Well, here we are. It has been exhausting, but very rewarding! I must give tons of thanks to Beguile for her beta skills! 'Neptune, the Mystic' has belonged to Spock from the very beginning. I am sad to see this series end, but I hope that everyone enjoyed it as much as I loved writing it. Check out my profile for news on my upcoming fanfic projects.

Thanks to everyone who read and reviewed!

VII. Neptune, the Mystic

A solitary lamp is burning on the floor, a small urn of brass brandishing an open flame. Every light in the room is dim, and the single flame creates a gentle sphere of light like a pearl nestled in velvet. The single occupant of the room is barely visible through the shroud of semi-darkness and is sitting in the traditional position of meditation.

He is focused on the flame, looking at it, around it, and through it simultaneously.

It is a flame of purging, cleansing. He lets it draw the emotions from him with preternatural magnetism. Each leaves his body with a physical separation he can feel, and in its place there arrives a warming sensation of completeness.

The flame licks at the sharp edges of his mind, and he separates from himself with a gentle intake of breath. It is a sensation akin to slipping beneath the surface of water, into a place where the laws of gravity are twisted and an unnamed force supports him from every side. Every movement requires a tremendous quantity of energy and produces a negligible result. He is well tuned to the elastic quality of this universe and lets his mental representation fall completely still. His mind adapts a gradient edge, seeing flashes of absolute clarity through a haze of senselessness.

He is positioned amid an expanse of crystal, within it and above it, looking through it and looking down on it in a kaleidoscope of colors. It is a dodecahedron, the Platonic symbol of the aether, the representation of the infinite universe in something corporeal.

He remains there for an amount of time he can not measure, floating on the waves of universal thought on the tangent plane to the physical world. He does not think of anything, yet comprehends everything at once in a clarity that can not be experienced in the unenlightened mortal condition.

When his time in this world is allotted, reality pulls at the back of his mind. The facets of the crystal melt away, and the light of consciousness returns like the dawn. He opens his eyes to find the light from the lamp nearly burned down. He sits in silence and watches as it dies. His sensations slowly return to him, and he feels a calmness so deep he cannot quantify it seep into his very being.

His meditation complete, he moves slowly and deliberately, storing the lamp away and moving to the table at the side of his quarters. He places a hand on the chair at the same moment that the chime at his door trills to life, extremely loud amid the silence of the room.

The door slides open and he nods at the captain. The man enters as he is positioning himself at the table, which holds on its surface the object of their interest. This particular specimen is a three-dimensional chess board, its seven layers of frosted glass arranged like a staircase leading to some sort of higher understanding.

It has become a necessity in the past several weeks for the captain and his first officer to engage in a round of the ancient tradition after their shift, though neither can explain how the decision arose between them to first attempt it. Thus far the Vulcan has proven himself the superior player, trapping the captain with an unrelenting logical dance around the chessboard.

The captain will always take each defeat with grace, something that the first officer finds unusual.

There is a mischievous smile on the captain's face tonight as he splays into the chair opposite the Vulcan.

I think this is the time I finally beat you, he announces triumphantly.

A most illogical assumption, captain, as you obviously lack any powers of precognition.

The Vulcan does not allow the captain to answer the retort before he grasps one of his chess pieces and makes his opening move.

The captain watches him with overtly serious eyes, chews on his bottom lip for a moment, and makes a counterattack. The game presses on in this fashion for several minutes, and Spock can detect no feasible pattern in the captain's movements. He continues with his own execution, attacking and defending with little regard to the random moves of his adversary.

It is only when the captain places his bishop in one particular location that a pattern suddenly appears in Spock's mind like a flash of lightning, and he realizes that he is in danger. He watches as the captain removes the felled queen from the board and places it silently amid the collection of other casualties on his side of the table.

May I make an inquiry, captain?

Blue eyes float up to meet his own.

No. But you can ask a question of Jim.

Spock's eyebrow arches at a dangerous angle in a movement that has become a customary response when in the presence of the captain.

I fail to ascertain any difference between those two options, captain.

Of course you don't, the captain mutters. Go ahead, Spock. Ask away.

You seem to have developed your game since our last encounter.

The captain's face falls.

Oh, Spock. Don't tell me you're worried.

Negative, captain. It was merely an observation.

The captain moves another piece.

An observation, the captain repeats. You know, Spock, it wouldn't kill you to be a little less logical, sometimes.

The Vulcan shakes his head negatively as he makes another move. That is simply an emotional chasm that he can not cross. This does not mean that he does not feel the need for competition, or friendship, but there will always be that distance there, for he knows no other way.

He can detect a deeper meaning to all this, but the chime of the captain's voice shortens his thoughts.

Oh, Spock?

Yes, captain?

The captain cradles the bishop gently in his hands and moves it down one level. He sits back and folds his arms with a satisfied smirk on his face.

Checkmate.

The Vulcan entertains surprise for only a moment, until realization creeps in. He had let himself become distracted. His eyes float to meet the captain's own, giving no outward indication of his astonishment. His mind hesitates to accept the fact that his captain has managed to distort and bend the straight lines of his thought with his completely illogical bearing.

He realizes that he and the captain are antonyms of one another. Equal but opposite, one of the universe's most fundamental laws put in motion. Their relationship is symbiotic, he notes; one can not exist without the other. It would not be beyond him to call the captain the parasite and himself the unfortunate host, but such complex humor is not his way.

Captain?

The young man's face is a picture of innocence.

I believe the ancient expression is that I have been hustled, Spock offers flatly.

The captain may think that he is successful in hiding the telling expression on his face, but the Vulcan can read the lines there as easily as any text.

Spock, what makes you say that?

You do make certain deductions quite obvious, captain.

The captain replies with a renegade smile, and gets to his feet.

I'll take that as a compliment, Spock.

He has his hand on the controls to the door when he turns back to his first officer.

I'll be here, same time tomorrow, he says before he leaves.

Spock nods toward him as the door slides shut. He sits in silence for a moment, focusing on the arrangement on the middle tier of the chessboard. They are an innocuous collection of pieces at first glance, but looking at them at the correct angle reveals the hidden power of the checkmate, written long ago in rules that have not changed through time.

It is fascinating.

He never thinks in straight lines. Moving on the diagonal, the oblique, allows him to often remain unnoticed until the perfect alignment of circumstance, whereupon he often appears where the unsuspecting player does not expect him to arrive.

Spock leaves the pieces as they are, rises without haste, and dims the lights. The same small lamp finds its way to the floor again, encircling him with its small jewel of color as he settles himself beside it. His mind drifts in the controlled chaos, but he does not imagine the perfect lines of a Platonic solid, with its tangible, mathematical clarity. Instead, the object of his meditation is a crystalline chess piece, the pointed form of the bishop . . .

Fin.