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Security Chief Baillie

Do Vulcans have a sense of humour? Ask most Humans, especially Bones McCoy, and you'll get a resounding 'NO!' for answer; I'd have agreed with that once, but I know of one Vulcan who does - and who displays it at some pretty odd times, too. Such as? Well, such as after the Vebron affair, for instance.

Now that was an interesting problem, and serves to illustrate another maxim of mine, that it doesn't pay to have too much imagination. Oh, sure, it's fine for someone as smart as the Captain or Mr. Spock - but that time it brought us a whole heap of trouble.

Vebron's an old planet - nothing spectacular, unless you want to count its four moons, which orbit in formation; pretty enough, I suppose, but of no practical value. Uninhabited - though there are traces of the civilisation that ruled it once; no rare minerals; pleasant semi-tropical climate, but the soil is too used-up to be of any use as a colony world. No dangerous wild life, so it's used from time to time as a break for Starship crews operating in that sector - or rather, it was.

It's the Enterprise, of course, that picks up the first hint of trouble. We're tucked safely into orbit, and the first shore parties have already beamed down. McCoy has blackmailed Spock into going with the first group, with the alternative of a week in sickbay if he doesn't cooperate - he's been working flat out in the computer section for the last few weeks, and though he won't admit it, he's almost dropping with fatigue. So our resident Vulcan beams down reluctantly, but not being one to waste time simply relaxing, announces his intention of investigating some ruins. Somewhat to my surprise Sulu volunteers to go with him; but Kyle tells me he overheard the Captain ask him to go along to keep a discreet eye on Spock - the Captain or McCoy would be too obvious.

I follow them down shortly afterwards, with a little red-haired yeoman from Engineering - it looks like a good chance to get to know her better.

Mind you, I should have known - things are just getting interesting when my personal jinx strikes again, in the shape of a call from the Captain.

"Sorry to disturb you, Chief," he says, "but have you seen anything of Mr. Spock and Mr. Sulu?"

"Not lately, sir; but from here I can see the ruins they're investigating. They went in about an hour ago, but they haven't come out yet."

"Would you mind checking up on them?"

"Is something wrong, sir?" I ask, with a hasty feeling that that's idiotic question if ever I heard one!

"I'm... not sure. The sensors have them pinpointed, but they don't answer a communicator call. We're picking up some unusual readings from that area, and they might be interfering with communications... but I'd feel happier if you'd take a look, Baillie. I don't want to beam them up and find out that there's nothing wrong after all."

"Right, sir," I tell him. "I'll call in as soon as I've made contact with them, so if you haven't heard from me in... say... thirty minutes, assume something's wrong and beam us up."

I'm thinking as I move off that I don't blame the Captain for being wary - Spock's raised an eyebrow at me more than once for taking what he considers unnecessary action, and that's a nasty experience, let me tell you.

Once inside the ruins the only place to go is into a winding passageway twisting down into the ground, so I follow it; it's adequately lit at first where the roof has fallen away, but as a result it's partly blocked and I have to pick my way carefully over the rubble. There are two sets of footprints in the dust, though, so I'm sure I'm heading in the right direction.

After a few moments the atmosphere of the place begins to get to me; there's an aura of great age, a brooding stillness that I find curiously oppressive, and I'm aware of a distinct reluctance to advance any further - I feel as though I'm intruding, somehow; in fact, to tell the truth, if it hadn't been for those tracks leading steadily onwards, I'd've been tempted to turn back. But no way am I going to tell the Captain that I've run out on his favourite Vulcan just because of a feeling!

As I walk the passageway begins to change; the roof is complete now, but a soft light comes from panels of glowing stone set into the walls of what is now a tunnel. They've been deliberately cut and positioned, and I can understand why Spock must have been so interested - nothing like this has been reported before.

I calculate that by now the downward slope of the tunnel has taken me well below ground level, but the air is still fresh - there must be some form of ventilation, though I can't see anything. I take out my communicator to call the ship, but there's no response - something, perhaps those panels, is causing interference with communications as the Captain suspected; funny, though, that their energy readings didn't register on the ship's sensors.

As I walk on I become aware that the sense of repulsion has vanished, to be replaced with an almost compulsive desire to advance further; unconsciously my steps have quickened, and I slow my pace carefully, fighting the attraction - no sense in running headlong into trouble.

Round the next bend, and the soft light increases to a brilliant glow, flooding into the tunnel from a doorway cut into the wall; and huddled against the wall, his face pressed into the stone, is a familiar figure - Sulu. I hurry over to kneel at his side, afraid that he's been hurt; as I put my hand on his shoulder he flinches away, turning to look at me with eyes wide with fear. Gradually recognition seeps into that almost crazed stare, and with a sob of relief he sways towards me; as I reach out to catch him I can feel his body shuddering violently. He clings to me like a terrified child, and I wonder what he's seen to reduce him to such a state.

At last I hear him take a deep breath and he pulls away from me, steadying himself against the wall.

"All right now?" I ask sympathetically, and he nods, so I go on. "Where's Mr. Spock?"

"He went... on, through there." Sulu gestures to the open doorway without looking at it, but as I begin to rise he clutches me frantically, pulling me down.

"No, Baillie! Don't go! There's... something there... I felt it calling, pulling me... It took Mr. Spock... I tried to hold him, but I was thrown back. It was like walking into a force field; there's... intelligence there, I could feel it."

Take the Human and leave.

The voice comes from everywhere and nowhere, echoing from the walls, resounding in my head; I can't even be sure if it actually is a voice, or if something is reaching my mind, but the experience is shattering, painful.

"Who are you?" My own voice is none too steady.

We are of Vebron. The Vulcan is one with us now. We intend no harm, but Human minds are useless to us, and cannot long survive in such close proximity. Go and do not return.

It's as though... something... slides into my mind, taking control of my body; I watch myself pull Sulu to his feet and we turn back along the tunnel. After a few steps Sulu slumps against me and I pick him up and continue my retreat, herded by that... presence. It fades as I step out of the ruins, and laying Sulu down I pull out my communicator - I'm not facing that again on my own, and Sulu needs attention fast; he looks to be deep in shock.

Kirk's waiting in the transporter room when we beam up, but when he catches sight of Sulu he steps back and lets me carry him to sickbay, but as soon as I've laid Sulu on the bed and turned away he whirls on me, his eyes blazing.

"Where's Spock?" he demands in that quiet, controlled voice I've learned to recognise.

I tell him about the corridor, the lighted room, and the single set of footprints leading into the doorway; his face tightens in anguish as I describe how I found Sulu, and I know he's visualising the Vulcan as the prey of some malevolent intelligence.

"The voice," he says at last. "Did you see anyone, Baillie?"

"No, Captain; and I can't even be sure it was a voice - it might have been in my head."

"A mind touch," Kirk says thoughtfully. "It would have to be a powerful entity then, to reach you so clearly without physical contact. So now what do we do? Spock's our only telepath, and he's the first victim."

Not victim, Captain.

McCoy jumps back as though he's been stung, for this time the voice has a point of origin - it seems to come from Sulu's motionless body.

Be assured, we intend no harm. This entity will recover shortly - we did not understand that his mind was so fragile. The unexpected contact with us has merely stunned him.

"What have you done with Spock?" Kirk's voice is low, dangerous.

He has been absorbed into the Overmind of Vebron. Many ages ago we gave up physical form and individual identity to combine into the Overmind. Now we are immortal, existing as a complex unity. We extend our knowledge by learning from the life-forms that visit us, but we have no desire to leave - indeed, we could not. Occasionally we receive a visitor whose mind is strong enough to join us; such a one is the being you call 'Spock'. He was drawn to us, and his mind has blended with ours. After physical death his identity will continue here. It was his own choice - we do not compel.

"I don't believe that!" Kirk breaks in angrily. "I want to see him, talk to him - I'll only believe it if he tells me so himself."

It may be dangerous. You yourself may be drawn in, or the shock of contact may destroy you if you approach too closely.

"I don't care - I won't leave Spock unless I'm certain it's what he wants. I'm coming down."

As you wish, Captain. We shall await you.

As the voice fades Kirk sways unsteadily and I reach out to help him to a seat. I remember McCoy telling me once that repeated mind links with Spock have sensitised the Captain to telepathic communication; even I feel the power of the Overmind, so I guess it must affect him even more strongly.

McCoy comes over and checks him out. "You'll be all right, Jim," he says, "it's just the strain of contact. Sulu's sleeping naturally now - he'll be back to normal when he wakes up. Now, what are you going to do about Spock?"

"I'm going down to talk to him," the Captain replies. "If it's really what he wants I won't stand in his way... but I must be sure. You understand, don't you, Bones?"

They look at each other steadily, then McCoy sighs and nods reluctantly. "Just be careful, Jim."

Over Kirk's head the blue eyes meet mine questioningly, and I signal back agreement. "I'll go with you, Captain. The Overmind doesn't seem to bother me too much, but the contact tires you, and you might need help to return."

"Thanks, Baillie," the Captain says. "No point in wasting time - let's go."

* * * * * * * *

The sense of oppression has vanished as I follow Kirk along the tunnel, but I'm feeling very uneasy. I've worked with these two men for a long time now, and I'm used to them - I know what Starfleet will lose if the team is broken. I'm also worried about the Captain - that strange world of the mind, with which the Vulcan is so familiar, might be a refuge for Spock, but to Kirk it will mean losing his friend as surely as to death.

We reach the doorway, and I don't mind admitting that I don't look too closely into the light; but the Captain stands gazing directly ahead like a man seeing a vision - but whether of Heaven or Hell I wouldn't like to guess. All I know is that I can feel the tension in him as he waits, sense the urgency of the longing he is trying to control; and my heart sinks then, for I know that he won't use the friendship between them in an attempt to change Spock's mind.

Approach no closer. You risk being drawn into the Overmind, and we do not wish to harm you.

The Captain's intent gaze doesn't waver for an instant from that brilliant light.

"Spock, where are you?" he calls.

I'm watching his face as he speaks, and I see joy and relief fill his eyes as he instinctively stretches out his hands.

"Do not attempt to touch me, Captain."

The sheer normality of the voice sends a shudder through me and I involuntarily turn my head towards the light to see the tall, lean figure take shape in the radiance. Spock remains poised in the doorway, his dark eyes fixed on the Captain with an almost wistful expression of regret. I think Kirk knows right then, for his hands fall to his sides.

"Why, Spock?" he asks huskily, and the pain in his voice reaches even to me. There's not even a flicker in the dark eyes, serene and untroubled now.

"I have sought long for this," the Vulcan replies calmly. "To be part of the Overmind, untorn by doubt or emotion; to be free at last of a conflict I cannot resolve, and can no longer endure. Here I have found peace, a sense of fulfillment - I can be of value."

The Captain moves closer, pausing as Spock lifts a hand in warning; as he waits, seeking for words, I'm watching the Vulcan closely. It seems to me there's something... odd... about Spock, an almost transparent appearance, although the Captain hasn't reacted to it. I concentrate carefully, and when I'm sure I touch Kirk's arm; he turns to me impatiently.

"Well, Baillie?"

"Sir, that's not Mr. Spock.,"

"Don't be ridiculous!" His voice is raw with pain. "Do you think I wouldn't know... ?"

"Mr. Baillie is correct, however," the serene voice confirms, unexpectedly. "My body still lives, Captain, but its proximity to the core of the Overmind is rapidly draining its strength - it could not now reach the door. What you see is a projection which I have produced with the help of the Overmind - I have approached you in this fashion because I know that you find purely telepathic contact disturbing, and I do not wish to cause you distress by touching your mind - linked as I am, the contact would cause you pain."

"What's going to happen to you?" Kirk asks dazedly; he's accepted the reality already, even if he doesn't know it yet.

"As the energy drain continues my body will weaken and die within hours, but I will continue as part of the Overmind, learning, growing... you cannot imagine the wonder of becoming part of such an entity."

Kirk takes a step backwards then; his face is expressionless, but his left hand, unseen by Spock, is tightly clenched - and there's a smear of blood where the nails have driven deep into the palm.

"Is this really what you want?" Kirk asks dully. "Will it make you happy?"

"I do not know - but it will bring me peace."

"Then I wish you well, Spock - even if I'll never understand."

"Thank you, Jim. Please inform my family - Sarek will understand why I do this. Now I suggest that you return to the ship - the Overmind will inform you when my physical existence has ended."

For a moment he pauses, then the deep voice takes on the warm tone I've only over heard him use to the Captain. "I am sorry, Jim; but for me, it is the logical way."

"Logical!" The word is almost a sob.

"Go, now, my friend; it is dangerous for you to remain any longer. Farewell, Jim."

"Goodbye, Spock."

They look at each other a moment longer then Kirk turns abruptly away and sets off down the tunnel. As I follow him around the corner I can't resist looking back to see the Vulcan still staring after him, with an expression I never thought to see on that impassive face.

But Kirk is my first concern now. When I reach him he's leaning against the wall, one hand over his eyes. He straightens and turns at my approach.

"Come on, Mr. Baillie - there's nothing for us here, now."

As I follow his stocky figure back along the tunnel the echo of his bitter words seems to ring in my ears; and somehow, I'm not so sure.

* * * * * * * *

McCoy is waiting in the transporter room when we return. He takes one look at Kirk's face and dismisses Kyle with a nod.

"What happened, Jim?"

"He... he's staying, Bones. It's what he wants, and I can't... Oh God!" A shuddering breath that might almost be a sob.

"Damned Vulcan!" McCoy's growl doesn't fool me - I can hear the grief in his tone. "So your living computer finally ran out on you. Just goes to show you can't trust a Vulcan... but I'd have staked my life that his Human half was strong enough to keep him loyal - at least to you."

"Drop it, Bones." Kirk's voice is unutterably weary. "It's easy for us - we've never had to live with what he's got to bear, constantly torn in two, an alien both on Earth and Vulcan. I've never understood how Sarek and Amanda could have allowed... They must have known what their child would go through. He's found peace at last, and I can't regret it for him; only for myself because... because I couldn't help him after all." The last few words are almost a whisper; then he straightens and turns deliberately towards the door.

"I'll tell Scotty to hold orbit until morning, or until we hear from the Overmind. It may not be... logical... but I can't leave here while he's still alive, at least physically. No-one is to beam down without my direct order, Mr. Baillie - it's too dangerous. I could feel the lure of the Overmind drawing me in, and something in me wanted to go... I don't have Spock's strength, I'd be destroyed totally."

Queer, I think. I didn't sense that; a certain curiosity, maybe, but basically repulsion.

But it's not my place to argue with the Captain. "Yes, sir," I reply. "I'll tell Mr. Kyle."

* * * * * * * *

The hours of the ship's night crawl past with agonising slowness. It's none of my business, but I can't help thinking about Mr. Spock down there on Vebron. God knows, he's weird enough at the best of times, but now he's being changed into something I can't even begin to understand, and a cold sick feeling grips me as I begin to think of how the ship will feel without his calm presence on board.

In an attempt to keep busy I decide to carry out a Security inspection, but at every turn of the corridor memories rise up to distract me.

The transporter room - and I see Kirk's face the day he and Spock returned from the hearing which stripped the Vulcan of Captain's rank and returned him to us as First Officer.

Shuttlecraft bay - watching Spock take off alone to probe the amoeba creature that almost destroyed us in Sector 39J.

The briefing room, and the conversation no-one knows I overheard when, contaminated by the Psi 2000 virus, the barriers of custom and tradition first began to fall between Kirk and Spock.

The cargo holds - and the time the Vulcan was almost killed in a Romulan attack during which I learned a few surprising things about our First Officer.

Sickbay, quiet and deserted now - but how many battles I've witnessed there as one fought for the other's life or sanity.

The ship is quiet, secure, but I expect no less - I train my staff well. At last the elevator drops me near the officers' quarters, and I find my steps slowing involuntarily.

Kirk's door; I hesitate, but pass on - what can I say to him? McCoy's, but what can he do? The bitter quotation comes to mind; physician, heal thyself - and him, if you can.

Finally, Spock's; the door stands ajar, and curiosity fills me - who comes here at such a time? But I already know as I peer carefully into the dimly-lit room.

Kirk is sitting absolutely still, his face half turned from me, but every line of his body betrays wretchedness and misery. It's a weird vigil he's keeping there in the gloom, a death watch for a friend lost, not to death, but to a strange new life in which he can have no part. And all I can do for him is to leave him alone with his thoughts, never letting him know that I've seen tears in his eyes for a man who would deny response to them.

As I return to the elevator my pity for Kirk is gradually replaced by another emotion - a surge of overwhelming anger directed at Spock, an anger which sends me running down into the transporter room to confront a bewildered Kyle.

"Beam me down!" I order him.

"But Chief - the Captain said... "

Now I know - and he knows I know - one or two things about Mr. Kyle's off-duty activities that he'd rather weren't brought to the Captain's attention; so when I tell him that it's for Kirk's sake I'm going, and drop a few hints about what I'll have to say if he doesn't cooperate - well, he caves in and moves to the controls.

So sooner than I'd like I find myself back in that tunnel, wondering why I keep talking myself into this sort of trouble, and how the hell I'm going to get out of it this time.

The Overmind is aware of my presence; I can feel it around me, questioning, puzzled, but I plough on grimly, refusing to acknowledge it until I reach the by now familiar doorway in the rock. The emanations from the room beyond are weakening me, drawing at my life and energy. A warning beats in my head, urging me away - the Overmind is concerned, has no wish to harm me, but it is curious as to my purpose, and delays forcing me to go. I concentrate, channelling all my anger and grief into one urgent plea.


I'm no telepath; I must use speech, and the echoes of my cry are absorbed by the pulsating light. Will he come to me as he came to the Captain, or must I try to speak with a disembodied voice in my mind? Or... will he refuse to come at all?

"Spock, answer me!"

There is... a response, a stirring in the brightness. Slowly the familiar figure takes shape before me.

"Return to the Enterprise, Mr. Baillie; you have no business here."

Even before I begin I fear defeat - what arguments of mine can disturb that calm certainty?

But I have a weapon he can scarcely understand, raw emotion unleashed in the service of one who will not use it on his own behalf. I allow the anger full rein, and it comes through clearly in my voice.

"I have; but have you?"

"My choice is decided; leave me."

"Yes, I'll go if I must - but not before I've shown you what you are. You're a coward, Spock, running out on those who need you - and care for you. So you're sick of being alone? Well, tough! Don't you think he is, too?"

"Did he send you?" A spark of anger.

"When did he ever send anyone to plead for him?" I sneer contemptuously. "You're changing already, Spock - there was a time when you'd never have considered such a despicable idea. He's tried so hard to help you, but you wouldn't let him, would you - he's only 'Human' after all, and that's a dirty word to you, isn't it, Spock? Try asking yourself just what the Overmind will make of you. Sure, you'll lose your doubt, your loneliness, the conflict that rends you - but you'll lose other things too; your compassion, your understanding, the love I know you can feel for those who need you. It seems so easy, doesn't it, to be free of emotion? You'll have the Vulcan detachment you always wanted - but you'll pay a hell of a price for it, and so will others. 'My father will understand,' you said... oh sure, he will, but what about your mother? The Captain is going to have to tell her that her precious son was so ashamed of his Human blood he just gave up. That'll make her feel just great, won't it? And you'll pay too. You are half-Human, and all the wanting in the world won't change that; no Human could live like this - for ever - without going insane in the end."

I gradually allow my voice to soften, and continue pleadingly, "You taught me what courage meant - not only in a physical sense, but in the way you faced up to what you are. I can understand how hard it must have been sometimes, but you've achieved so much - don't throw it away now."

He's listening to me at least, but I can detect no softening in those remote eyes. However, I have another card, the dirtiest in the pack, and I don't scruple to play it now.

"He wouldn't stoop to plead emotion to you, but I will. Do you know, or care, what he's doing now? He's sitting in your cabin, quietly, in the dark, because he can't leave until he knows you're dead; and he's crying for you, Spock. What a bloody contemptible idea - the Overmind will calmly inform him that his best friend is dead! I could spit on you for that damnable cruelty! Just what does it take to make you admit that you're Human too? Hasn't he done enough yet to earn your trust? That time when he had to get you to Vulcan - you never knew that he defied explicit Starfleet orders to get you there; they'd have crucified him if T'Pau hadn't intervened. God knows, I never thought I'd see the day when she was more merciful than you!

"And that time you were stranded on Taurus II - he came within a hairsbreadth of mutiny then; if it hadn't been for the colonists on New Paris he'd have clapped Ferris in the brig and stayed there until he found you.

"Even that scar on your forehead - you'd be dead now if he hadn't pulled you clear of that rockfall last week.

"How are you going to repay him, Spock? Will you crawl back to the safe protection of the Overmind - or will you come back with me now, back where you belong?"

That's it; I've said my piece, the longest speech I've made for many a day. Now I can only wait to see what effect I've had. The Vulcan stands before me, his face impassive, his eyes concealed under half-lowered lids.

I can sense that the Overmind too is waiting for Spock's decision; it is around me, patient, enquiring, and for the first time I can see it as something other than a threat. It's an intelligent life-form, after all, and it only wants to increase its knowledge as we do; but now I understand that it will not compel anyone to join it.

At last, with a faint sigh, the dark lashes lift, and the unfathomable eyes look deep into mine.

"The supreme irony, Mr. Baillie." The voice is faint, weary. "I concede your arguments; but it is... too late."

"Too late?" I whisper.

"The Overmind has taken too much from me, has drained my energy. I will soon become part of the complex; I cannot escape its field now, I do not have the strength to move."

Before my startled gaze the image of Spock wavers, begins to fade.

"Unfortunate. I would have liked... tell him... " The voice ceases abruptly; the figure shimmers and is gone.

For a moment I stare blankly at the curtain of light, trying to realise that on the very brink of success I have failed; it's not a nice thought. Then, that... voice... echoes in my head.

Human if you have the courage, act swiftly. The one named Spock still lives, but his consciousness is almost gone. If you trust us we will lead you to him, for we would not hold one who is unwilling. Concentrate only on he whom you seek, and we will guide you. Decide now if you will make the attempt.

I don't have much choice, really; I'm not going back to tell the Captain that I had the chance to bring his Vulcan out and refused to take it. Besides, the way I figure it, I owe it to Spock too - I'm the one who raised doubts in his mind, convinced him that he should return. Taking a deep breath I step forward into the light.

The core of the Overmind... I have no real idea what it's like. Some of it I forget, some I never saw, and most of what I did see I can't make sense of anyway.

The vital thing is not to look up, to keep my eyes firmly on the floor; but even the shadows are... disturbing. I can feel the light swirling about me, almost tangible in its intensity.

Don't think, I warn myself. Just concentrate on keeping moving.

Again comes that sense of being herded, guided to where the Overmind wishes to lead me, and I yield to it, knowing that if I try to look around to locate Spock myself, I'll be lost. I can feel the pressure against my mind; so close, the sheer energy generated by this strange being is drawing at mine, sucking it out. It's so difficult even to walk - the strength is being leached from me, and I even have to concentrate hand to remember why I'm here at all. At last I'm reduced to crawling, my eyes clamped shut against the hypnotic pulsations of the light, my hands groping before me.

Eventually my fingers brush against something soft and velvety, the familiar texture of a Starfleet shirt. I risk taking a look.

It's Spock, lying on his side, his face pillowed on one outstretched arm, his hands reaching towards... no, I will not remember!

His face is pale, serene, almost glowing in the halo of flickering fire that seems to outline his body, and for a moment I wonder if I'm in time, he lies so still.

It's too dangerous for me to linger, the energy drain is increasing all the time; somehow I manage to gather him under one arm and begin the slow, agonising crawl back the way I came. If it was difficult to reach him, it's even more so to return; something within me is beginning to feel an almost overwhelming longing to give up, to allow myself to merge, to blend with the awesome power around me.

Two things save me. Fear; for I know that while Spock's mind is strong enough to sustain identity as part of the Overmind, mine is not - I'd be totally absorbed, overwhelmed, annihilated.

The second? Merely a memory - the vision of Kirk's haunted eyes. There is also, I think, help from the Overmind itself; for it is not malevolent, has no wish to harm me - or even to retain Spock as an unwilling component.

At last, aeons later, I find myself back in the tunnel, Spock's limp body cradled in my arms, and with no memory of travelling the last few yards. The energy drain has lessened out of the direct presence of the Overmind, and although still weak I manage to pull myself shakily to my feet. There's no time to be lost - to me Spock looks dead already - but I owe a debt; I make myself turn back to face the light.

"Thank you," I say simply. The pulse of the Overmind beats in my brain.

Thanks are unnecessary; we regret having caused distress. The Vulcan's mind would have enriched us, but we understand now the harm we would have done. The conflict is essential to him - he must accept what he is, or struggle against it, but the peace we thought to offer would be death to his mind. We must be more careful in our contact with other life forms. And now, you must go.

Obediently I lift Spock up and for the last time retreat along the tunnel. The night sky has never looked so beautifully normal, so welcome, and I enjoy breathing the cool air while I pull out my communicator; Kyle locks on to my signal, and beams us up.

* * * * * * * *

When I carry my burden from the transporter pad I see Kyle reaching for the intercom.

"No!" I tell him sharply. "Don't call the Captain yet - let me get Mr. Spock to sickbay first. Time enough when we know how he is."

Kyle nods in understanding and I carry Spock through the deserted corridors to sickbay. With a sigh of relief I dump him on the nearest bed - he might be thin, but he's no lightweight - and go in search of McCoy.

He's sitting at his desk, his head resting on his arms, but he sits up at once when I come in. The blue eyes are very bright; he's been sharing Kirk's vigil in his own quiet way, unable to relax as long as there's any hope.

"What do you want at this hour, Baillie?" he grumbles as usual; but his heart isn't in it, it's pure habit. I jerk a thumb in the direction of sickbay.

"Patient for you," I tell him. "He looks in a bad way."

Give McCoy his due, he's no slouch when a patient needs him, whatever his personal troubles; he's moving even as I'm speaking.

He checks for just an instant as he recognises the patient, but it's the sort of shock you recover from quickly - he's already in action as I reach the bed.

I watch the life indicators carefully - I've picked up enough by now to get a rough idea of Spock's condition. The readings are low - very low - but steady, and when McCoy returns the last hypo to the tray and steps back his eyes confirm my instinctive sigh of relief.

"Does Jim know?" he asks, turning to the intercom.

"No, I didn't want to tell him until I was sure Spock would make it." A sudden impulse makes me reach for the intercom before he can. "I'll tell him, Doctor." McCoy might guess, but it's my belief the Captain won't want it broadcast where he spent the night. For that reason I ask for shipwide relay.

"Captain Kirk to sickbay, please."

When I look round McCoy's again leaning ever the bed; he grunts with satisfaction. "He should be coming round soon," he says over his shoulder.

At that, Kirk comes through the door; his face is carefully controlled - too carefully. His eyes move, from me to the occupied McCoy and back again.

"What's the problem?" he asks crisply.

As McCoy steps back I indicate the bed, and he follows my gesture. He gives a sudden sharp intake of breath, then stands motionless for a moment before taking a hesitant step forward.

"Spock?" His voice is husky with disbelief, his eyes wide as he stares in bewilderment.

"Yes, it's Spock," McCoy confirms, struggling between tears and laughter. "Almost as good as new - he'll be plaguing the life out of me before I can turn round."

"But... how?" Kirk asks, puzzled.

"Don't ask me. All I know is that Baillie strolled in about ten minutes ago and dumped him on the bed."

Kirk's gaze flickers to me, then back to the bed; only a fleeting glance, but his expressive eyes say all I need to know.

To an observer it must look a bit odd, the three of us staring moonstruck at that quiet figure; I can't see Kirk's face, but McCoy's grinning like an idiot, and I don't know that I'm any better. it's Kirk who moves first, stepping forward to sit on the bed as though he's suddenly none too sure of his legs.

Hesitantly he reaches out to lay a gentle hand on Spock's face; at the touch the dark eyes open, clouded with confusion. As they focus on Kirk's face I see them clear into a blazing delight, and the Vulcan's lips soundlessly form the word 'Jim!'

Kirk leans closer at that, and McCoy's touch on my arm reminds me that neither of us is needed here; resisting the temptation to linger I follow him into his office.

Without a word McCoy pours two large brandies and hands me one, raising his own glass in silent salute. As the powerful stuff hits me I feel myself reeling, and before I know where I am he's got me sitting down, his scanner whirring.

"Were you exposed to that... Overmind?" he asks with concern.

"Yes; but I think it shielded me as much as possible. I don't feel too bad now, but at the time... " I shudder, and reach again for my glass.

McCoy claps me on the shoulder. "Sheer exhaustion," he says. "You can't have been as sensitive to the mental effects as Spock. Come on, I'm prescribing a few days' rest; I'll take you to your quarters, and make sure you got a good night's sleep."

And I'm glad of his supportive arm as we head for the elevator.

* * * * * * * *

I'm still confined to quarters next day when Kirk comes in to see me. He says that Spock's in worse shape than I am owing to his longer exposure, but with him too it's only exhaustion, and he'll be fine.

I fill him in on what happened an Vebron, stressing my impression that the Overmind meant no harm, and he nods understandingly.

"The Overmind contacted me before we left orbit," he says. "Now that its existence is known it is prepared to accept official contact with the Federation, so from now on it will be approached with the appropriate safeguards on both sides. But we've lost a shore-leave planet."

"Can't say I'm sorry," I tell him. "It may be harmless, but it makes me uncomfortable. That sort of thing is best left to those who understand it."

He laughs, but then his eyes grow serious. "Baillie - thanks for what you did - but what possessed you to take such a risk?" He shudders. "Even I could feel the power, the attraction - why weren't you drawn in?"

"I don't know. It just didn't seem so... compulsive to me. As for why..." I hesitate, decide this is getting, too serious. "Sheer self-defence, sir," I tell him virtuously. "I'm used to Mr. Spock's ways - a new First Officer would be bound to turn the Security Section upside down just on principle, and I've already got it working nicely."

Kirk laughs again, and rises to leave. "Have it your own way, Baillie," he says. "But... thanks."

* * * * * * * *

I'm rather dreading my next meeting with Spock, but I needn't have worried. It's not just chance that he catches up with me in the elevator when I'm reporting back for duty. He doesn't say much, but those eyes of his express all that is necessary - neither of us is given to making speeches. I took a chance and it came off; he knows and appreciates the fact, and for myself, I'm just glad that everything's back to normal.

It's not something I spend a lot of time brooding about. I don't know what the Overmind really was, and I don't want to know, but I do know this; Spock's sensitivity to it caught him in a trap he'd have grown to hate. The Captain - he felt it too, could never have survived as I did. He wanted to go after Spock himself, make no mistake, but knew that if he did he'd be lost to the ship where he was needed. Their imaginations showed them what they would have gained as part of the Overmind, and almost made them forget what they would have lost. But me... well, I'm the stolid, unimaginative sort; there was nothing there to lure me, so I succeeded where the Captain, for all his brains, would have failed. There are times when too much awareness can be a real handicap.

* * * * * * * *

But I started out to prove that Spock's not totally devoid of his own weird sense of humour. I'm in McCoy's office waiting for my official discharge as fit for duty when I hear one of the nurses collar him just outside the door.

"Excuse me, Doctor, but we don't seem to have Chief Baillie's first name recorded in his medical files."

"Curious - still, he's in my office now - give me the form, and I'll ask him."

No you won't! I think, making a hasty exit by the other door; but McCoy's thorough - he'll get to me sooner or later, and when I refuse to tell him he'll pull the information from my personal file in the main computer.

There's not a darn thing I can do to stop him either, but with vague ideas of maybe wiping my tape somehow, or even, as a last resort, blowing up the whole damn thing, I head for the main computer terminal. I'm standing there staring gloomily at the monster when Spock walks in, and of course wants to know what I'm doing there. I'm so depressed by now, I tell him before I realise it.

One delicate eyebrow rises in interrogation, but I stare dumbly at the floor -- I'm not telling even him. After a moment he says,

"Well, Mr. Baillie, since the matter causes you some distress, I propose a compromise. I cannot wipe the information from the computer banks, but I can restrict the information so that it will be released only on my authorisation, or the Captain's, or yours. Will that be satisfactory?"

Satisfactory! I should say so! Kirk's never likely to want to know, and Mr. Spock would never stoop to vulgar curiosity, so I'm safe from any prying.

That man may say he doesn't understand Humans - but he sure tries hard!


Copyright Valerie Piacentini