Kirk was seated next to McCoy, in the first row of shuttlecraft seats behind the pilot's console. Scott was enjoying flying so much that Kirk did not have the heart to take back the controls. Suddenly realizing that he did not understand how the Captain had pulled all of this off, McCoy gave his friend a sidelong glance.
"How did you manage this?"
"Getting the Chief Medical Officer from the base to order me off the ship."
"Did he tell you he was the Chief Medical Officer?"
"No, not exactly, but Lt. Palmer had told me he was from the hospital. Why?"
"Admiral J.G. Kendall is an old ship mate of my father's. He's no more a doctor than I am. He is the commander of the Argelian Space Port's Starfleet personnel, though." Kirk gave McCoy an amused look. McCoy did not return it.
"How did you get the Commodore off your back?"
"Let's just say that circumstances changed sufficiently to make her see things my way." Suddenly, the big engineer turned to the two men behind him and said, "Captain, we're being pursued. Ship approaching at three four seven mark four two."
"On screen, maximum magnification."
"On screen, Captain." The three men stared at the screen. A small ship of unfamiliar design sailed in off of their port flank, circled around in front of them, and hung there in space, for just a moment, locked in a faceoff with the shuttlecraft.
"Ship is scanning us now, sir."
"Let's return the favor, Mr. Scott."
"Aye, sir." As they started to scan the other ship, a bright spot of light bounded away from the other ship and moved right into their path.
"They're firing on us, sir."
"Evasive maneuvers, Mr. Scott. Readying phasers." A moment later, he spoke again. "Phasers away." The three men watched as they made contact with the other ship, and Scotty took advantage of their opponent's distraction to throw the small shuttle to warp 7, and they shot off and away, leaving the other ship far behind them. Sighing inwardly with relief, Kirk sat back in his chair. "That was a nice bit of flying, Mr. Scott."
"Thank ye, sir."
"Why don't you move back to the back and get some sleep? We've got a long trip ahead of us. We will take turns sleeping, so we will all be ready when we arrive."
"If it's all the same to ye, Cap'n, I'd rather not sleep right now."
"Why not, Mr. Scott? You must be tired."
"Aye, but still I don't want to sleep. I'd rather not talk about why." Now, McCoy was looking at him appraisingly. Wincing slightly, and being sure to keep his back to the doctor, he spoke again. "Cap'n, I have a good reason. Please don't ask me any more about it."
"All right, Scotty. If you don't want to talk about it, that's your prerogative. It's my prerogative and my responsibility to ensure the safety of my crew, and for that reason, I am ordering you to get some sleep. Now, are you going back to lie down on your own, or do I need to ask McCoy to be sure that you are following orders?"
"I can go by meself, Cap'n."
"Good. Sleep well, Mr. Scott."
The night is indigo dark and the fog lays thick and low over the land. A chill, clammy mist rises from the water and mingles with the fog. Sounds are muted, distorted, strange. Voices float through the night air, but one cannot actually say which direction they come from. In short, it is the kind of night that makes one believe in ghosties and other beings of the shadows. Scotty shivers, and smiles as he realizes how long it has been since he's felt that kind of chill. 'Tis like being home. Home. Scotland. When he was just a lad, his friends would laughingly wonder which of his two ladies would ultimately win his affection, the Enterprise or Scotland. Though it was close, in the end, the Enterprise won. Still he found himself looking for a bit of Scotland wherever he went, and in all the places he visited in his travels through the universe, he usually found something that reminded him of that other lady he loved, the mistress he'd left behind. Tonight it was the fog, and the stillness, and the chill mist that rose over the water. 'Tis the kind of night the spirits will be haintin'. In his mind's eye, he saw other foggy nights, spent with other pretty girls. Their faces and some of their names were obscured in the passage of too much time, in landfall on too many worlds. There were a very few who were special, but they too had eventually realized that that which called him to go was stronger than that which bound him to stay, and so, they had released him. He regretted that as he regretted few other things in the world, but he comforted himself with the knowledge that they had known what he was when they got involved, and so there was no broken trust, no bright vision shattered. He stumbled, and reflexively reached back to catch the girl and steady her so she wouldn't fall.
An eldritch twilight descended upon the land, and a chill that had nothing to do with the mist ran up and down his spine, playing about his arms and face, and raising the small hairs on the back of his neck. He sensed a thinning, though he felt nothing. Somehow, he knew, could tell that he was in the presence of ultimate evil, though how he knew that, he could not quite say. Reaching, stretching, searching, he tried to find the girl, to shield her with his body, to get her safe away, but he found himself quite unable to move. A darkness more profound than any he had ever known crept in upon his vision, and a suffocating silence strangled the girl's cry. For a long time, he knew nothing but the darkness and the silence, could not focus his thoughts on anything, until finally, his mind latched on to the one familiarity of the scene, a snatch of sound that somehow found its way through that abysmal gulf. His name, and the voice that called it, were a welcome anchor to reality. He threw himself toward the voice with all the strength that he possessed, somehow understanding that that direction was to be his salvation.
Lieutenant Commander Scott sat up and found himself drenched in sweat. Rising shakily from his makeshift bunk, he went into the shuttle's bathroom and splashed water on his face, and when that did not help, leaned over and wretched into the sonic lavatory. Six months had passed since the ordeal on Argelius had taken place, so why was he having nightmares about it now? Eyeing the back seats with loathing, and knowing he would not sleep again for a long, long time, he sat up and busied himself with some schematics of the ship's design, trying to avoid questions he did not want to answer from people he did not want to see at the moment.
Sulu lay stretched out on his bunk, boots set neatly on the floor below. Checkov sat in Sulu's desk chair, staring glumly at nothing in particular. His anger built and built as he thought of Uhura down on the planet, possibly injured and alone.
"Look at the bright side, Pavel. We found her. When Captain Kirk gets back, he'll decide what he wants to do, but at least she's alive and safe."
"For now, yes. How long will it stay that way?"
"You know better than that, Pavel. There are no guarantees. You stay in the service long enough, and you learn not to count on tomorrow. You have to learn to live today, and worry about what happens after that when that time is granted to you."
"Why wouldn't the Commodore demand her back? She could have you know. They have no legal right to hold her."
"We don't know that. Maybe she did something that violated one of their taboos. After all, we know very little about these people. Or maybe someone found her injured, and she is in a hospital down there, in which case, M'Benga will surely find her and bring her back here. The fact is, Pavel, that we really don't know what has happened, and until we do, the Commodore is right not to go barging in demanding her return. Yes, we've come to help these people, but we have a responsibility to be culturally sensitive also. Do you think Captain Kirk would not hand over one of his crew to be tried, convicted, and even killed if that crew member had violated some local law? Look at Mr. Scott and Argelius. If you plan to stay in the service, you need to learn now that you have to do your duty, and friendship doesn't, and can't, enter into it. You can't let it get in the way of what you have to do. Thinking anything else is just being naïve. The sooner you learn that, the better off you will be."
Those words stung Chekov deeply. It was rare that he was at odds with his Asian friend, and even rarer that Sulu spoke to him in this manner. They were both out of sorts tonight. Uhura was a friend to both of them, and neither liked what was happening. In fact, thought Sulu, Chekov would be surprised how much I want to go check on her myself, but he'd been in the service longer than that. Long enough to know better, as Kirk would say. Long enough to know that going down there might do more harm than good.
"Captain Kirk also fought to clear Mr. Scott, and didn't stop until he was released. You do what you want to do, but Uhura is my friend, and I'm going down there to check on her. If the Commodore won't do anything, I will."
"Don't be stupid. What makes you think I wouldn't pick up the comm. unit before you even left the room and call the Commodore or Mr. Spock? They'd have security on you before you got near the transporter room. I'm your friend, and Uhura's, but I am also a superior officer, and I can order you not to go."
"Or you could come with me. Uhura is your friend, too, and I can't stand the thought of her down there all alone. Do what you have to do, sir. I'm going."
Later, Sulu decided that it must have been the 'sir' that made him change his mind, and go along with the Russian navigator. "I don't know why I let you talk me into these things. Come on. If we are going to do this, we have to move carefully. It will show up on the bridge Engineering panel when we beam down."
They reached the transporter room too easily for Sulu's tastes. At a time when the corridors should be crawling with crewmen, they were virtually deserted. That seemed a bad omen to him. They entered the room to find it seemingly deserted. So far, so good. Their luck was not to last, however. As Sulu was programming their coordinates into the transporter, and setting the delay, so he could pull the lever and then climb on the platform, the person by whom they most dreaded being seen, stepped into the room.
"Going somewhere, gentlemen?" Spock asked casually, stepping over to the machine and changing the programming.
"Yes, sir." Sulu stared at the floor and Chekov looked contrite. "Sorry, sir."
"I think I understand what you were trying to do, gentlemen, and I sympathize with the reasons you would want to do it, but it's a bad idea. It won't help Miss Uhura, it won't help the situation, and it especially won't help your careers. Now, I am going to step out into the corridor for precisely five seconds, and if you are out of this room and headed back to your quarters within that time, we'll forget anything happened here tonight. If, however, you choose to transport anyway, I think it is only fair to warn you that the transporter is now programmed to deposit you in the brig, where you will stay until Captain Kirk comes back or Commodore Thavalan decides to handle the issue. Clear?"
McCoy was out of his seat and by Scott's side in an instant. The engineer was a delicate shade of green, and his eyes were red and puffy, almost like he had a hangover, but by his speech they could tell that he was cold sober. The Captain stared at him in alarm. "Scotty, what is it? You look awful."
"Nothin to warry about, sir."
"I'll be the judge of that when you tell me what's going on here."
"Nightmares, sir." The big Scotsman looked sheepish.
"Those must have been some nightmares, Scotty."
"Aye sir, thot they were." McCoy handed him a glass of water and instructed him to drink all of it. When he had done so, the doctor faced the Chief Engineer and looked appraisingly at him.
"Scotty, tell me about these nightmares."
"I'd rather not, Dr. McCoy. Talking aboot them makes them the more real."
"Would this have anything to do with the Argelius affair?" Scott looked at McCoy in alarm.
"How did ye ken thot, mon?"
"Lucky guess, Mr. Scott. Now spill." More gently he added, "Scotty, I can't help if you don't tell me what's going on in there." Scott glanced at Kirk, who had walked back to see what was happening, and swallowed hard. Taking the hint, Kirk turned back toward the front of the shuttlecraft.
"I'll leave you two to it. I will be up front if you need me. Scott, let McCoy help you. I need you back."
"Aye sir. Thank ye sir." Scott watched as the Captain's shadow moved back around the corner and into the pilot's seat again.
"All right, Mr. Scott, we are alone. Now, let's get down to business."
"The dreams start out pleasant at first. I am walking in the fog, thinking about other walks in the fog with a likely lass, and then I start to fall, so I reach for the girl, to help her over the rough patch, ye understand, and then I start to feel really cold and I am engulfed in darkness, in evil. I know it is evil, but I don't know why. I can't move, until I hear a voice calling my name—his voice." He looked at the chair the Captain had just vacated. "I move toward his voice, knowing it's all over, and then I wake up, usually sweating like a pig at a barbeque, but cold, so cold, at the same time."
"How long have you been having these nightmares, Scott?"
"I guess it would be four nights now, or five."
"Are they always the same, or are there some that are different?"
"They've all been the same, so far. This last one was far worse, though."
"How do you mean?"
"I woke up in a cold sweat, as usual. Then, I saw an image of those three puir women, just for a split second, as it flashed through me head. I suddenly came face to face with the fact that I killed them. Guess I hadn't really thought about thot before."
"Scotty, it wasn't your fault." McCoy spoke carefully, knowing he was on dangerous ground.
"No matter what the circumstances were, I struck the blows, with me own hands. I did thot." The big engineer wasn't prone to hysterics, but from long experience with other cases, McCoy could tell that the strain in his voice was bordering on panic.
"Mr. Scott, I want you to get some sleep. You won't be on your feet much longer if you don't." McCoy laid a gentle hand on Scott's shoulder. Then, he reached into his ready pack behind him and took out two containers, and two glasses. Opening the front pocket, he withdrew a small paper pouch, ripped the top off of it, and emptied its contents into one glass, pouring Scotch, the engineer's drink of choice, on top of the powder. He poured himself a brandy, and held up his glass in a toast.
"Here's to a good night's sleep, my friend."
"Aye, and a better day tomorrow." With that, Scott downed the contents of his glass, and McCoy helped him stretch out across the middle seats of the shuttlecraft. He was asleep almost immediately.
"Bones, how's Mr. Scott?"
"I wish I knew, Jim." He waved away the worried look on Kirk's face. "He's sleeping for the moment. We'll have a lot more work to do when he wakes up, but sleep was the first priority."
"Scott's not prone to nightmares."
"The mind is a funny thing, Jim. Something about that affair on Argelius really stuck with Scotty. I've seen it before in trauma cases. He's blaming himself for the deaths of those three women."
"After six months? He did not blame himself before."
"Oh, I'm sure somewhere deep down inside, he did blame himself. Up until this point, however, he was able to hide it, and he knew that he wasn't being rational. Something, probably a lack of sleep, changed all of that."
"I don't know, Jim."
Spock finally reached the relative comfort of his own quarters, and sat down, quite carefully, in the chair behind his desk, pulling his Vulcan lyre from the wall as he did so. He tuned it, not aimlessly, but quite involved in his own thoughts. Vulcans could seldom be regarded as restless, except during the tribulations of Pon Farr, but any objective human would regard Spock as restless right then. As he tuned the instrument, he noticed the message light beeping on his communications unit. Laying the lyre aside, he toggled the switch to play the message, and leaned forward, oblivious to the fact that he had done so, upon hearing the Captain's voice. When the message ended, he switched it off, and then called up the ship's computer.
"Working," droned the feminine voice.
"Access personnel file for Commodore Dar Thavalan."
"Security level insufficient. Access denied." Spock's frustration would have been evident to anyone who really knew him, and though there was no reason to try to hide it while alone in his quarters, he did so anyway. He would be talking to the upper echelons of Starfleet Command in a few moments, and he did not wish to slip with them.
"Access public records regarding Commodore Dar Thavalan."
"Current assignment: Director of Medical Services, Surgeon General's Office, Starfleet Medical Headquarters, Starfleet Command."
"No available data." Spock raised an eyebrow. Interesting.
Spock opened a channel, and when Lieutenant Palmer answered, he said, "Lieutenant, please patch me through to Starfleet Medical Headquarters. I wish to speak to the ranking duty officer."
"Yes, sir." The screen sat frozen on the blue Starfleet emblem for a few minutes, and then the lined face of a Middle Aged black man appeared on the screen.
"Starfleet Medical, Admiral Miller here."
"Admiral Miller, this is Commander Spock, Executive officer, USS Enterprise."
"Mister Spock, how can I help you?"
"Commodore Dar Thavalan is aboard the Enterprise. We received no word that she was coming aboard."
"Well, Mister Spock, I am sure you can understand that the nature of the Commodore's mission made it necessary for her to explain for herself why she was there, once she came aboard."
"Were you aware that the Commodore is—," Spock paused, uncomfortable with sharing something which Doctor Thavalan might wish to remain confidential, and quickly realizing that he had no choice, "ill?"
"No, but it makes no difference. Commodore Thavalan is uniquely qualified to complete her mission, the details of which are top secret and confidential. She is a flag officer on a mission duly authorized by Starfleet. As I understand it, the Enterprise has a top flight medical department, so any illness she has should not cause any real problems. Let me be clear, Commander. The Enterprise is hereby ordered to render all aid and assistance to Doctor Thavalan in the completion of her mission. You and your crew are to follow her instructions to the letter. Do I make myself clear?"
"Quite clear, Admiral."
"You have your orders. Starfleet out." Spock sat back in his chair, deep in contemplation of what the Admiral said. A moment later, Spock left his quarters and moved down to the shuttle bay. Anyone passing him in the corridors of the great ship would have said that their Vulcan First Officer was decidedly preoccupied.
He climbed on board the Galileo, and began tinkering with the controls, making adjustments to the computers, and performing maintenance checks on the engines and other operational parts of the craft, seemingly arguing a point with himself all the while. His thoughts were interrupted by a noise in the back of the vessel, then a very loud silence. Carefully, and completely silently, he made his way back to the back of the shuttlecraft, sneaking up behind a dark clad, heavyset, and very familiar figure as he did so. Reaching out, he put a hand on the man's shoulder and swung him around, seeing the brief, startled look in his captive's eyes, and then the acceptance and the recognition.
"Father, what are you doing here?"
"I must speak to you."
"How did you know I would be here? I told no one."
"That, my son, was a fortunate coincidence. We must recover your mother."
"That is not logical. Starfleet Command has ordered the Enterprise to get you to Touchstone II for important testimony. All else must wait until our mission has been accomplished."
"My testimony will mean nothing without evidence in your mother's possession. Without that evidence, what I say cannot be proved. We must move quickly. Time draws short."
"I cannot speak of that. I tucked it among your mother's things. Logically, it should have been safe there."
"Besides the concern of not following orders and the knowledge that I would be betraying my captain and my duty, I cannot leave this ship bereft of command personnel."
"The Commodore, from what I saw of her file, is quite a good commander."
"You saw her file?"
"Not everything is as it seems, my son."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Only that whether she is ill or not, she can still command this ship, and her illness does not relieve you of your duty to the mission, or to me."
"I know, but I have a duty to this ship and her crew as well."
"Retrieving the evidence I need to lend my charges power is the only logical course of action open to you. Under Starfleet regulations, I can use my diplomatic standing to take command of this vessel, and then I can order you to accompany me. If I am forced to do it that way, I will."
Without another word, Spock sat down in the pilot's seat and started on the pre-flight checklists, and then he called Lieutenant Sulu and ordered him to take command of the Enterprise.
"Will you have your communicator, sir?" Sulu asked, quietly.
"Yes, but I may be out of range. The Commodore can command the ship if you have problems. She is a fine commander. Listen to her as you would to Captain Kirk, or to myself."
"Yes, sir." Spock noticed that he still sounded worried.
"Lieutenant, you are a fine commander in your own right. Just remember what you have learned from Captain Kirk, and you will be fine." That was high praise coming from Mr. Spock.
"Thank you, sir." He hesitated for a moment, as if unsure he should say anything more. Finally, he said, "Godspeed."
"I believe the appropriate answer is 'Thank you', Lieutenant."
The shuttle bay doors opened at that time, and Spock steered the shuttle craft Armstrong out into the deep, velvety darkness of space.
Deep in the bowels of the Enterprise, in the heart of crew country, a red light flashed urgently on a desk computer monitor. The cabin's occupant pressed a button and smiled as the voices came through clearly. Two of the Vulcans were leaving. The plan was working far better than they'd hoped, for it was the two important ones who were leaving. They would be alone and vulnerable out in the depths of space. Quickly clicking off the desk monitor before any of those goody two shoes on the bridge had a chance to discover it and inform their commander, the crew member turned and began pushing buttons on a handheld device removed from a uniform pocket, sending a code to comrades outside the ship.
The shuttlecraft Armstrong had been traveling at maximum warp for the past twelve hours. Sarek was lost in private meditation, and Spock found himself concentrating extremely hard on flying the craft. He did not want to think about what Kirk would say when he discovered that the Vulcan had broken his sacred trust. Somehow, Spock knew the reasons would not matter, and deep down inside himself, in the only place he allowed his emotions true vent, he admitted to himself that his friendship with Kirk was a part of his life that could do without logic. Kirk's ship was an extension of himself, his first and best destiny. Abandoning the Enterprise felt very much like abandoning Kirk. He forced himself to concentrate on the charts beside him. This was necessary. He was acting in the only logical manner open to him, and to think that Kirk would not understand that, was giving him less credit than he deserved.
The tiny ship followed the shuttlecraft at the very edge of her sensor range, trying very hard to appear to be a sensor ghost. They would be meeting up with some reinforcements when the shuttlecraft reached its destination. Their job was simply to be sure the bigger ship got to them without veering off to any other location, and to be sure that it did not have reinforcements of its own. Their informant on the parent ship had let them know that that ship was busy with some problems of its own, and that the Commanding officer on that ship did not know that the shuttlecraft was gone, and therefore would not be following them. The green man smiled in satisfaction. This would be easier than he had first thought.
When he opened his eyes the first time, the room was spinning so hard that he could not tell where he was. He took a firm grip on the chair he was lying on to keep from falling off. He felt something pinch his arm, and a familiar gravelly voice said his name several times, though the sound was muted and he could barely hear it. Someone started gently slapping his cheek, and when he opened his eyes the second time, the spinning had stopped, and two faces gazed down at him from above.
"How are you feeling, Mr. Scott?"
"I'm fine, sir, now that the room has stopped spinning. What happened?"
"That's what I hoped to find out from you."
"I don't know. I remember you saying you wanted me to sleep, and pouring me a Scotch, and then I must have gone to sleep because the stuff of every nightmare I've ever had came pouring out at me, and I couldn't wake meself up." Kirk caught the look on McCoy's face, though it was not meant for public consumption, and put a hand on his shoulder, preparing to draw him away, but McCoy spoke again first. "That powder was supposed to ensure a dreamless sleep, Scott. You should not have been dreaming at all, much less having nightmares." He started to fill a hypospray, and Scott looked at him somewhat sheepishly. "If it's all the same to ye, Doctor McCoy, I'd rather not sleep right now."
McCoy regarded him for a moment, and then said, "I don't blame you, Mr. Scott, but you cannot stay awake forever. It'll catch up to you sooner or later."
"I can try."
"I'm afraid not, Scotty. It's just a matter of giving you something that will keep the dreams away. I think this will do it." He injected the engineer with the contents of the hypo.
They were twenty two minutes eta from the ship they were pursuing. She was on their sensors. Sarek stared at the readings on the control panel in front of him, seemingly lost in his private meditations, but he was actually watching the man next to him. His cool Vulcan calm, the precise and deliberate actions he took while flying the craft, his loyalty to duty and kinship, the natural fascination that some mistook for emotion, which made him one of the best scientists that Sarek had ever known—all these things made him proud in a way he was not even comfortable admitting to himself. He wondered if Spock knew he felt that way. He could not tell him—that was not permitted, but he wanted to think that he understood, somewhere deep inside, especially after the encounter last year that brought them closer than they had been for eighteen years. Amanda had had a part in that. She only wanted to see them grow close, as a father and son should, in her opinion. Sarek opened his mouth to voice some of what he was thinking, since they were alone, but Spock spoke first.
"Father, we are being pursued." As he spoke, he raised the shuttlecraft's shields, and then reached over and flipped a switch to increase the magnification on the aft view screen.
"A ship of unknown origin is in pursuit of this vessel. You should move to the back and brace yourself. We may take some fire."
"That's not logical. I can brace myself as well here as I could back there, and you might need assistance with the instruments."
"As you wish, Ambassador." Spock's voice had grown oddly formal.