Chapter 18: A Dark Star

U.S.S. Enterprise, Spock's Quarters

Alone in his cabin once more, with Kirk having said his goodnights and departing after their friendly contest, Spock continued to reflect on the evening. As the door had whooshed shut behind his friend, he turned up the heat to a comfortable 115°F and slipped out of his uniform jacket, careful to not crease it as he hung it in his closet.

Returning to his desk, Spock sat with his fingers clasped, staring for a few moments into the emptiness of his com terminal. Only the darkness of his own reflection stared back, his visage baring the depths of his dilemma. Shutting his eyes, he tried to detach from the outside world and allowed his thoughts to wander and disassociate as they willed.

He concluded that he was still unsatisfied with the state of current affairs but the chess game with Kirk had been an agreeable distraction. Chess, much like his ka'athyra, had always been a suitable tool for the logical examination of his inner thoughts as well as for pressing current events. While it was an engaging exercise in strategy, he also found his ideas could easily ebb and flow; there were many instances where a trivial game had inspired some of his greatest insights. During the most recent match, he had persisted in analyzing the data at hand. Each precise move from square to square and level to level, each piece captured or surrendered, brought him closer to order with each progression.

Within the whirlwind of his thoughts, he tried to focus his energies towards finding a possible solution instead of dwelling on the invariable 'what-ifs'. He knew that in many ways there was not much immediate action that could be taken, in part because of his distance from T'Khasi as well as his familial station. And, no matter his opinion or experiences on the subject, if Sarek had already made a decision on Saavik's behalf, his suppositions would likely be of no consequence.

For all of Spock's quiet introversion and intellectualism, in contradiction he had always thrived on action. When in times of trouble and distress, he could typically find answers and resolutions where others failed to see anything but bleak entropy. His ability to think under extreme pressure, against all odds, was one of his greatest strengths. Despite the fulfillment Spock found in Starfleet, Sarek still maintained his old staid argument, albeit in silence, that his son's talents as a scientist and potential diplomat had been squandered. Spock had found quite the opposite to be true, although it had taken time, reflection and nearly the loss of everything that was familiar and precious for him to come to such a conclusion concretely in the present.

"Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail."

His mother would be the first to remind him that even in failure or times off loss, one should learn from the experience instead of fixating on defeat. After failing Kolinahr, he had struggled most with a residual sense of shame; he had choked on her words of wisdom, finding the simplistic truth of her message hard to digest. It had remained a difficult concept to reconcile within himself. In retrospect, he could now recognize that his many choices, losses and even failure to ascend to the ranks of the Kolinahru had been a catalyst for many opportunities he would have missed otherwise, including finding Saavik. In some ways though, the experience would remain a bittersweet pill to swallow.

In his youth Spock had craved challenge, allowing his determined wanderlust to eventually propel him away from home. He clearly recollected one of his early interactions with Sybok in his Mother's garden before he had been banished. His half-brother had encouraged him to look beyond the expectations of his Elders and seek answers and meaning within himself; Spock should not compromise his own needs for fulfillment because he had been simply ordered to act differently.

If not for this random discussion at thirteen, Spock may have never considered joining Starfleet or even leaving Vulcan. So many years later, he was still confused and conflicted by the loss of his t'hy'la by blood, yet grateful for Sybok's honest and radical instruction.

He had later escaped to Earth and the Academy, and eventually into the unreachable vastness of space. It had all seemed an entirely logical course to him, although in his Father's eyes, he had acted out in disregard of all reason and against his obligations to his House. In coming home again after Kirk's five year mission and surrendering to Kolinahr, he had understood almost too late that it was just another kind of escape from adversity, more to the point, an escape from living. He had learned much later that while he may have carried the pain and grief of a multitude of harsh memories before, in Total Logic, there would remain in him only emptiness.

Even the seeming emptiness of space was not such a void.

He reflected how aboard the Enterprise, now over twenty two standard years in the past, he had seen and experienced more in a month during his initial five year mission with Captain Pike than most planet-bound researchers had in the entirety of their careers. Every day he was presented with the prospect of pursuing endless unknowns; unseen natural phenomena, unique life forms and other unfathomable encounters. Each day was a new discovery, an undiscovered frontier. Curiosity had always been his greatest strength and sometimes weakness.

Many times while staring into the azure depths of his science station monitor on the bridge, he had experienced a kind of transcendence, completely enraptured in thought and only brought back to reality by a commanding word from the Con. Sometimes he even visualized Tel-alep hovering calmly over his shoulder. The wizened ancient figure was white haired and wrinkled. He carried in his hand a book signifying All Knowledge, which remained attached by a heavy chain to his wrist. Together, both of them would delve into the endless data stream. Much like Spock, Tel-alep remained always hungry for more, never really satisfied in his curiosity even after consuming every bit and byte.

While it may have been a flight of fantasy and in many ways counter to the teachings of Surak for Spock to indulge in such elaborate abstraction in his youthful days as an ensign, in the past he had found a kind of comfort in that ongoing private visitation. Tel-alep, the friendliest and most benign of ancient deities, was something of a patron saint in Vulcan culture. When the other deities had been rejected in the Reform, especially those of the Inner Chorus who signified the darker elements of a Vulcan's personal life and death, Tel-alep remained quietly revered. He was a symbol of one's inborn curiosity, a manifestation of relentless searching and ceaseless yearning to find truth.

Of all his unspoken desires, Spock carried with him a need to find personal meaning and truth in his own life. It had remained shackled to him, much like Tel-alep's sacred tome; across his travels this need was constant as the stars. When he had first encountered Saavik, he had recognized in her eyes a similar longing and the same innate need to conquer uncertainty.

On Thieurrull the other surviving children had stood battered, evoking nothing but a loss of self and disillusion whereas Saavik herself had possessed an irrepressible curiosity and stubborn will to match Spock's own. She had been victimized, abused, neglected and left for dead, but she refused to be oppressed. Spock not only respected her, but found inspiration in her example. It had been a turning point in his life when he met her, an opportunity to learn an unexpected lesson.

It had also been a time in his own journey when he had been left to recover alone, still wounded and vulnerable, still trying to reestablish his path after Gol and V'Ger. Detached and searching, he had found her.

It was not that Spock was unfamiliar with being solitary; alone as a child of two worlds, alone at the Academy, alone as the only Vulcan in Starfleet. Generally, he was at ease with such solitude, but he could not discount his own unvoiced desire to find closeness with someone, to have a family, even children of his own. Inwardly he knew it was perhaps not a logical reality with the commitments of duty and the Federation always keeping him distant. T'Pring had made it clear that his service to the fleet was one of many reasons she had no longer wanted to wait for him. Over time, Spock had given up thinking about finding any kind of wholeness with another person; it seemed as if it was not what the universe had planned for him. After so many losses, he no longer wanted to be burdened with any of it ever again.

In seeking Kolinahr, he had seemingly found a solution to a complex problem not easily solved. He had viewed this journey as the only logical path.

And, if not for being at Gol when he had been, he would have most likely died during the throws of his second pon farr. During that ordeal, while in the depths of fevered meditation, he had been accosted by endless psychic traumas in between the terror and agony of plak-tow.

T'Pring had come to him then, but only as a major player in his violent and irrational visions, an image of fury that rejected and emasculated him. The very walls of his room seemed to resound with her cold, arrogant voice; like the lilting bells of the systras, it maddened him and seemed to tear at his heart. He believed he was drowning in his own bloodied memories, awash in regret and anger. It was as if every molecule inside his body was boiling, as if his very katra was fighting through searing flesh to escape.

In a fit of unrestrained rage, he had broken every knuckle in his right hand as he thrust it through her ghost into the crumbling rock wall of his dark domicile. He had felt nothing of it as he screamed wildly, embittered. Time had not healed that wound and he would forever carry a new scar to commemorate it.

When he had at last gained enough control to dispel T'Pring from his mind, soon his thoughts had wandered to Leila.

Running verdant streaks throughout her tresses, it was almost as though he could feel his fingertips glide through her long blonde hair, smell the sweetness of honey on her lips. He had smiled and laughed openly with her, shown her a side of himself that no one had seen before. The hallucination charmed him, called to him. She cornered him into submission much as the real Leila had done on Omicron Ceti III. But as before she had again quickly disappeared, dematerialized out of his life.

If there are self made purgatories, then we all have to live in them.

His last words to her reverberated through his thoughts and he felt every repressed feeling of confusion and remorse rush over him again as he imagined her dissolving into pure energy, into space.

But there would be no peace, no respite, for the most painful of all visions was yet to come in Zarabeth.

Of anyone he had met in his travels, she had truly seen him and understood him; she was an exile of her world as much as he had been of his. While they may have only known each other a short time on Sarpeidon, she could only now reside in his thoughts, adrift in time and space, herself a victim of such a terrible act of cruel abandonment.

She was lost to the past, as much as I was shackled to it.

He clearly remembered as he wept for her, how he beat his bloodied fists and clawed in desperation against the warm stone tile, sprawled prone on his belly. For days it seemed he screamed her name in vain. The haunting memories of her had washed over him like an acid rain; his skin had crawled in every pore in remembrance of the anguish of their parting and the ensuing helplessness he had felt over the loss of her. In reverting to the animal passions of his people's past, he had forsaken all sensibility of logic during their meeting. Lost in that all too brief encounter, Spock had felt deeply for her; he had understood what shon-ha'lock could mean, how the all-engulfing flames of intense passionate love could singe every fiber of his being and burn straight through to his soul.

Twisted, dark nightmares forced him to relive the moment that Beta Niobe had gone supernova; he could not help but feel his own heart had imploded that day as he stood on the Bridge after returning from the planet's past, powerless, impotent against the will of the universe. Once more he would stand alone in a crowded room.

As the vision of her faded slowly into the hewn granite wall, his emotions remained uncontrolled, and his body could only seize in utter exhaustion. He had sobbed in grief for Zarabeth, for them both, as he had never allowed himself to do before until he fitfully collapsed into a deep sleep. Hours later, the frenzy of the fever broke and he was once more irrefutably alone.

After eight days, the Kolinarhu had eventually come for him and dragged his immobile, stinking form off of the floor and out of the cavern. In silence with eyes averted they had forced him to eat broth and tended his wounds. When Spock had finally composed himself once more, long afterwards the vague shadows of such tortuous visions remained. Long after the fever they whispered to him, such cynical unforgiving muses, and it only increased his will to shed all attachments forever.

He had carried them along with so many other burdens; his career, his mother, his so very human friends. Across the great expanse of the Sas-a-Shar, all of them had been in stride with him step by step to the end of his long pilgrimage. Spock had nearly been able to say goodbye to them forever as he knelt before his master on the burning sands at Gol, so close to total surrender.

But as with so many things, such closure was not to be found.

And then, after all of this, he had stepped back into his old life again to resume as if on the surface it was 'business as usual' with Jim and the Enterprise. Still, he remained incomplete, not entirely certain what he was searching for.

For all these reasons, it had been so unexpected to discover on Thieurrull that someone could need him; for certain, in many ways Saavik needed him as much as he needed her. His tutelage of her had required more of himself than he had ever thought he could give, and through her he had found new knowledge and understanding as well as a new purpose. It was somewhat like finding not only water in a desert waste, but a bright blooming start to a new life.

Frequently he had told her since that there are always possibilities. This, as with so many prior lessons, had been one that he had to learn himself. Spock needed to remind himself with this simple axiom as much as Saavik at times.

Opening his eyes, he stared once more into the dark terminal. He knew it served no purpose to dwell over such things, and he once again worked to bring his mind back to focusing on the present.

The past is the past. What is, is.

There were other more important issues.

As Spock's personality type was that of a born problem solver, it was his belief that everything could be resolved if one took the time and effort to carefully deconstruct any and all information to its essential components before rebuilding it again into a logical semblance.

Every problem was a question of finding equilibrium; much like playing kal-toh, one had only to find the correct balance of t'an rods to create harmony. Saavik presented him with an ongoing open ended equation; her very being was chaotic and entailed countless unknowns not easily predicted. He knew that his reasoning for fostering her had most likely seemed unclear and illogical to his parents; Sarek had not held back in his opinion on the subject of Dantria IV, and his mother, while openly receptive, had most assuredly not felt entirely secure in the idea. But Spock could not turn his back on the unknown; Tel-alep had whispered in his ear that day on Thieurrull to seek out opportunity and continue down wherever the path of curiosity led him; it was a decision that he had never regretted.

Audibly sighing to himself and somewhat exhausted by his own rapid train of thoughts, Spock reached forward and flipped on his terminal. It was part of his nightly ritual to read the ship's BBS before retiring. It would also serve to distract him once more from the morbidity of his memories.

As he scrolled through the many postings from the crew, some trivial, some of mild import, he catalogued a few for later reading while dismissing most outright. There was an announcement about a game night in the lower decks rec room, a swim relay in the pool, a party for an ensign's promotion, an inquiry by Lt. Uhura asking to buy used dictionaries that crew members often bought on shore leave only to usually discard later... Thumbing through the indexes of personals and private rants, Spock almost missed a message that had been misfiled.

Intriguing.

In his haste to scroll through the many trifling memos, he had nearly overlooked a message addressed to him. Somehow, the personal message had been logged into the system incorrectly, most likely an error from the Beta shift communications officer. He mentally logged his own complaint, intent to inform the Lieutenant the next day of his error.

Surprised by the letter's origin, Spock began to read with much curiosity.

...

FORWARD: To Commander Spock, UFP; U.S.S. Enterprise
STARDATE: 5001.1
SENT FROM: Salek, VSA: ShiKahr, T'Khasi

You are invited to attend the Vulcan Science Academy for the Annual Trans-Dimensional Physics Lecture Circuit as a guest speaker. Your recent accomplishments in the Federation regarding research in theoretical particle physics in relation to spatial anomalies such as naked singularities and dark stars has come to our attention. It would honor our institution greatly to hear and discuss the details of such research in person. The conference will commence in two weeks' time. If it is possible for you to make arrangements to attend, we request that you respond immediately.

Salek
Dean of the Department of Theoretical Physics
Vulcan Science Academy, ShiKahr, T'Khasi.

...

The faintest hint of an upturned smile crossed Spock's countenance. It seemed despite everything, the universe had in its way provided a new avenue towards a solution. Even if there was no way to change the situation at D'H'riset, he could at least find out in person the exact details. There was still opportunity for action.

Fascinating. There are always possibilities.


Notes:

1. Tel-alep and many other ancient deities of the Chorus are referenced in The Way of Kolinahr.
2. "Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail." is a quote by Confucius.
3. The discussion between Spock and Sybok is documented in the novelization of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
4. The Inner Chorus, or Ka-ta-pak, is a belief from Vulcan's ancient times wherein exists a number of gods and goddesses with dual aspects amongst them that are manifestations of an individual's emotions. In Post-Reform Surakian philosophy, it is advised that one should ignore this pantheon entirely in favor of logic and reason.
5. Leila Kalomi, a botanist hopelessly in love with Spock who is unable to return her affections the same way, is referenced in the episode TOS: This Side of Paradise. The novel Inception by S.D. Perry and Britta Dennison chronicles their earliest interactions on Earth in 2261.
6. Zarabeth was found by Spock and McCoy in the planet Sarpeidon's past in TOS: All Our Yesterdays. Unfortunately, the planet's star Beta Niobe went supernova in 2269 (a year before the end of Kirk's five year mission), destroying all remnants of her in the past or present.
7. Kal-toh can be considered the Vulcan equivalent of chess, but many Vulcans will point out that human chess is more akin to tiddly-winks in comparison. It is a game requiring patience and logic as well as many years of practice to master. A t'an is an individual playing piece, and several are used to construct a completed kal-toh structure.
8. BBS is shorthand for Bulletin Board System. Starships typically have an open forum in place for crew discussions; everything from buying and selling, to media exchange, onboard announcements, personal messages and even news from around the Federation is listed.
9. The stardate of the communique is a subtle nod to the novel The Entropy Effect by Vonda McIntyre, in which Spock's research of naked singularities (black holes) and G-type stars is part of the main plot. The novel takes place during 2270, the last year of the original five year mission with Kirk.