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The Bridge crew tried, not wholly successfully, to avoid staring at Kirk as he stamped angrily into the elevator. Only Spock seemed to have noticed nothing wrong; as he moved easily to the command chair he looked as relaxed as he always did - as relaxed as if there had in fact been no hysterical outburst from the Captain. Yet he had been its immediate target. Nor did anyone know what had caused it.
Damned Vulcan! Kirk thought to himself as the elevator slid downwards. Always interfering, always thinking he knew best... all he was after really was a Captain's berth. Oh, he'd been clever; he'd almost fooled Kirk - the Human snarled to himself as he recalled how nearly he'd been fooled. To imagine that a Vulcan could, would give friendship to a Human... Oh, Spock had been clever, all right! It had been flattering to believe that he could win a Vulcan's friendship - and of course, Spock had played on it.
But he had seen through Spock's trickery in time to save himself. Funny how the events during the last landing on the planet they were still orbiting had made him see the truth.
The events on the planet had made him see the truth... yet... he could not remember what those events had been.
His lapse of memory puzzled him for a moment - then he shook his head, dispelling the fog of uncertainty that enwrapped him. It didn't really matter how he'd found out; all that mattered was that he had found out.
The elevator doors slid open; he strode out, nearly bumping into McCoy as he went.
"Can't you watch where you're going, Doctor?" he snarled; and he pushed past McCoy without paying the startled surgeon any further attention.
McCoy stared after him as he went, wondering what the hell had got into Jim.
He wondered even more later when, in the rec room, Kirk pointedly ignored Spock and himself and instead moved to sit alone. Scotty began to move towards him but stopped, discouraged by Kirk's unfriendly attitude, his unwelcoming scowl. He hesitated for a moment, then veered over to join Spock and McCoy.
"What's biting the Captain?" he asked casually as he sat down.
"We don't know," McCoy told him.
"Oh. Maybe he's feeling a bit under the weather."
"He shouldn't be," McCoy grunted. "He had his routine physical a couple of days ago, and he was fine then."
"So what's put him out of temper?" Scotty risked a sideways glance at Kirk, who still sat glaring menacingly at his unoffending coffee cup; then he glanced enquiringly at Spock.
The First Officer returned the look blandly as Scotty added, "Ripped up at you, I heard..."
"The ship's grapevine is remarkably efficient at passing on information. For a non-telepathic race, the rapidity at which you make it work is... outstanding. It never fails to amaze me," Spock commented, not very helpfully.
"Maybe so," Scotty agreed. "But it didn't manage to tell me why he got on to you...?" He looked curious.
"That's a good question, Scotty," McCoy put in. "Trouble is, none of us have an answer to it - except Jim," he added as an afterthought.
Scotty stared from one to the other, "You mean... Spock, don't you know why he was angry?"
"Correct, Mr, Scott. One moment everything was normal; the next..." His eyebrows flew upwards in his Vulcan shrug, then his face resumed its normal impassivity as Kirk got up and stamped over to their table.
"How the hell can I run an efficient ship when all my senior officers waste all their time gossiping?" he demanded harshly.
An abrupt silence fell, echoing dully through the room, as the crew members there realised just how accurately the grapevine had reported on Kirk's state of mind. One or two of the more timid decided to run no risks, and slipped out.
"Captain, we are merely taking the length of break advised for senior officers in Starfleet regulations," Spock said calmly. "I am not due to return to duty for another 6.3 minutes; Dr. McCoy still has 9.8 minutes, and Mr. Scott has only just arrived,"
"I don't care what Starfleet regulations advise, Mr. Spock. If I say you're taking too long, you're taking too long regardless of what Starfleet says. Return to duty immediately - all of you." He glared round at the crewmen who had remained in the room - several more had decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and had also slipped away before the Captain, in his current bad mood, noticed them.
"Jim..." McCoy began.
"Doctor, I have tolerated your... informal... attitude long enough. As from now, you will treat me with the respect that is my due as Captain of the Enterprise."
He gave every indication of having exercised considerable self-control to speak even so mildly; Scotty's jaw dropped in blank amazement at this proof of Kirk's sudden aberration; the other two, who had already seen manifestations of it, were better controlled,
"Certainly, sir," McCoy said tightly. "However, I am exercising my medical authority to insist that you accompany me to Sickbay for a checkup."
"Are you in league with Commander Spock, trying to have me declared unfit for duty so that he can take my position, Doctor?" The voice was liquid ice.
"No, Captain. No-one is in league against you. But the fact that you think we are proves that you need an examination."
"I will not submit - Traitor...!" he managed to gasp before he collapsed, felled by Spock's neck pinch.
McCoy gave the unconscious Captain every test he could, then continued with the others when Kirk regained his senses, trying as he did so to avoid looking at the undisguised malevolence in this stranger's eyes. At last, McCoy straightened.
"Thank you, sir," he said quietly, trying to pretend that everything was quite normal. "The tests show you as being perfectly all right..."
Kirk got up without a word and marched out; his step could almost be called defiant.
"... unfortunately," McCoy finished, speaking to the closed door.
Kirk muttered irritably to himself as he marched back to the Bridge, considering as he went just what to do about those two conspiring near mutineers. He was reluctantly forced to abandon his first urge to throw them both in the brig. A still sane corner of his mind kept reminding him that they were within their rights in insisting on his having an examination. This reasonable memory kept annoying him. He wanted to punish them, those two whose presence so disturbed him. He wanted... yes, he wanted to strike them, to whip and torment them, to hear them crying out for mercy... but that sane part of him whispered,
If you do that, they will declare you unfit for duty... the rest of the crew will back them up... you must wait...
Wait. The word was anathema to him. Why should he - the Captain - have to wait for anything? He was Captain; he should have the power of life or death over his men.
But that small whisper in his brain kept repeating, You must still obey those rules, made by weaklings afraid to be bold, lest you lose your chance. Wait. Be patient. Your chance will come. Then you will be able to wield the power that is yours.
Wait. He was tired of waiting. He thought of the myriad opportunities he had wasted, the many times he could have exercised his strength, the strength of a Starship Captain, and had refrained; the many men he could have seen cringing at his feet, acknowledging his power, if he had not foolishly chosen to permit them to think themselves as good as he.
As good as he? Weaklings. Weaklings all. And those men, his senior officers. Not one of them was worthy of the name of senior. They allowed themselves to love - yes, even the Vulcan, who could have been an excellent second-in-command to him if he had been true to his breeding - already he had forgotten that he had earlier distrusted that love.
No leader could afford to love - why had he been so slow to realise that? Hate and distrust. Those were the only emotions for a leader. Trust no-one. Make them fear you... then the power of command would taste sweet. To know you held a man's life in your hands, and that his life depended solely on your whims...
How long must he wait?
Then, with a smile almost of anticipation, he realised that he didn't have to wait so very long. For these men, his false 'friends', he could find an answer now.
GET THEM DOWN TO THE PLANET!
There, he could disarm them, having stunned them; leave them as prisoners there. He could torture them there before he left them, and Starfleet would never know.
He smiled cruelly, already hearing the screams of anguish in his mind, savouring them. It would be particularly interesting to see how much pain the Vulcan could suffer in silence. It would be extremely pleasant to find his breaking point... Let the doctor, the meddling quack, watch... knowing that his turn would come. It would be a sweet revenge for that enforced, unnecessary, meddling examination..
The elevator door slid open; with an effort he controlled his expression before he stepped onto the Bridge. Wait. Just a little longer. But not for too long now.
Uhura looked up from her console. "New orders from Starfleet, Captain," she said, her voice showing some constraint. Until she knew how Kirk was going to react, she had every intention of stepping warily.
"Well?" he snapped irritably.
"We're ordered to leave the investigation of this planet, and go at once to Epsilon Eridani III; they're having trouble again with the breeding migration of the giant 'spiders', and want us to go and destroy this year's batch."
"Again?" Kirk muttered disgustedly. This was the eighth time a Starship had been called on to defend the colonists there from the migrating predatory 'spiders' - so named for the Earth species they closely resembled - and the second time the Enterprise had been assigned the duty.
Normally, a native species would be protected in case of damage to the world's ecology; but here it had been established that no lasting harm would be done if the creatures were wiped out; there were several other species, less dangerous to the colonists, that would fill the ecological niche the 'spiders' would leave; but the only practical time to destroy them was when they swarmed to breed, since only then were they present in large enough numbers to make the effort worthwhile. It was a distasteful task at the best of times, and Kirk found himself less than enthusiastic about obeying the order. In his present state of mind, the idea of mass slaughter appealed to him... but not the mass slaughter of mindless creatures too stupid to know, even, that they were being killed.
Then a light gleamed in his eye. It would have disquieted any of his officers who had seen it; but none of them did. This was his chance;
"Very well, Lieutenant," he said briskly. "Dr. McCoy, Mr. Spock and I will beam down to continue the survey here; the Enterprise can return for us once this lot of 'spiders' has been eliminated."
And by that time, he added to himself, I'll have dealt with those two meddling bastards! "Call Mr. Scott to the Bridge," he continued. "And tell Dr. McCoy and Mr. Spock to report to me in the transporter room."
By the time he had given Scotty his orders and reached the transporter room, he had regained full control of himself. He was even able to appear cheerful as he gave the order to beam down.
McCoy's last thought as he shimmered out of existence - temporarily - was that, normal as Jim now appeared to be, there must still be something far wrong, as nothing had happened that could possibly alter his state of mind. Indeed, the change of orders would ordinarily be enough to account for a passing irritation...
When they materialised, he discovered how right he was. As soon as he could move again, Kirk whipped out his phaser.
"Now, you mutinous dogs." he growled, a fierce note of anticipation in his voice. "There's no-one here to help you. I can deal with you properly here."
"How do you propose to explain your actions once the Enterprise returns?" Spock asked coolly.
Kirk smiled wolfishly. "An attack, Mr. Spock. An unexpected attack by a savage animal. Both of you killed, alas." He managed to infuse a mocking regret into his voice. "While I, fortunately for me, was a little distance away, and totally unable to reach you in time to assist you."
"No-one will believe you," McCoy said. "Everyone knows that if that happened, you'd die too trying to reach us."
"Not if I was so far away that the animal was gone again before I could get there," Kirk purred, savouring the joy of destroying their hopes of talking him out of his pleasure.
They looked at each other, anxiety in both their faces. This wasn't the Captain they knew and loved, but a sadistic stranger who resembled Kirk facially - but only facially. The worry they had felt for him on the ship now crystallised into fear. What had happened to him?
He raised his phaser to fire - and a voice interrupted him.
"You have done very well, Captain Kirk. But now, I will see to them."
All three jerked round to see the viciously cruel face of a man who stood watching. Kirk's mouth opened to protest at this intrusion - how dared this stranger interfere, deprive him of the satisfaction of punishing his men - but the cold eyes flashed icily at him and he knew he had met his superior... and then he remembered. Yes, this man was his superior. It was he who had shown him the truth...
"Yes, Var Hyla." The name rose easily from his memory.
Spock and McCoy glanced at each other again. One question at least was answered now. Kirk had obviously encountered this man before; and it must have been during the hour, the bare hour, in the course of the last landing when they had separated in order to cover as much ground as possible in the time available. Kirk had indeed seemed slightly... absentminded... on his return to the beamdown point, McCoy remembered, even though his strange behaviour hadn't started until they returned to the ship.
Var Hyla moved forward. Although he walked towards them - nothing more - there was something menacing about his attitude - or was it just that they were afraid because they knew he had done... something... to Kirk's mind?
Once more they looked at each other. Kirk's phaser was still pointed implacably at them. If they moved they would be stunned at least, and still suffer whatever was in Var Hyla's mind to make them suffer, in addition to the unpleasantness of being stunned. For the moment they were helpless - and of necessity, accepted the fact. They waited uneasily.
Var Hyla stopped in front of them, being careful not to block Kirk's view of them. He looked from one to the other. Then, ignoring Spock, he turned his attention fully on McCoy.
The surgeon tried to avoid the basilisk stare; he tried to look away, but his gaze was attracted, caught, as a moth is caught by the attraction of a bright light. The brilliant, merciless sparks of ice blinded him; in a last frantic effort to remain himself he closed his eyes - in vain. He could still see the eyes even through his closed lids, or so it seemed. A distant voice was speaking; he could not distinguish the words, but only the meaning of what was said. His eyes opened, almost of themselves; he looked openly into the shining red eyes facing him, acknowledging his master. Then he turned towards Kirk. He walked over and stood at his Captain's side, facing Spock.
The Vulcan allowed no sign of his inner disquiet to show. McCoy's face also now showed the vicious malevolence that shone in Kirk's eyes; and although Spock had no way of knowing the meaning of the words that had been spoken, he could guess well enough what had been said. Then Var Hyla turned to him.
He gathered his self-control round him like a cloak, willing himself to remain unaffected by Var Hyla's influence. If it was pure hypnosis, he reflected, he stood a chance; if the hypnotism was allied to telepathy, the best he would be able to manage would be a stubborn resistance that would inevitably be overcome. He tried not to think of that, of the possibility of defeat. He had to remain himself. Only by doing so could he hope to help Kirk - help McCoy. For a moment he toyed with the idea of pretending to be overcome, then abandoned it; Var Hyla would surely know.
He chose to resist openly; to meet icy stare with defiant stare instead of trying uselessly to avoid the alien's gaze as McCoy had done. That had been the only defence McCoy could use, and it had served at least to show Spock the futility of it. Every nerve was strained to resist the hypnotic lure of Var Hyla's weasel-like attraction. For a moment he felt his control slipping; he fought to regain it.
Jim! he thought to himself. Jim needed him unaffected, even though for the moment he didn't know it. So did Bones. The thought gave him added strength; it was Var Hyla who closed his eyes in defeat. But the defeated reaction was only momentary. Var Hyla looked directly at the men he had overcome.
"He is yours," he said cruelly. "He is no use to me as he is. Do not damage him seriously, or incapacitate him. But within those limits, do what you wish to him."
Kirk smiled viciously, vindinctively; McCoy's eyes blazed in sudden hatred. They looked at each other, willing to share Spock's pain now that both were subject to Var Hyla.
"It will be interesting to see how much pain he can endure in silence," Kirk said calculatingly. McCoy's face darkened with an answering pleasure.
Spock drew a deep breath, preparing himself to suffer in silence whatever they chose to do to him.
But in fact there was little they could do, here. They were in fairly open country, rolling grassland with only a few trees dotted here and there giving shade from the burning rays of the sun - a sun slightly more vicious in its radiation than his home sun.
But one thing they could do, and they did it at once. They stripped off his uniform and fastened him out spreadeagled naked on the ground, tied to sticks they hammered into place with stones, tied by means of his own shirt ripped into strips. Within a very short time, he knew, his body would begin to burn; the tender, normally protected skin of his abdomen, groin and thighs in particular, the insides of his upper legs... and there was nothing he could do to prevent it. He could block off the more unpleasant sensations, but that would not prevent him from being extremely badly burned; so badly that it would certainly weaken him.
Var Hyla sat in the shade of a tree and watched, his eyes glowing with pleasure.
Spock ignored him. He paid no obvious attention to Kirk and McCoy either, but he was very aware of them and what they were doing. They were collecting thin twigs now, and fastening them together into two bundles, using more material from his uniform to bind the bundles together. Then, satisfied with their handiwork, they also chose a nearby tree and sat in its shade, not speaking to each other, just watching Spock, anticipation in both their faces.
After a while McCoy got up lazily. He moved over to Spock and examined the soft, burning skin, its tint deepening rapidly in the intensity of the sunlight, grunted, and moved away again. Spock heard him say clearly, "A little longer yet for full effect, I think," as he sat down again beside. Kirk.
More time passed, Var Hyla didn't seem to mind waiting; Spock wondered why, then realised it was probably worth it to the man; he hoped that this treatment would weaken Spock so that he would be amenable to hypnosis.
McCoy came over to him again. This time, he passed an ungentle hand over the sunburned skin, watching Spock's face intently as he did so. The Vulcan's face remained impassive, but something seemed to satisfy McCoy.
The doctor glanced over at Kirk. "I'd say he's ready."
Kirk picked up the two switches and came over. He handed one to McCoy. They stood, one on each side of him, and alternated lashing him across the normally sensitive, now hyper-sensitive skin of his abdomen and thighs, the insides of his legs and groin. It was impossible to block out this pain. After the first few strokes, Spock concentrated only on maintaining a decent self-control. He would not cry out: He was only half aware of Var Hyla coming close, sadistic pleasure on his face.
After a while Kirk tired of the chosen target and struck out at Spock's chest, under his arms, and across his shoulders - another place where the sun had struck him particularly badly. McCoy copied him; soon the entire front of Spock's body was a mass of weals, many of them bleeding green. He had long ago lost count of the number of lashes they were giving him, but still he remained silent.
They seemed tireless, apparently intent on leaving no part of his body that they could see unmarked. It was Var Hyla who eventually stopped them.
"Enough," he said. He stared down at Spock, while Kirk and McCoy put their heads together, discussing what they could do next if Spock was returned to them.
Spock's lips were tightly set as he stared back at Var Hyla. Oddly, he found that the pain, far from handicapping him, was actually helping him to resist - in much the same way, he realised, that pain helped him to concentrate, to come out of a healing trance. He saw the surprise in Var Hyla's face at the ease with which he continued to defy the hypnotism, and knew that the alien had no idea that his own cruelty was helping to defeat him.
Var Hyla turned back to Kirk and McCoy. "You may continue."
Between them they picked up a large flat stone, and carried it over to Spock. Carefully, they placed it across his lower abdomen, It was heavy; the weight of it pressing on the twig-cut, sunburned flesh was agonising. Spock tightened his lips and forced himself to relax, knowing that if he tightened his muscles it would hurt all the more.
Now they were bringing more stones, which they placed on top of the flat one, building them up carefully. There was a limit to the weight his body could possibly support, he knew, and put his trust in Var Hyla's order to them not to damage him seriously. But before they stopped bringing more stones, he fainted from the pain - still without uttering a sound.
He regained consciousness inside a dark room. From having been unbearably hot, lying as he had been in the full glare of the sun, he was now shivering with cold. There was nothing he could find to wrap round himself; his best efforts to control his shivering met with only limited success - and the very shivering was agonising. He was stiff, partly from the beating and partly from lying unmoving for so long; every movement was an effort, a fight to keep from giving in to pain.
He forced himself to explore the room, conscious of a certain feeling of... of what? Satisfaction? Satisfaction because he could see quite clearly, even in this exceptionally dim light, because of the keenness of his Vulcan eyes? Illogical! He went round the room twice before he decided that there was definitely no way out.
He sat down again, shivering, unable even to wrap his arms round himself because of the pain the attempt caused him, thinking over what had happened.
Var Hyla's hypnotism had created a mirror image of himself, Spock decided. Either that or it simply reversed the normal behaviour pattern of his victim - which in this case - these cases - produced the same effect. A mirror. A distorting mirror. He had captured Kirk and McCoy... but why? What did he want?
The sensors had indicated no intelligent life on this planet, only a scattering of animals; so Var Hyla could not possibly be native to this world. This room he was in had to be a cave, but a cave altered and adapted for use as a home - and a prison. And it had been done so cleverly that he had been completely unable to find a doorway. Come to that, where was the light, dim as it was, coming from? There was no obvious source.
He alone was unaffected by Var Hyla's warped mind, but he was imprisoned beyond any hope of escape. And the Enterprise would not return for some days. When she did, Kirk, under Var Hyla's influence, would betray his crew - Spock had no doubt of it. He had to find a solution before the Enterprise came back. Had to. And he was a helpless prisoner, both of the cave and of his tortured body.
The pleasure Var Hyla had gained from Spock's soundless agony was now dissipated; he wanted more. But he realised that in the Vulcan he had met his match. He would not attempt to weaken the prisoner further, at least not by the use of pain; he would wait, rather, for the lack of food to do the weakening for him. It was long since he had watched men writhing in agony to satisfy his whims; his hypnotic gift had been the first indication of a dominant mutation on his home planet, and while he alone had it, his mind, twisted into insanity by being the only possessor of such a gift, had learned to enjoy pain in others as a clear manifestation of his powers.
Once others had been born with the gift they had easily combined forces to overcome him; and they had marooned him here, on this world, with all he needed to live out his centuries-long life span - but the very solitude, the one thing about which they could do nothing, had warped his twisted mind still more.
He wanted company; needed company; but now he wanted it only to watch his companions writhing in agony, to hear them pleading with him for mercy. He wanted the crew of the Enterprise for that, and only that. He would not kill them, or damage them too severely; he wanted them to recover so that he could torment them again... and again... and again...
He looked now at his two hypnotised victims. A dribble of saliva trickled from the corner of his mouth as he wondered which of them to select, his mouth watering at the thought of the pleasure the man's pain would give him.
No... not yet, A little anticipation first, to whet his appetite. There were really so few practical ways of torturing a man here; whipping was almost the only one. Another whipping would be... not boring, exactly, but certainly lacking in savour. Let these men think up new ways of tormenting their fellows - then turn those methods on them. Meanwhile...
He made his way towards the cave where Spock was held. A little gloating, perhaps - let him realise just how fully he was in Var Hyla's power.
One of the phasers lay there on the carved rock table. Var Hyla picked it up. Then he made his way towards Spock's prison.
The Vulcan was lying on his back, prone, his eyes shut. Var Hyla moved cautiously over towards him. He seemed to be unconscious, but the alien was wary. Even when his captor was right beside him, however, Spock made no move, gave no sign of awareness. Var Hyla allowed himself to relax.
He bent over the limp figure, feeling for a heartbeat. He hadn't miscalculated, surely, permitted his other prisoners to overdo the torture? There was no trace of a pulse...
Var Hyla put the phaser down and bent closer to the Vulcan. Immediately he found himself caught in an iron grip. He tried to cry out, but the merciless fingers gripped his throat, effectively preventing him from uttering a sound. How could the prisoner have so much strength yet? he wondered. He should have been almost helpless from weakness.
Without relaxing his grip for an instant, Spock pulled himself painfully to his feet.
"You will take me to my friends; then you will release them. Or you will die." Spock's voice was as coldly implacable as Var Hyla had ever heard, colder and more vicious even than Var Hyla had ever felt. He made a sound, grunting deep in his throat, as he tried to speak. Spock released his grip a fraction, just enough for the alien to say chokingly,
"I can't. I can only... hypnotise. Not cancel it."
Spock almost released the man in his shock. He had never for a moment thought that the alien couldn't undo his evil; all hypnotists he had ever encountered were able to cancel out the effects of their minds afterwards. Or was this a trick?
He forced Var Hyla forward, out of the door so cunningly hidden that he hadn't been able to detect it. There was only one passage; the prison was right at the end of it. Spock suspected that it was originally designed to be a store of some kind.
He forced Var Hyla along, the alien tripping and stumbling, unable to watch his footing because of Spock's hold on his neck, choking and gasping for air - but Spock resolutely refused to relax his hold again, While Var Hyla was actually a prisoner, he could perhaps do something - he didn't yet know what. But once the Enterprise came back, he could get Kirk and McCoy beamed up, then beam up himself, leaving Var Hyla behind, and interdict the planet. Then, perhaps, he could use a mind meld to help his friends. But it would be a long, exhausting wait.
They entered a large, well-lit cave. Kirk and McCoy were there - gripping at their necks as Var Hyla was grasping Spock's wrists, gasping for air, clearly feeling all that Var Hyla was feeling. His first guess was right, then; they were reflecting the distorting mirror of Var Hyla's character.
Var Hyla choked, trying to speak again. His victims seemed to understand; they moved, albeit slowly, towards Spock and his prisoner. Spock nodded to himself. Of course. Var Hyla had ordered them to release him. Grimly, Spock tightened his grip still further. He saw the agony of suffocation on the faces of his friends, but his anxiety for them gave him the strength to resist the urge to stop doing what made them suffer. If this suffering could somehow help them... by weakening Var Hyla, perhaps... he could find out whether or not the alien was bluffing when he said he couldn't release them.
Kirk was beside him now, reaching out for Spock's throat. As his Captain's hands closed around his neck, Spock tightened his grip yet more on Var Hyla. He had to make the alien unconscious. Then, perhaps, he would see how the others were affected. He dared not spare a hand for a neck pinch.
Var Hyla choked, and slumped. Kirk's hands slid from Spock's throat. McCoy fell unconscious.
Spock checked that Var Hyla was actually unconscious - he wasn't going to be caught by his own trick. But he was senseless, so Spock left him and turned towards Kirk. Then he turned back; Var Hyla was dangerous. Spock looked round, saw the switches that had been used on him, and crossed to them. He ripped the cloth strips from them and used these to tie the alien, Then he used the man's cloak to wrap round his head, effectively preventing him from using either his eyes or his voice, although there was nothing he could do about his thoughts.
He shrank from using a mind meld on this vicious being; but he did not shrink from using one on Kirk. At least, not at first. Then the full impact of Var Hyla's personality hit him.
Spock shuddered, repressing a desire to vomit. The mass of cruel sadism that filled Kirk's mind, echoing Var Hyla's, was almost unbearable, He began to pick a fastidious way through the mess of bloodstained memories, trying to find Kirk's own personality.
He could find no trace of Kirk... no indication that the personality he knew so well, and had even come to love despite all his attempts to remain untouched by what he felt were his Human emotions, was there - had ever been there. There was only the vicious reflection of Var Hyla, mocking him.
Sadly, but without any real reluctance, he withdrew, and spent several moments simply breathing, recovering from the horrors he had experienced at second - no, at third hand. Gradually, his efforts were successful, and he regained full control of his rebellious mind. He paused to consider what he could do now.
McCoy was as useless to him as Kirk; indeed, probably more useless, since he was, as Spock knew, a more apt subject for hypnotism than Kirk. He had in all probability absorbed even more of Var Hyla's wickedness than Kirk... unless, being an easier subject, less effort had been needed to overcome him.
Spock was disinclined to investigate. He was weakening. The strain of trying to control the pain he was suffering, the strain of trying to mend his injuries without going into a trance, were both draining his strength; the fight with Var Hyla had weakened him, and searching for Kirk's mind had almost exhausted him. He could not afford to waste any more strength..
Therefore, there was only one thing he could do. He had to meld with the alien. And he shrank from such contact.
Even as he still hesitated, Kirk stirred and sat up. McCoy was only a second behind him. Var Hyla himself didn't move, but Spock knew he had to be awake if his echoes were. In this, at least, the alien was vulnerable.
Kirk pushed himself to his feet, reaching for Spock's throat again, his face threatening. McCoy scrambled up too.
Spock caught Var Hyla's throat once more. "It is easy to choke you again," he whispered.
There was menace in his voice too; Var Hyla, the expert in vicious threats, recognised it. He shook his head, unable to speak, and Kirk moved back to join McCoy. Both sat down again, watching intently, ready for the slightest indication from their master that they could attack.
Keeping one hand at Var Hyla's throat, Spock felt over the material surrounding the alien's head. He wasn't going to risk uncovering any part of that head, even although melding through the cloak was not going to be easy.
It was with a decided effort that he ignored Kirk's muttered curses directed at him, the insults, the foul language, knowing that this was all an attempt by Var Hyla to discourage him. He set his lips firmly; without realising it he held his breath as he plunged his mind into the cesspool that was Var Hyla's.
He dived through memories of blood, struggling deeper into the warped mind with as much distaste and effort as if he was, in fact, swimming through an ocean of the blood Var Hyla had shed or caused to be shed over the years.
He fought his way through memories of cruelty, trying to plough his way through them to memories of childhood, to the innocence that must surely have been there. He fought through conscious memories, memories of bodies writhing in agony, and learned that Var Hyla considered his own suffering to be in the nature of a hors d'oeuvres before the real agony that the alien planned to make Kirk and McCoy inflict on him.
He shuddered away from consciousness of what was planned for him, and delved deeper, into subconscious memories now. Memories of petty cruelties, so slight they weren't worth remembering, to memories of bloodbaths so horrible that even Var Hyla himself shrank from remembering them. Mothers forced to mutilate their own children, knowing what they were doing but powerless to resist; the curses of one of those mothers, for once frightening him and making him choose to forget... and worse.
Spock shrank from wakening those memories too, realising that he was on the wrong track. He was searching the wrong part of Var Hyla's mind. It was different from the other minds he had known; the memory centres were differently arranged. He plunged deep into another part of Var Hyla's mind. And then another.
And then at last he reached the childhood memories. Innocence? Spock read the petty cruelties perpetrated on animals, cruelties that rapidly became less petty and more vicious; of schoolmates who cringed in fear, trying in vain to avoid the sadistic being who was their contemporary and with whom they therefore had to associate. He read the hatred Var Hyla felt for those boys; hatred because he was different from them and wanted to be the same. He read the hatred Var Hyla felt for his parents, manipulating them in revenge because his heredity from them was to be different. Even his earliest memories showed consciousness of that difference,
There was no innocence that Spock could reach. Shuddering, he withdrew to think.
If he was to release Kirk and McCoy from Var Hyla's influence, he had to do it here. He had to find the hypnotic centre of Var Hyla's brain and try to destroy that. There was no other way. If he killed Var Hyla - and he was rapidly coming to the conclusion that that was the only merciful thing to do to the alien - Kirk and McCoy would die too, linked to Var Hyla as they were.
He needed time to relax, to prepare himself for what he knew would be a terrible struggle. But he could not relax with Kirk and McCoy ready to pounce on him as soon as the threat to their master was no longer imminent. A quick neck pinch dealt with that problem.
Spock straightened, wincing as the movement hurt his tormented muscles. He touched his fingers to his temples, readying himself. It would be his only chance. If he failed, Var Hyla would win; and he could guess what would be the outcome. Torment for them all; for Kirk, for McCoy, for himself; and for the crew of the Enterprise too. Torment so that Var Hyla could enjoy his power... and try to forget that he was different, and in his difference, feel his inferiority.
Ready now, as ready as he could ever be against this evil, he felt his way back into the twisted mind.
It was less of a shock this time - he knew what to expect. He began to probe for the brain centre he needed.
Even unconscious, Var Hyla could make his influence felt... at least on the mind exploring his. As Spock sent the tendrils of his mind deep, he was aware of a fierce resistance. Var Hyla knew that his best weapon was the memory of suffering; he threw at Spock the dregs of his conscious memory; but his very evil helped to defeat him. Far in the subconscious depths of his mind Spock had already seen things worse than anything Var Hyla could consciously remember.
One channel after another came to a dead end. Spock felt himself tiring. Var Hyla stirred; Spock realised he was regaining consciousness, and pinched his neck again. But he couldn't go on much longer; and the convolutions of the alien's brain seemed more complex than any Spock had ever encountered before. There was so much of the brain left to explore, to search...
Spock took a deep, weary breath. Doggedly, he probed on. He had to win...
At last, when he had begun to feel that he was finished, when only his obstinate nature was managing to keep him going, he found what he sought. Now all he had to do was discover how to destroy it.
Var Hyla moved again. Spock stunned him again. Them summoning the last of his strength he drove a fierce, concentrated thought at Var Hyla's mind, a thought compounded of all the emotions he denied that he ever felt; a thought of goodness, of love, and the willingness to sacrifice everything, including life itself, for others. He felt the shock in the alien's mind as the thought struck him; and the very shock of the emotions so contrary to everything Var Hyla had lived for broke through his defences.
Kirk and McCoy rolled over in momentary agony, then relaxed, freed from Var Hyla's influence; and Spock, having succeeded in what he set out to do, withdrew quickly as he felt his senses waning.
He regained consciousness to find himself lying comfortably, his head pillowed on something soft. Gentle hands were stroking his body. He opened his eyes, looking up.
He was lying with Kirk supporting his head. McCoy was tending his body, smoothing something cool and soothing over the cut and burned flesh.
They were all right, then. He closed his eyes in relief, but opened them again quickly as he heard Kirk draw his breath in sharply, as if in pain.
"What is it, Jim?" he asked.
Kirk looked down at him, shame in his eyes. "You can bear to speak to us? After what we did to you?"
"You didn't do it," Spock said. "Var Hyla did. You are... all right now?"
Kirk nodded. "Yes. But I remember... too much."
"In a little while - when I feel stronger - I will help you. You too, Doctor."
"I'll be glad of it," McCoy admitted, continuing unceasingly to smooth the balm he had found among Var Hyla's possessions over Spock.
"What of Var Hyla?" Spock went on.
Kirk glanced over to where a limp body lay.
"He's alive - just," McCoy said. "He's conscious, but he doesn't seem to have any mind left. We risked unwrapping his mouth, but he doesn't seem to remember how to talk, even. So we just left him while we saw to you. We wouldn't have bothered about him at all, only I wanted to ask him about these ointments, what exactly they were for, but this seems to be a useful all-purpose one. We thought that since you'd defeated him, he'd be fairly harmless... but he's even more harmless than we expected."
Spock looked inquiringly at Kirk.
"We felt what he felt," Kirk explained. "We knew what he knew... though not in complete detail, thank goodness. We felt his horror at your presence in his mind, and the pain of the weapon you launched at him. We felt his weakness as he let us go." He shivered, remembering; then put his hand gently on Spock's forehead for a moment. "Thank you, my friend."
By the time the Enterprise returned they had established that Var Hyla's mind had indeed gone. He had as much knowledge as an infant.
"Perhaps he can be given a second chance to live," Spock said quietly as they stood studying the figure on the Sickbay bed. "Many of the cruelties he perpetrated were buried deep because even he could not bear to remember them. There must have been some good in him somewhere, only it never got the opportunity to emerge."
"But where is he to get that chance?" Kirk asked. "We dare not let him go free in case he does recover to be as evil as before."
"I suggest the asylum on Elba II, Captain," Spock said. "He will be safe there, yet well looked after."
Kirk nodded. "I think you could be right, Mr. Spock."
Kirk looked round the Bridge contentedly. To the crew, he had suffered a temporary spell of bad temper; they knew nothing more. To the crew, Var Hyla was a man they had found on the planet; a man insane through loneliness, whose history no-one would ever know. Let it stay that way. He met Spock's eyes, and smiled his gratitude and affection. The Vulcan's face lightened for a moment, a moment so brief that Kirk knew anyone else catching it would wonder if he had imagined it. But Kirk knew he had not. He swung back to face the screen.
"Take us out of orbit, Mr. Sulu. Ahead warp factor one."