cut in the road, bumping badly, and knocking his head against the roof. He could feel something in the framework shift as Doranix gunned the engine and the back wheels lurched over the lip of concrete.

As they went on, there was the unmistakable feeling of something skewed: that out of balance feeling that even the great mass of a starship could get when the hull had been breached, or a nacelle was damaged. And, like any other piece of machinery, one part out of balance affected the efficiency of the whole. The engine began to choke in earnest, now, causing them to lose speed. Something set up a vibration that shook the entire frame and the passengers with it. A noise began beneath the engine cover. First an occasional arrhythmia, then a random clunk, which increased in frequency and tenor and became a distinct banging sound, that got louder and louder until they could barely hear each other speak over the noise.

"I would venture that the engine is destroying itself from within," Spock suggested.

"Not much left," Doranix shook his head, and jammed the throttle open, clinging grimly to the bucking steering mechanism with all six fingers. "But we’re going to get every last bit out of her we can."

Within minutes, they had achieved that goal. The journey came to a dramatic halt as a metal rod rammed through the engine covering and shot through a low trajectory onto the side of the road. A burst of steam jetted up through the jagged hole. The car’s momentum slowed, a dull thud shuddered through the car, and they came to a dead stop.

The entrance to the caves was no more than two hundred meters away. They had almost made it. They would just have to cover the remaining distance on foot. The first order of business was to figure out how to get at the stone. It was going to be ever so much more difficult with it imbedded deep in the upholstery. Spock turned in his seat once again to assess the situation. The stone was gone. There was a ragged tear in the fabric where it had been. Springs and stuffing puffed out at odd angles, but the stone was not there.

Spock shifted to his knees, hanging over the seat back to get a better look. He reached into the hole with his hand. Nothing. Quickly, he scrambled out his side door and back in again through the door to the back passenger compartment to get closer. From this vantage he was finally able to discover what had happened. The stone’s weight had dragged it all the way through the seat and down onto the metal undercarriage of the land car. Apparently the frame was not so well reinforced as Doranix had thought, because a gaping hole was torn through the sheet metal itself, exposing the surface of the roadway underneath. There was no sign of the stone.

"Doranix!" Spock called out.

"Spock!" he heard his companion yell from outside in back of the vehicle. "Get out of there! The engine could blow up. We’ve got to get away from here!"

Spock backed out of the car door and came around to the back end. "But the stone..." he began. Then he noticed where Doranix was looking, and followed his gaze. The stone, still wrapped in its velvet tablecloth lay at their feet. It registered in Spock’s mind that the final thud had been the stone hitting the road. The last few feet the car had rolled after the engine killed itself had taken it just beyond the spot where the stone now rested.

"Can you do it, Spock? Can you lift it? We’ve got to get out of here!" Doranix said anxiously.

It was harder to raise it from the ground than it had been from a pedestal which was already waist high. On the other hand, he knew its weight now, he had felt it through his body, borne it in his bones. He had done it once, therefore he had the confidence that he could do it again. He had only to summon up that same level of concentration, attain that same pinnacle of focus.

"Hurry, Spock! The engine..."

Spock shut out Doranix’s frantic warnings, shut out the very real possibility that the engine could indeed blow before they got clear of it, shut out his awareness of the enormity of the task ahead and concentrated on the moment. He bent, positioned his hands, still carefully keeping the soft black fabric between his hands and the cursed surface of the rock. He raised it slowly, ever so slowly, toward his chest, settled it...then, concentrating on a mental image of a spring uncoiling in ultra slow motion...he rose.

"This way, Spock! This way!" Doranix yelled from the side of the road, beside a man-sized boulder.

Spock let Doranix’s voice lead him, his body still stabilizing itself after the momentous effort he had put it through, and from which it could not yet rest. Not until it had carried its burden over the top of the looming mountain.

Eyes fixed on a point inside himself, Spock moved toward Doranix’s voice. He was aware of the other man positioning him with his back to the massive stone, and then crouching at his feet. They held the pose for a minute, nearly two, when the hiss of steam suddenly grew louder and a concussion of sound and explosive pressure filled the air around them. Bits of metal bounced off the rock they hid behind, or went chinking past them onto the open plain. Then there was a flash of intense heat as the wreckage of the car burst into flame.

When parts stopped flying and the sound of burning steadied down to a quiet crackle, Doranix touched Spock’s elbow. Barriers down, Spock felt his anxiety through the touch, felt his strength falter as his concentration slipped.

"Come on. This way," Doranix let go of his arm and led him from the shelter of the giant boulder and back onto the road. "This way," he repeated, leading Spock toward the mountain.

They had covered almost half the distance between the smoldering wreckage of the land car and the entrance to the cave. The heavy earth moving machinery sat idle along the sides of the road on either side of them. A flash of color at the cave mouth which was Namar running toward them registered dimly in Spock’s thoughts. All his concentration was on mastering the weight of the burden he bore. Doranix hovered near him, but a shake of Spock’s head about seventy meters back had warned him to keep silent and merely walk along beside, watching for barriers in the Vulcan’s path.

"Doranix!" Namar’s voice floated toward them across the distance.

Spock became aware of a faint hum in the air, increasing to a buzz, then a roar. He blocked it from his conscious attention. Then a dark shadow passed quickly across his vision and was gone again just as quickly, taking the intruding noise with it.

"Doranix," Namar called again.

"Stay there," he answered. "Wait for us!"

Their conversation was battering at Spock’s concentration, making it harder to keep his focus inward. This time, when the buzzing noise came again and then the shadow, he recognized it as the sound of an airship flying past overhead.

"Spock! It’s Darien!" Doranix shouted, forgetting his vow of silence.

Spock stopped. He held the stone close, but allowed himself to turn his attention to his frantic companion.

"Do you think he’s come to help us?" Darien asked.

Spock let a long blink substitute for the shrug that would have taken more effort. He looked up at the small, red, double-wing flyer. It looked like it was decked out for a carnival. Flags, anchored to poles placed on either side of the cockpit whipped in the wind. While Spock watched, the pilot reached out and grabbed at the flagpole on his left hand. It seemed to break off in his grip, bending sharply aft, the banner at the top switching wildly back and forth. The plane dropped low enough for Spock to recognize the pilot. The wind carried his voice away, but Darien’s mouth seemed to be saying something.

Then the plane swooped back up again, its tail barely missing the towering neck of a crane parked a few meters off the road. The wings on the far side of the plane dipped, and it made an erratic turn, straightening out just in time to avoid a course directly into the mountainside.

With that, Darien’s hand let go of the flagpole, and it separated from the plane. Time stopped as the three people on the ground watched it tumble end over end toward them. Then it straightened out, and spiraled, broken end first, the trailing banner describing the larger end of a cone that got smaller and smaller as it wound itself around the shaft.

Spock’s brain calculated the inevitable , but the weight in his arms prevented any kind of motion. It was all he could do to rouse his vocal chords to holler, "Doranix! Watch..."

His warning was too late. Time slammed into fast forward. Spock and the two Dorians stood transfixed, while the makeshift spear, the only thing in motion in the tableaux at the foot of the mountains, responded to wind and gravity and the will of some evil god, and drilled itself through the body of the heir of Doria.

The force first knocked, then pinned him to the ground. Namar rushed toward him from one side, while Spock, delayed only by the time it took to place his burden on the ground at last, fell to his knees at Doranix’s other side.

"Ugh...Help me, Spock..." Doranix was conscious. Oddly, there was no bleeding yet, but there was fear and shock in his eyes. His hands grasped at the shaft protruding from his chest, trying without success to pull it from his body. The banner, hung limply now at the upper end of its pole, looking like the battle flag of a conquered army. ""

Spock laid a hand over the wound, the flagpole abutting the crook between thumb and first finger. He could feel the Dorian’s heart beating under his palm. Indeed the wound seems to pass right through it. There was no reason it should still be beating, and surely it would not continue to do so for long.

"Doranix, I cannot." Spock shook his head. "We must wait for help. If I pull it out now, you will bleed to death before help comes."

" me..." Doranix shook his head, rubbing dust into his dark claret hair. "You must..."

Namar’s hands grappled at the pole above the place where Spock held it. "Get it out. If you will not, then let me. We must get it out!" She was more self-possessed than many women might have been, but she was also insistent.

Grabbing at her hands before she could make good on her assertion, Spock said, "No. If we pull it out he will bleed to death in minutes." In his mind’s eye he could see the fountain of blood that would follow if they pulled the stake our of Doranix’s body. It was beyond explanation why he wasn’t bleeding now, but it was obviously better to leave well enough alone while one of them went for help.

"No, Spock. He will not," Namar insisted, trying to escape his grip. "He will not die. It is not our Way."

Spock was about to respond to the utter foolishness of her statement, when the truth of it struck him. No, Dorian’s did not die—not easily anyway. But could Doranix survive the massive trauma of this injury? Could this kind of damage be transferred remotely to his Nafaris back at the palace. If it could, how could Spock be a party to causing injury to the other man, one who already lay injured with a shattered hip caused by the accident in the air ship factory only a few days ago.

Doranix’s quest was to end the slavery of the stone forever, yet neither he nor Namar was above using it this one last time in pursuit of their goal. The ethics were much more tangled than whether the ends might ever justify the means, for the use of the stone was at the heart of both. Doranix would not suffer the injury whether they pulled out the pole or not. Obviously he was immobilized by it, but Spock could see from his condition that he was neither bleeding nor in pain. The actual trauma had already been transferred to the other man.

But if they left Doranix staked to the ground, this would be the end of their quest. Doranix’s Nafaris would not be the last of his class to die for his master. He would be just one more, in an evil heritage that stretched forward forever.

"Spock, help me," Doranix demanded.

Spock closed his grip on the pole with both hands and pulled. At first, the Dorian’s body arched toward him, as if it had already grown around the stake and did not know how to let it go. Doranix’s eyes widened, and he sucked in breath, but made no protest.

Spock rose to one knee to improve his leverage and pulled again. No matter what his mind told him to expect, he was still surprised when the shaft first loosened and then started to slide bloodlessly out of Doranix’s chest. There was dirt on the ragged broken end where it had imbedded itself in the ground, but not so much as a smear of red, or green or whatever color the wine-haired Dorians blood ran. There seemed to be a dark hole visible in the Dorian’s chest when the point of the shaft came away, but in the time it took for Spock to fling the pole away and look back at the man on he ground, the flesh beneath the ragged hole in his shirt had closed and was unblemished.

Doranix lay back, catching his breath before saying, "By the Way, that was close. Was that Darien in that plane?"

Spock nodded.

"I wonder what he meant to do? Was he coming to help us or stop us? He couldn’t have hit his mark that perfectly on purpose, and he would have known that it wouldn’t slow us down for long. I wonder what he was up to. And what were you going to do, Spock, leave me pinned to the ground as carrion for the birds?" he laughed.

Spock flashed on an old story his mother had told him about a man who had angered his gods and was sentenced to have a bird eat at his guts every day, while they grew back every night. He wondered if somehow a dream of Doria had found its way into Earth mythology. If there were such things, it would be a cruel god indeed who ruled this place.

Doranix propped himself up on one elbow. "Ready to go on, Spock? You looked kind of far away for a minute there."

Spock heaved himself to his feet, and prepared to take up his burden once more. As he bent over the stone, however, Doranix said, "Wait. You know I was thinking while I was laying there waiting for you two to make up your minds, maybe we ought to try some of these earth moving machines. They didn’t have anything like this when the Stone of Blessing first landed here. It hasn’t been moved for centuries. There was never any reason to. If these things can move mountains, maybe they can manage one very heavy stone."

"An excellent idea," Spock agreed. "The equipment itself may be too cumbersome to drive all the way over the ridge, however."

"Maybe so, but every little bit helps. Every benetark it rides in this thing..." He rapped his knuckles against the huge scoop at the front end of one of the machines. " a benetark you don’t have to carry it."

Spock could find no fault in that reasoning.

"As a matter of fact, why don’t we just drive one of these things over to the stone right where it is. Then all we’ll have to do is roll it up into the scoop, and we’re on our way," Doranix suggested.

"Watch this, Namar!" He waved, as he hopped up into the control cab of the machine.

Fortunately, nothing on this planet seemed to require personal keys or codes, Spock noted to himself. And it was a good thing that the ruling class on Doria were used to doing manual labor themselves and knew how things worked. Spock had encountered several princes who wouldn’t have been able to fend for themselves if their lives depended upon it. Doranix simply started pulling levers and pushing other moving parts in rapid sequence, and the machine roared to life.

"Watch out!" he yelled, as he brought the big scoop up off the ground and turned the machine so that it faced the road. The treads began to roll, easily riding up over larger rocks and simply pulverizing smaller ones in its path. Doranix drove it slowly, so that he could position the edge of the scoop mere inches from the stone then he gently lowered the big metal trough back to the ground.

He sprang from the seat and joined Spock on his knees beside the stone. "At least let me try to help," he offered.

That was when Spock found out the color of Dorian blood. It was red. Red, like Jim’s. Red like McCoy’s. It spurted like an open hydrant from Doranix’s chest. It gushed down the front of his shirt. It pooled in a growing puddle at the bottom of the scoop. It flowed over the stone soaking into the black velvet wrapping. It sprayed into Spock’s eyes, tinting the whole landscape red.

Doranix fell backward, his color already blanched. Real terror was in his eyes now. And pain. Somewhere Namar screamed. Spock bent over the heir of Edliw, pressing down on the gaping wound in his chest with both hands, trying to stanch the flow of blood. He could feel the rapid fluttering of the heart beneath his hands. With each erratic beat more blood gushed up between his fingers. A pool seemed to be spreading across the ground from beneath his body, too.

Then Namar was there, on her knees, her face wet with tears and her lover’s blood. She was compulsively stroking Doranix’s hair as if that were the only place she could bear to touch him.

"Namar!" Spock shouted, desperately trying to break through her hysteria. "Namar, how...?"

And then it came to him. He realized the answer before she gave it to him. "His Nafaris is dead!" she wailed.

"He can’t die. He can’t!" She wept, rocking back and forth over the damaged body.

In that moment, Spock knew that she was right. He could carry out their mission without Doranix, but if Doranix did not survive it would be meaningless. Without Doranix to lead his people, to take them through the transition, his success would be seen only as aggressive interference by an outside power. Reform of the Dorian Way had to come from a Dorian, or not at all. There was only one thing he could do now. One way he could help. He hoped that it was not too late. He hoped that Kirk would come soon. He hoped that Darien would return and join his brother-in-law’s cause. Most of all, he hoped that he had the strength remaining to do what had to be done.

He took Namar’s hands and flattened them, one on top of the other on Doranix’s chest. "Push," he told her. "Harder!"

When she leaned into her assigned task, he turned to shift the stone into place. When it was within reach of Doranix’s unconscious hand, Spock peeled away the blood-soaked wrapping.

Namar seemed to realize what he had in mind. "You would do...this...for him?"

"It is the only logical thing to do," he replied.

He took Doranix’s hand and molded the fingers around the knobby end of the stone, holding it in place with one knee. He held his own right hand over the stone, positioning his thumb in the single depression. Five impressions remained, each one now a tiny reservoir of Doranix’s blood. Spock lowered his fingers into the blood, filling the two indentations near the thumb and then the two outer ones. The space in the center remained empty, his hand loosely forming the Vulcan sign of blessing.

Spock knew that he had physical resources unavailable to either Dorians or Humans. He had spent the afternoon demonstrating that fact as the bearer of the stone that no Dorian could lift. It had taxed him, and it would make this all the more difficult, but he would go through with it. He had to.

Leaving his hand and Doranix’s positioned on the stone, Spock began to slow his metabolism. To the best of his ability he shut down his pain receptors; he could not afford to have his concentration distracted by the pain. He felt his heart slow. He consciously forced himself to hyperventilate, storing up oxygen in his cells.

He did not know precisely how the stone worked, and he wanted to insure his success with the addition of a more familiar ritual. He positioned his left hand on Doranix’s face: forehead, temple, sinus, cheekbone, jawline. He felt Namar looking at him with questions in her face that he did not answer.

He went deeper into himself, feeling his body fall away, and only a thin layer of consciousness remaining to complete the link between them.

He had observed the Dorian ritual, but he did not remember the words. In any case, they were not his words. He closed his eyes and said softly, "My mind to your mind..."


Delessix made his decision, choosing to follow the set of wheel marks leading up the new road toward the mountains. Once he made his choice, he yanked the door shut and concentrated on the road ahead.

Kirk didn’t know what to say. What was his role supposed to be sitting there beside the Urbanity in the speeding car? They rode in intent silence for what seemed to Kirk like at least half an hour. Finally, without taking his eyes from the road, Delessix said. "My son does not believe we should accept the Blessing of Nafar. He objects to the ancient Way of our people."

He said it as a statement of fact. Kirk could discern neither agreement nor disapproval in his voice. He considered his reply. It would be a transparent lie to act as if this revelation surprised him. Nor did he feel compelled to pretend sympathy for the father of a wayward son. He chose to answer in the same flat, factual manner. "No. He does not."

Delessix made a short noise in the back of his throat, and nodded as if he was thinking.

Kirk wanted to say more. He wanted to argue for freedom and human rights and all of that. He drew breath, but more than once the words died on his lips. Clearly, the Urbanity was conducting his own internal arguments. Kirk thought it might be best to let him wrestle by himself with any doubts that might have insinuated themselves in his orthodoxy. To argue too strongly for his own opinions right now might tip the delicate balance he sensed was being weighed in the Urbanity’s mind. Challenging him might have the effect of polarizing the Urbanity against him. They sped on in silence.

A short while later, the Urbanity said, "We do not become...involved...with those we honor. They are not..."

He didn’t finish, and Kirk wondered bitterly, Not what? Not like us? Not our equals? Not people?

"They enable us. It is for us to humbly serve them, not to..." Delessix mused aloud.

And Kirk realized that there really was more to it than simply upper class and lower class. When the Urbanity’s son crossed the line by falling in love with a member of the Nafaris, and then blurred that line by making a cross-bred child with her, he was breaking taboos based on much more than the notion that the honored ones were "not good enough."

At least, Kirk mused, that was what the original idea had been: the intent which had been ritualized and passed down through generations until exchanging honor for pain had become an automatic, ingrained part of the planet’s culture. It was no wonder that Delessix and the others had such a difficult time thinking rationally about their so-called "Way." They were trying to equate the validity of a single, legendary act of meaningful sacrifice, (no matter how bizarre it was originally), with an everyday modern reality which had lost the meaning, yet continued to exist, the mundane injustice painted over with the justification of sacrosanct tradition.

"But those you ‘honor’ have no lives of their own," Kirk ventured. He couldn’t help trying to sway Delessix’s internal dialogue his way. "Who... enables them? What about their talents, their dreams. Who knows what they could contribute to society if you would only let them?"

"They do not need to contribute. They enable others." His reply was automatic, falling back on some ingrained catechism.

"But what if they have something else to offer? There might be great thinkers among them...or poets, or craftsmen or simply people who would rather work"

"We do not require it of them," Delessix repeated his obdurate answer.

"You do not allow it," Kirk said. "There is a difference."

"The Nafaris do not need to think or work. They enable us. It is our burden to work and make and do in return for their giving us the health and strength to serve them." Delessix paused. "If the honored ones did not bear for us, we would grow old and weak. We would have sickness and pain and deformity. We would not be able to live such productive make such a good world to live in. Who would care for us?"

"You would learn to care for each other, just as we have done. The Federation would send you doctors to teach you. Many of the things you fear can be cured. Your world would not be one of endless pain and suffering. For the most part, people would go about their daily business, making and doing and building and creating, just as we do."

"Ah," said the Urbanity. It was as if he was about to deliver the coup de gras of his argument. Still, there seemed to be regret in his voice. " But who would care for the Nafaris?"

Kirk knew that his answer was both the easiest to say and the most difficult to accomplish of anything he had said thus far; "They will have to learn to care for themselves."

"And why would they wish to do that, when we now provide for their every need? You argue from a false premise, Kirkix," Delessix chided gently.

"And what might that be?" Kirk didn’t follow the Urbanity’s reasoning.

"That it is the Nafaris who serve our needs," Delessix said. "It is really the other way around. It is we who serve them. Why would they wish to have it any other way?"

"Freedom," Kirk said, but he feared that it was a concept so far outside the Urbanity’s understanding as to have no more meaning than the sound it made in the air between them.

Indeed, he could not tell what impact it had, as Delessix gave the slightest shrug and turned his attention back to the road. Apparently the discussion was at an end. They drove on in silence. Kirk stared at the narrow highway, wondering what more he could say.

He squinted into the distance. Something was in the road. Something lumpish and massive and gray. How had a rock that big come to be in the middle of the road? In seconds, as they came closer, Kirk could see that it was not a rock; it was one of the earth moving machines left there by the road builders. Had the crew come back to work? Or had Spock and Doranix driven it there to block their way. If that was the case, there didn’t seem to be much of Spock’s characteristic logic in it, since they could easily walk around the obstruction, and the cave mouth was no more than a hundred meters away. A good blockade would have been several miles back. Surely Spock and Doranix could have managed that wait!

There were people crouched on the ground near the front end of the machine. There were of them, the third was standing a little way back, almost concealed behind the earth mover. Kirk saw a flash of Dorian-burgundy hair on one of the crouching figures, and a blur of Starfleet blue on the other. Spock and Doranix! It had to be!

In the same microsecond that the colors and their meaning clicked in Kirk’s mind, he saw another color. Red. Blood red. In less time than it took to think about it, the bright redness washed over the entire scene. Although he could have driven closer, Delessix braked hard, and both men were out their doors and running.

Doranix was spread-eagled on the ground. Spock knelt beside him, with the third figure, the woman Kirk recognized as Namar, on his other side. Spock was doing something. He had a red ball or something between his hands, dragging it along the ground. There was something familiar to Kirk about Spock’s pose, his arm extended, his hand hovering over the other man’s face. Then it hit him, and he knew what Spock was trying to do.

Kirk ran. "No!" He didn’t know whether he shouted or only thought the words. "Spock, no! Don’t!"

Had Spock heard him? Kirk saw him fall back, away from Doranix. Then he knew that the Vulcan had not heeded his warning, but had succeeded in his efforts. Spock lay motionless, while Doranix stirred and tried to stand. Kirk skidded to a stop beside his friend and dropped to his knees. Glittering threads of rich emerald colored blood seeped slowly from a gaping hole in Spock’s chest, ran away in rivulets down his side and puddled on the ground. Kirk pulled his eyes away from the terrible open wound to look at Spock’s face. The Vulcan’s face was turned away from him, and Kirk raised up on his knees to lean over him, just in time to see the terrible blank look in his friend’s eyes before the eyelids slid closed.

"Spock!’ he whispered.


Pain slammed into Spock’s chest. This was nothing like the shared pain he felt through a meld, no matter how grievous his subject’s wounds. Nor was it even on the same scale with any other physical injury he had incurred in his lifetime. The force of it flung him backward, breaking the physical connection with the stone and abruptly cutting off the meld. He was alone inside his own head, and the terrible, awesome, black hole of agony was in his own body. The very shock of it almost yanked him out of the controlled state he had so carefully constructed for himself.

He lay on his back in the road, his head turned to one side. It would take too much of his attention away from clinging to his mastery of biocontrol for him to raise his head, or even his hand, to assess the damage. He did not allow himself to consider the possibility that his injury was so great that he would not have been able to move even if he willed himself to do so.

He turned his mind inward, trying to understand the injury, one shattered nerve and violated tissue at a time. He felt as if he had been cored. Already parts of his body were screaming out for blood supply that did not come because so many arteries were severed or collapsed. Air sighed through a punctured lung, and he no longer had the strength to command his body to shut the injured organ down and rely only upon the other one. Something else was wrong, too. Something he had not expected, as if he could have truly been said to expect the unbelievable extent of the injury he had consciously determined to sustain. He sent exploratory signals through various nerve groups, trying to isolate the other sensation.

When he found it, it would have been better if it had remained in the background, for when he became fully aware of the crushed hip it flared like an explosion in his mind, vying for his full attention against the monstrous hole through his chest. Again, he nearly lost control from the shock of this new pain. Dimly, he realized that he had somehow become heir to all the injuries Doranix’s Nafaris had suffered before he died. He would now have to contend not only with the gaping wound through his body, but with the distress of an unhealed injury sustained only days ago.

He could sense that he was losing contact with his extremities, both of mind and of body. He could not receive signals from his fingers. His feet seemed to have disintegrated, and a growing number of random places in his mind were turning into empty black spots. He knew he must give up consciousness and achieve a state of healing trance while he was still able. If his body stole that decision of will away from him before he could impose it, he would lose his carefully constructed net of biocontrol. If he lapsed into real unconsciousness his heart rate would return to normal, his veins would open and pump his blood mindlessly into the open wound, where it would soak into the ground beneath him. He would die.

Blood. Something tugged at his thoughts. So much blood. He fought to stay awake a moment more. What was it about blood? Pools and fountains of blood... Blood on his hands. Blood in his eyes. Doranix’s blood. It had run away from him in rivers. Even if Spock had taken the brunt of his injury...the Dorian had lost so much blood. Would he be able to continue? Or would he be too weak to go on? Had Spock’s actions been in vain? Would they both die here, with the stone, covered with both their blood, laying victorious between them? He had to know before he released himself to the trance.

His eyes were open, but he had not allowed himself to register their signals to his mind. He could deal with no more input than what was strictly needed to assess his situation and exert control. Now he permitted himself to see, to acknowledge the messages from his optic nerve. Beside him, Doranix was rising to his feet. Namar was at his elbow, helping him to get up. He looked shaky, but he was alive.

Spock let his eyelids drop. It was dangerous to leave the surface of the eyes unprotected during a prolonged trance. The darkness in his head became deeper with the light shuttered away. The blackness of unconsciousness sung seductively inside his ears. To sleep...rather than to fight the internal battles of the trance state. It would be so easy. But I must not...I must...

There was a soft sigh as his injured lung collapsed. He did not hear the footsteps approaching at a run, or the familiar voice that whispered, "Spock..."


"My son!" Kirk was dimly aware of Delessix’s exclamation. There was a sudden scuffling of too many feet, too close to Spock’s shuttered face. Kirk threw himself across the Vulcan to protect him, and looked up. Doranix was standing, but just barely, supported on either side by his father and Namar. A near stumble had caused the whole trio to lose their balance and stagger within inches of Spock’s head.

Kirk watched, still hovering over Spock, while they righted themselves and got a better hold on the weakened man. Doranix sagged like a wet rag between them. Drying blood saturated the front of his tunic, and smeared onto his father and the woman he loved. His injury was healed as if it had never been, but loss of blood was robbing his brain of oxygen. His father and Namar called out his name at the same time.

Doranix shook his head weakly, as if trying to clear it before speaking. He wet his lips. Then, too weak to hold it up any longer, he let his head drop forward. His knees buckled, and Delessix and Namar had no choice but to ease him back to the ground. As they did so, Kirk saw their eyes meet over his head. Their expressions were identical. Blame was clearly etched on both their faces, is if each was saying to the other. "You did this to him. If it were not for you..."

He could not see it, but Kirk’s own expression was a reflection of theirs, as if in a three way mirror. But his thoughts were on Spock, and the blame for what had befallen him was too great to pin on any one man or woman. The whole damned planet...the whole damned universe must bear the blame for this emerald river of life’s blood which was leaking slowly away from the most noble, the most honorable man he knew. At that moment, Kirk felt that any reality which gave Spock both the reason and the means to make a sacrifice of this magnitude did not deserve to exist.

Vainly, he tried to find a way to stop the bleeding. There was no way to put pressure on a wound which gaped all the way through Spock’s body. He could tell that Spock must be exerting some inner control over his bodily functions, otherwise he would certainly have bled to death by now.

But he could also tell that whatever Spock was doing, hidden there inside his own mind, unreachable and silent, it was not enough. It would take longer at this rate, but without help he would still bleed to death, just as surely as if it was not controlled at all. He needed help. He needed McCoy. But McCoy was back on the ship, as unreachable as Spock himself, and because of the damned Dorian stone, just as helpless.

He looked up, pulling away from his protective position above Spock and settling back on his haunches. He knocked his knee against something and looked to see what it was. There was a stone on the ground, the size of a man’s head. It was painted with a wash of red and green, turning a muddy color where the two shades smeared into each other. It was only by its shape and the indentations which marked out positions for a six fingered hand print that he recognized the stone which was at the heart of the whole matter.

He understood now that whatever had befallen Doranix—and then, by the evil potential of the stone, Spock—they had been trying to load the damned thing into the scoop of the earth moving machine to haul it up the mountain. His mind focused down to a pinpoint. Spock had fallen trying to get rid of this damned stone, and Kirk would complete that task for him with his own dying breath if necessary.

The stone was only inches from the lip of the scoop. Still on his knees, Kirk seized its bloody surface and heaved. To his consternation, nothing happened. It was as if the thing was affixed to the ground, as if it was an extension of the ground itself. Like trying to push the whole planet from the vantage of a mere speck of space on its surface. But he would not let it defeat him. He would not. For Spock’s sake, he would conquer this evil thing—even if it was the last thing he did.

He looked at his hands, sticky now with blood, willed into them all his strength, placed them against the stone and pushed. It skidded in the dirt and jammed up against the upturned lip of the scoop. He was going to have to lift it to get it loaded. It wasn’t far, no more than maybe six centimeters, but he already saw the impossibility of even so small a feat. A lever, he thought. A lever or a ramp of some sort. He paused to look around for something he could use.

There was a flurry of activity and sound, mechanical noises and footsteps and voices. At first, Kirk didn’t want to let them intrude upon his quest, but eventually he had to acknowledge them. Their presence might be relevant. Somehow, it might be help that was arriving.

It was the women. Regardless of Delessix’s admonition to stay at home and wait, they had apparently lost no time in piling into another land car and following. Against all prudence, Kirk saw that they had even brought the little girl with them. Analiss knelt beside her son, while Amalia stood apart, holding the little girl against her pant legs, trying with little success to shield her from the scene of carnage. None of them seemed to spare much attention to the two non-Dorians.

Kirk tried to hold still so as not to intrude on their awareness. He was going to do this thing, and no one was going to stop him. Silently, he cast his eyes around looking for some bit of wood or metal he could use to create a lever and fulcrum. There was a long pole a few meters away. What was it? A flagpole? It looked too flimsy to do him much good. It was only six or eight centimeters across. Then he realized that Doranix was pointing at the long, straight stick he was contemplating.

" the air ship..." he said weakly.

"Darien?" his mother repeated.

Doranix raised a hand and drew an arching line across the sky. "He flew over in one of the small, open cockpit air ships...There of them..." His gaze shifted back to the shaft on the ground. The other’s eyes followed his, so did Kirk’s. "...In his hand...broke was..." he fluttered a hand over the ragged hole in his shirt, then started to swoon.

That pole, flung at Doranix from the height of a fly-by air ship was the instrument of this catastrophe? What had appeared too flimsy to use as a lever was a whole different story when he thought about its diameter punching rudely through flesh. Yet how was it that there was no blood on it? There seemed to be blood everywhere except on the weapon itself.

And what about Darien? He had seemed such a rational being. Sometimes Kirk thought he was very near to being persuaded by Doranix’s desire to end the reign of the stone. Had he become such a fanatic for orthodoxy that he had been willing to murder his own brother-in-law, not to mention that Doranix was also the heir to the throne, so that his wife and daughter could continue their careless lives at the expense of a succession of hapless Nafaris?

"Doranix," his father was slapping him gently on the cheeks, "stay with us, son." The older man looked frightened, he was not accustomed to seeing one of his own affected by the after effects of an injury.

Doranix blinked. His eyes cleared, and he looked a little stronger. "Namar?" He looked for her. Her place beside him had been supplanted by his mother when she arrived. Namar had been shunted to the background. Doranix’s voice turned anxious when he didn’t see her immediately. "Namar?"

"Here," she said.

He pulled away from his mother and pushed himself into a sitting position, then held out his hand to Namar. She came and took it, kneeling beside him. Alinar shot her a vicious look, and Kirk was gratified to see that Namar returned it without any compunction.

"Doranix," his father began again. "What were you trying to do, son?" His voice was quiet. "Why did you take the stone?"

Doranix answer was decisive, with no hint of apology. "To destroy it if I could. And if I could not, to bury it so far away that no one would ever be able to use it again."

Amalia took a step toward him, the little girl still held in check beside her, "Destroy it? Why in the name of the blessed Way..."

Alinar cut her off abruptly. "You were hurt..."

"Dorians cannot be hurt, Mother," he said bitterly. "That’s the whole point."

"You were nearly killed! If it had not been for..."

Suddenly, every eye was on Kirk. And Spock.

A deep, agonized groan issued from Doranix as he finally realized why he was not close he had come...and at what cost to the visitor from a better world who had only been trying to help him.

"Spock! Kirk, is he..."

"Not yet," Kirk answered, "but ...he will be soon. And it will be for nothing." He turned his anger on the Urbanity, himself. "For nothing, Delessix...just like half the other people on your world whose matter what you say...mean nothing to you!"

"But...but we honor..."

"Bullshit!" Kirk spat at him. "You keep them alive like fatted calves...steal away from them any shred of real humanity they might hope for with your platitudes and ritual pampering...and when they die...when you allow them to give you the...the only truly precious thing they just choose another one to ‘honor’...and to use up...and throw away!"

Kirk could feel himself shaking with rage. To think that his damned pussyfooting diplomacy had led to this! To the meaningless death of the man he was most proud to call his friend. Right now for two credits he’d cheerfully blow the whole damned planet to oblivion and declare to the heavens that it was not enough.

Delessix seemed momentarily taken aback by Kirk’s outburst. Alinar quailed back, looking wary.

Doranix pulled Namar closer to him, a determined look came into his eyes. "Not for nothing, Kirk. Not if I have anything to..."

"Grandpa! Grandpa!" Suddenly, sensing the assault on her beloved grandfather, Analiss was out of her mother’s grasp and throwing herself protectively against the older man.

"Analiss!" her mother cried, but the child was gone.

Still speechless, the Urbanity crouched down beside the child. He held her to him, reaching up to pat her fair hair and leaving a dark red stain on her pink curls. Realizing that he had smeared blood on the child, he jerked his hand away and stared at it in horror.

Unaware of what had caused this new offense to her grandfather’s sensibilities, Analiss knew only that something was very wrong. She reached chubby arms up to encircle his neck. "I love you, Grandpa," she whispered loudly, nodding her head up and down in the childish assurance that her love could make everything all right.

And it did.

"Father," Doranix began, quietly, "I know you love her. She gives you great joy." He paused, then said, "You have another grandchild, you know."

The Urbanity’s eyebrows drew together in confusion. He blinked, then raised his eyes to look at Namar.

"Yes, father. Another grandchild. My child. And Namar’s." He answered his father’s questioning look, his voice even lower now. Kirk had to strain to hear. "No, not yet. But soon. Another child that could love you as Analiss does. Another tiny hand to hold in kisses and sweet laughter. A child of your own blood." Again he stopped to give his words time to sink in. "But her blood, or his," he continued, "will someday be spilled for a stranger ...just like Spock’s has been spilled for my sake."

Again, all eyes turned to the still form of the Vulcan, and Kirk, who still hovered over him, no matter how hopeless, how helpless he felt.

"No..." the word escaped the Urbanity’s lips in a whisper.

"Yes," Doranix said, more loudly now. "Yes, Father, just like that. Because this child..." He laid a protective hand over Namar’s belly. "...will be a Nafaris. It is the child of a Nafaris, and in the sacred Way of our world, the fact that it is also of your blood or my blood doesn’t count. And just like Kirk said, in the end, when it dies to prolong the life of some careless and self-centered Dorian who does not wish to grow old, its own blood will not count for anything then, either."

"No," Doranix said again, clutching Analiss to him fiercely. Kirk could see in his face that he was imagining the precious child he held in his arms lying in her own blood just as Spock was now. "No!" he roared.

"Yes, Father! Unless it stops here!" Doranix struggled to his feet and, leaning on Namar for support, walked the few steps to where his father stood, then reached out and touched his hand. "Help me, Father. Help me end it, here and now."

A shudder passed down the length of the older man’s frame. He bit his lip to keep it from trembling, squeezed his eyes tightly shut...and nodded...once.


Then Delessix seemed to regain his dignity. His head came up and his spine straightened. He placed his hands on the child’s shoulders and gently eased her away from him, shooing her back toward her mother.

"Delessix?" Alinar said, uncertainly.

Her husband stared at her for a long moment, then turned his eyes toward Namar. She met them with an even gaze. He looked her up and down, as if seeing her for the first time. Again, he nodded, only slightly this time, but more than once, as if agreeing with himself.

Then he turned to his son. "What is your plan?"

"Over the ridge, on the far slope, there is a...window in the mountainside which lets into a deep cavern. There was a cave-in yesterday. That much of what we told you was true. The passage on this side is sealed shut. We planned to take the stone up the mountain and drop it into the chasm. It’s very deep. The workmen left behind enough explosives to drop the whole crest of the mountain down upon itself with the Stone sealed up inside."

"Are you sure that simply burying it would break the connections between us and those we..."

Kirk noticed with bitter approval Delessix’s new hesitation over the use of the word "honor."

Doranix shook his head. "Frankly, no, Father. I don’t know if it would have any effect at all on those who are already bound. But I do know that it would prevent us from ever using it again. Having the stone buried under several tons of mountain will effectively stop the next ceremony, and the next one, and the one after that, until someday, when all of us are gone, those who come after us..." Again he touched Namar over the place where their child slept. "...will be free."

Delessix considered his son’s plan. "And how were you going to get it over the mountain?"

Doranix gestured to the earth mover, indicating the bloodied stone poised mere centimeters from its trough—impossible centimeters though they were, Kirk thought.

"Spock is a man of uncommon strength. It was only with his help that I was able to get it this far. From here, we would have taken it up in the machine. We were just loading it when Darien buzzed over in the air ship and tried to put an end to the whole scheme."

"Darien?" Amalia repeated, sounding dazed, as if the mention of her husband’s name was a non sequitur.

"Darien...the plane... the lance that skewered me to the ground," he reminded her. "I would have died if it hadn’t been for..." He looked over at Spock.

"But why would..." Amalia began.

"He knew it all, Amalia. He knew how I felt, what I wanted to do, where we would be." He took his sister’s hands. "He came after us the fastest way he could and almost put an end to it. If it weren’t for Father now..."

"But why? Of course, he would have thought you were crazy or wrong or...but why would he have tried kill you?"

Doranix looked gently into her face. "Don’t you understand? I do. For you. He did it for you. For you and Analiss. Because he loves you. Because he couldn’t bear to think of you...either of you...without the protection of your Nafaris. Couldn’t bear to think of you getting old or getting hurt."

"But to throw things at you, to nearly kill you! You’re his friend!" she objected.

"We do funny things for the women we love, Amalia. Funny things... desperate changing things..." He kept hold of one of his sister’s hands, while taking up one of Namar’s and drawing her closer.

"What amazes me," he continued, "isn’t why but how? The chances of actually hitting me the way he did, from that distance, with the wind and everything..." He shook his head, "I would have said it almost looked more like an accident if it hadn’t been so incredibly accurate." He held out the ragged edge of the hole in his shirt for her inspection.

"But he shouldn’t have," she protested. "Not even for..."

"Bygones, Amalia." Her father interrupted. "We’ll worry about it later. Come, son, show me what you want me to do before I change my mind."

Kirk had to get out of their way in order to make room for the two Dorians to bend and strain over the stone. Even with the two of them lifting on it, they weren’t having much more luck with it that he had when he had tried it alone.

He looked back and forth between the laboring Dorians and his dying friend. There was nothing he could do for Spock. Absolutely nothing. Except, perhaps, try to lend a hand in seeing that his death would not be without meaning.

He elbowed in beside Delessix and got a hand in among the other four against the surface of the stone. It was sticky now, as the blood dried on it. Kirk gritted his teeth and tried not to think about it. Just push. Clench the teeth, squeeze the eyes shut, dig in the knees and the toes of the boots and push!

The stone started to move. Hands shifted on its surface to get under the center of gravity, and using the lip of the bulldozer scoop as a fulcrum, they slowly edged it upward, rolling it up and over until it finally passed the turning point and gravity took over to finish the job.

Doranix swooned slightly upon regaining his feet, still a little off balance from the loss of blood he had sustained. Delessix leaped into the cab, and Kirk was both pleased and surprised to see the ease with which the headman of the planet managed the controls of the giant machine.

First, he’d raised the scoop so that it would not snag on any obstacles in its way. The gears ground, and the metal protested as if it was trying to lift a full load instead of a head-sized rock. Delessix, didn’t force the issue, raising the scoop only about a meter and a half before activating the treads and putting the great machine into motion.

He had to start by backing up or he would have run over Spock’s prone form. Knowing the fragility of the trance state, Kirk was loath to move or disturb his body for fear of bringing on the end any sooner than need be.

The machine started to move. Kirk stood between it and Spock. He ached to follow it up the mountainside and witness the defeat of the stone’s insidious tyranny. Yet he felt duty-bound to stay and watch over his friend’s dying moments.

Doranix seemed to sense Kirk’s dilemma. He eased himself down to his knees beside Spock, drawing Namar down with him. "We’ll watch," he said. "You go and see that it is done."

Feeling both guilt and relief, Kirk took a step closer to the idling machine.

Making a wide arc around the fallen Vulcan, the machine moved up the last few meters of road toward the mountain, rolling slowly enough for Kirk to keep up on foot. When he reached the face which had been the original opening of the now-sealed passageway, Delessix turned the earth mover to skirt around the land formation, looking for a more accessible grade. He finally found a slope that would give the machine some purchase and ground the gears, driving the machine forward for the assault on the mountain.

Small stones flew from the biting treads, and Kirk had to back off to avoid being hit. Young trees disappeared under the tank-like mono-pod and the weight of the behemoth machine, as if rolled upward. Despite his grief, a bell of triumph resonated in Kirk’s heart at the sight of the noisy gray monster driving up and up the face of the mountain, ever nearer to the goal of burying the evil thing that had done this to Spock.

Each new challenge to the machine’s progress caused Kirk’s heart to rise in his throat as he watched, itching to do something, to get behind and push if need be. The machine would hesitate as the grade increased, then, growling like some huge angry animal, it would somehow find the resources to redouble its efforts, and crash over the barrier or through the obstruction, each time tilting farther and farther toward an impossible angle.

Kirk couldn’t believe that the machine had ever been designed to climb upward on inclines as steep as it was now conquering. He supposed that only the off-balancing weight of the stone in the front hopper kept it from tipping completely over backward or sliding back down the slope up which it had come.

Another sharp increase in the grade stood before it. Kirk shaded his eyes with his hand to better watch the giant machine take on this next challenge. Distantly, he heard the growl and roar of the gears, the grinding of metal against stone. The monster started up the incline, the leading edge of its hungry treads biting into thin air as it balanced between the last step and the next.

One more meter, and Kirk could imagine the massive weight settling forward, lifting the back end off the ground and onto the higher plane, where it would spurt forward again in search of the next hurdle. Only a meter more. Come on! Come on! Kirk could feel every muscle in his body urging it on as if he could work some miracle of telekinesis by pumping adrenaline at it from here below. A meter more! Come on! Come on!

Spinning treads grabbed at empty air. Come on! Come on! The machine reared back, balanced on just the back-most point, then just hung there in the air, poised and waiting to tip backward and come tumbling down the mountain, Stone of Blessing, Urbanity and all.

Then it slammed forward again, the treads smashing into the rock face with a crash that reverberated like an echo of itself. And then it stopped.

The silence was deafening. The minute he realized that the machine had failed in its assault, Kirk began scrambling up the side of the mountain, following the torturous path the machine had cut in its ascent. Sharpened edges of stones, newly split by the passing of the earth mover cut into Kirk’s palms when he grasped for handholds to help pull himself from level to level.

He welcomed the twinges of pain; the stubbed toes, the scraped shins, the grated fingertips. At least, he knew that he was doing no further harm to McCoy. He refused to let himself think that McCoy might already be past further harm.

Kirk had almost reached the precariously balanced machine, skirting it carefully for fear of disturbing its perch, when a shadow passed over on the wings of a noise that was not just the pounding of his blood in his ears. The quick flash of darkness caught his attention and made him look up.

A plane. A red, double winged air ship with one pennant fluttering madly in the wind beside the cockpit. Darien. It had to be Darien coming to finish what he had started. Coming to keep them from their goal. He needn’t bother, Kirk thought. With the earth mover stalled out halfway up the mountain they had no more chance of success than if they had never begun at all. It was all for nothing...and at such great price.

The plane looped past them once again, lower this time. Then it bumped to a stop on the unfinished roadway. Darien leaped out and ran to his wife and daughter.

Resigned, Kirk and Delessix picked their way back down the slope. Kirk watched as Darien ran from Amalia to Doranix, then bent over Spock and shook his head. Doranix pointed to something a few meters away and Darien trotted over to retrieve the snapped-off flag pole—the mate, Kirk assumed, to the one whose pennant still billowed near the small plane’s cockpit.

Kirk could see angry gesticulating as Darien conferred first with his mother, who pointed up toward the mountainside where he and the Urbanity were making their way down. Darien looked up at them, shading his eyes with his hand. Beside Kirk, Delessix pointed an accusing finger at his son-in-law, and redoubled his pace, heels skidding on loose rocks, and he hastened down the mountainside.

Analiss came up behind Darien, and he dropped to his knees to hold her tightly. From his knees, Darien looked up at his wife. Kirk could see words being exchanged, and vehement shakings of burgundy-haired heads. Then Amalia fell to her knees beside him, and Darien wrapped his arms around her and his daughter, holding them close. To Kirk, only a short distance away, now, it looked as if Amalia was crying. The three of them rocked back and forth together as if in a mutual effort to comfort each other.

Kirk could make out voices now.

Amalia’s, hitching with sobs, "I knew you didn’t mean it."

Darien’s repeating over and over, " sorry..."

Alinar stood apart, watching her daughter’s little family, but not moving toward them.

"Kirkix! Father!" Doranix called out, beckoning to them to come to him, so that he would not have to move away from Spock. As they came closer to him, Kirk spared a look at his friend. His color was the translucent, pale green of serpentine. There was no discernible rise and fall to his chest. Yet the continued seepage of new blood around his wound testified that his heart still beat, mindlessly and inexorably pumping his lifeblood into the torn arteries from which it ran slowly away. A raw, painful sound caught in the back of Kirk’s throat as he watched Spock’s life ebb.

"It really was an accident, Father."

Kirk came back to himself to hear Doranix explaining excitedly what had happened.

"He knew we’d never get it over the mountain by ourselves, so he went to get the air ship to help us!"

"But he nearly killed..." Kirk began.

Doranix interrupted him impatiently, "No, no, no," he shook his head. "The flagpole broke off in the wind. He was trying to hang on to it to keep it from flying away. But he nearly lost control of the plane, trying to wrestle the unwieldy pole and work the controls at the same time. He almost went into the mountain. I saw that, but I didn’t stop to think what was happening. He turned loose the pennant, and I couldn’t do anything but stand there and watch it transfixed. It came straight at me, like an arrow."

Again, Doranix fingered his ruined shirt over the hole in his chest which was no longer there. "But he didn’t mean it, Father. He was trying to bring help. Trying to help us bury the Stone before...before the rest of you found out and caught up with us."

So here we all are, Kirk thought wryly, one big happy family...well, all except Alinar perhaps. She still stood alone, studying her hands as if already mourning the youth and beauty she had not yet lost.

But, yes, here we all are. At long last all agreed to end the power of the stone, and still it defeats us. Dear much we have lost!

"What happened..." Doranix gestured toward the distant machine, perched silently about two thirds of the way toward the ridge.

"Too steep," Delessix shrugged. "It just couldn’t go any farther."

Darien came up behind him. "I’m amazed you got it that far. That equipment was made for moving mountains, not climbing them."

He put a hand on Kirk’s shoulder, looking down at Spock. "I’m so sorry Kirkix...It seems I have so much to be sorry for..."

"Not your fault," Kirk forced himself to say.

"No, not just this," Darien indicated Spock’s body with a gesture, "but so many things. If I’d had the courage to follow you from the very beginning. If I’d done what I knew was right instead of trying to walk the middle ground until it was too late..."

"You came through in the end," Kirk said, "or at least you tried to. The rest of it..." He paused, taking it all in, Spock, the stalled machine, the defeat of their hopes...all of it. "Nothing you could do or not do will make any difference now."

"But that was what I was trying to avert!’ Darien said. "When I brought the plane in the first place. I was going to rig a sling beneath the plane and fly the stone over the mountain so that we could just drop it into the cavern and..." He was becoming animated with the details of his original plan. "We could still..."

Doranix cut him off. It had all been his idea. None of them, except perhaps Kirk himself, had more at stake, wanted more desperately to succeed. But Doranix knew without illusions when he had been beaten.

"How were you going to maneuver it into the hole? It’s no more than this wide." He held his hands apart to the width of a man’s shoulders. An air ship can’t hover like a thalingbird while you manage the equivalent of threading a needle from half a tark up in the air."

Kirk was taken aback for a moment by his sudden comprehension of the primitive technology of these people. He was accustomed to airships that could do just that, and therefore hadn’t given that part of the operation a moment’s thought.

Darien was grasping at straws. "We could cut it loose after we get it over the ridge and then just roll..."

Again, Doranix interrupted him. "Have you ever tried to move the stone by hand?"

"Well, no. Of course not, but..."

"We have." He indicated Kirk, his father and himself. "Even downhill, every bump or ridge or root that impeded its way would make it like trying to lift a cartload of bricks without a handle." He shook his head. And how were you going to get it airborne in the first place?"

"Chains...a steel sling rigged under the plane. It would have taken two men, one at the controls and another to..." He pantomimed letting the chains up and down. "And of course, I expected that you and Spock would be here to help me manage that part of it."

Doranix nodded thoughtfully, "You know, it just might have worked, if you could overcome the drag of the additional weight and get the ship off the ground. The roadbed would have given you all the taxi room you needed to get up speed if the plane was up to the task at all." Kirk could see that Doranix was warming to the idea despite his own previous objections as he tried to work out the engineering and figure the possibilities.

This time it was Darien himself who shot the idea down. "But we don’t have the advantage of a runway any more. The stone is up there." He pointed to the giant earth mover, made the size of a child’s toy by the distance. "You said yourself that it’s impossible to move by hand, even downhill. There’s no way for the plane to pick it up from up there. Even if we could figure out some kind of sky hook, the sudden weight on the plane would yank it right out of the sky!"

The three men stood scratching their chins and shaking their heads. A couple of "what ifs..." and "maybe if wes..." died on their lips before they finally lapsed into silence.

Then Doranix started to chuckle, a low, sad, irony-laced sound.

"What?" Darien demanded.

"I’m just imagining the procession winding its way up the mountain and climbing into the trough of the bulldozer to secure the blessings of the stone the next time ceremonial comes around."

No one else laughed. It wasn’t funny.

Kirk turned away from the others and went to sit on the ground beside Spock.


With his back to the roadway, Kirk wasn’t aware of what was happening until the others began to raise a commotion. He turned just in time to see the shuttlecraft touch down. Sulu was back!

Kirk sprang to his feet. Before the dust had settled, the helmsman and two security officers in band box Starfleet red leaped lightly from the portal and stood to attention. Sulu glanced around sharply, trying to take in the ramifications of finding all the major players standing about in the middle of an unfinished road at the foot of the mountain.

"Rescue party reporting for duty, Captain," he said with a tentative smile in his low, musical voice. "We almost missed you! I was looking for a place to set down closer to the city, but we saw the little red air ship circling out this way, and I thought we’d better come and have a look first. And here you are." He paused, counting heads. "The whole cast and crew from the look of it...except...where’s..."

Kirk stepped aside. His body was blocking Sulu’s line of sight to Spock. "Oh, my!" the helmsman said. "What in hell happened to..."

"Long story, Mister Sulu. The point of which is that we have to get him back up to the Enterprise, fast! Can you call for transport from the shuttle? Are the communicators working?"

"Negative sir." Sulu reported. "As soon as we got within the planetary atmosphere, they went out. No dice with the transporter either. We...uh... brought along a few phasers, sir...just in case." Sulu admitted to breaking Kirk’s orders. "But just like the other equipment, they lost their charge the minute we got close to the planet."

"Then we’ll have to take him back in the shuttle." Kirk decided. "We’ve got to get him up to Sickbay."

Kirk paused, afraid for the answer to the question he had to ask. "Sulu, how’s Doctor McCoy?"

Sulu grinned. "Coming along just fine, Captain. He was in surgery for a long time, and of course Doctor Chapel’s still got healing fields set up around some of the more serious trauma sites, but he’s awake and I swear if it wasn’t for all the machinery they’ve got hooked up around him, he’d be trying to get out of bed already. Anxious to have a word with you, Captain, as I understand it."

"I’ll bet!" Kirk grimaced.

The captain rubbed sore thumbs against scraped fingertips. "Has he...after you got him back to the ship...did injuries appear?"

"Not to my knowledge, Captain," Sulu shrugged. "The old ones didn’t go away. He was still a real mess when the med team came to take him off the shuttle. But Christine was able to treat them like real, ordinary injuries. He’s responded to treatment just fine, and like I said, nothing new happened to him after we got him away from here."

Kirk heaved a deep sigh. "That’s good news. Very good news. I just wish we could get Spock up there faster. But at least the shuttle gives us a way out of here. Before you came, we didn’t even have that. Thank God for small favors, I guess."

"Kirkix," Darien interrupted. "I hate to have to ask it of you...but does your air car...I mean, when it came down it sort of...hovered there for a moment before it landed. I know how important it is for you to get Spock back to the day-star. But if you can spare the time..."

Kirk realized what he was asking before he finished his thought.

"Sulu," he asked, "Does the shuttle have tractor beam capability?"

"Nothing more than mechanical propulsion systems, Captain. Nothing that depends on phased energy, warp technology, or quantum wave mechanics," Sulu replied.

It would take longer this way, Kirk realized, and every minute had to be counted against Spock’s survival. Yet this was what his first officer has risked himself for—giving Doranix and the others a chance to complete what they had set out to do. They were so close. And the means were now at hand. How could he deny their request?

Kirk stood for a moment, glancing back and forth between his dying friend and the shuttlecraft and his crew. His mind racing at warp, he assessed the possibilities, weighed the risks. "Darien, you said you had chains on board your air craft?"

"Yes, Kirkix," Darien answered. "I planned to use them to rig a sling to carry the Stone of Blessing..." He stopped and reconsidered his words. "...the stone over the mountain."

"How long?" Kirk asked. "The chains, how long are they?"

Darien replied with measure in Dorian units. Without Spock Kirk couldn’t be sure if he had the conversion quite right, but he decided to give Darien credit for knowing his business, and nodded. Now all they needed was a sling. Something sturdy enough that the over-weighted stone would not simply drop through the bottom.

"Doranix," Kirk asked next, "the scoop on the earth mover...can it be detached?"

Doranix chewed a lip, thinking about it, "Yes, I think so. There are bolts..."

"I see!" Darien broke in. "We detach the scoop from the machine with the stone still in it, hook the chains around it and take it the rest of the way."

"I can rig the chains off the landing runners of the shuttle," Sulu said, with assurance.

"Will they hold?" Kirk asked.

"No problem, Captain. Duranium. Everything’s over-built on a shuttle because we never know what planetary conditions we might encounter," he explained to the others.

"The explosives you planned to use?" Kirk turned again to Doranix.

"Here in the cave entrance," he gestured. "I’ll start bringing them out." He started toward the cave mouth, but was still moving slowly from the blood loss he had sustained.

Kirk motioned to Sulu’s back-up crew to go with him, and two men took off at a lope.

Kirk surveyed the Dorian party. "Darien, you’re with us."

The Urbanity spoke up, "I would be there, too, Kirkix. It is only right that it should be my hand that delivers the stroke that will change my people’s lives forever."

Kirk thought it was a sentiment bravely spoken. He could not deny Delessix the opportunity to be a part of it. It was all sorting itself out, Kirk thought with some satisfaction. The only hard part was Spock.

Delessix saw Kirk gazing at the pale man in the pool of green blood and assured him, "The women will watch over him."

The women. Kirk looked up at them, each in turn. Alinar held herself apart. The look in her eyes said she knew she was defeated, yet still horrified by the change in her world that was about to overtake her. Amalia has less of the look of shocked helplessness about her, but Kirk could see that she, too, was unhappy about what the men were planning. She held little Analiss close, and watched the others warily.

These were not hands into which Kirk wanted to trust Spock’s fragile ties to life. Not...he forced himself to consider the worst...not the company in which he would wish his friend to spend his last moments of life.

"We will stay with him."

Kirk looked up. It was Namar speaking.

"Doranix and I. Doranix is too weak to go with you. But we will keep vigil over your friend. We owe him that much...and much, much more."

Kirk nodded. He could be satisfied with that. "We won’t be long," he assured her, hoping that by hearing the words aloud he could reassure himself that it would be so—that they would be done with this business in time for Spock.

Turning back to the bustling activity surrounding the shuttle, Kirk saw Sulu and the security team loading bins of what he assumed to be the explosives and testing the chains Darien had brought from his air craft. Kirk measured their length with his eyes. Depending upon how close they could get to the earth mover, the chains looked to be long enough to manage the job.

With his three crewmen, himself and the two Dorians aboard, the shuttle was ready to take off only minutes later. Sulu was in the pilot’s seat. The chains rattled beneath them as they lifted off, first uncoiling on the ground, and then trailing out behind them like the world’s heaviest kite tail.

In only minutes, they were positioned over the stranded earth mover. Sulu put the shuttle in hover mode and dropped it as close to the ground as the terrain would permit.

"Darien, Delessix, Livingston, Myles," Kirk indicated Sulu’s backup team, who would be joining him and the two Dorians, "Let’s do it."

He pushed open the hatch and dropped to a crouch, turned and let himself out the opening feet first, hanging on to the sill with his hands, leading the way for the others. He dangled in the rushing air for a moment, searching with his feet for the landing struts. Then he worked his way down, wrapping his legs around the stout chain, and letting himself down hand over hand. He had to take particular care to keep out of the way of the powerful jets of the thrusters on the underside of the shuttle that allowed it to hover. It seemed a long time before his feet touched solid ground. He let go of the chain and backed away, noting a satisfying length of links coiled on the ground. There was more than enough chain to meet their needs.

One by one the other four men, Darien, Delessix, and the two security guards, touched down beside him, shinnying down the chains suspended from both landing runners. Kirk bent to examine the coupling that held the scoop to the body of the earth mover. The assembly looked simple enough, but it was caked with dirt, grease and rust.

Darien ran around the side of the earth mover and scrambled up into the cab to retrieve the toolbox stowed inside. There was a shifting and grating of loose stone beneath the treads as the simple weight of a single man inside the machine disturbed its precarious balance. Darien lost no time in jumping clear of it, just in case it decided to keep moving. But once he was out of the cab, it shifted and then settled again.

Fortunately, the broad scoop with its unnaturally heavy load was not lying flat on the ground. The surface of the rock below was uneven, creating gaps through which they could thread the heavy lengths of chain. Kirk realized that once the uneven weight of the scoop and the stone was detached from the body of the machine, it might overbalance and slide backward, so he wanted to be absolutely sure that they had a firm hold on the scoop before they started taking the mechanism apart.

Darien passed out tools that looked somewhat like the spanners with which Kirk was more familiar, and showed the others how to adjust the calipers. He pointed out the most efficient pattern in which to attack the bolts that held the trough to the elbowed arms of the huge machine. It was a messy job. Dirt and grease soon joined blood and sweat stains on Kirk’s ruined dress tunic, but it was not a primary concern for him at the time. It was time that was of the essence. Get the job done. Do what they had come here to do and then get the hell out. Get Spock the hell out while...if...there was still time.

The bolts at one end came loose, and the end of the scoop leaned more heavily toward the ground, while the arm it had been attached to jerked upward, nearly clipping Darien in the chin. The big machine creaked as if flexing tired muscles finally relieved of their burden. Again, stones spattered down the mountainside from under the treads.

Kirk checked the chains once more, testing their attachments, peering up at the landing struts where they were attached to see if there was any sign of bending or stress.

"Look out!" Darien yelled. Kirk jumped back instinctively. The words were not out of the Dorian’s mouth before the screaming sound of stressed metal drowned them out. Gravity was reasserting its authority. The huge earth mover began to slide backward, and Kirk saw, to his horror, that the final bolt holding the scoop to the hinged arm was still attached. Dragged by the remaining point of attachment, the scoop spun ninety degrees and threatened to follow the rest of the machine down the mountain. The chains whipped taut with a loud chinking sound. With a wrenching "skreee!" the metal of the arm bent sideways, popping off its paint to expose shiny, stressed metal beneath.

The earth mover’s heavy back end dropped, raising the front end off the ground. The scoop rose into the air, suspended in a tug of war between the shuttle which held it with chains and the body of the machine to which it belonged. Through the shuttle’s attachment by the chains to the scoop, and the scoop’s remaining attachment to the dying monster of the machine, the full weight of the earth mover hung for a moment from the delicate landing struts of the shuttle. Kirk looked up to see them bowing under the strain.

Then with a loud bang, followed by a ricochet sound like the sheriff’s gun in a kid’s holotoon, the final bolt, already loose, sheered off. Freed of its tether, the huge earth mover rumbled down the mountainside, rolling end over end, its monstrous bulk actually bouncing off the rocks. Simultaneously, the scoop started to swing wildly from its chains. Kirk hit the deck, yelling, "Everybody down!"

Only the reflexive upward bob of the shuttlecraft when its burden was suddenly relieved, jerked the swinging metal trough far enough upward to pass over the five prone men while it finished its wild gyrations and settled back down to an easy swing.

Sulu’s face appeared through the open hatch, checking to be sure they were all right. Then he lowered the craft just enough for the party to climb inside the trough. When they were safely inside, feet braced and holding on to the chains, Sulu gently lifted off and carried them, like Dorothy and Toto in the Wizard’s balloon, up over the mountain, and out of sight, miniaturized by distance, of the tiny knot of people still gathered around the far-away figure of Spock.

The trickiest bit was yet to come. Once they had passed over the crest of the peak, Sulu began to drop altitude, following the contours of the mountain as closely as he could. Kirk saw the sheered-away shelf where the side of the mountain had fallen in upon itself. Seeing it now, this way, he was amazed that he had lived through it at all. He saw the long, tortured path by which Spock and Doranix had hauled Namar and himself upward, until Sulu reached down his hand to pull them up the last, seemingly impossible part of the way. It was hard to imaging four people finding hand holds, and foot holds sufficient to climb that long, straight cliff.

Now, they would have to balance on that same narrow ledge, where Kirk had first emerged from the underground obstacle course and find a way to tip the offending stone into that tiny hole while it hung suspended from the shuttle hovering above them. It would be no easy feat, but the sooner done, the sooner he could get Spock back to the ship.

The shuttle dipped, and Kirk found himself at eye level with the black aperture in the cliff wall leading into the cavern. Myles and Livingston, the two Starfleet officers let themselves over the side of the trough, hanging by their hands until they reached the ledge, where they fought to maintain their footing against the turbulence created by the shuttle’s underbelly jets.

Kirk signaled Sulu to change position, so that the edge of the suspended scoop would rest against the bottom lip of the hole. Even for Sulu’s skill, it was a trick accomplished only after several attempts which overshot the mark. More than once the scoop banged into the mountainside, nearly shaking loose Kirk and the two Dorians, who still rode inside. It would be too high, or not close enough, and once, it dipped so low that the red-shirted security team on the narrow ledge below ducked so fast that they nearly fell.

At last, the trough holding the stone was in place. Sulu did his best to hold the shuttle steady. Kirk called down to his men on the ledge to push upward against the outer curve of the trough. Inside the makeshift sling, he and the two Dorians hauled themselves up by the chains to balance on the upper edges, manipulating the angle of the trough with their precariously balanced weight. At first it didn’t seem like enough, even with five men acting as counter balance to the weight of the stone.

Then Sulu shifted the shuttle’s position ever so slightly toward the side of the cliff. The angle of the trough dipped abruptly, knocking Myles off his feet. Kirk heard his yell of panic, but by the time he was able to shift around and look for him, he saw that the officer had caught himself no more than a couple of meters from where he fell and was already on his feet and on his way back up.

Relieved, he turned his attention back to the job at hand. "Darien, can you come a little farther this way?" Delessix, if you grab the chain just a couple of links farther down and lean...that’s right. Lean into it now!"

The edge of the trough scraped against the side of the mountain as its angle of contact shifted once again. The stone slid forward with a protesting scrape. Then it seemed to catch for a minute before rolling over just once as the outer edge of the sling rose another quarter of a meter. Now it sat at the very edge of the scoop right where it touched the mountain. By sheer, dumb luck it was lined up perfectly with the hole into which they planned to drop it.

"All right, now," Kirk urged. "Livingston...Myles...are you down there? Can you hear me?"

"Aye, sir!" he heard two voices reassure him.

"We’re almost there. Try to hold her steady. Push up just a little bit on the near side. We want to be above the hole by just a little...There! Darien...steady now...can you edge this way just a little...just a little more...Delessix! Lean back! We’re going to push it too far!...Better...Now, Darien, see where my foot is? Try to get...that’s it...right...Livingston! Myles! Up on the outside edge! Now! Give it all you’ve got!"

Boot heels scuffled, and Kirk could feel the strain on the muscles up the inside of his thigh as he tried to urge the stone with his foot without losing the balance he maintained with one foot on the edge of the trough, one hand on a chain for support and one hand flat up against the mountainside for leverage. At first, he thought the muscle would tear before the stone moved. Then all at once everything came together and the stone rolled over the edge of the scoop, hesitated at the brink of the aperture, then caught up in its own momentum, disappeared into the dark.

Kirk’s angle of vision was perfectly lined up to watch it fall. Although the inside of the cavern was black, the stone shone white in the darkness, just as he had known it to do before. And while it didn’t light the cavern on the way down, he could still follow its descent, the flat white dot looking like an afterimage on the retina when a lighted screen went out. He heard a series of heavy knocking sounds reverberate through the cavern as it slammed into walls and floor. Then abruptly, the white spot went out, consumed by the darkness. The echoes continued, however, and Kirk wondered if it had disappeared into the crevasse which had once separated him from Namar as the first obstacle to their rescue. That shaft went deep into the roots of the mountain, halfway to the center of the planet for all he knew. He hoped that was the case. It couldn’t possibly be buried deep enough to suit him!

Only one more step to take to insure that they had done all they could do. Enough, Kirk fervently hoped, to change the Way of this world forever.

"The explosives?" Darien asked Delessix. Kirk knew that the words were weighted with the full implication of what they were about to do. Despite Darien’s own newfound commitment to their project, he was turning to the Urbanity to give his final permission, and with it to assume the final responsibility for what they were about to do.

Kirk saw Delessix hesitate, carefully considering the new world to which he was committing his people. Even though Kirk knew that it was clearly the right choice, even he realized what a tremendous change their actions would bring to the Dorians. It was only right and proper that the Urbanity should give them his full consideration before agreeing to continue.

His chest rose and fell in a deep breath. In...and out. "Go and get them," he instructed his son-in-law in a quiet voice.

Darien shinnied up the chain and disappeared into the open door of the shuttle. In the meantime, Sulu shifted its position so that Myles and Livingston could clamber back inside the trough. When the fuse was lit, they’d want to be able to make a fast get away. Myles was a little roughed up from his tumble down the slope, and both men showed the dust and sweat trails that testified to their exertion. More so, however, Kirk thought that they looked uneasy and ready to be done with this bizarre assignment. He shared those feelings in spades!

With the ease of practice, Sulu brought the men in the suspended scoop closer to the mountain, this time setting them at about waist level with the opening. Meanwhile, Darien passed down armload after armload of waxy white balls about the size of a man’s fist, strung together with interlaced strings. They looked like strings of garlic from a giant’s kitchen. Although they didn’t look like the oversized firecrackers used for explosives in the old days on Earth, Kirk knew they contained almost exactly the same chemical composition.

Once Darien had unloaded their stash, he slithered back down the chains and joined the others. They unwound the long fuses and restrung the balls of quasi-dynamite into a connected series, making a chain of bombs nearly three meters long. When it was done, Kirk helped Darien feed it into the aperture so that it hung straight down in the darkness.

Livingston looked concerned. "Uh, Captain? Is there going to be enough air in there to keep the fuses burning?"

Kirk stopped to consider. The air had been breathable when he was trapped inside. But who knew? "I sure hope so, Ensign," he said. The best they could do was hope. If this attempt failed, he’d leave it to the Dorians to finish the job. He could lose no more time getting his first officer back to the ship.

Again, everyone deferred to Delessix when the time came to light the fuse. Once more, he took the final responsibility upon himself. He took a sparking tool from Darien, held up a fistful of gathered fuses, and played the small blue flame over the ends. He held it until they caught and began to sputter and spit sparks like a Federation Day sparkler. Then, rather than flinging it into the hole where the sudden movement might cause it to go out, he carefully wedged it between loose stones at the mouth of the hole. Not tightly enough to inhibit the free burning of the flame, just enough to hold it in place.

"Look out!" Kirk warned as Delessix’s sleeve hovered to close for too long over the burning end of the fuse.

His warning was too late. The sleeve had already started to smolder and smoke was tunneling out from the open cuff. At the same moment, Delessix jumped back, startled, shaking the balance of the giant dipper and the four other men inside. When he saw what was happening to his arm, a look of panic came into his eyes. Kirk made a quick grab for him, smothering the impending flames against his own chest, and setting their perch swinging even more.

When Kirk released him, the Urbanity rolled up his scorched sleeve. The skin underneath was pale and untouched. Kirk’s heart sank, and he wondered if the others understood the implications of what had just happened. By all rights, the small fire should have at least reddened, if not painfully blistered the Urbanity’s arm. But it had not. And Kirk knew that back at the palace the blind man was cradling a forearm newly erupted in an agony not of his own making.

Whatever they had done so far it was not enough. Of course, Kirk knew that the real basis of Doranix’ plan was simply to remove the stone from the possibility of future use. The Way would die off by itself as no new bonds would be formed between Dorians and Nafaris. Yet, his gut had held the hope that it might end more suddenly. As if disposing of the sacred stone might undo the bonds all at once. He had been supported in that hope by the fact that McCoy, by all reports, was not incurring any more of the consequences of Kirk’s own actions. Distance had seemed to have something to do with it. Maybe not.

In all the confusion surrounding the accidental fire, Kirk’s attention had been diverted from the progress of the burning wick. He turned now to see the leading edge of the flame dip over the edge of the hole and start down the long fuse.

"Sulu!" He grabbed one of the chains and jerked on it as if he could get the pilot’s attention by ringing it like a bell pull. His action only served to make their swinging lifeboat arc further away and then thump into the mountainside with a shudder that shook them all. "Sulu! Get us out of here!" he yelled, his voice wobbling with the vibrations that came up through his feet. "Sulu!"

Then they were rising, up and away from the mountainside, gaining altitude and distance at a rate that swung the hanging gondola out and behind the shuttle and whipped up a wind through their hair. All of them clung with a no-nonsense grip to whatever bit of solid metal they could reach. Livingston hunkered down in the bottom of the trough, bracing himself within its curve with outstretched arms and looking as green as a Vulcan. Kirk wouldn’t have wished for anything slower, though. He wanted to be as far away as possible before the mountain blew.

If the mountain blew.

Nothing was happening. He squinted against the wind, staring back at the black spot on the cliff which was the window to the cavern. Was Livingston right? Not enough air in the cave to keep the wick burning. Or had it dropped away when it burned past the rocks where Delessix had secured it and gone out as it fell? Or maybe the explosives are duds? Corrupted by dampness...poorly attached fuses...blanks exchanged for the real thing by some saboteur who knew their plan and would go to any lengths to prevent their success...that last idea was going to some pretty fantastic lengths for an explanation, he thought, reining in a growing paranoia. But, damn it! To have come so close and have it all end not with a bang but a...



Like a series of cannon shots! A world-reverberating series of thunderous claps that shook the earth...shook the very air.

Before his eyes, the whole side of the mountain fell into itself like the biggest building in the world imploding. The explosive did its work and in doing so triggered the fault line that threaded through the mountain and deep into the core of the planet below. The ridge itself fell forward into the empty space where the slope had been. A towering castle of rough hewn stone collapsing when the foundations were blown away. Slow? Fast? Both at the same time. And mesmerizing. A ponderous drama commanding its audiences’ every thought, every sense to witness its climax and dénouement.

It seemed to go on forever, the rolling of thunder, the concussions of sound that rocked the lifeboat like a cradle powered by an insane hand. And when the last rumblings died, dust rose into the air. Dust so thick that it obscured the remains of the mountain, and propelled with such power that it scoured their faces and hands, gritting into their teeth and eyes even at this distance.

It was done. They had done all they could do, Kirk sighed with relief if not satisfaction. Complete satisfaction would have required the additional result of reversing the effects of the stone rather than merely halting its future use.

But at least it was done. Sulu held the shuttlecraft steady once more, while the men in the still-swaying gondola climbed the chains and negotiated the distance between the landing struts and the open hatch. Kirk watched Myles and Livingston disappear inside and urged the two Dorian’s up next.

"And you?" Delessix asked him.

"Captain’s privilege," Kirk answered with a tight grin. "Besides, once everybody else is safe upstairs somebody’s got to disengage the chains so the shuttle can land."

"You plan to do that hanging in mid-air over the mountain?" Darien asked, incredulous, but clearly impressed.

"Somebody’s got to," Kirk shrugged.

"I’ll stay and help you,’ Darien offered.

"No, I will stay," Delessix insisted. "Like Kirkix, I want to be a part of seeing this through to the end. When I go back before my people and tell them what has occurred, I must be able to say as their Urbanity that it was my doing, my decision, not something that was imposed upon them by revolutionaries, or chance, or outsiders. They must have no doubt that I, as their leader, have made this choice for them."

"All right, then. Let’s get to it." Kirk got a lock-grip on the strut with his legs in order to free up his hands to work at the chain. The underside thrusters were off now, but the wind still buffeted him as the shuttle made excellent time getting back over the mountain.

Darien stayed anyway, but only to assist his father-in-law, not to replace him. The two of them went back down to the scoop and climbed up the chain on the other side. Together they attacked the chain’s moorings on the opposite strut. The weight of the men and the stone in the gondola had tightened the fastenings, making it more difficult to work them loose.

A sudden change in air current as they passed over the ridge set the trough to swinging again. The chains snapped out of Kirk’s hands and set up a screech of metal against the strut. Kirk reflexively pulled back out of their way until they settled down again enough to work on. Over on the other strut, however, the presence of the two Dorians gave them less space in which to get out of the way. When their perch lurched, Delessix fell forward, bracing himself with his hands. The chain snapped against the landing strut, and Kirk heard a howl of anguish.

He looked up to see Delessix hunched forward, trying to hang on for dear life, while cradling his left hand against his body. A fine spray of blood misted out into the thin mountain air.

"Kirkix! Help!" Darien called to him.

The wind attacked again, this time the effect was to pop the remaining fastenings on the chain on the Dorians’ side of the shuttle. The heavy chains dropped away, leaving the boat-sized scoop swinging freely from the remaining links looped over the strut on Kirk’s side. The change in weight distribution jarred the shuttle, which in turn shook the footing of the three men beneath it and sent a shudder down the length of the chain. Kirk had to finish the job before he could do anything to rescue Delessix.

Taking great care to avoid an injury of his own from the chain rotating back and forth across the slender surface of the strut, he went after the last point of attachment. Then, like a tree falling when the ax has removed just that one sliver more of support than it has left intact, the fastening came away by itself. The giant scoop dropped away, trailing the chains behind it.

Now Kirk spared a look at Delessix and Darien. They were huddled together, hanging on as best they could. He considered the distance between them. Not an impossible jump, but certainly complicated by the circumstances. A trapeze act with a mighty hard net, he thought to himself.

"Myles!" Let me down a piece of rope," he yelled. There was no point in bringing his men outside. There was little enough room to maneuver as it was. In a minute the rope came snaking down, stout and sturdy. Kirk called instructions to Myles to secure the end and to play out only enough to give him working room.

He tied his end around his body securely, poised himself on the strut and made the jump, grabbing onto the strut beside Delessix with his hands. Pulling himself up to a crouched perch beside the Urbanity, he unfastened the rope and passed the loose end around to Darien.

They secured it around all three of them in series, with Delessix in the middle. Now Kirk could see for himself what had happened to the Urbanity when the chain snapped. It had caught his little finger and snapped it off cleanly. It was still bleeding, and the hand was swelling. His face was chalky. It was a damn good thing, Kirk thought, that Darien was there to help him.

On Kirk’s count, he and Darien made the leap across open space to the other strut. To give him the credit due, Delessix made every effort to make the jump in sync with them, but he couldn’t make the final grab with his maimed hand. He hung between the other two, suspended by the rope around his body, his weight dragging theirs down.

Now, however, Kirk’s crewmen could safely get into the act. Livingston let himself out the hatchway and lent his aid in hauling first the Urbanity, then the others to their feet. Delessix needed help making the climb up to the open hatch, but with Livingston pulling, Myles hauling on the rope and Kirk and Darien boosting from beneath, it was the least difficult part of the maneuver.

It was only a moment later, when they fell panting into the contoured seats that the implications of what had happened really hit Kirk. Delessix was bleeding. He had been hurt. He could be hurt. Might this mean that they had succeeded after all?

"Myles," Kirk signaled to the crewman he knew had worked landing party medic duty a few times in the past. See what you can do for..." Myles was on it before Kirk had the words out of his mouth.

Kirk watched while his crewman gently pulled the Urbanity’s injured hand onto the sterile cloth he spread across the Dorian’s knees. He dabbed at the blood with a cleaning pad to get a better look. Kirk could see the strain in Delessix’s eyes as he fought to maintain control.

"So this is pain," he said to Kirk through clenched teeth. He looked back at his damaged hand and bit his lip. "What have we done?" he mused.

It was a little late for second thoughts, Kirk considered ruefully. Of course, he was sorry for Delessix’s pain, but it was still the right thing they had done. If the Urbanity was having regrets...

"What have we done..." Delessix repeated shaking his head. Kirk thought he saw tears forming at the corners of his eyes.

"I had no idea, Kirkix. No idea that pain this."

Kirk didn’t know what to say. He started with, "I’m sorry..."

"To think we let them suffer for us. So many many much pain. How could we ask others to bear this for us? And how could they allow it? No jewels, no tender care, no...honor...could ever make up for...this." He turned his attention to Myles, who was just finishing with a penlight sized instrument which had stopped the bleeding. He studied it for a long minute before raising reddened eyes to Kirk. "Thank you," he said simply.

By the time they landed, an analgesic was taking effect to curb the worst of Delessix’s pain, and his hand was securely wrapped and bandaged. He marveled at the effectiveness of the medical aids the Humans took for granted.

"And you will make such things available for us?" he asked again.

"After we’re gone, the Federation will send teams of doctors and teachers to help you train your own." Kirk knew that the planet’s technological infrastructure might not support all the devices in current use on the Enterprise, but there was still much they could offer.

Sulu brought the shuttle in for a smooth touch-down, and the party filed out. When the Urbanity emerged from the hatchway, little Analiss started toward him at a run.

"Grandpa! Grandpa! Why is your hand all...AAAII!!"

A loose stone underfoot had sent the little girl sprawling. At first, the fall knocked the wind out of her. Then as she started to get up, a look of surprise and confusion crossed her face. She looked down at her knees and what she saw there started her screaming. They were skinned, tiny beads of blood seeping up through the abraded derma.

No one took much notice when she first fell. They never did. They expected her to simply pick herself up and go back to what she was doing. But her terrified screaming brought all the Dorians at a run.

Alinar inspected the injury and looked up at her allied with fury on her face. "Look at what you and your son have done! For all your grand talk, the first thing that happens is that the baby is maimed!"

Doranix hovered outside the tight circle formed by Analiss’ parents and grandparents, kneeling on the ground around the child. He looked stricken. "Mother, I don’t know what to say...I..."

"Grandpa," Amalia sniffled, pulling away from Alinar and seeking the Urbanity’s arms.

He folded her into them, rocked back on his heels to make a lap and held her close. Over her head, he made shushing noises, as much for his son, at whom he shook his head, as for the comfort of child in his lap.

He examined her knee. "She is not hurt badly," he assured the others. Then he turned his attention on Analiss, speaking to her, but for the benefit of the rest. "Shhh! There, there," he wiped away a tear. "See? Grandpa is hurt, too." He held up his hand for her inspection, which took most of her attention away from her knee.

"When Grandpa got hurt, I was just like you—surprised more than anything about how it felt. It does feel bad. And I’m sorry that it had to happen to you first, and without any warning. But this is what our Nafaris have felt all along, Analiss. When we fell or got sick or got hurt. This is what it has been like for them for many, many generations. We thought that your ceremonial would go down in the history books because it was when the men from the City of Enterprise came. But now, little one, you have achieved a place in history all by yourself. You and Grandpa are the first...the very first to experience the new Way of our people. A Way that shall be named for the wise man who brought us to it." He beamed up at his son.

He stood, still holding the little girl’s hand, and addressed the adults. "More than all the arguments Doranix could have brought me, this..." He held up his bandaged hand. "...convinced me that we were doing the right thing. It won’t be easy. But it is time for us..." He held out a hand to Namar.

She was still at her post beside Spock. When the Urbanity held out his hand she hesitated, then rose and took it gratefully, "Time for all of us," Delessix continued, "to learn to live with the consequences of our own actions."

From where he stood apart with his crewmen, Kirk smiled a warm, satisfied smile. These were good people, led by a very good man. He had been right, the road would not be easy. But at least it was begun.

The last thing remaining was to get Spock away from here. They had delayed too long, and this last little scene, satisfying though it was, had taken more precious minutes that they could ill afford to lose.

Of course, Kirk’s first thought had been for Spock when the shuttle touched down. His first glance as he cleared the shuttle’s hatch had been at Doranix and Namar. Their reassuring expressions, told him that Spock was, at least, no worse. Otherwise, he would have had no patience at all with the delay engendered by the little girl’s fall.

As soon as Namar left Spock’s side to stand between the Urbanity and Doranix, Kirk moved in to take her place. He saw that the first blood which had flowed from the wound was drying to a khaki color which stiffened Spock’s torn tunic. But the bleeding had not ceased entirely. He could tell, because fresh rivulets of emerald still seeped slowly from the wound. Perhaps, he thought uneasily, it had only slowed because there was so little left. He laid a firm hand on Spock’s shoulder in a gesture of reassurance, although he had no idea whether the Vulcan could feel its presence through his trance.

"Delessix," he called. "Sorry to leave so unceremoniously, but I’ve let him go far too long as it is. We’ve got to get him back to the ship."

"Of course, Kirkix. I thank you for..."

Kirk didn’t hear the rest of what the Urbanity said, as he shifted into action. Sulu, Myles and Livingston were already at his side. Myles brought the collapsible stretcher under one arm, and the shuttle’s first aid kit with the other.

"Oh my God!" He exclaimed upon seeing the ship’s first officer. "I had no idea it was this bad!"

He began rummaging in the medical kit, and brought out a silvery instrument.

"It won’t work, Myles. None of our equipment works here. We’ve got to get him on the stretcher and back to the shuttle. me..."

Myles held up the instrument and frowned at it. "But, Captain..."

"Myles, the stretcher. You get his feet. Livingston be sure you support his head. I’ve got him on this side..."

"But, Captain!" Myles persisted.

Ignoring him, Kirk worked his hand under Spock’s shoulder, into the sticky pool of blood beneath his body. "Okay, now, on the count of three... One... two..."

"But, Captain! It does work!"

Kirk stopped his count down and looked daggers at the younger man.


"It works, Captain! Don’t you remember? I used it to stop the bleeding on the Urbanity’s severed finger. Up in the shuttle, remember? It worked fine, then."

Kirk sat back on his heels. His mind’s eye replayed the scene, with the white laser light playing over the Urbanity’s hand, sealing up the blood vessels as it passed.

If the medical instrument worked...then... "Livingston, do you have a communicator?" he asked.

Livingston looked confused, "Yes, Captain, of course I..."

"Let’s see it." Kirk extended a bloody hand.

Livingston pulled it from the waist of his pants and handed it over.

The chirp when he flipped it open was the most beautiful music Kirk could ever remember hearing.

"Kirk to Enterprise. Come in, Enterprise!"

"Och, Captain! Scott here! Mister Sulu said the communicators weren’t working down there, even though I checked out his and Uhura’s when they came back and nothin’ seemed to be awry with..."

Kirk cut him off. They could figure out later why the use of their equipment had been restored. Maybe it had something to do with the stone, maybe something entirely coincidental. But this was not the time to speculate.

"Two to beam up, Scotty. Have a medical team standing by for Mister Spock."

"Aye, Captain," Scott answered.

Kirk had just enough time to say, "You three bring the shuttle back safely, under..." before the scene before him started to glitter with the transport effect.


Spock’s body lay prone on the transporter pad, just in the position in which it had fallen. The blood that seemed to be everywhere showed in dark contrast against his pale blue shirt.

"My God, Jim, what did you do to him?" McCoy’s voice was weak, and he leaned on Chapel’s arm for support, but he was on his feet, the visible bruises and abrasions already gone.

"He did it to himself, Bones." Kirk shook his head as the medics gingerly moved Spock to an antigrav stretcher.

Either the movement to the stretcher or the transport itself had disturbed his trance. His eyes fluttered open for a minute, then rolled back into true unconsciousness. His wounds opened, as his heart took up its normal rhythm, and his body left a trail of bright blood on the floor for Kirk and McCoy to follow as the medics hurried the stretcher to sickbay.

"Bones, are you strong enough yourself?" Kirk asked.

Chapel walked beside the stretcher making a preliminary assessment of Spock’s injuries. McCoy followed, now leaning heavily on Kirk for support.

"You still look pretty washed out," Kirk made an assessment of his own.

"I may not be able to do it all, but I’m damned well going to be there for him," McCoy answered. "What the hell happened to him, anyway?"

Kirk started the story while they hurried as quickly as McCoy was able through the corridors to the physician’s domain.

The telling was cut short when they reached the sickbay doors. McCoy was insistent that while he was going in, Kirk was remaining outside.

"It’s gonna be tough enough, without you sitting in the corner wringing your hands and getting in the way," he maintained.

"But you’ll let me know," Kirk persisted.

"The minute there’s anything to tell," McCoy promised. He turned and put his hands on Kirk’s shoulders. "Don’t worry, Jim. We’ll fix him up. Good as new."

Kirk hoped against hope that it was McCoy’s head rather than his heart speaking. He knew full well that even with all the best resources available there were times when it was simply too bad. Or too late. And if that was the case, he had no one to blame but himself.

Leaving McCoy to work his miracles, Kirk turned and headed for his quarters, to wash away the dirt and the blood and the aches and pains he had brought back with him from Doria. The competent Mister Scott was on the bridge, and he could stay there with Kirk’s blessing until he heard from McCoy.

Kirk didn’t think to ask how long Scott’s duty shift had been, but it was extended by nearly three hours while Kirk paced in his quarters, unable to concentrate on anything else, just waiting for some word, yea or nay.

He had been so intent on listening for his comm unit to come on, that when the door chimed it took him by surprise. He really didn’t want to be disturbed until word came from sickbay. But he was the captain of this starship after all. He couldn’t just hole up in here if his crew needed him.

"Come," he called, voice-activating the door.

Standing in the doorway, McCoy looked more haggard than he had when Kirk last saw him. Kirk’s heart sank.

"Well, aren’t you going to invite your miracle worker in and give him a drink?" McCoy demanded, beaming through the tired lines on his face. "I feel like I’ve just built a Vulcan from scratch and spare parts, and I’m tuckered, damn it!"

Kirk could feel himself grinning as a weight heavier than the stone of blessing lifted from his heart. "He’s all right then?"

McCoy limped into the room and flopped into the nearest chair. "You won’t have him back on duty any too soon if I have any say in the matter—which I won’t once he thinks he’s ready—but, yes, he’s gonna live. Now where’s my drink?"

Kirk leaped to his feet to pour McCoy a stiff one. He caught and held the doctor’s eye as he handed him the glass. "Thanks, Bones." It wasn’t enough, but it was all he could say.

McCoy settled back, propping the heel of his still-healing leg on Kirk’s bunk for support. He took a long, slow swallow from his glass, and closed his eyes in appreciation.

"You know, much as I hate to say it, you’ve got his damned Vulcan physiology to thank about as much as you do me. Maybe more."

"Because of the time he gave you by going into the healing trance?" Kirk asked.

"Not that it didn’t help, but no. What I meant was the whole way he’s put together. Damned lucky for him his heart is down low, under his ribs and off to the side. If it had been where yours and mine is..." He put a hand to his chest to illustrate. "...he’d be one dead Vulcan. The hole would have gone right straight through it and none of his Vulcan voodoo could have saved him then. It would have been all over in a Jovian minute."

Kirk felt a shudder run down his spine, but the only way he could keep from letting Spock’s narrow escape get to him right now was to try to make light of it. "You mean, Bones..." He drew out the moment, pouring a drink of his own and settling himself back into his chair to take a long sip. "Do I understand you to say of our taciturn Vulcan..."

"Aw, Jim, no. Don’t say it...please?" McCoy could see it coming, and he winced at Kirk’s wicked grin that said there was no escape.

"I never thought I’d hear you admit it, Doctor, but I believe you’re trying to tell me that his heart’s in the right place after all."

McCoy groaned.


McCoy reported to the captain that when Spock had slept off the initial drugs, he had summoned the strength to put himself back into a trance state where he stayed for more than three days.

In the meantime, Kirk took back the center seat and set about managing the next phase of establishing official Federation relations with the Dorians.

He beamed down a crew with visual communicators so that he could talk face-to-face with Delessix without having to set foot on the planet again.

When the Urbanity came on screen his son was with him. Both Dorians bowed the crossed-arms, heads-up bow, giving the members of the bridge crew who had not been in the landing party a good look at their port-wine page-boys. Kirk noticed that Delessix’s injured hand was unbandaged. The medical team he sent down had healed the wound, but Kirk saw that apparently Delessix had declined regeneration therapy, as the severed finger was still missing.

After exchanging greetings, Kirk asked, "How are your people taking it?"

"There has been shock...protest, of course," the Urbanity allowed. "Even one death here in my City."

"I’m sorry..." Kirk began.

"Do not be, Kirkix. Everyone dies. It is just a matter of how and when. It will be sooner for us now that it was before. But we shall just have to learn to make our mark on the world in the time we have."

Kirk had to give the Urbanity credit for his philosophical approach to their new way of life. He knew there would be others on the planet...probably many others, who would not accept it so easily.

"The protest," he asked. "How bad?"

"It varies. Some within my own household are taking it harder than many of my subjects."

Kirk could guess which members were setting up the biggest complaint and he didn’t envy the domestic lives of the men who would have to contend with them.

"There have been delegations from other Cities already. I have great sympathy for those who were taken by surprise by the changing of our Way. As the Exceeding Urbanity of Edliw, it was my charge to care for the Stone of Blessing and to control access to it. And it was my prerogative to do with it what I saw fit. Nonetheless, I wish I could have given them some kind of warning."

"If you had, Father, we might never have been able to complete our plan," Doranix said from beside the Urbanity.

"While there has never been an uprising against an Exceeding Urbanity, you are right, this might have been the occasion to provoke one. In any event, the deed is done now."

"Actually, Delessix continued, "that is one of the reason’s, Kirkix, why I have not turned the title over to my son, even though his was the wisdom and the courage to make us face what we had become and take up arms against it."

Kirk’s "Oh?" encouraged him to go on.

"The decision to change our Way needed to come unquestionably from the Urbanity himself. If I were to turn over the authority to Doranix now, it would appear that the new Way came about through revolution rather than through the authority of the Urbanity. While I give him every credit for being the author of the new Way, we can best control our people’s acceptance by maintaining the Urbanity’s position without change until the upheaval is under control."

"I see," Kirk said.

"As a matter of fact, in order to guard against any public questioning of my son’s authority, I have removed him from the succession."

Kirk scrutinized Doranix’s face on the viewscreen for any hint of resentment, but saw only satisfaction.

"When my father is...gone, I shall act as Regent and advisor to my son, who will be named heir when he is born," Doranix said with swelling pride.

"A fitting way to bring our people together, don’t you think so, Kirkix? The first to succeed me as Urbanity under the new Way will be the child who embodies all of our people in one."

Kirk smiled. He did think it was fitting, very fitting indeed. "It’s a bold strategy, Delessix, and, I think, a very wise one. By the time your grandson comes to the throne the initial storm of protest over depriving your people of their Nafaris will be long past and his ascension will be the perfect final step in your reform."

"Actually, the greatest source of protest has come from an unexpected quarter," Delessix demurred. "It seems that freedom has caused fear and consternation among those we sought to free."

"What do you mean?" Kirk asked.

"Our Nafaris are accustomed to having their every need cared for. They have come to believe that such care is their due—as, of course, it was as long as they performed their service to us."

"Kind of like turning an animal raised in captivity back out into the wild," from beside Kirk, McCoy made the comparison. "They don’t know how to hunt, how to fend for themselves."

"That is just the case," Delessix responded. "It is a cause for concern for us, too, as there are some so old, so...damaged...that they cannot realistically be expected to fend for themselves. At the same time, there is not enough work to absorb the others into the factories and farms. Nor do they have the necessary skills to perform those jobs if they were needed."

"It’s a dilemma other worlds have found themselves in over the centuries," Kirk assured him. "No other world we’ve ever seen had evolved a system of interdependence as rigid as yours was, but in general, once you let an economy stabilize around a state-supported group with unlimited entitlements, what began as a kindness often turns into a trap where, just as you say, there is a whole generation without skills, and not enough work for them to do if they were able."

"And what have other worlds done to solve this problem?" Delessix asked, understandably more interested in solutions than philosophy.

Kirk couldn’t give him an easy answer. "Many different methods have been tried, not all with immediate or even necessarily predictable results."

Standing beside his father, Doranix looked distressed. "So perhaps it might have been better for our people if we had not taken such drastic measures. If, instead, we had simply limited access to the stone one individual at a time the way I originally planned. Then the Nafaris could have been woven back into society one at a time. It would have been so much easier than this."

"Yes, but it would also have been so easy to make exceptions when you were looking at it one person at a time. This one has special needs, that one is a friend, this one makes such an important contribution to science or music—as I remember, that’s just the way it started with your Danix. And so exceptions would be made...just one more bonding for this one or that one...and pretty soon you’ve whittled away the heart of your reform and you’re right back where you were."

"I find that I agree with your thinking there, Kirkix. As leaders we both understand that law must be universally applied and with more authority than mere suggestion. But I ask you again, now that we have the law, now that we agree on its merits, how do we deal with the consequences?"

"As I said," Kirk answered, "With a variety of approaches. As the Nafaris separate themselves from the families they have lived with, there will naturally be new jobs created as they require additional housing. Doubling the number of households will create all kinds of other jobs in the distribution of goods."

"The medical technology available through the Federation will create more opportunities," McCoy added.

"Of course, there will have to be a lot of training to get them up to speed," Kirk allowed. "But you are an intelligent, accomplished people. It’s obvious you value education. You just need to expand what you’re already doing to include the others. And we’ll send whatever advisors you ask for to help you with the logistics and give you the benefit of our experience."

"But there’s still the problem of those among the Nafaris who think we’ve taken something away from them, rather than given them something more precious than material gifts. They don’t want to be trained; they don’t want to work. They want to be taken care of like they used to be," Doranix reminded them.

"I suspect," McCoy suggested, "that once they begin to see what it’s like to live without the pain and the unearned injury and illness, that they’ll be less willing to go back to the way things were."

Kirk added, "Besides, you may be surprised at how much more willing people are to work when they find out that a roof over their heads and bread on the table depend upon it. For all that it may be a difficult time in the short run, I suspect you’ll come out better in the end for going cold turkey with the stone of blessing."

The Dorians didn’t question the odd reference. Perhaps, Kirk assumed, the translator supplied a meaningful equivalent.

"Furthermore, Doria is in a really good position to make it work. From what I’ve seen, those of you who do work take real pleasure in your accomplishments. You love what you do. If you can transfer that pride of work along with the necessary skills to your Nafaris, instead of looking at it like drudgery or punishment, it will make a big difference. I don’t know how to tell you to do that, other than using yourselves as an excellent example. While your technology may not be up to ours as yet, and while the Nafaris system was really very different, the way you look at work and responsibility on Doria is really very enlightened. With those attitudes, you won’t have as much trouble as you think solving your own problems and growing to the stature of the other Federation worlds."

"Thank you, Kirkix," Delessix bowed again, "I’m sure we will talk many times again before you leave us, but I am grateful for your words. They give me renewed heart for the days ahead."

Kirk returned the proud, heads-up bow. The screen went back to wide-scan and he sat back in his chair. For all the times when it had seemed pretty much touch-and-go, this mission wasn’t turning out so badly after all. His only remaining concern was Spock.

It was only after he had signed off that Uhura wondered aloud, "As far as I’m concerned, the real test of their success will be if their heir turns out to be a girl!"


"So why d’ye suppose the communicators and all are workin’ down there now, Captain, when you said that nothin’ worked at all when ye were down there yersel?" Scott asked in a briefing session.

"The only explanation I can think of is that it had something to do with that... stone of theirs. The minute the thing was buried under the mountain, things started to work again. At first, it was only the equipment Sulu brought back in the shuttle on the second trip...the medi-kit, Livingston’s communicator..."

"But I tested all yer original equipment after ye came back aboard, and all of it’s workin’ fine now," Scott added.

"Seems as if the influence of the stone, whatever it was, affected both people and any equipment powered by non-mechanical means," Kirk mused.

"Oh, I don’t know," McCoy broke in. He was looking better by the day. The limp was nearly gone, although Doctor Chapel had confided in Kirk that if her fellow doctor would spend more time in therapy instead of at the first officer’s bedside, his progress would be improved.

"I’ll bet that Spock would like to throw in some mystic mumbo-jumbo about physical manifestations of social expectations, and self-induced telepathic bonding that produced psychosomatic responses," McCoy found himself in the unlikely position of speaking for the Vulcan.

"Sounds pretty complicated to me, Doctor," Scott shook his head. "Ye know what we always say in Engineering—the straightest distance between two points...the simplest explanation is usually the best."

"I’d like to hear Spock’s answer to that, Scotty," McCoy agreed. "May as well blame the whole damned mess on the stone and leave it at that."

The easy answer appealed to Kirk. He’d like to accept it and be done with it. After all, there certainly hadn’t been any preconceived societal expectations or conscious intent present when he and McCoy were hurled headlong into that unholy symbiosis. But he couldn’t get the picture out of his mind of Spock with one hand on the stone and the other splayed out across Doranix’s face in an all too familiar position as the Vulcan took the Dorian’s injuries onto himself.

Kirk couldn’t shake the feeling that the stone was only part of something larger. But for now, he had to agree with his chief engineer: the simplest explanation would be the one that went down in the log books.

"You know what I wonder, Captain?" Sulu asked.

"What’s that, Mister Sulu?"

"Well, you know we talked several times about how their technology seemed to be stuck at an industrial level. I’m wondering if the stone didn’t have something to do with that, too."

"How so?" Kirk asked.

"Well, if the stone, or meteorite or whatever it was, inhibited the performance of our equipment, maybe anything their scientists tried that began to approach quantum technology like ours would simply have failed because of the influence of the stone. After a while they’d think they were on the wrong track, or that certain things were simply impossible—like the breaking of the light barrier was for us two centuries ago. If you’re convinced something can’t be done because it’s a natural law, you quit trying."

"Good point, Commander," Kirk commended him.

"I wouldn’t be surprised, sir, if their technology took off now that the stone is gone, with or without the help of the Federation," Sulu suggested.

"Maybe even create some of the new jobs Delessix says they need so badly," McCoy added.

Kirk liked the sound of that. It turned his disregard for the prime directive on this mission around. If the planet’s natural evolution was being stagnated by an outside force which he and his crew were able to take out of the equation, then he might be said to have restored the natural development rather than interfering with it.

"A lot to think about, gentlemen. And some things we’ll probably never have all the answers for. But enough for now. Dismissed."


Just as McCoy predicted, it was less than a week before Spock made his first unsteady appearance on the bridge. His color was still more ivory than olive except for the dusky shadows beneath his eyes. He carried himself slowly and too carefully, but his back was straight and his expression businesslike.

Every head turned as he made his way to the science station and dismissed the officer on duty there. Had it been anyone other than Spock, Kirk knew that spontaneous applause would have broken out. But his crew knew better.

He, too restrained the impulse to make a big deal of Spock’s return, saying only, "Welcome back."

Spock returned a formal, "Thank you, Captain."


Kirk let him stay at his post for over an hour before summoning him to the briefing room for a meeting. The other participant was the ship’s doctor.

"So what’s our next assignment, Jim?" asked the doctor.

Kirk looked at the compuclipboard in his hands. "Standard four-day mission to GWY Four R. We’re to report if the planet is suitable for terraforming for Human inhabitation. I’m thinking of extending shore leave to the crew once we’re in orbit, if it’s got a suitable environment."

"Probably a good idea. I know the past week was a bit rough on all of us."

"Speaking of rough, Bones, I want your unqualified medical opinion," Kirk stated. "Should Spock be back on duty this soon?" For Spock’s sake he didn’t go into a detailed description of how he thought his first officer looked— which was, like hell.

"I am fully recovered, Jim," Spock assured him.

"That’s you’re opinion, and as long as they pay me to be the doctor around here mine counts more than yours," McCoy objected.

"The surgical repair was successful, Jim. The blood replacement was extensive and part of what we had to use was artificial, but his body didn’t reject it, and his circulation has returned to normal. No sign of fever or infection. But he’s lost eleven and a half pounds while he was in that trance of his, and according to what we know of Vulcan healing techniques, that trance thing is not a restful, passive state. Just the opposite, in fact. The body directs all its resources to the healing of the injury and it does a fine job of that, but in the meantime it’s burning up resources it’s not replacing, actually working overtime. I say he needs more rest."

"I suggest a compromise of limited duty," Spock suggested, and Kirk knew it was an admission that Spock probably felt about as bad as he looked.

Kirk, too, would have liked to slam him back into sickbay for a few more days, but he doubted it would do Spock as much good as getting back to at least some semblance of routine.

"Doctor?" he asked McCoy for confirmation.

McCoy fussed and scowled, but finally agreed, "Limited. Limited to the hours I say and for as long as I say so."

Kirk looked to Spock.

"Agreed," Spock answered so readily that Kirk wondered if he shouldn’t have insisted on bed rest after all. But he knew he could trust McCoy to lay down the law if necessary, giving Spock the opportunity to simply comply with orders if he felt he wasn’t up to it.

"If that’s all, Captain..." Spock made as if to rise.

"Not quite, gentlemen..." Kirk bit his lower lip, hardly knowing where to begin. He’d waited too long to say this as it was. "Bones...Spock...I wanted to talk to you privately because I have some tall apologizing to do."

The others started to shake their heads and object, but Kirk insisted. "No, I mean it. I got you into this thing in the first place. You’ve both taken terrible injuries—things I would have given anything to have spared you. I feel responsible and even if I can’t go back and make it as if it had never been, at least I want to tell you both how sorry I am."

"If you have anything to feel responsibility for, it is only the doctor’s injuries, not my own," Spock insisted.

"No, Jim, it was just..." McCoy started.

"No, Bones. Everything that happened to you was my fault. I allowed you to take part in that weird ceremony with me without knowing what was going to happen to you. And afterward..."

"Jim, you couldn’t know beforehand what we were getting into with that stone of theirs. Hell, we don’t know even now exactly how it worked. As little as we knew going in to it, it could have happened the other way around and made you my Nafaris instead. And right now I’d be up on charges for assaulting a superior officer!" he tried to joke.

"Bones, don’t make light of it. It was terribly painful for you and, I imagine, pretty terrifying to never know where the next blow was coming from, to have no way to prevent it or even be prepared for it. But even when I knew what would happen to you I didn’t exercise the kind of care I should have. I..."

"You can’t learn to control your natural impulses overnight, Jim. And if you’d been laid up with that bum knee or half the other stuff you did to yourself by the time it was over, you might not have been there to see it through to the end."

"Careful, Bones, that kind of thinking leads you down the path of the Dorians. If I hadn’t been there to help end it, someone else would have. If not now, then later."

"I’m not so sure about that, Jim-boy. Sometimes it takes the right time and the right man to get done what needs to be done. What if..."

"Wait a minute. While we’re playing ‘what if,’ think about it this way—if I’d been laid up with the banged up knee, all the rest of it wouldn’t have happened to you at all."

"What’s done’s done," McCoy shook his head. "I think it was worth it for what we were able to accomplish."

"Then you’d go through with it again under the same circumstances?" Kirk challenged.

"Not on your life, buddy-boy. Not on your life!" McCoy grinned rubbing at his now-healed kneecap.

Kirk playfully punched him in the arm, and McCoy hollered, "Look at that, Spock; first, he’s all apologies, now he’s beating up on me again!"

Then he sobered and said, "If anybody deserves that apology, Jim, it’s Spock here."

"I know," Kirk said contritely, and turned to his first officer and friend.

"Spock, I..."

"No apology is necessary, Captain."

"None of your bullshit, Commander. Damn it, Spock you nearly died! You were gored straight on through. You had a hole in you big enough to fly a shuttle through..."

"Hardly," Spock objected.

"And with you lying there in a pool of your own pea-green blood, I went off to play the hero, trusting you to stay alive without my help until I got to satisfy my own ego by seeing the final act."

"The responsibility is not yours, Jim."

"My God, Spock, I got you into something that nearly cost you your very life. Can’t you have the good grace to at least let me say I’m sorry?"

"Jim," McCoy laid a calming hand on Kirk’s arm. "Spock’s right."

"Not you, too?" Kirk turned on him.

"No, I think I know what Spock’s trying to say."

"Damn, hard-headed..." Kirk objected.

"Jim, listen. I’ll indulge you that what happened to me was a direct result of your actions. Not that I’d change it, but okay, when you got cut I bled. Apology accepted, all right?"

Kirk nodded, waiting.

"But Spock...what he did was not out of ignorance. He knew exactly how the system worked by then. Nor was he the victim of somebody else’s carelessness. From what you’ve told me, Doranix’s injury was a freak accident. And Spock made a reasoned choice and did what he did with full intentions and full knowledge of the consequences. He didn’t do it because of you and he didn’t do it for you. And frankly," he looked at Spock appraisingly, "I don’t think he did it for Doranix, either."

Less than a nod, a quick lowering of Spock’s eyelids showed his assent.

"Then what did you..." Kirk asked Spock.

McCoy answered for him. "While you or I may disagree with his priorities, he did it for the Dorians."

"For all of them," Spock qualified.

"But how...why you?" Kirk began.

"Because if Doranix was dead when the others arrived, the revolution would have been over. He would have been mourned as a martyr to his erroneous political theories, but his death would only have solidified his father’s faith in the old ways. Logic demanded that he remain in place to defend his intentions."

"But why you, Spock? How could you bring yourself to take on something like that...knowing what was going to happen?"

"My people have a saying: ‘The good of the many outweighs the good of the few...or the one.’"

"But why you, Spock?"

"There was no one else, Captain," Spock answered simply.

Spock heaved a deep sigh and his shoulders sagged. "May I request to be dismissed, Captain. I find myself more fatigued than I expected."

McCoy started to say "I told you so," but Kirk frowned at him and shook his head.

"Dismissed, Spock. Get some rest, and don’t come back on duty until you’re ready. We leave Doria to the Federation advisory team tomorrow. I don’t want any more noble sacrifices out of you--just get better, okay?"

"Yes, Captain." Spock stood and took his leave.

Kirk and McCoy watched the door slide shut behind him as he walked stiffly away, the effort of remaining erect showing more than Kirk knew he would have wanted it to.

"‘The good of the many...’" McCoy repeated.

"I don’t like the sound of it," Kirk said.

"Why not, Jim? It sounds like a pretty noble sentiment to me."

"That’s just it. Very noble. But it’s more than a sentiment or an ideal to Spock. He lives by it. He damned near died by it."

"And?" McCoy prodded.

"And I’m afraid of what will happen the next time his impeccable logic demands he live up to that noble ideal."

McCoy laid a hand on his shoulder. "If it does, God willing, we’ll be there to...we’ll be there for him"

"I hope so, Bones. God, I hope so," Kirk answered.

main.gif (14802 bytes)

Free counters provided by Andale.
banner.gif (754 bytes)

Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES -- 2273-2275 The Second Mission.
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES On-Line Fiction.
Click Here to Return to the Orion Press Website