Chapter 1: The Tale of Edgar Walker
Jim always got to pick where they went for shore leave though often he took their needs into account. If Spock had to make a guess, which he preferred not to, he would surmise Jim would choose camping, outdoors, just the three of them facing nature down.
This was one such occasion, a forested planet Aledia, near enough to Federation space lanes to be safe, yet isolated enough that they were unlikely to be disturbed. Thus, Doctor McCoy, Captain Kirk and Commander Spock found themselves camping amongst tall conifer trees, on the ancient Earth holiday, called Halloween. Jim had lit a blazing bonfire in a clearing and the three of them sat close together, gazing at the fire.
"Once upon a time . . ."
McCoy grumbled, "Spock, ghost stories don't start that way."
"But fictitious stories do, and since ghost stories are inevitably fictitious . . ."
"Oh, Bones, let him finish."
"Very well, once upon a time . . ."
"OW! God damn it, Jim are you five?"
"What? I didn't do anything!"
"Yes you did! I felt your hand!"
"Bones, I swear, I didn't touch you!"
"Gentlemen!" Spock was well and truly irritated when he raised his voice. "If I may continue . . ."
"Go ahead, Spock. We'll be good."
Spock arched a disbelieving eyebrow, "That, I find difficult to . . ."
"Stop! Jim, I swear I'll turn you over my knee."
Jim lifted both hands in the air, innocence plastered all over his face.
Spock shook his head in disgust. "Since I do not have your attention, perhaps one of you would prefer to start."
"Don't be that way, Spock. It's Halloween night; we want to hear your ghost story. Come on, we're all ears."
McCoy had been glowering at Jim but started to wheeze, trying ineffectively to not giggle. Spock sat straighter, if possible, and tried not to look affronted by the comment.
"Gentlemen, and I use that term loosely, you have the ground, I believe."
"The floor, the expression is 'you have the floor'." Jim smiled affectionately at Spock.
"Whatever. One of you must start, I will not be the source of your humor."
McCoy smirked, "Surely you don't think we're going to stop teasing you? Tonight does call for trick or treat."
"I see no evidence of a treat in the offing."
"Ok, I'll go first, since our Captain is acting like a child. Seriously, Jim, if you don't stop with the hands, I'll vaccinate you for the Eccian flu, the live virus!"
"Bones, you're being paranoid, I didn't touch you. Maybe it was the Commander."
"Don't be ridiculous, he's a Vulcan, remember?"
"I am sitting right here, Doctor, please don't speak about me in the third person. I believe . . ."
"Oh, so now we have a grouchy Vulcan!" Jim patted Spock's thigh. He received yet another raised brow and a tightening of his lips, fair warning to back off.
"Oh all right. I'll start. I heard this one when I was a child, living in Savannah. It was a cold dark night . . ."
"Doctor, I do not believe Savannah can be considered 'cold' considering is proximity to the equator and the relative effect of the weather patterns caused by the Gulf . . ."
"Damn it, Spock, I said I heard it when I was in Savannah, I didn't say it occurred in Savannah. You can't take a ghost story literally. We'll be here forever if you . . ."
"Ouch! Bones! Keep you hands to yourself."
"Didn't touch you, Jim. Now if I may continue . . ."
"Please!" Jim and Spock spoke simultaneously.
"As I was saying, it was a cold dark night, the wind whipping the trees across the harvest moon, hanging like a rotting tumor in the sky."
"Oh, medical reference, drink up Spock."
"I do not understand what the telling of ghost stories has to do with the consumption of alcoholic beverages."
"Just take a sip of your pear brandy, and stop complaining. This is supposed to be fun." Jim chugged his beer, downing half of it. Wiping the foam off his lips, he noticed Spock staring at his mouth. He smiled and gestured with his mug at McCoy to continue.
"I'm a Doctor, not Edgar Allen Poe, of course my story is going to refer to medical terms."
"Oh, stuff it, Bones. Tell the damn story."
"Sooo, there was a long lonely lane, overhung with magnolia trees, heavy with Spanish moss. A young woman, returning from an errand down the road, walked briskly, humming to keep up her courage. Behind her was a copse of woods, blasted fields, abandoned farmhouses. This land had been fought over in several wars and folks thereabouts believed the whole area was haunted by soldiers, trying to make their way home."
McCoy paused and took a sip of his bourbon, relishing the smoky flavor. "Well, this young woman, we'll call her Patricia . . ."
"Wait, Bones, wasn't Patricia your girlfriend at the Academy?"
"What is the significance of that name, Jim? Are you suggesting it is the same individual?"
Jim laughed, "Of course not!"
"Shut up, Jim and stop tickling me!"
"Seriously, I haven't touched you. Get on with it!"
McCoy smiled to himself, no doubt remembering a Patricia, and continued. "Well, Patricia was singing softly . . ."
"Doctor, you specified humming, earlier."
"Shut up, Spock. She was humming and occasionally singing, an old song, common to these parts, about battle and brave young men who died nobly for a forgotten cause."
"It was cold, so she clutched an old threadbare shawl, head down, as she trudged down the road. Suddenly, she saw a lantern around a bend in the lane, bobbing in the darkness."
"Well now, everyone knew that the road was haunted so she became frightened. She didn't stop though, she had to get home and get to bed, she had work the next morning out at the neighbor's farm."
Jim yawned, drawing McCoy's glare. "Am I keeping you up, Jimmy boy?"
"Naw, Bones. This is just like the bedtime stories my mother used to tell us when Sam and I were boys."
"DAMN IT JIM! Keep your hands to yourself. Molest the Vulcan, if you have to. I'm trying to tell a story here!"
"Why should Jim attempt to molest me?"
"Why? Why you ask? The fact that he . . ."
Jim held up his hand and brandished three fingers. "One, I didn't touch you. Two, regardless of the rumors, I don't make it a practice to molest Spock." Jim shot Spock an amused glance. "Three, finish the story, and that's an order!"
"Uggh! So, the lantern came toward her down the lane, closer and closer. She made out the outline of a boy, wearing tattered clothes, the remnants of a uniform and a tri-corn hat. Don't even, Spock, look it up later. As he got closer, she saw he was perhaps fourteen or fifteen, just a few years younger than she was, fair with a kind face."
"Now, in the country, you don't just stroll by a stranger without saying hello so they stopped in the middle of the road. He had a lazy smile and seemed friendly despite his worn clothes. She couldn't help noticing he was barefoot, his feet wrapped in rags. He looked like he was colder than she was."
"Being the kind girl she was, Patricia offered him her boots and shawl. He tried to talk her out of it, but she insisted, her home wasn't far and she might be uncomfortable but was in no danger of freezing. He took her offerings, gave her a grateful smile and resumed his travels down the road."
"Not even slightly scary, Bones and where is the ghost?"
"Ah, Jim, you haven't heard the end, you philistine. She eventually made it home, to a warm lamp lit cabin, where she was greeted by her parents and young sister."
"They bundled her up, and sent her to bed. The next morning, the neighboring farmer joined the family for breakfast. She told them about the boy she'd met on the road the night before and was surprised when her story was met with silence."
"The farmer looked at her with concern, noting she had seen an apparition. It seems the boy she'd met was Edgar Walker, who'd run off to join the American Revolutionary War over his parents' objections. He traveled that same road in deep winter to join George Washington's army but never made it. He'd died of exposure on the road, passed by carts and wagons, his neighbors refusing to help so as to not offend his parents."
"They said he wandered the road for many years in search of one kind soul who would give him what he needed and not turn away. Only when he found that person, could he rest. The farmer reckoned that he was done walking and Patricia finally freed him."
"I don't know, Bones. You could have played up the suffering, dying in a snow bank, beaten by bandits. Something!"
Spock stared into the campfire, frowning. Finally, he looked up. "I am of the opinion the story is quite good."
"No, Spock! You can't . . . It wasn't scary, not a bit!"
"On the contrary, Jim. It frightened you."
"Don't be ridiculous. What gave you that idea?"
"Your fear manifested when you clutched my arm approximately 2.34 minutes ago."
"I did not!"
"Perhaps it was unconscious and you do not recall?"
"I swear I didn't touch you."
"This is odd."
"Ha, maybe this forest is haunted? What do you think, Jim? Do you think you accidentally picked a ghostly venue on Halloween?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Bones. There are no such things as ghosts."
"I beg to differ, Jim. There are many entities, which are unidentified. This planet was once inhabited by humanoids that mysteriously disappeared. It seems logical . . ."
"Spock, are you trying to scare us?" Jim grinned at Spock, daring him to try.
"I am merely pointing out that things are not always what they seem."
Jim threw another log on the fire. McCoy took another deep drink of his bourbon. They sat companionably in silence for a few minutes, contemplating the fire's glow. Ghost or no, this was a fine way to celebrate Halloween.
Chapter 2: The Prometheus
The fog stole through the trees, held at bay by the campfire. Spock shivered in the damp air and McCoy tisked, tossing a fleece blanket in his general direction.
"You should keep your First Officer warm, Jim. He looks like he's freezing."
Jim scooted closer to Spock, adding his body heat to the blanket now wrapped around him. He handed him a warm mug of hot chocolate, causing Spock's eyebrows to rise in alarm.
"I do not believe inebriation will aide in warming me, Jim."
Jim chuckled, closing his hand over the mug. "Maybe not, but you won't feel the cold as much. Besides, consuming chocolate is a Halloween tradition."
"Indeed. Perhaps, Jim you could tell your ghost story?"
Jim rubbed his hands together, devilishly gleeful in the firelight.
"You've all heard the story of the Prometheus . . .."
"Ah, the Greek myth of the Titan who is credited with the creation of man from clay and the theft of fire for human use."
"No, Spock, the . . ."
Spock broke in full professorial mode, warming to the subject. "As I recall, the punishment of Prometheus as a consequence of the theft is a major theme of his mythology, and is a popular subject of both ancient and modern art. Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, sentenced Prometheus to eternal torment for his transgression. Prometheus was bound to a rock, where each day an eagle, the emblem of Zeus, was sent to feed on his liver, only to have it grow back to be eaten again the next day. In some stories, Prometheus is freed at last by the hero Hercules. . ."
"The SHIP, he's talking about the ship, Prometheus, we don't want to hear a lecture on Greek mythology. We are telling ghost stories around a goddamn campfire!"
"I am aware, Doctor, I am merely giving some essential background so we can better comprehend . . ."
"Both of you just stow it or I won't tell the story!"
"The Prometheus, as you know, was an early Earth ship, launched by NASA before Starfleet even existed. It was manned by a crew of thirty-five stalwart scientists who intended to map the Horseshoe Nebula. It was believed to be destroyed in a meteor shower, six months after launch and was never heard from again."
Jim took a long sip of his beer and gave McCoy and Spock a contemplative stare.
"About fifty years ago, the Manon, a luxury cruise liner, was en route to the Alnitak system, on a stargazing tour. They found the Prometheus, derelict."
"Captain Christopher Cruz was an experienced captain but even he couldn't resist the siren call of the famed vessel. He sent over an away team which quickly assessed the ship and concluded it was non-operational and devoid of life forms."
"Assured it was safe, he beamed over himself with his communications officer, Lieutenant Dennis and together they found an unusual program still running through the Prometheus' prehistoric communications system."
"Okay, Jim. That's the kind of stupid thing you would do. Just substitute your name for Cruz and Spock's for Mr. Dennis, and you have the garden variety Enterprise away mission."
Jim dramatically placed a hand over his heart and said, "Bones, you wound me. I would have at least taken over a security contingent."
"Yes, and we all know what happens to those red shirts."
"Doctor! That is uncalled for!" Spock leaned forward and pinned McCoy with a glare.
McCoy raised his hands in surrender; perhaps that was a bit below the belt. "Sorry, Jim. Tell your story."
"The program was contained on a small metal disc. Cruz and Dennis isolated it and found a stand alone terminal and ran diagnostics on it in an attempt to discover what had happened to the Prometheus and her crew."
Jim took a long sip of his beer and suddenly jumped to his feet. "Damn it, Spock! That hurt!"
Spock looked up at Jim blankly. "How are you injured, Jim? Do you require the Doctor's aid?"
"You pinched me."
"I did not."
"Oh for god's sake, both of you stop it and Jim, get on with the story."
Jim glared at Spock, this was getting ridiculous.
"The crew of the Manon heard nothing for several hours from Cruz or Dennis. Dennis began to notice personality changes in his Captain. Cruz had became morbidly depressed and talked incessantly about being watched."
"Dennis was at his wits' end, his Captain was becoming completely unresponsive and the mystery of the disc remained unsolved."
Jim stood and paced the edge of the campfire, clearly troubled by the story. Spock and McCoy followed him with their eyes, becoming increasingly anxious.
"Dennis discovered through trial and error, that the disc operated as a beacon, sending some sort of message across the nebula to an unknown receiver."
Spock was following the story, rapt. "How did he determine it was a message?"
"Well, that really was the question. After several hours the Manon's sensors picked up an enormous ship heading their way, apparently in response to some communication from the Prometheus. They advised Cruz and Dennis. Cruz couldn't or wouldn't make a decision so Dennis was left in command."
"The alien ship was on the very edge of their sensors when Dennis made the faithful decision to get out of there. After all, it is one thing to explore a lost derelict, quite another to engage a strange ship."
"Anyway, Dennis had been left alone analyzing the disc and after a while, became concerned when he hadn't heard from his Captain. He searched the ship and found Cruz had committed suicide, hanging himself in the engineering bay. Dennis alone remained unaffected."
"Why would Dennis remain unaffected, surely his . . . "
Jim interrupted as though Spock hadn't spoken. "Dennis managed to get off the Prometheus and return to the Manon. His first act was to declare himself Captain, move the Manon to a safe distance and blow up the Prometheus."
"The Manon quickly made her escape, neatly confusing the alien ship with the Prometheus' explosion and arrived at the nearest starbase in record time."
"When Dennis arrived to dock at the Starbase, he signaled his arrival and as usual, the Universal Translator put his gestures to words. Dennis had been deaf since birth and had chosen not to have his hearing enhanced."
McCoy was wide eyed. "Dennis was deaf, therefore he couldn't hear the communications disc!"
"It was always speculated he had been unaffected because of his deafness. Somehow the communications disc had carried not just a message to the alien ship but had also brought out personality traits, weaknesses, of anyone who heard it. Dennis could hear nothing, so he had no discernable weaknesses to exploit."
"Years later, Dennis found himself on Risa, enjoying his years of retirement. After a particularly exhausting day, he took out the old battered disc and fired it up on the hotel's secure computer. He found himself responding, as he had done daily, to the mysterious code. Somewhere, from across the galaxy, he received his answer, 'We are coming.'"
"That's it? That's your story?"
Spock lifted an eyebrow. "I, too, found it somewhat lacking in the elements of surprise and required terror."
"Et tu Brute? Well, let me tell you, according to Starfleet records, there has been a constant beacon, aimed at the Horseshoe Nebula, sent every twenty-eight hours for decades. The transmission site varies, as soon as Starfleet gets a handle on it, it changes location. Rumor is that there have been several responses to the beacon, from the nebula, but no one has seen the alien ship since."
"Jim, is it your conclusion that Dennis is luring a potentially dangerous alien ship into Federation space?"
"No, Spock, not just Dennis, the surviving crew and passengers of the Manon. Starfleet has traced each and every one of them and all have shown signs of periodic psychotic behavior and at one time or another the beacon has originated from their locales."
"So there is a small army of infected people out there who . . ."
"I believe 'army' might be an gross exaggeration. Unless their progeny also contracted . . ."
Jim sighed and sat down between his two old friends. He hadn't told them the complete story because he couldn't, Starfleet had kept this secret for decades.
"They say, my friends, that every legend has a kernel of truth. If any part of the Prometheus legend is true, you should be scared. We all should be."
They sat in silence, contemplating that universal truth for a moment. McCoy sipped his bourbon pensively while Jim helped himself to another Black Cat beer, staring into the firelight.
Spock shifted and unwound long legs, preparing to stand.
"Where are you going, Spock? Have we annoyed you?"
"If I were annoyed, I would be admitting to a human emotion."
"Which you'll never admit to.
Spock lifted an eyebrow and got to his feet. "There is a matter I must attend to, I shall return shortly."
Jim and McCoy glanced at each other with amusement. Only Spock would be that coy about using the facilities.
"Come back with a story!" Jim waved at Spock's retreating back.
The resounding silence could have filled the forest.
Chapter 3: Dance With the Devil
Jim poked the campfire, playing with the embers. As a child, he'd always enjoyed the pictures the fire made and he'd used his imagination to paint stories of glory and tragedy in the flames. He stared sightlessly at the conflagration, wondering idly what was taking Spock so long.
"How do you think he is doing?"
Jim looked at McCoy and frowned. "Doing what?"
"Jesus, Jim. How is he handling being brought back to life. You know, kinda ground shaking I'd think."
"Well, you're the one who shared his katra, what do you think?"
"I think that loosing at least half of your memories, if not more, and dying, and being reborn, well, I think he's gotta be going a little nuts."
"Bones! He is who he is, a bit fractured but the same man we served with for years. He might be a little fractured, a little odd, but he's still Spock."
The bushes behind them rustled, heralding Spock's return.
"Spock? Do you want to answer that?"
There was no response, just the crackle of the fire and the wind whistling through the branches above.
"Spock? That you? Hey, you're not funny, you know."
McCoy nervously took a long draught of his bourbon and frowned. That couldn't have been Spock, he was quieter. "He's been gone for a while, Jim. Maybe he needs help."
Jim looked at his friend skeptically but stood, brushing leaves off his khakis. "You're right, Bones. Maybe I should check."
Just as Jim turned, Spock stepped out from behind a tree, fog shrouding him, giving him the air of a wraith.
Both McCoy and Jim jumped at his sudden appearance, McCoy actually clutched at his chest. Spock regarded them, frowning slightly at their apparent unease.
"I seem to have lost my bearings in the fog, my apologies."
McCoy, relieved, harrumphed. "You mean you got lost."
"I did not. I will admit to overestimating my ability to negotiate through the forest, however."
McCoy nodded at Jim. "Yup, he got lost."
"Bones, leave him alone. Sit, Spock. You owe us a story." Jim made room for his lover, and sat down beside him, shoulders and thighs brushing.
"Once upon a time . . . "
McCoy groaned and Jim suppressed a giggle.
"Go ahead, Spock."
"This story actually has its roots on this planet."
"Aledia? One of the legends?"
"Indeed. As you are aware, this planet was once occupied by humanoids, the Ales, a peaceful but somewhat primitive race, which lived close to the land and never developed much technology apart from basic farming and manufacture. They had a basic deist system of belief, embracing what would be considered elements of heaven and hell."
"They believed in gods and devils, is what you are saying."
"In essence, Doctor. Simply put, beneficial things were caused or brought about by the Gods, unfortunate events were the Devils' work."
"Ok, we get it, Spock, now, will you get on with it? Ghost story, not history lesson!"
Spock raised a brow. "If I may, in a social farming community, which one can see the ruins of nearby, the Ales would have events, involving the celebration of the seasons. One particular seasonal celebration was the harvest, or Sanbrothe, where the denizens would congregate and share the bounty of the crops."
"There was a young woman, Sion, who lived with her family and looked forward to the first Sanbrothe of her maturity. She dressed in her finest clothing, helped by her younger siblings, even her mother and aunts brought her flowers to wear for the festivities in the hopes that she might attract the perfect mate, perhaps a wealthy farmer from a nearby village."
"On Sanbrothe eve, the family attended the village celebration which included a feast and a large bonfire. Music was played and dancing began. Sion stood on the edge of the bonfire and prayed for a handsome partner to sweep her off her feet."
Jim put his hand on Spock's forearm and threw his head back, laughing.
"May I ask what is so amusing?"
Sputtering, Jim said, "A handsome partner to sweep her off her feet? Oh, Spock, you are a closet romantic! Where on earth did you come up with that phrase?"
"That must have been some book!"
"Indeed, Uhura recommended some literature to help me better understand human emotions."
McCoy fell sideways into Spock, laughing somewhat hysterically at the vision of Spock curled around a book filled with purple prose.
Spock, none too gently, removed McCoy's head from his shoulder, noted his relative degree of inebriation, and continued his story.
"Sion watched the dancers and her eyes came to rest on one man in particular. He was a stranger, well dressed, blonde and fair with an ebullient air. She was immediately taken with him and tried to catch his eye, as he danced around the bonfire."
"He finally noticed her, her eagerness drawing his attention and stepped out of the circle briefly to sweep her into the dance. She spun in his arms, smitten. Here was the man who would take her out of her boring life and give her wealth, beautiful clothes and social status."
"The tempo of the dance became increasingly faster and faster, yet she did not find herself tiring. One by one, the other dancers dropped out of the circle, leaving Sion and her partner traveling the perimeter of the bonfire, alone."
"Suddenly, the bonfire exploded, raining hot sparks and ash on the watching villagers, who ran from the fiery onslaught. Sion found herself caught in the arms of her partner, struggling to escape. He held her tightly, the flames changing his appearance from handsome to hideous, a demon, opportuning young Sion on Sanbrothe Night."
"Using strength born of terror, she managed to pull away from him and return to her frightened family. They stood with the other villagers and watched as the fire immolated the stranger, who stood in the midst of the flames, laughing like the Devil himself."
"The Ales believed that if you prayed for your heart's desire on Sanbrothe, you would get what you deserve. Sion was happily wed to the second son of a neighbor within the month, having learned that a humble nature was far superior to wishing for beauty and wealth."
Jim and McCoy stared at Spock. "Dear god, Jim, I think he actually told a ghost story with a moral."
Jim gulped, wondering where inside his gentle friend, that particular tale had come from.
"Well, Spock. I think you win."
"I was unaware that this was a competition. What in particular did I win?"
"Ah, bragging rights to scaring the hell out of your commanding officer and esteemed doctor?"
Spock gazed at the campfire, a pale copy of the bonfire of his story and looked slightly smug.
Jim shook his head and stood, going to the other side of the campfire to retrieve a log as the fire was burning low. He happened to glance up at Spock across the merrily burning flames and for a moment, a blonde man sat in his place, eyes burning as he met his eyes. Jim blinked and the image was gone, his First Officer was back, brown eyes, soft and gentle.
The evening wound to a close and Jim slipped into an uneasy sleep, watching the campfire cast shadows on the angles of Spock's face. The next morning woke them with a bright sunny dawn, chasing away the fog and the ghosts of the previous night. Jim reached over toward Spock from his sleeping bag and found him absent. He thought nothing of it since it had been Spock's practice to meditate upon rising for as long as he'd known him. He set about making coffee and rousing a hung over McCoy, but eventually realized Spock had been gone too long. In fact, his sleeping bag was cold, indicating he had been gone longer than he had supposed.
Finally, he opened his communicator, hoping Spock had taken his with him. Immediately, Spock answered.
"Yes, Captain, how may I be of service?"
"Spock, where the hell are you? We are breaking camp and could use some help."
"I am on the Enterprise, of course."
"Enterprise? When did you beam up? Why didn't you tell me you left?"
"I beamed up at precisely 100h, as my note indicated."
Jim looked around the campsite wildly and saw a white slip of paper, tucked under the log near where he had rested his head the night before.
"Spock, don't be ridiculous. You spent the night here, we listened to your ghost story then we went to sleep."
Spock was silent for a few beats. "Jim, I suffered from significant discomfort, possibly from the combination of the pear brandy and the hot chocolate. I left you a note when I returned and noticed you and the doctor asleep. I did not wish to disturb you and I certainly did not return and tell you a ghost story. Perhaps you were dreaming."
Jim closed communication and turned to McCoy who could barely remember his name, much less the details of the night before.
Later on the ship, Jim recounted the story Spock had allegedly told them around the campfire. Spock confirmed that the tale of Sion was indeed a story, reduced to legend.
Spock refused to admit he had returned to the campsite that night to tell them a ghost story. Eventually, Jim came to believe he had been dreaming. It occurred to him that an apparition might have come to visit them that night, they had seen stranger things in the galaxy, but there was something about the smug set of Spock's mouth, the air of mischievousness, whenever the subject came up, that always made Jim question how truthful his Vulcan really was.