Unto Space We Commend Thy Spirit by Djinn (CARTER #3)

"Release all moorings."

Christine Chapel sat in the first officer's chair on the USS Carter as the ship prepared to move out of spacedock for the first time. Spock sat calmly next to her, relaying orders to his bridge crew.

"Release all moorings," helmsman Lt. Mark Kimble repeated as he initiated the orders that would free the ship. "Moorings released."

"Plot course 42-8."

Lt. Kenara Sabuti at the navigation station punched in the settings. "Course set, Captain."

Around the back and sides of the bridge stood assorted Admirals, Captains, and high-level Starfleet civilians. All of them were present to watch the launching of Starfleet's first diplomatic/medical relief ship.

Lt. Saldusta spoke from behind Spock's chair. "Spacedock has cleared us for departure."

"Take us out, Mr. Kimble."

Kimble began to work his panel. "Aye-aye sir, maneuvering thrusters at full, moving out now."

For the first time, the view outside the screens changed as the ship began to slowly surge forward.

"We are clear of Spacedock," Sabuti announced.

Spock looked at Christine, his face serene, but a smile playing in his eyes. "One quarter impulse, Mr. Kimble."

"One quarter impulse, aye."

The ship easily moved into to the higher speed as the impulse engines came to life without incident. They increased to half impulse, then full, without any problems.

"Warp 1." Spock ordered.

"Going to warp, Sir."

Christine felt her shoulders tense as the ship moved into warp. This first use of the warp drive was the most dangerous moment in a ship's trial run. But the Carter jumped easily into lightspeed.

"Accelerate as per Starfleet instructions for trial, Lieutenant."

"Aye, Sir." Kimble began to run through the steady warp increases.

Sabuti watched the monitors on her screens. "No drift, course is true, Sir."

"Excellent, thank you, Lieutenant."

Kimble looked up, "Warp 7 successfully reached, Captain."

"Maintain that speed for ten minutes then reduce gradually to warp 5. Navigation, when we have stabilized at warp 5 change to rendezvous course."

"Aye, Sir." Sabuti's voice was calm and confident.

Christine felt a rush of pride in her crew. All of them were doing well on this first mission. Even though Lieutenants Kavall and Myrax had not had to participate actively she knew that the science officer was carefully tracking the emission's signatures as well as other readings. She could only pray they wouldn't need tactical this early in the mission but she had no doubt that Myrax would be ready if they did.

"Warp 5, Sir."

"Course correction plotted in and received. Rendezvous with fleet in seven minutes."

She could feel the tension in the air start to dissolve. The Starfleet brass were happy to be heading off this ship and moving back to HQ or on to the launching of the Enterprise B later that day. The bridge crew couldn't wait to get out from under the intense scrutiny. And she, well she couldn't wait to get up and move around the bridge, all this sitting was making her nervous.

"Fleet within visual."

"They are hailing, Sir." Saldusta listened for a moment then continued, "They say congratulations on a successful launch and invite all Starfleet Command personnel to return to the awaiting ships."

"Thank you Lieutenant. Mr. Kimble, slow to one quarter impulse."

"Aye, Sir."

The fleet came into view. Actually it wasn't much of a fleet as far as that went. Two small personnel carriers with armed escort for those returning to Earth and a destroyer to ferry personnel out to the Enterprise B launching.

"Full stop."

"Full stop, aye." The ship's stop was imperceptible to those on board. Only the now still vista from the viewscreens confirmed that they were no longer moving.

Spock rose and faced the visitors. Christine followed suit.

Admiral Nogura stepped out and smiled at then both. "Congratulations to you all on a successful launch. I can't tell you how impressed and proud I am with the entire crew of this ship. I can only hope our next launch goes as smoothly as this one. Keep up the good work."

"Thank you, Sir." Spock answered for them all.

Nogura started to turn then thought of something. "Shall I pass on anything from you to Captain Kirk?"

Christine could sense Spock's body tightening beside her. He had not expected to be asked this. "Most kind, Admiral. Tell him, I wish him well."

"I'll do that." The admiral turned to the rest of the party. "Those heading back to Earth are in the second transporter group. Ok? Let's go."

It took some time for the crowd to all clear off the bridge, but finally the lift doors closed behind the last few VIPs. Christine felt her shoulders slump in relief, heard Kimble breathe a huge sigh, and saw Sabuti roll her neck to ease some apparent kinks.

"Thank the gods that is over," Christine said to no one in particular.

"Indeed," Spock replied. "You all did very well."

"All visitors are off the ship, Sir." Saldusta was the last one to relax, she leaned back in her seat, breathing deeply from the humid vapor emitted by her choker.

Spock looked around at his crew. "Very well. We have several days' worth of pre-set headings to test. I suggest we begin now. Mr. Kimble?"

"Aye, Sir. Plotting course 1-1a. At your mark."

"Now."

The ship turned smoothly and headed out past the fleet toward the first destination.

Spock rose. "Commander, you have the conn."

I kind of like that sound of that, Christine realized, as she rose to walk the stress off by wandering the bridge.

**********************

As the shift wound down, Spock returned from his ready room to sit next to her. He had just finished a meeting with Kettering. They had gone over the engine tolerances during their initial jump to warp. Before that, Spock had been on and off the bridge. He stayed long enough to assure himself that all systems were fine and to tend his growing rapport with the crew but did not tend to stay so long that he made them nervous or grew bored himself. When he was on the bridge Christine could take time to get work done in her office or visit some other area of the ship. It seemed like a system that would work well for both of them.

During their planning phase prior to launch, Spock and Christine had gone back and forth on how to work the shifts. Many ships had the Captain and First officer never sharing a shift. And for a normal ship it made sense. But in their case it was likely that one or the other of them would be heavily involved in the mission of the day in either a diplomatic or medical capacity. These times together on the bridge could grow quite rare once they truly began working on the assignment the ship was designed for. And most of their missions would be timed so that arrivals, departures, and other major events happened during alpha shift. Christine knew that they couldn't account for everything of course but generally speaking this ship would spend a great deal of its time in orbit while diplomats negotiated or healers responded to medical crises. So she and Spock needed to serve on the same shift.

To supplement beta and gamma shift they had found two helmsmen with more experience than their relatively low grade would indicate. Lieutenant Paul Crawford had recently finished Officer Candidate School. He had previously been a pilot of one of the Starfleet VIP small personnel carriers. He had seen a great deal of action during that time and showed excellent judgment. Both Spock and Christine felt comfortable leaving him the conn when alpha shift rotated off. Later Lieutenant Calvin Larson would take over helm and the conn on gamma shift. Larson had been a private pilot, working for a company that provided armed escort for ships flying near the neutral zone. The beginning of the Federation-Klingon peace had put his employer out of business. Starfleet had been happy to snap him up. He was also sent through the Academy on the OCS accelerated tour so he could be ready for the Carter.

The lift doors opened and Crawford arrived, followed by the back up navigator and tactical. Kavall and Saldusta's replacements came in the next lift. As the senior crew left the bridge, Spock gave the conn to Crawford and gestured for Christine to join him in his ready room.

Christine stretched tired shoulders as the door closed behind them. "That went well, I thought."

"I agree. I think we have cause to celebrate. Will you join me for dinner?"

She was about to agree when she remembered a previous agreement. "Oh crap, I can't Spock. I've got dinner with Lieutenant Sabuti tonight. I'm trying to get to know her better, to figure her out. I don't feel right canceling on her." She made a face. "I'd rather celebrate with you."

"It's alright, Christine. Your plans should stand. We will do this later."

"Ok. I'm sorry."

"Do not apologize. You are getting to know the crew and that is a good thing. I should probably do the same. I must admit that I have not spent much recreational time with any of my diplomatic colleagues. I prefer to spend time with you or with Commander Kettering."

"He seems very nice."

"He is. I think he is also a man of great integrity. I enjoy his company and I respect his character."

"I'm glad. You should have friends. Friends are important. Even if it's only a few close friends, you introvert, you."

"I could comment on the inverse of that."

She laughed, "Don't bother. I've got to run. Have a good evening, Spock."

"Yes. You too."

***********************

Sabuti was a completely gracious dinner companion. But at the end of the hour Christine knew little more about her than she had before they ate together. Well, I tried, she thought somewhat dejectedly. She had passed Spock and Sovar when she and Sabuti had sat down. They at least looked like they were having an intense conversation. But with Vulcans they could be discussing just about anything and look that enthralled.

As she took her dishes to the recycler she noticed Spock was no longer in 3- Forward. When she entered an empty turbo lift she spoke to the computer. "What is the location of Captain Spock?"

"Captain Spock is in the greenhouse."

She smiled. "Deck 8." She accessed the door and stepped into the dark room. She listened for music but did not hear any. She had found him in the rose room last time, so she headed off that way. He was not there. Resisting asking the computer for his *exact* location, she thought over the rooms in the large area. Maybe the desert room. She found it quickly and looked around the small space filled with cacti and succulents. He was not there either.

She took a more systematic approach checking each room but did not see him. Finally she went back to the rose room. "Spock?"

"I am here." His dark form separated itself from the viewscreen but he did not approach her.

"I didn't see you there. I checked about 15 minutes ago."

"I did not hear you call."

"I didn't. I guess I just took a quick look around and left when I decided you weren't here."

"Ah." He turned back to the viewscreen, as if unwilling to leave his vigil for too long.

She walked up to stand next to him. Looked out but saw nothing but fast- moving stars. "Is something wrong, Spock?"

He nodded and sighed loudly. "Yes. But I am unable to ascertain what it is. I came here after dinner to relax but I have not been able to. Something just feels wrong."

"Wrong how?" She studied his face. It looked tighter than normal.

"Wrong as if something is missing. And I feel as if I should know what it is, but I do not. So I stand here watching this part of space. Wondering why."

"Maybe it's just your way of manifesting the letdown I think we are all feeling. We've been under tremendous strain for so long. Now that we are finally underway there will be some impact as we try to relax from that stress."

He nodded, his gaze not wavering from the stars. "That may be it."

"But you don't think so."

"No. I believe it is something more. But I don't know what."

She touched his shoulder very gently. "Do you want me to stay with you?"

He finally looked at her. "No. I will come with you."

She smiled in relief. "I saved room if you want to get some dessert."

He nodded and they walked out of the room. She could sense his need to look back but he did not turn his head.

"Whatever it is, Spock, there's nothing you can do about it now."

"I know." He stopped suddenly, reached out to push an errant lock of hair out of her eyes. "I am glad you are here."

She grinned. "Me too." She broke the moment first, moving toward the door and saying, "So I'm thinking blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Or maybe some mocha butter cream meringue?"

"I think I will stick with tea."

"You don't want to eat?"

He shook his head. "No. But I do want to be with you."

"Well that's alright then. But if you were going to eat, which sounds better?"

"I think the meringue. I have never had mocha butter cream."

She made a sound of disbelief, "Never? Oh you have to taste this then. You are going to go straight to heaven."

"Vulcans do not believe in heaven, Christine."

"Well this will make a believer out of you."

He smiled gently at her. "If you say so."

"I guarantee it," she laughed as they entered the mess hall.

*******************************

The next day, Christine sat in her bridge chair watching the stars passing by lazily on screen as they headed out on the third heading that Starfleet had set for them. The first two trials, worked on by all the shifts yesterday had yielded only a few anomalous readings. For a shakedown cruise they were doing great.

She watched the bridge crew. They were still learning each other's habits but their performance thus far had been exemplary. Kimble and Sabuti were busy at their stations. Occasionally talking back and forth too quietly for her to tell what they were saying. Kavall and Myrax were discussing the merits of modulating phasers or the straight blast. Christine swiveled to see what Saldusta was doing. The lieutenant was listening intently to something, a slight frown crossing her face. Christine got up and walked back to the comms station.

Saldusta saw her coming and held up a finger as she appeared to listen even more intently. Suddenly her face went white and she looked up at Christine, distress clear in her eyes.

"Saldusta? What is it?" The other officers looked over as she waited for Saldusta to pull the communications interface from her ear.

"There's traffic, so much. Almost too much to make sense of. I've isolated the part that matters. It's a broadcast comms from Starfleet to the fleet. Captain Spock just got a copy of it on his private channel as well. Should I play it?" At Christine's nod, she punched in some codes and a voice filled the bridge.

"This is Captain John Harriman of the Enterprise B. Yesterday, the ship after formal launching responded to a distress call of two El-Aurian refugee ships. We lost one ship and all crew and passengers to a temporal flux ribbon called the Nexus. We were able to rescue 47 refugees from the second ship but we remained in danger from the Nexus. Captain James T. Kirk, on board for the launching ceremony, successfully performed emergency modifications to the ship's deflectors, allowing us to escape. The Captain, however, was lost when the Nexus impacted the hull where he was working. His body has not been located and he is presumed dead. I cannot express how very sorry the entire crew is at this loss. Captain James T. Kirk was a living legend and it was an honor to have him on board. He lived a hero, and he died in the same way. Harriman out."

"Oh my god." The words came out as a gasp. Christine looked toward the ready room. "Spock." She walked to his door, barely remembering to give Sabuti the conn. She buzzed the chime but there was no answer. "Medical override, Chapel A-D2-33."

The door opened revealing Spock sitting motionlessly at his desk. She stepped forward to allow the door to close. "Spock?"

"This is not a good time, Christine." His face was turned away from her.

"Spock, I know. I know what's happened."

He turned to look at her. His face was frozen into the extreme Vulcan mask she had not seen since V-Ger. "How could you know that? It appears not even Captain Harriman really knows what happened."

"I just meant that I know that he is dead."

He stood up and walked toward her. Every step was controlled, measured. His arms were behind his back. "And how do you know that, Commander? That message came to *me* on a private channel?" His tone was mocking. "Ah, let me guess. Our new communications officer does not know the meaning of the word *private* perhaps?" He turned away from her, paced to the viewport, stood looking out.

"Spock, we got a copy of the message too. I want to help you. Please let me help."

He did not look at her. "My best friend has died. He is lost to me forever. How can you possibly help?"

The words hurt, as he meant them too. She knew his pain was making him strike out. He wasn't ready for her comfort. Maybe he never would be.

"I loved him too. Many of us did. You aren't the only one that's lost something here." She turned on her heel and walked back out to the bridge. The faces waiting for her were too much. "I'll be in my office," she instructed Sabuti as she headed for the door of her own space.

"Quarter lights," she ordered. She fought the tears that threatened. Tears for Kirk, tears for Spock, tears for herself. Some of the goddess figures gleamed in the low light. Help me, she thought. Help me know what to do for him. For us all. This could be the end of everything if Spock turns away from us. She picked up the Kuan Yin she loved so. "Please Mother. Please help him."

Taking the statue with her she sank into her desk chair and stared out into space, not realizing that she was repeating the words like a mantra. "Help him, please help him."

*************

When her own door chime buzzed she did not know how much time had passed. "Come."

Saldusta entered. "Commander?"

"Come in, Lieutenant. What is it?"

Saldusta came to stand before her, eyes used to murky depths having no problems with the darkness.

Christine was having trouble seeing her though. "Half lights." She could now make out the expression on the woman's face. It was one of uncertainty.

"What's wrong?"

"Another message has come in. For Captain Spock. The person sent it three days ago but didn't mark it priority. It's just shown up now."

"Well send it to his message queue. I'm sure there will be lots of messages coming in for him now."

"Sir, it is from Captain Kirk."

Christine suddenly felt helpless against this new twist. "What do I do with it? It's probably a congratulations message. I don't know if he will even look at it. Or if he should."

Saldusta's voice was firm, "He should."

Christine looked up at her. "Why?"

"When loved ones are taken from us suddenly it can leave a person feeling betrayed.by the one who died. It might help to know that they were thinking of us, at least a little, before they left us forever." Saldusta had tears in her eyes that she fought to hold back. Her hands were clenched into fists. Her voice was barely audible as she whispered, "I know it would have helped me."

Suddenly it all made sense to Christine. She rose slowly, afraid to spook the woman. "Your mother? She died?"

Saldusta nodded. "Two years ago."

"When all your problems started."

"Yes, I.I," she trailed off as she fought for control.

Christine felt her heart wrench. She walked around the desk slowly, stopped when she was within a few paces of the woman. "Saldusta, I can't take your pain away. And I can't make your life different. I can't bring back your mother and make her the woman you wanted her to be, needed her to be. I can't do any of that." She held her arms out wide. "But I can give you a safe place to grieve. To let it all out, if only for a little while."

For a moment she thought she had said the wrong thing. Saldusta stood so rigidly that her trembling was visible. Tears spilled over and she didn't fight them. Suddenly with a ragged, almost inhuman, cry she took the two steps to fall into Christine's arms. Sobs shook her body as she wept like a child in the embrace that enclosed her tightly.

"That's it. Let it out. You're safe now." She made soothing noises and stroked the silky scales on Saldusta's head till finally the woman calmed. She led her to the couch and sat next to her, let her curl up with her head in her lap. Continued to stroke her head as silent sobs, like aftershocks, rocked her.

"I've never talked about it, about her."

Christine's made her voice as gentle as possible. "You can talk about it now."

"You said you didn't want to know."

"Forget what I said. That was then. I'm listening now if you want to tell me."

Saldusta took several shaky breaths before beginning, "I worshipped my mother, and my father. I was so happy as a child. I thought life would go on forever like that. Then she left. And I thought it was something I did. Something bad. I was so afraid my father would go too. So I was the perfect daughter, never misbehaving, always there. He never talked about her so I didn't either. But all I wanted was for her to come back to us. I used to pretend things. Bad things."

"What kind of things."

"I used to think that if she would just get sick, she would have to come home. And then we'd be together and I'd have her near me again. That I would lie next to her in the shallows and she would tell me how much she loved me and how sorry she was for leaving me and that I was her greatest joy. This fantasy sustained me for so long. I had other variations of it where she wasn't sick but crippled or heartbroken or shamed or anything that would bring her back to us."

"But it didn't turn out that way?"

"No. Two years ago she got sick. Just like in my fantasy. She had weeks to wait for death, totally lucid. She had plenty of time to record a message. Or write a letter. Or to send a gift from our crest showing that she cared of me. But there was nothing. Nothing. She never thought of me at all."

"I'm sorry."

"That's when I changed. Any woman that remotely reminded me of her, and it seemed as though any superior officer that happened to be female reminded me of her, got to deal with my anger with my mother. I knew it was wrong, and stupid. But I became." she trailed off.

"You became trapped in your own pain." She released Saldusta as she sat up.

"Yes. Until you. You wouldn't give in to me. I wanted you to reach out so I could reject you the same way she rejected me. But you didn't."

Christine smiled at her. "I didn't know what to do at first. This seemed like the best course of action. I wasn't sure though."

Saldusta nodded as she wiped her eyes with her hand.

"Hang on," Christine said as she got up and walked to her desk. She brought over the box of tissue that Spock had told her she would need. It had not made sense at the time but now she understood.

Saldusta cleaned herself up and stood. "You have to tell him it's there. He has to know that his friend thought of him."

"Why do you care so much?"

"He's like me," the woman said simply. "We come from two worlds and have to fight to fit in either. Everything we do is twice as hard, and every pain we feel hurts twice as much." She looked at Christine knowingly. "He struck out at you didn't he? You have to deal with him the same way you did with me. Don't back down."

Christine stood amazed at the young woman's perception. And realized that she was right. "Ok. Route it in to him and mark it immediate. But give me five minutes, I want to tell him first."

Saldusta nodded. "Thank you, Commander. I'm sorry I broke down."

"I'm glad I was here for you. And if you need me again, you know where to find me. And don't ever say you're sorry for opening up. Do you understand?"

Saldusta smiled, the motion transformed sullen features into something beautiful. "Yes, Sir. I wouldn't want you to have to make it an order."

Christine followed her out and walked back to Spock's door. He was still ignoring the chime so she again used her medical access to enter.

Spock turned angrily away from where he was still standing in front of the viewport. "Commander, you are trying my patience."

"I came to tell you that you have a message waiting. It was sent three days ago. By Jim. For you."

He was suddenly as angry as she had ever seen him as he strode across the room and grabbed her arm. "And I suppose you are going to tell me that you and *Ensign* Saldusta have read this message too?"

Calling on strength she didn't know she had she shook loose of his grasp. "No, Spock. We don't read your private messages. We wouldn't do that."

"How do I know that? How do I know anything about you, about anyone?"

Christine remembered Saldusta's words. Deal with him the same way she had with her. "I can see that you are hurting, Spock." He began to reply but she cut him off, her tone like iron. "You are in pain and you are trying to deal with it. Well you do that; you deal with it in your way. You hide in this office and keep everyone at bay. Be alone, be whatever you need to be. But you will NOT take it out on me. Or on your crew. You will not lash out at people who care for you and who just want to protect you. And you will not take any disciplinary action against Saldusta or you will answer to me. Is that clear, Captain?"

They stared at each other. Spock was furious and for a moment she thought he might actually strike her. She was angry enough to take him on if he did. But the rage died from his eyes and his shoulders suddenly slumped. His tone was odd as he mumbled, "I have offended thee."

"Damn right you have. But I'll get over it. Now, do you want me to stay or do you want to be alone."

"I would like to be alone."

"Fine." She left without a backward glance and took her seat on the bridge. She sat through the rest of her shift, pretending to be composed.

*******************************

As the end of the shift neared, Christine discreetly checked the computer to see if Spock had left his ready room. He had not set foot on the bridge since they had learned of Kirk's death but she had hoped that he would use the private door to effect an escape to his quarters. He seemed in no hurry to do so. She sighed and rose from her chair, walking around the bridge restlessly.

Saldusta caught her eye and as she walked over the woman leaned forward and said in a soft voice, "Sir, if you want me to stay, I will."

Christine looked at her perplexed. She had just decided that she wasn't leaving the bridge till Spock did. How did Saldusta know?

The younger woman smiled grimly. "You always get a certain look a few minutes before shift change. Like you can't wait to get off the bridge. You don't have that look. And with all that's happened. I just figured you would be staying."

"That doesn't mean you have to."

"But I.want to. I want to help."

Christine looked at the young woman. Her face shone with sincerity. "Ok. It'll make it easier to have you here. But you've been through a lot today, if you feel yourself crashing, I want you to let me know." At Saldusta's nod, she continued, "You better call Ensign Tompkins and tell him not to report."

Saldusta grinned, "I already did. About 10 minutes ago." Her face turned serious. "Commander, the messages for Spock area queuing up steadily. He hasn't accessed any of them, not even the one from.you know."

Christine took in the information. "That's good to know. And I want you to keep paying attention and telling me what's going on for the duration of this.um.crisis. But let me give you a warning. Be very careful of saying things like that around Captain Spock. What we consider normal curiosity for our jobs he might see as aberrant nosiness. Vulcans are intensely private and he views his comms as his business alone. Intellectually he knows they go through your department, but that will not change his need for privacy. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Sir. Thank you for the warning." Saldusta's eyes unfocused slightly as another comm came in. "This one's for you, Commander. Private message channel. Shall I route it to your office?"

Christine nodded and walked through her office door to her desk. "Computer, open private channel."

Uhura's face appeared on the screen. "Chris, honey? Have you heard?"

Christine nodded taking in the marks that grief had left on her friend's face. "We received a message earlier today. I feel so guilty, we can't get back for the funeral, or the memorial rather."

"It's tomorrow. Most of the crew won't be back. Sulu and Rand are on Excelsior. Scotty and Chekov are still on the Enterprise, scouring space for him if I know those two. They won't just give up on his being still alive."

"So who's with you?" She took in the unfamiliar backdrop behind Uhura's head. "And where are you?"

"We're at Jim's house. He had no surviving next of kin, so we came to close out his affairs. Leonard's came over from Savannah, he's out or I'd let you talk to him. I live in the city so it was no problem for me to come over. Oh and Saavik's here."

"Saavik?"

Uhura nodded. "Yes. Funny isn't it. Apparently after the death of his son, while we were all on Vulcan she and Jim struck up a friendship. She was the last piece he had of David, and in a way she felt responsible for his death. They became close and he made her his executor."

"Close? You don't mean."

Uhura shook her head. "No, I don't think I do. I honestly think that he became a sort of surrogate father to her. The way Spock had been, until his death and refusion. For years after that she and Spock did not enjoy the easy relationship they had had. And Saavik and Valeris did not get along, another factor that pushed her toward Jim."

"So you're closing up his house? That's hard, I did it when my mom died. So many memories." Christine became aware of a strange noise in the background. Not quite a wail, more like a roar. It went on for long seconds then stopped, only to resume again. "Ny, what is that noise?"

Uhura suddenly looked close to tears. "It's the Klingons." At Christine's look of surprise, she hurried to assure her. "No really. A group of warriors came down from the embassy. They've been here for hours, sitting in front of the apartment. Saavik went out to talk to them, she found out that the sound is the Klingon Ritual of Entrance. They make that sound to announce to the warriors in Sto-vo-kor, kind of the Klingon version of Valhalla, that a worthy soul is on its way."

Christine felt her own tears threatening. "Wow. Who would have thought that the Klingons would honor him so? What an incredible sound."

"It's creepy." At Christine's expression she elaborated, "I don't mean the action is creepy, but the sound is. Because it hits me so deep. Until I heard it, I didn't know what sound my heart would make if it could. But this is it. All the music in the world couldn't soothe me, but this howling brings me peace. Ironic, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is." Christine instructed the computer to save the sound and Uhura's explanation. "I want Spock to hear this. He was the one that worked all those years for this. I think he will see it as the ultimate indication that his efforts were truly successful. And it might bring him some peace too."

"How's he doing?" Uhura's eyes showed she knew the answer already.

"Not good. He's shut down basically."

"And shut you out?"

Christine nodded. They were silent for a moment. Then her friend gave her a fierce look, "Don't give up on him, Chris. We can't lose him too."

Christine felt herself close to tears. "I know, Ny. And I'm trying. But I don't know how to reach him."

Uhura's eyes gleamed with unshed tears. "If anyone can do it, you can, Christine. Just don't give up, no matter how hard it gets. If you need me, I'm here."

"Thanks, Ny." She reached for the screen to break the connection. "Chapel out."

*******************************

When Spock had still not left the bridge by the end of Beta shift, Christine felt herself in a quandary. She did not want to disturb him a third time, but she also did not want to leave him alone on the bridge. She knew that she was at the end of her emotional rope, and Saldusta's normally tan face was gray with fatigue. Just as she had made her mind up to send a message in to him his door opened.

His face was a perfect Vulcan mask as he took in the continued presence of his second-in-command and communications officer. "Commander, Lieutenant, I suggest you retire for the night. We have a great deal of work to do when our shift begins."

Saldusta nodded, clearly relieved to see him out of his office. "Yes, Sir."

Christine just looked at him. His eyes met hers stonily. So it comes to this, she thought. You won't reach out. So be it. "Goodnight, Sir."

He did not reply. As the lift opened, several Gamma shift bridge officers reported to duty, sympathy written on their expressions. Spock nodded tersely to them as he entered the lift.

As the doors closed, Christine felt the energy that anger and adrenaline had given her drain out of her. She looked at Saldusta, "Let's get going."

The communications officer turned over the post to her replacement and followed her into the next lift. "Will he be alright?"

Christine shrugged. "Only time will tell, Lieutenant."

Saldusta nodded unhappily and sensing Christine's mood kept quiet for the rest of the short trip.

Once safe in her cabin, Christine turned on her comm unit to the Federation news channel. There were ongoing reports including a replay of a biography done on Kirk when he had retired. Some masochistic instinct within her demanded that she watch it. Five minutes into it she was lost in grief, hot tears rolling unchecked down her cheeks. Sadness fought with exhaustion as she sat on her couch watching her former Captain's life story play out. Finally her eyes could no longer stay open and she turned off the program and staggered to her bed. She was asleep almost before her head hit the pillow, soft sobs following her into slumber.

********************

Her alarm went off much too early. She got up, feeling numb and off- balance. Her first thought was to grab a painkiller to still her aching head. Her second thought was for Spock. She felt a wave of helplessness as she realized she didn't know how to help him. She considered calling his mother, even moved to the comm unit, but at the last minute realized that Spock would probably consider such an action a further betrayal of his privacy. Damn you, she thought. How do I help you if you won't let me in?

Her door chime rang and she felt a surge of hope. "Come."

It was not a tall Vulcan that walked in but a short human. Lt. Commander Renata Farrell looked at her with the empathy that years of friendship had forged. "Are you all right?"

Christine nodded slowly.

"You're not all right." Farrell walked to her, pushed her over to a chair. "Sit."

She sat. "I am ok. Really."

"I don't believe it, sweetheart. Do you want to talk about it?"

She shook her head. "I can't, Ren."

Farrell sat in the chair opposite her. "Ok. But if you need to talk, I'm here." She handed over a pad, "In the meantime, I thought you might need a distraction. These are the results of the drills we've been running. I think you'll be pleased at the section's performance."

Christine gave her a small smile. "I'd expect nothing less from Disaster Relief, not with you at the conn down there."

Farrell rose. "Get off the bridge if it gets to be too much, Chris. Don't let him hurt you."

Christine was surprised at her friend's words. "He's the one that is hurting, Ren. I can't just abandon him."

"No. I suppose you can't. You never could."

"You don't understand."

Farrell cut her off, "And I never will. God, Christine, I thought you were over this. Over him. Let him go and let him handle this whatever way he has to. He just lost the person he loves most in this world. You can't compete with that."

Christine fought the anger she felt at Farrell's words. "It's not a competition. They were friends. I'm his friend too. It's just different."

"Are you sure that friends is all they were?"

"Yes. I'm sure. Best friends. Ok, more than friends, but not lovers. They were like brothers."

Farrell shook her head and headed for the door. As it opened she turned back, "Are you sure? Are you really sure?"

Christine had no reply as the door closed behind her friend.

************************

Alpha shift seemed never-ending. Spock sat on the bridge, unmoving, silent except to impart a new order. His face was frozen into the stoic expression she had come to hate during her first tour with him. He did not meet her eyes, nor did he interact with the rest of the crew unless absolutely necessary.

As the shift wore on the young bridge crew grew more and more tense. Saldusta stuttered when she relayed a message to him, Kimble repeated an order back incorrectly, and Kavall had trouble answering one of Spock's barked questions. Even the normally unflappable Sabuti and Myrax seemed affected by the strain.

Just as Christine thought she was going to scream, Spock rose and gave her the conn for the rest of the shift. As the turbolift doors closed behind him a collective sigh of relief emerged from those left on duty. Beta shift crew started to show up a few minutes later and Alpha shift virtually fled from the bridge. She was the last to leave, thankfully giving the conn to Lieutenant Crawford.

When she reached her cabin her message light was blinking. As she engaged the recall Dr. Leonard McCoy's voice filled the room. "I'm at Jim's house, darlin', call me."

She quickly fed the connection data in and in seconds her old mentor appeared on the screen.

"Hello, Len."

"Chris. How are you doing?" His eyes narrowed as he took in her appearance. "Not too good from the look of you. Want to tell your old friend about it?"

She sank into the chair at the desk. "Yes. Yes, I do, Len." She was silent for a moment and he didn't press her. "It's awful. Just awful. I can't reach him. He won't let me."

McCoy knew without asking who she meant. "It's going to take some time, darlin'. You know that."

"But what if he never lets me in again? How do we work this way?"

He shrugged. "You get though it like the professionals you are. But I think he'll need you sooner rather than later. Just give him time. Be patient."

She nodded at his words. "You're probably right. But it hurts to be shut out."

McCoy nodded. "I know."

They were quiet for a moment, both lost in thought. She remembered Farrell's words, realized they had been gnawing at her. "Were they lovers, Len?"

He looked startled. "Who? Spock and Jim?" His lips pursed as he considered the question. "Well some people certainly thought so. The rumors were always flying."

"That's not an answer."

"Hon, it's the only answer I can give you. I don't know that they were lovers. But I don't know that they weren't either." He saw her face fall. "Christine, what difference does it really make? Spock loved Jim more than anyone. Maybe more than he will ever love anyone again. Whatever they were, whatever they meant to each other, love has died and that is all that really matters. The pain is the same, no matter what the relationship really was."

She nodded, feeling suddenly very small. "You're right. I guess I lost sight of that in my own hurt."

McCoy frowned at her. "Sweetheart, Spock is going to need *you* now. Maybe not right at this moment, but eventually he is going to crack. And you'll be the one he reaches out for. Don't give up."

She replied uncertainly, "I won't."

"Say it again, and mean it this time." His look was sternly affectionate.

She took a deep breath, "I won't."

"That's the Christine Chapel I know and love." His smile suddenly broke as he allowed his own grief show through.

"Oh, Len," she whispered, "I'm so sorry."

"I know. We all knew it was only a matter of time before one of us became the first to go. But it's the not knowing. If we had his body, if we knew for sure."

"We'd have some sort of closure."

He nodded. There was silence as they just looked at each other through their tears. "I've got to go, Christine. Call me if you need me."

"I will, Len. Take care of yourself."

He nodded as he leaned over and cut the connection.

*******************************

She puttered around her cabin for a time, ordered dinner that she then found herself not wanting to eat, tried to catch up on some reading but couldn't concentrate. She sat on the couch but was too restless to watch the vid she had ordered. She undressed and stretched out on her bed but found herself too keyed up to sleep. Finally in desperation she threw on some casual clothes and headed for the door. In the corridor she stopped for a moment and stared at Spock's door. She considered asking the computer for his whereabouts, then decided it didn't matter.

She fled the hall, grabbed the nearest lift and then couldn't decide where to go. 3-Forward was too busy, the Special Forces lounge too noisy, the VIP observation lounge too quiet and technically off limits. Her office seemed too full of recent memories. She briefly considered the gym but then decided she was not in the mood to work out.

"Deck 10, Aft," she finally said. The lift opened smoothly and she found herself on the first of the engineering decks. And now that I'm here, she wondered, what do I do? She began to walk to the entrance to main engineering. The doors opened onto the upper level of the large space. She looked down on the engineering crew, going easily about their business. No one had noticed her yet and she suddenly had the urge to get out before anyone did. She followed the hallway around deck 10 for a while, smiling and nodding at those crewmembers she passed but not really seeing any of them. A lift opened up in front of her and two ensigns got off. She entered just as the doors were closing.

"Destination?" The computer's voice was cold. Nearly as cold as Spock's had been today. "Destination?" It asked again.

"Deck 8."

In no time she was standing in front of the hydroponics bay. She wanted to go in but she didn't know if that was because the space might offer her the peace she was not finding elsewhere or if she secretly hoped Spock would be in the greenhouse area as well. She stood for some time and the door suddenly opened, surprising her.

"Commander, I'm sorry, you startled me," the lieutenant was carrying several flowers in her hands. At Christine's glance she hastened to explain. "They fall off or droop. We never pick them for ourselves when they are in full bloom, but once they are past their prime they are fair game for the botanists that work here."

Christine nodded. "Of course. And there should be some benefit to all the hard work you lavish on these plants."

The botanist hurried to protest. "Oh but it's not hard work at all. This is the most amazing biospace. I've never been on a ship with such a large growing area. It is pure paradise to report to work."

We could trade, Christine thought with bitter humor. Reporting to the bridge tomorrow should be pure hell. She forced herself to smile. "I'm glad to hear you are so happy, Lieutenant. Please don't let me keep you."

"You're going in there, ma'am? There's no one left inside."

"Sir, not ma'am. And being alone will suit me fine." She saw the uncertainty in the Lieutenant's eyes. "I'm fully authorized to enter this space, Lieutenant. But I applaud your concern for security. Now you can go."

"Yes, Sir." The woman moved off without a backward glance, apparently seeing something in Christine's eyes she didn't want to mess with.

The space was nearly dark as Christine walked through the lab area. She made her way to the tropical room, felt the warm, humid air surround her, smelled the deep, almost meaty smells of the blossoms. She sat on a ledge and just breathed, in and out, trying to relax, trying to find her center, and failing utterly.

"Dammit," she yelled out loud. "Dammit all to hell!" She felt an unaccustomed rage overwhelm her, anger so deep she was thrown off balance by it. Why now. Why the hell now? Everything was going along fine. Now it's all wrong. Everything is wrong.

She wanted to flee again, run to some other area. She turned, too quickly, and slammed her foot into an empty planter. "Shit," she cursed as tears filled her eyes in response to the pain, the anger, and the underlying sorrow. "Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!"

Limping slightly she walked to the rose room. The sweet odor of the flowers soothed her slightly. She remembered the night Spock had played for her.had it been just weeks ago? Everything was so far away now. She moved to a flower, a light purple one, and buried her nose in the blossom, trying to lose herself in the scent. Not even the powerful sweetness of the rose could divert her thoughts.

She walked to the viewport, stared at the stars streaming by. Spock had stood in this very spot. He had known. He had known Kirk was dying and he had not been able to do anything. And she had diverted him from his vigil. For a silly dessert.

"I should have let you stay," she murmured as she placed her hands against the ledge. "Should have let you keep watch."

Two hands appeared on either side of her own. A voice, deep, resonant, filled with pain, answered her. "You didn't know."

She tried to turn around but his hands moved to her arms, holding her in place. "Do not. I am not myself. I do not know if I can stay if you look at me." When she did not resist, his hands fell away. By the sound of his footsteps she realized he was walking among the roses.

"They do not bring peace," she whispered bitterly as she continued to stare out at the star field.

"No. They do not." His voice now was calm, still cold but no longer frigid. "What does bring peace, Christine?"

"I don't know. I've been looking.tonight.for it. It's elusive."

His voice again was nearby. "Yes. It is."

They were silent for some time. She could hear his footsteps as he again paced through the roses. She sighed. "It's the anger that's the worst. So deep, so raw."

She felt him come to stand next to her. "Yes. Anger. Rage. I am a Vulcan. I should not feel this. Yet I do."

"You are human, too."

"Yes. I am human, too." His voice moved off again. "I have felt something like this before. Anger. At a betrayal."

"Betrayal?"

"Surely you have heard of Valeris, Christine?" His voice was slightly mocking, although which of them he mocked she could not tell.

"I have. But I do not know the story."

He sighed, loudly. "And I shall not be the one to tell you it. Suffice it to say, she betrayed me, in the way only one who is loved can. I hated her; I wanted to hurt her. That situation is nothing like this. Why do I feel the same rage?"

"Because he abandoned us, abandoned you most of all."

"That is illogical."

"Nevertheless, it is what we are feeling." She took a chance and turned around. Met his eyes, so deeply hooded as to be unfathomable. "It hurts."

He nodded. "Yes. It does." He did not look away. "When does it stop hurting?"

She felt as if his eyes were burning into hers. "I don't know." She walked to a rose, breathed deeply of the scent. Turned to find him in her place, staring at the stars. She went to stand next to him. Put her hand on his arm. As he turned to look at her, she let it linger there for a moment more, then released him. "It will never get better if you shut us out."

His expression did not change. "Shut *you* out, you mean."

"Shut me out. Yes. I don't know if I can help you, Spock. But I do know that I'll never be able to even try if you won't let me in."

His eyes were gentle and his tone was calm. "There is no room for you at the moment. There is only this pain. Perhaps, when it is less crowded inside me, I will come to you.let you in."

She nodded. It was a start. As he turned back to the stars she walked to the entrance. At the door to the rose room she turned for a last look at him. "I grieve with thee," she whispered so low that even he couldn't pick up the words.

*******************************

Christine walked quickly to the turbolift, eager to put some space between herself and Spock. The conversation, while honest and more open than she had expected, still left her unsettled. What if he never wanted her back in his life? In any capacity. How cold would this voyage be without the easy friendship that they had forged in the last few months, and that she had already come to take for granted. It was a new and tentative thing and she would be well advised to tend it as such.

The lift doors opened at deck 4 and Lt. Colonel Randall Kerr stepped in. "Doctor," he nodded to her politely.

"Colonel," she nodded back to the special forces chief. She realized he was studying her closely. Uncomfortable, she turned away a bit.

"You look like you could use a friend," he offered gently.

"I'm alright," she protested.

"If you say so. I was just heading up to 3-Forward for a drink. Maybe you'd like to join me?"

She was about to decline when a picture of her empty quarters rose in her mind. "That sounds like a good idea." She followed him off the lift and into the half-filled crew lounge.

He walked over to the servos and looked back at her. "What's your poison?"

She ran through the list of old standbys in her mind. Failed to find one that sounded good. "Surprise me," she instructed.

He smiled dangerously and spoke quietly to the machine. When he turned back to her he was carrying two tall glasses filled with ice and a light brown liquid. He motioned her ahead of him and she chose a table near the windows. Once she was settled he set the glasses down and arranged his bulky frame in the chair.

Christine took a tentative sip of the drink. "Oh my god, this is so good!" She took another sip, bigger this time. "It's like iced coffee only sweeter."

"And a bit more powerful. I'd go easy on that," he warned as she took a larger gulp.

"What is it?" she eyed the now half-empty glass in speculation.

"A Smith and Kerns. Kahlua, cola, and milk over lots of ice. It goes down like a milk shake and generally you will get sick from the sweet before you get drunk on it. Impatient drinkers created the Smith and Wesson for just that reason. An extra shot of vodka increased the potency to an extreme degree."

"I can imagine." She took another sip, realizing she should slow down but unable to stop. "You're sure there isn't any Aldebaran dictshot in this? I usually don't drink this fast."

He laughed. "In my experience, most alcoholic drinks do not in reality taste particularly good. Or if they do it is because we have grown used to them and anticipate the effect they will have. But this drink," he held the glass up, watching the ice swirl through the liquid, "you could feed this drink to a baby and they'd drink it happily." At her mock glare he laughed again. "Not that I would feed it to a baby, of course."

"Of course." She found herself relaxing around him. "So where did you learn about this, Colonel?"

"Perhaps you could call me Randall when we are off duty?" At her nod of agreement he answered, "I was on temporary duty in Seattle. This was a popular drink among the young recruits I was interacting with. I became rather fond of it."

"I'm from Seattle. I don't remember the drink, but I guess the crowd I hung with pretty much stuck to beer. We had a goal to try every microbrew and major label by the time we graduated university."

"An admirable goal, Commander," his grin was devilish.

"Christine," she corrected. "And yes, it was. We almost made it too, but the day of graduation another microbrewery opened near campus. We just didn't have time to run down before commencement." She smiled, lost in the memories.

"So you didn't go to the Academy?"

"No. I joined up later, as a nurse because.well it's a really long story."

"I have plenty of time, Christine." He rose and picked up her glass. "I'm going to have another, do you want one?"

"I shouldn't."

He grinned. "I'll take that as a yes." He was soon back with fresh drinks for both of them. "So why did you join Starfleet?"

"My fiancé disappeared on a mission. Starfleet gave up on him but I never believed he was dead. So I joined Starfleet and managed to get myself posted to a deep exploration ship in the hopes that I might find him."

"Did you?"

She tensed, expecting to feel some lingering pain over Roger, but realized there was none left. "Yes. And no."

His brow furrowed in confusion. "Which?"

"Both. It was Roger, but he had placed his consciousness inside an android body. He seemed to still care for me, but then he did something horrible to Captain Kirk, and I knew he had to be destroyed. I thought the pain would kill me. I thought at the time I'd never get over it. But I did."

He was quiet for a moment. "I didn't realize that you had served with Kirk. The news yesterday must have hit you awfully hard?"

She nodded, unwilling to open up any further.

"If you need to talk about it?" His smile was easy and non-threatening.

"That's nice of you. It really is. But I'd actually prefer," she took a big drink from her glass, "to hear about you. So what makes Randall Kerr tick, hmmm?"

"The normal things.duty, honor, family.

"Where is your family?"

"They are in Calgary. My folks are retired. They were both Starfleet. I have two brothers and a sister--all Starfleet. I never even considered anything else."

"But you went Marines?"

"My little bit of rebellion," he grinned again. "I found myself far more interested in the special forces than in manning a ship. When the chance to switch came up, I jumped at it. And I've never looked back."

"You love it."

"Yes." His eyes met hers. "What about you? What made you stay in Starfleet after you found your fiancé?"

Not what, *who,* she thought wryly. "I guess it was the opportunity. The excitement. Maybe I'd just gotten my space legs and real life would never be the same again? I don't know. But here I am."

"Yes, fortunately for us. You appear to be a fine first officer," he offered. "I've served on many ships over my career. The best ships were the ones where the captain and the first officer had a true rapport. It makes it easier for everyone. And builds confidence. You and Captain Spock appear to have that."

Or we used to. "I hope so. We served together before.on the Enterprise."

He nodded. "I'm sure there isn't a person alive today in the Federation that doesn't know of that legendary friendship. Kirk and Spock. I can't imagine how much the captain is hurting right now."

Christine nodded but said nothing. She saw Kerr's eyes narrow as the mind she was beginning to realize was all too perceptive took in her reticence. She finished off her drink and rose. "Randall, this has been a pleasure. I hope you'll let me return the favor sometime?"

"Let you? I'll insist on it." He rose also. "Christine, if you need someone to talk to. I'm here."

"I'll remember that." She studied his face. His eyes were quietly sincere. Guess I've just made a new friend, she mused as she walked to her cabin and, with the help of coffee liqueur, fell almost instantly asleep.

*******************************

Christine entered the bridge a few minutes before her shift began. She was not surprised to see Spock already seated in his chair. He nodded to her and turned back to studying something on a datapadd. She sat down next to him and watched as the other members of alpha shift reported in. He greeted each of them with the same nod, even turning to say good morning to those seated behind him. Everyone seemed to relax. Everyone but she and Saldusta, who was eyeing Spock speculatively. The other woman pursed her lips, shook her head slightly, then turned her attention to her comms board. I should do the same, thought Christine. But she found herself remembering their meeting in the rose room. His words. His pain. He was a long way from all right.

"Don't you have a staff meeting, Commander?" His tone was gentle but his eyes were still very distant.

She gave him a long look then nodded. Rising quickly she nodded to Kavall, who had already called for a replacement. They rode the lift together down to deck 6.

"You ok?" Kavall asked her.

Christine shot her a practiced smile. "Of course, Nevara. Why wouldn't I be? What about you? Didn't I see you with Dr. Redmoon?"

Kavall blushed. "He's nice. I like him. It's been a long time."

Christine smiled encouragement. "Yes it has been. And you deserve a little happiness, my dear. Just take it slow. It's going to be a long voyage."

"Yes, Mom." The both laughed as they exited the lift.

The conference room was already full. Four pairs of eyes watched her enter. Medical eyes assessing her emotional state, her potential for breakdown. Compassionate gazes, but dangerous in their insight. She looked back at her staff calmly, not rushing to start the meeting. She let Kavall find her seat, took her own at the head of the table, flashed her best *sincere* smile, let it encompass each person there.

"Ok, who wants to be the first to give me a status report?" She watched them accept her words, her behavior. The atmosphere turned all business as her department heads updated her on the readiness of their sections. Christine was pleased at the reports; the only problems were minor. "So we're ready for a mission."

"Any idea where Starfleet will send us first?" Redmoon asked.

"No official word from them. But I think we can narrow down the list to three possibilities. I'm sure you all can guess what they are."

"The canopian plague outbreak on Canara Seltax," Moorehouse suggested.

"The landslides on Omicron Nu?" Farrell looked troubled at just the thought of the devastation they would face there.

Kavall spoke from the other end of the table. "The aftermath of Praxis?" All eyes turned to her. "It *is* logical. Captain Spock was instrumental in the peace effort. Who better to lead the rescue effort?"

Christine shook her head. "It's definitely one of the three possibles, but in my book it is the least likely. The Klingons have been very clear that they will handle their own problems. The peace is too new for them to trust that we wouldn't destroy them if we saw the true state of the Empire. Perhaps in a few years, when they come to understand the Federation better, they will believe in us and in peace?" She shrugged. "If I had to choose I'd say we'll be headed for Omicron Nu, but I guess we'll find out for sure tomorrow when we finish the shakedown exercises."

"Either way we need to get ready for round-the-clock work," Carpenter observed. "The real thing is going to be a far cry from some preprogrammed exercises."

"Agreed," Christine replied. "I've heard all the good things in your previous report. Now, let's get down to the real deal. Tell me what's gone wrong, what you don't like. Let's try to get it fixed now before we enter crisis mode."

There was a natural reticence on the part of her staff to divulge any negatives. Finally Redmoon laughed. "Oh hell, I'll go first. We're getting some anomalous readings on the Cat-VI spinner. We tried to replicate the results but couldn't get them consistently. I'm worried that there's a fault with the programming and I've asked engineering to take a look at it."

"Good. And thanks for going first." She smiled at him, a real smile this time as she found her problems receding as she immersed herself in the work she loved. "Anything else?"

He nodded slowly and began to detail all the little problems he had seen during the shakedown period. Moorehouse, Farrell, Carpenter, and Kavall all had similar things to report. The group together came up with explanations for some of issues, others were recommended to engineering for testing. A few problems were compiled into a formal memo to be sent to Starfleet Medical for review.

Christine looked at the chrono, they'd been at this for an hour. "Ok, then. Unless someone has more to report I suggest we break up this little confab and get back to work." The others nodded in agreement. "I'll let you all know where we're headed as soon as I find out."

***********************

The chime rang into the silence of her office. "Come." She looked up from the padd she was working on.

Farrell smiled at her. "Got a minute?"

"Sure. What's up?"

Instead of sitting down, Farrell went to stand at the shelves holding some of the statues, seemingly lost in her study of them.

"Renata?"

Her friend's voice was very low. "I'm sorry, Chris. I'm sorry for what I said to you the other night. You didn't need that. I don't know what I was thinking." She turned around and Christine could see the guilt on her friend's face.

Shaking her head, she replied quickly, "No. You were right. What you said hurt like hell, but you were right. I had to at least face the possibility of what you were saying. I guess I never really had."

"I should have just supported you. That's what friends do."

Christine laughed softly. "And sometimes friends deliver a good swift kick in the butt. And maybe in the end they're one and the same?"

Farrell nodded slowly, then turned back to the statues.

Christine watched her go from goddess to goddess. "You've never liked him. Why?"

Farrell's shoulders tightened, then eased as she made a visible effort to restrain herself. "You're so special, Chris. You deserve someone who adores you. Someone that shares your wonderful sense of humor, and passion for adventure, and love for life. I just don't see him doing that. I don't see him being worthy of you."

They were silent for a long moment. Christine stared at her friend's back as she thought about her words and the things that were behind them, things so long unspoken. "Are you in love with me?"

"I used to be. For a long time. I got over it." Farrell turned around. Her look was grave. "God, Chris, this isn't one of those *if I can't have you* things. I just don't see him making you happy. End of story."

Christine nodded sadly and surprised herself by agreeing with the other woman. "You may be right, Ren. You may have always been right."

*******************************

It was after her shift and Christine was again wandering the halls. Unwilling to just retire for the night, she roamed from deck to deck, stopping briefly at the mess for dinner, checking out the activity at 3- Forward. Now she was in the medical corridor. What am I doing here, she wondered.

"What are you doing here, Commander?" Redmoon echoed her thought. "Can't sleep?"

"What about you? Your shift should be over too, Doctor?"

He smiled as the door closed behind him, "I was just finishing something up."

"Well I don't want to keep you." she turned to go.

"Commander, I've had quite a lot of experience with grief. It's not good to hold it in." He followed her to the lift. "I'm betting you've been doing just that. And I'm also betting it's a very bad idea. If you need someone to talk to, I'm available."

"I'm ok really, Doctor."

He shook his head, "No, you're not. But until you're ready to talk nobody can force you." He considered something. "Maybe I'm just the wrong person. If you can't talk to me, find someone who isn't so much in your direct chain of command." He smiled as she began to protest, "Oh I know, you're the first officer and technically all of us fall under your command at some point. But you know what I mean."

"I'll take it under advisement, Doctor." She smiled at him as he got off on deck 3. "Good night."

"Good night, Commander."

"Hold the lift," a new voice echoed down the hall. "Ah, Commander, such a pleasure to see you. We've not had the chance to resume our conversation from the reception." His voice oozed.

Redmoon grimaced at her as the doors closed, and Christine almost laughed out loud. "Commander Penhallon."

"Please call me Stephen.Commander." He waited for her to make the same offer.

She refused to rise to the bait. "Most kind, Commander, but I think perhaps we should keep our relationship professional if it's all the same to you."

He didn't miss a beat, "Of course, Commander. So what do you think for our first mission, landslides or plague? And do you think there will be a diplomatic aspect or can I expect to be impressed into bedpan service?" His tone was guileless. He was good; she had to give him that. But then Spock wouldn't have chosen him if he hadn't proven himself to be a diplomat.

She decided to relax around him. "Dunno, Commander. But don't be surprised if I show up bedpan in hand."

They arrived at deck 2 and he got off. "I shall hope that some other duty occurs to you in the meantime. Perhaps swabbing the decks?" He smiled hopefully at her as the door closed.

She let out a breath she hadn't realized she had been holding. What now? She replayed Redmoon's words. "Deck 9."

In no time she was walking the hall to Kerr's office. He wasn't there. The lounge maybe. The room was full of marines having a good time. She was greeted by the ones closest to the door. She saw a head turn and she smiled. Making her way to the bar she took the stool that was hurriedly vacated by a young lieutenant. "This seat taken?" she asked without looking at him.

"Only if you're *not* buying," he replied, humor rich in his voice.

"Oh I'm buying. What are you drinking?" She barked his reply and her own request to the young marine acting as bartender. When the drinks came she took a big sip.

"You here for a reason, Christine?"

"Not really."

He didn't say anything else for a few minutes. She busied herself with trying to establish a personal record for downing a highball.

"The East German judge gives you a ten."

She looked at him in confusion. "What?"

He nodded at her now empty drink. "A world record, or at least a quadrant one. For someone who isn't here for a reason you sure do appear to be a woman with something heavy on her mind."

She ordered another. "You're too damn perceptive, Randall." She could feel the alcohol kicking in.

"You say it like it's a bad thing," he smiled gently at her. "What's the deal, Christine?"

"Just enjoying a drink with a friend." She started to reach for the fresh glass but he stopped her by placing his hand over her own.

"Don't. That's not the answer."

"You don't know that." She tried to pull her hand away.

His only tightened over hers. Not in a threatening way, but also not in a way that could be argued with. "Oh, I think I pretty much do." He released her. "But suit yourself."

She pushed the glass away. "You're right. This was a mistake." She rose abruptly and strode rapidly through the group of people pressing against the bar. She made it to the lift before he caught up with her.

"The mistake is running away."

She kept walking.

"Damn it all, Christine." He grabbed her arm and pulled her back down the hall and into his office. Letting her go the minute the door closed he stared at her. "You come down here, obviously looking for me, then you run out. I'm guessing this is not normal behavior for you. Or have I misjudged you?"

"You wouldn't understand."

He walked over to one of the chairs in front of his desk. Sat down and stared at her. "Try me."

She closed her eyes in frustration. A deep sigh escaped from her. "Can't."

"I think you need to." He patted the chair next to him. "Sit. Talk."

She walked slowly over, sank heavily into the chair. "It's all going wrong."

"What is?"

"Everything."

"Work? Personal?"

"Both."

He sighed heavily.

She started to rise. "See, I told you."

His hand on her arm stopped her. "Sit down." His tone was gentle but firm.

She sat. "Someone tonight told me that I needed to let my grief out."

"Someone was very wise. Grief can color everything, Christine. Especially if you won't acknowledge it. You can become trapped in it."

Like Spock is, she thought. "I know. A friend of mine is doing just that."

"That's your friend's choice. Maybe you can help and maybe you can't. But I'm not concerned with your friend. I'm worried about you."

"But the thing with my friend is the problem."

"Yes, I'm sure that the Captain's grief," at her startled look he shot her a small smile, "yes I saw through your clever ruse. I'm sure that the Captain's pain has changed both your working and personal relationship. And it will be hard to figure out how to redefine the way you work together if you lose the rapport that you obviously enjoyed with one another. But soon we will be on our first mission and you will be busy and the relationship will not be as all critical as it appears at this moment." At her look of skepticism he held up his hands, "I speak from experience, Christine. What will matter is how you are, how emotionally and spiritually well you are. And if you let this eat away at you, you won't be ready, you won't be able to give what the crew needs from you."

"So what do I do?"

"You talk. To me. About your pain. We can start with losing Kirk. Or with the betrayal I imagine you feel from the Captain, it always hurts when those we care for refuse our comfort."

"I think we should stick to the first one."

He smiled at her. "Very well. What's the bravest thing you ever saw Kirk do? What about the stupidest, or the funniest?"

She looked at him in confusion.

"It helps to talk about him. Make him real. Make his death real. Not just something you pay lip service to. It's what we do when we lose a marine. Only there is usually copious amounts of alcohol involved." He grinned at her.

She found herself grinning back. "No more alcohol." When he nodded agreement she started to laugh, "Ok, the stupidest thing? It was time for the annual crew physicals and Kirk was notorious for doing anything to avoid them." She watched his face as she told him the story, laughter causing it to turn red and form little lines over his nose. He turned even redder when she told him about the roast Kirk had once hosted for McCoy. When she went on with the bravest incident she could remember he nodded thoughtfully. Soon the memories were coming freely and she found herself reliving more times with her old Captain, with Spock and McCoy and the others. By the time she wound down tears were falling freely and he had taken her hand in his.

He said nothing for a long time, just watched her cry. When she finally looked back at him, a tender smile suffused his face. "Better?"

She nodded as she sniffed. "Yes. Thank you."

"You can always come to me, Christine. Always." He reached over and brushed the last of the tears away. "Now why don't you see if you can wipe the floor with me at pool. Munro told me not even to think about challenging you if I valued my pride."

She tried for a cocky smile, achieved only a small grin but felt good about that. "Obviously you don't value it."

"We'll just see about that won't we?"

She let him lead her back to the lounge and rack up the balls. She did, indeed, wipe the floor with him. And he seemed to enjoy the experience. After about a dozen games of nine ball she started to feel more like her old self. With some reluctance she left him at the lounge and headed back to her room for some much-needed rest.

*******************************

Christine expected to see Spock in his chair when she arrived on the bridge but Sabuti was sitting in it.

She rose but did not move to release command. "Sir, Captain Spock asked that you join him in his ready room when you arrived."

"Very good, Sabuti. As you were." Christine took the few steps back up to the door of Spock's office. She rang the chime and heard him say "Enter." He was sitting at his desk, already engaged in conversation with someone. When he motioned her around, she found a place behind his chair where she could see and be seen.

"Ah, Commander, glad you could join us." Admiral Nogura's face was serious.

Christine tried to fight the annoyance she felt with Spock for going forward without her there. She wasn't late. Would he have waited, she wondered. Would he have waited for her if Jim weren't dead? She fought off the distraction, focusing completely on the admiral. "Sir."

"I was just telling Captain Spock that your first mission will be the outbreak on Canara Seltax. You're to make best speed there. I'm having Starfleet Medical transmit everything we have on the disease. It isn't much though."

"Sir, I don't understand. We have plenty of information already on the Canopian Plague?"

Nogura sighed. "This is a bit out of my depth. Captain Harris thought you might want a little more of an explanation. I guess I should listen to my head of medical." He grinned somewhat sheepishly then picked up a pad. "Here's what he told me to tell you: CP no longer thought to be involved. Pulmonary incidents are present in beginning stages but 88 percent of those affected are succumbing to hemorrhagic phase. Does that make sense to you, Commander?"

Christine nodded slowly. "CP isn't hemorrhagic. This must be something new, or perhaps one of the old viral hemorrhagic fevers that has mutated." She looked back at the Admiral, something akin to resentment in her eyes. "Nothing like giving us our hardest assignment first, Sir."

Nogura's disapproval was evident. "Sorry I couldn't deliver a planetwide epidemic of the common cold, or perhaps athlete's foot?"

She ignored his sarcasm. "Have you ever seen VHF, Sir?"

"No."

"Pray that you don't. It's horrifying." And with that she walked out of the screen's view and toward the door.

"Commander?" Nogura's voice was startled.

She noticed Spock did not try to stop her. As she turned back to the screen, their eyes met. His were not angry, in fact they were not anything. Can't worry about that now, she thought firmly.

"Sir," she addressed both of them. "I have a staff that needs to be notified, we have biosafety containment measures to erect here and to come up with for a whole planet. I need that data from Medical sooner rather than later so that we can assess the scope of the outbreak. And I'm going to run out of time if I sit around here shooting the shit. Unless I miss my guess, we're already on course to Canara Seltax?"

"We are," Spock confirmed.

So much for teamwork, she thought bitterly. Randall had been right though; in light of a VHF outbreak how she was working with Spock hardly mattered. When she realized her superior officers were finished with her she turned on her heel and left.

*******************************

"Ok, what do we know?" Christine looked at her staff. She had wasted no time as she left Spock's ready room, telling the computer to call the medical heads and their principals together and instructing Kavall to arrange for a replacement indefinitely. Now they sat in the conference room somewhat incredulous as they finished listening to the report from Starfleet Medical.

Moorehouse was the first to speak. "We don't know much that's for sure." When the others turned to her she nodded thoughtfully. "I think the first thing we have to do is not panic. It's a hemorrhagic. But we can deal with that."

"It's scary," one of the lab doctors muttered. "A medical bogeyman."

"It is," Moorehouse agreed. "And I'm not trying to say we won't have to be careful. This monster under the bed is very real. But we can beat this. Support, containment, and proper burial is key."

A new voice chimed in. "That could be a problem." All eyes turned to the doorway where Lt. Commander Troi stood. He pursed his lips before continuing. "Canara is the least advanced world in the Seltax Confederation. It is ruled jointly by a political and a religious figure. The minister does all he can to keep Canara up with it's neighbors technologically, but he is hamstrung by the rituals, mores, and taboos enforced by the High Priest and his followers."

"I've asked Commander Troi here to give us the cultural context of this epidemic," Christine explained. "Thank you for coming at such short notice."

He smiled tightly at her. "On the contrary, I'm glad to be of service. I think you very much need to hear what I have to say." He paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. "The problems are multiple. I've studied the reports from Starfleet Medical and I see some other potential problems that will arise as you try to deal with this crisis." He spoke to the computer and some holostills appeared on the wall screen. "This is the High Priest. He is considered the living embodiment of the Canaran deity Kormox. As such, he is considered invincible, omnipotent even. His touch is blessing, his kiss is healing."

"Not in this environment," Moorehouse countered.

"Exactly," Christine replied. We need to be on the lookout for him once we set up our containment area. Eventually he'll show up.

Carpenter frowned at the picture. "But surely when Canarans get sick he doesn't try to heal every one of them?"

"They don't tend to get sick. At least not till now." Troi advanced the holo to a shot of a group of people all apparently in stunning good health. "There are few doctors and even fewer hospitals on this planet. Very few natural causes of sickness apparently."

Redmoon looked intrigued. "Or else their immune systems are strong enough to fight anything off."

"I leave that to you medical folk to determine. Whatever the reason, Canarans rarely get sick. Period. So there is little preparation for a medical disaster of this nature."

Christine tore her eyes away from the Canarans. "So we can expect resistance. But how much?"

"A lot, I imagine. Not just to your treatments. Their funerary rituals are quite fixed. The closest family members first bathe the body then sit watch for a day and a half."

"No. We can't have that." Moorehouse looked aghast. "The potential spread of disease. We have to stop that. We just won't release the bodies till we are sure they understand the proper procedure."

"Be careful how you do that, Doctor." Troi looked grim as he continued, "If the Canarans think that they will not get back the bodies of their loved ones, they will stop bringing them in for treatment. Respect for their dead is ingrained throughout the Canaran religion."

"Commander Troi is a valuable resource for us. Feel free to ask him whatever you need to." Christine sat down as her staff peppered the diplomat with questions. Finally when they wound down she turned to him. "Thank you for coming. You're welcome to stay if you like, but I think you might find it all a bit technical."

"I agree, Commander. Although from what Commander Penhallon indicated we might be back working on corpsman duties? He wanted me to tell you that he actually was serious about helping, as are others in the staff, although perhaps bedpan duty is not what we had in mind."

Moorehouse snorted, but not in amusement. "Bedpan duty, in this case, will be one of the most hazardous duties you can pull. I think you can consider yourself safe from that."

Christine waited till the door closed behind him before continuing. "We know this won't be easy. Let's try to figure out what has happened here. A normally healthy populace is suddenly stricken with this epidemic. It doesn't make sense. Ideas?"

"Maybe it was brought in accidentally by someone who has been off world?"

"Have they done any new exploration? Could it have lain dormant in a jungle environment."

"Biological warfare is a possibility. Do they have any major enemies or native insurgent groups?"

Christine nodded at each answer. "Starfleet Medical has checked into all those. None checked out. So far the viral reservoir is unknown. One of our main jobs is to sort out the dead and the order in which they succumbed. If we can find the index case, we can start tracking the virus back."

"In theory." Moorehouse looked grim. "No one has ever successfully tracked down where Ebola lurks, and we've been searching for that reservoir for 300 years."

Christine nodded. "I know. But we're not dealing with Ebola. In fact, this could be worse. It has nearly the mortality rate of Ebola but it is slower moving, which is giving the virus more time to spread. We need to get containment laid down and fast."

Kavall spoke up for the first time. "Why isn't it there already? Starfleet Medical has all this info, why didn't their doctors set one up?"

"There were only a small number of them. They thought it was CP. Started out the same way. Fever, headache, muscle pain."

"That could be any number of ailments." Carpenter's voice was defensive of her colleagues.

"Exactly." Christine's voice dropped as she continued. "Once they figured it out, it was too late. They had been careful, but not careful enough. They're all dead."

"All of them?" Kavall's voice was stunned, and a bit shamed.

"All of them." Christine looked at each member of the table. "And that, ladies and gentleman, should tell us exactly what we're up against here."

Nobody said anything, in fact no one even moved.

"You heard Commander Troi. You've seen the report. We're going to reconvene here in three hours. I want you to bring every idea you have on containment, patient support, diagnostic tests, possible vaccines, and tracking down the virus itself. We don't have much time. We'll make orbit in 36 hours." She looked at the faces, some already thinking, others clearly scared. "Call in everyone you need to from your shifts. We'll rearrange later. Anyone that might have an idea should be included. Any questions? Then go."

A minute later she stood in a deserted conference room. Burying her head in her hands she took several deep breaths and tried to send the dreadful tension she was experiencing away. Feeling unsuccessful, she raised her head and was surprised to see Spock standing in the doorway.

He moved forward and the door closed behind him. "I was unfamiliar with hemorrhagic fever. Other than as a theoretical. Since you left my office I have done some research."

"It is horrible."

"So I have seen in the files. But you have experience with it first hand, don't you?"

She nodded slowly, trying to block out the sight of the young man lying on the stretcher in the adhoc containment area they had set up. The rash covering his skin, blood coming from his mouth, his nose, other places. "It was during my medical studies. We flew to the Amazon to meet with some doctors biotyping indigenous flora for mass production. A surveyor stumbled into camp. He had been in the jungle. Never had his innoculation. It was only Yellow Fever. If he hadn't been lost because of the fever, he might have made it to us in time. We were just too late." She closed her eyes tightly. "For years I've tried to push that memory so far away. Now I think I'll get to replace it with brand new ones. Much worse."

"This time you might have a chance to make a difference. You might save lives." His voice was very low.

"Yeah." She turned away. Started pushing in the chairs. "Maybe."

"Christine."

She stopped but did not look up at him. "Yes?"

"You will do fine."

"What if I don't? What if I'm not cut out for this?" She felt her own anxieties batter at her and looked up to meet his eyes. Eyes that were no longer quite so cold.

"You are. I know it."

"If you say so, Captain."

"Spock," he corrected gently.

"Spock," she repeated quietly.

"I will leave you. I know there is much to prepare. If diplomatic can be of assistance do not hesitate to take whatever or whomever you need."

"Thank you."

He nodded and turned, walking out of the room without a backward glass.

She stared at the door and whispered again, "Thank you."

*******************************

Christine ended the Starfleet Medical report and sat back. She had watched it five times now. Each time trying to hear more, see more, than was really on the file. She looked at the chrono. Two hours before her staff would reconvene. She needed to see if there was any new info in the Medical databases on containment of biosafety level four diseases. But before she did that there was one more place she needed to go. And she didn't want any of her doctors with her when she did it. Rising she exited her office and left the bridge. The lift deposited her on deck 9. A few seconds later she rang Kerr's door chime.

"Come." He looked up as she entered. "Commander, I've been expecting you." At her look of surprise he laughed. "I've been boning up on VHF outbreaks. Notice my effortless mastery of the lingo."

She smiled in spite of her own sense of urgency.

He smiled back. "I'm guessing you came down to talk about security."

She sat down in one of the chairs facing his desk. "We're going to need it. But it's a dicey job. Have you ever worked in a containment environment."

He shook his head. "Fill me in. My marines are yours, you know that."

"I know. It's good to hear though. Here's the deal. The first thing is there is going to be blood. A lot of blood. I need men and women on guard that can deal with that."

"Ok. That'll be my first criteria."

"Good. You'll need to schedule them in three-hour shifts. No more than that or they will get too fatigued. Fatigue equals mistakes. And a mistake in this environment can be fatal."

"Understood."

"They are there to keep the patients in and the healthy people, usually friends and relatives, out."

"Sounds simple enough."

"It isn't. There's more. They have to spend just as much time watching the health staff. With these diseases the danger to medical personnel is generally due to mishaps during support. A rip to the biosuit can expose doctors and nurses to contaminated blood, feces, even air. And the thing is even though these health professionals know better than anyone the risk of hiding an accidental tear they will still try. They'll be operating on panic and fear and your marines will need to watch for it."

"What happens if they see it."

"Then the team member goes into the watch area of the containment set up. They most definitely do *not* leave the quarantine area or beam back up to the ship. And they can't be subdued by hand because of the danger to the other suits. Phasers on stun is the best way to handle this. Can your marines fire on their fellow crewmembers?"

He nodded. "When they understand that it will be to save the rest of the crew I don't think they will have a problem with it. Any that do can pull other duty for the duration."

"Good. I won't lie to you, Randall. This may well be the most grisly duty they ever perform. I sent you some footage from several outbreaks. It's very graphic. It should help to wean out those that can't take it from those that can."

"I'll watch it myself first," at her puzzled glance he grinned, "just to be sure that I can take it. Would really not do to faint in front of the troops."

She found herself grinning again. "No, I guess it wouldn't." She rose. "I've got more work to do. Thank you for your help."

"I'm always here for you, Christine. Professionally and personally."

"And I appreciate that." She walked to the door, then turned around again. "We'll need the first team down on the planet with us when we do the initial assessment. There's no containment field yet so I want them to requisition ventilators, masks, and gloves. They should wear the standard hazard uniform and tell them to make sure the arms, legs, and neck are sealed properly before reporting. Once we get going they'll be in biosafety suits but until then this should provide the proper protection."

"I assume you'll be wearing the same," he teased.

"No, I thought I'd beam down in a bikini."

He laughed. "While perhaps an engaging sight, that would hardly be a smart thing to do."

"Sure steal my fun." She grinned at him again. "I've got to go, Randall."

"Go." He smiled and waved her out the door.

*******************************

"The challenge of managing patients with VHF is to provide the highest quality of care with the least risk of transmitting infection." Moorehouse said as she looked at the assembled group. "I worked once on an outbreak on Forman's Planet. We were initially appalled because the local medical staff were not using biosuits. They had found that barrier nursing, infection control techniques, isolation of the patients, and proper disposal of contaminated material made the suits unnecessary. I can't say that any of us were comfortable with that idea and we didn't choose to abandon the biosuits." She paused for a second. "But no one on the local team got sick so maybe they were right."

Farrell sounded horrified. "You want us to go down there unprotected?"

"Not at first. I think the suits will be useful for the initial containment and until we see just how infectious this is. Most VHFs are not spread by aerosol methods but this one could be. That is one thing the Starfleet Medical team did not have time to find out. We'll know more once we're down there."

Carpenter looked skeptical. "So you're saying we might be working without a suit?"

"Have you ever worked in one of those suits?" Redmoon challenged her. "They are cumbersome and completely impersonal for the patient. Not to mention damned uncomfortable, the sweat factor alone makes it tough to stay in one for too long. If the medical staff can downgrade to respirator, and protective eyewear and clothing you will be much more comfortable and probably efficient in the long run."

Surprised at his answer, Christine replied, "Do you plan to downgrade?"

"Well if we are isolating the virus we really can't. But if we are testing for antibodies then yes, we will downgrade. The containment features in the lab are excellent and I plan to have only the most experienced personnel working with me. The rest will be working on production of virus inhibitor medicine once we get the signature down or on other therapeutic measures in conjunction with Dr. Moorehouse's people." Redmoon looked around the table. "I've worked with VHF samples many times. Yes they have the potential to kill. They have killed. But that was back in the day of sharps primarily. Or with careless people who let aerosol form during autopsy or were splashed by samples or fluids. With mask, eyewear, respirator, non-rip gloves and a lick of common sense we should be fine."

"Well it sounds like you are ready." Christine turned back to Moorehouse, "What can we do for you?"

The other woman glanced down at her pad. "My initial goals are simple. One - Contain the patients currently exhibiting symptoms. Two - Determine the virus. Three - Watch for new patients, targeting specifically those we know have had contact with those who have been infected. Four - find the vector for this disease."

Farrell looked up from where she had been taking notes. "Disaster relief can help with three and four. We can try to trace back the patients to arrive at those first infected, look for some commonalities. And in the process hopefully find anyone that has had close or high risk contact with those infected."

Carpenter nodded. "That would be helpful. We're going to have our hands too full with patient support to monitor all contacts on a daily basis."

"What can I do?" All heads turned to Kavall.

Moorehouse replied quickly, "Nothing yet. But once we get down there I'm sure we'll think of plenty of things."

"Science stands ready to help any way we can."

"Thank you, Lieutenant." Christine looked around the table. "Well let's get down to the weeds, shall we." She turned to Redmoon, "I'm assuming you'll be getting blood samples delivered via transporter?"

"Yes, using our dedicated transporter, which has enhanced microbial and viral screens built in as well as redundant safety measures, and implementing proper containment procedures from the planet the risk should be at an acceptable level."

"Good. What about the containment area itself? How are we setting that up?"

Moorehouse rose and instructed the computer to display the schematic she had created. "It's a fairly straightforward isolation ward. We have all the materials in ships stores. Let me walk you through it."

The schematic disappeared to be replaced by a virtual model of the area. The show started as if the viewer were walking toward the building. "The poles you see staggered around the perimeters are fitted with sensors that will continually test the immediate environs to make sure that we are keeping the disease inside." The camera panned up to the entranceway. "There are two main ways inside. The one for the staff is on the right. You walk though a decon-field into a vestibule, then through a second field into the changing and showers area, through a third decon -field into the second entranceway, which is for the patients then through a fourth field to the main ward. We wanted a separate entrance that stretchers could be handed through so that patients would not be contaminating the staff entrances. No one goes out through this entrance, in fact it is programmed to stop anyone from exiting that way."

Farrell was frowning at the screen. "How do you get the bodies out?"

"Very carefully," Redmoon muttered. When Christine glared at him he just smiled. "I'm actually not kidding. That and getting samples out are the two areas with the most potential to compromise the entire system."

Moorehouse nodded agreement. "He's right. The bodies will be double- wrapped and deconned within the ward. Then they'll be doused in the fields as we pass them back out through the patient entrance. The field will allow wrong way transport of samples or corpses provided they are wrapped in the proper containment material. Anything with a pulse stays in or goes out through the changing rooms."

"What about security?" Kavall asked.

"I've already talked to Colonel Kerr about that," Christine explained. "The marines are ready to help as soon as we decide where to place them. We'll also have them on our other teams."

"Good," Moorehouse shifted the view to a long shot. "I want guards stationed at the entrance and behind the building as well, the perimeter has to be secure. We also need some inside, but they are going to have to be in biosuits."

Christine nodded. "They understand that."

"Good." Moorehouse walked them through the entrance procedures then the camera panned into the main ward area. The huge room was filled with beds. Every surface inside was rounded off or soft. "We can't afford any sharp edges in here, especially not while we are still in the biosuits. Anybody gets a rip they have to stay inside." She looked around fiercely. "That may sound harsh but I'm serious. Nobody that is exposed to this gets outside. Nobody."

Subdued nods and murmurs answered her. Christine was glad to see she and the other doctor were on the same wavelength.

The entire structure is maintained at negative pressure to keep microbes inside. The main ward area can be fielded off to separate the most extreme cases from those in the initial stages. Not everyone that is brought in with a fever is going to have VHF, to put them in the critical care ward before they show symptoms would be criminal. We're also going to have a few of the first cases that are nearly recovered. We will be moving them into a third area once they no longer need active support."

"When do they go home?" one of the nurses asked.

"Standard release criteria, cessation of symptoms, normal temperature, ability to urinate and evacuate bowels without assistance. All patients, especially males, must be warned to abstain from sex for a month as the disease typically remains infectious for about two weeks in semen and possibly other sexual secretions."

She looked back to the screen. A small room off the main ward came into focus. "This is the meds room. And that is the whole shebang. I'm keeping it simple because we don't need anything more complex."

One of the sickbay doctors spoke up, "Where do we sit down?"

"We don't." At the collective groans she held up her hands. "Your shift inside will be a maximum of 2 hours. Then you get a long break. Long enough to eat, nap, walk, do whatever you need to. Then you get 2 hours on again with another break then a final 2 hours. Then you are off for the next 16 hours. We're running a lot of shifts to allow us to do this but it is absolutely crucial to limit people's times inside the area and the suits. *If* we decide to downgrade to barrier nursing the shifts inside will be lengthened but not by much, we still cannot afford for people to get careless through exhaustion."

Moorehouse returned to her seat as the screen went dark. "Let me remind you that the patients will vary from nearly asymptomatic to those in the most advances stages of crash. And some of them will be very agitated so you must be prepared to sedate any who become violent." She was quiet for a moment then looked around the table seeming to rest her eyes on each person. "You think you know now what you and your staff are capable of. You don't have a clue. You may find that the ones you thought you could most count on will crack under the strain while those you wouldn't have thought could muster through a common cold will be the ones you lean on most. Be flexible, be reasonable, and try not to lose your humanity as you are forced to bury the compassion you feel for these people."

Christine watched as the others took in Moorehouse's final words. Finally she spoke into the silence, "We'll be there in roughly 30 hours. Commander Moorehouse will lead the team erecting the containment area. Commander Carpenter will start arranging transport for VHF patients from the regular hospital. Commander Farrell and I will begin to track down the disease. Dr. Redmoon will run final diagnostics with engineering on the transporter and the containment fields in the lab to ensure that we are really as protected as we think we are. I'll notify Colonel Kerr to have the first marine contingent standing by." She took a deep breath, trying to think of anything she might have forgotten. "In the meantime, I suggest you have a great meal and get a good night's sleep. It may be the last you have of either for a very long while."

*******************************

Christine took the lift to the back entrance of the bridge offices. She was too tired to answer questions from the bridge crew and didn't feel like disrupting their shift when she was only coming in for a few minutes to report to Spock. She had called as soon as the meeting ended and asked to update him when it was convenient.

"I am here now," had been his answer.

And now so was she. She rang the chime and heard his low, "Come."

He looked up as she came in, motioned her to sit in one of his chairs. "Everything is prepared?"

"Looks like. I'm very pleased with the way Medical is coming together. They will be quite a crew."

"You chose well." He looked down at his pad. "Will you be needing Lieutenant Kavall? I have several projects I'd like to start while we are here."

"I don't think we'll need her right away, so if you do I think she'll welcome the chance to be busy."

"Good. Now perhaps you will fill me in on the specifics?"

She nodded and explained what had transpired in the meeting pulling up Moorehouse's visuals to show him the proposed layout.

"Everything does indeed seem well in hand. I expected no differently with you in charge." He looked down at his pad, then seemed to force his eyes back up to hers. "You are feeling better? More confident than when we last spoke?"

She nodded then looked away. Why was this so hard?

"I am glad." There was an awkward silence and finally Christine got up to leave.

"Unless you need something else, I really need to get some dinner." She waited for him to see the invitation in that statement. The old Spock would have. This Spock did not, or at least did not acknowledge it.

"I need nothing else."

Again she nodded and turned to leave.

His voice surprised her. " Will you be eating with someone?" His tone was perfectly even.

Suddenly anger overwhelmed her. She fought to keep it down as she answered him in falsely breezy tones. "You bet, Spock. You know me. The life of the party." She did not turn to look at him as she waited for his reply.

When it came his voice seemed tinged with regret. "I should not have asked. I am not even certain why I did. Forgive me."

"It's forgotten. Goodnight, Spock." She did not wait to hear his response but fled from the tension that filled the room.

******************

As she stood in line in the mess Christine fumed inwardly. She was tired, she was worried, now she was confused. She just wanted to take her food and get back to her room, if only this line for the replicator would move.

A voice in her ear caused her to jump, "Are you planning to eat with someone?"

She smiled. "I think it's a moot point. Maybe there really are no replicators. This is really just a psych experiment to see how long we'll stand around like sheep."

Kerr laughed and eased into line behind her. "We could lead a rebellion? Forks on the trays, chanting 'Food now, food now' if you like?"

At his silliness, she felt her spirits start to lift. "Better yet we could threaten to string up the chef if he doesn't get a move on."

"I think that would be the engineer. Unless you really believe that there are little tiny cooks inside the replicator."

She punched his arm playfully. "Shut up. I thought there were, you know, for years."

"Me too." He tried to see the front of the line. "What is the damn hold up?" He turned back to her. Gave her one of the assessing looks she was becoming accustomed to from him. "Long day."

"Very. I was going to take this back to my quarters."

"But then what will I do?"

She looked at his endearing grin, his earnest eyes. "You could come with me. I bet you've been dying to see what you gave up by refusing quarters on the senior deck."

"I can't regret being closer to my troops. But I would like to see your digs. If you really want me there? I know you must be tired."

She put down her tray, grabbed his and put it down too. "Come on."

"What about dinner?" he laughed as she pulled him out of the mess hall. "This is all so sudden, Christine," he said in a mock soprano voice.

She glared at him. "Oh get your head out of the gutter. I just remembered that I have a replicator in my quarters. I'm still getting used to that fact but I must really be tired to have forgotten for this long."

"You have a replicator in your *room?*" He sounded very wistful.

"As you would have too if you'd stayed on our level." They entered the lift and rode it up to deck 2. She led him to her quarters and gestured him in. "So what's your pleasure."

He gave her a suggestive leer.

She just laughed. "Food?" she said sternly.

"Whatever you're having."

"I was going to have Aldeberan slime worms covered in sweet potato gravy."

Ever the marine he nodded stoically, "Yum. Sounds great."

"You are so disturbed," she chuckled as she ordered them both some pasta and salads. "Pesto ok?"

"Pesto's great. Lots of Parmesan cheese."

She added that to the order. "And to drink?"

"I'm good with water."

She requested a bottle of spring water and carried the meal to the table.

"Quite the cook. This is great. But I don't know.those slime worms were sounding pretty tasty."

She just shook her head as they dug in. She was hungrier than she realized. Finally she pushed the plate away and looked up to find him watching her, his dish long since emptied. "What?"

"I'm just getting to know you."

"By staring at me?"

He nodded. "You can find out a lot about a person just by watching them. How expressions play across their face, whether they hold stuff in or let it move freely. How they enjoy food."

"I like to eat," she said defensively.

"And that's a very good thing." He grinned at her. "You're holding something in though. Something that I think hurts."

"There's a lot going on, Randall."

"Ok." He carried their dishes to the recycler. "Will you split a tiramisu with me?"

"Yes," she said without hesitation.

"See that's why I like you. No 'oh I shouldn't, my waistline, blah blah blah', just a simple 'yes.' You're not afraid to do what you like."

"Or I'm just a pig," she laughed.

"Well that is the other possibility," he said with a grin when he carried the dessert back. They ate it slowly, talking about anything but the upcoming mission. Finally, the dessert obliterated, Kerr rose. "I'm going to let you get some rest now. Don't imagine you'll be doing much of that when this thing starts."

She walked him to the door, stood in it as he turned to look at her. He touched her face gently for a moment before thanking her for dinner. He was just dropping his hand when Spock rounded the corner.

"Captain, good evening." Kerr's voice was casual.

"Captain Spock," Christine knew her own voice sounded guilty.

"Colonel, Commander, good evening." His tone was even but his face as he looked at Christine seemed just a bit tighter than usual. He made his way to his own quarters and quickly disappeared inside.

Christine stared after him.

Kerr touched her shoulder, grinning like a first year cadet. "Nothing like getting caught by the principal, eh?"

She didn't smile. "He's been through a lot."

The grin faded. "Did I say he hadn't?"

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean."

Kerr leaned in and spoke intently. "I know what you meant. I see a lot, Christine. More than you probably want me to. I can tell what's going on. And the way I see it, a man could lose something he values if he doesn't start fighting for it."

"It's not like that."

"Then he won't mind me hanging around will he?"

She grimaced. "You twists thing almost as well as a Vulcan."

"I'll take that as a compliment, ma'am. I mean Sir." His grin was back big as ever.

"Go to bed, Randall."

"Good night, Christine."

Forward to Part 2