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Security Chief Baillie

I've served under quite a few Starship Captains in my time; most of them were pretty good on the whole - Starfleet doesn't go for incompetents - so I reckon I'm a fair judge. My boss now suits me just fine, and you'll hear no complaints from me if I get to finish my service under his command.

You'll have heard of him - Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise; youngest Captain in the Fleet when he was appointed. There was plenty said when he took over the Enterprise at first - a boy wonder for a Captain, and a Vulcan half-breed for a First Officer; now she's called 'the finest Starship in the Fleet', and we all know where to put the credit for that.

It's an education to watch Kirk and Spock at work - what one can't handle, the other can, and it's a standing joke in Security that as long as those two are up on the bridge, the crew will take whatever trouble comes along, and like it.

So it's like the end of the world when Starfleet Command takes a sudden rush of blood to the head, and gives Spock a ship of his own. I'm on the bridge when the message comes in, so I see the reaction first-hand. I feel real sorry for Admiral Wright - she comes through with what she reckons to be good news, expecting celebrations all round, and her announcement falls flatter than a lead pancake. Spock just sits there, and if anyone tells you Vulcans can't turn pale, don't believe them - he does. The Captain looks over at Spock just once, then doesn't take his eyes off the floor for the rest of the session. As for me and the rest of the bridge crew, well, we stand or sit with our mouths open, giving a great impression of a bunch of stranded goldfish.

At last Spock finds his voice.

"Admiral," he says stiffly, "I regret I must decline. I have never sought command, nor do I desire it. I am unsuited... "

"Nonsense, Commander," says the Admiral briskly. "Your record speaks for itself - your promotion is long overdue. You are ordered to take command of the Orion at Starbase Five. I shall look forward to meeting you there."

So that's it. Spock tries, the Captain tries, but it's no use, Spock has to go. Apart from the fact that Spock is long overdue for a command of his own - Starfleet has only been waiting for a suitable ship - it seems that some busybody politician has been sticking his nose in, and decided that another Vulcan Captain would be good for public relations.

I've never known a crew get so depressed when the news sinks in. Even McCoy's in a shocking temper - as he says, who's he going to fight with now?

We reach Starbase Five, and everybody gets shore leave while we wait for the Orion. The Captain and Spock take off together like they usually do; Kirk's taking it harder than anyone, but then he's a lot closer to the Vulcan than anyone else. When we get back from leave, the Orion has joined us in orbit, and the transfer arrangements are completed.

I'm in the transporter room when he beams over; we're putting on a show for the Orion's crew, letting them know what we think of Spock, and I'm leading the Honour detail. The rest of the party have beamed over already to form a reception committee, and I'm waiting to escort Spock. There's no sign of Kyle, and I'm just beginning to wonder who's going to handle the controls when Kirk and Spock come in. It gives me a queer feeling to see them together, both wearing Captain's gold. I take my place on the transporter, and stand waiting while they talk quietly together for a few moments, then Spock holds up his hand in the Vulcan salute. Kirk copies the gesture, and their hands touch for a moment. Spock joins me on the platform, Kirk moves to the controls, and the room dissolves in a golden shimmer.

Next thing I see is the transporter room of the Orion, and the welcoming committee. The Orion's First Officer is as nervous as hell as he makes his speech - it's not every day you get landed with a living legend as a Commanding Officer. Our own Honour Detail is well up to the mark, and it's obvious we've made a good impression.

Once the formalities are over, Spock leaves with his officers for a tour of his new command, and I head for the rec room with Bill Reynolds, the Orion's Security Chief. Over coffee I improve the shining hour by handing out a bit more information about Spock. Any crew's naturally curious about its new commander, and I know that what I tell Bill will be all over the ship in a couple of hours. I reckon it won't do the Orion mob any harm to know just what they're getting, and I quickly gather an interested audience as I fill them in. You know Spock as well as I do by now, but they've only heard Starfleet gossip, and they're glad of some first-hand information. I think some of them had never met a Vulcan before, and had been a bit unsure what to expect.

Well, after about an hour, the intercom calls me back to the transporter room. I see the Honour Detail on its way, and I'm talking to the transporter chief when Spock comes in and beckons me aside.

"I wished to bid you farewell, Mr. Baillie, and to commend you for your past services," he says. Now, that may not sound much to most people, but I know a lot more about Vulcans than I used to, and I appreciate it.

"Thank you, Captain; I've enjoyed working with you," I reply.

After a moment, he goes on. "When you return to the Enterprise, would you give this to the... to Captain Kirk," and hands me a small package.

"Certainly, sir," I tell him, and take my place on the platform. As the scene dissolves, I suddenly get the crazy notion that he looks somehow... very lonely, standing there in Captain's gold. Damn fool idea!

The scene on the Enterprise when I materialise is almost identical to the one I've just left on the Orion - the transporter chief at the controls, the Captain standing just inside the door. Kyle leaves as the transfer is completed and Kirk watches me as I come down the steps. He'll want a full report later, but I sense this is not the time; instead I hand him the package.

"From Mr. Spock, sir," I tell him.

He opens it, and stands looking at the contents for a long time, not speaking; then he holds up his hand, and dangling from his fingers is an IDIC, that Vulcan medallion Spock wears.

"I understand," he whispers, so quietly that I can hardly hear him, but he's not talking to me anyway. He fastens the chain round his neck, slipping the medallion under his shirt; for a moment he looks at me blankly, as though he's forgotten I'm there, then he gives a sort of grin, and walks out.

So that's how Spock leaves the Enterprise; things sure are different after that. Everyone feels it; McCoy's even snappier than usual, missing his favourite sparring partner; Scotty no longer has an interested audience to talk engines with; and the Captain - well, it's like he's lost his right hand. A hundred times I see him turn, ready to make some comment, then he remembers, and his hand strays automatically to his neck, as though the feel of the IDIC comforts him somehow.

We don't get a new First Officer right away - Starfleet doesn't want to land us with just anyone, and Spock is hard to replace. Secretly, I think we're all kind of relieved - it's going to be hard to get used to seeing someone else in Spock's place.

Then, just to prove that somebody somewhere doesn't like Captain Kirk much, we get landed with a new assignment - a top-secret diplomatic mission to Zendi, a fairly recent member of the Federation. I get stuck with the security detail, so I'm in the briefing room when the Captain outlines the purpose of the mission.

It seems that the Kandar of Zendi, who is by way of being an absolute ruler, has sent an urgent plea for assistance to the Federation; the whole thing being so hush-hush that we're supposed to be paying a courtesy visit - the Kandar will fill us in on the details personally when we get there.

Well, we beam down nice and easy, the Captain and Dr. McCoy plus a full security team with me in charge. Our reception's real friendly, not a hint of trouble, but that goes for nothing. The Kandar comes to greet us in person, and we spend most of the day going through the diplomatic routine like nice, polite little gentlemen. In the evening they've laid on an official dinner for us, and we're expected to stay the night. The Captain accepts, but McCoy is needed back on the ship, so he leaves as the rest of us are shown to the quarters we've been assigned. As his personal guard, I've been given a room next to the Captain's; the rest of the security team is just down the hall. I warn my boys to stay alert, but we don't really know what we're looking for; neither does the Captain, as he tells me when I get the chance to have a word with him - we'll just have to wait until the Kandar feels like letting us in on the problem.

The meal passes off quietly, and when we retire for the night, everything is still peaceful, but I can't get rid of this nasty suspicious feeling that trouble's coming fast. I check with my boys, but they've got nothing to report either - it's all serene as far as they can tell, so I head back to the Captain's room. He opens the door as soon as I knock, like he's expecting me, and I can see he's real jumpy.

"Come in, Mr. Baillie," he says quietly. "We have a visitor."

As I move past him into the room I see the Kandar himself sitting on the couch. "My security chief, Mr. Baillie," Kirk introduces me. "You can speak freely in front of him, sir."

"First, I must thank you for your patience, Captain Kirk," the old man says. "I regret that even in my own palace I cannot act freely. However, I will now explain why I summoned you. Captain, this entire sector of Federation territory is in grave danger."

"Go on, sir," says the Captain.

"As you know, Zendi is an absolute monarchy - the Kandar holds supreme power. I have long felt that this situation must change; the people must be given more control. But this cannot be achieved overnight - it will require careful preparation.

"My grandson Telman, who is my heir, is in agreement with my ideas; at this moment he is touring Federation planets to study their forms of government, and to learn from them. Unfortunately, his brother Ordon holds the opposite view; I recently learned that he is plotting to overthrow me and take the throne."

"Can't you move against him?" asks Kirk. "From what I know of Zendi, his following cannot be large - most of the people would support you."

The Kandar sighed. "That is true. If it were merely a rebellion by Zendans, I could contain it, but Ordon has been unexpectedly cunning. I have evidence that he has sought an alliance with the Klingons; in return for their help, he will allow them to use Zendi as a base."

Even I can see that this poses quite a problem - a Klingon base in the heart of Federation territory would give Starfleet Command nightmares for months.

"Would your people submit to this?" asks Kirk worriedly.

"If Ordon can establish himself as the legal ruler, yes, they would. The habit of obedience is strong, Captain. However, I have taken certain steps to hinder his ambition, and that is where I need your help. Have you ever heard of the Shield of Zendi?"

"No, I'm afraid not."

"It is a jewelled badge of incalculable age, and has been for generations the symbol of power on Zendi; whoever holds it will be accepted without question as ruler. It is normally kept in my apartments, but as soon as I learned of Ordon's treachery, I took the precaution of concealing it in a place only I know. I will entrust it to you, in case Ordon moves against me, as he may very well do while Telman is absent. Only after my death will he learn that the Shield is missing; without it he will be unable to command the people. You, Captain, must then retrieve the Shield, and deliver it to Telman."

"But if you are prepared for treachery, surely your guards... "

The Kandar shook his head. "Alas, I do not know who to trust; Ordon's agents have already infiltrated my guard, I am sure. No, Captain Kirk, I must rely on you."

"Well, you can trust my men," I break in. "Captain, I could assign a couple of my boys to guard the Kandar until we can deal with Ordon - and the Klingons."

"Do you agree, sir?" asks the Captain.

"Thank you, I must admit they would be most welcome; even at my age, the idea of assassination is unpleasant."

"I'll see to it, Captain," I tell him, and head for the guards' quarters.

I don't know what it is that arouses my suspicions, but even as I push open the door, I know that something's wrong. Instinctively I drop to the floor, and that's what saves my life, because the phaser beam only catches me a glancing blow; even at that, I go out like a light.

When I come to, I take a look round. Whoever attacked me has gone, but has left the evidence of his presence; all six of my boys are dead. They must have been taken completely by surprise, because they're just lying where they fell without even the time to draw their weapons. The shot I took must have addled my brains, because it's a couple of minutes before I remember the Captain; when I do I return to his room at once. I'm too late, though - when I get there, he's putting up a good fight against a bunch of palace guards. I get one of them with my phaser, then somebody jumps me from behind, and knocks it from my hand. I join in the general mayhem, but the odds are against us - a few minutes later we're both held securely by the guards. To my relief the Captain doesn't seem to be hurt, but he's plenty mad. I soon see why - the Kandar is lying by the door, very obviously dead. The poor old guy was right all along the line - he just ran out of time.

The guards snap to attention as a young man comes in, Ordon in person, as it turns out. He's looking fit to be tied, and it's pretty clear he's already discovered that the Shield of Zendi is missing.

Right behind him is an unpleasantly familiar figure - Kolmak, the Klingon Security Chief.. We've had several encounters already, the last one on Sentas, where he was the brains behind an attempt to kidnap Scotty. I managed to spike his guns on that occasion, and from the look he gives me, I somehow don't think he's forgiven me.*

However, he's got bigger fish to fry at the moment, and turns at once to the Captain. "Well, Captain Kirk, and where is the Shield of Zendi?"

"The Shield of Zendi?" asks the Captain, all innocent-like.

"Let's not play games, Kirk. The Kandar has hidden the Shield, and you know where. You refuse to speak? Well, no matter; a Klingon cruiser is already on its way here... I believe you already have some experience of the mind-sifter?"

Kirk turns pale at this, but shakes his head stubbornly; Kolmak sighs patiently. "After all, a few days will make no difference. Guards! Take the Captain to the cells - make sure he is well guarded." Kirk is escorted out; Ordon hesitates a moment, then follows. Kolmak turns to me.

"Now, my dear Mr. Baillie, I am sure I can rely on your common sense. You must be aware that it would be... inadvisable for the redoubtable Mr. Scott to attempt to intervene in our little... dispute. The consequences for Captain Kirk would be... most unpleasant."

He really has me there; if Scotty attempts a rescue, Kirk will be punished. I know there's not much point in trying anything at the moment, so I pull out my communicator and call the Enterprise. Scotty answers at once.

"Baillie here," I tell him. "We have a problem, Mr. Scott."

"What's wrong, laddie?"

I fill him in on the situation, then Kolmak takes over. "Be very clear, Mr. Scott - Captain Kirk is securely guarded at all times, and I think you will find that your sensors will not penetrate the palace dungeons. If you attempt to interfere, the Captain will suffer; do not, and - perhaps - we will return him to you when we have finished with him." He snaps the communicator shut before I have a chance to warn Scotty about the Klingon ship, then turns to me. "I am sure you would like to join the Captain - allow me to escort you."

As we descend deeper and deeper under the palace, my hopes are fading fast. Even if we break out of the cell, it's odds against us getting this far without being seen, and the sensors will never work this far below ground. We come at last to an open cell door; Kolmak goes in ahead of me, and I hear him laughing - I soon see why. The Captain has been fastened to the wall; as I come in, Ordon turns round, a knife still in his hand, none too pleased at the interruption.

"You are impatient Lord Ordon," Kolmak chuckles. "However, I fear you are wasting your time - such methods will not persuade the Captain. You must restrain your enthusiasm until my ship arrives - the mind-sifter will soon unearth the information you require. After that... well, I am sure that the Captain will provide you with considerable... amusement." He gestures to one of the guards, who goes over and unfastens the chains; Kirk slips to the floor, and ignoring Kolmak I go over to him. "I must bid you farewell for the moment, Mr. Baillie. I trust you will not find your accommodation too uncomfortable. I must also apologise for the presence of the guards, but I am sure you understand." He leaves with Ordon, but I don't have time for them, or for the guards he's left sitting just inside the door - the Captain needs help. At least the guards don't interfere - they've been ordered to watch us, and that's all they do while I try to clean up the cuts on Kirk's chest and arms. There's a jug of water in the cell, but I have to use part of his shirt to clean away the blood - it's cut to ribbons anyway, so it doesn't make much difference. There's a very nasty wound just at the base of his throat -the chain around his neck seems to be cutting into it, so I try to unfasten it to make the job easier. Even in his half-conscious state that gets through to him; one hand covers the IDIC protectively, while he tries to push me away with the other. I can see I'm not getting anywhere, so I stop trying. He quietens then, and lets me get on with bathing the wounds as best I can.

He comes round after a bit, though we can't talk much because of the guards. Some time during the following day we get fed at last, and the guards are changed; they're not exactly a chatty bunch, but at least they leave us alone.

Towards evening the Captain falls into an uneasy sleep; at first I'm pleased, he must be in quite a lot of pain, but after a while he begins to toss restlessly, and I can hear him muttering in his sleep. I go over to take a look at him, and as soon as I touch him I can see he's burning up with fever - the cuts have become inflamed, and he's in a bad way.

I try talking to the guards, but it's no use, they won't help. All I can do for him is to keep bathing his face, but it doesn't seem to help much. As the night wears on he grows even more restless, calling for Spock. After a while he seems to think the Vulcan's there with him, because he acts like he's actually talking to him, listening for an answer; I can't make out what he's saying, though, because he's speaking in Vulcan - Spock was teaching him the language before he left the Enterprise - and all the time he's hanging onto that IDIC like it gives him some sort of comfort.

In the morning Kolmak comes by to take a look at us. He's plenty mad when he sees the state Kirk's in - even the mind-sifter won't work on a corpse. He barks out a few orders, and soon one of the palace servants comes in with some ointment and bandages, also a bowl of vile-smelling liquid which he tries to make Kirk drink. The Captain fights him off, but when I try he seems to know me, and I manage to get some of it down him. I'm re-dressing his cuts when his eyes open, and he looks at me with recognition. At the other end of the room Kolmak is talking to the guards, and Kirk takes advantage of their preoccupation to whisper to me,

"How long do we have before that Klingon cruiser gets here, Mr. Baillie?"

"I make it about three days, sir," I tell him.

"Listen, it's vital for the security of the Federation that Ordon doesn't get his hands on the Shield. I know where it is, and once they use the mindsifter, I will tell them - I won't be able to help it; you're our only chance."

"Me, sir?" I ask him, startled.

"Yes, you. If the Klingons set up a base here, they'll be a constant threat. I'm giving you a direct order, Mr Baillie - before that ship gets here, kill me."

"Kill you, Captain? I can't."

"You must. There's too much at stake. Promise me?" His fingers are biting into my wrist, and I can't avoid his direct gaze. He's right, I know, but it's a hell of a thing to have to do.

"All right, sir, I promise," I tell him. He sighs thankfully, and leans back against the wall; in a few minutes he's asleep.

Kolmak comes over and takes a look at him. "Excellent! Our good Captain should recover sufficiently to face interrogation - and to provide our friend Ordon with a satisfactory subject for his... hobby."

He goes out, and I sit down to watch Kirk, thinking about what he's asked me to do. I can manage it, I reckon, and decide that I'll make my move at the first indication that the Klingon ship has arrived - I'm fast enough to beat the guards to him, and it'll only take a couple of seconds to break his neck. There's one comfort - he'll have a cleaner death at my hands than at Ordon's. The only thing is, I'm praying he'll still be asleep when I come to do it - I don't want to see his eyes.

Whatever that stuff was they gave the Captain, it's a powerful sedative; he sleeps on, not even wakening when the guards are changed yet again. Kolmak comes in a couple of times to check on his condition, and seems satisfied.

When the servant brings our next meal, he brings some more of the medicine with him, and though I can't get the Captain to eat, I manage to persuade him to swallow some of that - until the Klingon ship arrives there's still hope, even if I do have to kill him in the end. As soon as he's swallowed the stuff he falls asleep again, and several times I hear him talking in his sleep, still apparently to Spock; but it's different this time, he's much calmer.

So the hours pass, and I'm still no nearer to finding a way out - the guards don't take their eyes off us for a moment. I reckon this is our last night; tomorrow the Klingon ship will arrive.

I'm leaning against the wall, watching Kirk, wondering when I should make my move - for his sake, I don't dare leave it too late - when out of the corner of my eye I catch a flicker of light just behind the seated guards. By some miracle I'm awake enough to recognise it at once as the shimmer of the transporter. Someone is beaming down directly into the cell - I guess that Scotty has somehow managed to locate us, and is risking everything on a desperate attempt to rescue the Captain before the guards can reach him.

Somehow I must help - distract their attention. With a yell I leap to my feet and run for the door, clawing frantically at the small barred window in it. I don't have a hope in hell of getting out, of course, but the trick works - the guards come after me and drag me back. They're so taken up with me that the landing party has time to materialise completely unnoticed - first thing the guards know about it is when they crumple to the floor stunned by phaser beams.

"Congratulations, Mr. Baillie - a well-timed diversion,"

It's the one voice I never expected to hear. I turn round with my jaw dropping, and sure enough, it's Spock in person, accompanied by Dr. McCoy and a couple of security men.

"What the... How the hell did you get here?" I stammer. Not exactly the most respectful way to address a Starship Captain who's just saved your life, but I'm so relieved to see those pointed ears again I don't really know what I'm saying.

"Explanations later, Mr. Baillie. Secure the door," he tells the guards, then moves over to join McCoy, who's already kneeling beside Kirk. Blue-eyes looks up and grins, and I'd swear I hear Spock breathe a sigh of relief before he turns back to me, impassive as ever.

"What exactly has happened?"

I tell him as much as I know, and warn him about the Klingon ship. He snaps open his communicator. "Spock to Enterprise. The Captain is safe, Mr. Scott. Beam down the remaining security teams, and proceed as instructed. Maintain full alert status - a Klingon ship may arrive at any time. Spock out. Are you ready, Doctor?"

McCoy nods. "The sooner I get Jim to sickbay, the better."

"Very well. I will lead the security teams, and secure the palace."

"I'll go with you, sir," I offer. McCoy turns at that.

"Oh, no, you won't. You're for sickbay too - you look almost as bad as Jim does."

To tell the truth, I've almost forgotten about the phaser shot I took, but now that he mentions it, I do feel a bit groggy, so I don't argue when Spock tells Scotty to beam the three of us up. Once on the Enterprise, McCoy hauls us both off to sickbay; I almost make it to the bed when the floor comes up and hits me.

* * * * * * * *

When I eventually come round the whole mess is just about over. McCoy is standing at my bedside, and he obligingly fills me in. Kolmak and Ordon have been rounded up, and are safely in custody on Zendi; Starfleet Command has been notified of the situation, and Telman is already on his way home to take over; as for the Klingon ship, as soon as the Captain sees the game's up it takes off at warp speed. Having told me that, and added for good measure that Kirk is recovering nicely, McCoy slips me another sedative, and it's bedtime for Baillie again.

When I come to again, I can hear the murmur of voices from the next bed. It's the Captain and Spock, and I reckon they won't want to be interrupted, so I don't let on I'm awake, but I can't help overhearing them.

"How did you know I needed you?" the Captain is asking softly. "Was it a mind link?"

"No, Jim, we were too far apart. I did try to contact you, but as I warned you, because I am only half Vulcan, I could not reach you across so great a distance."

"Then how... ?"

"I am not certain. There was no direct contact, as in the link, only unease, and the increasing certainty that you needed me. I slept, to see as in a dream the IDIC I gave you, and awoke knowing that danger threatened you. I had no evidence, but I... felt... your pain and your fear... so, I came."

"I thought - in my fever - that I spoke to you, and you answered me."

"You did not - you could not; it was only delirium."

"Then how do you explain it? I was so sure our minds had linked somehow."

"I think - perhaps - it is because our minds have touched so often. There is an... awareness... between us. In your pain you clung to the IDIC - perhaps it acted as a kind of... amplifier - and somehow your great need reached me, warned me."

"Whatever the reason, you came."

"As I always will."

"Spock... "

"Well, so you're awake, are you, Jim? Spock, you should know better - disturbing my patients like that!" McCoy's cheerful voice breaks in, so I decide I might as well surface. "And Mr. Baillie! Decided to rejoin us, have you?"

I take a look round. The Captain is sitting up in the next bed, pale but obviously on the mend. Spock is perched on the bed beside him, still looking very unfamiliar in the gold shirt, and McCoy is standing beside them, grinning broadly.

He gives us both a check-up, and tells me I can go back to my quarters if I take things easy for a while - he's hanging on to the Captain until we reach Starbase, though. That's our witch-doctor all over - he never did trust native drugs, and he's worried there might be some side effects from that Zendan potion, so he's taking no chances.

He calls a nurse to help me back to my quarters, and I trot off quite happily. She's much more my idea of entertaining company at the moment - funny I never noticed her before.

* * * * * * * *

Well, next stop is Starbase, and that's when the fur really starts flying. The thing is, Starfleet Command has now got one hell of a problem. On the one hand, Spock prevented the forcible takeover of a friendly planet, and the establishment of a Klingon base in Federation territory; on the other, he did desert his ship when he returned to the Enterprise.

When the top brass don't know what else to do, they hold an enquiry; they call one in this case, and the Captain, McCoy and I are called to give evidence - that's when I finally fit all the pieces together.

As soon as he knew the Captain needed help, Spock realised he had a problem - how to convince Starfleet. He had no evidence, no details, only his own certainty. If he'd been able to say exactly what was wrong, they might have listened, knowing Vulcan telepathic abilities, but they could not be expected to divert the Orion on what was, after all, only a feeling. Spock didn't waste time asking - he simply ordered his ship to rendezvous with the Enterprise, and as soon as the Orion was within transporter range, he took over. Nobody raised any objections - well, would you argue with Spock? - and anyway. McCoy and Scotty were sick with worry by then. (Their report to Starfleet didn't arrive until after we were rescued, anyway, because of the time lag caused by the distance). Scotty told him that the Captain was under constant guard and that the sensors couldn't locate him, but by now Spock was close enough to use the meld to find him.

Spock tells the court that having locked on to the Captain's mind, he organized a rescue party; he relied on me to catch on fast enough to distract the guards while he beamed down - from Spock, that's some compliment. Well, his plan worked, and we're all here to talk about it.

When all the evidence has been heard, the Board of Inquiry asks Spock if he has anything to say in his defence, and that's when I start to worry. Even if he could bring himself to admit that his concern for Kirk prompted his action, the Court can't take personal feelings into consideration. I'm watching him closely; as he takes his place on the witness stand his eyes meet and hold the Captain's for a long moment before he turns to face the court.

"I admit the charge of desertion," he says very quietly, very calmly. "The Vulcan oath of loyalty to a commander is not... easily broken; although Captain Kirk was no longer my superior officer, he had not formally released me from my oath, and I considered myself bound by it. In addition, when I was transferred to the Orion, I told the Admiral that I neither sought nor desired command - I do not consider myself suitable. She... chose to disregard my warning. I take full responsibility for my actions, and submit myself to whatever punishment the court shall think fit. "

The Board then retires to consider the verdict, so McCoy and I return to the Enterprise - the Captain waits with Spock for the result. It seems to take hours, but at last the Captain's voice comes over the communicator.

"Two to beam up, Scotty."

It's impossible to tell anything from his voice; we have to wait until the two figures materialise on the platform, the Captain - and Spock, once more dressed in the familiar blue with commander's stripes. Kirk's grinning broadly as he comes down the steps; Spock is as calm as ever.

"What happened?" McCoy asks eagerly. The Captain chuckles.

"Well, they couldn't make up their minds one way or the other - that Vulcan oath of loyalty really stumped them, they just couldn't get round it. At last they decided that it would be best all round if Spock simply returned quietly to the Enterprise. Nobody quite knows if it's a reward or a punishment, but Spock's got his own way again."

There's no doubt about how the crew see it; I think even Spock is more than a little surprised at the warmth of his reception, though of course he doesn't show it.

Amid all the confusion, I'm the only one close enough to hear the Captain as he says quietly, "Spock, that oath of loyalty... did you really forget to ask me to release you?"

The Vulcan stands silent for a moment, before he raises his eyes to Kirk's. Even more quietly, he replies at last, "Captain, Vulcans... do not forget."

Kirk's grin fades slowly; then he says, "Message received, Mr. Spock... and understood."

* See Hide and Seek


Copyright Valerie Piacentini