Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek 2009, and I make no profit from this work.
Spock's intellect was unharmed, and he knew, logically, that he could not be where he seemed to be. The rocky outcrops and dying weeds under the blazing sun were gone - all of them, every last one - and would not be returning. And yet, his mind brought him back to the familiar trails and paths. He had walked here ever since he could walk, on trips from the family home to learn about his homeworld at the patient tuition of his father and, as a very young child, his paternal grandmother.
Now, the desert splayed out underneath him once more. The injections of rock and pebbles were exactly as he'd remembered, and his eyesight picked out the faint shape of a sehlat prowling across the valley. He sat in his meditative pose at the mountain top; if he had turned, his memory might construct the image of the city of his birth to reassure him.
That was, after all, the purpose of this place.
This mountain top had been his refuge, as a child and as an adult. His happier days had been here, when he was very small - his father, not yet dissatisfied with his progress and his abilities as a true Vulcan, had spent hours instructing him in whatever Spock chose to study that day. His mother had come here too, to stargaze with him, and point out Earth's star and talk about her homeworld. He had first heard music here, played by his grandmother in one of her 'softer' (as Amanda had called them) days.
In the days before he knew that he was different, in the days before he knew that he would always be different, in the days when the other children had been accepting of him, and the adults not so convinced of his shortcomings.
It was not the same, entirely - for one, the mountain was exposed to the wind, and the wind had always screeched around the rocks. It had never been so silent in reality, but it was here. There was also no heat - neither was it cool - despite the harsh sunlight, and the faint noise around him was distinctly from the 'real' world. Occasionally, he could even hear his own voice in delirium-fuelled murmurs, before he willed the sound to die again.
He could not bring himself, however, to break the illusion.
It was a lie, of course, but this place did not carry pain. A strange numbness and insensitivity in his limbs and mind, but no pain. His brain was doing its best to protect him from the damage; undoubtedly, he would be scarred and damaged permanently if he were to be exposed to the raw, bleeding wounds in their painful psychic horror.
And so he let his mind do as it desired, and remained where he was.
The sky was an Earth-blue, however, and did not emit winds but voices. They brushed his hair and face, with varying forces and intents, and faded away when he refused to be drawn towards them and respond. The most frequent was a ghost of rough warmth, like rubbing sand between your fingertips, and brought a damp heat like never felt on Vulcan. The other common factor was a cool, light breeze that rubbed through his hair and fingers almost affectionately, before fading. The others came and went too infrequently to truly measure, and he had little desire to do so.
Here, he could rest, at last.
Uhura came to get McCoy, halfway through her usual afternoon visit, and though she wasn't panicked, McCoy thought she had every right to be when he took a look at Spock's monitors.
"What's he doing?" Uhura asked, clutching at the Vulcan's hand, and McCoy shook his head.
"I'm not sure," he said. He was no expert on Vulcans, but even he could tell that he wasn't witnessing something normal for them. Spock's neural activity was increasing in some areas and not others, and his pain receptors were still howling like they had been for days, but he was silent and, apparently, quite unconscious. His hands were limp, and the restraints slack (for once) around his muscles.
He wasn't doing much of anything, and after the chaos of the last week, it was a surprisingly unpleasant change. Mostly because it was frightening.
McCoy sent for the Captain and returned to the isolation unit, leaving the door open behind him now that Spock was quiet and, apparently, quite peaceful. Uhura stayed stock-still as the doctor moved around her, never taking her eyes off Spock's face, and eventually she spoke as the doctor drew a blood sample.
"I can't hear him."
"You can't what?"
"Hear him," Uhura said. "Vulcans are touch-telepaths, and if they let you, you can hear them through their skin. Their...consciousness. I don't know how to explain it - I can't read his thoughts, or even get an impression, but I can...I can hear him. Hear his mind working."
"And you can't hear him now?"
She shook her head, and McCoy sighed.
"Right," he murmured. "So his telepathy or his mind have shut down, and we don't know which."
Uhura bit her lip - hard.
"I'll need to cross-reference these readings with some of the doctors on New Vulcan," McCoy muttered. "I think it's a healing trance, but this sure as hell isn't what was outlined in the textbooks in xenobiology."
"He's only half..."
"Believe me," McCoy interrupted, "right now, I'm praying it's just the hybrid thing."
She opened her mouth to ask, but was interrupted by Kirk appearing in the doorway, whitefaced and breathing hard as though he'd run all the way.
Which he might well have done.
When Jim arrived in Sickbay, McCoy and Uhura were in the isolation unit with Spock, the door wide open and the silence unnerving. Jim felt the nervousness travel into his knees and make them twitch unhappily, before he drew into the room himself and saw the reassuring indicators on the biobed monitors.
"What's going on?" he asked brusquely, and Uhura turned a pinched, anxious face to him.
"He's gone into a trance," McCoy said, and shrugged. "At least, I think he has. The readings aren't quite right, though."
"How much 'not right'?"
McCoy sighed, and jabbed a finger at the monitors. "The neural activity is too obvious and in the wrong regions. The dopamine levels are nowhere near what they need to be. And he's not registering us all the time, which he should be."
Uhura, Jim noted, was absently rubbing her fingers over Spock's sleeve. Careful not to touch him, but also unable to keep her hands away. He couldn't blame her.
"What's this mean?" he asked flatly, folding his arms.
"Hell if I know," McCoy muttered angrily. "If it's a trance, then things are looking up. He's not in pain anymore, which is definitely a plus. But, Jim, these readings aren't right. And a healing trance is one of the most basic functions the Vulcan brain possesses."
Uhura's other hand rose to clutch at her mouth, and she closed her eyes. Jim got the feeling that she'd already been told, and didn't want to hear it again.
"I think we might be looking at brain damage, Jim," McCoy said.
The sandstorm was rising out of the east, and whirling across the evening desert view like a cruel goddess from ancient times. Spock watched it approach, knowing the danger and not bringing himself to either care or move out of the path of destruction. It could not hurt as much as the agony in his own head ever since Vulcan imploded, and he could muster the energy to preserve his own existence.
In oblivion, there was surely more peace than he held here.
His mother was gone, because he was too slow to catch her. His home was gone, because of wrong decisions that could have been avoided. His girlfriend was undoubtedly now guilted into being with him even if it was not her desire, and Spock had known of her doubts in the wisdom of courting a Vulcan for a long time. His father was as he'd always been, and would undoubtedly become more difficult to deal with in the absence of the buffer zone that had been the Lady Amanda. His Captain held a wary respect for him at the absolute maximum, and the ship's doctor would be glad to see the threat to his best friend gone.
Why, then, muster the energy to move?
The storm hit, and the pain snapped back into place accompanied by the winds - the cool one screaming now, and beating at his face and ears, and the rough one scraping along his skin and tearing him raw.
And yet, the pain was different, somehow, rising up through his chest and throat, pushing at his veins, pulling him from the inside out and crushing his ribs between the weight of the agony in his chest and the weight of the planet outside him - being buried alive in the sands of Vulcan, in the sands of a place that no longer existed, with the voices of the people he barely knew in his ears, and the burn of the pain in his throat like the frustration of his childhood...
It seemed such a fitting way to go.