Chapter Seven: Uhura, 2317
Disclaimer: Something borrowed.
A light on the communications console flashes.
"Captain, we're being hailed!"
Nyota toggles the switch with her right hand, her left hand pressed to the receiver in her ear.
Suddenly the overhead lights power up, so bright that she closes her eyes. Behind her eyelids she experiences a cascade of afterimages…sees the comm board, the captain gesturing from his chair….hears bits of language…muffled voices…feels an odd array of sensations, as if every nerve in her body flares briefly.
Grains of sand or ice whirl past her face and she opens her eyes hesitantly. Instead of being on the bridge of the Enterprise, Nyota is sitting on a large rock outcropping in a hazy field. Her knees are tucked beneath her, her right hand outstretched, her left cupped around the receiver still in her ear. Pressing the activator button, she is startled at the sound of her own voice.
"Enterprise? Do you read me?"
Nothing. Not even any static.
She takes a breath and lets it out slowly, trying to still the panic that skitters at the edge of her consciousness. A dream? Incredibly realistic if it is. The wind blowing sand or dust or ice crystals is cold and abrasive and steady. Looking around, she notes what looks like a large rounded hill in the distance.
A hallucination? Nyota runs her hands along the rock where she is sitting. The surface is oddly spongy and rough, like flexible pumice, and she presses her hands flat to steady herself as she stretches out her legs, dangles them over the side of the rock and slides, landing off-balance in soft green soil that is silky to her touch.
The planet below—suddenly she knows where she is. But how has she gotten here?
You were trying to contact us.
The thought flickers through her mind so quickly that she isn't sure if she actually hears the words or not. Pinpricks of light flicker across her field of vision and she winces before she can stop herself.
"Who are you?" Nyota calls into the unseen distance, feeling the answer more than hearing it.
Travelers, as you are.
Taking a tentative step, Nyota pitches forward and has to catch herself to keep from falling.
"Where are you?"
Instantly she is flooded with warmth and she looks down expecting to see that she has stepped in some sort of fluid. A metallic taste washes through her mouth and for a moment she is so dizzy that she is afraid she might fall. From the corner of her eye she sees a shimmer of light, like an optical illusion that recedes in the desert. When she moves, it slips away. Her head begins to throb.
Your body is adversely affected by our presence. We will return you to your vessel.
"No!" she says. "I'm…searching for someone. You may be able to help me."
There is no one here but us.
The wind blowing across the landscape picks up and Nyota shivers uncontrollably.
"My ship," she says, " the vessel you took me from—"
We brought you here to facilitate communication.
"I can hear you but I can't see you."
Nyota peers into the haze, watching for some motion. Her vision is limited to the large rock at her side and a few meters of soil around her. Glancing up, she is surprised that the sky is obscured by fog.
It is not yet time to take on our corporeal forms. Soon. That is why we are here.
Lowering herself to the ground, Nyota says, "I don't understand."
This mode of communication is tiring you. Perhaps we can try something else.
Nyota leans back against the rock and nods.
When she was a teenager, she sometimes suffered from migraines that bloomed behind her eyes and wrenched her stomach into knots. Her mother would dim the lights and sit at her bedside, stroking Nyota's brow until the medicine took over and eased the pain. This pain feels familiar.
Close your eyes.
The voice is both gentle and commanding.
"How are we able to—"
We scanned the data banks on your vessel so we could communicate with you. You do not need to speak to be understood.
But suddenly she knows. The creatures who brought her here do not need words, do not use words with each other. An image of gold and white lights—this is how we exist most of the time, she hears in her mind. As energy, traveling from our home to other worlds.
Then why are you here? On this planet? she asks, and another image swirls in her thoughts, of the white and gold lights striking the green soil, tiny colored crystals rising up, tumbling in the wind and collecting in shallow pools, touching each other and reshaping themselves. Like watching a time-elapsed holovid, Nyota sees the crystals growing until they crack and burst and shoot into the atmosphere as beams of focused white and gold light.
She understands that this is the life cycle of these creatures.
So you come here to…procreate, she says, and she feels their amusement.
In a sense. Here we take on substance and reconstitute ourselves. Without doing so, we would cease to exist after a time, our energy trace degrading, dissipating.
Her heart races.
This energy trace, she thinks, is disrupting a planet near this system. One of my shipmates was hurt when you traveled there. We have tracked his…energy trace here. To this planet. And another shipmate is with him. They were traveling in a transporter beam when it was intercepted.
The wind soughs around the rock and Nyota tilts her head against it.
There are no life forms in our energy trace. You are the only life form on this planet.
Opening her eyes in frustration, Nyota is instantly overwhelmed by another wave of nausea. The taste of iodine fills her mouth and she gags.
They don't have bodies as I do, she says. Their molecules were disassembled when your…beam….took them—"
She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. A vision of the transporter room swims up and she grabs onto it, knowing that the creatures find her account confusing.
Here, she thinks, giving a mental view of the six landing pads, Scotty sitting with his hands resting on the controls, Kirk bracing himself on the console with one hand, and herself and Sarek standing to the side, waiting for Spock and McCoy to materialize.
This is when they disappeared, she says, reliving the shaking of the ship, the shimmer on the pad fading into nothingness, Scotty's aggrieved, "I've lost them!" still causing her pain.
Your shipmates are not alive.
"No!" she says aloud, the sound ricocheting in the air. "I know they are alive!"
The effort to speak exhausts her.
The only living creature is this one.
They show her Sarek—his eyes darker than Spock's, his expression more difficult to read.
This one is alive, as are you. But we sense no one else on your vessel or in this place.
Is it possible that something catastrophic has happened to the Enterprise—that through some terrible accident she has been brought here instead of suffering the fate of the crew?
As if to answer her question, the creatures show her the ship—the running lights blinking against the black sky, the hull gleaming dully in the light of the nearest star.
The crew? she asks, and suddenly she can see the people inside, almost as if through a glass wall, walking down the corridors, manning their stations.
There are over 400 life forms inside, she says, an idea already niggling in one corner of her brain. Why did you say that Sarek—that this one—is the only one alive?
The voice takes on a quizzical tone.
These others are life forms? But they are not truly sentient. Their awareness extends no further than themselves.
"I don't understand," Nyota says aloud, partly to reassure herself that she can. But even as she says it, she realizes that she does understand, that the mysterious mental connection she feels with Spock connects her to Sarek, too, in a way that she hasn't realized before.
She calls up an image of Spock and says, "I know that this one is alive. He's hurt, and he may not be able to respond, but I would know if he had…ceased to exist. And Sarek would know, too. This form of….communication….it is typical of their species, and apparently yours. The other life forms on the ship do not communicate this way, but they are sentient."
Our definition of life differs from yours.
For a moment she is flummoxed—though in retrospect she thinks she shouldn't have been. Even humans have disagreed for centuries about how to define life and sentience. Self-awareness? The ability to reason? To feel pain and pleasure?
Apparently these creatures factor in telepathic communication as part of the equation.
"But now that you know—"
Before she can finish, she senses the creatures refining their search, gleaning their energy trace for the inevitable residue and debris they accumulate in their travels among the stars—debris that includes an interrupted transporter beam.
The two you are searching for are here.
Opening her eyes, Nyota forces herself to her feet, one hand extended to the rock to balance herself.
Their forms are present in our energy matrix.
"Then you can return them to the ship!"
We cannot. If we expend the energy to return them, we will not have sufficient energy to take on substance and reconstitute ourselves. We will cease to exist.
"They will cease to exist if you don't!"
For the first time since Spock disappeared, she begins to feel genuine panic. The creatures have nothing to gain and everything to lose by diverting their energy beam to send McCoy and Spock to the Enterprise. Scrambling to think what to say to convince them, she has a sudden heartfelt desire for Jim Kirk's help. If anyone can talk his way out of trouble, it's the captain.
But he's not here—indeed, the creatures might ignore anything the captain might say since they don't recognize him as a sentient creature.
And that thought gives her the idea she needs.
"Why are you here?"
We told you. We come here to assume the necessary form to continue our existence.
"But why do you wish to continue your existence?"
All living things wish to continue.
"Even if you cause others to cease so you can continue?"
Once in an Academy class on ethics, Nyota had heard an attorney address the cadets and ask this question—or a form of it.
"Is your life worth more than someone else's?"
The attorney was young and self-assured, a handsome man with short dark hair and a prim manner. When someone in the back of the lecture hall raised his hand, the attorney swiveled on his heel with a hint of impatience.
"If we don't believe that the lives of our shipmates are worth dying for, then we shouldn't be in Starfleet," the cadet said, and the attorney nodded.
"Agreed. But are they worth killing for?"
"Of course," the cadet answered, and Nyota found herself nodding along with everyone else.
But later in a private moment in her room she felt a tremor of squeamishness at the thought of having to kill someone. Could she? She was trained to do what was necessary. They all were. But it would take a toll on her—she wasn't so naïve that she didn't believe that.
Right now she hopes the creatures feel the same way.
"If you don't return them, my shipmates will cease to exist through no fault of their own. They are trapped in your energy matrix because you interrupted their transport signal. You have a responsibility to restore them as they were."
The warmth and saltiness she associates with the nearness of the creatures makes her gag again. Closing her eyes, she leans her head against the rock. No words come to her but she feels a wave of emotion that she knows is not her own—regret and sorrow.
She's reaching them.
Or so she thinks, until the voice says, That they must cease to exist is unfortunate. But we are many and they are few.
Nyota stifles a scream. She could be arguing with a Vulcan.
"But you are hurting many! Not just these two, but in the path you take to get here! You are damaging the sentient beings who live on the planet where he is from."
Broadcasting an image of Sarek first and then New Vulcan—the way she last saw it on the viewscreen—Nyota waits for the creatures to move close again and is not disappointed. A spasm of nausea, a flush along her neck and face, and she knows she is understood.
We have used that planet as a way station for millennia. No one lives there.
"No one lived there until a few months ago. If you scanned our data banks, you know about the Vulcan genocide and the survivors' efforts to establish a colony. Your energy beams are disrupting life on that colony."
More regret—and shame.
We did not know. We would never intentionally harm anyone. It is contrary to our ethos.
This time the sorrow is Nyota's. She shivers again, and not just from the cold.
"Are you the only ones—"
There are others on our homeworld who are not yet ready to travel to this place. They will be warned not to touch the colony world on their way.
Is it her imagination, or does the voice sigh?
"Perhaps you will not cease to exist—"
But even as she says it, she knows it isn't true, that it is as shallow as the comfort she gave herself when she didn't want to believe something upsetting as a child.
The captain's voice. She opens her eyes and is dizzy, this time with relief. Back on the bridge, back in her chair, the communications panels arrayed before her—she glances around quickly and sees Jim Kirk leaping toward her.
Opening her mouth to answer, she hears the Tureelian engineer, O'car'i, over the intercom.
"Transporter room to captain! We've got them! Dr. McCoy and Commander Spock just materialized!"
X X X X X X X
Spock isn't the only Vulcan in sickbay. Because the medical facilities on New Vulcan were badly damaged in the last quake, several colonists with injuries more severe than broken bones or bad sprains are resting on the biobeds. Most are asleep or sedated, and the overhead lights have been dimmed for ship's "night."
To afford Spock more privacy, McCoy has pulled the curtains around his bed, leaving just enough room for Nyota to set a chair at his side. Since being beamed aboard, Spock hasn't regained consciousness, though Nyota feels certain that he knows she is here now, resting her head against the back of her chair, letting herself be lulled by the steady whir of the air exchanger punctuated by the occasional beeps of the sensors.
Her eyes are closing. It's been a long day, and she isn't 100% sure that McCoy didn't slip her something to help her sleep when she steadfastly refused to leave.
"There's nothing you can do here," the doctor had protested, but she silenced him with a look.
A rustle at her back—McCoy returning?—and Nyota sits up abruptly. Before she turns around, she already knows who she will see there.
"Ambassador," she says, starting to rise, and Sarek extends his hand, palm down, and motions for her to sit. She does, gratefully.
"Dr. McCoy says he's in a healing trance," she says, realizing too late that Sarek knows this. Chalk it up to her exhaustion that she would state the obvious to a Vulcan.
But Sarek surprises her by nodding and saying, "Thank you."
For a moment they look at each other and then Nyota breaks the silence.
"Would you care to sit down?"
Again he surprises her, this time by stepping around the biobed and grasping the back of the empty chair on the other side. He swings it around, setting it a few feet from Nyota, lowering himself into it more gracefully than most men his size.
Like his son, Nyota thinks. Feline in their movements.
"Thank you," Sarek says again, "for bringing him home."
The unexpected tenderness of his tone makes tears spring to her eyes. She bobs her head, unable to meet his gaze.
"It wasn't me," she says, her voice hitching, a sob threatening to break the surface. "The creatures. They sacrificed themselves—"
"I saw," Sarek says. Of course he did. Through that…bond…or whatever it is. She darts a glance and nods.
"The last time we spoke—" Sarek begins, and Nyota feels her cheeks flush. She had yelled at him, mere days after the Enterprise had limped home after the loss of Vulcan—had told him that he didn't understand grief or loss or love—words calculated to hurt him, to punish him for pressuring Spock to resign his commission and join the colony.
"Please, Ambassador," she says, looking up into his eyes, "I was wrong to speak to you as I did. I was…angry, and I lost control—"
"The anger was justified," Sarek says, not unkindly. "And control can be overplayed."
He folds his hands in front of him and Nyota hears him let out a breath.
"I believed at the time that Spock's decision to remain in Starfleet ill-advised," he says, and Nyota flushes again. "I may have been mistaken."
Sarek peers at her with his dark, impenetrable eyes, so black that she once said he looked reptilian. It was, she realizes now, an ungenerous characterization. His recent suffering has stamped lines on his brow, has made his expression less certain, more wary, even weary.
"Thank you," she says, recognizing the meaning behind his words. He's offering her a benediction, making a place for her in that corner of his mind where his thoughts dwell with his son.
She's not quite there yet. She and Spock are heading in that direction, she's certain. But the losses are still too many, too new, to think that far ahead. Eventually. She can wait.
Like she will wait here for the rest of the night, and for the next twenty-four hours if she needs to, and the twenty-four hours after that, until Spock opens his eyes and speaks her name.
A/N: The End! Voila! If you enjoyed this ride, or even if you didn't, let me know! It's always sad for an author to end a story and lose that connection with readers. Thanks to everyone who stayed onboard and read—and a special thanks to those brave souls who took the time to leave a review
In my little timeline, this story immediately precedes "Once and Future," the story where Spock and Nyota finally make their bond official.
I'm not sure where my muse will take me next. Keep an eye out!
Thanks to StarTrekFanWriter for her continued support. Check out the latest chapter of "Tapestry" in my faves.