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Nicole Comtet


November 7th 2278


Commander Uhura, a light traveling bag slung over her shoulder, was briskly striding down the Great Hall of Starfleet’s Headquarters. She was not unaware of the glances cast in the direction of her trim figure, clad in the red and black uniform of Starfleet; although she feigned indifference, she could not help but be secretly flattered. She nodded and smiled at colleagues and acquaintances along the way, but she never slackened her pace, and made her way to the main transporter center.

Suddenly, in the crowd of people just ahead of her, a familiar figure sauntering along caught her attention. Uhura quickened her pace and soon fell into step with a middle-aged individual dressed in casual clothes. Slipping a hand through his arm, she said with mock severity, "Ah ha, Doctor! So, I’ve caught you playing hooky. I thought you were still doing research on the Fabrini medical archives?"

Doctor McCoy gave a start and spun around. "Uhura! Good God, you startled me! Don’t you have any consideration for my blood pressure?" With a grin he added, "It’s good to see you, my dear. You look wonderful!"

They hugged each other.

"I decided to take a break from it. Since Jim put me on his staff, we’ve done a few things here and there, everything from training cadets to troubleshooting for Starfleet Command. Between that and the research, I’ve been busy. But what are you doing here?" McCoy inquired. "I thought you were aboard the Anwar Sadat as its commanding officer?"

"The Sadat’s in orbital space dock, getting repairs and retrofitting. I had eight week’s leave built up, and spent two in Kenya when I got the call. I’m on my way to report for a three-week assignment." Uhura’s dark eyes sparkled with excitement.

"I bet I know where you are going! Enterprise!" McCoy declared.

"Yes, sir, and I bet that’s where you are going, too!"

"Sure am, but how’d you guess?"

"Christine told me, Doctor," the commander admitted with a laugh.

"Well, of course! I might have known! Well, since Chapel’s not available for this trip, Jim roped me in, arguing that Spock couldn’t manage without me, and that a nice and quiet three week training cruise was just what I needed. So...here I am! And I’m real glad you will be along with us. But let’s go and have a drink," the doctor suggested as they came up to the food court. "I see that we still have twenty minutes to spare...come on."

"No, thank you, Doctor. Another time. I must report to the transporter room now."

"Nonsense," retorted McCoy, taking her arm. "A shuttle pod is going to pick me up in twenty minutes, by special request, mind you!"

"How come?" Uhura inquired, curious.

The doctor explained gleefully, "Well, I said to the admiral that I categorically refused to beam up, and if they wanted me, they had better send a shuttle down, or look for a ship’s surgeon elsewhere. So, what could they do?" He chuckled as he led the way into the Galactic Coffee Room, a favorite meeting place of Starfleet personnel.

"For shame, Doctor McCoy. That’s blackmail," Uhura protested. "What did the captain say about it?"

"What could he say? Admiral James T. Kirk’s orders. Anyway, blackmail or not, it worked." The doctor grinned shamelessly and led her to a table by one of the large bay-windows, which offered an extensive view of San Francisco.

Once they had ordered their drinks, McCoy glanced at Uhura’s bag and asked, "Is that all the luggage you carry for three weeks?"

"Of course not!" she replied with a laugh. "I had some of my things in my quarters aboard the Sadat transported to the Enterprise."

McCoy nodded. "You have already done one of these training cruises with Spock, haven’t you?"

"Yes, Doctor. This one will be my second."

McCoy hesitated, took a sip of brandy, then asked, "And...er...what is it like now on the bridge? I mean..with Spock instead of Jim Kirk in command?"

"Well," Uhura paused for thought, "you know, it seemed strange at first, not to see Admiral Kirk in the center seat naturally...but it seemed right for Captain Spock, he being one of the chief instructors at Starfleet Training Command. So...I should say it doesn’t make any real difference on the bridge, what with the new personnel, the trainees and so forth. But we—I mean the old hands—do feel sometimes as though...something is missing, you know..."

McCoy nodded, understanding.

"...and Spock feels that way, I am sure."

"Mmm," McCoy mused, savoring his drink, then continued, "What is he like...as Captain?"

Uhura’s eyebrows raised. "What would you expect, Doctor? Captain Spock is his usual, cool, dignified Vulcan self. You would not want him to be otherwise, now, would you, Doctor?" There was a hint of mild reproach in her voice.

"Of course not, my dear. Spock will always be Spock, no matter what, and to tell you the truth, I did not expect that his promotion would change our Vulcan. That isn’t his style. But, all the same, I am curious to see how he manages, and I can’t help but remember our discussions about command: he claiming not being interested, and I telling him that once he tasted it, he would like it, like everyone. Damn it, Uhura. Who would have believed it three years ago? Spock is now the captain of the Enterprise, while Jim Kirk is virtually tied to his desk with red tape!"

"Well, you’re exaggerating again, Doctor. I happen to know about some of the special assignments the admiral’s been doing for Starfleet, but I see your point." Uhura sighed. "Things do change, don’t they? But, Doctor, the remarkable thing, is the way Spock has assumed command, so naturally, so ‘logically,’ as if he were born to be Captain, he a man of science first and foremost."

"So, I was right from the start," McCoy crowed.

"I’m not sure," she replied seriously. "I mean, I don’t think Spock really likes command, but he is awfully good at it, as he is at everything he undertakes. In a very different style from Jim Kirk, of course—more restrained, more subtle perhaps. He has a way with the cadets, just perfect. He certainly has a gift for teaching."

"So I’ve heard. He seems to be highly appreciated at the Academy. But what about the cruise? Just maneuvers after maneuvers, I imagine? Must be pretty dull for three weeks on end..."

"In a way, yes. For us, it’s just routine, but Spock usually keeps one trick or two up his sleeve, and likes to spring them unexpectedly on the cadets, to keep them on their toes! So, one way or the other, we’re kept pretty busy."

"Yes, on the bridge or in Engineering, I’m sure, but I guess Sickbay must be rather quiet. Except for the usual odd ailments—space sickness, headaches, et cetera—my department should be pretty slack...and that suits me just fine; I’ll let my staff and trainees do all the work, and just sit back and take it easy."

"And what do you think Spock will say about that?" teased his companion.

"He’ll have nothing to say! I am technically chief of my department, even though a pointy-eared pixie is now sitting in the command chair!" McCoy retorted with spirit, rising at once to the bait.

"All set to cross swords with Spock, I can see!"

"Sure, my dear, and I’m looking forward to a good, old-fashioned wrangle, as in the old days. It would be a fine thing, indeed, if a Vulcan—Captain though he may be—should come and dictate orders in my sickbay!" McCoy declared, blue eyes blazing in anticipation.

Uhura shook her head, imagining the old sparring partners’ encounter. With a look at his chronometer, McCoy beckoned to a waiter. As they finished the rest of their drinks, a noisy party arrived and took possession of a table nearby. They were so loud that the two officers could not help but overhear the gist of their discussions, which—curiously enough—related to the Academy and to the good ship Enterprise.

"Must be some cadets’ parents who have just kissed their offspring goodbye," Uhura whispered to McCoy. He nodded while footing the bill presented by the waiter, and was about to get to his feet when a comment made at the next table made him prick his ears and subside in his chair.

The doctor and Uhura traded glances as a high-pitched, heavily-accented female voice declared peremptorily, "It is bad enough for Starfleet to assign an old ship like this Enterprise to the training of our cadets, but why should they put a Vulcan in command? As if they couldn’t find a more qualified officer among our own people. A Vulcan...really!"

"But what’s wrong with Vulcans?" someone asked. "I always heard they are loyal, efficient..."

"Add to that, they are awfully good-looking, aren’t they?" another woman put in with a self-conscious titter.

"They may be all that," declared a short, fair-headed, self-important looking man, "but I am not at all happy to entrust a daughter of mine to a Vulcan for a three-week cruise. That is just what I said the other day to my friend, Vice Admiral Kraft. He assured me that this Captain Spock was all right. Still, I wonder..."

"Good God, man! Do you know who you are talking about?" someone cut in with a short laugh. "Captain Spock is the most famous Vulcan in Starfleet, a personal friend of Admiral James T. Kirk. He has made his career on the Enterprise. I should say he is all right! One of the best!"

"That’s not what I mean. He is competent and efficient, all right! No, what I don’t like is the idea of our kids being cooped up for three weeks on that vessel with a Vulcan in command. These aliens are special, you know—all brain but no heart, no feeling...like some bloody walking computers!"

This stale joke provoked loud laughter, and Uhura—cheeks hot with anger and embarrassment—stole a glance at McCoy.

The doctor muttered, "Stupid people! How dare they! I have a good mind to—"

"No, Doctor, don’t. We’d better leave now," and picking up her bag, she stood.

Behind her, the snobbish woman pointed out with relish, "And...do you know that these people have such alien ways! For instance, they can read your thoughts, control your mind, and I was even told that..." Dropping her voice to a whisper, she made some revelations shocking enough to provoke loud exclamations and guffaws.

The two Starfleet officers stiffened, and Doctor McCoy, purple with anger, jumped to his feet and rasped loudly, "Commander, let’s get out of here. The atmosphere of bigotry and prejudice is getting unbreathable. Come on; let’s go!" He grabbed Uhura’s bag and noisily stomped to the door, leaving a silent and bemused party staring after him.

With a disdainful glance in their direction, Uhura followed suit, but did not miss the muttered comments.

"Did you hear that?"

"What damn impudence!"

"Wonder who they are?"

"Pah! Who cares anyway!"

As she reached the door, a cool voice, dripping with scorn, rose over the hubbub of the room. "If you want to know, my good man, they are senior officers of the U.S.S. Enterprise." That made her feel better at once.

A few minutes later, the aforesaid officers were striding along the runway to the Shuttleport, McCoy still fuming and cursing, and his companion panting at his side. When finally they entered the departure lounge, Uhura dropped in a chair and started to giggle helplessly.

The doctor had plopped himself down at her side, and eyed her suspiciously. "What’s the joke?"

"Really, Doctor...you...you take the cake! God knows the umpteen times you have taunted our Vulcan for being a walking computer, and there you go, flaring up to blazes when someone else does just the same! Isn’t that perfectly ‘illogical’?"

McCoy’s face split into a wide grin. "Well, I must admit there have been times when that maddening Vulcan has provoked me beyond patience, and brought upon himself the rough edge of my tongue. But I am damned if I’ll let any Tom, Dick and Harry slander Spock publicly in the busiest coffee shop in Starfleet Headquarters!"

"Quite right, Doctor. Everybody should know that abusing Captain Spock is Doctor McCoy’s exclusive privilege!" Uhura declared deadpan, then, with a grin, she added, "You were wonderful, really, and you should have seen their faces when we left!"

They were still laughing when the circular doors at the other end of the room parted, letting a young ensign who briskly stepped forward. "Doctor McCoy, sir?"

"Yeah, that’s me."

"The captain has ordered me to pick you up, sir. The pad is waiting. This way, please."

"Commander Uhura is also coming along, Ensign. What’s your name?"

"O’Brien, sir. Very good, sir," replied the young man, standing stiffly at attention. He was obviously one of the new recruits and imbued with the importance of his mission.

"Right, O’Brien. Lead the way." McCoy replied making for the door.

Hasty steps sounded behind them, and a voice called, "Hey! Just a moment!" A stocky, dark-haired man, carrying a canvas bag, hurried up to them. "Doctor McCoy, Uhura! Glad to see you!"

"My word! Here’s a familiar face," declared McCoy. "Haven’t seen you in what, three years, Lieutenant Commander DeSalle?"

"It’s Commander, now," Uhura remembered. "How are you, Vince? And what brings you here?"

"Well," he replied as they walked along the gangway to the shuttlepad, "it is rather unexpected. I have been assigned to the Potemkin as First Officer."

"Congratulations!" put in McCoy.

"Thank you, Doctor. But just now, she is docked for overhaul for about a month, so, in the meantime, I have been given a three-week tour of duty on the Enterprise as Chief Helm Officer, and I have been instructed to report to her for transportation. So, here I am."

"That’s great! We’re glad to have you back with us." Uhura smiled.

"So am I. I wouldn’t have missed this assignment, even for such a short time," DeSalle agreed heartily.

As soon as they stepped into the shuttlepod, the ensign touched the locking mechanism, and the doors snapped shut. They seated themselves, and the pilot sitting at the console activated the controls. Soon, the pod was released from the docking locks, and they were underway, heading upward through the atmosphere.

A few minutes later, they were out in space, heading for the huge orbital dockyard that seemed to hang over one side of Earth.

After a preliminary clearing of the throat, McCoy said conversationally, "I suppose, DeSalle, that you’ve been told of the changes on the Enterprise?"

"Of course, Doctor. I always keep up with what’s happening with the Enterprise. I heard that Spock is now her captain since Admiral Kirk is back at Headquarters. The Serenidad Tragedy just about totaled her, but I understand Commander Scott has spent the past two years repairing her. She’s been a training ship for a while. I’ve lost track where everyone is at, though."

"Well, Sulu is executive officer of the science ship Cooper," explained Uhura.

"I’ve heard you’re the commanding officer of the escort ship Sadat," remarked DeSalle.

She nodded. "And you’ve been on the Yorktown with Captain Jawalahara, haven’t you?"

It was his turn to nod. "Yes, he's an interesting fellow. I hear that Scotty’s been here the whole time, bless him. Can you possibly imagine the Enterprise without Scotty? He’s there, of course, in charge of Engineering, as rightly so."

Presently, the conversation slackened. The officers stood behind the pilot, watching as the blue planet–lit by the last beams of the setting sun–slowly receded. Even the most blasé of onlookers would have been stricken anew by the breathtaking beauty of the spectacle.

"You have to admit, Uhura, that this is worth the trip, and much better than having your molecules scrambled by some damn transporter!"

She smiled. "Oh, I admit , Doctor, that this is a sight one never gets tired of. On the other hand, you must admit that the transporter is quicker."

McCoy snorted. "What’s a few minutes more in a lifetime! By the way, Mister O’Brien," he went on, addressing the young man piloting the shuttlepod, "what time do we leave Earth orbit? Do you know?"

"At oh-two-thirty hours, San Francisco time, sir."

"Good, so we’ll have time to get our gear settled," McCoy concluded.

Meantime, the shuttle pod had reached the orbital docks and was threading its way through the lacy structures which shone in the surrounding floodlights like silver filigree against the darkness of space. They flew by a number of craft–including the Potemkin and the Sadat–and other vessels engulfed in a frenetic swarm of activity by both space-suited figures and workbees. Then, after a sweeping turn, they suddenly were offered the view of the U.S.S. Enterprise in her regal and dazzling whiteness.

"There she is," Uhura murmured with fondness.

DeSalle cleared his throat and said aloud what everyone felt: "It’s like coming home."

They watched in silence as their small craft skirted slowly along the gleaming flank of the starship, heading to the docking port, thus allowing them time to admire the streamlined hull, strongly lit by the floodlights of the docks. Finally, the pod reached their assigned airlock, backed into position, and the clink of the bolts was heard.

Doctor McCoy broke the spell and gave a friendly pat to the pilot’s shoulder. "Nice trip, young man. Thank you. It was worth it, eh, Uhura?"

"Yes, it was, Doctor. Well worth it," she agreed heartily. "Thanks for inviting me to tag along with you."

The airlock doors swished open. The officers filed out, and as they entered the staging area, Ensign O’Brien suggested, "Shall I have your luggage taken to your cabins?"

"Oh, would you, please?" Uhura replied with a smile.

McCoy nodded his thanks, then, as if barely remembering a time-honored tradition, turned to the windows of the control room where two technicians had supervised their arrival. "Permission to come aboard?" he called.

"Permission granted. Welcome aboard," replied a deep voice right behind him.

Startled, McCoy turned on his heels, and there, at the entrance of the corridor, stood the tall figure of the Vulcan—hands clasped behind him, his dark eyes coolly appraising the group of officers. To the doctor, Spock seemed as cold and austere as ever, but at close quarters, the sharp-eyed chief medical officer detected a faint gleam in the Vulcan’s eyes.

"Spock!" he cried, grinning from ear to ear, then hastily corrected himself and became more formal: "Captain."

"I trust that your transfer in the shuttlepod has been satisfactory, Doctor," Spock blandly said.

"Perfectly, thank you." McCoy could not resist asking, "But how is it that a starship captain appears personally to greet his officers? Is it a new Starfleet regulation?"

"Negative, Doctor, but why not make an exception to protocol once in a while?"

"Oh, really? That’s a new approach," McCoy muttered, quite intrigued. He was amazed that the Vulcan would actually wink at his blessed protocols...even if it was once in a while.

Ignoring the comment, the captain gazed at Uhura with approval. "I see that you have been able to reach Starfleet Headquarters in time, Commander. I regret that you had your leave interrupted by this cruise."

"That’s all right, Captain. I’ll make it up another time. Is there anything special I should know?"

"Nothing, except that there will be six trainees in Communications, Commander."

"Very good, sir. That will keep me pretty busy," she said primly.

Spock nodded then turned his gaze to DeSalle who was standing quietly nearby. "Commander DeSalle, I am gratified to have you join us for this training cruise. It has been a long time."

"Indeed, Captain, and it is good to be back here, even for a temporary assignment."

"You will find many changes on board, Mister DeSalle, especially on the bridge. But I am sure that a few hours will be sufficient for you to master all the technical improvements brought to the ship."

"I’ll do my best, Captain."

"Well, gentlemen and lady, that will be all. I expect to see you on the bridge in thirty minutes. Mister O’Brien, show Commander DeSalle to his quarters, will you?"

"Aye, sir." The young ensign picked up DeSalle’s bag and headed to the exit, preceded by Uhura who was already way ahead.

Spock watched them go, then turned his attention back to McCoy. "You do not have to be shown the way, do you, Doctor?"

"No, I guess not, unless they’ve managed to redesign my department or move my old quarters," McCoy grumbled out of habit.

There was an ironic gleam in the Vulcan’s eyes. "No, Doctor, everything is just as you left them three years ago. That was your last voyage on this ship, remember?"

"I am not likely to forget that trip," McCoy replied with a retrospective shiver. "Being held hostage by Klingons while Jim had the ship blown out from beneath his feet..." A pause followed as the doctor looked searchingly at the impassive face. "I’ll miss him, Spock...and you?"

The two men stared at each other for a few seconds, the memory of their mutual friend haunting their minds.

Spock coolly replied, "What would you expect, Doctor?" Then, the Vulcan strode briskly to the turbolift. "I must leave you now. Mister Scott is expecting me in Engineering...and your staff is expecting you in Sickbay, Doctor," he commented.

"Aye, aye, Captain, sir!" McCoy shot back, in an attempt to sting the Vulcan out of his maddening calm.

It was all for nothing. Spock remained his imperturbable self, but for a slight frown of slanted eyebrows which the doctor missed anyway. Without a word, Spock stepped into the lift which sped him down to the lower decks, leaving a somewhat disgruntled McCoy to make his own way to his quarters.


In the hall, by the main transporters, activity was at its peak. The benevolent personnel officer was busy checking the last arrivals, and dispatching them to their respective departments. With the assistance of two ensigns, the lieutenant was ticking off the cadets’ names on his list, while shouting instructions right and left. The operation was carried out efficiently and rapidly, amidst the excitement of the youngsters who could not get over the thrill at being at last on board the legendary Enterprise.

Lieutenant Killicranky, better known as Killy among his peers, was an old hand, and he knew that his captain fully relied on his ability and long experience to detect immediately any unauthorized items that the trainees might attempt to smuggle aboard.

Killicranky was well aware of the resourcefulness some of them called upon to get their precious tokens past his control. So, equipped with tricorders, he and his assistants were carefully checking bags and cases; they did not, however, pay special attention to the loose jacket which a pretty blonde sported, being more interested in the bulky canvas bag which she was dragging along.

"Hey!" the lieutenant exclaimed. "Do you think we will carry you all over the galaxy? You’ve brought enough stuff to last you three months. What’s your name?"

"Cadet Joyce Garrick, sir!" the young woman replied breathlessly.

"Garrick...Garrick..." Killicranky looked down his roll. "Ah, Garrick...here you are. You share a room with Gordon on F Deck."

"Oh, great!" cried the young woman, delighted. "Thank you, sir. Here’s Gordon," she pointed to a slim young woman about her age with chestnut hair and dreamy gray eyes. "Come on, Alison!" she called. "We’re roommates. Hurry up!"

"Alison Gordon," noted Lieutenant Killicranky. "Would you be of Scottish ancestry, by any chance?"

"Yes, sir," she shyly replied.

"Well, I’ll bet you’ll get along fine with Mister Scott, our chief engineer. All right, move along...next please!"

The two women made their way to the crowded lift and managed to squeeze in with their bags. The doors began to slide shut but stopped midway, and an red alarm light flashed above their heads.

"What’s that?"

"Ramirez, mind your guitar; it’s sticking out!"

"Oh, bother! I can’t get it in."

"Push, everyone!"

With much giggling and scrambling, they succeeded in packing into the lift, and the doors finally glided shut. But the car stayed motionless. "What now? What do we do?" Someone laughed nervously.

A disembodied female voice answered the question. "Please state your destination."

"G Deck, F Deck," the cadets cried simultaneously.

Whoosh! The lift went up like a shot and, after what seemed like only a few seconds, slowed down smoothly. The doors parted slowly, spilling its cargo which scattered along the gangway in a bubbling of anticipation.

A moment of confusion followed as the trainees paced the corridors in search of their cabins. Gradually, the excitement subsided, and everyone settled down. The doors closed, and the decks recovered their customary tranquility.


Cadets Garrick and Gordon dropped their bags and looked around, delighted with the size and the comfort of their quarters.

"Which one do you prefer?" asked Garrick, sinking gratefully on the nearest bed.

"Doesn’t matter; just keep this one," Gordon replied while exploring closets and built-in cupboards. Then their eyes met, and they burst out laughing.

"I made it! I made it!" Garrick crowed joyfully. "I told you I could bluff them...and I did!"

"Yes, you did, but it was risky," the other replied as she watched her friend unzip her jacket, revealing, wrapped around her slim waist, a large scarf in which lay a beautiful tabby cat which was fast asleep. She stroked it lovingly. "Time to wake up, my pretty. We have arrived."

Alison looked at the cat doubtfully. "Do you think she is all right? I hope that the sleeping pill was not too strong for her?"

"Oh, no. She’s used to it, and it had better be effective. Just imagine their faces if Popsy had let out a mewing in the transporter room!" She laid down the cat which was already stirring faintly. She straightened and looked around their cabin. "Is there a food dispenser somewhere? I’ll get her a bowl of milk."

"It’s over there, and if you want to unpack now, you’d better hurry. Here are our schedules for the next two days, and we have to report to the senior officers in..." She glanced at her chrono. "...forty minutes. Yours is Uhura, Joyce."

"Oh, good! I didn’t expect her; I thought she was in command of the Sadat these days!"

"She is, but the Sadat is getting some retrofitting and repairs, and apparently Admiral Kirk requested her presence on this training cruise."

"She’s great, but I’d better watch out. I’ve heard she doesn’t mince her words when someone botches something. She is very exacting, but my! She is a real wizard! Who’s your senior, Alison?"

"The ineffable Schwarzenberg! Just my luck! I heard he is a terror. I only hope he won’t keep us in the computer room all the time and that I’ll have a chance to work on the bridge sometime," she added wistfully.

They were unpacking and proudly laying out their brand-new uniforms on their beds. Garrick stole a mischievous glance at her friend. "Yes, of course, to admire your beloved Captain Spock at close quarters!"

"Oh, Joyce, don’t be silly!" Gordon retorted, turning pink. Like many other students at the Academy, Alison Gordon had developed an irresistible crush for the enigmatic Vulcan since she had taken his classes.


Down in Engineering, Montgomery Scott, very much the ‘Laird of his Manor,’ was presenting his bunch of trainees to the captain. Then, with a fatherly nod of dismissal, he sent them out and ushered Spock into his sanctum. Spock went straight to the engineer’s computer and punched in a code to bring up on the screen the outlines of the training program for the next three weeks. As Scott peered at the display flashing on the viewer, a slow grin spread under his moustache.

"That’s verra good, Cap’n. I can see you mean to keep us busy as usual!"

"That is what a training cruise is for, Mister Scott. As you are well aware, the true character of a person, whatever the age, is best revealed in unexpected or hard-pressed situations. As the sector we shall be in is relatively quiet, we should not encounter any such incidents. The only logical thing to do is to provoke them now and then. Don’t you agree?"

"Aye! That’s the best way to teach these kids. As ye can see, we’re all ready and raring to go down here, especially my six cadets! You just have to give the word, Mister Spock.... Sorry, sir, I mean ‘Captain.’ Old habits die hard, don’t they?" he commented apologetically.

The Vulcan gazed at him and said quietly, "No need to apologize, Mister Scott; old habits are not to be despised." For a brief moment, the two men locked gazes, sharing the same wistful memories, then Spock turned deliberately to the door, assuming again his most Vulcan expression, and announced, "Pre-launch countdown will commence in twenty-four point two minutes, Mister Scott."

"And departure will be right on schedule, sir, naturally." Scott nodded his approval, but Captain Spock was already in the solo-lift, bound for the upper decks.


As the minutes went by, and the time of departure closed in steadily, the tension increased noticeably among the cadets, although many did their best to affect the cool indifference of old hands.

They had duly reported to the heads of their departments, and those on watch duty were at their stations, ready to assist their senior officers in the pre-launch checklist.

One announcement had already sounded on the ship-wide address system: "Attention. All dockyard personnel and visitors are invited to leave the ship immediately. Repeat: All dockyard personnel and visitors are invited to leave the ship immediately."

The last service shuttles had left, ferrying away the dock technicians and personnel who had delivered supplies and equipment to the Enterprise. All the visitors to the starship had gone...except one. When the dock hands had trooped to the cargo and shuttle decks, no one had noticed a coverall-clad figure slip away stealthily and vanish into a locker room.

Then, the pre-launch countdown had begun, and the seconds ticked inexorably by in accord with the heartbeats of the trainees, many of whom were to experience their very first voyage into deep space.

The bridge was at peak activity, and the officers were busy at their stations for the ultimate checks and rechecks. The trainees could not help but be on edge with anticipation, and a touch of tension was felt in the air. Then the turbolift doors parted, a tall figure stepped out, and a young voice announced nervously, "Captain on the bridge!"

At once, a silence fell over the bridge. Spock directed an appraising glance at the cadet standing by the door, then paused behind the rails, calmly surveying the company and acknowledging with an imperceptible nod the greeting smiles of his command team. Almost at once, the reassuring presence of the Vulcan, standing still and silent, released the tension, and the atmosphere of feverish, noisy activity gave way to a quiet and confident efficiency.

The captain began to move and pace slowly about the upper bridge level, going from one station to the next with a quiet word or two to the crew. Uhura, at the communications console, smiled up at him. Science Officer Helmut Schwarzenberg stood up and made a stiff little bow. Spock moved on to the weapons control station, manned by a young ensign, new to the Enterprise, who looked up rather nervously as his captain halted behind him.

"Status, Mister Kettenring?" Spock asked quietly.

"Ready and operational, Captain."

"Good." Spock turned away, then back again. "Tell me, Ensign, do you happen to be any relation to a Captain Kettenring, later Admiral, in what was the United States Navy on Earth back in the twentieth century, who earned himself a reputation as an outstanding submarine officer? Kettenring is an uncommon name, I believe."

"Yes, sir." The ensign’s face lit up with a shy smile. "Actually, Captain Philip Kettenring was a great, great, great grandfather of my father. I was named after him."

"Indeed?" Spock looked interested. "You have an officer of high reputation to live up to in your ancestry, Ensign."

"I know, sir. Thank you, sir," stammered the young man, inwardly wondering how a Vulcan could possibly known anything of ancient American Navy history. But Spock had already stepped down to the helm and navigation stations, and cast a comprehensive glance at the readouts displayed on the consoles.

"Well, gentlemen, I trust everything is under control?" A questioning eyebrow arched slightly.

"To be sure, Captain," Commander DeSalle replied with a grin, acknowledging the gentle tease Spock had indulged in. "We’re all set, and we’ve received the stand-by signals from Departure Control, sir."

"Thank you, Mister DeSalle." The Vulcan nodded, and looked at Johnny Farrell. "Have you had time to familiarize yourself with your station, Commander?"

"Aye, sir. Mister DeSalle has put me in the picture...I mean, he’s briefed me," Farrell rectified hastily at the sight of the Vulcan’s puzzled gaze. "Our orbital departure is plotted and laid in, Captain."

"Thank you." Spock cast a last look around, then sat down in the command chair and pushed the comlink switch. "All decks, this is the captain speaking. Prepare for immediate departure." He sat back, calm and watchful, while his team proceeded with the execution of the routine launching maneuvers.

Uhura, who had constantly been in contact with Departure Control, announced that their departure clearance was confirmed. The Enterprise was now floating in the docks, clear of her moorings. DeSalle’s hands moved to the helm controls as he looked up at Spock, waiting for the command.

But the captain, after a split-second of hesitation and a "Hold, please, Mister DeSalle," flicked the comlink switch again. "Bridge to Sickbay."

"Sickbay. McCoy here," the gruff voice of the doctor answered almost immediately.

"Doctor, we are ready to depart, and I seem to recall that you used to come up to the bridge during orbital departures. If you would care to join us?"

"Oh, er, yes, yes! Thank you, Spock. On my way." Clearly, the good doctor had been taken aback by the unexpected invitation.

DeSalle and Farrell exchanged a side-glance while the communications officer grinned openly.

Like all the former Enterprise crew, Uhura anticipated with some amusement the reactions of Doctor McCoy to the new status of his old sparring partner. It certainly would be worth watching.

Uhura greeted McCoy with her brightest smile when he emerged from the lift, a pleased but perplexed expression on his face. He smiled back at her with a wink for good measure, and looked down uncertainly at the man in the command chair.

Without a glance behind, the Vulcan said smoothly, "Ah, here you are, Doctor. All right, Mister DeSalle. Take us out. Thrusters only. Ahead one-quarter impulse after we’ve cleared the SpaceDock."

"Aye, sir. Thrusters ahead. Standing by for one-quarter impulse."

As the mighty vessel moved forward, the doctor glanced around the bridge and moved to the lower deck to stand at his old place, beside the captain’s chair. Although Spock’s attention never left the mainviewer on which the docking pylons were seen receding behind them, the chief medical officer felt somehow that he was indeed welcome, and a warm glow of satisfaction invaded him.

Well, after all, he thought, it’s good to be back, and mighty nice of Spock to remember my old habits and invite me to the bridge. He shot a brief glance at the imperturbable, clear-cut profile beside him, then turned his attention to the mainviewer and the huge space doors of SpaceDock looming just ahead of them.

Everyone watched as the Enterprise majestically glided through the doors and emerged from the SpaceDock. Even the more seasoned of space travelers were always moved when facing the awesome display of star-spangled space.

The cadets heard, as if in a dream, the helmsman announce. "We are clear of SpaceDock, Captain. Increasing speed to one-quarter impulse power."

"Departure angle on viewer, Mister DeSalle."

"Aye, sir."

At once, the starfield shimmered away, and was replaced by the sight of the orbital SpaceDock, a giant ornament lit up like a huge Christmas tree and sparkling against the dark globe of Earth, just outlined by the bright halo of the hidden sun. It was truly beautiful, and a hush fell over the bridge as they watched what to half of the crew was their home planet gradually fall back behind them and then fade from view.

The spell was broken by Lieutenant Commander Farrell’s voice. "Which course, Captain?"

"What do you suggest, Mister DeSalle?"

The helmsman exchanged a look with the navigator and grinned happily. "The Grand Tour, Captain?"

Spock raised an eyebrow. "By all means, Mister DeSalle, Mister Farrell."

Was that a faint tremor in the Vulcan’s voice? McCoy wondered.

"Course plotted, and laid in, sir," Farrell announced.

"Take us out, Warp Factor One. Navigator, when we are clear of the Sol system, plot us a course bearing 125 mark 17."

"Aye, sir," the two brisk voices replied simultaneously as the powerful starship gathered speed.

McCoy could not contain his curiosity. "‘The Grand Tour’, Spock?" he asked sotto voce. "What’s that?"

The captain turned an impassible face in the doctor’s direction, but there was a humorous spark lurking in the depths of those dark eyes. "‘The Grand Tour’ is what you might call a ‘scenic ride’ across your solar system. It was used quite a bit by training vessels two and three decades ago. I am pleased Mister DeSalle suggested it. I consider it beneficial for cadets to see their home world from different angles. Wouldn’t you agree, Doctor?"

"Oh...quite, yes, I see what you mean," replied the intrigued doctor who could not help but approve of the pedagogic methods of Spock and appreciate his pragmatic ways of initiating his students to the wonders of the Universe.

No doubt about it, this cruise promises to be interesting.

Under the expert guidance of Commander DeSalle and Lieutenant Commander Farrell, the starship Enterprise quickly left behind the red sphere of Mars, its starship construction yards and its two captured moonlets. They astounded the cadets on the bridge by quickly traversing the asteroid belt, using the ship’s sensors and their combined navigational and helm skills to evade any potential threats from a rather thickly-concentrated cluster of asteroids. Now the starship was approaching the awesome mass of Jupiter with its retinue of Galilean moons. To some fanciful trainees, the colorful patterns of the stormy planet looked like a gigantic strawberry sorbet laced with cream and cherry sauce, and the image all but made them water at the mouth.

As if on cue, a yeoman appeared from nowhere at that very moment and began handing out cups of coffee she carried on a tray. She came to McCoy. "Coffee, Doctor?"

"Good idea. Thank you, my dear."

"Captain, your fruit juice."

"Thank you, Yeoman."

"Why...some people received preferential treatment here!" McCoy’s jest was received with perfect composure.

"Captain’s prerogative, Doctor," the Vulcan retorted, sipping his juice unconcernedly.

DeSalle chuckled quietly as he deftly maneuvered the ship beyond the gravitational well of Jupiter, then, with the mastery of a veteran, he sent her veering about a one-hundred-ten degree pivot and speeding through space to the strangest planet of all in the Sol system: Saturn.

They all watched entranced as the orange sphere of the planet, encircled in its rainbow stripes, suddenly came into view and grew so huge as to almost fill the screen. The doctor heaved a sigh and noticed with interest the thoughtful expression of the captain who was also gazing at the sight.

"Come on, Spock," McCoy quipped under his breath. "Don’t tell me that you are still ‘fascinated’ by that! You’ve seen it a hundred times if you’ve seen it once."

His eyes never leaving the mainviewer, Spock replied, "So I have, Doctor. But allow me this: When I cease to marvel at wonders such as these, it will be time for me to resign."

"Is that so?" McCoy glanced at the austere profile and grinned good-humoredly. "You have a point there, and I suppose that this show," he gestured toward the screen, "you are giving the kids is meant to, er, stimulate their natural propensity for wonder and enthusiasm?"

"Precisely, Doctor. Space and space travel must never be taken for granted."

"Well," drawled the doctor as he casually looked around the bridge, "from what I can see here, you’ve so far scored right on the mark, Captain."

The Vulcan made a non-committal grunt, and when Saturn faded away in a riot of colors and the bluish dots of Uranus and Neptune hovered in the distant void, he ordered, "When we are clear of the system, Commander, give us Warp Four on the course I gave Lieutenant Commander Farrell. Then excuse yourself from your station and allow your trainee to take the helm," he added with a glance at the youth standing nearby with eyes fixed on the console.

"Aye, sir. We’re almost there," said DeSalle, checking his instruments.

"Well, I think it’s time for me to..." began the doctor as he turned to leave. He stopped in his tracks when a trainee at Communications turned toward Spock.

Breathlessly, the cadet announced, "A message coming in, Captain. From Starfleet, sir!" And after listening intently to his earjack and glancing at Uhura, he confirmed. "It’s a commpic call...from Admiral Kirk, sir."

An excited stir ran through the bridge, echoed by the joyful "I’ll be damned!" from Doctor McCoy who made his way to the captain’s side.

Spock calmly ordered, "On screen, Cadet."

The star-filled view slowly dissolved and was replaced by the face of James T. Kirk who broke into a smile at the sight of his friend. "Hello, Spock! Thought I would wave goodbye before you leave the sight of our shores."

"Admiral, this is most kind of you," the Vulcan formally replied.

"Sorry I was unable to see you off; had a staff meeting at the wrong time. How are things going on board?"

"So far, as well as can be, Admiral," Spock said serenely while making a sign to Uhura. She switched the viewer pickup to let the admiral have a full view of the bridge.

Kirk’s eyes shone with a touch of emotion as they glanced over his former domain, lit on his old comrades one by one, and finally rested on McCoy, standing at Spock’s side. "Hi, Bones. I see you have resumed your customary place. Good to see you there again."

"I sure have, Jim. I only wish I could say the same of you."

An elusive shadow crossed Kirk’s face. "Ah, well. I may be able to make it next time and join you for the next training cruise as an observer."

"You know that’s not what I meant, Jim!" McCoy cut in bluntly.

Spock, sensing Kirk’s annoyance, smoothly intervened. "We shall be looking forward to the honor of your visit, Admiral. I shall send my first report in three days’ time."

"Very good, Spock. Well...good luck and warp speed to you all. Take care of yourselves. Kirk out." His image disappeared abruptly as though the connection with Starfleet had suddenly been cut off, and once more the starfield of the Milkyway filled the screen.

The doctor cleared his throat. "Well, that’s that. I’d better go back to Sickbay, now. Thank you all for the...sight-seeing!" He went up the steps, but at the turbolift, he turned around. "By the way, Captain. When do your drills or maneuvers or whatever begin?"

"Not for two point four-five hours, Doctor. Why?"

"Because I’d better get Sickbay prepared and standing by...just in case!" With that parting shot, the doctor stepped into the lift. Before the doors shut, he had time to get a glimpse of a raised eyebrow and hear the deep voice commence, "Captain’s log, Stardate..."

As the lift carried him swiftly down to G Deck and Sickbay, the doctor leaned against the metal wall and grinned to himself. Yeah, it’s good to be back... Good ol’ Spock, same as ever, thank God! Too bad about Jim though...


Many decks below, a dark figure, silent as a shadow, was creeping out of the deserted galley, loaded with cans and boxes, and tiptoeing along the corridor, as stealthily as a cat.


In one of the crew cabins on G Deck, a lonely and restive feline was killing time by sharpening her claws on the padded seat of an armchair.

 November 10th 2278


Three days and several drills later, a meeting of Department Heads, presided over by Captain Spock, was nearing its end in the main briefing room. For the last half-hour, the performance and comportment of the trainees had been under discussion, the officers concerned giving their views on the results obtained thus far by their students. On the whole, they agreed that the routine and regulations of the ship were generally well-accepted by most of the cadets who had rapidly adapted themselves to the life style and discipline aboard.

As was to be expected, however, Doctor McCoy raised objections. "You know," he declared, "it seems to me that you are pushing them more than is good for them. If these kids get overtired already, they won’t last the next three weeks. For instance, that emergency drill last night—why did you have to repeat it three times, Spock?"

"Because, Doctor, the results of the first two drills were unsatisfactory," the Vulcan replied tersely.

"Come on, Spock! You can’t possibly expect a one hundred percent efficiency rating from beginners. I thought that eighty-two percent was quite good, considering—"

"No, Doctor McCoy, it was far from good. We must reach ninety percent or better in this first week and the maximum by the end of this training cruise. The safety of the ship, the life of the crew, may depend on the few percentage points difference, and the sooner the students are aware of that fact, the better."

There was an awkward pause, then McCoy heaved an exasperated sigh. He conceded, "Okay, I know I’m new on this training stunt, and I know that your cadets have not come on a pleasure cruise, that’s fore sure! I remind you that I’m not only responsible for the physical health of the crew, but I’m also responsible for their mental health. And I warn you not to demand too much of these youngsters."

In the ensuing silence, the captain regarded the doctor with a speculative gaze. "Explain, Doctor. Have you observed any sign of mental stress or discontent? Have you heard any complaint?"

"Complaint? No. So far, they seem happy enough from what I’ve seen. But stress? Yes. I’ve noticed unmistakable signs of fatigue among those, who for one reason or another, keep coming to Sickbay."

"But, Doctor," Uhura pointed out, "what’s wrong with that? If out of one hundred thirty-five trainees, most of whom are on their first deep space voyage, about half a dozen come to you, we can consider this a very good rating. In my section, they’re in great shape, and eager and ready for anything."

"What about yours, gentlemen?" Spock asked, looking around.

"Same with mine, sir," DeSalle declared.

"And mine," chimed in Montgomery Scott. "As I already told you, Captain, I’m very pleased with the lot I have this time. They’re nice kids and as keen as mustard." A murmur of assent followed the engineer’s words, and Spock turned his gaze back to the doctor.

"All right," McCoy drawled, "if you say so...maybe I’m just imagining things. But then, how do you account for the recurrent visits of the same four trainees who keep complaining of headache, nausea, acute stomachache, et cetera? And that has nothing to do with space sickness, mind you. It’s more like symptoms of a nervous disorder. One of them is so hypersensitive as to have me wonder about her; her psych-profile proves her to be highly emotionally vulnerable. The name is..." The doctor checked his compuclipboard. "...Vera Vatanen. Do you know the one I mean, Captain?"

"Quite well, Doctor. She was in my class, and appeared to be a very promising student, quiet and studious. Naturally, the conditions on a ship are different from what they are at the Academy, however... I wonder... She is in your department, Lieutenant Schwarzenberg. Can you explain her present behavior? Have you noticed anything anomalous?"

"Not particularly, Captain," the science officer replied stiffly. "Otherwise I would have reported it at once. Indeed, Cadet Vatanen seems nervous and inattentive at times. I have had to take her to task for her lack of accuracy, but I am sure that with proper tuition and strict discipline, I shall obtain from her the excellence of performance expected from a Starfleet trainee. You can leave it to me, sir!"

"Hey! Wait a minute!" McCoy protested before Spock had time to reply. "Take it easy with that girl, will you? Didn’t you hear what I just said? At present, Vatanen is on the verge of a depressive state. If you treat her high-handedly, she’s liable to break down before we know it."

"Thank you, Doctor," Schwarzenberg retorted icily. "But let me remind you that I have been engaged in Academy for more years that you can claim. I am known for always obtaining good results, so I presume I know my job and how to cope with this kind of problem."

"Good God, man!" the doctor burst out. "She’s little more than a child, not one of your damned computers! You can’t handle her like a burned out Duotronic circuit. Of all the heartless, unfeeling—! But what can you expect of Science Officers? That goes with the calling, I guess. I’m surprised you don’t have pointed ears, Lieutenant!" With this unexpected outburst, Doctor McCoy finally ran out of steam.

After a second of uncertainty, the assembled officers broke up and dissolved into laughter. The sight of Lieutenant Schwarzenberg—a study of stupefaction and righteous indignation—and that of Captain Spock—head tilted and eyebrow on the rise—was too much for them.

This good-natured laughter noticeably eased the tension, and gave the captain time to regain control of the discussion. With a sweeping, frosted glance—betrayed, however, by a slight twitch of his lips—he, at last, obtained silence. "Gentlemen, Commander Uhura, if you please..."

Turning to the still fuming science officer, Spock proceeded to explain, "Mister Schwarzenberg, I’m afraid you will have to accustom yourself to the irrational ways of our chief surgeon and put up with his hasty temper and rather...forceful and graphic mode of speech."

"Now, look here, Spock!" McCoy bristled.

"Captain!" Schwarzenberg stuttered. "I have never been spoken to in this offensive manner, and I’m damned if I’ll put up with it!"

"Gentlemen!" The biting tone and chilly stare quenched any attempt at controversy. "As I was saying, our doctor’s ways are often unpredictable, even offensive, and I speak from my lengthy experiences as Science Officer of this vessel." A stifled chuckle from down the briefing table was ignored. "On the other hand, Lieutenant, Doctor McCoy’s expertise and competence in space medicine as Chief Medical Officer are unequaled in Starfleet. Therefore, I strongly advise you to heed his recommendations in regards to the health and welfare of the crew and of your trainees, in particular."

"Why, Captain!" the doctor beamed. "That’s mighty nice of you—"

Spock cut him short. "As for you, Doctor, I would recommend that you keep in mind that Lieutenant Schwarzenberg is a certified instructor with a long standing at Starfleet Academy, and that as such he has an exemplary record. Training these cadets is his task to perform. As you rightly said a moment ago, this is not a pleasure cruise. Our cadets are here to learn and practice. But, and this concerns us all." Spock swept a meaningful glance around the circle of attentive officers. "Let us make sure that in endeavoring to obtain the maximum efficiency from our students that we do so with discretion. I need not remind you that we are dealing with cadets. Therefore, they are entitled to some understanding, even leniency from their instructors. Is that clear, lady and gentlemen?"

Spock received nods and smiles of assent from everyone, and a short "Yes, sir" from the sullen science officer.

"Good," he concluded. "Doctor, I’ll rely on you to keep me informed on the health of our cadets, particularly the four you just mentioned."

"Of course, Captain," McCoy replied grumpily. "That’s what I’m here for."

Ignoring the patent ill-humor of the two officers, Spock calmly continued, "Then that is all on that subject. Any question? Anything else?"

A hand was raised across the table.

"Yes, Mister Killicranky?"

"I just want to mention, Captain, some petty larceny reported to me by the ship’s quartermaster. Nothing important, sir. She’s mostly missing food, some odds and ends, and a couple of blankets. She only found out last night, sir, and believes it to be simple pilfering."

DeSalle wondered with a laugh, "But who would want to steal food when all they have to do is to order whatever they like from the food processors? That’s ridiculous!"

Spock looked thoughtful. "So it would seem, Mister DeSalle, unless the thief, whoever he or she or it may be, had good reason to do so... Unless, for instance, the thief cannot have access to any food-processor. And there is the case of the missing blankets." The Vulcan mused for a few seconds, then pressed a button on the table’s comlink. "Security?"

"O’Brien here, Captain."

"Take a detail of five men with you, go to the quartermaster on my behalf, and investigate the thefts she has reported. If necessary, conduct a discreet inquiry among the personnel and a search through the lower decks, starting at Q Deck. You might look for signs of an illicit presence aboard the Enterprise. Keep me informed of your progress at all times."

"Aye, sir. Begging your pardon, sir? You mean? An intruder is onboard?" O’Brien sounded excited.

"Unknown, Ensign," Spock calmly replied. "It is a possibility. It is up to you to investigate and find evidence, if any."

"Shall I sound General Quarters Three, Intruder Alert, sir?"

"That would be premature, Ensign. All I want for the present are the facts. Spock out."

As soon as the comlink was switched off, McCoy pounced. "Don’t you think your suspicions are a bit far-fetched, Spock? Why, these things might have just been misplaced. Or a crewman who doesn’t care for sterilized food from a processor might have fancied something else. Heck, maybe it’s one of the cadets from Xartheb! You know that would explain it. What makes you think we have an intruder? Don’t tell me you have a hunch, Captain." The blue eyes of the doctor sparkled with mischief.

The Vulcan favored him with an enigmatic gaze and coolly replied, "Perhaps I have, Doctor. However, Vulcans do not rely on what you call a ‘hunch,’ as you are well aware. They judge and act upon facts, and the theft of food and blankets—when anyone can obtain them merely by the asking—is a rather disturbing fact. But we need more data before drawing any conclusions."

The captain turned to his science officer. "Mister Schwarzenberg, will you please initiate full sensor scans of the ship. I shall be up on the bridge presently." Spock rose to his feet and the others followed suit. "That is all for now, gentlemen, Commander. Thank you... Doctor, a word with you, if I may?"

Uhura lifted her head. "Sir?"

"Yes, Miss Uhura?"

"I just want to remind everyone that Communications will be giving a social tonight, in the crew lounge in the Rec Deck, starting at the change of shift. Nothing formal, you know. Just a get together, a few drinks... You are all cordially invited." She looked at Spock. "That goes for you, too, of course, Captain. Everyone would be terrible disappointed if you don’t come, even if only for a few minutes!" Uhura flashed her sweetest smile at the Vulcan, who was renowned for shirking social gatherings.

Both reluctant to accept the invitation and to cause Uhura displeasure, Spock finally replied with his usual courtesy, "If I can spare the time, Commander, I shall be honored to accept your invitation to attend...for a few moments."

"Splendid, Captain!"

"You can count on us not to miss your party, Uhura," Scott declared heartily.

The assembled officers filed out noisily, leaving the captain and the doctor facing each other across the briefing table.

A few seconds went by as the two men eyed each other speculatively. After clearing his throat, McCoy made the first move. "Well, Spock?"

"Well, Doctor McCoy?" the Vulcan dead-panned.

The doctor bristled. "You wished to see me in private, didn’t you? For a regular dressing down, I suppose?"

The Vulcan, hands clasped behind his back, squared his shoulders and coolly regarded the bellicose doctor under raised eyebrows. "Why should I? I am not in the habit of giving reprimands to anyone unless they are fully justified and deserved. I do not believe that is the case."

"Oh." A rather deflated McCoy found nothing to say.

"I asked you to grant me a moment only to warn you against provoking our science officer for any reason whatsoever."

"Ah!" exclaimed McCoy, his old self again. "Schwarzenberg is a petty tyrant if I ever saw one. That man is a martinet! I know his type! Wherever did you pick him up, Spock? Some backwater garrison?"

"I wish you would refrain from these irrational flights of fancy. I did not ‘pick him up,’ Doctor. Starfleet Training Command appointed Lieutenant Schwarzenberg to his position of Senior Sciences Instructor because of his capability. He is a senior instructor at the Academy and quite an efficient teacher. However, having a rigid disposition, he is a stern and exacting tutor. As you could not fail to notice, he does not appreciate any remark, humorous or otherwise, made about him. He has a tendency to take everything in earnest."

"Oh, Lord!" McCoy moaned comically. "That’s all we need now....a science officer with no sense of humor. Reminds me of a certain Vulcan of my acquaintance at the start of a five-year mission more than a dozen years ago. It took him some time to learn how to take a joke, didn’t it, Spock? Ah, those were the good ol’ days..."

"Indeed, Doctor, but those days are gone, and we have the present to consider. Therefore, I reiterate my recommendation to avoid any confrontation with Lieutenant Schwarzenberg, which would only cause regrettable unpleasantness. Do I make myself clear, Doctor?"

"Quite, Captain, sir. I’ll bite my tongue, or better still, I’ll keep away from the man, and that’ll just suit me fine! D’ya know, Spock, now that I think about it...I would not be surprised if most of my young patients come from Sciences. Wanna bet on it?"

"Betting is illogical and unnecessary since it is very likely that they will. I have observed that Mister Schwarzenberg’s methods usually result in a negative reaction from the trainees during the first week of a cruise such as this."

"My God, Spock! You’re almost as callous as Schwarzenberg! Remember that they’re only kids and can’t—"

"Let us not go into that pointless discussion again, Doctor," Spock cut in firmly. "You take care of the health of the crew. Allow me to command this vessel. If any serious problem arises, rest assured that the lieutenant will be duly called to order. But I ask that you stay out of it. Is this understood, or do I have to make it an order?"

A pause followed as the two men glared at each other. The Vulcan stiffly turned on his heel and strode to the door. "If you will excuse me, Doctor, I am expected on the bridge." His keen hearing, however, caught a mutter behind him which made him halt in his tracks.

"Well, well, well, our Vulcan first officer has come a long way to be sure!" McCoy drawled caustically. "Look at him now...bossy, overbearing...he certainly knows how to command now."

Spock swung around and in a glacial tone ordered, "Explain yourself, Doctor!"

"Oh, nothing important, Spock. I just realize how much more confident, more self-assured you appear as Captain of the Enterprise than you were as First Officer when in command, for instance, of the Galileo on Taurus Two...remember?"

Spock favored the doctor with a stony face. "Perfectly, Doctor. How could I forget that you did your best to undermine my authority each time I made a command decision?"

"Tsk, tsk. Resentful, Spock? How unworthy of you, a Vulcan!" the doctor prodded relentlessly. "But, of course, now is your chance to take your revenge, isn’t it? You are, at long last, the captain, sole master of the Enterprise. Be honest...isn’t that what you’ve always wanted, for all your protestations to the contrary? With Jim safely out of the way, and you in the command chair, you rule the roost, don’t you, Captain?"

With ashen face and clenched jaw, Spock was visibly fighting for self-control. After a few tense seconds, he heaved a shuddering breath and tightly replied, "Whether you acknowledge it or not, I am temporarily in command of the ship, as a senior instructor with Starfleet Training Command. The Enterprise is not mine, Doctor. She is Jim’s. I have taken her into my keeping until Jim is ready to take her back. As I repeatedly stated, I never wished, and I do not wish to command!" Then, the briefing room door snapped open, and in a flash, the Vulcan was gone.

His pugnacity snuffed out all at once, the chief medical officer was left alone, mortified and annoyed with himself. "Damn. What has come over me...nagging at Spock, dragging Jim into this..."

He walked back to Sickbay in a rather dispirited frame of mind.


By day’s end, the results of Ensign O’Brien’s investigations amount to nil. As was to be expected, none of the crew had been found with the pilfered items. Even the Xartheb-born cadets had been exonerated. Further, no trace of an intruder had been detected by search or sensor scan. The missing items might have been misplaced, the quartermaster’s statement notwithstanding. Captain Spock, however, was well aware that some sections of the ship had instrumentation and materials which inhibited sensor scans. He ordered the continuation of the searches by Security, and, in an intraship memo to all hands, recommended vigilance and caution to the entire crew. But he did not deem it necessary to put the ship under General Quarters until physical evidence could be found of an intruder.


After the long, busy day, the cadets were weary but not so much as to give up the communications department’s party. On F and G Decks, in particular, everyone was getting ready for a quick supper and an evening of fun and enjoyment. The captain had scheduled it so that all the cadets had the evening and night shifts off, their duties being performed by the regular crew members. The cadets were, one and all, in high spirits.

After running along a corridor bubbling with excitement, Joyce Garrick finally dove into her cabin and threw her uniform jacket on the bed. Tugging at her boots, she shouted to her roommate, "You there, Alison? Can I use the shower?"

A tired mumble was all the response she got from the adjoining room. Surprised, she got to her feet and strode to the door. It slid open, revealing her friend, still in uniform, slumped full length on her bed. Gordon’s eyes were shut, and Popsy, purring loudly, was clasped to her bosom.

"Hey! Are you all right?"

Gordon opened one eye. "Mmm?"

"Good grief. You looked exhausted! What’s wrong?"

"I am exhausted, and I’ll be even more exhausted by the end of the cruise," Gordon murmured disconsolately.

"I see," Garrick nodded wisely and sat on the side of the bed. "Schwarzenberg on the rampage again?"

"Who else? Joyce, he’s driving us crazy. Even Kovac and Ferrier are fed up with him! Why can’t he understand that we would manage better without him constantly breathing down our necks? And Vatanen, poor girl, she is good, you know? But the way he snaps at her makes her quake like Jell-O. Oh, dear!"

A deep despondent sigh escaped her, and then she went on. "We’d been warned about him, you know, but we never thought....oh, why couldn’t we have had Spock? He is strict and demanding, but always courteous and understanding. Nothing like Schwarzenberg! Ugh!"

"Come on, Alison. Be sensible! You cannot expect Spock to be in command on the bridge and working in Sciences. He’s the captain, here, not just an instructor. But, say, why don’t you talk to him?"

"Huh?" Gordon reopened her eyes.

"I said, why don’t you tell the captain about Schwarzenberg. I think he should know."

Cadet Gordon sat up in a flash, spilling the cat in the process. "Are you daft, Joyce? Do you imagine me, poor little me, complaining to the captain about a senior officer? I can’t! It’s unthinkable!"

"Well, don’t worry. I think he will soon find out, one way or the other. Now, come on!" Garrick stood up briskly. "We had better get a move on it, or we won’t have time for a bite to eat before the party."

"Ah, yes...the party.... Sorry, Joyce. I don’t think I’ll go. I’m not in the mood, and I’m done in, really."

"Nonsense! You can’t miss it. It will change your mind, and besides, you don’t want to miss him, do you?"


"Him. Your precious Vulcan, who else? Uhura says most of the officers are coming, including Scotty, Killy and Doctor McCoy."

"And the captain, also?" asked Gordon, swinging her feet to the deck.

"Sure. Uhura said he almost promised to come, though he seldom does because parties are generally not his cup of tea. Hurry up; we have to change. You take the shower first while I feed my kitty-cat. Here, Popsy. Come along." And the lively young woman picked up her cat and went back to her room.

"Joyce!" called a suddenly panic-stricken voice. "What shall I put on?"

Garrick smiled at the obvious revival of her roommate. "Nothing formal! Uniforms are forbidden, says Uhura. Just a nice frock. I don’t know...what about that silky green thing you have? That would be just the right color!"

"The right color for what?" came back the puzzled question.

"Don’t you see? That shade of green matches almost exactly your Vulcan’s complexion!"

Gordon giggled. "Really, Joyce, how can you be so silly! And he’s not that green!"

"Silly, am I? Well, take it from me, my pet, you’d better do yourself up, because there will be close competition tonight for his attention, including Security Chief Caromandel."

"Whatever do you mean?"

"I mean that our security chief is head over heels in love with our captain."

"How do you know that?"

"Grapevine, my dear, and observation. Anyone with average eyesight can see that. Just watch her tonight; it’s plain as a pikestaff!"

"Oh, no! That woman? Impossible! Anyway, I am sure he cannot care less...she is not his type at all. Well, I think I’ll wear my green frock..."

The rest was drowned in the flush of running water, and Garrick chuckled inwardly. Her ruse had worked perfectly. Strange how her friend had shed fatigue and despondency, all of a sudden.


Propped against the bar, and nursing a glass of brandy in his hand, Doctor McCoy was benevolently surveying the happy crew assembled in the lounge. There was much chatter, laughter. One young cadet had even brought his guitar along and some singing was beginning around him. No doubt about it; Uhura knew how to throw congenial and successful gatherings.

His reflections were interrupted by Vince DeSalle and Johnny Farrell, both in quest of a drink from the bar.

"Enjoying yourself, Doctor?" Farrell grinned.

"Very much," McCoy nodded. "Nice to see the kids so relaxed after the stress of the day. Uhura has the knack of putting everyone at ease."

"Reminds me of the fun we used to have in the old rec room," DeSalle said, looking around. "It wasn’t as ritzy as this set up, but we still managed to have a good time."

"Kinda makes you nostalgic, doesn’t it?" the doctor noted, then changed his tone. "Do you think Spock’ll come? I know Uhura’s expectin’ him, but from what I know about our Vulcan, I rather doubt it."

"Oh, I think he will, Doctor," Farrell remarked with a knowing smile. "Later probably, and for a short time, but he will make an appearance. He usually does when Uhura entertains. I’ve been on a few of these training cruises with the captain, and I assure you that he’ll be here."

"Do you mean to say you usually have such parties on these training cruises?" McCoy sounded surprised.

Farrell chuckled softly. "We certainly do. That is a part of Spock’s training methods: hard work when on duty, and relaxation and fun whenever possible."

"Well, I’ll be damned! He certainly has changed his style. But why didn’t he say so at the briefing?"

The helmsman had an enigmatic smile. "Can’t say, Doctor. Maybe he wanted you to have the surprise. You will see; there have been changes."

McCoy’s inevitable grumble about a certain pointy-eared captain drew laughter from both DeSalle and Farrell.

The navigator was visibly enjoying being back on the Enterprise, so DeSalle steered the conversation to a more immediate subject. "Did you notice the trainees? How they’ve done themselves up? Amazing the difference some nice casual clothes can make. Some of the ladies are as pretty as they make them!"

DeSalle elbowed him in the side. "Personally, I rather those three over there; especially the brunette in green..."

"Now, now, behave yourselves. You’re officers, bound to Starfleet’s Code of Ethics and regulations," chided the doctor disapprovingly. "By the way, who is that stunning Amazon in the blue outfit?" he asked in the same breath, waving his glass in the direction of a tall and shapely young woman who was chatting with Killicranky.

"You haven’t met our security chief yet, Doctor?" DeSalle chuckled. "That’s Lieutenant Caromandel, better known as Caro, champion of bodybuilding, karate, judo, and more other martial arts than I would care to enumerate."

Farrell joined in. "I would never have thought her to be your type, Doc!"

"I’ll have you know that I don’t favor a ‘type,’ Mister Farrell. Actually, I have no preference so long as they’re worth looking at, and that security chief...well!"

"Sorry, Doctor," Farrell intervened. "But I am afraid that you don’t stand a chance. Her...er...interests are definitely inclined elsewhere." He and DeSalle chuckled, obviously sharing a secret joke.

Before the curious doctor could demand an explanation, the voice of Uhura broke in the conversation. "What are you three doing, propping up the bar and plotting in your corner? Come over here and join us! Doctor, please, take a seat."

McCoy willingly complied, and the three officers left the bar and had hardly settled down when a small commotion drew everyone’s attention to the turbolift. It was the arrival of Montgomery Scott and his engineering staff, all apparently in a jolly mood.

"Here we are, Uhura!" the chief engineer announced genially. "Sorry to be late. Fact is, we got a wee bit delayed, didn’t we, lads?" Suddenly, his attention was caught by the lavish display of drinks. "Aha! What have ye here?" The chief engineer made a beeline for the bar.

"Anything you care for, Scotty. Just help yourselves, ladies and gentlemen. Come and join us!"

Their hostess, resplendent in an exotic robe, sank gracefully onto the couch next to McCoy, and, by and by, as though moved by an irresistible gravitational pull, the trainees found themselves in orbit around the senior officers. The cadets made themselves comfortable, sitting on stools, draped on the back of armchairs, even sitting cross-legged on the carpet.

Sipping the scotch that Uhura had had the foresight to provide, Commander Scott looked around the room appreciatively and, with a grin, declared, "Nice bunch of cadets, aren’t they? But where is the cap’n, Uhura? I thought he was coming."

"He will, Scotty, eventually. Has anyone seen him?"

"Captain Spock left the bridge about fifteen minutes ago," volunteered Ensign Kettenring who had perched himself on the arm of the settee.

"Oh? Then just give him time."

"What for, Uhura? To make up his mind?" McCoy asked under her breath.

"Now, Doctor, don’t you start! If Spock can make it, he will come, take it from me."

"Yes, ma’am. Whatever you say." The doctor grinned disarmingly.

The decibel level of the chatter had gone up a few points, and it appeared that the chief engineer had been respectfully but firmly reminded by his trainees of his promise to relate one of the hairbreadth escapes the ship had made during their first five year mission. The fate of the Enterprise had actually hung on the simple inversion of polarity on one of the engineer’s magnetic probes.

"Aye," Scott nodded wisely, "that was a close thing! Me in the Jefferies tube, sweatin’ blood, tryin’ to fix the darn thing, and Mister Spock at the intercom, as cool as you please, tellin’ me to make haste! That’s an experience I’m not likely to forget, for as long as I draw breath!"

"Same with me," Uhura agreed with feeling. "Believe me, the tension was crackling on the bridge, except for Spock, of course. But you were planetside with Captain Kirk, weren’t you, Doctor?"

McCoy chuckled. "You damn well know I was. And we had our share of trouble, I can tell you. We were doing our best to shake off Losira. She’d already killed D’Amato, and had frazzled Sulu’s arm something terrible. If Spock hadn’t shown up in the nick of time... You know, I always felt sorry about her. Here she was, a computer-generated hologram programmed to kill and protect that outpost from invaders. But, for heaven’s sake, I forget that this woman was nothing but an image engineered by a defense computer," he concluded.

"Quite right!" Scott agreed. "A computer that had propelled the ship nearly a thousand lightyears away, and all but blew up me bairns!"

By then, everyone’s curiosity had been piqued. Bombarded with questions and pleas for more, the chief engineer was secretly gratified by his success and complied gracefully. "All right, all right! If ye want to know, it’s a rather long tale, so ye’d better make yerselves comfy. And somebody bring me another drink, first." A scotch was thrust into his hand. "Thank you, lass. So, to begin at the beginning, we were sittin’ in orbit around that ghostly planet. Cap’n Kirk and his landin’ party beamed down..."

It was fifteen minutes later, when Spock finally made his way to Uhura’s social. He had already firmly determined not to stay one minute longer than necessary; he had plenty of experience with such gatherings; they were noisy and rife with unbridled merriment, certainly not the sort of event any Vulcan would enjoy or even consider relaxing. So when he reached the Rec Deck, the unexpected hush which met his ears made him stop short in surprise at the entrance.

His eyebrows slowly lifted at the sight of the assembly quietly gathered around the chief engineer who seemed to be holding the floor. As his presence went unnoticed, the captain remained silently standing by the door and listened with much interest as Scott, with consummate skill, unfolded the climax of the thrilling tale. The engineer described, in graphic terms, his unforgettable experience in the Jefferies tube when he was adjusting the matter-antimatter integrator with just a few seconds to save the ship from annihilation.

"...and that did it, lads and lassies," Scott concluded with a touch of smugness. "Spock’s idea to reverse the polarity of the magnetic probe saved the day, and us by the same token!"

A collective sigh of relief following his words, and in the ensuing silence, one of his engineering trainees thoughtfully remarked, "Amazing how a small thing like this can make all the difference, isn’t it?"

Murmurs and nods of assent met his remark, but the astute Scot did not miss his chance to make his point. "Aye, that’s the rub, isn’t it? Ye can never tell! And that’s why I keep telling you all that whatever skills and knowledge you acquire will come to nought if ye don’t make full use of yon gray cells. Ye have a brain. It’s to be used, damn it! Now, Jacky me lad, get me another scotch, won’t you? My throat has gotten parched with all this talking."

In the resulting laughter and chattering, the presence of Spock was finally perceived, and an instant silence descended on the room. The crew scrambled to their feet and made way for the captain as Uhura smiled and greeted him. "There you are, sir. Welcome to our party. Please come and take this seat."

The Vulcan slowly moved forward, and as if by magic, found himself seated in a comfortable armchair, a chilled drink at his elbow, and the attentive circle formed again, this time around the captain and his officers.

As Spock picked up the glass and eyed the pink liquid somewhat dubiously, a voice at his side shyly said, "It’s just a cocktail of fruit juice, Captain."

He nodded his thanks and took a cautious sip. It was surprisingly good. Looking up into the gray eyes of the young woman in green, he asked, "Is this of your making, Cadet?"

"Yes, sir. I...I took the liberty..." she stammered.

"I find this beverage very palatable and refreshing. Thank you, Cadet."

If the Vulcan hardly noticed the pretty face blushing with gratification, it was not missed by the suspicious eyes of the chief of security. Lieutenant Caromandel had watched the by-play between the captain and the cadet with secret irritation. For a few seconds, the two women eyed each other speculatively, then Caromandel looked disdainfully away, and, deliberately ignoring the cadet, turned her attention back to Spock.

The latter, naturally unaware of being involved in a rivalry, was listening to Commander Uhura’s explanations: "You find us, Captain, deep in an evocation of the past. It’s supposed to be a sure sign of old age, but we love to speak of the good ol’ days. Scotty promised these youngsters some stories of the Enterprise’s missions. They seem to like them, and even ask for more!" She laughed.

"So I noticed, Commander," Spock remarked blandly. "But I did not know that we had a confirmed story-teller in our midst. Vulcans have always revered this art form. It seems to me that your talents are wasted in Engineering, Mister Scott."

"Och, now, Cap’n," Scott beamed with pleasure at the praise from the Vulcan. "That’s real kind of ye to say, but I’ve no merit. It kind of runs in the family. All o’ the Scots have been great yarn-spinners in Aberdeen."

"Yarn, Mister Scott? Spinning?" the captain arched a questioning brow.

"Och, sorry, sir. Just a manner of speaking. I mean story-teller. Well, when you arrived, we were just telling the cadets about Losira and the Kalandan outpost’s computer which you destroyed just in the nick of time."

"Indeed... It was, of course, necessary, but truly unfortunate since that remarkable computer was the only example left of the extinct Kalandans’ scientific achievements," Spock said regretfully.

"Well, we can hold ourselves lucky that he decided we were the ones worth rescuing rather than that piece of hardware." McCoy’s drawl provoked a ripple of laughter in the audience with the notable exception of the Vulcan, who remained quite unperturbed.

Scott, visibly delighted with his successful role as narrator, resumed, "I was about to recall, with your permission, Captain, that daring feat of yours in the Murasaki Nebula, when the Galileo had barely escaped the pull of Taurus Two’s gravity. Do ye know what the cap’n did?" the engineer asked the company at large. "He jettisoned the fuel that was left in the shuttle’s tanks."

If Scott had anticipated an astonished response to his preposterous revelation, he was not disappointed. Exclamations of disbelief, questions and laughter broke out in the lounge. What he had not expected was the reaction of the doctor, beside him, and of Spock, sitting across. The two stiffened suddenly and stared at each other.

Och, no! he thought. Now that’s a pretty kettle of fish! The chief engineer was actually, behind a gruff front, a perceptive and sensitive person, and he felt a certain tension arise. Seems to me that the Galileo episode still rankles these two. Damn! Too late now to turn back. I’d better watch me steps, though.

Assuming a quizzical expression, Scott declared, "Aye, now that has got you guessing, I’d wager. You wonder if I am not pulling your legs. But that is the gospel truth. Ask the doctor; he was there!"

Encouraged by a nudge from his friend, the doctor heaved a deep sigh, rolled his eyes, and dryly declared, "Yeah, so I was. That’s one of the biggest scares I’ve had in my life."

Curiosity and excitement having reached their peak, Scott rightly assumed that his audience was about ready for the epic story, and he looked across at the Vulcan. "Shall I tell them, Captain?" After a silent nod of assent, he launched himself into the tale of the Galileo on Taurus II.

"Well, you’ll have to know that the Enterprise was en route to Makus Three. Our course took us near the Murasaki Nebula, and Cap’n Kirk decided to send an exploratory team, aboard the Galileo, to investigate. And that is when..."

The captain and the doctor, both for personal reasons, would have preferred the unfortunate episode to be forgotten, and could not help but feel a bit uneasy at the unfolding of their adventures. Their apprehension proved to be unfounded as Scott wisely skimmed over the grave dissension among the members of the team (Boma and McCoy chief among them) and Spock, their commander. On the contrary, the narrator chose to dwell on the description of the gigantic natives and the desperate situation of the Galileo crew. When the story reached its triumphal conclusion, however, Spock felt it to be his duty to put things right and give the chief engineer his due.

"Let me point out, Mister Scott, that we would never have achieved liftoff from the planet had you not contrived to make use of the energy from our phasers to create plasma fuel for the boosters. If I may quote Admiral Kirk, ‘There again you worked one of your miracles.’"

Scott grinned from ear to ear. "That’s right good of ye, Cap’n, but may I return the compliment? If ye had nae jettisoned the fuel, the ensuing flare would never have been spotted by Sulu, and the Galileo would’ve burnt in the atmospheric layers with us aboard. How is that for a miracle, sir?"

The captain looked affronted. "Commander, need I remind you that the actions of Vulcans do not proceed from magic, but from sheer rational reasoning." As was to be expected, this pure ‘Spockian’ retort aroused a good deal of mirth, especially among the Human cadets.

"Logical reasoning?" the doctor scoffed. "Logical reasoning, my foot. That was the most emotional decision I ever was given to see, Spock, whatever you may say to the contrary."

"That’s what Admiral Kirk said on the bridge, Captain," Uhura put in softly. This ill-timed reminder, however, was lightened by her bright smile and the warm glow in her dark eyes. "You yourself admitted that you had reasoned it was time for an illogical act."

The captain glanced around, and the sight of the eager and smiling young faces all but unleashed his carefully controlled emotions. Holding himself in check, he cleared his throat. Allowing an elegant eyebrow to soar up to his hairline, he coolly commented, "It appears, Commander, that I have nothing left to say for my defense since my officers have produced evidence—albeit hearsay—from such an authority as Admiral James T. Kirk."

"I have something to say in your defense, Captain," McCoy’s voice rose above the others. The room hushed at once, and the doctor continued, "What I have to say is this: Whether you acted out of pure, rational, Vulcan logic or out of Human sheer gut reaction, I don’t know for sure, and to tell you the truth, I don’t really care. What I do know is that your desperate action enabled the Enterprise to beam us up, just as the Galileo was burning up around us, and consequently saved out lives. And for that decision, both Scotty and I are here talking about it, and we are damn grateful. That’s all have to say, Captain, other than thank you, sir."

Under cover of the cheers and applause which broke out at the conclusion of the doctor’s statement, dark eyes and blue eyes met and locked. The look the two men shared apparently relayed more than words could express, for what each read in the other’s eyes stirred a glimmer of a smile on the austere Vulcan face and a rueful grin on the Human’s.

When, eventually, Spock was able to take his leave, Scott chose to follow suit, after solemnly promising the cadets to give them, at the earliest opportunity, more exciting tales from the epic logs of the Enterprise.

As the doors slid shut on the merry party, sounds of music and laughter drifted after the two officers on the way to the turbolift. There, they parted, wordlessly. Scott going back to Engineering, and the captain up to the bridge, each making a last check on the night watch crew.

For some time now, Spock had got back into the habit of doing night survey tours of the ship before retiring to his quarters. These tours were purposely done at random, and his training crew had become accustomed to see him turn up unexpectedly in any section of the vessel.

Spock’s keen ears sometimes caught remarks and comments not meant for the captain, which he wisely chose to ignore. He also knew very well that his crew styled his night shift wanderings as "The captain is on the prowl," and that some even wondered if he ever slept at all.

That night, however, on his way to his quarters, the Vulcan was driven by a sudden impulse. He changed course and went to the observation deck. At this late hour, he was sure to find the place deserted, and he welcomed the peace of the darkened room, subtly enhanced by the steady hum of the ship. He walked to the large portals and, leaning on the banister, let his gaze plunge into the star-spangled inky blackness of space. That sight held for him the same fascination now as at the start of his career, a young, lonely lieutenant fresh from Starfleet Academy. How often had he come and found solace in the contemplation of such infinity? Here, as in the depth of meditation, he could find himself in total symbiosis with the universe, and that feeling of Oneness usually brought peace and serenity to his troubled soul.

How often had he stood there, side by side with Jim Kirk, sharing in companionable silence, the same wonder, the same love for the stars, tokens of myriad of worlds? Few words were spoken, they were unnecessary, since each sensed the other’s feeling of fullness and contentment in this unique friendship of theirs that had become a legend.

Spock heaved a sigh; here he was alone now, his captain was an admiral; the one being who had reached his hidden heart and had become his friend, was parsecs away, desk-bound at Starfleet Headquarters.

Spock well knew the reasons why. The Enterprise had been all but destroyed when Jim Kirk had made the decision to repel the Klingon invasion force. It was a decision that cost him his captaincy of the Enterprise, but it was one Spock knew he didn’t regret. After a moment, Spock pulled himself firmly together. Regret was pointless and unworthy of a Vulcan. Only time would tell...

And he finally went, heavy-hearted, back to his quarters. 

November 11th 2278


At the start of the first watch, the following morning, Security Chief Caromandel was briefing her disgruntled troops in the trenchant, no-nonsense tone she invariable assumed when she was upset.

"...and I don’t want to hear any back talk from any of you, understood? I want the ship combed from top to bottom. And I don’t care if you have done it yesterday. You’ll do it again today, and I want results, is that clear?"

"But, Chief," one of the guards tentatively protested, "we’ve covered the whole place inch by inch. If we’ve found nothing, it’s because there’s nothing to find. The sensors haven’t detected anything either, have they?"

"And nothing more has been reported missing," one of his mates added, "so why must we waste our time in a useless search?"

"Captain’s orders!" the chief snapped. The guards exchanged sullen glances and grumbled audibly. "If you want to know," she went on tersely, "the captain is not pleased, to say the least, with yesterday’s performance. ‘Most unsatisfactory,’ he said to me, and her fair complexion colored noticeably at the memory of the terse and indubitable terms of displeasure expressed by Spock when she had reported to him. To have earned the reproof, unjustified in her eyes, of the man she admired most was a sad blow to her self-esteem, and naturally she felt like passing the buck to these underlings of hers who had drawn a blank at every turn.

"What are you waiting for?" she snapped, feeling the curious stares on her face. "You have your instructions. Go ahead! Dismissed!"

The men shuffled out and split into teams of two, hunting for a hypothetical and mysterious intruder who, they were sure, only existed in the imagination of a certain Vulcan.


Meantime, the atmosphere was rather strained in Physics where the chief science officer was tutoring the trainees and closely watching, with a critical eye, the delicate experiment attempted by two of his favorite scapegoats. The two were doing their best to keep their heads cool and their hands steady, but the mere presence of Schwarzenberg breathing down their necks, and his grating voice, were getting on their nerves. Alison Gordon felt her team mate Vera Vatanen grow more and more distracted by the minute.

Suddenly, a signal beeped at the wall communicator and released the tension in the room.

"Schwarzenberg here," the officer replied, pressing the switch.

"Lieutenant," Spock’s inimitable voice was clearly heard in the hushed laboratory, "we are about to begin our long range sensor drill, and I need a three more cadets, if you can spare them."

"Aye, sir. Will anyone do, or do you want...?"

"I believe Cadets Kovac, Vatanen and Gordon have not worked on the bridge yet. It’s time to see what they can do, Mister Schwarzenberg. Send them up, please. Spock out."

There was a pause as the instructor frowned speculatively, and the three selected cadets held their breath.

"All right," he said finally. "You heard the captain. He wants you on the bridge immediately. Try, at least, to live up to his expectations. Dismissed!"

They did not need to be told twice. Two seconds later, too relieved for words, all three were scurrying along the curved corridor, eager to be out of reach, should Schwarzenberg change his mind.


Meanwhile, the bridge was calm and ordered. For the last half hour, a command-team drill had been in progress, involving a number of trainees at the various stations, and, in the command chair, Ensign O’Brien was doing his best to look as confident as any seasoned Starfleet veteran.

It was his turn to act as Captain, and he was determined to make the most of it, especially after his spell of dismal duty at Security. None of the senior officers were present, except the captain who had stationed himself on the upper deck. As he stood there silently, hands clasped at his back, his austere features touched by an expression of mild alertness, his mere presence, his very stance, radiated an aura of calm and quiet authority that made his cadets feel some of the confidence they lacked, the self-assurance they needed.

Spock had spoken only once, to summon three more students for the sensor training. Otherwise, he just stood, or paced placidly, watching and listening, and filing away in his computer-like mind, the performance of his charges.

The three trainees from Sciences had not yet arrived when the comlink on the center seat beeped. The young ensign promptly replied, "Bridge! O’Brien here."

A breathless voice was heard. "I say! Is the captain with you? Tell him we have spotted the stowaway!"

O’Brien had barely time to swivel the chair before the Vulcan was already at his side.

"Spock here. Report, crewman. Where are you?"

"On H Deck, sir. We were patrolling a maintenance area when we caught sight of a guy sneaking out of one of the storage bays near the laundry. But when we challenged him, he just ran like a shot and made his escape up a Jefferies tube. Sorry, sir. We were too far away to catch up with him."

"Have you advised Security Chief Caromandel?"

"Aye, Captain. She’s on the way to G Deck. That’s where he is heading, sir."

"Logical," Spock replied. "Seal all decks below H Deck, and guard all possible ways of escape. Lock all phasers on stun."

"Aye, sir, will do."

The line was switched off, and the bridge crew hastily turned back to their consoles. The captain eyed O’Brien, who was a part of yesterday’s search teams, with mild disapproval.

"Well, Mister O’Brien?"

"I’m sorry, sir. Apparently, there’s an intruder, after all," the young man muttered, red in the face. "But I don’t understand how we missed him? We looked everywhere..."

"Possibly your search was not conducted with the thoroughness required. However, we shall have the answer presently." Spock watched the ensign rise out of the center seat, as if to relinquish the conn. "No, Ensign. You are still in command. Let us proceed with the drill."

But the drill was never to come to its conclusion. Simultaneously, the captain’s comlink and the intraship intercom called for attention. As the Vulcan flipped the chair switch and replied, "Spock, here."

Cadet Garrick on duty at the communications station was heard speaking excitedly in her comlink, "Bridge, here...yes, this is the bridge. Who’s this? Alison? What are you—? What? Oh, my God! Alison! Alison! Come in!" Then she spun around and called, "Captain, Captain, please!" with such frantic urgency that Spock cut off short the report of a very embarrassed chief of security.

"Hold a moment, Lieutenant; priority call. I shall get back to you." Then he turned to Joyce Garrick who, white-faced and wide-eyed, and obviously in shock, was staring down at him. "Yes, Cadet. What is it?"

"Sir," she stammered with trembling lips, "It’s Alison, I mean...Cadet Gordon, sir. She was calling for help...and then...I heard a scream!" In a flash, Spock had moved to her side, and, after a split second of hesitation, he laid a gentle hand on the woman’s shoulder. "Steady, Cadet."

"Sorry, sir." She gulped back unshed tears, and continued more calmly. "From what I heard, Captain, there are three of them. Alison, Vera Vatanen and Michel Kovac are trapped by a man in the auxiliary control room. I heard someone shout, then a scream, and the channel was cut off...there was nothing more."

"I see..." In one stride, Spock was at the science station and swiftly running long fingers over the keys. One of the overhead screens sprang into life, displaying a detailed plan of the emergency control room. There, for all to see, shone four tiny flashing dots: one single dot moving about, the other three, motionless and clustered together on one side of the diagram.

"Indeed...there they are." The Vulcan straightened up and stared intently at the screen for a few seconds, his brain working at top speed behind a frozen mask. Although his mind was tightly locked behind his mental shields, Spock felt dimly about him the pressure of the crew’s feelings, their fear and concern for their friends. But he sternly refused to let himself be touched by the emotional influx, all the more so because he felt it mirrored in the depth of his heart. He could not afford to let his mind be cluttered by illogical emotions while the lives of his trainees, and perhaps the safety of the ship, depended on the efficiency of his intellect.

He allowed his Vulcan side to take full control, and, as he turned around and faced the crew, they saw that their captain had assumed his unreadable Vulcan front. But, in his eyes burned an intensity, a fire so ardent that they, somehow, were snapped out of their shock and responding eagerly to his compelling gaze, ready for action.

Secretly pleased with the reaction of his cadets, Spock told them quietly, "Here is the present situation: three of your fellow cadets are held in the center of Auxiliary Control by an intruder. For what reason, we shall soon find out. We must resolve this problem with speed and efficiency, and I rely on you all to do your duty to the utmost of your ability. Mister Kettenring, as there is no need to man the weapon station, you are assigned to the monitoring of the auxiliary bridge until the science officer comes and relieves you. Be sure to keep a constant watch and report any change of pattern."

"Yes, sir," the ensign promptly settled at the sciences station.

"Mister O’Brien, please contact the security chief for me. Since you are Acting-Captain, what course of action do you recommend first?"

"A ship-wide red alert, sir?" O’Brien offered.

"Normally, we would sound general quarters and intruder alert. Possibly a yellow alert, if we believed the ship to be endangered. But not at the present time. We must avoid at all cost any sound, anything which might provoke that man into hasty and dangerous reaction. Miss Garrick, ask Commander Uhura to report to the bridge, and have all department heads meet me in ten minutes in the officers’ lounge on B Deck."

While delivering this rapid succession of orders, the captain was working with quick efficiency at the engineering and sciences consoles. Not missing the least opportunity to teach, he explained to his crew, "Another action of the first importance, in the event of an illegal and hostile presence on board, is to prevent any possible sabotage, in this particular case, to prevent the auxiliary control equipment from being tampered with. Therefore, I have locked out all the circuits, and neutralized all command functions in the control room. Mister O’Brien, do you have Lieutenant Caromandel on the line?"

"Aye, sir, she’s waiting."

Spock stepped down back to the center. "Spock, here, Lieutenant. The intruder has entrenched himself in the auxiliary control, taking three hostages with him. They have just tried to contact us."

"Yes, I know, sir. Has anyone been hurt?" Caromandel sounded quite subdued.

"Unknown, so far, but that is what I mean to find out. I still fail to understand how you allowed that man to escape you."

"But, sir, that’s just it! We had tracked him down. He couldn’t get away, when all of a sudden, those three kids came running out of nowhere, right into his arms. So he dodged behind them and, covering them with his phaser, forced them along the corridor and..."

"Do you mean to tell me that the intruder is armed with a phaser?" The Vulcan’s voice was crackling like brittle ice. "Explain, Lieutenant. Did he have access to the armory?"

"Oh, no, sir. It’s guarded at all times. But I found one of my men knocked out and his weapon gone, so...I assume that..." Her voice petered out, and the trainees could not help but feel sorry for her, especially in view of the lean face of the captain which had turned into a mask of stone.

"That’s enough, Lieutenant. Please report to the officer’s lounge for a briefing immediately, and keep your men on watch some distance away from Auxiliary Control. Lives are at stake, and there have been enough mistakes as it is. Spock out."

The captain stood very still and considered the young and expectant faces around him. "I am now going down to B Deck. Mister O’Brien, you have the conn. Keep her on course, on impulse power for the time being. Commander Uhura will stay in contact with me at all time. She may chose to relieve you at her discretion, but for the present, you will carry on."

Just as Spock reached the turbolift, the doors parted, and Uhura rushed out. "Sir!" she exclaimed, breathless and concerned. "What’s going on? I heard that some trainees are trapped with the stowaway?"

"I see that news travels fast, Commander," Spock dryly remarked. "Indeed, we have a difficulty," and, in a few words, he apprised her of the situation, and gave her instructions, adding with a meaningful glance, "I am sure you will soon be told of all the circumstances. Ensign O’Brien has the conn, but I leave you in charge. Should you elect to relieve him, you may do so."

Uhura favored him with her warmest smile. "Don’t worry, Captain. We’ll be all right."

"I know, Uhura," he softly replied, and he was gone.


On G Deck, in the very core of the ship, three bewildered cadets were warily eyeing a dark-looking man, across the auxiliary control room, who seemed no less distrustful of them.

The last half hour had seemed like an endless nightmare to the young cadets who were trying to understand what was happening to them. Alison Gordon leaned warily back against the bulkhead and sighed. To think that just a moment ago, life had been so good, so exciting: she was on her way to the bridge, her captain had asked for her personally, and then, at the turn of the corridor...crash! That guy popped up, waving a phaser, and had pushed her and her fellow cadets into Auxiliary Control at phaser point! It seemed so unreal, so absurd, and yet...

She carefully turned her head and stole a glance at the other two sitting beside her on the deck. Vera Vatanen produced a tremulous smile, and just beyond her, Michel Kovac made a brave attempt at a wink. Poor, Michel, Gordon thought. With that knock he took on his head, he looks ghastly. I hope he’s all right.

When they had been brutally shoved into the auxiliary control room, Kovac had tried to create a diversion and, in his best close-combat style, had pounced on the intruder, giving her time to dash to the nearest intercom and call the bridge. But the young man was no match for the tough and desperate individual he faced. He had been knocked unconscious with a butt of the phaser to his temple. Furious at their resistance, the man had threatened to shoot them there and then if they dared to make another move.

Gordon risked a whisper: "Are you all right, Michel? Your head?"

Kovac winced. "It feels like it’s been split wide open, but otherwise..."

"Quiet!" shouted the man. He leaned on the handrail near the center console, towering over them. "I said I don’t want to hear another sound out of you!"

The three cadets exchanged a hopeless glance. Obviously, the terrorist—or whatever he was—was on edge. His dark eyes glittered with a feverish glint, revealing both fear and determination. With his crumpled coverall and stubble across his face, he seemed to be teetering on the brink of sanity, and was therefore quite dangerous, especially with the way he kept pointing the phaser at their heads. They hoped, at least, it had been locked on stun. But they all knew that even a phaser on stun can kill at close range. And he kept rambling about being on a starliner, heading for Serenidad! They had tried to convince him that this was a training cruise, but that had been to no avail. If only they could get him to answer the insistent intercom signal. Twice already, the communications station had come to life, but he had ignored it each time. They knew they had to contact the bridge, to do something, anything!

Michel Kovac decided to make one more try. "Look, you’re on the wrong ship. This is not a starliner bound for Serenidad. It’s a Starfleet Training Command cadet training cruise. If you don’t believe us, why don’t you talk to our captain? He’ll confirm the same thing!"

"Yeah, what do you take me for? He’ll tell me lies; they all do. I know their tricks. No way! We stay here until we reach Serenidad, and then I’ll take one of you along with me. That way, if they want to play tricks with me, you’ll be in front of me..."

"But that’s crazy!" Kovac blurted out in exasperation. "We are not going to Serenidad, understand? In less than three week’s time, we are due back at Earth. Of all the insane, pig-headed—"

"Hush! Careful!" Gordon cut in under her breath. "If he gets any more agitated with that phaser..."

They watched in trepidation as their captor paced the deck relentlessly and muttered senseless words. Suddenly, he halted in front of them, shouting, "Why should I believe your captain? They’ve all lied to me from the very start. I was granted political asylum, they said, and what did they do? They sentenced me to deportation back to that hell! Extradition, they said. So as soon as I had the chance, I gave them the slip...and I won’t trust anybody anymore, no, sir!"

In the ensuing pause, the three cadets watched the man, wondering what else could be said to persuade him. Then Gordon’s face brightened, and she shot a warning glance at her friends. "Listen," she said, "if there is one man on board you can trust, it’s the captain."

"And why should I? Just because you say so?" The man sneered at that notion.

"No, it’s because the captain is a Vulcan, and Vulcans are incapable of lying. Everyone knows that." She kept her clear eyes fastened on his face, desperately willing him to believe them.

He looked uncertain, took a few turns about, then muttered, "A Vulcan. Hmm, sure I’ve heard about Vulcans." Then he stopped and faced them. "How do I know for sure that he’s a Vulcan? I’ve only got your word for it."

"If you answer the hail over there," Kovac cut in sharply, "you will see him on the screen. You know what Vulcans look like, don’t you?"

"Don’t take that tone with me!" The phaser was thrust under the cadet’s chin. "Behave yourself, or I’ll teach you a lesson you won’t live to forget."

There was another frozen pause, punctuated by the wild beating of their hearts. They let out a collective sigh of relief when the weapon was lowered. The man surprised them by suddenly asking, "Okay, young lady, you know how to work that communications panel?"

Gordon’s heart raced wildly. "I...I think so," she replied.

"I know," Vatanen timidly volunteered. "I can do it."

"All right, you two. Come and call your captain. Tell him I want to make a deal with him. And no funny business! You make the call, and I’ll do the talking. Now, move! And you, smart ass, you stay right there. Otherwise you might find your pretty face missing."

The female cadets scrambled to their feet and shared a hopeful glance. The situation was still far from bright, but at least they would establish contact with Captain Spock. They felt sure he would know what to do.


The officers’ lounge was noisy, not to say rowdy, when Spock arrived at the door. But as soon as he stepped inside, his command team fell silent and sat up somewhat sheepishly under his frosted gaze. He sat down at the center table and calmly folded his slender hands over the table top. Casting a brief glance around, he quietly declared, "I take it that you are all aware of the gravity of the situation. I presume that our security chief," he glanced coldly at Lieutenant Caromandel, "has apprised you of the adverse circumstances which have led to this regrettable state of affairs."

Doctor McCoy, visibly seething with indignation, burst out, "Adverse circumstances be damned! This appalling situation, Captain, sir, is the result of gross professional negligence and blatant inefficiency! I just can’t believe it! A starship—more, the Enterprise, no less!—has a stowaway sneak aboard like he might a low-rate spaceliner or cargo ship and holds three young cadets as hostage. We’ll be the laughing stock of Starfleet!"

"It’s very well for you to criticize, Doctor!" Caromandel’s eyes flashed with resentment. "What could you have done better? Risked the lives of the trainees?"

"Nonsense! If you had caught that man from the very start, their safety would not be an issue!"

"I don’t see—"

"Doctor, Chief," the deep voice sliced through the heated argument with the smooth and deadly efficiency of a steel blade. Once he had obtained silence and attention from his sparring officers, Spock resumed, "This discussion is pointless and counterproductive. Mutual recriminations are most unbecoming Starfleet officers." His eyes narrowed. "We cannot afford to waste time in vain regrets, either, when the safety of three of our cadets depends on our prompt action. What is done is done, and we must take steps in order to restore this regrettable situation. But first, Doctor, let me set your mind at rest regarding the reputation of the Enterprise. As her captain, I take full responsibility."

The quiet dignity of the captain’s voice and stance did much to ease the tension, and some officers had the grace to look rather embarrassed.

"Let me also point out," Spock went on, a glint in the depth of his dark eyes, "that I distinctly remember the reaction of disbelief—even of derision—which met my assertion of the possibility of an intruder on board."

A ripple of sheepish amusement ran through the room as Commander Scott declared with a knowing grin. "Aye, that’s for certain, Captain. You’re right there. For a time, we had a few in this room who thought you had a wee bee in your bonnet about the intruder, sir."

"A bee in my bonnet?" Spock raised an eyebrow. "I am aware of the fact, Engineer," the Vulcan dryly retorted, "that there was a level of skepticism that even pervaded some of the cadets. But, to come to the point, we are faced with a stowaway turned kidnapper when he found himself discovered."

The bosun’s whistle sounded. "Any success with the calls, Commander?" the captain asked Uhura.

"No, sir. I’ve called twice already, but no response. Situation unchanged so far. Shall I try again?"

"Yes. And patch the monitor from Auxiliary Control on our screen."

"Right away, sir."

On the wall of the officers’ lounge, a large screen came to life, and the officers watched with grave concern the soundless view of Auxiliary Control. They concentrated on the three figures in their red and yellow jumpsuits, huddled together on one side, while an dark-complexioned individual in a dark coverall was pacing the deck like a caged lion.

During that pause, not devoid of emotion, DeSalle’s voice murmured, "Those poor kids. Locked in there with that madman. Really tough for them!"

"And the worst is that two of those cadets are my patients and will need medication," the doctor said tightly, casting a grim look in the direction of the chief science officer. "So far, they seem able to cope, but for how long? And that man looks to me like he’s mentally unstable and excitable. Could we have a close up, Spock?"

Spock nodded, and Schwarzenberg, who was operating the console, brought the haggard face of the stowaway into focus. After a moment of close scrutiny, the captain looked across the table at McCoy. "Your opinion, Doctor?"

McCoy was peering at the screen, pursing his lips. With a sigh, he shook his head. "This view confirms what I thought. This guy is frightened, cornered and unbalanced. It wouldn’t take much to send him over the edge. And with that phaser--see how he cradles it one second and brandishes it the next toward them? He’s extremely dangerous. So whatever you mean to do to set those kids free, I would advise extreme caution."

"Point noted, Doctor. Thank you. Lieutenant?" Spock cocked an eyebrow at Caromandel.

"Well, sir, as long as he has that weapon, there’s not much we can do. I mean, no direct assault can be considered in the present situation."

"Can we flood Auxiliary Control with anesthezine gas?"

"Negative, sir." She looked to Commander Scott for an explanation.

"Och, well, Cap’n. I’ve done much for the ol’ girl, but I didnae take into consideration that we’d have this type of crisis aboard a training ship."

A murmur of assent came up from the officers assembled.

"Understood, Engineer." Spock inaudibly sighed in an almost Human way.

"I take it you’ve disabled the command functions?" asked DeSalle.

Spock nodded. "Everything except communications, of course. And we are maintaining life support."

"Aye, sir. Of course," Scott mused, "at least he cannae play havoc with ship operations. But I’ve been thinking, Auxiliary Control was built to be virtually impenetrable, one of the most secure places on the ship. The trouble is, instead of us defending ourselves safely from within against an enemy outside, it’s the other way ‘round. The enemy is inside, and we cannae storm the place because of those cadets."

"Precisely, Mister Scott. What is more, the room is fully shielded, rendering the transporters ineffectual. We cannot beam them out, especially as risky as intraship beaming is," Spock pointed out.

"Aye, sir, but there may be a way we have overlooked." Scott assumed his craftiest look. After a short pause for effect, he explained, "From Fire Control. It’s directly beneath Auxiliary Control, and there is an emergency ladder connecting the two centers. We could send a security squad into Fire Control, real quiet like, then up the emergency ladder into Auxiliary Control while another squad creates a diversion at the entrance to keep him occupied. How’s that?"

The chief engineer’s suggestion met with two rebuttals:

Captain Spock merely lifted an eyebrow, saying quietly, "Too risky, Mister Scott."

But Doctor McCoy had far more to say, and more loudly, "That is out of the question, Scotty. It’s far too dangerous for the cadets. If this guy figures we’re making a move against him, you can bet a year’s salary that he will take it out on them in an extremely fatal way. Terrorists, hijackers and kidnappers have little regard for life, but they know others do. That’s why they take innocent hostages in the first place."

"I know that, Leonard," Scott retorted, "but we cannae have them cooped up with that madman for long. We have to get them out, and the sooner, the better."

"Sure, Scotty," McCoy drawled. "But how?"

"What about turning off life support? Let them pass out from lack of oxygen, and then move in against him," DeSalle suggested.

Spock shook his head. "Oxygen deprivation would be noticed, if not immediately, eventually. Once that realization is made, the lives of those cadets may be forfeited."

"Some problem, isn’t it? Damn it, Spock! Why don’t you think of something? You used to come up with some ace in your sleeve all the time in this kind of no-win situation. That’s what we need now!"

The Vulcan, who had been constantly watching the screen while conducting the debate, quietly replied, "Indeed, Doctor. In any given situation, there are always possibilities. And since we are unable to capture our intruder while he is entrenched in Auxiliary Control, the logical course of action is to get him to come out of his own free will." Ignoring McCoy’s sarcastic scoff, Spock continued serenely, "We could not make any decision, Doctor, as long as the situation remains deadlocked. But it seems now the situation is about to change." He indicated the viewscreen. "Our cadets have apparently succeeded in making the intruder answer our calls."

And true enough, everyone could see the two women and their captor standing at the communications station. Almost simultaneously, a signal beeped at the comlink at Spock’s seat. The captain promptly switched it on.

"Spock here."

"Captain!" Uhura’s voice sounded elated. "This is it! He wants to speak with you."

"Put him through, Uhura."

The triviewer on the table lit up and a drawn face, eyes glaring with suspicion, shimmered into view.

"Where is he? I don’t see anything on that screen. Where is this Vulcan of yours?" muttered a gruff voice.

Spock flicked a switch on the comlink, and at once, the expression changed as the man peered at the austere face, enhanced by upswept eyebrows and elegantly pointed ears which appeared on his screen.

"Oh, so that’s you, Vulcan? Are you captain of this ship?"

"I am," Spock replied sternly. "Please identify yourself. You have illegally boarded this vessel, stolen various goods and supplies, and now you threaten members of my crew and imprison them against their wills? I would ask you ‘Why’?"

"Just a moment, Captain. That’s no way to talk to me! I’ll have you know that you are speaking to ‘El Libertador,’ and no one will dictate orders to me. As for your precious crew, they are my hostages, and they will come to no harm only if you do as you are told."

During the next fifteen minutes or so, the Enterprise officers listened, fascinated, to the unbelievable discussion between a fanatical, desperate, mentally deranged hijacker and a logical, imperturbable Vulcan. As was to be expected, the patience and the tenacity of the latter paid off, and some valuable information, skillfully extracted from the intruder himself, was brought to light and added to that which the ship’s computer already possessed.

It turned out that the so-called ‘El Libertador,’ namely one Human named Cristobal Xantar from the Serenidad star system had been, eight years earlier, arrested on Deneb Algiedi II for attempted subversion, rioting and sedition. He had been trying to create an army of mercenaries which he planned to lead into battle against the lawful government of Serenidad, a Federation member planet. Found mentally unbalanced, he had been evaluated in a hospital and subsequently sentenced to rehabilitation in the psychiatric hospital on Elba II. After six years in custody, he had apparently made his escape during a cargo transfer. He had been declared a wanted fugitive, but had managed to evade every attempt to recapture him. Apparently he had managed to make his way to Earth on a Kzinti cargo ship, and had forced an entry to Space Dock from the Kzinti ship. (Ironically, Federation Security had decided it had been the Kzinti who had tried to force their entry into a sensitive area of Space Dock, and the captain of the cargo ship was now awaiting trial for attempted espionage.) Pretending to be a dockyard technician, Xantar had stowed away aboard the Enterprise, thinking it was a spaceliner bound for Serenidad.

"Great!" commented the doctor. "That’s all we need. An escaped psychiatric patient who manages to go to Earth in order to stowaway aboard a vessel he thinks is bound for Serenidad. It’s just plain ludicrous!"

The captain did not reply. He kept his attention on the intruder, pondering the best course of action for dealing with such a dangerously unbalanced individual. He sat still, inscrutable, dark eyes fixed on the screen where Xantar was still rambling.

"...and so, when we arrive at Serenidad, in exchange for your three cadets, I want ten thousand credits, plus free and uninhibited passage to the planet. Mind you, Vulcan, no trick! That’s the deal; my freedom for their lives!"

Spock quickly cut the audio from their comlink. A burst of indignant comments followed, calmly observed by the Vulcan. After a brief pause to collect his thoughts, he switched on the audio again.

"Mister Xantar," he said quietly, "what you ask is illogical. Even assuming that I would be willing to accept your bargain, I would be unable to comply with it. This ship is not a spaceliner, and it is not on course to Serenidad, but rather in the opposite direction. Our cadets have told you the truth; you are on a Starfleet training vessel."

But Cristobal Xantar was not to be dissuaded easily. "You bloody Vulcan!" he shouted in a rage. "Who said that your people never lie? You are trying to trick me, but that won’t work!"

"Listen to me," the captain’s cool voice cut in the man’s ravings, "I tell you the truth. Vulcans do not lie. You are aboard the Federation starship Enterprise. However, if you don’t believe me, just turn around and look up at the brass plague set on the bulkhead near the entrance to that room. Do you see it? Can you read the inscription?"

Everyone watched as the hijacker looked up and then stiffened as he deciphered the writing on the plaque that was out of the range of the viewer.

McCoy asked under his breath, "What is it, Spock? What does he see?"

"The original dedication plaque from the main bridge of the Enterprise."

"I didn’t know there was one down there!"

"Originally, no, Doctor," Scott chuckled. "It was given to Captain Kirk following the completion of the five year mission. When the ol’ girl was recommissioned two years ago as a training ship, Starfleet Training Command had prepared a plaque of its own for the bridge. The cap’n...I mean, the admiral had planned to place the plaque on the bridge, and seeing that he couldn’t, he brought it down here and put it on the wall of Auxiliary Control himself."

Meanwhile, forced to accept the evidence, ‘El Libertador’ was beside himself with frustration. Venting his rage on his interlocutor, he banged his fist on the communications panel and delivered a string of curses and choice epithets, the meaning of which appeared totally lost on the impassive Vulcan. Spock merely gazed at him with a hint of disdainful disapproval on his lean face. When the man finally ran out of breath, Spock firmly asserted himself.

"Mister Xantar, if you mistakenly boarded the wrong vessel—quite regrettably for you, I concede—we are not to be held responsible. Therefore, I suggest that you abandon this senseless attempt at hijacking which will only lead to certain unpleasantness and that you release your hostages. Believe me, for all concerned it is the logical decision to make."

"No way! Do you think I am fool enough to let you have my hostages for the asking? After all, I don’t care which spaceship this is. Enterprise or any other spaceship will do. I demand to be taken to Serenidad, Captain, or I shall vaporize your three cadets, one by one. The deal is still on. My freedom for their lives. I give you half an hour to make up your mind. Past that time, I’ll shoot them, starting with this insolent young man...too damn smart-assed for my liking, he is!"

The officers’ lounge bristled with tension, and all eyes turned to the captain. "Och, Cap’n," Scott ruefully said under his breath so that only Spock could here. "Too bad it didnae work. It was a good try, though."

"There are still other possibilities, Mister Scott. We must bait him out of that room, and I think there may be a way." The captain also spoke sotto voce. Then aloud, and managing to keep any hint of irritation out of his voice, he resumed his dialogue with the terrorist in the tone of a cozy conversation.

"Allow me to point out, Mister Xantar, that your demands are quite unreasonable. One cannot steal a starship. The course and progress of the Enterprise have been programmed by Starfleet Training Command and are perpetually monitored by Starfleet. Consequently, should we change course for any unforeseen and unauthorized reasons, Starfleet Command would immediately be alerted, and would take all necessary actions. Long before the Enterprise could even reach the Serenidad system, she would be met by Starfleet vessels, both in terms of a blockade impeding us from that system and from vessels in pursuit. As you can deduce, disastrous consequences would follow."

After a significant pause, Spock continued, "You must realize that you have placed yourself into this deadlock, Mister Xantar. A starship of the class of the Enterprise is the least suitable means of escape in the galaxy. She is far too conspicuous."

"Cut out the small talk and the pathetic excuses, will you, Vulcan?" Xantar shouted in a rage. "You take this ship to Serenidad, damn you, or you won’t see these kids alive again. I don’t care what happens to your ship. Take me home! You have only fifteen minutes left to decide: yes or no!"

A few seconds of unbearable tension went by, then Spock replied, "These threats are unnecessary, and so are the fifteen minutes. My decision is made; the safety of my crew is paramount, therefore I accept your terms. You will have a craft for Serenidad in exchange for the freedom of the hostages."

Total surprise hit the officers’ lounge where some officers could hardly hide a certain disillusion in their captain for having given in so easily. But others, who knew him well, waited for his next move. Surprise, triumph and utter relief swept over the face of Xantar. On the bridge, where Uhura had been monitoring the lengthy negotiations and kept a running commentary for the benefit of the bridge crew, the compliance of Spock was received with mixed feelings.

Doctor McCoy, true to type, had no compunction in voicing his opinion with his usual blend of sarcasm. "Something has gone haywire with your circuits, Spock. You’ve delivered the Enterprise into the hands of an absolutely insane crackpot, and now we’ll have to go traipsing to Serenidad with the hostages still locked in with him. And all that pretty speech about Starfleet blockading the Enterprise and pursuing us is just pure and utter hogwash, Captain. And he obviously knew it. So much for your infallible logic!"

In answer, Spock regarded the doctor, his head tilted and a sardonic eyebrow slightly arched, looking for all the universe like an overgrown, impish elf. "Who spoke of delivering him the Enterprise, Doctor?" he asked softly.

As comprehension dawned on the officers’ faces, the Vulcan turned to the chief engineer. "Commander Scott, I want you and your team to have in readiness within one hour the first shuttlecraft available, Herschel or Copernicus, at your discretion. I hope it won’t be necessary, but have her fully equipped for a deep space flight. Also, I require a number of communications devices to be concealed in various places to establish permanent audio-visual contact with the shuttle. Can you do that in the time I’ve allotted?"

"Aye, Captain!" Scott replied, a knowing grin creeping on his face. "Leave it to me; it’s as good as done. I knew you’d have some trick up your sleeve!" He hustled out with enthusiastic zeal.

Looking somewhat abashed, McCoy had no time to vent his feelings. "Spock, you wily Vulcan!" he began. "Why couldn’t you—"

The captain cut him short. "No time, Doctor. I still have to conclude our arrangements with Xantar." Reopening the channel to Auxiliary Control, Spock resumed the discussion. "Now, Mister Xantar, I want your full attention. Here are my terms: a warp-drive capable shuttlecraft with a qualified pilot will be at your disposal to transport you to your destination, and...."

It took the better part of an hour to come to an agreement, an hour of discussion and haggling which almost taxed the legendary Vulcan patience to its limits and kept the good doctor on tenterhooks. But at last, the proposals and demands were agreed upon.

Xantar finally agreed that food and drinks would be delivered to the auxiliary control room, but just outside in the security lobby. Also, on the doctor’s insistence, a small medikit with appropriate drugs for treating Kovac was included as well, but the hijacker was determined to keep the cadets as a Human shield on the way to the shuttlebay.

He declared, in way of conclusion, "Whether you like it or not, Captain, they are staying with me. There will be a guarantee of non-interference, and free access to the craft. That should stop you from playing any tricks on me!"

At his haughty best, Spock icily retorted, "Vulcans do not ‘play tricks’ on anyone, Mister Xantar." It was a pure Spockian response which, despite the gravity of the situation, did much to ease the tension in the officers’ lounge.

After switching off the comlink, the captain wearily got to his feet, and began to issue a flow of orders which sent one and all running to their respective assignments. "Time is of the essence," he said briefly. "The terrorist will leave Auxiliary Control in twenty-four point three minutes. We must be ready for him. Mister Killicranky, take care of the food for the hostages and their captor with the medical supplies which the doctor will give you."

"On my way, sir!"

"Lieutenant Caromandel, you will station your personnel from F Deck to Q Deck and in the shuttlebay itself. But at no time are they to interfere or display their weapons. Is that clear?"

"Perfectly, Captain."

"Good. Dismissed." The captain turned to the chief helms officer. "Yes, Mister DeSalle?"

"Sir, I volunteer to pilot the shuttle."

"Thank you, Commander, but it is quite unnecessary. I shall serve as pilot."

"But, Captain, you can’t do that!" argued DeSalle.

"Spock, are you mad?" and "Out of the question, sir!" McCoy and Farrell’s voices rose up together.

Spock looked mildly affronted and drew himself up. "I do have full clearance, and I am a licensed shuttlecraft pilot."

"Of course! That’s not what we meant," the doctor interjected, "but you are the captain, and as such, you should not—"

"Allow me to remind you what I said a few minutes ago: I take full responsibility for this matter. And your role, Mister DeSalle, will be of the utmost importance. I need you at the helm as you will be responsible for the operation of the tractor beam."

A delighted grin split the pleasant face of the chief helmsman. "Aye, sir, I see what you mean!"

"Exactly. If we are unable to free the hostages and overcome Xantar in the landing bay, and if I am forced to take him away in the warp shuttle, you will probably be our last resort, Commander."

"I won’t fail you, sir," the man soberly replied.

"I know that, Mister DeSalle. This is how we shall proceed..." and Spock gave him concise and definite instructions.

When at last only McCoy remained in the room, Spock looked at him inquiringly. "What are you waiting for, Doctor? You have to prepare those medications, don’t you?" The Vulcan strode to the door.

"I know...that won’t take long. It’s just that...Spock, er..." McCoy looked unusually crestfallen.

"Yes, Doctor? What is it? We do not have much time." The captain paused in the doorway.

"Damn it, Spock! You really don’t make it easy!" blurted McCoy. "All I want to say is that I am sorry. I know! To apologize is an emotional waste of time! But at least let me get it off my chest. I’m afraid that I put my foot in it...you know, about surrendering the Enterprise to a crackpot...and the rest, well...I want you to know that, actually, I didn’t mean it... In fact, er...considering the situation..."

The Vulcan allowed a faint smile to flash across his face. "Doctor McCoy, do you think that after all these years that I would still take any accusations, criticisms and insults of yours at face value?"

"Spock! You green-blooded fraud!" McCoy’s face crinkled with a grin. "I suppose I should know you by now! Oh, er...there is something else, Captain," he added as the Vulcan turned away.

"Doctor, time is running short." A touch of impatience tinged his voice.

"It’s about the crew... Don’t you think that you should tell them what has been going on? The grapevine has been running wild these past few hours, and, you know, there’s nothing like a speech from the captain to set everything right. It’s good for the morale of the crew!"

Spock looked at him in some discomfort. "I have no aptitude for that kind of public address, McCoy, as you are well aware."

"Sure! I don’t expect you to have Jim’s special charisma and easy-going way with the crew, but I think that you can give them the reassurance they need, in your own Vulcan way, of course, Spock. Why don’t you give it a try?"

With the long suffering sigh he reserved for his favorite opponent, Spock reluctantly agreed. "Very well, Doctor. If you think that I should, I shall do my best."

As the Vulcan strode off along the corridor, the voice of McCoy drifted after him. "Take care of yourself, Spock, and good luck!"

This time, at least, the doctor had wished him luck.

About ten minutes later, the doctor was in Sickbay, hastily putting together a first aid kit, including stimulants, sedatives, neuro-analgesics and a plastiskin applicator for head injuries, when, on the intraship communication system, came the calm voice of the Vulcan.

"All hands...this is the captain. The critical situation you are aware of is about to be concluded. In a short time, the...person who is holding crewmembers as ransom will see his demands satisfied in exchange for the release of the hostages. In order to facilitate the smooth progression of the operation, all crewmembers are requested to distance themselves from G Deck to Q Deck from now until further notice, unless duty calls. I rely on your sense of duty to act with discipline and await with confidence the outcome of this crisis. Our problems will soon be over. Spock out."


The captain’s speech had duly reached the hijacker and his prisoners in the auxiliary control room. The three cadets listened with bated breath, then hugged one another out of sheer joy and relief. Already, their short talk on the intercom with the quietly supportive captain and the doctor so concerned for their welfare had done much to raise their spirits, which had been sorely shaken by their long confinement and the endless haggling over their fate.

Behind the security doors, they had found the food supplies waiting for them in a neat package on the deck. Their captor had allowed them to make use of the medikit and to eat, after first checking the medikit and the food for any concealed weapon or "trickeries," as he called them.

So they had gladly sat down to a feast of sandwiches, cookies, fruits and drinks. It was their first meal since...it seemed ages! As a crowning piece, a thermo-flask of coffee had also been provided. Concealed inside the plastic cap was a piece of tape which bore the inscription, "Bon Courage! Hold on! We are with you! – Killy."

"Isn’t he a dear?" Gordon commented softly as she deftly removed the tape and slipped it under the edge of the control panel that had served them as a dining table. A quick look at the self-proclaimed ‘El Libertador’ satisfied them that the message had gone unnoticed.

The man had obviously reached the end of his tether. He was pacing back and forth, giving more than ever the picture of a caged animal. At first, when offered some food, he had brusquely declined, claiming that it was probably drugged. Then, after a while, seeing his prisoners still alive and kicking, he had helped himself to some sandwiches and coffee. He distanced himself from the cadets and gulped down with relish what must have been his first decent meal in days. His hostages almost began to feel sorry for him. For all his threatening and crazy ways, he looked so forlorn, so distraught, and was obviously very, very mentally ill.

After the meal, Gordon and Vatanen put their first-aid training into practice. They cleaned and dressed Kovac’s injury which was still throbbing painfully. They had barely finished when the sudden beep from the communications console made them start, and their captain’s face came into view.

"We are ready for you, Mister Xantar. The security locks of Auxiliary Control have been released. You can go now. Cadets Gordon, Vatanen and Kovac will escort you as far as the craft where the pilot will await you. You can be assured that there won’t be interference along the way. You keep your word, and I’ll keep mine. Spock out."

And the slow march to freedom began, along the corridors, down the turbolift, down to Q Deck. The trainees were going ahead of Xantar, very conscious of the phaser pointed at their backs. He was taking no chances. He was determined to use his hostages as a Human shield for as long as necessary.

Their progress was monitored by intraship sensors, and watched by the security guards posted unobtrusively along the way. Somehow, the young cadets felt comforted by their presence, passive though it was. So far, everything was going to plan.


In the shuttlebay, everyone was ready and waiting. Commander Scott, having personally rechecked the special equipment required, stepped down from the Copernicus in time to hear Doctor McCoy’s expostulations to a seemingly indifferent Vulcan.

"Of course, Doctor, I know all that," Spock replied patiently. "I shall take all possible precautions. You are unduly distressing yourself."

"Like hell I am! I am worrying to death, Spock! I don’t know how it is that you always manage, just like Jim, to get yourself into trouble. Doesn’t he, Scotty?"

"Aye, that’s for certain, and more often than is good for him. But remember also that he always manages to get away with it. Don’t fret, Leonard. It will soon be over. She’s ready, Captain. What about that communicator?" the chief engineer asked, eyeing Spock in the act of concealing a miniaturized comlink in the breast pocket of his black jumpsuit.

"Though of limited range, it is in working order. I have just checked with Uhura." He stepped face to face with Scott. "Commander, should anything...unanticipated occur, I leave the ship in your care. You have the conn."

"Aye, sir," Montgomery Scott replied soberly.

Lieutenants Caromandel and Killicranky came running to them. The security chief reported, "Sir, they’re in the lift on their way to Q Deck. According to my officers, he keeps the cadets at phaser point at all times."

"He does not take any chances," Killicranky grumbled. "And this is going to be trickier than even you suspect, Captain."

"You underestimate me, Lieutenant. I have anticipated every move made thus far. Now, everyone go to your stations. I don’t want anyone present other than the security detachment. Doctor, you and your team will stay out of sight. Dismissed."

The officers and crewmembers assembled made themselves scarce, except for Lieutenant Caromandel. Holding herself as straight as a ramrod, she stiffly uttered, "Request permission to remain, sir."

"Request denied, Lieutenant," Spock replied no less stiffly.

"Please, Captain, let me stay with you. I am responsible for your safety." Her blue eyes looked entreatingly into the somber gaze of the Vulcan, but he remained adamant.

"Negative, Lieutenant. Your presence here would endanger the lives of the hostages. You will take action when they are released and safely out of range, but not before. I must carry out this exchange alone."

She knew better than to press the point with Spock. She swallowed hard and drew herself up. "Very good, sir." She swung around and marched down the corridor to take her position away from the shuttle. The huge landing bay was unobtrusively manned by Security guards from top to bottom, but Caromandel could not help but feel uneasy as she watched, with a heavy heart, the solitary figure by the Copernicus.

God! If anything happens to him, I’ll never forgive myself! Her dismal thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the turbolift doors sliding apart.

The critical time was near.


When they stepped out of the lift, the three cadets at first felt disoriented. They were not familiar with the lower decks as there were few Sciences departments in the engineering hull. They looked around the silent landing bay, expecting a clue, a sign.

"What are we supposed to do now?" Gordon whispered nervously.

"Don’t know... I don’t see anyone," Kovac muttered while Vatanen, white as a sheet, shivered uncontrollably.

"Move on, move on! Where is that ship?" rasped their captor. They were ruthlessly prodded forward, along the line of sleek silver vessels squatting like dormant beetles. Their steps sounded hollow on the deck, and they had the uncanny feeling of being watched by invisible eyes.

"That’s it! Over there!" Kovac exclaimed at the sight of a shuttlecraft set apart in launch position, its hatch open, its ramp down, clearly ready for departure. And with a sigh of relief, they saw the tall, dark figure of the pilot standing, waiting for them.

But as they approached, pushed forward by Xantar, the shuttle pilot turned and revealed himself to be their captain. The three stopped short and stared at him in confusion. He had come to release them, of course, but why the dark jumpsuit? And where was the pilot? Or was he...?

Spock gave them an appraising glance and a comforting nod, then turned his attention to the hijacker, and his expression hardened perceptibly. "Mister Xantar, this is the shuttle you require. The ransom money is in a credit chit on board. Now, let these cadets go, and we shall leave immediately."

Unnerved by the Vulcan’s steely gaze, ‘El Libertador’ protested, "Hey, wait a minute. Are you the Vulcan I was talking to? The captain? Do you mean to say you will pilot this craft?"

"Affirmative. Any objection, Mister Xantar?" Spock asked frostily.

"Oh...Oh, no!" the man snickered. "I mean...it’s rather unexpected...a starship captain as a pilot!"

"Then the sooner we go, the better. You can put away that weapon. I am unarmed," Spock pointed out, having seen at a glance that the phaser Xantar was recklessly brandishing was set to disrupt.

"So you say, Vulcan! Let me check first." The man was paranoid, and thrusting his phaser against Spock’s chest, he proceeded in rapidly frisking the captain. But, indeed, he found no weapon. "Okay, so far. Now, you three, get in there and fast!" he snapped, waving his phaser at the cadets who froze and stared in disbelief.

For a Vulcan, Spock was outraged. His icy voice was clipped and curt. "You will release your hostages immediately, as stipulated in our agreement. I have fulfilled my part; you have yours to keep now."

Xantar let out a harsh, derisive laugh. "Oh, yeah? And as soon as they are out of the way, your guards will take me out. Do you think I am a fool, Captain? No way! The hostages stay with us all the way, as a guarantee against foul play!" And in a flash, he grabbed Alison Gordon and jerked her up in a vicious arm-lock, phaser pointed at her head. "See, Captain? Now do as you’re told, or there won’t be much left of her pretty face. Get in, I say."

For a few seconds, time stood still as Spock looked helplessly at the young woman struggling in the grasp of the madman. Gordon stared at her captain with large gray eyes, at once both anxious, terrified and yet trusting of him. A sudden wave of blazing anger washed over the Vulcan, which he mastered in a split second. No time for heroic action, he deduced. The phaser blast would kill her. No emotion should cloud my mind, he reminded himself, not even the sight of this innocent young woman.

He swiftly managed to give Alison Gordon a calm and reassuring glance, then, with lightning speed, reviewed the few options he still had left. As he feared, the hijacker was growing more and more desperate, and therefore more and more dangerous. A quick glance in the direction of the turbolifts and entryways revealed Security personnel, Caromandel included, poised for action, weapons at ready. Catching the security chief’s eyes, he shook his head negatively. Any frontal attack would only lead to chaos and bloodshed, with the cadets being caught in the crossfire. Better to bide his time.

With a warning glance at his cadets, Spock drew a deep breath and stiffly said, "Very well. Since you choose to act as a terrorist, Mister Xantar, we have no choice but to submit to your demands. But keep in mind that terror is a double-edged weapon."

"Seems to me that you are in no position to make threats, Vulcan!" sneered the hijacker. "No more talk, now. Let’s go!" He gestured wildly to the shuttle’s ramp.

Spock glanced briefly at the observation balcony, high above the decks, where he could see faces, including an apoplectic McCoy, looking down at him. Then, placing a hand on Kovac’s and Vatanen’s shoulder, he gently propelled them up the rear ramp and climbed deliberately, closely followed by Xantar, who still held Gordon locked in his grasp. Then they disappeared from view, and the rear hatch door shut tight.


In the observation balcony, Leonard McCoy watched the events unfolding beneath him in absolute dismay. Things had definitely taken a wrong turn. He now watched as the shuttlecraft came to life, lights blinking, thrusters purring, engines idling, and voiced his feelings in no uncertain terms. "Damn it, Scotty! We’ve got to do something! We can’t let them go like this! What are you waiting for?"

"Fear not, Doctor," the chief engineer replied with more confidence than he felt. "Even if they launch, we’ll get them back." He punched a button on the comlink. "Scott to Bridge. Bridge, acknowledge!"

"DeSalle here."

"Stand ready on the tractor beam. We’ll wait for Mister Spock’s signal."

"Aye, sir. We’re monitoring. Bridge out."

"Now let’s hear what’s going on for ourselves." Scott flicked another switch, and a muted humming sound filled the room.

"What is that?" asked the doctor.

"The Copernicus. We’re in total audio-contact, and whatever is being done or said in there is being broadcast back here and on the bridge. That’s the thrusters and engines warming up that you’re hearing." Scott leaned forward, listening intently to catch any sound, any sign which might give him a clue.

Then the voice of the captain came, loud and clear and as calm as ever, over the ether. "Mister Xantar, we cannot depart the Enterprise as long as you keep standing there with your weapon drawn. Were I to engage the engines, you might be thrown off balance and inadvertently hurt someone or disable this shuttle." There was a brief pause. "Thank you." Almost at once, the rumble of the thrusters increased steadily.

Below them, the Copernicus began to pivot on the launching platform.

McCoy chuckled and shook his head in disbelief. "Did you hear that?" the doctor asked those present. "There he is, being forced at phaser point to pilot a shuttlecraft, and he’s as courteous as any steward or stewardess aboard a luxury spaceliner."

Killicranky was amused by the doctor’s comment. "It seems, indeed, that nothing can shake our captain out of his cool. I even wonder if he has ever blown his top in his life."

McCoy looked at him. "He has, Lieutenant, and believe me, a hurricane is tame by comparison!"

Spock was heard again on the intercom, attempting to reason with the hijacker. "You know the cadets carry no weapons; they cannot harm you. What could they do in these circumstances? It is therefore unnecessary and pointless to train your weapon on them at all times, Mister Xantar."

"I’ll do as I please!" the man snarled. "What are you waiting for? Take us out, damn you!"

"I am waiting for the clearance from the bridge. We cannot depart as long as their forcefield remains activated," Spock pointedly explained.

Scott had his cue. After releasing a string of Gaelic curses and profanities, he opened a channel to the bridge. "You there, Vince? You heard what Spock said? Any more delay would be risky. Ye’ll have to let them go. Are ye ready, lad?"

"We heard, Scotty," came DeSalle’s voice. "I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Do we give them clearance now?"

"Aye, right away. I’ll take care of the forcefield. Now it’s up to Spock to counter that madman before we hit them with the tractor beam, or I wouldnae give much chance to them."

"He’ll do it, Scotty. I know he will." Nothing could shake DeSalle’s faith in the Vulcan’s resourcefulness.

"Amen to that!" the chief engineer muttered as he depressurized the hangar deck. "Clear Hangar Deck, clear Hangar Deck. Hangar Deck depressurizing."

Uhura’s voice was heard over the comlink. "Bridge to Copernicus. You have clearance to launch." There was a brief pause. "Godspeed, Captain," her voice faltered.

The deep voice of the Vulcan responded. "Copernicus to Enterprise. Acknowledged. And thank you, Uhura. Spock out."

With a heavy heart, the crew watched the sleek shuttle glide along the runway to the wide open doors. In a roaring thunder, the thrusters spit plasma-fire, and the craft soared out with powerful ease into the dark void of space.

As the forcefield re-engaged and the atmosphere in the shuttlebay was repressurized, Scott activated a few controls, and the viewer displayed the rear end of the shuttlecraft as it steadily moved away. "Bridge!" he called. "Do you have them?"

"We do, Scotty. We have them on our screen. Targeting them with a tractor beam," Uhura replied. "We’re pacing them from behind. DeSalle is awaiting your command."

"Wait just a wee bit longer, Vince. Just a wee bit more!" the engineer said tensely. His eyes were fixed on the Copernicus gliding smoothly, silver-white on the black velvet of space. "For Heaven’s sake!" he cried.

Everyone stared in amazement at the incredible sight on the screen. As if caught in the maelstrom of a magnetic storm, the Copernicus was taken in a wild succession of aerobatics–spinning, rolling and nose-diving–which left the Enterprise observers breathless. At the same time, ominous noises reached them through the shuttle channel, shouts, bangs and crashes which added to the confusion.

In the shuttle bay control room, the tension was high, and all stared, aghast, except for the Scottish engineer who, strangely enough, was grinning. "Scott to Bridge! Do ye see that, DeSalle? That’s it! Stand by on the tractor beam!"

"Standing by, Scotty! Quite a show he’s giving us, eh? I’ve never seen anything like it!" DeSalle sounded jubilant.

McCoy was bemused. "For Pete’s sake, Scotty, what’s happening? Will someone tell me what in hell is going on?" the doctor demanded.

Over the bedlam, they heard Spock shouting, "Gordon! Kovac! Down, keep down!" and repeated and significant phaser fire.

Following successive bursts of explosions and crackling, a voice cried, "Captain, look out!" There was a tremendous, deafening crash. Then silence, a deadly silence, echoed by the fearful hush which descended on the Enterprise crew as they watched the sight of the now motionless craft, hanging dead in space, like a bird stricken in its flight.

"Oh, my God!" whispered Lieutenant Caromandel.

As they watched, a white speck appeared on the flank of the Copernicus, which rapidly grew into a shiny cloud, getting bigger and bigger. Scott turned pale. "Quick, DeSalle! Tractor beam, now!" Simultaneously, twin beams grappled the Copernicus and began to haul her back to the Enterprise.

And then, over the faint hissing sound on the audio, came the voice of the Vulcan. "Enterprise, request permission to board...take us in...rapidly!" He sounded hoarse and breathless.

"Aye, Mister Spock! As fast as we can, hold on!" shouted Scott. "We are ready for you."

Doctor McCoy, however, was frantic with concern. "Spock?" he called. "Spock, are you all right? And the cadets? Is anyone hurt? What about Xantar? Spock, for Heaven’s sake, can you hear me?"

A weary voice answered at last. "I hear you, doctor...Xantar is...for the moment...incapacitated. We are... functional... barely... are losing atmosphere...leakage...a phaser burn on the bulkhead. Situation...critical... suggest...prompt action...oxygen mask, Doctor."

"We are all standing by, Spock! Just hold on one more minute!" McCoy yelled into the comlink. "Damn it, you crazy Vulcan! Why would you pull a stunt like that? Of all the hare-brained notions!"

"As your saying goes, McCoy...nothing ventured, nothing gained, and... anyhow...it worked." Spock was still faintly argumentative..

The doctor stormed out, closely followed by Killicranky and Caromandel who quickly called up her security detail, and they joined the landing bay crew down by the runway.

A few minutes later, the Copernicus, battered but triumphant, returned to the fold.

No sooner had the small craft come to a standstill than a swarm of security guards, medics, and engineers rushed to the hatch. An ominous hole burned through its flank told of the precarious condition of the crew.

A ramp was hastily pushed against the shuttle, and the security chief and guards ran up to open the hatch. But it proved to be impossible, it had been warped by phaser fire, and override was apparently out of line as well. Engineers were waved over, and Doctor McCoy, fretting with anxiety, bellowed, "Hurry up, do something! They may be dying in there!"

But, just as thermo-drills and pliers were brought up, a muffled shout reached them from inside. "Stand back!" and a split second after, in a screeching tearing of metal, one of the hatch doors flew open and slammed against the shuttle flank, to end hanging loosely on its torn hinges. From the smoking darkness, the bedraggled figures of Cadets Kovac and Vatanen emerged on shaky legs, one supporting the other, both looking pale and shaken. At once, willing hands caught them up and passed them on to the medics waiting at the foot of the ramp.

Mediscanner in action, McCoy was barking orders right and left, and seeing to the first care of the youths when an exclamation of "Oh, my God!" from his chief nurse made him spin round and stare.

Spock, attended by Security, was standing in the hatch and carrying in his arms the limp form of the third hostage. The neat and immaculate Vulcan presented a sorry sight, clothes rent and soiled, dark hair ruffled and green trails on face and hands. Looking down at the distraught security chief, he stated, "You will find our hijacker under the console, Lieutenant. He is all yours now. Take him to the brig. Maximum security with double force-fields and a reinforced guard."

"Aye, sir."

"Also, he needs medical care, but under strict supervision...he is now your responsibility."

"Understood, Captain," she replied then went into the shuttle.

Still carrying Alison Gordon and declining assistance, Spock came slowly down the ramp, and suddenly found himself surrounded by cheering Humans and assaulted by a surge of emotions. Although the throbbing pain he felt in his shoulder rather impaired his mental control, he somehow maintained his composure and carefully delivered his charge to the medical team with these words: "Take good care of her...of all three. They have shown great courage."

"And naturally, after you’ve had your fun and games, it’s up to me to pick up the pieces...and patch them up if I can!" McCoy sourly grumbled as he set an oxygen mask on the pale face of Gordon. "All right...take them to intensive care, on the double!"

As they watched, the three anti-grav gurneys being whisked away by the orderlies, the doctor remarked, "They should be all right, but I’ll keep them under observation for a few days. The experience they went through is bound to leave mental trauma. On the whole, you have been lucky, Spock. But that was a close call...that stunt of yours really takes the cake!"

Commander Scott, who had arrived in the meantime, agreed heartily. "You gave us quite a turn, Cap’n! For a moment, I didnae think ye would make it, but...my! What a show you put on!"

"Damn fool risk, if you ask me," snorted the doctor as he waved a scanner over the Vulcan’s chest.

"A calculated risk, Doctor," Spock countered, "Regrettably, it was the only way to throw Xantar off balance and have him relinquish his hold on the cadets. Eventually, with their assistance, I was able to incapacitate him, but, as a result, Mister Scott, you will find Copernicus is in need of extensive repairs."

"No problem, sir," Scott replied happily. "I’ll put a team working on her right away, and that should be good practice for my trainees as well. In less than a week’s time, she’ll be as good as new!"

Doctor McCoy looked up with a frown and remarked dryly, "From these readings, I can tell that someone else will go for some extensive repairs right away. Spock, I want you in Sickbay; you require immediate medical attention, and I won’t take no for an answer!"

The Vulcan drew himself up somewhat painfully. "Unnecessary, Doctor. I am still functional, and there are a number of things to be attended to without delay."

"Now, Captain, don’t give me that line! With a couple of cracked ribs, a broken collar bone, several head wounds, not to mention various bruises and cuts about the body, you are hardly in a state to resume your duty. And what happened to your hands, anyway?"

Spock gazed down at his hands covered with cuts and blood, and he winced as he flexed his sore fingers.

"A close encounter with Mister Xantar’s jaw, then with the shuttle hatch door, I believe," he said, dead panning.

His audience choked with laughter, and Killicranky inquired with interest. "How come that you did not resort to the Vulcan neck pinch, Captain?"

"There are certain circumstances, Mister Killicranky, when Vulcan methods, for all their unequaled efficiency, prove to be...ah...less rewarding than Human...modus operandi," Spock replied with dignity.

"Quite right, Mister Spock!" The chief engineer chuckled. "A good, sound punch...there is nothing like it!"

Seeing that the Vulcan was turning quite pale-green and noting that the legendary resilience was finally giving way to outright fatigue, McCoy cut in sharply, "Captain, sir. Though you won’t admit it, I can see that you’re in need of my services. Come along, or shall I have you escorted to Sickbay?"

Although exhausted, the Vulcan was not prepared to surrender yet. "Doctor, I shall report to Sickbay presently, but it is imperative that I go to the bridge first. Starfleet Command must be contacted for instructions regarding our prisoners, and the training program must be resumed without further delay."

"No way, Spock." McCoy was adamant. "Let your senior officers take care of that and accept the logic of the situation: you are physically unfit to command in your present condition. As Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise, I have the authority to—"

"I know, Doctor. I know what your prerogatives are..." Spock said wearily. He felt his control slip away as wave after wave of acute pain swept over him. "But," he continued doggedly, "when these prerogatives go so far as to usurp my command of the ship, this can be...considered as a blatant case of...misused authority."

"Captain," McCoy flared up, "Starfleet Regulations stipulate..."

What these regulations stipulated, no one was to know for the doctor paused in mid-sentence as the Vulcan, overcome by pain and exhaustion, collapsed into his arms.

Gently, very gently, McCoy and Scott laid him on the nearby stretcher. The doctor looked up at the chief engineer with a wry smile. "And that was a perfect example of our Vulcan’s pigheadedness. He wants us to believe he’s indestructible. All I have to do now is go and patch him up. I guess that you’re in charge, Scotty."

"Aye, Doctor. Dinna worry. I’ll have Uhura take care o’ things on the bridge and with Starfleet Command; I’ll handle Engineering and the cadet training program; and you...you take care of him."

"Sure! Give me the hard task. My biggest problem’ll be to keep him in Sickbay for a few days. I’d appreciate it if he could be left alone, no matter what. I’ll let you know when you can see him, all right?"

"Aye, Doctor. That’s fine with me."

"Right, Scotty. If you need me, I’ll be in surgery."


November 14th 2278


On the Enterprise, the daily routine was running smoothly under the strict but fatherly rule of Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, who divided his time between the bridge and the landing bay where the Copernicus was being repaired.

The training classes and drills, as programmed by Spock, were duly conducted by the senior officers. If not for the presence of a well-guarded prisoner in the maximum security cell and that of four pampered patients in Sickbay, there was little to recall the perilous situation of the Enterprise and her crew only three days ago.

Naturally, the excitement over the aborted hijacking was far from abated; the "Copernicus Caper," as the cadets had taken to calling it, was fast becoming a legendary yarn to be spun and expanded ad infinitum. For that reason, the main ward of Sickbay had become a pole of attraction, so much so that Doctor McCoy had been compelled to impose a ban on his domain, for the time being at least, and to post on the outer door a bulletin with the latest reports on the condition of his famous patients. Today, however, he had agreed that the cadets could entertain a few visitors.

The office doors slid open, and a young nurse walked in, carrying a tray. "Your morning coffee, Doctor," he said brightly.

McCoy looked up from his report. "Ah! Just what I need, son. Thank you." He leaned wearily back in his chair. "They certainly know how to train nurses at Starfleet Medical these days," he commented pleasantly as he watched the young man pour him a cup of coffee and open a tin of biscuits. "I have never been so spoiled by my staff before, and, I must admit, it’s a great improvement!"

The nurse laughed heartily and was about to leave when the doctor stopped him with a question. "Tell me, son. Any change yet with the captain?"

"No, Doctor. No change at all."

"Right. But it shouldn’t be long now. Tell Kendall to keep a close watch on him, will you?"

"Very well, Doctor. Sir? I’m about to go off-shift now; may I stay with the cadets and keep them company?"

McCoy’s blue eyes twinkled over his cup. The young man obviously liked Vatanen and Gordon a lot. He took another sip of coffee, then drawled, "Well, let me see... If you have nothing better to do, I have no objection. Two nurses are better than one. Okay, you can go keep the cadets entertained."

"Thank you, Doctor!" he replied.

"Get along with you!" He chuckled. As the doors opened, he pricked up his ears. Some confused noise drifted in, coming from the ward. "What’s that noise?"

"That must be the cadets, sir. Remember, you gave them permission to receive visitors today, and that has brought quite a crowd to Sickbay this morning."

"I said I would allow visitors, but certainly not that damn noise! Where do they think they are?" The chief surgeon stood up abruptly and stomped out.

Sounds of chatter and laughter reached his ears long before he got to the ward. Assuming his grumpy persona, McCoy strode in and barked, "Now, what’s going on here?!"

A frozen silence descended on the room. Keeping a straight face, the doctor glared around at the sheepish trainees and gruffly said, "I’ll have you know that this is not the Rec Deck, so either you behave yourselves in my ward, or I cancel these visits altogether." Ignoring the protests, McCoy went and checked his young patients, whom he expected to be fatigued after all the excitement.

On the contrary, though, sitting in their beds with heads propped against piles of pillows, the cadets looked very well indeed, with bright eyes and a rosy hue creeping up their cheeks.

Doctor McCoy concealed a smile and glanced at the diagnostic panels. The readings confirmed the evidence provided by his eyes. Apparently, the presence of their friends was the best cure now for his three patients. Hands clasped behind his back, he straightened up, cleared his throat, and declared, "You can all consider yourselves lucky. There’s been no harm done. You three are doing fine, and I may have you released in a couple of days...on light duty, mind you, for a start."

"Oh, great! Thank you, Doctor!" Michel Kovac chirped brightly.

"Please, Doctor," Alison Gordon coyly asked, "may we still have visitors? You said that we could..."

McCoy grunted and put on a sour expression which fooled no one. The cadets had long since found out that, for all his grumpiness and his biting tongue, the cantankerous Doctor McCoy was indeed as kind-hearted as they came. "What I said, young lady, is neither here nor there. Yes, you may have visitors, but only a few at a time, and quiet ones, mind you! I don’t want to hear that kind of racket anymore. What was it all about anyway?"

A twittering of subdued laughter answered him.

"Well, what’s so funny?"

"They were telling us about the fight in the shuttle, Doctor," Cadet Ferrier volunteered.

"Seems to me that that was anything but comical," McCoy remarked.

"Of course, Doctor," Kovac explained. "In a way, it was pretty scary, with the Copernicus tumbling end over end, faster than the inertia dampeners could handle. Xantar was tumbling around and cursing and firing right and left, and us three, flat on the deck, clutching at whatever was in reach!"

"Good God! And Spock...what was he doing?" asked McCoy.

The three cadets exchanged a glance. "As far as I could make out in the smoke, he was at the helm," Vera Vatanen explained. "But something strange happened. We were not taken unawares, really. From the start, we knew that the captain was up to something, so we were prepared."

"You see, Doctor," Gordon took up the tale, "he couldn’t tell us in so many words because of Xantar. But when he looked into our eyes...well, we just knew he was up to something."

"The Vulcan mind touch," concluded McCoy. "Spock has used it in various times in the past. He’s been able to convince guards that we’d escaped, or had a young woman activate a communicator to send a signal to the ship to rescue a landing party in the hands of the savages of Omega Eridani Four. Heck, he even used it to communicate with a giant plasma cloud creature and stopped it from devouring the Federation colony planet Mantilles. So, the three of you had mind contact with Spock. What was it like?"

"Well, it was weird, Doctor," grinned Kovac.

"Indescribable," murmured a visibly spellbound Vatanen.

"Just wonderful!" breathed Gordon, eyes gleaming from sheer delight.

This not-quite-unexpected ecstatic reaction of the youngsters to their first encounter with a Vulcan’s mental powers prompted McCoy to curb any fantasy, any dream they might be tempted to indulge in. "Yes," he commented dryly, "I dare say, this kind of experience does seem impressive, even," he chuckled, "‘fascinating’ the first time, but let me warn you not to expect it to become commonplace. On the contrary, it is extremely unlikely. I have known Spock to use his telepathic capabilities only in cases of absolutely necessity. But to the best of my knowledge, the Vulcan code of ethics draws a strict line on the usage of telepathy, and I don’t blame them. One doesn’t play with that sort of thing."

With a wry smile, the good doctor observed his rapt audience react to his assertion with mixed feelings, and hoped that his calculated words would put a damper on any wild speculation regarding the mental abilities of their captain. "And one more thing: Vulcans are touch telepaths. That’s why you don’t shake hands with them. Other races, such as the Betazoids, are outright telepaths, and they may choose to communicate with you using telepathy. But the Federation has rigid laws and ethical considerations on using mental powers, such as those of Vulcans and Betazoids, to protect folks like me and you from being exploited by those with greater telepathic prowess."

The reminder that one could be victimized by telepathy broke the spell. McCoy abruptly changed the subject, asking, "So what happened on the shuttle that was so funny? I’m still waiting for an explanation of your disgraceful behavior in my sickbay."

As he anticipated, his remark set the room a-giggle, and the tale was resumed by a chirpy Michel Kovac.

"Well, what really gave us a kick was the absolutely fabulous way the captain finally neutralized ‘El Libertador’! He not only set the shuttle tumbling to unbalance Xantar and catch him off-guard, but when at last Xantar dropped his phaser, the captain flew at his throat like a tiger, and they crashed down and rolled around... My God, I wish our close-combat instructors had seen it; it was fantastic!"

"It was awful!" Vatanen put in feelingly. "That madman had gotten hold of a piece of torn durasteel, and he was lashing out with it, and yelling and cursing like a raging beast!"

"Was the captain hurt much, Doctor?" Gordon asked with concern.

"Enough to put him out of commission for a week," McCoy replied with a grin, "but don’t worry. He’ll be all right. It takes more than a few cracked ribs, a concussion, and a broken collarbone to disable a Vulcan!"

"But," Ferrier asked, "why didn’t any of you help the captain corner Xantar? I mean, the three of you could have—"

"We did," Kovac retorted sharply, "at least, we tried! But with everything topsy-turvy, it was no use! I tried a flying tackle on Xantar’s leg, and got kicked halfway across the deck. Alison was knocked out, and as for Vera, she was somewhere wriggling under the seats."

"Hey!" Vatanen protested amid laughter. "I was trying to retrieve that phaser, but it had slid away out of reach under those seats. In any case, I don’t remember much of what happened next, except that my head was swimming, I could hardly breath, and I was feeling awfully sick to my stomach."

"So that’s how you missed the climax, Vera! The best straight right I’ve ever seen. A thundering punch the captain delivered Xantar that sent that maniac crashing against the bulkhead and knocked him out." Kovac looked puzzled, "You know, somehow, I felt that that punishing blow he got straight from the captain was repayment for the one he gave me in the control room."

"Well, son, I can honestly say that it’s unlikely Spock or any other Vulcan would choose to settle your accounts for you," McCoy remarked, provoking another ripple of giggles. "But it must be pretty rewarding to see your kidnapper get his just desserts. Can’t say that I blame you for feeling that way, either."

"I don’t know," Gordon said thoughtfully. "I think we’ll need some time to forget and, perhaps...to forgive. But, Doctor, what are they going to do with him?"

"I don’t know, my dear. It is for Starfleet Port Security to decide. I guess they’ll take him into custody in some psychiatric hospital. We’re expecting some directives from Starfleet Command, I’m told."

One of the medical trainees was standing at the door of the private ward and making frantic signs to catch McCoy’s attention.

"Yes, what is it, Nurse?"

"It’s the captain, Doctor. He’s getting quite restless now, and we can’t wake him out of his healing trance!"

"Damn it, didn’t I tell you what to do when a Vulcan starts to regain consciousness?"

"Yes, sir, we’ve done it, but it’s been to no avail!" the young woman looked flustered and helpless.

"I told you to hit him hard, not to give him a pat on the cheek!" He sighed. "Honestly, if I don’t look after everything around here..." The rest of his caustic remark was cut off by the shutting of the door, and the main ward was left in bemused speculation on yet another Vulcan mystery.


Spock was panting and tossing on his bed, while four nurses and orderlies were doing their very best to restrain their forceful patient. Their knowledge of Vulcan physiology had, so far, been abstract at best, but the last few days spent at the captain’s bedside had taught them more than years of study and quite profitably broadened their views of alien morphology. Now they watched the chief surgeon haul off and strike the Vulcan’s face with rousing slaps and energetic zeal. "Damn it, Spock, wake up!"

Spock’s left hand shot up and caught the doctor’s wrist in a steely grasp. Dark eyes opened and met twinkling blue eyes. "That will do, thank you, Doctor."

"Welcome back, Spock. How do you feel?" McCoy inquired genially, brandishing his mediscanner.

The captain paused while inwardly taking stock of his physical condition. "I appear to be functional, except for this cumbersome dressing which impedes my movement. I do not need it," he remarked with a look at his chest and shoulders. They were encased in a large plastiform dressing.

"Now, Spock, try and be reasonable. Your self-healing trance has done much to improve your condition, and your bones are reset and knitting nicely together, but that’s no reason to be careless and risk a relapse. So, you will keep that plastiform cast on and carry your arm in a sling for three more days, until I confirm that you are fit for duty."

"Doctor, I assure you that after three days of rytremk, my shoulder is healed. A sling would be superfluous and hindering to my activities." Spock swung his long legs down to the deck and attempted to stand up.

But the doctor checked him gently but firmly, and pushed him back down onto the bed. "Just a moment, you stubborn Vulcan," he said softly. "You won’t get up before I have done a complete check up, and if I let you out of here, it will be on my terms: light duty and with that cast and sling. What’s wrong with that anyway?" McCoy asked, a twinkle in his eyes. "You’ll cut a dashing figure with that sling, Spock. The wounded hero...that’s just what appeals to the ladies!"

The Vulcan transfixed the doctor with a withering glare, but, not feeling well enough yet for an argument, sank back on his pillows and sighed, assuming his best, long-suffering look. "All right, Doctor. Carry on. But at least, permit me to call the bridge. And do you have need of six assistants for my physical examination?" he added, raising a perplexed eyebrow at the bevy of trainees hovering by his bed.

A grin answered his question. "Well, no, not at the moment," McCoy conceded. Addressing his staff, he briskly ordered, "All right, Nurses. Make yourselves useful. Paoli, got and get a fresh uniform for the captain, will you? Nurse Brandt, go to my office and call the bridge: my compliments to Mister Scott, and the captain is allowed visitors now. As for you, young man, run to the food dispenser and get the captain’s breakfast: oatmeal, cantaloupe, and Vulcan herbal tea! On the double! What he needs now is a good, hearty meal! Simons, get the visitors out of the main ward for now, and make sure our cadets are breakfasted, too. Tsu, get me a tray with everything I need for the captain’s physical. Zulat, I want a complete readout from this morning’s biosigns for each cadet. What are you all standing around for! Let’s get crackin’!"

"Yes, Doctor!" And the nurses and orderlies scurried away.

Once they were alone, Spock eyed the doctor suspiciously. "I do believe, Doctor McCoy, that you are taking a certain pleasure in this situation," he remarked sternly.

McCoy chuckled, unabashed. "I do believe, Captain Spock, that you are right," While checking the readouts on the diagnostic panel, he continued, "You know, Spock, I’m quite pleased with my trainees, and I must admit that I’ve had the devil’s own luck for their lab practical on xenobiology. With you here, I’ve had a prime subject to work on. I couldn’t’ve hoped for a better tutorial for them. It’s what I’ve always said: a direct, hands-on method of learning on a live subject is always better than abstract lectures and computer-generated replicas. Don’t you agree?"

Two slanted eyebrows climbed simultaneously to the Vulcan’s hairline. "Do you mean to say, Doctor, that I have been put to use for your trainee’s edification?"

"Sure. Why in hell not? I couldn’t miss the opportunity to acquaint them with Vulcan physiology, now could I? After all, it was for the sake of their training, Spock. Logically, you shouldn’t object to being used as a...well, let’s just call you a first-rate guinea pig--especially if it serves to improve their medical training." A devilish glint lurked in the doctor’s eyes.

This was almost too much for the Vulcan. That the most irrational being of his acquaintance should make such a shameless use of logic–flawless logic at that–to justify his objectionable actions was unacceptable, to say the least. And Spock was about to say so in no uncertain terms when he realized that McCoy had been right. The opportunity for a medical student–be they nurse, doctor or orderly–to observe first-hand the care of a patient, alien or otherwise, was too valuable to be missed, even if that subject was their captain and senior instructor.

Spock conceded McCoy’s point by saying, "Indeed."

The arrival of the breakfast tray and the captain’s uniform, carefully pressed and folded, prevented any more discussion.

Commander Scott came bustling in. His jolly face, alight with a grin, did much to clear the air.

Spock settled down to a hearty breakfast while giving his full attention to his chief engineer as Scott gave a report on the ship and crew status. As was to be expected, McCoy interposed his remarks, and between the two of them, the captain received a fair account of the situation. In the words of Scott, "Everything is back to normal and under complete control, as well it should be."

The drills were proceeding on schedule, and the added value of having the engineering cadets make repairs on the Copernicus and of having the medical trainees participate in the treatment of the injured science cadets and the captain would be a bonus, to be sure.

"Furthermore, the injured cadets have recovered faster than anticipated," McCoy said with satisfaction. "We can thank the recuperative power of youth for that. Amazing resilience in these kids. No sign of any ‘hostage syndrome,’ so far. And to hear them talk of your exploits in the shuttle, the whole thing will be turned into a tale to be recounted for years to come! As for the would-be hijacker, he’s physically sound, but I’m keeping him under mild sedation."

"And under the close watch of Security," added Scott. "I’ve no fear that Caromandel will let him out of her sight. The security cadets look rather crestfallen at the moment, with the leg-pulling they’ve gotten from their fellows. And the lieutenant herself is none too pleased with them."

The Vulcan received the news with his usual composure, enhanced by the slight rise of a wry brow. "Nevertheless, the security trainees have also received invaluable experience with this incident." Having disposed of a large bowl of cantaloupe and a larger bowl of oatmeal, he was now sipping his herbal tea with the contented air of a well-fed cat. "Has Starfleet notified us as to the disposition of the prisoner?" he asked presently.

"Aye, sir, " Scott replied. "They’ve dispatched a scoutship from Starbase Six. We’re to rendezvous with them in about thirty-six hours and deliver that troublemaker into their care. Good riddance, if you ask me! I hope they won’t let him escape from wherever they will lock him up."

"Indeed, Mister Scott," the captain agreed. "But Mister Xantar seems to be more of a mental case than a rank criminal, as you had surmised from the start, Doctor. I believe that an extremely intensive appropriate therapy should be recommended in his case. What do you think, Doctor McCoy?"

"Sure," the doctor nodded, "but the question is where and how? He was treated extensively on Serenidad before being sent to Elba Two. Whatever has been done so far as proved to be pretty damned ineffective."

"Agreed." Spock mused, "I cannot help but wonder if another method might not be preferable. I am referring to the rehabilitation techniques practiced by Vulcan healers."

McCoy looked interested. "That’s an idea! Yes, why not? Since traditional therapy has obviously failed, why not try other forms of treatment? I could make a recommendation to that effect in my report."

"Yes, do that, Doctor. I shall also mention it to Starfleet, and will contact my father about arrangements with the Vulcan Medical Commission."

"Which reminds me," Scott interjected. "Starfleet Command wants you to contact them at your earliest convenience, Captain. There’s been quite a commotion over this entire incident, as you can imagine."

"That was to be expected," Spock commented quietly.

"Aye, but from what I’ve gathered, the admiralty wants to keep it hush-hush. Starfleet Security didn’t want it known that a runaway madman can get through all the security arrangements from Elba Two to Earth, but apparently it’s hit the newsnets now. Sienna Gillette of the Intergalactic News Service had the big scoop! Some people will have the devil to pay over this now."

"I should damn well think so," McCoy said feelingly. "Because what we’ve been through so far is not my idea of what a quiet training cruise should be. ‘That’s just what you need, Bones,’ Jim said. ‘You’ll see; it’s very relaxing, just like a milk run,’ he said!"

Montgomery Scott chuckled.

Spock mildly remarked, "The admiral was correct, Doctor. This part of the galaxy is usually very quiet, and you must admit that the attempted hijacking of a starship is not a commonplace occurrence. Now, with your permission, I must contact Starfleet Command and relieve Mister Scott from his duty on the bridge. Any objections, Doctor?" The Vulcan cocked an eyebrow.

"All right," McCoy grumbled, "but on light duty only, Spock, and with that sling, agreed?"

"Agreed, Doctor. May I trouble you with the tray...and with my clothes?"

McCoy took the tray and handed Spock the bundle of clothing. The doctor carefully removed the sling for him.

"Thank you, gentlemen."

Scott, taking his leave, said in jest from the doorway, "Doctor, I’ll bet the next two weeks will be so quiet that you’ll be bored stiff with the ship’s routine. Won’t he, Captain?"

"I should expect so, Mister Scott."

"Glad to hear it, Spock," said McCoy as he helped the captain put on his slacks and pulled the large white turtleneck over the plastiform cast over the Vulcan’s chest. He reset the sling, then tugged on a pair of black socks and helped Spock put on his boots.

Little did they imagine that at that very moment, an unforeseen factor was in action in the innards of the Enterprise, which would soon disrupt the smooth operations of the ship and cause great anxiety to the command officers and great discomfort to the crew and cadets.

 November 15th 2278


The first inkling of impending trouble was imparted to Alison Gordon by her roommate who had dashed to Sickbay as soon as the doctor had given the green light.

Relieved though she was to see her friend safe and sound, Joyce Garrick could not hide the fact that she was, for a certain reason, very uneasy. Once the jolly party of visitors had left, firmly shooed away by Nurse Brandt, the head nurse, Cadet Gordon looked inquiringly at her friend. "Joyce, is anything wrong? What is the matter?" she asked under her breath.

After giving a look around to make sure none of the medical staff was within ear shot, Garrick said tightly, "You bet there is something wrong! Popsy has gone!"

"Gone? When? How?"

"No idea. All I know is that last night, when I came back after shift, she was nowhere to be seen. I called, and I looked everywhere...nothing. With the others next door, I searched every room on our deck–no use. So I have spent my free time ever since looking for her. And, of course, mum is the word! Imagine the scandal if the officers heard about it! And if you two let on, I’ll wring your neck!" Garrick hissed to the other two cadets who were listening with wide-eyed curiosity.

"Hey, what do you take us for?" Kovac protested. "We can hold our tongue, can’t we, Vera? Anyway, who let the cat out of the bag?" Giggles.

"Very funny!" Cadet Garrick was not amused.

"Sorry, Joyce, couldn’t help it! But how could your cat escape? Did you look in the air ducts, the shafts and vents on our deck? Nothing? Funny...she couldn’t open the door, could she?"

"Of course not. I locked the door as usual."

"But," Gordon suggested, "what if someone came in, someone from Maintenance, say...to check something in our quarters. They get in with the override, leave the door open, just for a moment...and Popsy sneaks out with none the wiser."

"Yes...possibly...and now she is gone, poor darling, and I am worried sick. How shall I ever find her?" Garrick sounded dispirited.

"Don’t worry. Cats are tough. When she gets hungry, she will come back," Kovac opined philosophically.

"Oh, Michel, how can you be so mean!" Vatanen chided. "That poor animal must be so scared, lost somewhere on the ship. You know what, Joyce? I think that you should tell the captain."

"Tell Captain Spock? Are you out of your mind?"

"Vera is right," Gordon put in, "You should go and tell him everything from the start. Nothing to fear, you know; he won’t eat you!"

"He can’t." Kovac giggled. "Vulcans are vegetarians!"

The three women rolled their eyes upward. "Michel Kovac, will you please stop it! This is not funny!"

"Now, where was I?" Gordon resumed. "Ah, yes, Joyce, believe me, Spock is not as formidable as he looks."

"Except in a fight!" put in the irrepressible Kovac.

"Well, yes, of course. But what I mean, Joyce, is that you can talk to him. He takes time to listen...he understands...you can ask Vera and Michel, here, anyone of his class. They will tell you...he is very special."

"Sure he is!" chorused the other two, but Garrick was still wavering, being still, unlike her friends, rather over-awed by the Vulcan.

"Now, what is all this?" Nurse Brandt was standing, arms akimbo, in the doorway. "What are you doing here? Didn’t you hear that visiting hours are over?"

Garrick jumped to her feet. "Sorry, ma’am. I was just going to leave." She looked at her friends. "Bye for now; take care of yourselves, and I...I’ll keep you informed." And she beat a hasty retreat under the reproving glare of Brandt.


Meantime, the aforesaid Popsy, invisible to prying eyes, was having the time of her life. All her senses on the alert, the cat was stealthily prowling along some dark, mysterious passages, and indulging with delight in the favorite occupation of her species: exploring.

Forgotten were the long and tedious hours being cooped up in the room, and waiting for her playmate-food-provider- companion. Now she was free at last, free to wander and watch. Her curiosity, aroused by all kind of fascinating sounds, odors, elusive sensations, dimly perceived in her seclusion, could at last be satisfied. And so, golden eyes gleaming, ears quivering, whiskers vibrating, she moved with cautious anticipation, soft-footed on velvety paws.

Now and then, eerie noises were heard humming, rumbling or ticking in the dark ducts, and made her bristle up and flatten her pointy ears. Then, after a shivering pause, she bravely went her way, squeezing through narrow conduits, jumping down shafts, and silently watching through occasional grids the activities of the Humans in the world beyond.

Lights were fascinating, dazzling lights which flared from mysterious devices and flashed unexpected sparkles that tickled her whiskers. She soon learned that it was wiser to observe these crackling phenomena from a safe distance, and she had enough fun in sharpening her claws and teeth on the things, whatever they were, so conveniently placed at her disposal along the way.

If, however, those devices were left disrupted or disconnected, she could not care less. On the contrary, these bright objects dangling in front of her nose teased her playful disposition, and she had a great time at hitting them with a deft paw.

Popsy had turned the sophisticated machinery of a starship into a cat’s playground, and being just an innocent kitten, she could not realize the seriousness of the havoc she left in her trail. It was left to the two-legged creatures (and a few three-legged ones) of the ship to do so, and eventually, to set aright the damage she had so blissfully caused.

November 16th 2278

When Uhura awoke, she got the curious impression that something was wrong. She opened an eye and checked the luminous chronometer set in the bulkhead by her bunk.

0540! That’s too early! Funny, she usually awoke punctually at 0630 which gave her time to get ready and have breakfast before the first watch. She shivered uncontrollably and realized that her cabin was unusually cold.

She sat up, and the lights detected her movements and came on. Something was certainly amiss; although the thermostat was set at its normal level of comfortable heat, she felt the chill penetrate her bare shoulders and saw, with surprise, her breath turn into a thin mist.

Oh, bother! she thought, nestling back under the blankets. Let Maintenance do their job! I’ll get up at the last minute and take a hot shower. The problem should be fixed by then.

But when Uhura entered the bathroom and turned on the hot water tap, all she got was a trickle of icy cold water. With a curse, she hastily turned it off, wrapped herself in a bathrobe, and went and called Maintenance to complain to the person in charge.

"I know, Commander," replied the harassed officer. "I am sorry, but there is nothing we can do at the moment. The whole heating system is disrupted, and we are working on it, trying to trace the malfunction. Actually, we’ve been at work on it since the middle of the night when the captain himself reported the same problem. One might think that he never goes to bed!"

Uhura couldn’t help but sympathize with her shipmate. Nothing worse than having people nagging at you while you’re trying to solve a problem.

"Okay, never mind. I’ll use the sonics. Thank you and good luck!"

"We’ll certainly need that!" he muttered, then the screen went blank.


When, some time later, Uhura entered the officers’ messroom, warmly wrapped in a large, flowered shawl over her uniform, she smiled at the sight of her fellow officers, all diversely attired in warm garments which proved their resourcefulness (and a certain disregard for regulations). Her elegance was greeted with friendly wolf-whistles and jests as she went straight to one of the food dispensers.

Commander Vince DeSalle, complete with a woolen cap, muffler and gloves, was trying to obtain something hot from the machine.

"Oh, no!" Uhura wailed. "Don’t tell me that we can’t have hot coffee either this morning!"

"Looks like it," DeSalle replied, peering doubtfully at the cup just delivered on a tray. He took a sip and made a face. "Unless you care for café frappé, Uhura, you’d better wait for Farrell."

"Johnny? Why? Has he got a portable thermal kettle or something?"

"No, but he went to get a phaser so as to heat his food."

Killicranky stopped by, holding a loaded tray. "Today’s menu," he announced, "consists of frozen orange juice, iced bacon and frozen egg mixture, untoasted frozen toast and a pot of weak, iced tea-flavored slurpee. Want to try it?"

"No, thank you, Killy," Uhura laughed. "I’m not particularly choosy, but I still prefer a hot breakfast. I’m so cold. I wish they would make it fast with repairs. What happened? Does anybody know?"

"That’s exactly what I want to know!" grumbled the doctor’s voice from behind them. "How come our skilled technicians have allowed this kind of major malfunction to happen? Or is it another damn fool idea of Spock’s for a surprise drill? At this rate, I’ll have the crew laid up with pneumonia or the flu or even the common cold before long. And now, who said this contraption can’t even deliver a hot drink?"

"Come on, Doctor," DeSalle teased, "Take it easy; you’ll have your coffee and your breakfast..."

As if on cue, Lieutenant Commander Johnny Farrell, sporting a bright red thermo-lined parka, burst into the officers’ messroom and announced at large, "If anybody is interested, the kettle is on the boil!"

Cheers and applause sprang up as he set to the task at hand. In the wink of an eye (and with a blast of phaser fire), Doctor McCoy was handed, with a flourish, a large cup of steaming hot coffee.

The doctor took a cautious sip and grinned. "Feels good to one’s innards." Then, calling to the navigator who was generously setting drinks to boiling for his shipmates. "All right, Johnny. Do you have that thing on stun or kill?"

"On simmer, Doctor," Farrell laughed. "Lowest possible heat setting, otherwise there wouldn’t even be a cup left. And I turned off the automatic alarms."

"That’s what I thought. Tell me, do you think you could warm up some grits and eggs for me?" McCoy inquired in jest.

"Why not? I’ll be glad to try..." said the ever-obliging Farrell. "How do you want your eggs? Scrambled, poached, fried or sunny side up?"

And then, amid all the fun and excitement, arrived Captain Spock, a distinguished figure wrapped in ankle-length Vulcan cloak. He paused at the door and gazed in bemusement at his officers carrying on like kids in a kindergarten class. He quickly recovered, however, and after a soft throat-clearing, the Vulcan moved with measured steps to the nearest food dispenser.

"Can I help you, Captain?" asked a cheerful voice at his elbow. Ensign Kettenring looked pointedly at the sling.

"If you would, it would be most helpful, Ensign," Spock replied with his customary dignity, although he hated being dependent on others for such trivial matters.

As Kettenring set his tray upon the table, the Vulcan nodded his thanks. He sat down gingerly, mindful of his sore ribs, and Doctor McCoy, who was tucking away his own plate of food, plied him with question after question.

"Negative, Doctor," Spock coolly replied, sipping his tea. "This is definitely not a drill. All I can say at the moment is that some parts of various support systems have failed for reasons unknown. Commander Scott is engaged in tracing the malfunctions to their source, and once done, will commence in restoring the systems to full operation."

"I hope they will fix it fast, or we’ll all freeze to death," McCoy grumbled.

"An extremely unlikely probability, but I agree with the sentiment," Spock said with conviction. His Vulcan physiology could tolerate that temperature for quite a long time, but he was beginning to feel quite uncomfortable.

"Excuse me, sir?" Farrell was standing by their table. "Would you care for a nice hot cup of tea?"

"Certainly, Commander, if it is at all possible."

"There are always possibilities, aren’t there, Captain?" Grinning like the Genie of Aladdin’s Lamp, Farrell produced a pot of hot tea which he proudly set in front of Spock before sitting down next to McCoy.

Steaming cup in hand, the Vulcan mildly commented, "It is gratifying to see our weapons put to pacifistic uses on occasion. Thank you, Mister Farrell."

"Quite resourceful, isn’t he?" the doctor remarked with his mouth full. "And I’d recommend him for a chef. My eggs and grits are just perfect. But all joking aside, what could have caused this sudden breakdown? Any idea, Spock? Is there a risk that a computer virus has begun affecting the ship? Could this bug spread into more vital functions of the ship?"

"Pending Mister Scott’s report, I cannot yet give you a definite answer. To surmise possible causes and consequences of these failures without more data would be pointless, Doctor."

"Come on, Spock! Can’t you take a guess?" Blue eyes twinkled wickedly at the Vulcan.

"That would be illogical, Doctor." The captain favored his chief surgeon with a frosty gaze which, of course, made their fellow officers dissolve into laughter.

The arrival of the chief engineer created a diversion. "Ah, there ye are, Captain!" Scott plopped himself down in a vacant chair and scratched the back of his head, looking rather nonplused.

"Well...so far as I can see..." He took a cup offered to him by Uhura. "Why, thank ye, lassie; just what I needed!" He took a sip from the cup. "Aye, so far as I can see," he restarted, "you’re right, Cap’n Spock. This is not a failure of the ship’s computer systems. It looks more like some glitch somewhere along the lines. We’re now checking all circuitry, but that will take some time. It seems verra strange, though, that the emergency backup systems have also failed. I wonder why..."

The two men exchanged a significant glance.

"Do you think that the damage might be deliberate, Mister Scott?"

"Deliberate...er, sabotage, ye mean?" Scott looked perplexed. "Well...I wonder. It could be, but who and why?"

"Oh, no!" groaned the doctor. "Don’t tell me we have a saboteur on board. We haven’t even gotten rid of the hijacker yet. What is happening to your training mission, Spock? Looks like it was doomed from the get go."

"Doctor, if you would refrain from indulging in your emotional flights of fancy, I would appreciate it. As for a saboteur being aboard, that remains to be seen. We—"

The intercom signal cut him short, and a voice was heard: "Engineering to Mister Scott. Commander Scott, please."

The engineer jumped to his feet, and the room fell silent in anticipation.

"Scott here. Found something, Pat?"

"Aye, sir, in the circuitry on H Deck. Some of the couplings have been tampered with. A casing is hanging loose, and some lines have been half-torn, half-cut through, and ripped from their linkages."

Scott glanced inquiringly at the Vulcan now standing beside him. "Hold on a minute, Pat... Seems to me that ye’ve guessed right, Cap’n. It sounds like sabotage, doesn’t it?"

"Yes, it does, but there is something off about it," Spock mused.

DeSalle spoke up. "Why should anyone go to all that trouble to disrupt the support systems for heating and food dispensing when it would be much easier to tamper with the computer? And why not do something more drastic than annoying? It just doesn’t make sense."

"A good point, Commander," Spock noted. "Why indeed? There must be a logical explanation that eludes us. Mister Scott, tell your assistant to stand by until we arrive. Mister DeSalle, I shall be detained in Engineering. In the meantime, you have the conn. Mister Killicranky, please make sure that the quartermaster has issued the crew with sufficiently warm clothing, and check the environmental department. If the circuitry on H Deck has been compromised, it is possible that a bypass could be engineered, restoring the heating to key sections of the ship."

A chorus of "aye, sir" responded.

McCoy added a footnote of his own. "Well, if it comes to the worst, you know that Sickbay is standing by, ready to cope with treating folks for the common cold, the flu, pneumonia, even frostbite. And don’t forget, Spock, drop in some time today. I want to give you a body scan."

The Vulcan was heading for the doorway. "I won’t have the time, Doctor, unless you propose to remove this cast. How much longer must I endure this?"

"That’s why I want to scan you, Captain, sir! I can’t take it off without a thorough scan first," the doctor explained tersely. Then, as a sudden thought crossed his mind, his blue eyes lit up with mischievous glee. "By the way, Spock," he drawled, "I forgot to ask: How did you manage this morning? Did the nurse I sent to help you get dressed perform her task to your satisfaction?"

His cheeks touched by a faint green flush, the Vulcan assumed an air of prim innocence. "I could not say, Doctor. As I did not require her services, I dismissed your nurse. And since you presumed, I should inform you that I can manage without any future assistance from your staff, Doctor. Shall we go, Mister Scott?"

The captain stalked out, closely followed by a grinning engineer.

"Spock! You can’t do that!" McCoy protested loudly. "My staff will be sick with disappointment. They need training, Spock, on proper post-operative care!" The door had long since closed. "Damn, he’s gone! And he’s again managed to have the last word!"

"You got to admit, Doc, that Spock has had enough practice with you to become an expert at repartée," DeSalle observed with a laugh. "Coming, Uhura, Farrell? Time to go."

McCoy shook his head with a grin. "Well, the fact is that I have taught our Vulcan a thing or two...haven’t I, my dear?" He winked at Uhura.

"You certainly have, dear Doctor." She smiled back. "And let me tell you that it’s a joy to have you two bantering along, like in the old days. See you later!"

All the first shift officers filed out of the officers’ mess, and McCoy dropped his tray into the disposal chute. Whistling softly, he made his way down to Sickbay.


By the end of the day, unfortunately, the situation was practically unchanged, and Chief Engineer Scott was truly baffled. It seemed that someone was at work to put to the test his patience and skill as the chief engineer and that of his department as well. No sooner would they put some units back on line than other parts of intricate circuitry of another unrelated system would break down, as though some mysterious gremlins were doing their best to make the Enterprise crew run around in circles, including their captain, whose proverbial Vulcan patience was beginning to wear thin, all the more so since the removal of his chest cast and sling had been postponed by an adamant Doctor McCoy.

After a black out of all lights right in the middle of Spock’s astrophysics class, a temporary failure of the turbolift, which kept an irate doctor trapped for over a half-hour, and a mix-up in the intraship communications system which caused considerable imbroglio and sorely taxed Commander Uhura’s temper, and finally, a sudden blare of the red-alert klaxons, for no reason at all, the Enterprise personnel, from its esteemed captain to the lowliest of midshipmen, felt they had had enough for the day.

On the bridge, reports were steadily coming in from the various sections, and from time to time, Chief Engineer Scott or his staff would pipe up to report the progress of various repair crews. Surveillance sweeps of the ship were carried out by Security patrols, but to no avail. Even the ship’s sensors failed to detect the elusive saboteur.

Meanwhile, the captain was sitting in the center seat, a quiet figure wrapped in a dark cloak and unflappable sang-froid, receiving reports and giving orders with equal composure. In view of the disturbing situation and of the inherent emotional instability of the predominantly Human crew, Spock judged the fairly controlled reaction of the crew and the trainees to the predicament as quite satisfactory, if not actually commendable.

His orders to search the ship all over again had not raised the least muttering in the ranks. Obviously, the reprimand the security department had received after their previous failure had borne fruit.

Such were the Vulcan’s private thoughts in the midst of the bridge activity when, gradually, dimly, he became aware of a pressing sense of fear and loneliness within his mind. A faint, elusive impression fluttering in and out, but distinctly conveying a sense of distress.

Closing his eyes, Spock concentrated his mental abilities to bring these strange perceptions into focus. At any rate, he could determine that the source of these distress waves was not out in space, but well within the ship. But where? And how had they touched his mind in spite of the unbreakable mental shields which he kept raised when in presence of emotional beings? Although dimly perceived, the cry for help expressed fear, pain and urgency.

Spock was channeling his brain waves into a Vulcan mind reach to contact the mysterious being when a voice in his ear and a light touch on his arm drew him out of his trance, and, at once, the subliminal contact was gone. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes and found himself gazing into the brown eyes of Uhura, who was standing beside him with a look of concern on her face.

When a moment earlier, Spock had failed to answer her query, she had looked around from her console and had been shocked at the sight of the Vulcan, eyes tightly shut in an ashen face, as if frozen in a painful trance. "Captain," she asked gingerly, "are you all right?"

Spock exhaled a long sigh and straightened up in his chair. A glance around made him realize that he was the focus of the bridge crew’s attention. "Yes, Uhura, I am...well. Please, carry on."

At once, the bridge crew resumed their tasks while exchanging puzzled glances: What had come over the captain all of a sudden?

Feeling that some explanation was called for, Spock held Uhura back and quietly told her, "What happened just now is significant, Commander. I was locked in brief mental contact with some strange lifeform...a lifeform definitely aboard this ship and in need of help."

This revelation stirred the bridge crew’s curiosity and amazement.

"Do you mean...there’s an alien...on board the Enterprise?" Uhura exclaimed softly.

"Thus far, I can determine only that it is neither Human nor Vulcan," Spock pointed out.

"But that’s impossible, Captain!" reported Schwarzenberg from the sciences station. "Our scanners haven’t detected anything! They can detect no intruders aboard, sir."

"Lieutenant, the more space travel you undertake, the more you will realize that the concept of impossibility is not viable out here," Spock stated calmly. "I suggest that you check the sensor indicators and adjust their sensitivity. Uhura, please notify Security of the definite presence of an unidentified being." He flicked the intercom switch. "Bridge to Mister Scott... Mister Scott, report, please."

Almost immediately, the voice of the hard-working engineer came through. "Scott here, Cap’n. Repairs are completed on G Deck, and are well underway on H Deck. Heating systems should be operational any time now. And if you ask me, Cap’n, considering the peculiar nature of the damage, I am convinced it’s being done at random, the work of an amateur at best...perhaps a practical joker rather than that of an expert...if ye ken what I’m sayin’."

"Perfectly, Mister Scott, and that is the purpose of my call..."

"And what beats me, sir—" Once started, there was no stopping Montgomery Scott. "—none of the access panels have been tampered with, nothing broken on the outside of the hatches. There is no way to tell how our joker got access to the ducts. But one thing I know for sure, Cap’n," Scott stated ominously, "once I catch the devil, I’ll boot him out the nearest airlock, aye. With your permission, of course, Cap’n! That will teach him to play havoc with me bairns!"

This dark threat was met with hardly suppressed giggles, and Farrell’s interested comment: "In his underwear, I presume!"

A quizzical eyebrow on the climb, the captain patiently replied, "Request noted, Mister Scott. However, I believe we have an answer." And, in a few words, Spock described his experience with the Vulcan mind reach to the baffled Scot.

"Well, now, that takes the cake! Could ye determine its location?"

"Negative. But I shall endeavor to do so now. In the meantime, proceed with extreme caution. Security will assist you."

"Aye, sir." Scott sounded doubtful. "We’ll be careful, but...yes, Pat, what’s that? One moment, Cap’n..."

Some indistinct conversation followed, then Scott’s voice sounded excited. "Are ye there, Cap’n? One of me lads tells me that he’s heard funny noises near the air ducts on H and I Deck. Some muffled sounds like yowling or groaning, hard to say with the resonance. I’ll go and investigate right away, sir."

"Agreed, Mister Scott. Let me know the moment you find anything."

As was to be expected, the exchange had been heard with rapt attention by the bridge crew. At once, they embarked in such an overflow of comments and speculations that the annoyed Vulcan had to request peace and quiet in order to attempt another mind reach with the unknown being hidden somewhere on the ship. Finally, silence settled upon the bridge, and Spock withdrew into deep concentration.

However, one cadet was unable to attend properly to her work. Sitting by Commander Uhura at the communications station, Joyce Garrick was surreptitiously watching the tense and silent figure of the captain. For the last fifteen minutes, she had listened in bewilderment to her senior officers, and the latest developments had come as a revelation and had cast her doubts aside.

From the moment that things had started to go awry on board, she had wondered, with much misgivings, whether her cat, still nowhere to be found, might not be at the bottom of all these problems.

She had revealed her suspicions to her friends in Sickbay. Considering the ticklish situation, the cadets had thought it best, rightly or wrongly, not to breathe a word to anyone, not even to Spock, and to try and rescue the animal before the search teams could lay hands on it.

Unfortunately, their own secret search had only drawn a blank, and now, she was certain it would only be a matter of minutes before her poor darling, lost and panicky and mewing for help, was caught and...oh, Lord!...what would they do? Toss her out an airlock into the dark void of space, as Commander Scott had threatened to do? Or was it just a dark-humored joke? And there was nothing she could do... She could not leave her station...or could she? Garrick cast a desperate glance at the captain.

How on Earth, she wondered, could his consciousness sense Popsy’s distress? Telepathy was all very well, but it was hard to imagine Spock detecting the brain waves of a small cat in the midst of hundreds of people, various machinery and duotronics and the like. It’s too weird! Maybe, at that very moment, he was joining mind with the animal, incredible though it seemed. Anyway, one thing was certain: the captain must be aware of her guilty secret. No way to try and hide her cat away. And the young woman, at her wits’ end, heaved a desperate... and loud...sigh.

"Joyce? Is something wrong?" Uhura’s voice brought her back to the present with a jolt.

"Ah...sorry, ma’am," she mumbled, taken off guard.

"You’re as white as a sheet, my dear," the commander was saying kindly. "If you need to be excused, it’s all right. Shall I call your relief?"

"Oh, yes, please...if I may...I am not feeling well," and she gratefully got to her feet.

"Off you go, then...and better drop in to see Doctor McCoy, Joyce."

"Yes, ma’am. Thank you."

But just as she reached the turbolift, only too glad to escape, Garrick stiffened on the spot; Spock was coming out of his telepathic Vulcan mind reach and was calling the chief engineer. "Bridge to Mister Scott..."

"Scott here. We’ve found nothing so far, Cap’n."

"Indeed? Well, Mister Scott, I suggest that you investigate the service ducts on H Deck, starboard side, Corridor B. I believe you have a reasonable chance in that area..."

Cadet Garrick had heard enough. The lift doors had hardly slid open when she bolted in and gave the order. "H Deck." As the lift gathered speed, she leaned against the wall, exhausted and sick with worry.

At last the car sighed to a halt, and the doors had barely parted that Joyce was in the corridor. After a split second of hesitation to get her bearings, she dashed along the concentric corridor, heading toward starboard. But when she arrived, out of breath, at an intersection, she skidded to a halt, her heart at a standstill.

Just beyond the turn, sounds of male voices raised in surprise, anger and even reluctant laughter met her ears.

"Is that what’s caused all this trouble, Mister Scott? Well, I never! What is it anyway?"

"Hard to say from down here, laddie. Looks like some kind of furry beastie. Too big for a tribble, though. Let’s have a closer look!"

Garrick took a cautious step and peeped around the corner. Her heart sank at the sight of the number of people assembled and peering up at an overhead panel which was gaping wide open. She was too late...


Popsy crouched in the dark, trembling with fear and hunger. The wonderful adventure had turned into a nightmare. For an eternity, she had been trapped in that narrow tunnel, too scared to move because of the ominous monster down at the end of the tunnel which growled and clattered and spit fiery sparks of light. She was unable to crawl back because the hard, unyielding thing that had suddenly slammed down behind her. She had fiercely attacked the obstruction with teeth and claws, but to no avail.

Now, she was curled up against the cold partition, tail and paws neatly gathered in. Her fur shook with spasmodic shivers. How long had she been there waiting? Being a cat, her time sense was limited, and her patience nearly infinite. At first, she had called, sending distress signals to she who was her companion. No reply...except a curious sense of a presence, a calm and comforting presence which had touched her soul with wondrous gentleness and respect; so unlike many of the others who were always prone to invade her privacy with such a lack of courtesy!

She had shyly responded and conveyed her distress to the seeking, serene mind, and she had felt somehow that this strange and kind being would come and help. And so, Popsy was waiting, patient and expectant, when sudden noises made her prick her ears. People were moving and talking loudly nearby. Then, a grating sound made her jump back, and a streak of light pierced the darkness. Rough voices roared painfully.

Popsy peered through the crack, whiskers all quivering. She was petrified with fear, for she sensed danger out there. She felt herself cornered and was determined to fight back any attack. So, when a huge, threatening hand loomed suddenly into her line of vision, the brave cat spit in anger. With claws unsheathed, she struck with lightning speed and with apparent success since the hand quickly withdrew with a yelp. So far, so good. Popsy retreated as far back as she dared and waited, growling under her breath.


Joyce Garrick, petrified with dismay, watched as a technician had climbed the service ladder, thrust his arms into the crawl way and grope about. A second later, he pulled back with a yell of pain and clambered down to the deck. "Blast it! Look what the blighter has done!" he cursed and displayed a bleeding hand to his crewmates.

Chief Engineer Scott took a look at it. "That’s a nasty set of scratches ye’ve got here, lad. Better show that to the doctor right away. The beastie’s claws might be venomous; ye never can tell out here. Did ye see what manner of beastie it is?"

"No, sir! It’ll be tricky getting at it. Seems to be stuck behind a loose panel which has been jammed down somehow.

"Och, that’s all we need now," Scott grumbled.

"Guess we'll have to stun the thing, Lieutenant," volunteered a zealous guard as he unholstered his phaser.

"Sure looks like it," Lieutenant Caromandel nodded in agreement. "What do you think, Mister Scott?"

"Aye, it seems to be the only way," the chief engineer reluctantly agreed. "Go ahead, but mind me equipment for pity’s sake, lad. We’ve enough repairs on our hands as it is."

Halfway up the steps, the guard took aim with his phaser when suddenly...

"No! No! Please, don’t!"

Startled, they spun around as Cadet Garrick, pale and wide-eyed, charged at them breathlessly.

"Please, Mister Scott! Don’t let them do that...it might kill her! Please!"

Montgomery Scott stared at the young woman in bemusement. "Her? Whatever do ye mean, lass? Do ye ken what beastie lies in yon crawlspace? Speak up, Cadet."

"I...I believe, actually... I am pretty sure that...it’s my pet."

"Your pet?" Caromandel snorted. "Good grief, Cadet. You have the cheek to let a dangerous animal go gallivanting around in the Jefferies tubes and service crawl ways with the disastrous consequences that we’ve seen? Are you careless, or irresponsible, or what?"

"I would never allow my pet to run loose on this ship, ma’am. I know better," Garrick bristled. "I’m sorry, but she escaped from my cabin about two days ago, and I’ve been looking for her ever since."

"Now, see here, lass," Scott assumed his no-nonsense expression. "Let’s have it plain and simple. That pet of yours. What manner of beastie is it?"

"A cat, Commander Scott."

"A cat? But a cat couldnae disrupt ship’s systems like that! You’re joking, lass, and it isnae funny."

"Must be a super cat!" the zealous security guard quipped.

"Ridiculous!" the security chief declared scornfully. "She’s pulling our legs, that’s all."

Joyce Garrick was outraged. "I am not!" she cried hotly. "You just let me get to her, and you’ll see for yourself it is a cat!"

"Now, take it easy, lass." The last thing Scott wanted was a confrontation. "Suppose ye get up there and have a look...see if that is really your cat, and then we’ll know for sure, okay?"

"Yes, sir. Of course." The young woman climbed nimbly up the service ladder and called softly into the dark opening. "Popsy?"

And at once, from inside, the cat responded with a desperate meow which echoed throughout the ducts like a roar. It triggered loud guffaws from the on-lookers.

Garrick climbed down, face alight with triumph. "That’s her, Mister Scott. May I have her back?"

Lieutenant Caromandel was not to be outdone. She bristled with righteous indignation. "Whoever heard of a cat on a starship? Don’t you know Starfleet regulations, Cadet? You just wait and see what the captain will have to say about this! He must be informed immediately."

"Of what must I be informed?" a deep voice coolly asked behind them.

At once, a deafening silence fell on the group. Garrick, petrified with apprehension, watched the cloaked figure of the Vulcan, hitherto unnoticed, approach silently like a dark nemesis and halt in front of her. She stood to a stiff stance of attention, eyes focused on the silver fastener of his cloak. She felt herself blushing helplessly under his inquisitive gaze.

The awkward pause was thankfully broken by Commander Scott, who defused the situation genially. "Cap’n, we’ve found the culprit, and we know what that lifeform of yours is after all."

"Indeed, Mister Scott?" Spock looked mildly intrigued.

"Aye, sir. Believe it or no, ‘tis the pet cat of this lass here. Somehow, the beastie gave her the slip and got lost in the ducts," Scott revealed with a wink, knowing perfectly well that the Vulcan’s keen sense of hearing must have caught most of the discussion.

"So, we appear to have yet another stowaway aboard the Enterprise," the captain mused. "What do you have to say for yourself, Cadet Garrick?"

"I...I am sorry, sir. I am...am responsible for this...mess," she stammered.

"Must I remind you that it is against Starfleet regulations and Federation laws to transport aboard any vessel any animals which could endanger the lives of its passengers, officers and crew?" The voice was stern, and, as Garrick ascertained with a furtive glance upward, the face was coldly austere. But in those dark eyes lurked something...something like a glimmer of secret humor.

Screwing up her courage, she swallowed. "I am sorry for my actions, Captain. I would never have brought Popsy aboard the Enterprise had I thought she would have caused any trouble. As you know, regulations do permit cadets to maintain pets in their quarters. I had heard some ships had cats aboard, and I really believed Popsy wouldn’t be as much trouble as it turned out."

An enigmatic eyebrow arched slightly. "The precise regulation allows for small pets, and some starships do maintain a ship’s cat or dog." He sighed softly. "However, I see that you have unfortunately yielded to the current propensity of Humans to act upon beliefs and hearsay rather than definite facts. Let this regrettable...incident be a lesson in the future."

"Begging the captain’s pardon!" Lieutenant Caromandel protested. "But this is a blatant case of misconduct and an infringement of regulations which demands disciplinary action...I respectfully point out, sir."

A cold stare froze her to the spot. "Allow me to be the sole judge in this matter, Lieutenant. I am the ship’s captain. I shall make my decision at the proper time. What matters now is the rescue of this unfortunate animal and the repairs to the damage it has caused. Mister Scott, I understand the cat is in a precarious situation and cannot leave the duct on its own?"

"Quite right, Cap’n," Scott agreed, laughing up his sleeve. "You see, it’s right there, but it’s caught behind a panel that has fallen out of place. We’ll have to remove it first, but the trouble is is that the beastie is frightened and has very sharp claws."

"I can do it, sir," Cadet Garrick volunteered. "She’s not scared of me."

The chief engineer chuckled. "It won’t work, lass. You’re too short to reach that duotronic circuitry panel, let alone remove it. No, we’ll need a different victim. Anderson, get me a spanner, and I’ll—"

"Unnecessary, Mister Scott. There is another way." And, in a fluid movement, the Vulcan shook off his cloak, let it drop to the floor, and set a foot on the first step of the service ladder.

"But, Cap’n, you cannae do that!" Scott objected. "With your arm in a sling, you’ll hurt yourself."

"This sling, Mister Scott, is at best a useless support to satisfy the professional conscience of the good doctor." Spock then grasped the ladder and quickly ascended the steps.

The muted laughter petered out in a hushed expectation as the Vulcan paused and peered into the darkness. Then he reached out. Some faint scratching and splutter were heard, then a brief snap followed by the screeching sound of rent metal. The next thing they saw was Spock handing down a heavy piece of duotronic circuitry paneling torn in half as though it were a piece of flimsy paper.

"Here, Mister Scott. The duct is cleared. I recommend total silence lest we further frighten the animal."

Standing transfixed, the on-lookers held their collective breaths. After a moment, they heard a faint meow, something moving stealthily, and at last, the whiskered face of a tabby cat peeped cautiously through the hatch, coming face to face with the captain. Amber eyes and obsidian eyes locked and exchanged a solemn gaze. Then, very gently, Spock laid his fingertips on Popsy’s brow. She blinked and crouched, then closed her eyes.

"Mister Scott, what’s he doing to Popsy?" came a concerned whisper.

"Shhh! The captain is talking with the cat," hissed the engineer. The old hands who knew their Vulcan smiled and exchanged knowing glances, but the newcomers gaped in disbelief.

After a long pause, Spock began to stroke the animal which responded ecstatically. It arched its back, nuzzling the sensitive fingers so gentle on her head, whirring a purr so loudly that it echoed down the ducts.

Joyce Garrick could hardly believe it. Her pet, so shy, so standoffish with strangers, was brazenly flirting with the captain with the most shameless and irresistible coquetry. Moreover, the captain seemed to like it! From where she stood, Garrick could see his profile, and his lips were definitely curved in a smile! Trust Popsy to steal everyone’s heart, even that of a Vulcan!

Spock presented his hand to the cat, palm upward, and at once, Popsy understood. She stepped gingerly onto the proffered hand, then crawled and tottered along his arm, clutching at the thick cloth of the uniform until she felt secure on his wide shoulders. Purring contentedly, she settled on the back of his neck.

When Spock set foot onto the deck, he found himself confronting a grinning crew and a sarcastic chief medical officer.

Armed with his emergency medikit, Doctor McCoy had arrived hotfoot on the scene, ready for the worst. After hearing the most disturbing report from the wounded crewman, he expect no less than a dangerous, roaring Capellan Power Cat or Vulcan le-matya kept at bay on H Deck by a valiant crew. Instead of that, he’d found the most delightful kitten purring on the captain’s shoulders—a sight which the good doctor would not have missed for anything!

"Well, well...how about that!" he drawled. "Is that what’s caused all the havoc in your machinery, Scotty? And has our brave captain tamed the wild beast?"

"Hardly that, Doctor," Spock murmured while cautiously disengaging sharp claws from his tunic. Gently, he removed Popsy from his shoulders to hold her in his arms.

"Now, you may be making a jest, Doctor," chuckled Scott, visibly enjoying himself. "But that’s exactly what happened! Spock had hardly talked to the wee beastie when she came along like a lamb. You can hold yourself lucky, lass, that we have a captain who is expert in handling all kinds of species and that your pet doesnae seem the worst for wear..." He gave a small pat on the head to Popsy.

"No indeed, Mister Scott. She needs food and tranquility, otherwise, she seems undamaged. However..." Spock shot a side glance at McCoy. "...since you have brought your medikit, Doctor, and as you are such an expert as physical examinations, perhaps you should check this animal’s condition."

"Come on, Spock! I’m a doctor, not a—"

"A veterinarian?" interjected the captain glibly. "Of course, Doctor. We know that. But, judging by your vast experience with alien life-forms, like the flying parasites of Deneva, the Alfa 177 caninoids, tribbles, Hortas, et cetera, I’m relatively certain that you could—"

"Spock!" McCoy exploded. "You...you...you tricky Vulcan!" But as he glared suspiciously at the captain’s face (which was a study of bland innocence), the doctor perceived in the depth of those dark eyes something like an impish glint. He realized that, in retaliation for his previous leg-pulling, Spock was giving him a taste of his own blend of humor. Being a good sport, McCoy decided to play the game. Good-humoredly, he replied, "All right, all right, Captain. I see your point, but I’ll be damned if I know what the normal readings are for cats!"

Amidst the laughter and not-quite-audible jests of the crew, McCoy made a show at setting his tricorder calibration and waved the Feinberger over the animal held securely in the Vulcan’s arms.

Fascinated by the shiny, whirring object over her, Popsy assumed that she had a new toy and tried to catch it with her paw.

"Oh, no, you don’t! Naughty kitty!" the doctor exclaimed, whisking his scanner out of the cat’s reach. "You’re in a playful mood, aren’t you, my pretty?" he remarked and tickled the cat under its chin. It hadn’t taken Popsy long to bewitch the doctor as well.

"Well," McCoy went on in his most professional manner, "so far as I can see, there’s nothing wrong with this cat, except that she’s somewhat dehydrated and in need of a meal immediately. Is this your pet, young lady?"

Garrick stepped forward. "Yes, sir."

"I prescribe plenty of good, nutritional food three times a day and a constant supply of fresh water. But...I expect you already know that, don’t you?"

"Yes, Doctor. Thank you," Garrick replied.

"Okay then, take your pet and away with you...unless the captain...?"

Both the doctor and the cadet looked questioningly at the Vulcan, who favored them with an enigmatic glance. The captain said, "Your prescription has been duly noted. However, an important question remains: the unauthorized presence of this animal on this ship." He tilted an eyebrow in the direction of Commander Scott. "Since yours is the first concern, Chief Engineer, what do we generally do with stowaways?"

Taking his cue, Scott assumed his most sagacious look and shook his head. "Well, Cap’n, if we abide by a strict interpretation of the regulations..."

Waiting breathlessly for the verdict, Cadet Garrick glanced from the engineer to her pet. Popsy was blissfully unaware of her impending fate, and nestled coaxingly against the captain’s chest.

"The regulations indeed..." The Vulcan mused. "A moment ago, Mister Scott, you suggested the forcible ejection of the culprit out an airlock, did you not?"

At those words, Garrick’s heart missed a beat, and McCoy, who by now was wondering what the two officers were getting at, expostulated, "Look here, Spock! You can’t do that!"

"Doctor, a moment, please! Mister Scott?"

"Aye, sir. So I did. But..." With a reluctant grin, Scott patted the furry head, thus triggering at once another loud purr. "But, it seems a shame to do that to this bonnie creature, Captain. On the other hand, short of clapping her in the brig for the rest of the voyage, I don’t quite see..." With a meaningful glance, Scott left the decision to his commanding officer.

The Vulcan responded at once in Spockian mode, "Don’t you, Mister Scott? Then is an alternative acceptable for all parties concerned which might have escaped your attention."

"Sir?" Scott had obviously lost the thread.

"Indeed. Federation shipping regulations clearly state that, short of immediate expulsion, a stowaway caught in the act may, at the captain’s discretion, be required to work for his or her or its passage on the ship unduly boarded in lieu of charges being pressed."

A stunned silence ensued, followed by a burst of laughter and the doctor’s derisive comment: "Work? That’s a joke! How can you make this kitten work, Spock? The old days of wooden ships and clippers are gone, and there are no mice on starships...well, at least, not on Starfleet vessels."

"Quite right, Doctor," the Vulcan mildly replied, "but let me point out that a cat can be useful in many other ways, the least of which would be boosting morale. Furthermore, a free-spirited being such as this cat should not be kept in confinement. Therefore, I have decided to give it free run of the ship..."

"Beggin’ your pardon, Cap’n!" an anxious chief engineer objected. "You don’t mean to set the beastie loose upon the ship? What if she wanders into another Jefferies tube or access panel crawl way? She could wreak even more damage to this ship, and after I spent two years putting her back together again!"

"Unlikely, Mister Scott. The cat will carry at all times a transponder which your skilled team will devise and which the cat will wear on a collar made to her size. It will generate a warning to us if she attempts to enter a sensitive area of the ship and will issue her a mild electric charge to dissuade her from doing so."

In quick succession, the engineer’s scowl gave way to a grin, then to a puzzled look as he began to mentally design the device per the captain’s specifications.

His fingers toying with Popsy’s thick fur, the captain continued imperturbably, "As to whether or not she will attempt egress into those sections, I assure you that she is perfectly aware now that there are places where she must not go and things she must not do."

"It seems to me that you're taking an awful risk, Spock," McCoy remarked caustically. "Is it really safe to give such a destructive cat run of the ship? After what happened, it hardly seems the logical thing to do."

The captain merely favored the doctor with his best, long-suffering gaze while Popsy cozily nestled in his arms, purred on smugly. "I have faith in Mister Scott’s abilities to engineer the device in question, Doctor McCoy. It’s quite similar to various animal control techniques in use on Vulcan in our wildlife reservations. It’s also similar to pet control devices developed on Earth in the latter part of the Twentieth Century."

The captain turned to the young woman who was responsible for the presence of the stowaway. "Cadet Garrick," he said as he fixed a penetrating gaze upon the cadet standing at attention before him. "Here is your cat. Take good care of her, and keep Doctor McCoy’s recommendations in mind." He gently placed the reluctant Popsy into the arms of Joyce Garrick, who clasped her pet to her chest with obvious relief.

"Aye, sir. Thank you, sir!" she said with a tremulous smile.

"However," Spock went on solemnly, "you brought, without authorization, an animal aboard this vessel. You have twenty minutes to see to the needs of your cat. Then, report to my office. That is all for now. Dismissed."

Quailing inwardly at the prospect of her impending doom, Garrick turned about and made her escape on shaky legs.

Shaking his head, the doctor watched her go. "There goes the cause of all our troubles...amazing! Such a little thing, and such disastrous consequences! All the same, Spock, I hope that you won’t be too hard on that girl," he said, then turned and grinned suddenly.

Spock was conscientiously slipping his right arm back into the sling with the attentive assistance of the security chief. Caromandel carefully placed the heavy cloak she had picked up from the deck about his shoulders. Ignoring McCoy’s amused grin, the captain coolly said, "Thank you, Lieutenant. That is all for now. You may dismiss your detail." Then, looking at the doctor with perfect composure, he finally replied, "I shall do what is to be done, Doctor. No more, no less. If discipline is to be maintained on the—"

The bosun’s whistled stridently demanded attention. Scott stepped to the nearest intercom. "Yes...yes, my dear. He’s here. For you, Cap’n. It’s Uhura."

The Vulcan stepped forward. "Captain Spock here."

"Captain," Uhura’s voice filtered down, "I have just received a message from the Starfleet interceptor Daredevil. They’re en route from Starbase Six. They’ve transmitted the coordinates to the rendezvous. E.T.A. is thirteen hours."

"Good. I presume that Helm and Navigation have revised our course and speed accordingly?"

"Already done, Captain," she said with a short laugh.

"I expected no less, Commander. Thank you. If needed, I shall be in my office."

"Understood, sir. Er, Captain?"

"Yes, Commander?"

"May I ask...we’re wondering about the intruder. Has he been caught, sir?"

"You may, Commander. Tell the crew that the intruder has indeed been apprehended, and that the ship’s status will return to normalcy any time now."

"That’s good news, sir! But, what...or who...is it?" she asked, bursting with curiosity.

"The intruder? It is a carnivorous mammal, Commander. A splendid example of the species Felis domesticus sol. Gender: female."

"Wh-what?" Uhura sounded amused. "A cat?"

"Indeed," Spock replied patiently. "Any further questions, Commander?"

"Uh, no...sir. Just being curious," Uhura said in a daze.

"Understandable, Commander. Spock out." He turned to the officers and crew remaining in the corridor. "Anything the matter, gentlemen, ladies?"

"Well, you know what they say, Spock. Curiosity killed the cat!" quipped McCoy and the assembled crew burst into laughter.

Spock raised an eyebrow. "I would say that it very nearly did." And he strolled away, leaving the others helpless with laughter.


Confused, Cadet Joyce Garrick left the captain’s office and made her way to her quarters. She was so absorbed in her thoughts that she hardly noticed the few shipmates and fellow cadets who happened to pass by.

When at last she reached her cabin, she stopped short on the threshold and gasped in surprise; her room was crowded with people standing, sitting about or lying prone on the carpet. Vera Vatanen, Alison Gordon, Michel Kovac, Ferrier, Ramirez...all her friends were there, even Ensign O’Brien and Philip Kettenring...and—oh, Lord!—Commander Uhura herself, informally sitting cross-legged on the floor.

They were all having fun, playing with Popsy—a well-fed and glossy Popsy, sporting a new, bright red collar just delivered by a jocose crewman from Engineering, with the compliments of Commander Scott. What was more, Popsy was obviously enjoying the attention she was receiving from her admiring audience and the ball they were tossing to her. She was doing her very best to make an exhibition of herself.

In the midst of this excitement, someone spotted the young woman transfixed at the door, and with a cry of "There she is!" Garrick suddenly found herself hugged and plied with questions.

"What was it like, Joyce?"

"You poor girl!"

"Tell us! What did he say?"

She walked in and, suddenly feeling weak-kneed, sank gratefully into the nearest chair.

As if in a dream, she heard Uhura say briskly, "Wait a minute! Give her a moment! And someone had better get her a drink."

As she sipped tonic water and felt the tension gradually easy, Garrick heard Gordon ask with concern, "Joyce, are you all right?"

She heaved a sigh and looked up at her friend. "I...I believe so.... Sorry, but...Alison, what are you doing here?"

"The doctor released us from Sickbay, and said we can resume our duties tomorrow morning."

"To tell the truth," Kovac put in with a wink, "the doctor actually said that since we were doing fine and since we were turning Sickbay into a club for off-duty cadets, he might as well get rid of us tonight."

Commander Uhura chuckled softly and asked her trainee, "Feeling better, Joyce? You’re beginning to look more like yourself. Tell me...was it so very bad...in the captain’s office?"

"What do you mean? How did you know?" the young woman asked innocently.

They all laughed again. "Come on, Joyce! It’s all over the ship! What did you expect? You and your super-cat have become topic of the day!" explained Ferrier.

"Oh, no!"

"Oh, yes!" Uhura insisted. "I have been treated with four different versions of the tale of the stray cat, no less, and I don’t count that of the captain!" She smiled in retrospect. "When I heard that one of my trainees was involved and had been summoned to his quarters, I naturally came here to ascertain whether or not she had come out unscathed and in one piece!" She winked good-humoredly.

Garrick gave a rather self-conscious smile. "Well, I admit that when I walked into his office..." A ball of fur jumped into her lap, interrupting the tale. "Oh, there you are, my darling!" she breathed, cradling and kissing her pet. "And what a pretty collar!"

"Not only pretty, but also jolly effective," Gordon revealed. "Imagine—it’s fitted with a rubidium transponder so we can find her anywhere. It’s also got a micro-engineered transmitter that enables her to open doors to non-secure areas. Look! Let me show you!" Climbing to her feet, she took the cat over to the door, and as soon as Popsy got within range, a faint tinkle sounded, and the door slid open. The demonstration was met with claps and laughter.

"That is clever! Where did you get that?" asked Kettering, very much impressed.

"Mister Scott made it, especially for Popsy, on the captain’s instructions," Gordon proudly explained.

Uhura nodded. "Scotty is a wizard. He can make anything you like. I can’t tell you how many times he and Spock have saved the day with their ingenuity. But, speaking of the captain, what happened?"

"Don’t tell me that he got mad at you, because I won’t believe it!" Alison Gordon declared hotly to everyone’s amusement.

"Of course not," Uhura observed quietly. "It’s certainly not his way, although he can be pretty biting sometimes. But tell me, will this prank of yours have any effects on your rating for the Academy?"

The young woman nodded with a rueful smile. "A report of this entire mess will be added to my record, as well as a formal reprimand from the captain. All in all, though, I think I got off pretty lucky. He didn’t shout at me. On the contrary, he just looked at me with that air he has sometimes, so calm and austere. And those eyes...which make you feel he can read right through you, you know?"

"Don’t we, though? That’s when I wish I could sink through the floor," one of the other cadets said feelingly, echoed by murmurs of sympathy from everyone present.

"And then?" Ferrier prompted.

"He made me sit down and gave me a lecture."

"I’ll bet he did! With the exploits of your pet, what else could you expect?"

"No, you dolt! Not that kind of lecture! I mean a lecture, a talk, a discussion!"

"Oh?" Blank looks were traded around. "A lecture? And about what?"

Cadet Garrick took her breath: "Lots of things. Specifically, about our duties and responsibilities as sentient beings toward lesser lifeforms. About the rights of these lifeforms to our respect and our care. And especially about the illogical and disgraceful ways so many Humans have, in the past, considered themselves superior to other species and treated them with contempt and cruelty, to the point of extinction. He spoke, for instance, of the animals we Humans have used not only for food or comfort, but also for sport, fun and profit, in unspeakably bloody games which left them no chance to survive. He had much to say about it."

The trainees stirred uneasily at this recital, and young Ramirez muttered, "Sounds more like a sermon to me!"

Ensign O’Brien pointed out, "But that’s over now. Everyone knows that bullfights, cockfights, even most hunting has been banned for ages. Anyway, what has that got to do with you and your cat?"

"A lot," Garrick declared emphatically. "According to Spock, Humans have a deplorable tendency to regard our pets as toys to be handled, pampered, confined or discarded at will, regardless of their feelings and their needs. In short, he said that when we commit ourselves to any creatures we must assume full responsibility toward them. He also said that my Popsy here cares for me as much as I care for her, but she wants more freedom and privacy, and she hates to be locked in when I am away."

While listening to her trainee, Uhura was enjoying herself immensely. She could just imagine the Vulcan at his desk, his long hands poised in front of him, gravely discoursing to the wide-eyed cadet, who no doubt listened with awe-struck attention.

As for Garrick’s friends, they laughed in disbelief.

"You’re kidding!" exclaimed Ferrier.

"How does he know that anyway?" demanded Ramirez.

"Popsy told him!"


"Of all the crazy yarns..."

"It’s true, I tell you. He had telepathic contact with her down on H Deck. I saw it, and so did Mister Scott, the doctor and lots of others."

Commander Uhura intervened with a knowing smile. "Joyce is right. Don’t forget that our captain is a Vulcan, and that he has the ability to touch the minds of other beings when necessary. Not only with sentient beings, such as you or me. It’s an example of Vulcan philosophy: the total respect for all beings in their infinite diversity and the moral necessity to preserve life in its integrity. It’s what they call Reverence for Life. And in the case of Popsy, Spock probably judged that she can be trusted with the run of the ship, providing certain precautions are observed, naturally. He must know that she will behave herself!" she laughed.

"Well," O’Brien wondered, "I never realized that Vulcans were so sensitive and considerate. I’m glad to know that."

"It’s because you don’t know Spock!" bright-eyed Alison Gordon declared. "If you were in his class, that wouldn’t surprise you. All his students can tell you that, for all his cold ways, he has a great deal of compassion and understanding, can’t you?"

Kovac and Vatanen agreed loudly.

"You’re very perceptive, my dear," smiled Uhura, "but let me tell you something which explains his reaction to this lovely kitten. When Spock was a child on his home planet, he had a pet..." And to the spellbound cadets, the commander unfolded the tale of the Vulcan boy and his sehlat, I’Chaya. "...So," she concluded, "I hope that this story will do away with any preconceptions some of you might have had about ‘cold, emotionless, heartless’ Vulcans. A Vulcan has a heart, but he chooses not to display it for all to see."

The response was all Uhura could hope for, but what pleased her most was Cadet Lawrence’s remark: "That’s exactly what I keep telling my father, but he can be so prejudiced sometimes!"

Uhura pricked up her ears. "Your father? How interesting! He wouldn't be, by any chance, a rather short man, fair like you, and a friend of Admiral Kraft?" she asked casually.

"Yes, ma’am. That’s him! Do you know him?" the young man eagerly asked.

"No, not personally, but I happened to meet him not long ago. Anyhow, Cadet, keep up the good work, and tell your father that Captain Spock is not the cold-blooded alien he imagines. As Alison told you, when you get to know him better, you realize what a special person Spock really is." Her smile, the soft gleam in her eyes told them more than words of the precious memories she treasured.

The spell was broken by a grudging remark from Ramirez. "Well, all I can say, Joyce, is that you are really lucky to have a cat which obviously bewitched the captain. I mean...all you got for a penalty was a lecture on Animal Rights. You certainly managed to get away with it!"

"I did not!" the outraged woman protested. "And Popsy has nothing to do with it! Don’t run away with the idea that Spock didn’t impose a sanction, because he did!"

"He did?" They sat up in breathless expectation.

"He definitely did. He said that to be effective, a sanction must compensate for the offense and that confinement to my quarters would only be a waste of my time which should be better employed in intensive training. But..." She drew a deep breath. "...he also said that my illicit actions, particularly the smuggling of my pet, called for disciplinary retribution. The captain has ordered me to re-read the Starfleet directives regarding the transport of lower lifeforms, the Starfleet Discipline Manual, and come up with a one megabyte report on the history of the pertinent regulations, an examination of the policy, guidelines to prevent others from doing what I did, and propose a series of punishments for violation of those regulations. I am also to prepare guidelines for allowing the establishment of a ship’s pet for Starfleet vessels."

In the stunned silence which ensued, the sweet voice of Vera Vatanen piped up, "Oh, Joyce! You poor girl! How...awful!!!"

At once, this comment triggered a riotous gale of laughter and exclamations.

Uhura, who had listened to the trainee’s recital of her punishment with secret amusement, said in a rallying tone, "Cheer up, my dear. It’s not so drastic, you know. After all, Spock could’ve issued a much more severe sanction. He had every right to considering the damage caused by your pet. Now, far be it from me to hazard an opinion on the captain’s decision, but I’d say that it’s a pure product of Vulcan logic with a soupçon of Spockian humor for good measure. Besides, it sounds as if the punishment fits the crime. Don’t you agree?"

As she was endowed with a fair sense of humor, Joyce Garrick could only agree as her friends made fun over the whole affair. Besides, such a report might actually prove interesting.

About an hour later, in the quiet of the night, Garrick switched off her computer terminal and stretched herself wearily. Starfleet regulations were not exactly leisure reading, especially at this late hour.

As she made ready for bed, she noticed that the light was still on in the room next door. Peeping around the door, she found Alison Gordon sitting on the carpet, apparently deep in communion with Popsy. The cat was curled up on the bed quilt, paws and tail neatly tucked in.

"What on Earth are you doing? Engaging in telepathy with Popsy?"

"I wish I could," Gordon murmured dreamily. "I wish she could tell, and if she would tell us what happened when Spock touched her mind. I wonder what he told her."

"I wish I knew, too." Garrick agreed, looking at her pet. Like a diminutive sphinx, the cat was gazing enigmatically at the cadets. "Anyhow, whatever Spock told her, I’ve never seen Popsy so attracted to anyone as she is to Spock. I don’t know if that’s due to some magnetism he has as a Vulcan, but it’s certainly effective!"

"Whatever it is, it’s seductive, Joyce. I wouldn’t mind being swept off my feet by the captain!" Gordon said wistfully.

"I bet you wouldn’t!"

Their eyes met, and all at once, the two cadets burst into an irresistible fit of giggling.


November 17th 2278

The bridge was humming with efficient activity, doubled by a certain expectation, when the turbolift doors opened revealing the three senior officers in a deep discussion.

As they stepped onto the deck, Commander Scott was heard to declare, "Still looks to me as nutty as a Dundee cake, Captain. I reckon it will take some doing for your specialists to rid him of his delusions."

"Our healers have proved their skill in worse cases than that of Xantar, Mister Scott. I am confident in the successful outcome of their therapy, although it may take quite some time," Spock replied as he moved to the lower deck.

"Well," began the doctor as he leaned on a railing, "now Xantar’s case will be under Vulcan responsibility, and that’s a good thing. If your healers succeed where standard therapy has failed, so much the better. I wish them luck!"

The Vulcan refrained from comment, assumed his unreadable mask, and sat down in the center seat just vacated by the chief science officer. "Status, Mister Schwarzenberg?"

"Sensor scans have detected a Federation interceptor-class starship at a distance of forty-two billion kilometers and closing, sir. Rendezvous in one hour at our present speed. We already have audio contact."

"Thank you, Lieutenant. Mister DeSalle, prepare to reduce speed to Warp Factor One in fifteen minutes."

"Aye, sir. Warp Factor One in fifteen minutes."

Hand on her earjack, Uhura was listening intently to ship-to-ship frequencies. Presently, she turned from her board. "I have contact with the Daredevil, sir," she announced. "Shall I open a channel?"

"By all means, Commander."

"Daredevil!" snorted McCoy. "What a name for a starship!"

"On the contrary, quite appropriate, Doctor," Spock dryly remarked. "The interceptor class is designed for the pursuit and interception of enemy or alien starships, as well as intelligence gathering."

"Oh, you mean it’s an interceptor? Well, you may be right if half of what I’ve heard is true. They assign all the crackpots of Starfleet to those high-speed destroyers. And half of them are under the auspices of Starfleet Intelligence."

Spock raised an eyebrow in reply as Uhura called, "Enterprise calling Daredevil. Do you read us?"

Suddenly, in a crackle of static, the answer came through, "This is Daredevil. We read you, Enterprise. Please stand by."

After a brief pause, another voice took over, a voice which to the communications officer seemed vaguely familiar. "Enterprise...is that Uhura? The unique, inimitable Uhura?"

Taken aback, she replied somewhat sharply, "It is. Please identify yourself."

The voice chuckled. "I would have known your sweet voice anywhere. It’s a joy to hear you in this God-forsaken sector of the quadrant. Don’t you remember me, Uhura?"

By that time, the bridge was astir with mirth and curiosity, and the captain, with one quizzical eyebrow raised toward his hairline, swiveled his chair and looked up at the nonplused commander.

"Don’t you know your friends when you hear them, Uhura? You can’t identify the voice?" he inquired.

Confused and intrigued, she stared at Spock. All of a sudden, she brightened and exclaimed, "Of course! That voice! I should have known! Kevin, is that you?"

"Who else, my dear?"

"What are you doing on that interceptor?" she asked, swiftly running nimble fingers over her keyboard.

DeSalle spun around, wide-eyed. "Kevin? Out there? No one’s seen much of him since the Serenidad Tragedy!"

"Visual, Commander Uhura," Spock quietly ordered, nodding to the mainviewer. As they watched, the star-studded spacescape shimmered away, and the bridge of the Daredevil flickered into view. The jovial face of Kevin Thomas Riley, who was in the center seat, was grinning ear to ear.

"Kevin Riley! I’ll be damned!" breathed Doctor McCoy.

"You were right, Doctor," Montgomery Scott whispered sotto voce with a wink. "They do recruit crackpots for interceptors!"


Aboard the Daredevil, Riley was genially surveying the Enterprise bridge, looking for his former shipmates. "Captain Spock! My regards, Captain. Glad to see you again. And DeSalle, old chap! Back at the helm instead of Engineering. I see Mister Scott and Doctor McCoy, of course! Where would the Enterprise be without the two of you? And Uhura! I haven’t seen you since you left for that tour of duty aboard the Sadat. Since you asked, my dear, what I’m doing here is serving as first officer of the Daredevil, and I can tell you that..."

"Mister Riley," Spock said firmly to quench the prattle of the Irishman. "May I speak to your captain?"

"Impossible, Captain," said Riley with a grin. "Captain Trendall is in bed with a viral infection, and as pleasant as a bear with a sore head. So, I am temporarily in command. Sorry, sir."

"Indeed? Quite unfortunate. I meant to invite him and his officers to beam over here."

"Sorry, sir, but nobody can see him. Our C.M.O. is keeping him in medical quarantine. She is quite a Tartar when it comes to contagious diseases and medical quarantine regulations."

"And she’s damn right!" McCoy put in approvingly. "You don’t want to see all your crew stricken with a viral infection, do you? What virus is it, do you know, Riley? Is it Rigelian, Denebian, or what?"

"I’m afraid I don’t know, Doctor. You’d better asked Gertie. She mentioned it was a rather rare infection..."

"Why don’t you contact their chief medical officer, Doctor?" Spock suggested. "She might be interested in your advice, and our labs are better equipped than an interceptor’s sickbay."

"That’s exactly what I intend to do, Spock. I might even pay a house call to their captain, with your permission, of course." McCoy strode purposefully to the turbolift and departed.

"Commander Riley, as soon as we are within transporter range, Doctor McCoy would like to beam aboard and meet your ship’s surgeon and see if he can help. I also would like to extend an invitation for you to visit the Enterprise. I believe some of your former fellow officers would appreciate such a visit."

"Why...thank you, Captain! That would be great! Would you, er, allow me to bring some of my shipmates with me? They’re dying to take a look at the Enterprise."

"Certainly, Mister Riley. They will be quite welcome. Regarding the transfer of our prisoner, I recommend you send over a security team with your more experienced officers. Mister Xantar is somewhat...difficult at times."

"Noted, sir. We’ll transmit coordinates in due time."

"Agreed, Commander. Spock out." Riley watched as Captain Spock motioned to Uhura, and the starry field of space reappeared on the screen.


An impromptu party was in progress in the G Deck Rec Deck. For the last hour or so, the Daredevil officers had been taken on a VIP tour of the Enterprise by Commanders Uhura and DeSalle, and were, as a result, duly impressed by the repairs and improvements made to the cruiser during the extensive refit following the Serenidad Tragedy. In particular, they were amazed by the facilities provided for the comfort and entertainment of the crew.

They were now relaxing in the easy chairs of the lounge in the company of Riley’s former colleagues. As a vast choice of drinks and goodies was handed around, the convivial gathering was perceptibly becoming more and more lively, and the arrival of Montgomery Scott and some of his team had raised the decibel level a notch or two.

Naturally, the presence of the interceptor, which everyone could plainly see through the view ports, had roused the curiosity of the crew. The beaming aboard of some of the interceptor’s officers had caused many, on one pretext or another, to find their way to the Rec Deck to take a peek at the Daredevil’s command team.

As was to be expected, and after a vivid account of patrol duties, embroidered with hair-raising details for good measure, the conversation drifted to the Enterprise’s eventful career and the first five year mission under the command of James T. Kirk. Scott, of course, did not fail to remind Kevin Riley of the part he had played in the Psi 2000 episode when, infected by a virus of that dying world, crewmembers had gone berserk and endangered the ship. The chief engineer had his audience in stitches as he described Riley singing at the top of his voice in Engineering while Sulu was chasing everyone in sight at the point of his sword. It felt good to all concerned to laugh about an event which, at the time, had been dramatic enough.

Riley and his fellow officers were then told all about the abortive hijacking of the ship, and the thrilling climax aboard the shuttlecraft which had led to the capture of Xantar and, consequently, to their rendezvous with the Enterprise.

In the midst of all this, Doctor McCoy arrived, escorting a middle-aged, no-nonsense-looking woman, who, at the sight of the jolly party, pulled a faced and dryly uttered, "Oh, there you are...downing liquor, as usual. I might have known."

This stale joke was received with the usual tittering, and she was introduced as Gertie Anderson, Chief Medical Officer of the Daredevil. Given a drink, a chair and a warm welcome, in spite of her brusque ways, she joined the party. She was obviously very popular with the interceptor’s crew.

The two physicians reported Captain Trendall’s condition to be Altairean Spru, not life threatening but certainly highly contagious and very unpleasant. The antiviral drugs provided by the Enterprise’s vast medical laboratories were already improving his condition. Doctor Anderson was about to make a sly remark when, suddenly, she was startled, gave a squeak, and all but dropped her glass of Romulan ale. "Gracious!" she cried, looking down. "What is that? Why, it’s a cat!" She stared in surprise at the gracious tabby cat rubbing against her leg and gazing up at her out of amber eyes.

"A cat!" Riley was taken aback. "Since when have you had a cat on the Enterprise?"

Naturally, Popsy was duly introduced and her adventures described with a wealth of details.

"...and," noted Uhura, "it all turned out for the best. She’s fast becoming the ship’s pet. She’s so cute, and everyone likes her."

"Actually," DeSalle added, "there are very few cat-haters on board, and she’s so smart she soon found them out and stays out of their way."

"Really, who could hate such a lovely kitten?" protested Gertie Anderson, while petting the glossy fur. "What’s her name? Popsy? Very pretty."

"Actually, the crew has taken to calling her Tinkerbell because of that collar rigged by Scotty. It tinkles to open the doors!" DeSalle explained.

"As you can see, Doctor," McCoy remarked to his colleague, "our engineering department has nothing better to do than manufacture fancy articles for pets."

"Captain’s order, Leonard," Scott smilingly pointed out.

"Was it?" Doctor Anderson was intrigued. "I was just going to ask...your captain, how did he take it?"

"In his stride!" grinned DeSalle.

"Did he really? A cat on the ship? You’re lucky. Our captain would’ve kicked up a rumpus!"

"Sure!" Riley chuckled. "Trendall would’ve raised Hell just at the idea. No time for a pet on an interceptor. But still...I am rather surprised at Spock. I mean..."

"Are you, Kevin? I thought you knew him better," Uhura remarked. "Do you know what he said to my trainee whose cat Popsy is? He said animals are entitled to our respect and must be treated with tact and consideration ...or words to that effect."

"Well...somehow I didn’t imagine Spock like that. I don’t know..."

"Actually," McCoy revealed, "it all comes down to the plain fact that our Vulcan is so taken with that cat, and vice versa, that one wonders who has seduced whom." Bursts of laughter answered his statement. "No...I’m not kidding. You can ask anyone aboard. Those two have become practically inseparable, haven’t they?"

"Quite right," DeSalle nodded. "For instance, you should see our captain when he goes on his beat at night, after his shift. That’s a habit he has...haunting the ship like the ghost of the Cantervilles! Well, most of the time now you see him prowling the corridors with that kitten trotting and capering at his heels. Quite a sight, I can tell you!"

"I can well imagine!" Gertie Anderson smiled and gently began to stroke Popsy’s head as the cat lay cozily snuggled in Uhura’s lap. "She’s a dear. I love cats, you know. I wish we could have one, too, on the Daredevil."

"I’m afraid you don’t stand a chance, Doctor, if Captain Trendall feels that way," Uhura told her. "On the contrary, here, this little lady is a VIP, the captain’s darling, aren’t you, my pet?"

Popsy suddenly jumped down on the deck, and was swiftly sneaking away across the lounge, tail raised up like a banner.

"Hey!" Uhura said. "What’s the matter? Where are you going?"

"Ahem," Scott cleared his throat. He shot a warning glance toward the lounge entrance.

There, hands locked behind his back, stood the captain, a study of Vulcan inscrutability, coolly surveying the assembly. But to judge by the tilt of a fastidious eyebrow, Spock’s ears had apparently not missed much of the Humans’ loud conversation.

As the officers hastily got to their feet, McCoy felt bound to do his grouching act. "Damn it, Spock! I wish you'd quit that habit of yours of creeping up on people’s backs and taking them unaware. You always manage to give me a guilt complex."

"Do I, Doctor?" asked the Vulcan in all innocence. "I find this most gratifying." He stooped to give a light pat to the purring cat which was rubbing at his boots, apparently indifferent to the officers’ chuckles.

"Won’t ye join us for a drink, Captain?" offered Commander Scott.

Spock unfolded his long frame and straightened. "Thank you, Mister Scott, but I must decline. I regret having to interrupt this social gathering, but the prisoner is ready for transfer and waiting with the security squad. I suggest that we proceed to the transporter room."

"Certainly, Captain," Doctor Anderson readily replied. "Alas, all good things must come to an end."

"Indeed, Doctor, when duty calls. Mister Riley?" Spock handed him a pack of disks. "Here are copies of our reports on the Xantar case, including evidence given by the hostages. They are to be delivered to the commander of the starbase and to the head of the medical team from Vulcan."

"They will be without fail, sir, as soon as we reach the base," assured Kevin Riley. "Thank you for the party. It’s been great to see you all again, after all these years."

Spock acknowledged this with a curt nod, and led the way out. The others from the Daredevil trooped behind him as the Enterprise officers walked with them, wishing to see their guests off in the transporter room.

After the deflated "El Libertador"—closely guarded by half a dozen security officers—had finally sparkled from existence and the Daredevil officers had waved goodbye from the transporter platform, Montgomery Scott, who had personally supervised the transportation, expressed his opinion with a deep sigh of relief.

"Well, I don’t know about you, but I am damn glad we are rid of that blighter, and I hope that’s the last we’ll ever see of him."

"Probably, Mister Scott, but only time will tell," Spock quietly replied. Turning to the intercom, he called the bridge.

"DeSalle here, Captain," came the reply.

"Mister DeSalle, take us out on course one-one mark four, Warp Factor Three, if you please."

"Aye, sir. Course eleven mark four."

It was left to Doctor McCoy to have the last word: "And that is that!" he commented on the way out. "Now for a nice, relaxed, uneventful cruise. That’s what I was promised, and that’s all I ask for!"

November 18th 2278

That morning, as Doctor McCoy poured himself a cup of coffee, he reflected complacently that Jim Kirk, after all, had been right. All things considered... training cruises offered good points...provided that no unforeseen mishap, no intruder (biped or otherwise) turned up to "disrupt the smooth running of the ship," in Starfleet parlance.

Having selected a buttered slice of toast and spread it lavishly with genuine Dundee marmalade (a present from Scotty), McCoy munched pensively while sorting the files piled on his desk. For the last few days, he had gotten into the habit of spending the early mornings at work in his quarters, assuming that people who used to walk breezily in his office at any time would think twice before barging into his private sanctum. Here, at least, he hoped to have some peace and quiet to sort out data, and draw up the reports he was requested to deliver to Spock before the end of the week.

Another ten days, and the voyage would be over. Amazing how fast time had slipped by, now that things had finally settled down to a nice, well-ordered routine...and that was just what everyone needed: to take it easy after the commotion of the first hectic days.

When all was said and done, they had been downright lucky to come unscathed out of the hijacking episode, and he had to hand it to Spock; the Vulcan had once again turned up trumps in a situation which was pretty desperate, to say the least. Of course, with his propensity for understatement, Spock had spoken of... "extreme adverse conditions"! You bet! Anyhow, they sure had had a narrow escape, but, Thank God, the crew was none the worse for the incident, and one and all were in peak condition and high spirits.

Even the incident with the cat had turned out for the best. That animal was a joy, and a wonderful asset for the morale of the crew, and McCoy grudgingly admitted that the Vulcan had there also scored a point in giving that cat freedom of the ship. Might be worth while to keep pets on board starships...why not? He could recommend the idea in his medical log. The doctor chuckled at the thought, which reminded him of the revelation he and DeSalle had overhead on the Rec Deck just the day before.

An excited yeoman had disclosed to a captivated audience the secret retreat of the cat. When she was not playing with the crew or begging for tidbits in the officers’ mess, Popsy was fast asleep in the captain’s quarters...and on the captain’s pillow! The news had been confirmed by Radcliff from Security, who had explained that they could trace Tinkerbell (alias Popsy) wherever she went by a simple glance at their monitors.

The crewmembers’ hilarity had turned into unbridled mirth when DeSalle had dryly commented, "Logical, Yeoman. Cats are clever and comfort-loving creatures. Therefore, where else could Popsy find the warmth and tranquility she needs but the captain’s quarters, which moreover, offer the advantage of never being locked!"

McCoy himself had clinched the matter by saying, straight-faced, "You have a point there, Commander, but, in my opinion, there’s more than that. It’s a unusual attraction to pointed ears."

That had set the Rec Deck roaring with laughter.

When McCoy had teased him about his new pet, the unruffled Vulcan had calmly parried with a logical reason of his own: "True, Doctor. Cats have an innate sense of comfort, but even more a craving for tranquility, particularly on board a vessel peopled with a large majority of loud and emotional Humans. Her predilection for my restful quarters is quite logical."

This reflection of Spock brought McCoy back to his work. After a last cup of coffee, he pushed his tray away and began to tackle his reports in earnest. For a while, quietness prevailed in the office, punctuated by the occasional rustle of papers, the faint hum of the BellComm unit on his desk and the doctor’s muttered commentaries as he delved into his notes and records. Eventually, he came upon a file which brought a deep frown on his brow.

"Vatanen," he grunted as he flipped through the pages of the dossier. "Damn, I’d better see Spock about her. Let’s see...psych-tests are still far below satisfactory...liable to sudden mood swings, to bouts of depression and tears... Well, it’s obvious that the cause of her condition is that damned Science Officer, but I can’t put that in my report...unless...I’d better ask Spock! That poor girl is his student, and ultimately his responsibility. He should make the decision about Schwarzenberg. Okay, I’ve got to see Spock, and the sooner, the better!"

With those words, McCoy tossed the Vatanen disk on his desk and peered at his wall chronometer. It was still early, and Spock was probably in his quarters, he decided. He reached for the BellComm and punched in the captain’s private code.

No reply. He tried once again and waited. Still no reply from Spock. Then McCoy called the officers’ mess.

"No," replied someone, "the captain has not come in yet."

Puzzled, the doctor considered giving up, then tried the labs where Spock was known to work sometimes, before his watch. But there was no answer either from the labs.

"Damn," cursed the doctor, "where the heck is that damned Vulcan? Gone to the bridge already?"

But the captain was not on the bridge. "Too early, Doctor. Still another forty-five minutes until the next watch," he was obligingly informed by the smiling Ensign O’Brien.

"I’m well aware of the time, young man!" McCoy cut in crossly. "But I’ve called around the ship and can’t find him anywhere. He hasn’t abandoned ship, has he?"

There was a pause during which he perceived giggles and discussion in the background, then the ensign reappeared on the screen.

"Did you try the gym, sir?" O’Brien asked.

"The gym? Spock? No, I didn’t."

"I think you should, Doctor. The captain is probably there with Mister DeSalle. They usually are at this hour."

"Oh? Okay, thank you." McCoy, somewhat mystified, switched off the BellComm unit. Spock and DeSalle in the gym? Well, since Jim’s no longer around, why not? Kirk and Spock used to meet early in the morning for regular workouts, with sometimes appalling consequences–like the time when Spock had practically squashed his captain in a punishing V’Asumi grip which had left Jim Kirk sore for a couple of days!

Hard to imagine, though, the stocky figure of the helmsman opposed in a sparring match to the crushing strength of the Vulcan. Anyway, Spock was unavailable right now. The Vatanen report would have to wait, but only until the earliest opportunity that he could corner the elusive Vulcan and thrash out that Vatanen problem with him.

McCoy was taking another file when an idea came to his mind. "Wait a minute! A workout between DeSalle and Spock might be worth watching. Yes...and that report might be a good excuse.... Good God!" The doctor sat up abruptly as another idea flashed in. "Spock! In a rough and tumble! With his bones barely healed! Is he out of his Vulcan mind? He might end up badly hurt! Frankly, that Vulcan is impossible!" And, in a state of fuming exasperation, Doctor McCoy jumped to his feet and stomped out.


Down on G Deck, the doctor found the ship gymnasium bustling with early morning activity and a physical training session for one-third of the cadets aboard. On the way in, he gave a glance through the transparent aluminum bay to the Zero-G Chamber where a number of trainees were practicing free-fall combat and obviously having quite a good time in the process.

At the main hall, McCoy paused in the doorway and watched with interest the cadets engaged in close-combat exercises, wrestling, karate, aikido, et cetera. Some cadets in white tunics were grappling and rolling gracefully on the mats under the watchful eyes and to the crisp instructions of a Junoesque chief security officer, clad in a tight-fitting gym suit which revealed her figure to perfection. Naturally, McCoy took time to pause and admire the scene, and especially Caromandel.

"Care to join us, Doctor?" asked Killicranky, passing by with a towel wrapped about his neck.

"Me? You must be joking, Killy. That’s no game for an old country doctor. I’m content just watching the spectacle."

Following his gaze, Killy stage whispered, "Sure! Quite an eyeful, isn’t she?" and winked.

"Huh? Er, yeah. As a matter of fact, I rather like that emerald green whatsit the lady is wearing...contrasts her red hair nicely, doesn’t it?"

"Yes, indeed. Pretty color!" Killicranky shot a side-glance at the doctor and laughed. "Tut, tut, tut, Doctor. Come on!"

"Well, to tell you the truth," confided McCoy in a jovial mood, "I haven’t come here to ogle the ladies but to find Spock. I was told he might be here."

"That’s right. He and Vince DeSalle are down there, and they’ve been at it hammer and tongs for the last half-hour." The lieutenant nodded to the far section specially equipped for athletic training.

McCoy’s misgiving came back full tilt. "Damn! I hope that I won’t find them falling to pieces," he exclaimed.

Killicranky gave him a quizzical look. "No need to worry about them, Doctor. They’re all right. At least, ten minutes ago, they were still alive and kicking!" Still chuckling, the chief operations officer went off toward the changing cubicles.

Watching him go, McCoy muttered, "That remains to be seen."

He turned about and picked his way through the wrestling groups to the far end of the gymnasium. There, the doctor was somewhat surprised to find that the elaborate fittings of the room were practically deserted. And no sign of Spock... or of DeSalle, for that matter.

On the other hand, there seemed to be something interesting happening next door, for about a dozen crewmembers and cadets were clustered in the doorway and looking on with passionate attention.

"What’s going on here?" Quite intrigued, McCoy elbowed his way to the front line and gaped with surprise.

On a raised platform fitted with a sound-proof coating, two light-footed figures, in white from head to foot, were engaged in a furious, all out combat. They bounded, lunged and parried with cat-like agility. In a clinking and flashing of steel, their shimmering close-fitting suits and visored helmets gave them a ghost-like appearance.

At first, the doctor just stood and watched, fascinated by the virtuosity and elegance of the performance, until he realized that the duelists–Spock and DeSalle–were not using foils with buttons on, but long steel blades which looked mighty dangerous to him.

"Hey! Will somebody tell me what kind of stunt is this? That’s not fencing! They’ll cut each other to ribbons before long at this rate!"

The onlookers merely smiled. One of the cadets, dressed in a fencing suit, kindly explained, "Have no fear, Doctor. They can’t get hurt. See that luminescent aura around them? That’s a forcefield."

"Oh, I see," said McCoy, feeling much like a philistine among initiates. "Something like the old life-support belts used to be?"

"Yes, but better. This forcefield not only deflects but also monitors the slightest touch, then relays that information to the computer. The scores are then displayed on the panel which you see there." The young man pointed at a wall monitor.

"Clever! An idea of the captain, I presume?"

"Right, sir," replied another cadet. "He devised this protective system with Mister Scott to avoid any possible accident, particularly in this kind of swordplay."

"I should think so! Well, I must say that I’ve never seen anything like this," McCoy remarked. A side glance informed him that he was probably the only one in the room who hadn’t as most of the cadets and crew around him were wearing fencing attire and watching, with the rapt attention of novices, the sword-fight enacted by their senior officers.

"What type of duel is this anyway? Can anyone tell me?" McCoy asked sotto voce, impressed by the reverence with which they watched the spectacle.

"That’s what they call D’Alik’Tal," he was informed confidentially. "Something very special, Doctor, and you will never have a chance to see it practiced outside of Vulcan...except on the Enterprise, of course."

"Vulcan, is it? Can’t say that I’m surprised. Funny that peace-loving people like the Vulcans have such a fancy for murderous weapons!" McCoy commented dryly. "But why two? I mean, why a sword and a dagger?"

"That’s special to D’Alik’Tal, Doctor. In a way, it’s similar to sixteenth century duels in Europe, fought with rapier and dagger."

"Oh...and these blades are also Vulcan, I suppose?"

"Only the captain’s weapons are original, from his private collection, I’m told. But when Mister DeSalle asked if he could teach him D’Alik’Tal, the captain had Engineering replicate him a set, especially designed for Mister DeSalle, that are made of a lighter alloy."

"No one but the captain can handle that long sword he has," a young female cadet put in. "Not even Mister Scott, who said it was longer and heavier than a claymore."

The first cadet put in, "I tried, but I could hardly lift it from the deck." He chuckled self-consciously.

"And you’re all in DeSalle’s fencing class, I presume?" McCoy glanced around at the earnest faces.

"Aye, sir," they proudly exclaimed. "We’re the Enterprise Fencing Club."

The doctor definitely had the impression of being introduced to some sort of secret society. "Delighted!" he responded with a grin. "But that...what’s its name? D’Alik’Tal? Have you done it yet?"

The cadets and crew present traded sheepish glances and shook their heads. The young woman spoke up. "Not yet, Doctor. It’s much too difficult. Only a professional like Spock can do that. Mister DeSalle, despite being well-versed in swordsmanship, would’ve been chopped to pieces if it weren’t for the skill Mister Spock has."

"I remember when Sulu first introduced DeSalle to fencing a dozen years ago," McCoy remarked. His eyes fixed on the tall figure of Spock who, with consummate skill, was calmly parrying the head-long lunges of his opponent. "I’d never have guessed that he would’ve kept it up after leaving the Enterprise."

"Commander DeSalle is practically a master swordsman, sir," answered another cadet. From what I understand, three years ago, when he went aboard the Yorktown as its chief engineer, he had a Vulcan assistant chief engineer that introduced him to it."

"Is that so? Yet another Vulcan tradition!"

"Well, actually not many Vulcans can fight D’Alik’Tal nowadays," one of the cadets told him. "From what the captain said, it’s an ancient, pre-Reform type of duel which has only survived in some Vulcan athletic Academies and is rarely practiced. Commander DeSalle’s assistant was an expert in it."

"Seems to me that your instructor is an expert, too, the way he goes! How long have they been doing it? And who wins generally?" McCoy asked, cocking an eyebrow.

The cadets and crew near him chuckled. "Commander DeSalle’s been practicing with his former assistant for three years. Spock has been practicing off and on for a much longer time. As for winning, it depends. For instance, today the scores are about even," explained the female cadet.

"Yes, but the captain is not giving it his full effort," the young man argued. "Just you watch. If he decides to take it up a notch..."

"I know, but mark my word, one day, DeSalle will manage to beat him!"

"Oh, come on, Ted!" And the two cadets launched themselves into a heated argument which sounded to the doctor like the passionate discussions that holovid fans have about the merits of their respective idols.

Anyhow, McCoy could verify that his uneasiness about Spock’s physical condition was totally unfounded. It was obvious that the Vulcan kept his fabulous power in check by the superb ease with which he parried and counterattacked the relentless thrusts of the impetuous helmsman. As he observed the two officers in full action, the doctor realized that, in spite of their physical disparity, they were equally matched in their feline grace and steely stamina. Yes, he had to admit that this sword-fight was a beautiful, stylish demonstration, and a perfect education in self-control and physical dexterity for these youngsters.

However, just as the doctor was intently watching, the duel was abruptly interrupted. Both men lowered their swords and stood facing one another at parade rest.

"Ah, now... What’s up? Is it over?" McCoy inquired.

"No, not yet. The captain is probably giving a pointer or two to Mister DeSalle. Yes, look, Doctor. He’s teaching him how to block that lunge with his dagger and to simultaneously give a backhand thrust with the sword. Wow, that’s going to be tricky! There, now. Yes, that’s it! He’s got it!"

The cadets and crew present clapped.

"Now what I’d like to know is how they can discuss anything with those helmets on. I didn’t hear a word they said," complained the doctor.

"Simple, Doctor. There's a comm unit in the helmets," he was told kindly.

"Oh, yes. Of course. Stupid of me. I might’ve guessed," confessed McCoy who was feeling decidedly out of touch.

But the match had been resumed. Spock led it at such a breathless pace that, within a minute, they had the assembly shouting. Even McCoy found himself sharing the excitement. Suddenly, in a jarring clash of steel against steel, the dagger was snatched from DeSalle’s grasp to fly up and clatter against the ceiling.

"A tractor beam," explained a cadet. "A weapon flung into the viewing crowd would be a hazard to life and limb."

Spock drew back and lowered his weapons. Both men stood and panted. They traded salutes with their swords, switched off their personal forcefields and stepped down to be greeted by the enthusiastic fencing club.

Having pushed up his visor, DeSalle, hot and disheveled, looked at the scores and grinned. "I say! That’s not too bad!"

"Quite satisfactory, Mister DeSalle. Your technique is improving steadily." Spock removed his gloves and helmet and delivered them to an attendant with the stateliness of a grand dignitary. "Thank you, Yeoman. Kindly put these and Mister DeSalle’s away in their locker. Ah, Doctor...I was not aware of your interest in the martial arts."

McCoy shrugged. "I’m certainly not interested in throat-cutting games, but I’ve got to admit that this exhibition of yours has taken my breath away. DeSalle, you were terrific. Must be tough to stand up against that Vulcan!"

"Thank you, Doctor." DeSalle was delighted. "Yes, it was certainly tough, but it was fantastic, especially when you raised the pace, Spock. My word! I was hard put to keep up with you."

"You did very well, so well, in fact, that next time, we will test a few variations on that move. If you are willing, of course..."

"Of course, Captain. I’m ready for anything."

The captain nodded and reached for the wall comm panel. "Engineering... Mister Scott? Have you checked the photon torpedo launch tubes as scheduled? Have them ready for testing and report to the bridge in fifteen minutes. Thank you. Spock out."

Leaving DeSalle and his class to discuss the bout at length, the Vulcan went off to the changing cubicles. McCoy was out his side. "Spock, do you have a few minutes to spare? I’d like a word with you about my reports. Actually, you know, that’s what I came here for."

Spock nodded and walked into one of the cubicles. "There’s no time now for your reports, Doctor, but come to my office after shift, and we shall see about them at leisure."

The doctor grunted assent.

In one fluid movement, the Vulcan unzipped his white suit and stripped, then stepped into the sonic shower.

"One more minute, Spock!"

Hand poised over the shower control, Spock looked around inquiringly.

McCoy was still there. Arms folded, he was leaning against the doorframe and was inspecting with clinical scrutiny the lean body of the Vulcan.

A trifle impatient, Spock asked, "Well, what else, Doctor?"

"Just wanted to check, Captain. Remember, I’m the doctor here. I know that you drive yourself more than is good for you, and those bones are barely knitted. Do you feel any strain, any pain at all?"

"None at all, Doctor. Quite the contrary, these exercises have done much to relieve the stiffness I felt from having been encased in that cast. Now, could you provide me with some privacy so that I can take a shower?"

"Hmm, all I can say is that you’re lucky not to have anything dislocated. Try not to make things worse now that you’re on the mend, will you? See you this evening."

McCoy turned and sauntered off along the corridor, followed by the soft hum of the sonic machinery.


Spock strode onto the bridge and cast a quick, keen-eyed glance around. Noting the presence of Commander Scott at the engineering station, the captain made the rounds, checking all stations before descending to the center seat.

"All ready below, Captain. Target on its rails," announced Scott.

"Thank you, Engineer. Mister Kettenring, you’re first, then Cadets Ferrier, Dolman and Landroff. Mister O’Brien, prepare to launch target and reduce speed to one-quarter impulse. Cadets Kovac and Gordon, ready on sensors."

"Aye, sir," chorused the crew, who, for that watch, consisted of junior officers and trainees, with the notable exceptions of the captain and the chief engineer.

"Target waiting, Captain," reported O’Brien at the helm.

"Launch, Ensign. Forward view on screen."

A bright point shot from the Enterprise’s forward photon torpedo tub, zipped across the mainviewer, then slowed down in a zigzag, and finally drifted in space a good distance away. The bright spot began to expand in all directions, and in a few minutes, turned into a Klingon D-7 battlecruiser, about half the size of the genuine article, but otherwise a reasonable facsimile of one of the galaxy’s most feared warships, complete with winking lights and target bull’s-eyes clearly marked.

"Here is your objective, Mister Kettenring," the captain said. "Prepare to fire on my order."

"Aye, sir!" The ensign carefully checked the readings on his console, then reported, "Torpedo loaded and ready to launch, Captain." He waited.

"Fire!" said Spock, impassively gazing at the screen.

A streak of light shot out aiming at the fake ship...the crew held their breath...then a flash flared briefly, and some lights blinked out on the right wing of the D-7 battlecruiser.

"Good hit, lad!" commented Scott, bringing a flush to Kettenring’s cheeks.

"Hit monitored by sensors and logged," confirmed the ensign at the science station.

"Satisfactory, Ensign," Spock stated, "but you have four more tests to run, and you must do better than that. Increase speed to one-half impulse and take us back around, Mister O’Brien."

"One-half impulse, Captain."

The drill proceeded steadily, and Philip Kettenring emerged from it with a score of four bull’s-eye marks out of five and the gratification of winning a "much better" from Captain Spock.

Even the Vulcan’s remark of "At the next drill, however, I expect a full score from you in half the time" did not succeed in dampening his spirits.

He stood up and relinquished the weapons console to Cadet Ferrier, who was next on the drill roster. The young cadet looked a bit nervous.

After working rapidly at his board, Scott announced. "Target at operational levels, Captain."

"Very good, Mister Scott." Then Spock, noting the obvious tension of the young cadet, kindly said, "Now, Mister Ferrier, keep in mind that this is not a computerized simulation. You are dealing with a real target and with genuine torpedoes. So, use your best judgment and make sure not to react with undue hastiness."

"Aye, sir," Ferrier managed to say, although his mouth felt as dry as a Vulcan desert.

"Mister O’Brien, reduce speed again. Cadet Ferrier, have your torpedoes brought to standby."

The targeting exercise was resumed and proceeded as before, with the difference that the less-experienced trainee hit the marks only twice. To his obvious dismay, the other three torpedoes whizzed past the target and soon disappeared from view, lost in the vacuum of space.

Suddenly, all three detonated as Scott pushed the self-destruct command. "There go the good credits of Federation tax payers," the engineer wryly commented with a shake of his head.

Jean-Pierre Ferrier, transfixed in his seat, flushed scarlet.

"Indeed, Mister Scott," the captain sighed. "Quite regrettable. This is not particularly brilliant, Cadet Ferrier. I expected better from you, especially after the good scores you obtained in simulation. Can you explain what happened?" This was said in the pained tone which made the youth wince in mortification.

"I...I think that I fired too soon, sir," he stammered. "I...I’m not sure. I’m sorry, sir."

"I concur...you were too hasty," the Vulcan observed. "Remember that a cool head and a steady hand are the chief qualities required of a weapons officer...or a command officer, for that matter. But remember also that a negative result is never final. Let’s run another test, Cadet, and this time..."

"Captain!" called Joyce Garrick from Uhura’s station. "Captain, I’m receiving a signal on a distress frequency.

Spock swiveled in his chair and shot a sharp glance at the young woman. "A Federation emergency signal? Specify, Miss Garrick."

"Sorry, sir. The signal is very faint; I can hardly hear it."

"Have it enhanced, and try to project a line to its source. Do your best."

"Aye, Captain." She turned back to her board and worked feverishly, listening intently to the elusive sounds in her earjack.

The captain, now standing at Kovac’s shoulder, ordered quietly, "Check the recorders, Mister Kovac. I want the sensor readings of the last drill. Specifically, the last five shots."

The young man complied, and at once the requested information flashed on the display monitor above. Hands clasped behind his back, Spock studied the diagram projecting onto the star chart the trajectory of the three torpedoes which had gone astray. All three pointed to the same direction: the same vector as the source of the distress signal.

Standing at the captain’s side, the chief engineer muttered in a voice loaded with concern, "What do you have in mind, Spock? Do ye think that our torpedoes..."

"That is precisely what we must find out, Mister Scott."

"But that’s impossible. This sector is a designated Starfleet firing range. It’s restricted space. No vessel ever comes into this sector without clearance."

"No vessel is ever supposed to come into this sector, and yet... Cadet Garrick, anything on that signal yet?"

"Not much, Captain. The call is an emergency automatic beacon, repeating over and over. It is not in Federation codes, but is in a Galactic code, sir. I think I’ve traced the coordinates," she answered, rather pleased with herself.

"Good," Spock said briefly. "Have them relayed at once to the science station."

Scott heaved a sigh. "Well, now, we’ll know for sure..."

"Indeed, Mister Scott." The Vulcan hit a switch, and the computer duly provided on another monitor the transmission bearings of the signal. Then, touching another control, Spock made a minute adjustment, and the two charts blended together. The two superimposed patterns appeared, for all to see, practically identical.

The captain quirked an eyebrow at the bemused engineer. "Well, Mister Scott, it seems conclusive, doesn’t it?"

The chief engineer shook his head, still doubtful. "Aye, Captain, so it seems. But how can we be sure our torpedoes..."

The bridge crew, gripped in a stunned silence, waited and listened while their senior officers swapped figures, equations and highly technical terms back and forth. Finally, Scott had to agree with the logic and faultless calculations of the captain.

Spock turned to his crew and gazed at the cadet who was still seated at the weapons station. "It appears, Cadet Ferrier," he said soberly, "that your torpedoes have found a mark."

The young man was horrified. "Sir...do you mean that I have destroyed a ship...by mistake?"

"Hardly likely since the drill torpedoes are not armed. But either they hit a craft or the self-destruct devices in them may have damaged a nearby craft. This is yet to be corroborated, but in either instance, a small craft could have been considerably damaged. That is what we must investigate immediately, and eventually set to rights."

The Vulcan came down and resumed his place in the center seat. "The drill is canceled," he said. "Mister Scott, have the warp engines readied and our target safely returned to the cargo bay without delay. We mustn’t waste the taxpayers’ hard-earned credits any more than we can help."

Scott chuckled. "Right, Captain. They pay enough already!" He set to work at his board. "What about the torpedoes? Do we replace the drill torpedoes with live warheads? Some genuine ones might come in useful...one never knows..."

"Certainly, Mister Scott. If there is a damaged vessel, it is in a clearly identified restricted zone without clearance. Ensign Kettenring, attend to the weaponry. Have phaser banks charged and a full complement of photon torpedoes brought to readiness."

"Do you think that we’ll have to give battle, Captain?" the ensign asked in trepidation.

"Most unlikely, but you heard Mister Scott. One must always be prepared for any emergency. Navigator, plot a course to the signal coordinates and stand by. Helm, open forward scanners to maximum and stand by for departure."

While these orders were crisply given and acknowledged, Chief Engineer Scott was busy recovering the target. On the mainviewer, the cadets watched the D-7 cruiser flutter and move its wings. Like a deflated balloon, it folded up and shrank into a bright dot in the dark of space. A tractor beam was activated and the target was pulled back to the shuttle bay where it would be stored in one of the adjacent cargo holds. All of this operation was done in a matter of minutes, after which, Scott got to his feet and reported, "All set with the target drone, Captain. Now I’ll see to the torpedoes." And with Spock’s nod of assent, he left the bridge.

The Vulcan cast a keen glance around. Quietly, he prompted, "Navigation?"

"Course plotted and laid in, Captain."

"Good. Mister O’Brien, engage warp engines and take us out, Warp Factor Two."

"Warp Two, Captain," replied the ensign.

The Enterprise gathered herself and leaped ahead, bound for the rescue mission.

After a pause for thought, Spock switched the intraship comm channel open. "All decks, this is the Captain speaking. Go to Yellow Alert. We have an emergency. A distress call has been detected in this sector, and we are underway to investigate and render assistance. Stand by for any eventuality. Spock out."

As was to be expected, this announcement caused a great deal of curiosity and conjecture throughout the ship. The off-shift senior officers reported for duty at once, and down in Sickbay, McCoy, with his medics and nurses, began to prepare the wards for an emergency. The good doctor was heard muttering grumpily under his breath, "I just knew that something or another was bound to happen again. I knew that we couldn’t stay out of trouble with that Vulcan in command!" Of course, McCoy’s grousing, so true to type, was taken in the spirit it was given with the goal of raising the morale of the medical team.

Less than fifteen minutes went by, and the distress beacon signal was picked up again, loud and clear, and dead ahead. The long range sensors revealed among some interstellar dust and ion particles, not one, but two tiny flashing blips, clearly visible and the Enterprise was now closing fast on the targets.

This led DeSalle to comment in jest from the helm, "Looks like Ferrier’s torpedoes have made a double hit!"

"Pure conjecture, Mister DeSalle, and in questionable taste," Spock mildly reproved the helm officer. "Give us visual identification whenever possible."

"Aye, sir."

A few tense minutes slipped by, and DeSalle reported, "Coming into visual range now, Captain."

"Maximum magnification on forward scanners, Helmsman."

The helm officer activated controls on his console, and the mainviewer displayed, in the midst of static, two definite forms of vessels, facing each other in what looked much like combat mode.

Spock took one quick look at them and at once ordered, "Deflector screens and shields up. Ahead, Warp Factor Three, Mister DeSalle. Uhura, sound Red Alert." The alarm sirens blared throughout the Enterprise, sending the entire crew scurrying to their stations and poor, panic-stricken Popsy scurrying under the nearest bed.

Presently, Lieutenant Schwarzenberg confirmed Spock’s suspicions. "The larger ship, a freighter–ostensibly a harmless intergalactic trader–has been identified by the library-computer as an Orion vessel, and no doubt is engaged in piracy, smuggling, and other forms of skullduggery.

"Initial scans," added the science officer, "indicate that the smaller vessel, of unknown origin and design, is manned by a crew of twelve...no, fifteen, and is the source of the distress call. They have been hit by phaser fire, but their shields are holding..." Just as he spoke, a sudden burst of light flashed from the Orion’s prow and struck the aft of the unknown craft.

Commander Scott, back at his station, stared at the screen in disbelief. "An Orion pirate...firing at a private vessel in Federation space!" he exclaimed. "What gall! We’ve got to teach them a lesson, Cap’n!"

"We certainly shall, Mister Scott, in due time. Commander DeSalle, shift sensor pickup, please," said the Vulcan.

A new view showed the mysterious vessel from a fresh angle, as it dodged the Orion’s attacks in clever evasive maneuvers.

"Any more information on that craft, Lieutenant? Can you identify its markings?" Spock asked patiently, while firmly curbing a strong desire to go and take control of the computer console himself. Schwarzenberg was an efficient officer, but so slow in extracting information from the computer data banks!

"No, Captain. It’s not recorded in Federation databanks, nor in the private listings of interstellar shipping. It is totally alien, and is equipped with warp drive," Schwarzenberg finally revealed.

The chief engineer whistled appreciatively. "Warp drive for a craft of that size! Must have cost a fortune! But whoever built that ship certainly knew his job. She’s a real beauty! Funny, though. That design, its lines--they remind me of something..."

Behind him, the turbolift doors slid open silently, and Doctor McCoy made a cautious entrance. He was urged by an irresistible curiosity, and yet he was uncertain of the reception he would receive on the bridge at this crucial moment. He raised inquiring eyebrows at Uhura, who answered with a shrug of ignorance and a nod at the screen. He replied with another nod and remained standing unobtrusively in the background.

Meanwhile, the science officer had more to say. "Captain, there’s something odd about that Orion vessel." He peered intently into the hooded viewer. "They’ve been hit also...yes, very curious. They seem to have been struck by the target torpedoes. The self-destruct devices on the torpedoes seem to have caused additional damage to the ship."

A murmur of astonishment ran around the bridge. "Target torpedoes?" Scott interjected. "You mean...our torpedoes?"

"From the readings I have, they definitely appear to be ours, sir!"

The murmur turned into a ripple of laughter, and the captain, an eyebrow tilted up, remarked, "It appears that you were right, Mister DeSalle. Cadet Ferrier has made a double hit...and on an appropriate target."

"Well done, lad!" Scott was delighted and clapped the bewildered young man on the shoulder. "And whatever I said about your marksmanship, I take it right back! We’ll make a good gunnery officer out of you yet!"

DeSalle interrupted the bridge jubilation by announcing, "We’re now within phaser range, sir."

"Thank you, Commander. Reduce speed to Warp Factor One," Spock ordered. "Mister Kettenring, standby on phasers. Miss Uhura, open hailing frequencies."

Uhura was just switching all channels when she suddenly tensed and turned around. "Captain, I’m picking up a message. The Orion is hailing the unidentified ship. It’s barely audible."

"On speakers, Commander."

Against the background of crackling and whistling was heard the unmistakable threat: "...surrender...or you will be destroyed..."

"Good God!" McCoy exclaimed, throwing all caution to the wind. "They’ll do it if we don’t stop them! Spock, do something! What are you waiting for?"

The Vulcan ignored the doctor’s outburst. Calmly, he said, "Ship to ship, Uhura."

"Channel open, sir."

"This is Captain Spock of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Orion vessel, you are trespassing in Federation space. Identify yourself. I repeat, identify yourself and cease fire immediately."

The Orion pirate veered and faced the Enterprise, but did not deign to acknowledge the message.

Spock sighed and ordered, "Mister Kettenring, lock forward phasers onto the Orion vessel. Mister Farrell, shields to full intensity. Miss Garrick, all hands to battle stations."

At once, Uhura’s trainee activated the alarm, and a few seconds later reported, "All stations report battle status, Captain."

"Phasers locked onto target," said Kettenring, heart beating in excitement.

Spock made a last try. "Orion vessel, you are violating Federation space. Identify yourself."

Only static sounded on the speakers. With a final gesture, Spock switched off the comlink and ordered, "Take us out of warp. Ahead slow, Mister DeSalle. Ensign, train phasers for a warning shot across their bow. On my order....fire!"

A blinding flash of light zipped across space and almost brushed the pirate ship. The Orion freighter hastily backed away in an evasive maneuver and fired a single blast which crackled against the Enterprise’s shields.

"Good, Mister Kettenring," the captain commented briefly. "Now I want you to repeat a similar shot across their stern. Mister Farrell, plot a course around them. Mister DeSalle, full impulse speed."

"Aye, sir," came from the three officers.

In a sudden roar of her engines, the Enterprise accelerated and turned in a wide arc, then swept down on the Orion like a falcon on its prey.

"Ready phasers for that warning shot...steady...fire!" The calm voice of the Vulcan triggered another glancing blast of light which grazed the vessel aft so close that their deflectors fizzled like fireworks in the night.

A sigh of elation ran through the bridge.

"That’ll teach them!" said Doctor McCoy.

"Sure, Doctor," Scott chuckled. "That will make them think twice before playing pirate in our backyard again! The damage the lad’s practice torpedoes did to their phaser arrays made them practically useless."

Spock switched on the comlink again. "Orion vessel, this is your last chance. Do not persist in violating Federation space, or we shall have no alternative but fire on you."

Bemused silence filled the bridge. There was no response from the pirate except another evasive maneuver. Well aware of the astonished faces turned toward him, Spock gazed tranquilly at the two vessels on the screen. Having made sure the channel was still open, he ordered, "Gunner, lock onto the Orion. Prepare to fire all phasers and forward torpedoes."

"Yes, sir!" Kettenring looked at his captain.

DeSalle suddenly called out, "Something is going on, Captain. The Orion is pulling away!"

Indeed, all could see on the screen that the pirate had veered about and was beginning to speed away. Cheers of triumph rang out among the Enterprise crew.

"Shall we give chase, Captain?" DeSalle asked with a feral gleam in his eyes.

"Unnecessary, Commander. The pirates have learned their lesson. However, I believe a farewell gesture would be appropriate. Mister Kettenring, train phasers across their upper deck and give the Orion a parting shot."

"Phasers ready, sir." Delighted with his own performance and with his captain’s mastery, the ensign was ready and waiting.

"Now, Ensign," Spock said softly, and a last beam of light streaked from the Enterprise to flash over the retreating vessel which soon vanished from view. "Well done, Mister Kettenring," the Vulcan approved. "Now, Mister DeSalle, bring us back to our mysterious vessel. Commander Uhura, try and raise them, please."

"At once, sir." Uhura and Garrick turned back to their console while DeSalle steered the ship toward the unidentified craft, drifting silently in space. "Captain, we can’t get any response on any frequencies. Only static!"

"Some malfunction at their end, Commander?"

"Could be...or maybe they just don’t want to acknowledge us."

"Continue hailing, Uhura."

"Maybe they’re not replying because they can’t. Maybe their equipment’s been damaged, or maybe they’re injured."

"Mister Schwarzenberg," said the captain, "anything from our sensors?"

"I’m detecting fifteen lifeforms, sir. Some life readings are weak and fluctuating."

"That’s what I thought. They’ve got casualties," McCoy stated. "We’ll need to beam over a rescue party as soon as we’re in transporter range."

The science officer reported, "I have some additional data on the crew, Captain. The bioscans indicate that the crew is Vulcan."

The captain swiveled his chair, sharply saying, "Repeat, please!"

"There are fifteen Vulcans aboard that ship, Captain." Schwarzenberg sat back and awaited developments. Most of the bridge crew were surprised by the revelation.

"Unlikely, Lieutenant," Spock retorted icily. "Vulcans would have used a Starfleet or Vulcan emergency beacon. Further, no vessel of that design has ever been built on Vulcan." While speaking, Spock strode up to the science station and took over. Vulcan patience was running out by that time. He punched the computer voice control. "Computer," he said peremptorily.

"Working," the precise, mechanical voice replied with the eagerness of a faithful dog hearing her master’s voice.

"Check xenobiology databanks and give me an exact identification of the sentient beings aboard the unidentified alien vessel."

"Working," the voice repeated with zeal. A pause, then the computer announced with the self-consciousness of the head of the class. "The group of hominids in said vessel is of Vulcanoid stock, of the subspecies currently inhabiting the planets Romulus and Remus in the Romii star system."

Total surprise took the bridge. Spock switched off the voice link, drew himself to his full height. "Next time, Lieutenant, try to deliver the same level of accuracy as you expect of your trainees." He stalked back to the center seat.

Cadet Kovac, who had been standing by the sciences station, averted his face and repressed a snigger. He’d been nervous and fidgety since Schwarzenberg had taken the station from him. Now amusement washed over him. What a sweet revenge for all the unpleasant comments he and the other cadets and trainees had been treated to for their "lack of accuracy."

Meanwhile, Montgomery Scott was giving full vent to his misgivings about the present situation. "Romulans! In an unidentified vessel! In a weapons firing range! This deep in Federation territory! What the devil are they thinking?"

"We shall soon find out, Mister Scott. I doubt, in their current condition, that they present much of a threat to the ship. However, Mister Schwarzenberg, I want the Romulans kept under constant monitoring by sensors. Have your trainees and yourself scan them at all time. Mister Farrell, maintain shields at full power."

"Captain!" Uhura announced at last, "I have something. Yes...they’re hailing us."

"Put them through, Commander."

She flicked a number of controls, and, after a deafening crackle, a male voice was heard, speaking slowly, carefully, deliberately. "Enterprise, we receive you. Enterprise...do you read?"

"This is Enterprise," Uhura said. "Please identify yourself."

"I am second in command of the Romulan corvette, Whirlwind. My commanding officer wishes to speak with your captain."

On Spock’s signal, Uhura replied, "You’re on audio contact, Whirlwind. Go ahead. The captain is standing by."

A pause, then a low-pitched, musical female voice sounded over the bridge speakers. "So, we meet again, Enterprise. An unexpected surprise, to be sure! I little imagined that the champion of Federation starships would respond to our distress call. And how is my old enemy, the valiant Captain Kirk?"

The voice dripped with such bitter irony that the bridge officers exchanged a startled glance. Spock stiffened perceptibly and said to Uhura. "Visual, please."

A second later, the mainviewer shimmered, and they found themselves looking at a woman’s face, one of aristocratic beauty, a compelling one, and quite familiar to some of those present.

"I’ll be damned!" said McCoy in a hushed tone. "The Romulan Commander herself!"


A deafening silence descended on the bridge, and everyone held their breaths in expectation. The Romulan and the Vulcan looked silently at one another. They were much alike in their Vulcanoid handsomeness and emotional restraint, so similar in that look of recognition burning in their eyes.

It seemed that time stood still. Both ship commanders, seemingly oblivious to their own ship, their own crews, stared with fierce intensity at one another, and tried to rediscover the features which had been, for the years past, kept alive like a smoldering fire in the secrets of their memories. The brief lapse of naked emotion lasted but a few heartbeats and might even never have been noticed. All at once, the Romulan woman assumed an air of haughty indifference, while on Spock’s face, the shields of emotional control were firmly slammed down.

The Vulcan deliberately switched on his chair’s comlink and said quietly, "Admiral Kirk is no longer Captain of this vessel, Commander. He is at present serving his career at Starfleet Headquarters. I am in command of Enterprise."

"I see... First Officer Spock has been promoted to Captain, and Kirk to Admiral!" she observed with the same bitter overtone in her voice. "No doubt a well-deserved reward for brilliant feats of arms, achieved through theft and subterfuge!"

Spock winced inwardly. The shaft went deep, and the wound of more than ten years ago was still painful. Calling upon his reserves of Vulcan pride and self-control, he replied with as much calm and dignity as he could muster.

"Whatever the reasons may be for our promotions, Commander, I suggest that we lay these considerations aside for the time being, as you and I have more pressing business at hand. We came in answer to your distress signal. We found your vessel under attack by an Orion vessel, and have rescued you from that pirate. However, I have the duty as a Starfleet officer to ask you to explain and eventually justify your intrusion into Federation space, and to specify what degree of assistance—medical, technical or otherwise—you wish us to render."

She looked at him with a long, appraising gaze, and suddenly smiled. It was such an unexpected smile, sad and yet gently ironic, that her face was transfigured, like a cloudy sky by a ray of sunshine.

"Naturally, Captain," she emphasized his title, "your innate Vulcan rationalism demands a logical explanation for our illegal presence in Federation space. I admit that I cannot produce any warrant, any writ, any legal document to allow my vessel into Federation space. You find us here, Captain, because of an unforeseen circumstance: an ion storm of exceptional magnitude left us no choice but to depart from our original course and seek refuge in this sector. We were engaged in repairing the resulting damage to the best of our abilities, Captain, when the pirate ship happened upon us and took advantage of our critical situation. We issued a distress call, which you acknowledged with prompt and opportune efficiency. Here is the explanation which you required. I hope it satisfies your legitimate curiosity. Shall I add my apologies and my gratitude to make it complete?"

"Unnecessary, Commander," Spock replied austerely. "All I asked for was the reason for your presence in this sector, and your explanation greatly clarifies the situation. Now, if you would—"

"Captain!" the Romulan broke in. "Before we proceed, I also wish to clarify the situation. You address me as ‘Commander,’ but I no longer hold any rank in the Imperial Fleet. Neither do my crew. I am an outcast from my home planet. The Whirlwind is but a small, free-lance vessel, Captain. But it’s a proud ship, the flagship of Free Traders Shipping, and I am still ‘Commander’ for my crew," she added with a sad smile.

With face still impassive but eyes burning with a somber fire, Spock gazed at her silently. He was again torn by that strange feeling of remorse which had burned deep within his heart ever since that deception he and Jim Kirk, acting upon Starfleet orders, had worked on that remarkable woman ten years ago. "Believe me, I am well aware of the repercussions that incident had upon your career, but please allow me and my shipmates to address you by that title. No one is more deserving of that rank, now more than ever."

"Spock!" exclaimed McCoy, who, like the rest of the crew, had listened and watched in silent surprise. "That’s the most sensible thing you’ve said in days. Sorry for butting in, Ma’am, but let me say that for all of us, you’ll always be the Romulan Commander." This was said with a full Southern gentleman’s courtesy, the same tone McCoy used with all ladies, and the Romulan’s face lit up again with that sad smile of hers.

She bowed her head in acknowledgment. Her legitimate resentment and burst of anger were spent now, and she was left with that feeling of emptiness, of aching loneliness, revived at the sight of the one man she could not forget. She was tired and worried, but she held herself proud and self-possessed as she asked, "You mentioned...some assistance, Captain?"

"Yes indeed, Commander. Let me know in what way we can help you. I don’t propose to take your ship in tow to our nearest starbase as I believe that..."

"No indeed, Captain," she cut in hastily. "That arrangement would be quite inconvenient and distasteful, I admit. I only need some medical supplies as five of my crew have been injured during the Orions’ attack, and perhaps some parts of equipment to do the necessary repairs to our engines and deflectors. The rest...we can handle."

"Understood, Commander," Spock replied briskly. "My department heads will do their best to assist you and your crew. You have met many of them, I believe, when you were...our guest aboard the Enterprise."

"That is a gracious euphemism, Captain," she said, mildly sarcastic, and swept a glance over the bridge crew. "Yes, I recollect the good Doctor McCoy, who took care of my health, and your charming communications officer, and, of course, your chief engineer, so expert at making good use of stolen secret military equipment."

Scott had the grace to look embarrassed and cleared his throat. "The hazards o’ war, Ma’am," he muttered.

"Quite so, Engineer," she agreed.

Spock stepped forward. "Commander, regretfully, our time is limited. Therefore, I suggest that without further delay, your first officer and engineer beam over and brief Chief Engineer Scott on your requirements."

November 19th 2278

For the next fifteen hours, the Enterprise got very busy indeed. Engineering, in particular, hummed with activity, working to provide the data, information and facilities necessary to the repairs of the Whirlwind.

Commander Scott, for all his professed mistrust, found a kindred spirit in his Romulan counterpart, both of them regarding their warp engines as "bairns" (and the Romulan equivalent thereof). Also, the exchange of genuine Romulan ale and vintage Scotch whisky did much to further the entente cordial between the two engineers and their teams. Naturally, Doctor McCoy, as the Enterprise’s notorious connoisseur of intoxicating beverages, got his share, and, of course, neither the captain nor the Romulan Commander got wind of these secret and fruitful transactions.

While the technicians worked on the Whirlwind, Doctor McCoy put his intensive care unit at the Romulan chief surgeon’s disposal, and had him and his patients beamed over to the Enterprise’s sickbay. As the two physicians worked together in the operating theater, they could not help but realize that they had much in common, not least the same respect for life and care for their fellow man. The Romulan had been somewhat surprised at McCoy’s expertise in Vulcan physiology. As the latter pointed out, "When you have a green-blooded, pointy-eared, half-Vulcan, half-Human specimen as a patient for more than twenty years, Doctor, you are bound to learn a thing or two about Vulcanoid characteristics."

The Enterprise was therefore bustling with activity, and its crew was bursting with curiosity about the Romulans, a race which few of the crew and none of the trainees had met before.

On the Rec Deck, the events were discussed at length among the cadets. The crewmembers who had been on the bridge were plied with questions, and Ensign Kettenring and Cadet Ferrier were, in a fair way, to become the heroes of the day. Comments and speculations were flying back and forth, especially on the curious conversation between the captain and the Romulan Commander and its intriguing implications.

"It’s obvious that they’ve met before," stated a crewman.

"Sure! She seems to know the senior officers pretty well. They must have been engaged in some action or another near the Neutral Zone back during the first five-year mission under Captain Kirk."

"I heard that the Enterprise was the first Federation starship to contact the Romulans since the Romulan War."

"That’s right, and it was the Enterprise command crew that discovered the secret of the cloaking device," someone pointed out.

"I say! That must’ve been when they met. She made some hints about stolen military secrets, didn’t she?"

"She did! And she spoke of theft and subterfuge. I’m sure that’s why she gave the captain such a look. It looked as though she’d gladly stick a dagger in his back."

"No wonder, if that was her ship," Michel Kovac said, wide-eyed with excitement.

"Hey, what’s all this about a cloaking device? What’s that got to do with the Romulans?" asked an ignorant cadet.

"Come on, Jill. Don’t tell us you’ve never heard that story at the Academy. How Kirk and Spock got onto that Romulan ship and stole their cloaking device right out from under their noses? It’s a classic! Better ask Commander Scott to tell you one day."

"What’s she like? I mean, the Romulan Commander?" Alison Gordon inquired.

"Stunning! In an alien sort of way, you know, pointed ears and all that. She’s got class!" declared an obviously impressed O’Brien.

"Do you mean that she looks like the captain?"

"In a way, yes. Vulcans and Romulans came from the same world long ago, didn’t they? The Romulans left Vulcan thousands of years ago."

"Well, I wish she would come aboard," Gordon said wistfully.

"Maybe she will. I heard there might be a meeting of the senior officers and the Romulans sometime later today."

"I’d still like to know what exactly happened between them, and why she hates him so," Gordon wondered. "You were on the bridge at the time, Joyce. What do you think?"

Joyce Garrick, who was feeding Popsy with choice morsels from her tray, looked up from the cat in her lap. "There certainly seems to be something deep between them, but it’s hard to guess what. One thing is certain, though: she doesn’t hate him."

"But, Joyce," Kovac argued, "didn’t you see the way she looked at him? She looked positively murderous!"

"Michel, if you call that look murderous, then you know nothing about women!" Garrick declared with her eighteen years’ long experience.

The assembled cadets on the Rec Deck burst out laughing at that.

Some engineers arrived with fresh news from the Whirlwind, which diverted attention to the Romulan ship, but Garrick and Gordon were left wondering what kind of relationship, if any, existed between their captain and the Romulan Commander.


The same question was actually haunting the captain’s mind as he calmly went about his duties. Although he thought he had it firmly locked behind his mental barriers, the thought of the Romulan Commander kept coming to the forefront of his mind, and generally at the most untimely moments. Fortunately, none of his crew suspected that, behind his familiar façade of authority and self-assurance, their captain was the prey of conflicting emotions.

Only to the perceptive McCoy did Spock seem oddly absent-minded when he visited Sickbay to check on the Romulans recuperating there. But, having more pressing things to do, the doctor refrained from comment.

Having doubled security patrols and left the conn to DeSalle, the Vulcan made his way to the transporter room while thoughts were chasing one another in his mind. As a matter of courtesy, he had invited the Romulan Commander to beam over and pay a visit to her crew in Sickbay. On the other hand, he knew it to be his duty to try and obtain some information about her "free-traders," and determine exactly what she meant by the term. It was of utmost importance to Starfleet Command to find out what type of activities this free-trading business actually involved.

She was not the type of woman, even in the adverse circumstances which she had been thrown into, to resort to petty trading, and she had too much honor and self-respect to hire her ship and her crew out for some dubious mercenary activity. Spock knew her better than to imagine her as a free-trader or a soldier of fortune...and yet...who could know to what extremes she had been forced in her exile? And it did not help to know that he and Jim Kirk were directly responsible for her downfall. Kaiidth! What was, was. To rehash regrets was pointless, illogical...un-Vulcan! Spock gave himself a mental shake, and strode into the transporter room.

He nodded to the technicians and waited with outward composure for his guest. She sparkled into being in a silver swirl, and stood still for a second or two on the transporter pad.

Both had known this meeting, face to face, would be difficult, painful, but they were determined not to let any uncalled for emotions come to the front again. What each had felt and seen mirrored on the other’s face had told them enough. Now, for a few more seconds, they stood still, appraising each other, taking stock of the changes that age, experience and adversity had brought about to their appearance. The Romulan, in her muted purple and bronze outfit enhanced with a buff-colored belt and boots, and the Vulcan, in all the gold-braided, red, black, and white glory of Starfleet’s uniform, matched each other in striking looks and proud poise.

Apparently satisfied, the Romulan Commander said, "Permission to come aboard?"

"Permission granted," the captain replied, moving to the platform. "Welcome aboard, Commander."

She stepped down and looked up at Spock with a brief smile. "I appreciate your invitation to visit my crew, Captain. My surgeon tells me that they are in capable hands."

"Doctor McCoy is but doing his duty, Commander," Spock calmly replied. "This way, if you please." He led the way out, well aware that as soon as they passed the door, rumors would run wild on the ship’s grapevine.

As he paced the corridors at her side, Spock could not help but remember the last time he had done so, some ten years ago, when he had been instructed by Captain Kirk to take her into custody. He realized that the same thought had crossed the Romulan’s mind when she threw him a quizzical glance and commented on the innovations the ship had undergone since her last...visit. He was spared an awkward moment by their timely arrival at Sickbay.

Doctor McCoy had been expecting them. He greeted the Commander at the door, and showed her into the ward reserved for her crew. Spock remained in the doctor’s office, and could see her through the half-open door, going from bed to bed, patting a pale cheek, taking a hand in her own, and talking quietly to her people and their surgeon, who was constantly at her side.

When McCoy came back into his office, Spock inquired about the Romulans’ condition. The doctor plumped himself down at his desk and ran a weary hand across his dark hair.

"They are doing as well as can be expected, Spock. I have to hand it to their surgeon. He knows his job, and it didn’t take him long to adapt himself to our methods and equipment. But you can tell that these people are closely related to yours, Spock...about as tough as they make them! As for beaming them back to their ship, no problem. Just give us enough notice to have them ready, okay?"

"Agreed, Doctor. As soon as Mister Scott gives us the word that repairs have been completed, we shall let you know."

"Good enough. By the way, I thought of taking Tr’Kreil, their surgeon, for a snack in the officers’ mess. Any objection?"

"None, Doctor. Mister Scott mentioned that he would bring their first officer and their chief engineer in for a drink, I believe."

"Oh...he said that, did he?" Blue eyes twinkled quizzically.

"He did. Any objection, Doctor?" A suspicious eyebrow flew upwards.

"Of course not, Spock. Why should there be?" McCoy replied, laughing up his sleeve at the thought of the Scotch and Romulan ale already imbibed by the two engineers.


Some time later, the Vulcan ushered his guest into the main observation lounge. The Romulan Commander stopped in the doorway at the sight which met her eyes. In the darkened room, facing her, the panoramic viewport glittered with a thousand stars, and there, almost within reach, was her ship, her Whirlwind, like a silver bird hanging in the wind.

For all the years spent among the stars, for all her experience as a seasoned space veteran, she found herself almost touched to tears by the impact of such breathless beauty. She moved slowly across the room, irresistibly drawn to the view, and hardly noticed the crewmembers already there, by the port, watching in silent wonder.

They hastily gave way at her approach and that of the captain who moved to stand silently behind her, his hands locked at his back. A few minutes went by as they watched the alien ship and the small Enterprise work-bee hovering by her port side. Three diminutive space-suited figures seemed to dance a slow-motion ballet as they made repairs. The awed cadets were looking on and could hardly believe their luck at seeing the Romulan Commander everyone was talking about in the flesh.

Presently, the Romulan woman said softly, "This is magnificent. Thank you, Spock, for letting me see this."

"My pleasure, Commander," Spock said quietly.

"I can see that the refitting and repair work are well underway. My engineer greatly appreciates the expertise of your Mister Scott, I’m told." Then the Romulan Commander turned around, and perceiving the trainees, appraised them with a sweeping glance.

"Your crew, Captain?" she remarked. "They looked like mere children to me. Is your Federation so hard up for Starfleet personnel that they’ve begun to recruit them in kindergarten?"

At this subtle mockery, Spock allowed himself a slight smile.

"These ‘children’ are my students, Commander," he explained. "For the last two years, the Enterprise has been assigned to Starfleet Training Command, and my crew consists mostly of trainees and cadets from Starfleet Academy."

"Really? Interesting...and you are their instructor, I presume?" She seemed amused by this revelation, then asked, "May I speak to them?"

"Certainly, if you wish." Spock beckoned the young people forward, and they snapped to impeccable attention.

The Romulan Commander nodded appreciatively and started asking them a number of questions on their studies, training and career goals.

They replied with commendable readiness after casting a nervous glance in the direction of their commanding officer. Spock stood nearby, gazing at his students calmly. However, he remarked, "Incidentally, Commander, you may be interested to know that one of our young weapons officers, here, was instrumental, though unintentionally, to the partial destruction of the Orion’s forward phasers, even before we arrived on the scene."

"What do you mean?" The Romulan woman looked surprised.

"Before we picked up your distress signal, we were engaged in a target practice drill, and...Cadet Ferrier, why don’t you tell the Commander what happened to your torpedoes?"

The young man, unsure whether he was being gently teased or reproved, blushed crimson. He shot a pleading look at his captain, then, rather self-consciously, complied.

To his surprise and relief, the alien commander broken into a smile so unexpected, so incongruous on severe vulcanoid features that the crew gaped, then grinned in return.

"I understand now why the pirate’s phasers ceased firing all of a sudden!" She said with amusement. "This cadet of yours, Captain, has obviously been an innocent and accidental but determinant factor to our survival which your timely arrival and prompt action have definitely guaranteed. Fate and luck do play strange and unpredictable tricks. Don’t you agree?"

"So it would appear. At any rate, and whatever were the means, we are glad to have been of assistance, Commander," the Vulcan blandly replied. "And now," he went on, moving to the door, "shall we proceed?"

"By all means, Captain," she replied readily. After a last look at the viewport and a nod to the cadets, still standing to attention, she joined the captain.

However, before leaving, the Vulcan paused in the doorway. "At ease, Cadets. Carry on with your observations."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir!" they chorused cheerfully.

"But," Spock firmly resumed, "I shall expect from each of you a detailed report to be ready at our next class."

"Aye, sir," the chorused again, much less cheerfully.

Once in the hall, Spock noticed that his guest was watching him with a speculative, even quizzical expression on her face. Preventing any comment or question, he formally said, "Now, Commander, before you return to your ship, I would appreciate a moment of your time. There are still some points to discuss and some questions to answer. Shall we go to a more appropriate place where we can talk in private?"

If she was surprised by his directness, it did not register on her face. With composure, she replied, "If you wish, Captain. But do not expect to find all your questions answered, and do not expect me to reveal all the facts. Romulans, as well as Vulcans, can keep the truth to themselves."

"Point noted, Commander," Spock calmly replied, preferring to ignore the hint. "Starfleet’s standard procedures require the presence of two of my senior officers during our...conversation. Should you wish to call members of your staff to join us, we can—"

"Unnecessary, Spock," she cut in haughtily. "My ship is not governed by such regulations as yours, and I alone conduct discussions."

The Vulcan merely inclined his head in acknowledgment and went to a wall comm unit and called the bridge. "Spock here. Status, Mister DeSalle?"

"All quiet, Captain. Nothing unusual on sensors," replied the chief helmsman.

"Good. Will you ask Doctor McCoy and Commander Scott to report to my quarters immediately?"

"Aye, sir."

"Thank you, Commander. Spock out."

As they proceeded to the senior officers’ deck, the Romulan flicked a side-long glance at the Vulcan striding silently at her side and unexpectedly remarked, "That was an interesting experience."

Confronted with a questioning eyebrow, she explained, "Back there, on the observation deck with the cadets. You have evinced a remarkable ability to teach and inspire your students. Is this another one of your many accomplishments, Spock? I am impressed."

"Indeed?" Spock favored her with a guarded look.

"Certainly, I can tell that these young Humans admire and respect you, and I believe that you feel a special sympathy toward them...or am I mistaken?"

They entered the turbolift, and Spock sent it speeding to the E Deck before he soberly replied, "No, Commander. You are not mistaken."

She nodded, and a wishful smile touched her lips. For a brief, endless instant, their eyes met and unbidden memories came flooding back and hung between them. Then the turbolift slowed to a halt, the doors parted, and the spell was broken.

As they walked into the captain’s quarters, the Romulan looked around in silence with an expression of well-bred curiosity mixed with approval on her face. As Spock watched her looking at his sparsely furnished rooms, neat to a fault, with a touch of Vulcan austerity, he had the uncanny impression that it was not for the first time.

The way she unerringly picked out such items as his meditation flamepot, or the hologram of his parents, and particularly his collection of antique Vulcan weapons would have made him feel uncomfortable...were he not Vulcan, of course. The door buzzer sounded, and she turned away, seemingly indifferent.

"Come," the captain said quietly.

The doctor and the chief engineer walked in, expectation and uncertainty written on their faces.

With unaffected Vulcan courtesy, Spock invited them to take a seat. Once everyone had settled and he had sat down at his desk, the captain came to the point of this gathering with his customary air of controlled authority. "Commander, you have given us your reasons for your presence deep within Federation space, and we have accepted them. Moreover, our sensor readings and the damage incurred by your vessel as ascertained by Mister Scott corroborates your statement."

She inclined her head in silent assent, but McCoy interjected, "If you’re looking for evidence, Spock, I’d say you’ve got plenty, what with the visual logs of our exchange with the Orion pirate ship. Isn’t that conclusive enough?"

"It is, Doctor. However, I fear that Starfleet Command will not be satisfied with the evidence, particularly in view of the superior weaponry and sophisticated technology of the Whirlwind, to which Mister Scott can testify. The advanced nature of the ship hardly conforms with the traditional pattern of a civilian galactic trading vessel, as you claim it to be, Commander. Wouldn’t you agree, Mister Scott?"

Thus invited, Scott cleared his throat and took the floor. "All I have to say, Captain, is that I have seldom seen in a merchant vessel such a remarkable example of craftsmanship, efficacy and aesthetics, packed into such a limited space. You have a beautiful ship, Commander, but whatever you may say to the contrary, she was obviously built for war, not commerce or trade."

The chief engineer leaned back in his chair, and the three men watched the Romulan woman, cool and composed, take the time to marshal her thoughts and prepare her reply.

Finally, she said, "Gentlemen, it would indeed be presumptuous of me to deny the conclusions of an expert like Chief Engineer Scott. Of course, the Whirlwind is a warship, built and equipped for battle. But, considering the state of insecurity prevailing in the galaxy and the hazardous encounters our vessels are bound to face, it is hardly surprising that free-traders, such as ourselves, be escorted by warships." She swept an ironical glance from the unreadable Vulcan to the expressive faces of the Humans, apparently disconcerted by her frank admission. She continued, "In other circumstances, gentlemen, that is all you would obtain from me. My own affairs do not concern your Federation, and, although I feel nothing but gratitude for your assistance, I am under no obligation to give Starfleet any more information."

"Quite, Commander," Spock blandly remarked, "but under the present circumstances?"

The Romulan smiled appreciatively. "I don’t mind admitting, Captain, that things are different now. Your actions today have caused a considerable change in the opinion I had of the Federation in general, and the Enterprise command officers in particular."

She shot a meaningful glance at Spock, who returned the same with superb Vulcan composure, a by-play which was not lost on the other two men. "My vessel would have been destroyed and the lives of my crew lost had the Enterprise not come to our assistance. Then, simply by asking, we receive a magnanimous display in the repairs and refitting of the Whirlwind even though it is crewed by Romulans."

The three Enterprise officers traded a sharp glance, and Doctor McCoy, with ill-concealed curiosity, put in, "I’m sorry, Commander, but didn’t you know that’s what Starfleet is for? We’re not only the military, not only the police force. We’re also responsible for aiding ships in distress, and yours was clearly in distress when we came along."

Spock nodded. "This matter being settled, there is one point which I must raise. Starfleet Command will not take kindly to the presence of a Romulan ship, even a ‘free-trader’ such as yours, this close to restricted space. I hereby advise you to give a wider berth to any such areas marked as such."

The whistle of desk’s intercom sounded. Spock switched it on, and DeSalle’s face appeared on the wall screen. "Sorry to disturb you, Captain, but the Whirlwind’s chief engineer is ready for the final check on his warp engines. He’s asking if Scotty can beam over."

"One moment, Mister DeSalle. Mister Scott?"

The chief engineer was already at the door and nodding assent.

"Mister DeSalle, tell him that Mister Scott is on his way," Spock reported. "Anything else?"

"Yes, sir. He also wished the Commander to know that they will be ready to leave within the hour."

Spock glanced inquiringly at the Romulan and replied, "Acknowledged, Mister DeSalle. Tell them that the Commander will beam back presently. Spock out."

Doctor McCoy got to his feet and stretched. "Well, that’s that. I’d better go back to Sickbay and make a last check on my patients. I’ll let you know when they’ll be ready for transport, Spock." He sauntered out the doors to the captain’s quarters.

Silence reigned in Spock’s quarters while he sat quietly and watched the Romulan Commander. She was obviously deep in thought and contradictory emotions. She met his inquiring gaze and, with a sigh, made a decision. "Spock," she stood up and began pacing the room in obvious agitation. "I have controlled myself up to this point during our various encounters over the years, but what I say now must be said. I will never forget the contemptible trickery which Captain Kirk resorted to in order to steal military secrets from my ship. Believe me, Captain, when I stood in front of the Senate and faced the humiliation of explaining the loss of the cloaking device to your clever subterfuge--the assignments I was given as punishment, such as being assigned to lead the Romulan saboteurs on 113 Cancri Seven, or being assigned as the military advisor of a Romulan delegation on Vulcan--of being stripped of my command, of my status, and endured the contempt of my peers, my friends, my family, I had but one feeling in my heart: hatred, a total, overwhelming hatred for the man who chose subterfuge and disguise rather than battle!"

She turned away, quivering with barely suppressed anger, and stared blindly up at the Vulcan weapons displayed on the bulkhead.

Spock rose silently, and, standing behind her, quietly remarked, "Commander, hatred is considered by the Vulcans as a pointless and irrational emotion. However, I can well understand your resentment toward the Federation and Starfleet Command. But let me point out that Admiral Kirk had no choice in the matter, and neither had I. We both acted under sealed orders, we were both involved in the plot to capture your cloaking device. Therefore, logically, you should have the same aversion for me as for my captain."

A bitter laugh escaped her lips. "Do I have to explain, Captain? I am a Romulan, remember? Vulcan logic does not get taken into account here. True enough, ‘logically,’ I should hate you...for your deception, for your lies, which you called ‘white lies,’ as I recall. And I did hate you until our encounter on that backwater world. I realized that you were, at least, a man of honor and principle. It was what led me to help you survive the pon farr on Vulcan a few years ago, and I even then I believed I was going to convince you to turn away from the Federation, to accompany to Romulus and Remus as a prize.... Alas, I know now that I was only fooling myself," she added under her breath. "I cannot hate you..."

After a moment of tense silence, from behind her, his deep voice murmured, "You have every reason to hate me..."

"Don’t I know it!" she snapped, almost angrily.

Another pause, then she heard the Vulcan speak ever so softly, "In any case, you could never hate me as much as a hated myself." His voice was loaded with such bitterness, such barely controlled emotion that the Commander spun around and faced him in wide-eyed wonderment.

"Did you, Spock? You, the emotionless Vulcan? Did you really hate yourself?"

He nodded mutely. Then, feeling he owed it to her, and despite his innate reserve, he forced himself to explain. "Ever since the...incident...I have despised myself for having employed those deceitful methods to accomplish that mission. Our encounter on Cancri Seven magnified that self-hatred, and when you saved my life on Vulcan, I was reminded that I have yet to forgive myself." He sighed un-Vulcan-like. "Still, our orders, the oath I have sworn and the loyalty I owe to my captain compelled me to carry out my duty, unpleasant though it turned out to be."

"Unpleasant? Did I hear you right, Captain?"

"You did, Commander. I have to admit that I never found obedience to duty so... painful."

A wistful smile crept over her aristocratic features as she gazed at the man who had so irresistibly bewitched her right from their first meeting. She was again struck by his cool Vulcan elegance underlined by that latent, magnetic power which she felt drift like an aura over her.

Her eyes softened as they searched the captain’s clean-cut features to finally rest on the dark eyes which burnt with leashed emotion. Was it self-reproach? Or something deeper? She was not sure, she dared not hope...she had to know.

"Tell me truly, Spock," she said at last. "There is one question that I have to ask. What you did, what you said, that day, in my quarters...was it just false pretense and play-acting, or did you feel what I felt, did you care? I would like the truth, Spock."

The Vulcan gave her a long, penetrating look. Suddenly the glimmer of a smile lit his face, and, now with some reluctance, he admitted, "It was not pretense, Commander...and may I point out that after all these years, even with our subsequent encounters, you still underestimate yourself."

She smiled at the hint and its implications. "I thank you, Spock, for your candor, for giving me another precious memory to keep secret in my heart. Do you remember our secret? I see that you do...but you have apparently forgotten that I have a first name."

"No, indeed." He paused. "I have not, Di'on," he replied softly, giving her for the first time, the very private name which, contrary to Romulan traditions, she had whispered in his ear when they were alone in her quarters.

The admission of the Vulcan proving that he had indeed remembered her, that her wildest daydreams were true, left the Commander dazed from pure joy and relief. She drew a steadying breath, and, as she locked gazes with Spock, felt at once a surge of emotion wash over her. It was the same unexpected and wonderful emotion which they had shared long ago during that fateful encounter. Once more, she found herself fully attuned to the Vulcan. And yet, this blissful sensation was marred by an overwhelming feeling of regret and nonfulfillment.

Abruptly, she averted her face and, breaking the spell, said with a hint of despair in her voice, "What good is it, Spock? What’s the use of dreaming over what might have been? The past is the past. It cannot be changed. It’s too late. We belong to the same race, you and I, but alas to opposed worlds. The breach between such long-standing enemies is too deep... This is hopeless."

Spock fixed her face with dark, brooding eyes. "Indeed, regrets are pointless and sterile, but so is discouragement. Obviously, we cannot undo the actions of the past, but given your present position...as captain of a ‘free-trader,’ who knows what the future holds in store for you? Who knows what might happen if, or when, our paths cross again?"

At Spock’s pondering, the Romulan let a smile light up her face. "Who knows indeed, Spock? Your Vulcan logic is a great asset, I can see. I am grateful. Unexpectedly you offer me something to hope for, something more to share between the two of us, and..."

The shrill whistle of the ship intercom intruded loudly in their tête à tête. The Vulcan, with a word of apology, went to his desk and switched on the receiver.

"Spock? McCoy here. Sorry to interrupt. I’m in Transporter Room Three. The Romulans are all set to beam back to their ship, just waiting for the Commander."

"Thank you, Doctor. We shall be there shortly. Spock out."

The captain straightened up slowly and turned to his guest. They exchanged a long, sad glance.

"So, this is where we must part, Spock," she said bravely.

He nodded. "Yes, we must go our own way and follow our destiny. But I feel confident that somehow we shall meet again. Before we go, let me say one last thing, however. If you and your ‘free-trader’ friends choose to stand against the will and might of the Romulan Star Empire, you will lead a hazardous life and may find yourselves in need of support. I expect that, officially, the Federation will not involve itself in the internal affairs of Romulus. But should you have need of assistance, or asylum, I suggest that you contact the nearest Federation outpost or any Starfleet vessel. I shall give the adequate instructions and the mere mention of my name or that of Admiral Kirk will serve as safe-conduct."

"You make it sound as if I were somehow involved with a conspiracy against my government, Spock."

"Commander, there are always possibilities. While you are presently not involved in such action, it seems not out of the realm of possibility. The Empire may take exception to ‘free-traders’ operating within its borders. My offer is more or less for sanctuary, should the need arise."

"I won’t forget, Spock. I have discovered during these last two days that you are indeed an honorable man. I will not forget that I stand in your debt for your timely assistance."

"Such a debt is superfluous, Commander. We have a moral obligation to respond to distress signals and offer help should it be required."

"Granted, Captain. Nevertheless, allow me to reiterate my gratitude to you and your crew."

Spock inclined his head in acknowledgment, then impulsively asked, almost under his breath, "Do I have your forgiveness?"

"You have, Spock," she replied readily, looking at him with eyes bright with love and unshed tears.

Holding himself severely in check, and in spite of another surge of emotion, Spock deliberately raised up his hand in the gesture of the Vulcan salute. Utterly spellbound, she slowly did likewise.

Moments went by as they stood, hands touching palm to palm, fingertips to fingertips, and stared into each others’ eyes for a last communion of thoughts. A telepathic flow ran between them, and the Commander, breathless and dazzled, was given a glimpse of Spock’s inner depths and feelings.

Peace and long life... was murmured in her mind.

She responded with Farewell, Spock. May the Fates protect you.

Simultaneously, they broke contact, and, in his most formal and neutral tone of voice, the captain asked, "Shall we go, Commander?"

She took her cue immediately. "By all means, Captain. Just lead the way!" she coolly replied, her beautiful head held high and proud as befitted a Romulan commander.

But, just as they were going to the door, something turned up which greatly eased the painful atmosphere of parting.

Suddenly, a sharp tinkling sounded, and the door hissed open, giving way to a small feline. Its whiskers were quivering, its tail erect and stiff. It trotted in with total self-confidence. But at the sight of the intruding woman, Popsy skidded to a halt and crouched low, bristling with flattened ears and twitching tail as the door slid shut behind her.

The Commander stood looking down at the cat with undisguised amusement. There was laughter in her voice as she asked Spock, "Your pet, Captain? I didn’t know that Starfleet officers carried tame animals on their starships. What is it? It reminds me of the tkuls that we used to raise on my family’s estate, although it is much smaller."

Spock remained unperturbed. "This is a Terran cat," he blandly informed her. "A well-behaved animal, and the mascot of the crew."

"Really? A pretty little beast...and quite at home in your quarters, apparently," the Romulan remarked as Popsy, after a distrustful glance in her direction, crawled swiftly to Spock’s sleeping area, jumped on to his bunk, and took possession of the place with the proprietary air of a habitué.

A few minutes later, Spock and the Romulan Commander were pacing down the corridor to the turbolift.

With a sidelong glance at the Vulcan, the Commander clinched the incident with a final comment. "Quite a revelation, Spock. Thanks to the...cat, I have discovered yet another unexpected facet of your personality!"

"Indeed, Commander?" was all that Spock found to say, although the sudden climb of his eyebrows right up to his bangs spoke volumes.


Moments later, the command staff was in full attendance on the bridge and were watching on the forward screen as the Romulan vessel was poised for departure. Presently, Uhura announced, "Captain, the Whirlwind is hailing us."

"On screen, Commander," Spock quietly ordered.

The image of the alien ship gave way to the now familiar, cool and self-assured face of the Romulan Commander. "Captain," she said, "all things eventually come to an end. We must go now. Please convey our gratitude to your officers and crew for their efficient assistance. We will not forget." For one more second, she looked at Spock for the last time, her eyes brimming with longing and regret, then she deliberately raised her hand a took a final leave. "Farewell, Enterprise."

As Spock responded with the traditional Vulcan salute and valediction, the screen shimmered. All that was left to be seen was the starry field through which the Whirlwind sped away and warped out of sight.

A short pause followed while the bridge remained silent and expectant. Then, the captain ordered in a remote voice: "Take us out on our assigned course, Mister DeSalle. Warp Factor Three."

"Aye, sir. Warp Factor Three."

Tracing a large loop across space, the Enterprise gathered speed and went on her way.

November 21st 2278


"Doctor, can you spare me a minute of your time?"

"Certainly, my dear! Come in and sit down a spell," McCoy gallantly replied to Commander Uhura, who had just walked into his office. "What can I do for you? What about something to drink first? Coffee? Tea?"

"Why, thank you, Doctor, but if I may, I’d rather have something a bit stronger right now," said Uhura, sitting in the big armchair facing the doctor’s desk.

"Good Lord! Just what the doctor ordered," McCoy chuckled as he took a bottle of Saurian brandy and two glasses out of his ‘Medicinal Spirits’ cabinet. "Here’s my very special: the very brand I used to keep for Jim when he used to grace me with his impromptu visits. Of course now, with that Vulcan of ours...it would be a sheer waste! Here you are..."

As he handed her a glass, the doctor noticed that Uhura’s lovely face looked preoccupied. At once, he dropped his flippancy and turned fully professional. "Something the matter, Uhura? Tell me. What is it? Your last physical was first-rate, as usual, so I don’t see..."

"No, Doctor. I’m just fine, thank you. It’s not me." She paused, hesitated and took a sip from her drink. "It’s Spock. I’m worried about him. You know that it’s not my way to pry into what doesn’t concern me, but you’ve got to have noticed that something’s amiss, haven’t you?"

"With Spock? No, I can’t say that I have, but then I haven’t seen much of him the past two days...except that when I passed him in the corridor early this morning, he didn’t look particularly gracious. I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about, Uhura. Our captain must be in one of his Vulcan moods."

"No, Doctor," Uhura persisted. "I believe it’s more than that, and I’m not alone in that opinion. DeSalle and Farrell also have noticed that Spock is not quite his usual self. I mean he’s curiously taciturn on the bridge...hardly a word to anyone, as though he has turned inward to brood over some hidden pain. In short, Doctor, I have the impression that Spock is eating his heart out."

McCoy was no longer listening. A horrible thought had suddenly crossed his mind. Spock? Not his usual self? Good God! It can’t be! The doctor worked out a quick, mental reckoning (Seven plus seven plus seven....) and heaved a sigh of relief. No, it isn’t. Whew! Okay. Thank God! Then he realized that Uhura was looking at him somewhat reproachfully.

"Doctor, I’m under the impression that you haven’t heard a word of what I’ve been saying!"

"Oh? Er, sorry, Uhura. Yes, I have, and I wonder, my dear, if you’re not imagining things."

Uhura shook her head emphatically. "I’m sure I’m not, and what’s more, I’m pretty sure I know the cause. It all began yesterday, after the Whirlwind episode." She gave McCoy a meaningful glance.

"The Whirlwind?" McCoy looked confused. "What about it?"

"Doctor," Uhura explained patiently. "When Spock assumes that chilling Vulcan mask, it usually means that he’s deeply hurt and doesn’t want us to know it. As I recall, he was in the same kind of black mood right after the incident with the Romulan Commander and the theft of the cloaking device. So, I must put two and two together."

As she spoke, McCoy’s expressive face went from perplexity to disbelief then to amazement when he finally realized all the implications of Uhura’s disclosure. "Good God, Uhura! Do you mean that Spock...and the Romulan Commander?"

She nodded.

"Well, I’ll be damned!" breathed the doctor, resorting to his favorite curse. How did you figure that out?"

"As I just told you, Doctor, there are tell-tale signs which cannot be mistaken and which, when put together, make sense."

"Such as?" McCoy wanted to know.

"Such as the attitude of the captain and the Commander. Very formal, very correct, pretending indifference, and then the extraordinary way they would look at each other, as if nothing else mattered in the universe. But what gave them away really was the last gaze that they exchanged on the bridge as they bid each other farewell. It was a gaze restrained and yet so intense... There was much grief in their eyes. It was moving, Doctor!" Even then, Uhura looked strangely touched as she recalled the scene and gazed at McCoy, her dark eyes brimming with tears.

He returned her gaze thoughtfully, pondering over this unforeseen situation, then said, somewhat ruefully, "You’re very perceptive, my dear. Now that you mention it, it’s true that Spock does seem unusually preoccupied, but one way or another, I haven’t paid it much attention. Yes, come to think of it, this explains a few things I noticed here and there, like at that conference in Spock’s quarters. Now I understand why she buried the hatchet so readily. It makes sense. If she’s in love with Spock... But what I can’t get over is Spock! Are you sure about him? It’s hard to tell with our poker-faced Vulcan."

"I’m sure, Doctor. Remember, he’s half-Human."

"And so he is, my dear. We tend to forget that, don’t we?" McCoy grinned and leaned back in his chair, drained his glass and set it back on his desk. "You know what, Uhura? What beats me is not so much that Spock should get hooked at last — and about time!—but that he, of all people, should fall for a Romulan!"

"Why not?" Uhura objected. "She may be a Romulan, but she looks to me like a remarkable woman."

"Certainly! That’s not what I meant. What really gets me is the sheer cussedness of the thing. When I think of all the women that damned Vulcan could have just with a rise of his eyebrow, and he goes for an impossible match: a Romulan officer—and the very woman he and Jim have landed into a hell of lot of trouble for the sake of Starfleet—and whom he will probably never see again...isn’t that damned ‘illogical’?"

"Of course, Doctor, but who said that love is logical? We all know that it doesn’t depend on our will, and I’m afraid that is what Spock must realize just now. It’s so sad, so unfair, for them both. But the point is...what can we do?"

"Do? There’s nothing that we can do, Uhura. Spock, as a Vulcan, is very reticent. Let him cope with his private problems by himself, as he always has."

"Well, the way he goes about it doesn’t seem to be very effective. Scotty, who lives next door, was telling me that Spock didn’t sleep at all last night. He paced in his room all night. Even his music is of little avail. Last night, for instance, as I walked by his door, I heard him tune his lyrette. Naturally, I stopped and listened. Well, instead of playing properly, he just swept the strings aimlessly for a while. The next thing I heard was an awful, discordant twang and a thud where he’d obviously slammed it back onto the shelf."

The doctor raised his eyebrows. "Did he, now? Well, well, so much for our unemotional Vulcan."

"Exactly, Leonard, and that’s what worries me. We can’t leave Spock brooding all by himself like that. Couldn’t you talk to him?...as his physician...on the pretext of a check up or something?"

"Yeah!" McCoy snorted. "And I would be sent packing for prying. You know how touchy he can be when in that mood. No, I knew only one man who could reach him, and that’s Jim Kirk. They are such close friends that Spock would accept anything from Jim. Damn, I wish he were here instead of driving a desk at Headquarters."

"So do we, Doctor, so do we," sighed Uhura. "But you are Spock’s friend as well...and don’t waste your breath at denying that," she cut McCoy’s protest short with a knowing smile, "because we know that, for all your continual arguments and wrangling, the two of you have always been good friends, and that’s why I have come to you."

The doctor, at first taken aback by Uhura’s shrewd observation, acknowledged with a reluctant grin. "Okay, Uhura, my dear, you win. I admit that I have become rather fond of that green-blooded Vulcan, if only to make you happy! But, what about you? If Spock has some friends aboard, I should say that you come among the first, don’t you? And I remember the time when you were a bright young lieutenant who seemed to be fascinated by our first officer...how about that, my dear?"

Commander Uhura burst out laughing. "For shame, Leonard! That’s not fair. Well, yes, of course, like all junior grades, I was at first quite taken with our smart science officers, and especially with the attractive and enigmatic Vulcan who officiated next to my station. Those upswept ears and brows really got me. Naturally, I realized soon enough that he was a hopeless case. But, eventually, when I got to know him better, I came to value his courtesy, his gentleness, and also his wry sense of humor much more than any flirtation I might have imagined...and, well, now I like to think that he regards me as a friend...and, for that reason, I feel that I cannot leave Spock in his loneliness and misery."

"Good girl!" McCoy approved with a warm smile. "Okay then, if we must do something about him, what do you propose to do?" He leaned forward and settled his elbows on the desk. "One thing we can’t do, at any rate, is go and tell him point blank how much we sympathize...he would certainly not appreciate it."

"No, of course not. But I think we could find a roundabout way to let him understand somehow that we care. Perhaps we could use some indirect means to take his mind off his worries...for instance, give him some extra activities or some challenging problems to rouse his interest and keep his mind busy?"

"But, don’t you think that Spock has plenty on his hands as it is? What with the drills, the piles of reports for Starfleet, his classes, not to mention his routine watches on the bridge? Isn’t that enough to keep a man busy?"

"Sure, sugar, for you and I. But not for a Vulcan," Uhura scoffed gently. "What is that for a brain like Spock’s? You know how easily he can deal with multiple subjects at the same time. I’m thinking...you know...of a number of pleasant things which might tease his curiosity, or provoke his thoughts."

"Well..." McCoy replied, looking doubtful, "What you want to do is to cheer him up, though it takes some doing to cheer up a Vulcan! But, yes...I see your point. I’ll come up with a pretext or another to give him a house call...and I can always bring some reports to discuss, that might be a good approach."

"Good! You are a dear!" Uhura exclaimed. "And I’ll see him about the farewell party. We must do something very special since it’ll fall in with Scotty’s birthday. I’ll pass the word on to the others."

"Hey! Wait a minute!" McCoy cut in uneasily. "You don’t mean that the whole crew knows about Spock, do you?"

"No, of course not, Doctor. Only the old hands, Scotty, DeSalle, Farrell and a few more who have known Spock for years and would do anything for him. So far as I know, the crew is out of this."

"Well, they’d better be! Imagine the blow to Spock’s reputation." McCoy remarked half in earnest, half in jest. "The glorious image of our unapproachable Vulcan would be blasted to hell!"

"I don’t think you need to worry, Leonard. Spock’s reputation is unimpeachable, no matter what. But, come to think of it, I wonder if that would not make him even more interesting in their eyes. You knew how people like nothing better than a romance about their great men, especially an impossible romance. It kind of stimulates hero-worship, you know. And I would not be surprised if some of the crew had got wind of something after all, judging by the few hints and comments that I have overheard here and there. Well, we shall see..." She got to her feet. "I’ve got to get back to duty. Thank you for lending me an ear...see you!" Then, after bestowing the doctor with her sweetest smile, she was off.

Without further ado, the Enterprise officers—with the peak efficiency and devotion to duty they were known to evince in all their undertakings and with the active complicity of most of the crew—set to rid their captain of his ‘bout of gloom and doom,’ as Commander Scott put it in his own unique way.

November 22nd 2278

An hour before the first watch, Spock was to be found on G Deck, suited, helmeted and sword in hand, standing opposite the stocky figure of his chief helmsman similarly attired. The Vulcan had finally yielded to DeSalle’s cheerful insistence; he had argued that only six days were left for him to assimilate the subtle parry and thrust techniques of D’Alik’Tal, since no one could tell whether they would have another chance to practice once the cruise was over. DeSalle was due to be transferred to active starship duty as the executive officer of the Potemkin while Spock would be remaining at Starfleet Training Command and Starfleet Academy.

Spock, naturally unwilling to cause disappointment, had accepted, and the two men were therefore giving full rein to their athletic powers. Curiously enough, the captain had to admit inwardly that this physical exertion tended to ease somewhat the painful tension which had kept his chest and muscles knotted for the past three days. So, he readily agreed to DeSalle’s suggestion of meeting on G Deck every morning for a fencing bout until their return to Earth, which prompted the helmsman to pat himself in the back for the full success of his ruse.

Mister Scott was also, and for similar reasons, rather pleased with himself. He had cornered and challenged the Vulcan with a intriguing scientific problem which he had fished out of one of his newest technical publications, as juicy a brain-twister as one could dream of. It conjured up so many interesting possibilities and perspectives that Scotty was sure the captain would be unable to resist the temptation to find the answer. The cunning Scot had laid his trap in his jolly, artless way, pretending to need the enlightened opinion of the resident scientific expert, and Spock had fallen headlong into the trap.

"...You would do me a real good turn, Captain, if you could just take a peek at this theorem, if you have the time, of course. Personally, I think that Professor Okuda has overreached himself here. I wonder what you’ll make out of it. Sure, in the past, he’s come up with some pretty wild theories which have proved to be feasible, but it seems to me that this time he’s come to the wrong conclusion. Tell me what you think of it. Of course, no hurry, you keep the journal and puzzle it out at your leisure, so long as I get it back before our return. Aye, I hope that you’ll crack that nut." ...and in the meantime, you won’t be thinking about your problems! thought the engineer laughing up his sleeve.

As the hours went by, as the duty shifts succeeded one another, a mildly surprised Vulcan found his intellectual and physical capacities to be more and more in demand on the behalf of his crew. True, the drills and classes which he personally conducted, required his full attention, as of right. But, now, between watches, he was begged to join in a discussion or a sporting contest, even to give his expert advice about a maquette designed and constructed in secrecy by the Engineering trainees as a present for Commander Scott. Spock was used to being solicited for one reason or another, that was part of his function as Captain; but, when Lieutenant Commander Farrell asked him whether he would favor him with a refreshing course on tri-dimensional chess, when Lieutenant Killicranky suggested the captain give the crew the benefit of his vast experience with a few lectures on the Federation societies, laws and ways of life, or when a group of cadets asked him for some Vulcan music, Spock began to ask himself some questions.

It almost came to the point when he could hardly find the time to meditate in solitude, a mental exercise as natural and necessary to a Vulcan as breathing or sleeping. Not that it mattered much after all, since his attempts at meditation had, of late, turned into mere failure.

He found it very difficult to attain the degree of concentration needed to progress smoothly through the mental exercises and reach the deep and peaceful level of contemplation. When he tried to focus the attuning flame of his Vulcan flamepot and clear his mind of trivial thoughts, an unbidden memory would surface and remain: the memory of her beautiful face, in turn sad or smiling, which had haunted his mind ever since their parting and aroused in his breast confused and disturbing feelings: Remorse...grief...loneliness and above all, longing...Was it what Humans called love?...desire? He could not tell. His analytical mind was at a loss in front of such an inconceivable emotion, so unlike the simple happiness he had experienced, when under external influences, with Leila or Zarabeth, ages ago.

Although Spock stuck to the stubborn delusion that, as a rational Vulcan, he was unable to feel such unsettling emotions, the fact remained that his thoughts kept reverting to the Romulan Commander and to the hopeless love he had read in her eyes when they had parted. And each time, a searing pain gripped his chest, as he repeated to himself that, for all the rallying arguments he had given her, they would probably never meet again. All he could do then was to hold himself constantly in check and hide his distress to his shipmates, to preserve at least his dignity. All he had to do was to force himself to function efficiently, although the stress of suppressed pain was past enduring, at times.

Such were the captain’s reflections when, after a last round about the ship and a check with the night shift, he made his way back to his quarters, late that evening.

He had just turned down the corridor when a soft voice called behind him and made him stop in his tracks.

"Oh...Captain!...please.’" Spock turned wearily about and raised an eyebrow at the graceful figure, clad in a flowering robe, of his communications officer, standing on her doorstep.

"Sorry, Captain, but may I have a word with you?...in private?" she added as Spock looked like taking a stand in the middle of the corridor.

"Yes...if you wish, Commander," and the Vulcan retraced his steps and followed her into her quarters, wondering inwardly what was so important that it could not wait until their next watch.

As the door swished shut behind him, Spock assumed his customary posture of parade rest, hands clasped behind his back. But the wily Bantu woman would have none of that stiff formality. Now that she had caught the Vulcan in her snare, she was going to make the most of it.

"It is about the farewell party, Spock. I would like it to be a surprise for the crew, and especially for Scotty because his birthday will fall on the same day...but won’t you sit down?...here, make yourself comfy."

Before he knew what happened to him, the captain found himself seated in Uhura’s cushioned armchair, with a cup of fragrant jasmine tea in his hand; and, curled up in the chair opposite, there was this lovely woman explaining at length why the traditional party should be turned into a memorable event.

While she spoke in a soft, soothing tone, Uhura noticed with amusement how Spock, at first tensed and stiff as a poker, relaxed gradually to the point of finally reclining at ease on the cushions. He obviously did not realize his rather compromising situation: drinking with an attractive woman of his staff, alone in her quarters! But then, that was what she found so refreshing about Spock, bless him! The Vulcan was so innocent that it would never cross his mind to take advantage of the situation, and, for instance, make a pass at her...unlike some people she had known in her long career. But of course, Spock would deem such a behavior as ill-mannered and illogical, and right now he had his own grinding sorrows to deal with, poor dear. Would that a moment of peace and quiet in her room make him forget his problems for a while.

Actually, Spock was indeed enjoying his respite in the comfort and warmth of Uhura’s quarters, and was deriving an almost physical pleasure in the musical drone of her voice and the hot tea that he was sipping from a precious porcelain cup his host took care of refilling. While listening to Uhura’s program for the party, and her enumeration of cocktails, music, birthday cakes and presents, and much more, he realized with surprise that the dull ache he had felt in the pit of his stomach had eased considerably.

In that haze of well-being which affected all his senses, Spock was irresistibly reminded of his Vulcan home and of his mother who knew well how to soothe and comfort her wretched little boy when he returned, burning with resentment and humiliation from yet another bitter quarrel with his schoolmates. The fragrant beverage that he was sipping tasted just like that Vulcan herbs tea Amanda used to give him to relax his sore muscles after a brutal encounter with the other boys. His poor mother had had to put up with many distressing situations when he was a child!

Some questions from Uhura brought him back to the present with a jolt, and he could not help but feel mildly disgruntled for being caught daydreaming. He eventually agreed with her plans, suggested one or two improvements, and even promised to join her and her little choral/concert group for the concert everyone anticipated.

"You see, sugar," Uhura explained, "the idea is to let the crew have something very special this time. After what they have been through on this cruise, I think they deserve a really special treat, and Scotty’s birthday is as good an occasion as any. Don't you agree?"

"Indeed, I do, but as you might expect, Uhura, in my report I have already put in a number of recommendations and citations for several of the crew and trainees."

"Great! I am so glad for them!" Uhura beamed. "Still, I am sure they will also appreciate a celebration on board, just between us, like a last family gathering. And it will also help to dispel that feeling of regret which always occurs at the end of a mission. I don’t know why, but I have the impression that everyone is more downhearted than usual at the idea of parting in a few days. Of course, a separation is always sad, especially when one has to part from dear ones..."

There was so much sympathy in her voice, so much warmth in her brown eyes that Spock was moved, and knew confusedly that she wished to express discreetly how much she felt for him.

He nodded thoughtfully and said in a barely audible voice, "‘Partir...c’est mourir un peu.’"

"I beg your pardon?" she asked in surprise.

"An old French maxim," he explained in a low voice, "which says that leaving is not unlike dying."

"Oh...I see...how true." She paused deep in thoughts, then brightened up and declared with sparkling eyes, "It is true...up to a point, Spock. Parting is not final, like death, there is always a chance to meet again somewhere in the galaxy. Even the unexpected happens in space, as we have found out, haven’t we? And, to quote a rational person of my acquaintance, ‘There are always possibilities.’"

They exchanged a long, significant gaze, and Uhura saw at last the flicker of a smile touch the Vulcan’s lips. Spock nodded once more, then setting with care his cup on the side table, prepared to take his leave.

"Another cup, sugar?" She proposed, making use of one of those terms of endearment she liked to give him occasionally, when they were off duty and in the right mood. She knew that he did not mind, and was even mildly amused. Spock rose to his feet.

"No, thank you, Uhura...I must take leave of you now. This was...very pleasant. I thank you for the tea...for everything." The expression deep in his eyes told her much more than his words.

She got up with feline grace and smiled. "You’re welcome, sugar. Any time... and take care of yourself."

Uhura let her captain out after having peered around the door and ascertained that the corridor was deserted at this late hour.

Just as well, she chuckled inwardly. Imagine what the rumor mill would make out of that! "Good night," she whispered.

"Good night," the deep voice replied, and she was alone.

November 23rd 2278

Doctor McCoy’s method of tackling the problem was quite different from that of Uhura, as was to be expected. He received reports from his fellow-conspirators which indicated that their concerted efforts were beginning to produce some hopeful results.

So, the good doctor, relying on his long experience, concluded that the Vulcan was now ready for a shock treatment. He decided to reject the devious means favored by his accomplices and opt for a frontal attack; in other words, to boldly go where he had gone before, sometimes at his own cost, and seek his quarry right into his lair. And that is why, in the afternoon, Doctor McCoy found himself standing outside the captain’s door, and pressing the buzzer to obtain entry. After a moment, the door slid open and McCoy stepped into the warm room and peered across the semi-darkness at the lighted area by the Vulcan’s desk.

"Busy, Spock?" he called tentatively.

"Obviously, Doctor," came the curt reply.

Damn! thought the doctor. Peevish, isn’t he? Never mind...here we go! Apparently unruffled but a bit apprehensive all the same, the doctor walked in and said brightly, "Sorry, Spock...but I have brought some of the reports you asked for, you wanted them as soon as possible, so I thought that..." McCoy stopped in mid-sentence." Good Lord!" he exclaimed, then burst out laughing at the sight of the incredible confusion which had turned the desk, usually neat and tidy, into a miniature arena.

"Busy, you say?" he cackled, "Sure, I can see that! Busy playing with Tinkerbell."

"I am not playing, Doctor." Spock retorted stiffly. "I am only trying to retrieve a file from under this cat who seems to be in a particularly playful mood today."

The doctor grinned from ear to ear, he could not help it. He knew that Popsy was wont to keep Spock company when he was working in his quarters, but the sight of the animal stretched out on her back, plumb in the middle of a batch of papers, and keeping the Vulcan in check, was too good to be true. Her fore claws had clutched Spock’s right wrist in a tight grip, and her hind legs pounded frantically at his forearm with piston-like kicks; meanwhile sharp teeth worried his fingers with a show of ferocity belied by a purr whirring deep in her throat.

"Want some help to get rid of her, Spock?" proposed the amused doctor taking pity of the captain’s predicament.

"Thank you, Doctor, but it won’t be necessary." and Spock, giving up the attempt to pull his papers out from under the cat, touched her brow with the fingertips of his left hand, and for a few seconds, stared into nothingness.

Almost at once, the gnawing and kicking stopped; Popsy let go of the Vulcan’s hand. She swiftly rolled back to her paws and shook herself thoroughly from nose-tip to tail. Then, after an affectionate nudge of the head at Spock and a blink at McCoy, the cat jumped lightly down and, with hardly a second of hesitation, scampered, tail upright, to the door which opened at once to the tinkling signal of her collar. She disappeared from view.

McCoy, mightily amused by the captain’s and the cat’s relationship, took the chair across from Spock and laid some tapes and files on the desk. "That’s right, Spock; you tell her!" he chuckled. "That’s the way to treat them."

"Precisely, Doctor," the captain replied coolly and proceeded to bring back some order to his desk. "Have you finished with the medical reports?"

"Yes, here they are," McCoy replied pushing the tapes forward. "I don’t know if you will agree with my conclusions, but, on the whole, I consider that these kids have proved to be well fitted for a Starfleet career, especially in view of their reactions to the problems we’ve had from the start."

"Quite. Thank you, Doctor. I shall study your reports presently. Now, if that is all, will you excuse me, I have work to do," Spock said with a meaningful glance at McCoy.

But the doctor ignored the hint, and producing a pill box, set it with a flourish in front of the Vulcan. "No, Captain. That’s not all," he declared bluntly. "I have more to say which concerns you personally."

"Indeed." The captain’s voice remained neutral, but his eyes took on a veiled look which boded ill for McCoy’s endeavor.

The latter went on, apparently unconcerned. "Here are some tablets, especially concocted for you, and which you will do me the favor of taking regularly, at the rate of three tablets, four times a day."

"Unnecessary, Doctor. I do not require medication. I am in perfect health." Spock’s voice was now glacial as the vacuum which reigned around the ship.

"In good health, are you? The hell you are! I know what I’m talking about, Spock! You haven’t eaten for the last four days and hardly had any sleep at all! You go around like a lost soul...how do I know? It’s my business to know, and I have my informers on this ship. You will do as you are told, Captain! Take these tablets, a blending of vitamins and antidepressant. That should pep you up. Be sure to have decent meals at regular hours, and all the sleep that your Vulcan physiology requires. And you can hold yourself lucky that I don’t haul you to Sickbay for a complete physical! Damn it, Spock, I don’t want to put you on the sick list for a case of acute depression."

"Nonsense, Doctor! Vulcans do not suffer from depression," the captain replied tersely when McCoy paused for breath.

"Don’t they? Well, call that the Broken Heart Syndrome then, and you won’t be far from the mark!"

A faint green flush suffused the strained face of Spock. "Doctor McCoy, your propensity for prying into people’s personal concerns is most unpleasant. I have pressing matters which require my attention." Spock’s tone made it clear that the argument was ended.

But the doctor was not prepared to give up yet. He leaned over the desk and glared at the Vulcan. "Okay, Captain! I’m prying...I’m intruding...I’ve heard it all before. So now, what are you going to do? Break my neck?"

Spock blanched at this cruel reminder of his threat to McCoy when, years ago, he had suffered from cyclic biological disorder and refused to be examined. He steeled himself to remain impassive, rose to his feet, and gripped his hands behind his back to stop them from trembling.

"Doctor," he repeated frostily, "will you please go and leave me alone?"

A shiver ran up and down McCoy’s spine as he looked at Spock’s rigid mask and recognized the cold expressionless look of the Vulcan who had boarded the Enterprise before their encounter with V’ger. The Kolinahr disciplines had left indelible marks apparently. But again, the doctor knew him too well to miss the deep, hidden pain flickering in the depth of his eyes. Half-angry, half-pitying, McCoy wondered if he had not, perhaps, crossed the bounds. He did not want to hurt Spock, but what else could he do to reach the sensitive being entrenched behind those damn Vulcan barriers?

"Spock, listen to me!" he pleaded, trying another tactic. "Can’t you get it into your thick Vulcan head that all I want to do is help you? In case you’ve forgotten, I’m still your physician, so it’s my job to take care of your health, for one thing. Besides, I’m a man, a Human, and as such I’ve had some experience of the emotions you’re trying to cope with just now. I know what it is to be sick at heart over a lost love. I know what you feel; I’ve been through the whole damn thing myself!"

"Your own failure hardly entitles you to give advice on that matter, Doctor, and my private life is not subject to discussion. You are dismissed!"

Patience had never been McCoy’s prime virtue, and this unfair hint to his unfortunate match and divorce was more than he could stand. He jumped to his feet, eyes blazing with blue fury. "You ungrateful bastard!" he spluttered. "Is that all you’ve got to say? Okay then. We’ll leave you alone, if that’s what you want! Why should we bother anymore? I was right all along...as I said to Uhura, you’d better be left alone with your Vulcan pride! Poor girl, she wanted to help... that’ll be a sad blow for her, and for the others, too. But then, people like you don’t deserve to have friends!"

And with that parting shot, McCoy turned on his heels and stalked to the door, wild with Spock, wild with himself. So much for shock tactics!

Just as he marched out of the sliding doors, a strained voice spoke behind him: "McCoy! Wait...please!"

The doctor stopped short in the doorway and held his breath. Is there a chance after all? "What for?" he grunted sullenly.


McCoy spun around and eyed with suspicion the captain still standing stock still behind his desk. "Explain? What is there to explain?"

"You mentioned Uhura...and others. Specify, Doctor."

A pause ensued while the two men exchanged a long, guarded look, then McCoy let the door snap shut behind him and came back to take a stiff stand in front of the desk. "Very well, then...here goes: First, Spock, you might be interested to know that your senior officers are, rightly or wrongly, mindful of your welfare. And they have noticed that, of late, or, to put it bluntly, since our encounter with the Romulan ship, you’ve been somewhat out of sorts. Now, blame it on Uhura’s feminine intuition for having guessed what it’s all about. She’s as sharp-eyed and astute as she is warm-hearted, and she naturally put two and two together, namely you and the Romulan Commander."

The doctor winced inwardly at the hurt and disbelief which he read in the dark eyes fixed upon him. "Don’t misunderstand me, Spock," he hastened to say. "You know Uhura wouldn’t want to intrude; that’s not her way. All she wants is to help a friend. And she’s quite right, damn it! Because whether you like it or not, we happen to be your friends, and as Jim used to say, that’s what friends are for. Anyway, she talked me into joining in the plot, with DeSalle, Scotty...a few others. The idea was to try and take your mind off your emotional problems, and prove to you that you’re not alone. You see, now that Jim’s no longer with us, we thought that perhaps we could stand in for him. But it seems now that we were wrong..."

The doctor paused and waited, rocking on boot soles, and watching the Vulcan who had listened in stony silence, and stood facing him as if petrified, except for a muscle twitching in his jaw. Damn! thought McCoy. Looks like that’s stunned him but good.

After a few moments, however, Spock abruptly shook himself out of his trance, heaved a shuddering breath and sat at his desk to stare down at his clenched hands. "I see," he said presently, in a remote voice.

"Do you, Spock? I wonder!"

The hint of bitterness he detected in the doctor’s voice pulled the captain out of his thoughts. He looked up and met the fierce blue eyes searching his face with a speculative, almost clinical attention. He returned the gaze levelly and nodded. "I understand, Doctor," he said quietly.

Actually, during the last few minutes, Spock had gone through a turmoil of confusing emotions which hurt all the more as he kept them deep within himself. However, by bringing all his logic into play, he had reached an acceptance of the situation. With lightning speed, his mind had swept from feelings of shock and shame for being caught off his guard—in spite of his steely self-control—by his shipmates, to an understanding, even an appreciation of their actions. Now the questions which had preyed on his mind found their answers. Faces flashed across his memory and brought everything into focus: the warm smile of Uhura, the genial look of Montgomery Scott, Vince DeSalle’s mischievous grin, the rapt expression on trainees’ faces...and last, McCoy’s vivid blue eyes full of concern, and his insistence on helping because they were his friends. The exceptional eruption of Human emotions which he’d shielded himself from was now explained.

He had withdrawn into his inner self like a wounded beast in its lair, but these Humans had felt his distress, and they cared...the way Jim Kirk cared. He accepted it from Kirk; he basked in Jim’s friendship. Now that Jim was gone, should he reject the help and understanding of these Humans who were also his friends? Friendship...that simple feeling, which he had finally understood and accepted after his close encounter with V’ger. He remembered his elation when he had realized what it really meant... He had laughed aloud; he had grasped Jim’s hand...such shocking and un-Vulcan behavior! He had realized that he could share with Jim; he could give and accept. And now...perhaps he could share with them, as with Jim. Logical! And so rewarding. And Spock suddenly understood, and felt at ease in his heart, almost at rest.

Curiously, just as he could now accept his officers’ friendship, he knew that he could accept and understand the strange and disturbing emotion that the Romulan Commander had aroused in his heart. It was their destiny to live in worlds apart, and yet they had shared an unforgettable experience. Now he felt that he could accept peacefully, logically, these emotions, and keep within his mind her bitter-sweet memory.

"I understand," he told McCoy, with a serenity he had not felt for a long time.

McCoy stared. He could hardly believed what he saw in the Vulcan’s eyes. Gone was that implacable, off-limits glare which had confronted him a moment earlier. Now the dark eyes shone with a warm glow which came as a revelation to the doctor.

But...Good grief! That’s just the way he used to look at Jim! That special gaze they used to exchange sometimes...incredible! I never thought... Overwhelmed by such a discovery, McCoy plumped himself down in the chair, and his face broke into a broad grin.

"And about time!" he replied. "I feared that we would never make it the way you were carrying on...with your super-Vulcan temper!" He tried to hide his emotion behind his usual sarcasm, but he was not as insensitive as he made people believe, and he added in a gentle tone, "You had us worrying about you, Spock. Seems to me that your peculiar Vulcan-Human mix, usually so capable of coping with any given situation, wasn’t quite equal to the problem this time... or am I mistaken?"

The Vulcan sighed and considered before admitting, "No, Doctor. You and Uhura have correctly surmised my...predicament. There have been some painful moments."

McCoy nodded with commiseration. "I know, Spock. I know what it feels like... but believe me, and I speak from experience, time is the best healer in such circumstances, time and the company and understanding of such friends as I have found on the Enterprise. Too bad that Jim isn’t here, though. I know what he means to you...he always knows what to say, what to do, doesn’t he?"

Spock nodded somberly but remained silent.

McCoy sighed. "Here we are, both on duty on the Enterprise while Jim’s back riding a desk. Isn’t that just ludicrous?"

"Agreed, Doctor. Unfortunately, Federation bureaucracy has a certain propensity to squander exceptional material on trivial activities. Starfleet Command is punishing Jim for his actions at Serenidad. However, I still believe that Jim’s functions at Starfleet Command are but temporary. His right place is aboard a starship, in the command chair. Sooner or later, the Admiralty will recognize that basic fact."

"That’s exactly what I’ve kept telling him, but...I could have saved my breath for all the good it did! Oh, well, no use grieving over what we can’t help. And I have enough to worry about with you and your problems, Spock."

"I assure you that I am perfectly fit, Doctor," the Vulcan stated with a touch of asperity.

"I beg to differ Captain!" McCoy retorted in the same tone. "You are not, but you will be if you deign to follow my prescription: good, hearty meals and solid sleep at regular hours, daily work-outs with DeSalle or any other willing partner; that’s for the physical part. I leave it to your Vulcan disciplines to deal with the mental part. You have been going under tremendous pressure for too long, Spock. It is high time to do something about it, and I expect you to heed my recommendations. Is that understood?"

"It seems that I have no other course of action," Spock replied with resignation.

"No, you haven’t, Captain!" McCoy grinned, "and see that you take these tablets according to prescription." He rapped the desk with the pill-box and gained to his feet.

"Doctor...how should I absorb them?" asked the Vulcan with a look of assumed innocence.

"Pulling my leg, are you, Spock? Okay, then. You gulp, you suck or you chew, doesn’t make any difference, so long as you get them into your system!" With those final words, the doctor turned about and strode to the door but, for the second time, he was brought to a halt.


"What now?"

"A moment ago...I made some disparaging remarks about an...occurrence in your private life. A totally irrelevant and unacceptable remark that I...regret, Doctor McCoy."

Taken aback, the doctor stared at Spock in amazement. Is it possible? A Vulcan?...Apologize? Could Spock, who had always peremptorily declared that apologies were pointless and emotional reactions, have changed to the point of adhering now to these illogical Human practices? This was an unprecedented event, indeed. Both tickled and touched, McCoy beamed happily.

"So help me, Spock! I never thought that I would see the day when..." Feeling suddenly that now was not quite the time to tease the Vulcan, he bit back the caustic banter which was on his lips, cleared his throat, and started again more formally. "Why, thank you, Captain. That’s very decent of you...your ‘regret’ is noted and accepted. But let me point out that I am not entirely blameless. As I recall, some of the names I called you were not specially flattering, I am afraid. So, why don’t we call it quits?"

"‘Quits’, Doctor?"

Confronted with the inevitable raised eyebrow, McCoy exclaimed, "Come on, Spock! You know what I mean...quits...forgive and forget, Spock."

"Oh, indeed. ‘Quits’...very well, Doctor. We are ‘quits’, and thank you."

A warm glance of mutual understanding was exchanged, then the door slid open and shut, and McCoy was gone. A moment later, he could be seen striding along the corridor, whistling cheerfully under his breath, and glowing with the satisfaction of having accomplished a mission almost impossible.

November 27th 2278

By all accounts, and as Commander Uhura had seen to it, the farewell-cum-birthday party turned out to be a swinging success and, consequently, a memorable event in Enterprise’s long and eventful history.

The place selected for the celebration was, of course, the main Rec Deck, and the time, the last evening, ship time, before their return to Earth, while the mighty starship was making her stately way back to the Sol system.

Apart from the skeleton crew manning the bridge and Engineering, all personnel were assembled in the Rec Deck turned into a festive reception hall for the occasion, and they were, all and sundry, eagerly waiting for the hero of the day, Chief Engineer Scott, to celebrate his 56th birthday. Actually, only the happy few who had had a hand in the making of the cake knew, from the number of candles, how many springs Montgomery Scott had been blessed with in his life.

Uhura had decided, after obtaining the captain’s consent, that all uniforms were to be banned for this exceptional event. The crew, having to wear civvies for a change, had accordingly shown up in their most elegant attire. The result was quite striking, particularly since many crewmembers had chosen to dress in their native costumes. As a result, they had great fun admiring and identifying each other, and speculation ran high as to whether Commander Scott and Captain Spock would also appear in their national dress.

Already, the arrival of Doctor McCoy dressed in a tight-fitting linen suit of lavender blue, had caused quite a stir. As for Commander Uhura, she looked simply gorgeous in fetching African drapery and jewelry which earned her admiring looks and compliments from her shipmates, especially DeSalle and Farrell.

She acknowledged them with good-humored smiles and cast a circular glance at the room to check the refreshment tables and make sure that everyone and everything was in readiness for the party.

The doctor caught her eye. "No need to worry, my dear. Everything looks just perfect. That should give old Scotty the surprise of his life. He doesn’t suspect anything, I suppose?"

"I hope not, Doctor. We have had enough trouble in keeping the whole thing secret," she replied.

"It’s all right, Uhura," put in DeSalle. "I just met him on his way to his quarters, a moment ago. He doesn’t suspect anything; he believes it’s just the usual farewell party."

"Good! It’s a lot more fun when it’s a surprise. He should be here any time now. Spock’s going to bring him along to make sure he comes in by the main door, right there."

"Do you mean to say that Spock is in the know?" McCoy asked with interest.

"Of course, Leonard," Uhura grinned. "What did you think? We had it all planned together."

Before the doctor had time to voice his amusement, the Security guard who was on watch outside, burst in and shouted, "Attention everyone! Here they are!"

At once, the hall fell silent in a tense expectation, as footsteps were heard in the corridor, approaching steadily.

Commander Scott’s voice sounded outside, raised in surprise. "Funny...seems to be very quiet in there. Are you sure it’s the right place, Cap’n Spock?"

"So I was told, Mister Scott," Spock’s deep voice replied composedly. "Shall we go in and check?"

"Right, Captain...after you, sir."

"So, Mister Scott, do me the favor...."

Some giggles, quickly repressed, sounded here and there while McCoy muttered under his breath, "Come on, Scotty, what are you waiting for?"

At last, the large door parted, and a gasp of amazement ran through the assembly at the sight which literally took their breath away.

"Wow," sighed someone behind the doctor. He chuckled. "Quite an eyeful, aren’t they?"

Indeed, the captain and the chief engineer offered a striking contrast of male elegance. Montgomery Scott cut a dashing figure in full Scottish dress of red jacket, snow-white lace, and black and white tartan, while Spock stood in regal and alien splendor with Vulcan robes of azure and cobalt blues enhanced at the collar and sleeves with silver and blood-stone incrustations. Actually, the surprise was total on both sides, and Scott looked in amazement at the crowded room and all these faces staring and smiling at him.

"What the..." he began.

At once the spell was broken. A lot of cheers burst out and all present intoned with gusto the traditional: "For he’s a jolly good fellow, for he’s a jolly good fellow, for he’s..."

Astonished and touched by this reception, Scott stood to attention. Then, as the singing petered out in applause, he cast a sidelong glance at the captain and saw on the lean face an expression of mild approval.

Realization dawned at last, and he blurted out, "Captain! You knew, didn’t ye? Ye knew all the time?"

The Vulcan countered with a quizzical lift of the eyebrow and a deadpan reply: "Of course, Mister Scott, and if memory serves, I believe that the appropriate formula is ‘Happy Birthday’."

Scott’s face turned pink with pleasure. "Och, Mister Spock!...you never...!" was all he was able to say.

And there was Uhura, all smiles and sympathy, cooing: "Surprise, surprise, Scotty. Happy birthday!" and McCoy and DeSalle, and all his friends descending upon him with congratulations, kisses and claps on the back.

At last, amid much rejoicing and joking, the happy engineer was led to the buffet tables and given his first Scotch to help him recover from the shock and sustain those yet to come. For Montgomery Scott was not yet out of surprises, not by a long shot. Once he had rallied with a number of tight drams, the chief engineer took time to admire the wide range of hors d’oeuvres and drink and the tasteful decoration of flowers and mini-flags emblazoned with the lion rampant and the Saint Andrew cross of his native country.

This last touch went straight to his heart. "We had them made from ship’s stores, of course," Uhura answered. "It wasn’t easy to find the exact pattern. Fortunately, I had some very helpful assistants." Uhura nodded smilingly toward the trainees standing a few steps away. "Cadet Gordon, for one, has proved to be invaluable."

"Och, for sure," Mister Scott beamed. "Trust a Scottish lass! And just look at her...as bonny as a picture, isn’t she?" he said, casting a fatherly glance of approval at the young woman whose simple white dress, graced by her green and yellow tartan scarf, contrasted with the rather flashy attire of her classmates.

"She certainly is," DeSalle heartily agreed, "but so are most of these ladies, I must say. Tell me, Scotty; is it customary for a girl to wear tartan in that fashion? It is very becoming."

"Aye, so it is. That’s the way they put it on with a formal dress. Glad to see this lassie sticks to traditions."

"Is it also in accord with tradition, to wear tartan around one’s neck, Mister Scott?" inquired a deep voice behind him.

"Sir?" Surprised, Scotty turned on his heel to face the Vulcan who was quietly standing apart, a glass of fruit cocktail in his hand. The humorous glint he saw in the captain’s eyes made him follow his gaze and look down...and there was Popsy, purring and winding around the Vulcan’s legs, a Popsy all bedizened and beribbonned with silken tartan bows.

It was a huge success, of course. A hilarious DeSalle scooped up the cat for all to see and admire while McCoy quipped, "Look at that! A Scottish kitten. How about that, Scotty?"

Scott stroked the glossy fur with a cautious hand. "Why not, Doctor? We used to have beasties just like her, at home, when I was a lad."

"Mister DeSalle," Spock put in quietly, "I believe that the cat would rather be put down...."

"Sir? Oh, yes, of course, Captain," DeSalle grinned in assent and hastily set the reluctant animal on her paws.

Just then, on a signal from Uhura, the lights went out, and in the ensuing darkness, she said softly to the Engineer, "Surprise again, Scotty! Now, please, you must shut your eyes."

He readily complied, his curiosity tickled by the giggles and whisperings around him, then a moment later, the doctor poked him in the ribs, saying, "Okay now, Scotty...look!" And Mister Scott did so...and remained lost for words, for this indeed was a surprise.

To the tune of "Happy Birthday to You," caroled by all the crew, an amazing pyrotechnic display was drifting towards him across the dark room. Something which looked like a fortified castle complete with snow-covered tower and battlements, set on a dark brown rocky hill, a dream of a castle blazing with candles and scintillating sparklers.

When at last the monstrous confection came to a halt in front of him, the dumbfounded Engineer realized that it was a glorified birthday cake dripping with chocolate and sugar icing, and proudly flying on its tallest tower, the colors of bonnie Scotland.

While two young engineers set the antigrav trolley firmly on the deck, Mister Scott recovered his spirits and his voice. "My...oh my! The castle of Edinburgh... my birthday cake! I cannae believe it!"

"You had better, sugar, because you have got to eat it!" Uhura said laughing. "Now, what about blowing these candles out?"

"Do I have to, lassie? It’s so beautiful with all these lights."

"Ah, Mister Scott, I’ll bet you can’t blow them all out at the first go," jested Lieutenant Killicranky.

Scott, cut to the quick, stiffened in outrage. "I’ll have you know, my lad, that you are insulting generations of Scots, pipers from father to son. Now, just you watch and see what a true piper can do!" He took a deep breath, held it for a second or two, and his birthday candles were put out, one and all, to the cheers of his shipmates, not the last Killicranky.

Once the masterpiece had been duly praised, notwithstanding the captain’s dry comment that two of the food processors had been sadly impaired through overuse and necessitated a complete overhaul, the crucial moment of cutting up the cake came at last.

But the cake was so big that the carving knives produced, and even the dirk that Scott carried in his sock, turned out to be inadequate. Fortunately the problem was quickly solved by the ever resourceful Commander DeSalle who left the room at a run, and dashed back flourishing his long Vulcan sword which he handed to Scotty with the words, "Here you are, Scotty. That is exactly what you need to storm the castle." Then he turned to the captain with an apologetic grin, "I hope you don’t mind, sir?"

Spock’s elegant eyebrows took flight, and he replied judiciously, "Well, Mister DeSalle, some purists might regard this unconformable use of the D’Alik’Tal sword as unethical, not to say heretical. For my part, I am not averse to see this blade cut through icing and confectionery rather than flesh and bone. Carry on, Mister Scott."

And so, the candied castle of Edinburgh was gallantly attacked, captured and breached by Commander Scott with the loud support of his shipmates while volunteers were called to hand the plates around, a duty which they performed with cheerful efficiency.

But when Cadet Gordon presented Spock with his slice of cake, she met with a courteous refusal.

"Oh, Captain," she said, "won’t you have some of Mister Scott’s cake?" Although she looked quite disappointed, the captain was adamant and declined.

McCoy who was savoring a huge portion a few feet away intervened at once.

"Come on, Spock!" he said with his mouth full. "You can’t miss that; it’s so rich! The best cake I’ve eaten for ages."

"I’m sure, Captain," Scotty argued, " that a wee slice of cake won’t hurt you in the least. It’s just chocolate cake."

Spock pricked up his ears. "Chocolate, Mister Scott?"

"Aye, sir. You take a look here, see?" The Vulcan made a close examination of the confection and concluded, "I believe you are right, Mister Scott. In that case, I shall follow McCoy’s suggestion and make an exception. May I have a small, very small piece of that chocolate cake?"

"Good for you, Scotty’," the doctor jeered good-humoredly. "But I should have remembered that the one chink in our Vulcan’s armor is his weakness for chocolate. Am I right, Spock?"

The captain eyed him suspiciously. "How do you know, Doctor?"

"Information received, Captain, a long time ago," McCoy told him, and he observed, with much amusement, the Vulcan savor his chocolate cake with the beatific expression of the proverbial cat lapping a dish of cream.

As for the ship’s cat, she had not been forgotten, and she was delicately nibbling her cream-piled portion of cake with a relish on a par with that of the captain.

Moments later, the cake having been consumed and declared the best birthday cake ever, the party proceeded on its glorious course with the presentation of the gifts, so numerous and so diverse that Commander Scott had to postpone the unwrapping to a later time. Some presents, however, caught his special attention. He was, for instance, quite impressed and touched by the miniature model of a matter-antimatter unit, beautifully worked by his trainees. He also made a close and appreciative inspection of the stock of intoxicating liqueurs which his former and present shipmates had thoughtfully collected for just this occasion.

But it was a small package, discreetly set apart, which caught his eyes, a flat square box labeled with his name in a neat lettering which he immediately identified.

Intrigued, he opened the box and gazed in surprise at the tape set within. He shot a puzzled glance at Spock who was standing aloof, his face, a mask of bland indifference. No hope of a clue from that quarter! Of course. Scott took out the cassette and found the answer underneath, a card neatly printed with the inscription, "Record of Five Possible Solutions to the Problem Raised by Professor Okuda in Doctor Maliszewski’s Applications of Transwarp Drive."

A broad grin creased his features. "Great Scott, Captain! You did it! I knew you’d come up with something, but five answers to that teaser! That I never expected, sir!"

"Indeed, Mister Scott? I admit that Professor Okuda’s works usually appear quite complex, even obscure to someone not familiar with his artistic choice of words. But the problem was most fascinating and I thank you for bringing it to my attention. I hope that you will find this tape of some interest."

"I’m sure I will, Captain. That’ll occupy much of my leisure time," replied a delighted chief engineer.

The excitement over the birthday cake and gifts was decreasing by then, and Commander Uhura felt that now was the time for mere restful entertainment. She had everyone settle down and gathered her group of singing amateurs with whom she had rehearsed for the last few days. Together, they treated their friends to a selection of folk songs and popular ditties which all took up in chorus.

A number of traditional Scottish ballads, recommended by Alison Gordon, were sung especially for Montgomery Scott. The chief engineer was moved to tears on hearing such familiar tunes as "The Skye Boat Song," or "The Northern Lights of Aberdeen." And so, taking advantage of the thunderous applause which followed, he pulled Uhura into a bear hug, and kissed her on both checks.

"That was a treat, thank you, lass. That’s a birthday I’ll never forget!"

She returned the hug with warmth. "You’re welcome, Scotty but wait, there is more to come." Then turning to the tall and silent figure sitting quietly in a corner, she said with a knowing smile, "May I remind you of your promise, Captain? Will you play for me?"

"My pleasure, Commander," Spock courteously replied, and, gathering in his arms the cat blissfully snuggled and catnapping in his lap, he got to his feet, and looked around. "Cadet Garrick!" he called. "Would you please attend to your pet?"

Poor Popsy, struggling and kicking and squalling in indignation for being rudely removed from her safe and peaceful haven, was passed from hand-to-hand, on to Joyce Garrick who gathered her lovingly in her arms.

When Uhura, however, suggested Spock send someone to his quarters for his Vulcan lyrette, a tremor of excitement ran through the junior crewmembers who jumped up and volunteered.

The captain blinked. "It is a portable instrument, cadets," he explained. "One person is amply sufficient to bring it here."

"Permission to go and get it, sir!" Kovac eagerly requested.

"Permission to go with him, sir!" Garrick piped up.

"Please, Captain, may we go and get it, too?" Gordon and Vatanen chorused.

The doctor, seeing Spock somewhat at a loss, shook his head and chuckled. "Just like a bunch of kids! Oh, come on, Spock, let them go and have their fun!"

The Vulcan caught his eyes and finally gave his consent.

They didn’t need to be told twice. They made a rush for the door, followed by the gruff but fatherly warning of Commander Scott: "See that you handle it with care, mind you! Look at them! Who would think that’s a brood of Starfleet officers?"

He needed not worry for, when the youths came back within a moment, they were carrying Spock’s precious instrument with the respectful cautiousness that Scott and his engineers exerted to handle matter-antimatter cases.

A hush of anticipation fell over the gathered crew while Spock tuned the lyrette to the key of Uhura’s coloratura voice. This being done, his long hands swiftly ran up and down the strings, bringing out a ripple of crystalline sounds which sent a shiver up the audience’s spine. Then he cocked his dark head at Uhura in a silent query.

"What about our old favorites, Captain?" she suggested with a smile.

"By all means, Commander," he replied with a ghostly smile of his own.

And time seemed to slip by as a dream while the spellbound crew listened to the combined magic of Uhura’s voice intertwined with the subtle harmonies of the Vulcan lyrette. One could tell that the two musicians were accustomed to performing together, so perfect was their tempo and their melodic attunement.

Many an old hand was remembering with some emotion the good old days when Uhura and Spock had favored the inmates of the old rec room with their musical gifts. As for the newcomers, the perfect blending of the woman’s velvet voice with the silvery tone of the lyrette was a revelation. And so, each time a song came to its end, the crew asked for more; Uhura, who thrived on music, willingly complied, faithfully supported by the captain whose fingers seemed as tireless as they were skilled.

But the moment came when Uhura, after singing a sweet melody which drew tears in many eyes, gracefully sank into the nearest chair, and declared herself to be out of breath. "Let the captain play some Vulcan music for a change!"

"Oh, Lord!" Doctor McCoy muttered under his breath, forgetting in the hubbub of excitement which rose in the hall at Uhura’s suggestion, that the Vulcan’s hearing was particularly acute. He realized his mistake when a slanted eyebrow was cocked in his direction.

"Any objection, Doctor?" he was asked by a mildly amused Captain.

"Well...er...no offense, Spock. But...I can’t help but recall that...er,...painful experience we had, Jim and I, in the ShiKahr Concert Hall."

DeSalle burst out laughing, "What was that, Doctor? A Vulcan concert? Was it that bad?"

"Pretty awful, if you ask me...for Human ears at least! Even Jim couldn’t stand it, and he is tone deaf, remember. Sorry, Spock, to sound so disparaging but, frankly, I don’t think it’s advisable to inflict such dissonant, traumatic noise on an unsuspecting audience.

"But, what are you talking about, Doctor?" Scott protested. "We’ve had Vulcan music before, haven’t we, Captain? Personally I rather like it; sounds a bit like some of our old Gaelic tunes."

"Believe me, Scotty," said McCoy, "your bagpipes sound like a celestial choir of angels compared to what they played at that concert!"

By that time curiosity was at its peak. "What was it like, Doctor? Can you give us an idea?" asked O’Brien.

"Well, it’s indescribable. It was some sort of ear-splitting cacophony played with unbelievable instruments which left us half-deaf, and with a splitting headache into the bargain. I’ve never heard anything like it!"

Lieutenant Caromandel interrupted. "Doctor, if you dislike Vulcan music, so be it, it is your right. But why should you prevent others from listening to it, and forming their own opinion? Captain, please, give us a chance. We would very much like to hear you play."

"Hear! hear!" chorused some people.

"Okay, okay! As you like!" McCoy retorted. "But don’t come afterwards and say that I didn’t warn you!"

"Just a moment, everyone," Uhura cut in peremptorily. "With your permission, Captain. Let’s make everything clear. Personally, I am rather familiar with Vulcan music. I have heard and studied the traditional themes with you, Spock, and with recordings. Naturally, some pieces might sound, well, strange to people accustomed only to Terran music, but I have never heard anything actually discordant, Doctor. Never. So it seems to me that you are trying to lead us up the garden path!"

"Me, Uhura? Never!" McCoy’s blue eyes shone with the innocence of a new-born lamb. "I swear it’s all gospel truth. Ask Spock!"

All their eyes turned to the Vulcan who was sitting, calm and thoughtfully attentive, and softly brushing the strings of his lyrette with a leisurely hand. His lean face was remote and inscrutable, but his dark eyes held the hint of twinkle, as if he were observing, with mocking detachment, the antics of his Human crew.

"Captain, what do you say?" asked Uhura." Can you explain this contradiction? Who is right, McCoy or me?"

Spock lay a hand on the strings to mute their resonance and straightened up. "You are right, Commander, but so it seems is Doctor McCoy."

"What?" McCoy exclaimed. "It can’t be! You can’t have it both ways, Spock."

"Would you care to explain, Captain?" Uhura looked puzzled.

"Certainly, Commander," replied the Vulcan, setting his lyrette down by his side. Then he sat back, fingers steepled, and gazed at McCoy. "Tell me, Doctor, the Concert Hall which you mentioned is located opposite the Vulcan Intergalactic Spaceport, am I right?"

"Er...yes, that’s right. That big modern building with a green dome; that’s the one."

"I see. Now, when did you attend that concert? Was it on our last visit to Vulcan four years ago, while the Enterprise was in orbit for a few days?"

"Why, yes...that was the evening you and your father went to see someone on family business. I took Jim out to dinner at that little Italian restaurant, back of the Spaceport, nice little place, you know the one I mean? Well, when we left, we saw a crowd of people go into that theater, and, having nothing better to do, we bought tickets and went in. Jim was curious about Vulcan night life. Some night life it was! No need to say that we skipped away at the first interval! But why do you ask?"

"Because, Doctor, you went to the one concert hall where the Contemporary Music Festival takes place every second year. My home town invites philharmonic orchestras from the other worlds to perform at that festival, and give concerts of music of various styles and types, some of which would not be to everyone’s liking, and obviously not to yours, Doctor." A glint of amusement sparkled in his eyes.

Some faint giggles, quickly stifled, sounded in the room while McCoy gaped in disbelief at the captain who blandly met his stare, and waited. The penny finally dropped. The doctor swallowed hard and uttered, "You green-blooded... Do you mean to say that the damn racket we heard in that hall was not Vulcan music?"

"Not necessarily, Doctor. I would assume that it might have been Rigelian or Andorian, or possibly Betazoid contemporary music. I am surprised that you did not check the program posted at the doors."

"Damn it, Spock!" McCoy fairly exploded. "Fat lot of good that would have been when neither Jim nor I speak Vulcan, let alone read it. Rigelian music indeed! Why couldn’t you say so?"

"You never asked me...and how could I, since I was on the other side of the planet at the time? Illogical, Doctor."

The crew, who enjoyed nothing better than this long-standing verbal sparring, dissolved into laughter while McCoy rolled his eyes heavenwards in exasperation.

"Looks like you’ve been properly had, Doctor!" Scott chuckled happily, and took a hearty swill of Scotch.

McCoy’s huff could not last long amidst all this merriment, and he broke into a reluctant grin. "Yeah...looks like it," he admitted.

"But, tell me, Doctor," DeSalle inquired, "how come you didn’t know the difference between a Vulcan orchestra and an Andorian, or Terran, or whatever it was? I mean, it’s so obvious! You just had to look at their ears."

"Very funny, Vince! But it’s not so obvious when you sit up high, on the back row, half a mile away from the stage!" the doctor retorted. "So, it seems that you were right, Uhura. Modern music! I’ll be damned! And all the time we took that for some typical Vulcan ear-spitting monstrosity. I can’t wait to see Jim’s face when he hears about it. You know, Spock, I have to hand it to you: you do have the knack of making a fellow look four kinds of a fool!"

"I assure you, Doctor, that it was not my intention. You must blame this Human propensity of yours for jumping to conclusions...and the wrong conclusions, generally. However, I would have thought that you had sufficient points of reference to detect the difference. What you heard at my parents’ home was classic and traditional Vulcan, like this, for instance," and, resting the lyrette on his knee, Spock broke into a lively tune ringing like silver bells backed up by a humming tempo, much like the beating of a drum. For a few moments, the strange melody rang loud and clear, then gradually faded away in a soft diminuendo.

"Why! That was lovely, Captain," Lieutenant Caromandel said with rapture. "What was it?"

"A marching song of my ancestral clan, Lieutenant, a traditional theme which Doctor McCoy must have heard during our first visit to Vulcan to my ancestral home. Don’t you remember?" Spock was hinting at the koon-ut kal-i-fee, and McCoy took the hint.

"I’m a doctor, not a music expert!" came the inevitable reply. "But, come to think of it...yeah...sounds familiar, and you’re right. There’s a difference: this is prettier!"

Meantime some crewmembers were getting impatient. "Captain, please, may we hear another one? Some ballads, perhaps, or love songs. Are there love songs on Vulcan?" asked some of the young women.

McCoy and Uhura saw a shadow pass over the captain’s face and exchanged an uneasy glance, the same thought crossing their mind. Damn them! How could they be so mindless, when just a few days ago...

But worse was to come as Schwarzenberg said disdainfully and with a total lack of discretion: "Love songs? You must be joking, Cadets. How could Vulcans play love songs when they deny all feelings and emotions?"

This tactless remark earned him a barrage of dark looks from his colleagues, and a sharp retort from Uhura. "That’s where you are wrong, Lieutenant. I can tell you that the most beautiful love songs I have ever heard are Vulcan. You tell him, Captain."

Spock met her eyes with a warm gaze and a nod of assent. Then, considering that a practical demonstration would serve the purpose better than any explanation, he launched himself into a brilliant display of traditional Vulcan music, and at once gathered his audience under his spell as he brought to life many pre-Reform themes and time-honored ballads and mating-songs of his home planet.

Imperceptibly, however, Spock drifted into an elaborate improvisation, interweaving, in honor of Montgomery Scott,Vulcan melodies and Gaelic tunes, so similar in their mysterious nostalgia. These last themes took the chief engineer into the seventh heaven, of course, and his genial face beamed with sheer delight.

As for Uhura, the "musical expert" of the Enterprise, she listened with critical appreciation, humming gently to the tunes, and feeling somehow that the Vulcan could never reveal the unique duality of his nature better than with his musical skills.

She was deeply moved as she recalled what Admiral Kirk had said once of his friend: that Spock was "the best of both worlds." How true, she thought watching Spock, totally absorbed in his musical inspiration, while his fingers ran on the strings and drew out of them an extraordinary rhapsody, so alien and yet, so familiar. None of them could say how long his solo performance lasted since they lost all sense of time and space in that magical world, where the rippling harmonies of the lyrette conjured up visions of innumerable galaxies solemnly spinning to the music of the spheres. When Spock’s improvisation came finally to its glorious conclusion, when the last lilting notes dropped like an echo in the silence, the spell was broken. Dazed glances were exchanged all round as the crew came slowly back to reality, having shared an exceptional experience. With awe and wonder, they watched their captain emerge from his trance-like concentration, and, after a second of hesitation, burst into rapturous applause, which was met with Vulcan composure.

Although he had been around Humans long enough to know that their emotional reactions were generally predictable, Spock, however, was mildly puzzled by all these eyes shining with tears in smiling faces, until he remembered an alarming experience of his childhood when he once had surprised his mother shedding tears of joy. So, this was obviously another example of the contradictory emotions which so often befell Humans.

Uhura flashed a brief and grateful smile, and whispered, "Thank you, Spock. That was wonderful."

He merely replied, "My pleasure, Commander.." But, considering also that a lighter touch would not come amiss in this ever flow of emotionality, he added, a gleam in his eyes, "I only trust that Doctor McCoy will have no difficulty, in the future, in making the difference between authentic Vulcan music and extraneous sound assemblage."

As anticipated, the doctor reacted right on cue and flashed back, "Well, Spock, after the demonstration you’ve just given us, you can bet your fluffy little bed-socks that I’ll be able to tell the difference. And don’t tell me that Vulcans do not wear bed-socks because I won’t believe you!"

This exchange did not fail to provoke laughter all around and bring back the merry party spirit. But under the banter ran a deep understanding between the two old sparring partners, and McCoy acknowledged with a good-natured nod that he was well aware of the significance of the amazing gift offered by the Vulcan. He caught Uhura’s eye, and DeSalle’s, and Farrell’s, and Scotty’s in turn, and they traded meaningful smiles, not devoid of some self-satisfaction.

Indeed, what better proof could they have that their offer of help and friendship of the few days past had been accepted and returned a hundredfold. Their plan had worked perfectly, Spock was once more his usual serene Vulcan self, and all was for the best in the best possible world. With one accord, the three confederates looked at Spock, and, at the sight of the Vulcan gazing at them with a quiet twinkle in his dark eyes, and an elegant eyebrow creeping up to his hairline, their smiles turned into self conscious grins. A wordless sensation of acceptance and friendship arose around them, and they felt at last how good it was to be together.

Meantime, while this brief by-play was being enacted, the junior grades and the cadets were setting up the Rec Deck for dancing, as they meant to make the most of the party, even right through the night.

It followed that the Rec Deck became significantly noisy, not to say rowdy, and when, moments later, a merry chief engineer enlisted Cadet Gordon to help him teach energetic crewmembers the elaborate steps of the Eightsome Reel, the sound level reached an uncomfortable pitch for sensitive Vulcan ears. And it came as no surprise to Uhura and DeSalle, when they looked round for the captain, to find that he was nowhere to be seen.

Spock had indeed quietly withdrawn, content to let his crew enjoy Scott’s party and have a good time, while he would carry on with his duties.

He stopped at his quarters to set his lyrette back into place, but did not deem it worth while to change into uniform for just a couple of hours. So he was still dressed in his elegant Vulcan garb when he set out for his customary night rounds. As he stood a moment later at the turbolift doors, he was not really surprised to hear a faint meow behind him, and see Popsy, complete with tartan ribbons, trotting along the corridor to catch up with him. She rubbed against his legs, in cat-mode greetings, and he picked her up to get into the lift which he sent on its way with the brief order, "Bridge!" Looking down at his small and furry companion clawing and nudging at his chest with ecstatic purrs, he experienced an irrational feeling of regret at the thought that this was the last time they would walk the ship together. The following day, the Enterprise would be secured in SpaceDock, and the cat would be gone.

Strange and illogical though it certainly was, he knew that he would miss her.

 November 28th 2278


On the bridge of the Enterprise, the crew watched in silence as the huge Space Dock loomed before them.

In the center seat, Spock quietly supervised the docking maneuver and listened with half an ear to the grousing of Doctor McCoy who was standing, arms folded on his chest, by his chair.

"Blasted regulations! Why do we have to be quarantined like some pestiferous outlaws in that God-forsaken docking bay, and for how long? I’d like to know! It’s ridiculous!"

"Please advise Approach Control, Commander," the captain said to Uhura. To McCoy, he patiently said, "This is not a quarantine procedure, Doctor, as you are well aware. Just precautions deemed necessary by Starfleet Security to prevent any untimely contact of the crew with reporters and press representatives before our official debriefings."

"Approach Control," began Uhura, "this is the U.S.S. Enterprise. Ready for docking maneuvers."

"Pah!" snorted McCoy. "Precautions! About time to take precautions. They should’ve taken them three weeks ago, instead of letting Xantar sneak aboard!"

"Let as remind you that our own Security team is not entirely blameless in that matter," Spock murmured.

"Enterprise, welcome home!" called the Controller’s voice, "You are clear to dock. Docking Bay Three...and don’t miss the gates!"

"Thank you, Approach Control. We’ll do our best," Uhura sweetly replied, while the cadets giggled at the stale joke.

"Mister DeSalle, you heard the Controller; don’t put us to shame," Spock remarked , a twinkle in his eyes.

"Aye, sir," the chief helmsman grinned. "As Uhura said, I’ll do my best."

The huge doors parted silently, and the Enterprise smoothly glided in. She moved across the deep bay on her way to her mooring station. As she slowly passed ship after ship, speculation ran high on the bridge as to the unexpected Security procedures.

"Looks like whoever wished to hush up the Xantar affair made a botch of it, at Headquarters," declared Commander Scott as fresh as a daisy, and obviously none the worse for last night festivities.

"What beats me," DeSalle wondered as he deftly steered the mighty ship into its docking station, "is that after three weeks being away, we should still be in the news. You would think that these reporters would have found some other news scoop to feed their puerile needs, wouldn’t you?"

"Maybe nothing happened in the galaxy when we were away," Farrell suggested, half in jest.

"Some hope, Johnny!" McCoy snorted. "But, tell me, Spock, what’s that I hear about one of the big brass coming aboard for inspection? Isn’t that rather unusual? I mean, this being just a training cruise?"

"It is, Doctor, but I expect that Starfleet considers the circumstances to warrant exceptional measures."

"Damn! Officiousness and nuisance, if you ask me," the doctor grumbled.

"Enterprise," cut in the cheerful controller, "Stand by for final docking procedures."

"Standing by," Spock answered. "Activate moorings, Mister DeSalle."

"Moorings activated, Captain."

As the delicate mooring maneuvers were being performed, Spock flipped open his intra-ship call switch and said, "All hands, this is the captain speaking. Rank officers and trainees are to report within fifteen minutes to assigned docking ports for inspection. All other personnel are to stand by for further instructions. Spock out."

"Great," the doctor commented, "that’ll please them no end to cool their heels at their stations instead of going home. For me, I’ll go and start packing. And if your paper-pushers want to inspect me and my sickbay, let them find the way." And he strode up the steps to the lift.

Meanwhile, the controller’s voice brightly announced, "Docking procedures completed, Enterprise. Nice to see you haven’t lost your touch, Vince!"

"Smart ass," sotto voce from the helm.

"Acknowledged, Approach Control," Spock coolly replied. Then: "Well done, Mister DeSalle. Doctor!"

The physician halted in his tracks.

"Doctor, I said ‘rank officers,’ and that includes the chief medical officer as well," the Vulcan pointed out. "Therefore I suggest that you proceed to the staging area without further delay. The admiral is on his way for inspection."

McCoy looked down at him with raised eyebrows and whistled. "An admiral? Well, well, the Powers That Be must be in a rare stew over this affair. Looks like we haven’t seen the end of it," and the lift doors snapped shut behind him.

Ignoring the ripple of repressed laughter, Spock stood up and gave a circular glance at the crew. "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, that is all. When you have closed your stations, please report at once to the docking bay."

As he strode past the communication station, Commander Uhura stopped him with a murmured "Captain!"

He turned round, "Yes, Commander?"

"I’m sorry, sir," she said under her breath, "but I didn’t notice any communication from Starfleet about an admiral coming on board. Just an inspection party. Did someone notify you directly?"

"Indeed," Spock replied as he gazed down at her. "It would be impossible for you to monitor all communications, Commander Uhura." The shadow of a smile touched his lips. "You can rest assured that the admiral’s shuttle is on approach, and that he will set foot on the deck of the Enterprise in fourteen point three minutes."

The bemused Bantu officer regarded him uncertainly. Then, perceiving a subtle expression of contained elation on his face, she suddenly realized what he meant. A delighted smile lit her lovely face. "Oh!" she stammered. "You mean that...I’m sorry, Spock. I didn’t mean to pry, but that’s good news!"

The Vulcan nodded assent, a soft gleam burning deep in his eyes as he calmly replied, "Indeed, but the less talked about it, the better. Now, shall we go, Commander? We must not keep him waiting."

"No, indeed," she heartily agreed.


The Enterprise personnel were assembled in the docking area and waiting with mixed feelings for the Starfleet Command representative. The officers lined up on one side, and the cadets and trainees on the other, watched Captain Spock, hands clasped behind his back, pace the deck with measured steps along the ranks, and give them the once over with a critical eye. He looked so much like a high school principal appraising his unruly students that DeSalle, catching Farrell’s eye, gave a sly wink which was duly returned with a grin.

In the expectant silence, Doctor McCoy was heard grumbling under his breath to Commander Scott, while in the trainees’ rank, some helpless giggles, provoked by an ill-timed jest from Michel Kovac, were hardly being repressed. The cadets’ regrettable levity was naturally not lost on the captain, but he chose to ignore this manifestation of nervousness so typical in Humans. A cold glance and a quelling eyebrow sufficed to restore proper solemnity to the ranks.

As for McCoy’s characteristic show of ill-humor towards the upper echelons of Starfleet, Spock was well aware that it would not last long, under the circumstances, and he anticipated with some ironic satisfaction the doctor’s reaction when the airlock doors opened.

"Docking procedures completed," announced the technician at last. Spock drew himself up to his full height and shortly ordered, "Prepare for inspection. Open the airlock."

Stiff with anticipation, the trainees came smartly to attention, and the captain turned on his heels to face the doors which parted with a muted thump; and, to the shrill wail of the bosun’s pipe, Admiral James T. Kirk, with two Security officers in tow, stepped on board.

A gasp of surprise rose from the officers’ ranks.

"Permission to come aboard, Captain?"

"Permission granted, Admiral. Welcome aboard."

To the watching crew, the meeting looked punctiliously official and formal, but they failed to notice the gaze exchanged which held all the warmth of deep friendship. "Spock, my friend. Good to see you."

"Good to see you, Admiral."

"How was the trip?"

"Relatively uneventful."

For all their outward restraint, the two friends exuded an aura of such warmth and caring that the area fairly sizzled with excitement. The trainees stood awestruck at the unexpected appearance of the legendary James Tiberius Kirk, the galaxy’s greatest living hero, the model of their most ambitious dreams. The astonished officers—Commander Uhura excepted, naturally—could hardly contain their elation at seeing that the top brass descending upon them turned out to be their former commanding officer and friend, and were grinning shamelessly, and to hell with regulations!

Spock observed with interest that Doctor McCoy’s reaction lived up to his expectations. In a matter of seconds, the good doctor ran the whole gamut of extreme emotions, going, as if by magic, from grumbling sulkiness to gaping stupefaction, and, finally, to grinning delight at the sight of his old friend.

In this congenial atmosphere, the announced inspection soon turned into a friendly gathering. Jim Kirk, obviously delighted to be in the familiar surroundings of the Enterprise, shook hands and joked with his former staff, to the surprise of the cadets who had never undergone such an informal review. Closely followed by Captain Spock, the admiral strode along their line, and gave them each a friendly glance. He even had a kind word for Vatanen, Gordon and Kovac who were duly introduced by the captain, and quietly praised for their commendable conduct in the face of danger. The keen look and warm smile that the admiral bestowed upon the three made them blush, and the two women felt their hearts fluttering under the scrutiny of a pair of hazel eyes, supported by the steady, brown Vulcan gaze.

"My word, Spock! You lucky dog. Quite a cadet crew you ended up with here."

"Luck had nothing to do with it, Admiral. According to regular procedures, these cadets and trainees were detailed by the Starfleet Academy and Starfleet Training Command."

"Oh, I see." And the inspection tour continued.


At last, having been awarded by Admiral Kirk with a special Starfleet commendation and a month’s leave, the gratified cadets were entrusted to the care of the Security officers who had been unobtrusively waiting in the background. The two men were to escort the crew back to Earth by a classified means of transportation so as to by-pass the hordes of press reporters who were awaiting them at Transport Central.

And so, following the short farewell speeches from the admiral and their captain, the dismissal from Killicranky sent the youngsters running off to prepare for departure.

The officers followed at a more sedate pace and proceeded to the staff lounge to welcome Jim Kirk aboard and take leave of one another in an informal drinking party.

Doctor McCoy, who had hardly got over his surprise, was loudly voicing his satisfaction. "By Jove, Jim, it’s real nice to have you here with us. I’ve always said this is where you belong. But how come nobody was told that it was you who were coming? We all were told of an inspection party, and I figured it was some commodore wanting to rock the boat."

Kirk laughed and cast a side-long glance at Spock, quietly standing at his side. "Actually," he said, "it was a last minute decision. In fact, Commodore Jeff Kerenski was supposed to do the inspection, but I claimed a better cognizance of Enterprise and her personnel, and I...well, I pulled rank! Only Spock knew about it. I signaled him this morning as the Enterprise entered the solar system."

"Did he, now? I wondered...and, of course, that blasted Vulcan had to keep it up his sleeve."

"Of course, Bones...to give you the surprise, wasn’t it, Spock?"

"Of course, Admiral," the captain replied, and there was a touch of Vulcan smugness on his face.


Meantime, the trainees, clustered around the port-holes of the Earth-bound shuttle, were giving a last, wistful look at the Enterprise which was hovering like a captured bird in her mooring dock. Lost in thoughts and unusually silent, the youths were indulging in a bout of nostalgia.

The excitement over the admiral’s review and their round of farewells, even over the prospect of a month’s holiday, seemed to be gone. In a rather subdued mood, they were pensively gazing at the silver-white ship where they had spent the three most momentous weeks of their lives, and which was fast receding behind, the lacy structures of spacedocks.

Then the shuttle banked sharply, heading for the dock gates, and they lost sight of the Enterprise. The spell was broken.

A collective pent-up breath escaped them, and Cadet Michel Kovac, probably expressing a common feeling, declared, "Well, that’s that! Those three weeks of training over already...and we are going home! I don’t know about you, but it seems that time has flown by like a dream, and yet, so many things have happened..."

"Huh-huh., I know," agreed Joyce Garrick, absent-mindedly fondling the silky fur of her cat. "Hard to believe, when you think about it. We certainly have had some hectic moments, but, on the whole, I’ve had a wonderful time! What about you, Alison?"

The Scottish woman looked round with starry eyes and nodded. "This has been an unforgettable experience, and I don’t speak of our kidnapping. Yes...and as soon as I have a chance, I’ll apply for a post on the Enterprise."

Laugher and scoffs greeted her candid disclosure. "The Enterprise? Are you dreaming?"

"What do you expect?"

"...and with Captain Spock, of course?"

"Naturally," she primly replied, "and why not? I can but try."

"Well, if I had the choice," Ferrier said seriously, "I know I would too."

"You know what?" Kovac proposed enthusiastically. "We should all apply for the Enterprise...who knows? Some of us might stand a chance!"


That night, three men were sitting by the fireplace of a comfortable apartment overlooking San Francisco, and indulging in the desultory after-dinner conversation usual among long-standing friends.

Kirk and McCoy were warming their balloons of genuine Cognac brandy in the cup of their hands, while Spock was enjoying some vintage T’mara Omi imported directly from Vulcan.

It had been a long day, from the dismissal and leave-taking of the crew to the debriefing at Starfleet Headquarters where Spock had been submitted to a cross examination regarding the Xantar hijacking case, which had left the four Security investigators thoroughly exhausted, to the unforeseen skirmish with some astute and enterprising press people who had had the cheek to track the trio down as far as Admiral Morrow’s door-step. The reporters (Sally Slovak of the Galactic News Network and Willis O’Brien and Sienna Gillette of Intergalactic News Service) had definitely been neutralized by an icy "No Comment" from Admiral Kirk, a Vulcan arctic stare from Captain Spock, and a particularly blistering but unprintable curse from Doctor McCoy.

Now, after a gourmet dinner provided by the best caterers in the town, they were relaxing in the peace and quiet of Kirk’s quarters, and the admiral was affectionately watching his two friends in the dancing light of the fire. Was it fatigue or the mellowing effect of good food and excellent wine (on McCoy at least)? But, strangely enough, the two eternal opponents seemed to have given up their traditional bickering, and Kirk felt his curiosity aroused. He was well aware that the two men, although they would never admit it, had developed over their long association a certain fondness for each other, but this perfect harmony, this apparent understanding were quite intriguing.

Feeling that a discreet investigation was in order, the admiral ordered another round of drinks, and sitting back in his chair, quietly asked, "Now, you two...would you mind giving me your impression of that cruise? Off the record, you understand. I’ll have your official version in your reports, of course, but I would like to know what you think about it...How was it, in general?"

"Satisfactory," was Spock’s concise reply.

"What?" McCoy took fire at once. "Satisfactory, you say, Spock? Jim, this has been one of the most hair-raising trips I’ve ever had the misfortune to be assigned to. And he calls it satisfactory...by God!"

"You tell me, Bones," Kirk prompted, and settled down for a typical McCoy-ish recital which promised to be thrilling to judge by the wicked glee sparkling in the doctor’s eyes. A glance at Spock’s long-suffering expression revealed the Vulcan’s stoic resignation...for the time being at least. Kirk chuckled inwardly. This is more like it. Some things never change, thank God.

"Well, Jim," the doctor began with gusto,"I was told that this training cruise would be nice and relaxing, remember? That’s what you said when you twisted my arm into accepting. A relaxing trip, indeed! With a desperate, half-mad hijacker kidnapping the crew right and left...and our Vulcan, here, playing havoc with Starfleet equipment. You should have seen what he did with that shuttle... more fitting to a carnival stuntman than a respectable starship commander. No wonder he came out of it falling to pieces which, of course, I had to patch up together."

The worried glance that Kirk directed at Spock was received with a forbearing rise of the Vulcan’s eyebrows, so he turned his full attention back to McCoy who was going full tilt by then.

"...and hardly had we done with that problem than the wild beast started prowling the ship as if it belonged to it."

"A wild beast ?" cut in Kirk, sitting up with a startled look.

"Just a Terran cat, Jim," Spock put in in a quiet aside.

"Yeah, ‘Just a Terran cat,’" mimicked McCoy, obviously enjoying himself hugely. "A cat which, for more than twenty-four hours, disrupted ‘the smooth running of the ship,’ in your own words, Spock, However, to be frank, Jim, I must say that it turned out to be a delightful kitten which fast became the fun and joy of the crew, and the darling of the captain, eh, Spock?" This provoked another soaring of long-suffering eyebrows.

"...and, all the time," McCoy went on," we had that pointy eared hobgoblin in the command chair, forever springing new stunts on the rest of us because...it’s good for the trainees, you know; must be kept on their toes. Exhausting, Jim...it was utterly, devastatingly exhausting! And, to put the lid on it, we ran into a battle with some Orion pirates, after which we had to go and rescue that Romulan Valkyrie and her crew. If that is your idea of a milk run, Jim, it is not mine, for a less relaxing trip I have yet to see!" Finally out of breath, the good doctor sat back and took a sip of cognac which he rolled around his mouth with obvious relish.

"Spock, what is all this?" demanded Jim Kirk, half in jest, half in earnest.

"It is all in my report, Admiral," replied the Vulcan who had perceptibly stiffened at the mention of the Romulans. "When you look into it, you will realize that McCoy’s usual tendency for exaggeration has overstepped the mark this time."

McCoy could not let this detraction go unchallenged. "Exaggeration! I like that!" he protested hotly. "Spock, you can’t deny that, but for our providential arrival upon the scene, your Romulan Commander and her people might very likely be on sale in an Orion slave market by now! Actually, Jim," he grinned, "it was rather fun, in a way. We turned up like the cavalry over the hill, just in the nick of time."

"I do not deny that our timely intervention indeed eased the Romulan ship’s precarious situation, Doctor," Spock austerely stated, "but I fail to see what the cavalry has to do with it."

"Oh, come on, Spock, you..."

"Bones, just a moment, please," Kirk held up a restraining hand. "There is a point which calls for an explanation. You mentioned the Romulan Commander and her people. Do you mean a female commander? The commander of the ship from which we stole the cloaking device, by any chance?"

"Yes, Jim, that’s just it. Talk about coincidence. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw our Romulan Commander on the viewscreen...or rather, his Romulan Commander," McCoy specified with a grin and a nod in Spock’s direction.

An awkward pause followed as McCoy suddenly realized the faux pas which, carried away by his tale, he had unwittingly committed. A glance at the carefully neutral expression of the Vulcan, who was silently staring down at his tightly clasped hands, confirmed his impression.

With an uneasy glance at Kirk, who wondered at the sudden tension between the two men, McCoy hastened to add, "Well, you know, Jim, it’s a long story, and I am sure that Spock can tell it much better than I, and at a more appropriate time. In any case, our encounter with that Romulan ship has been to me at least, quite a revelation. I was surprised to find some decent people among them, like their surgeon, for instance. A real nice fellow. Anyway, as they had had casualties, my sickbay was kept pretty busy for a couple of days, as you will find in my report, and I don’t mind telling you that I was mighty relieved when they left and we went our way, without mishap to our crew. Well, there you are, Jim...so much for a restful cruise! No need to say that I may have been taken in this once, but I won’t be again, thank you!"

Kirk chuckled and set his empty glass down on the hearth tiles. "We’ll see, Bones. We’ll see. Now, Spock, this is not official yet, but what would you say to having an admiral on board for your next training cruise?"

Spock gave a speculative look at his friend whose hazel eyes sparkled with anticipation...and he understood at once. "It would depends on the admiral, Jim," he replied with a cool indifference belied by his own twinkling eyes.

It took a little longer for McCoy to get the picture. "Oh?..Oh, do you mean...you, Jim? You will come on the next trip? That’s great! That will be like old times."

"Not exactly, Bones. My position will be that of an observer, no more. Spock is the captain of the Enterprise, don’t forget." Kirk made the point with a meaningful glance.

"Sure, Jim. I am not likely to forget it! I have seen him at work. But with you on board, we’ll—"

"We, Doctor?" the Vulcan dryly cut in. "You surprise me. From what you said just now, I assumed that you did not wish to ever be on the Enterprise any more. So, how does this concern you?"

"Damn you, Spock! Try and keep me out of it!" the doctor blurted out, falling headlong into the trap.

A dry chuckle from Kirk and an ironic tilt of a Vulcan eyebrow met his cri du coeur.

"So...you won’t be taken in again, Bones?" Kirk sweetly asked.

McCoy contrived to look sheepish and defiant all at once. "Oh, Hell, you know I didn’t mean it, Jim. Blame it on my hasty tongue. But, I admit that if you two are looking for a C.M.O., and don’t mind having an old country doctor...?" His two friends looked at each other.

"Do you, Spock?"

"What about you, Admiral?"

"Well, I don’t know...old country doctors are sometimes worth having around. Don’t you agree?"

"Well, possibly. If we can put up with their short-tempered disposition and limited medical skills, I believe that—"

"Damn it!" McCoy flared up. "Are you two finished pulling my leg? Yes or no? Do you want me, or don’t you?"

"Doctor," Spock replied with dignity, "I was about to say, when you interrupted me, that...old country doctors are not only worth having around on a starship, they are indispensable."

"Good. Exactly my view, Captain Spock," Kirk said with a wink at McCoy. "They are indeed essential to the welfare of the crew, as this old country doctor here has proven to be time and again."

Kirk had not missed the gaze exchanged by his two friends which confirmed his suspicion of the deep understanding they had somehow reached during that eventful training mission. He also knew that, sometime, he would be told about it...when they were ready.

"Bones," he formally resumed, "I take it that we can rely on your cooperation at Spock’s next training session, six months from now. That is...if you have nothing better to do...like signing up for a tour aboard another starship, or that research of yours, for instance."

"Jim, I won’t miss that trip for anything, and, well, thank you both for taking me with you. We’ll show Starfleet what the old team is still capable of, won’t we?"

"Sure, we will. I’m looking forward to it," Kirk said. "And now, gentlemen, I propose a toast to our future voyage together on the Enterprise. Come on, Bones, hand over your glass."

"Okay, Jim, but that will be the last one...one for the road," McCoy said struggling to his feet. "It’s getting late, and it’s been a long day, much too long for old country doctors. What do we drink to?"

"I raise my glass to the Enterprise, her peerless captain and chief medical officer, and her gallant crew, who have once again done remarkable service in extremely difficult situations," Kirk solemnly intoned.

"To Admiral James T. Kirk, our commander and friend," Spock quietly replied, glass of T’mara Omi in hand, dark eyes locked with Kirk’s hazel ones.

They drank, then Kirk grinned at the doctor. "And you, Bones, what is your toast?"

"You didn’t leave me much choice, did you?" McCoy complained. "Well, here goes: to us, to the famous and irreplaceable Enterprise regulars, to Scotty, Uhura, DeSalle, Farrell, and to Sulu and Chekov who missed out on this trip, to Spock and yours truly...why not? And to you, Jim, the Enterprise’s legendary commander. Let them all live long and prosper! (with your leave, Spock!)"

As the three friends stood together on the hearth rug, and drank the toasts in companionable silence, they felt somewhat confusedly, as they had in the past, how well their different personalities completed one another, as though they were meant to be friends, and to share the same destiny, in prosperity as in adversity.

Yes, indeed, it was good to be together.

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