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The journey through the Time Gate had been intended as a peaceful relaxation for Kirk and McCoy; for the historians the Enterprise had brought to the Time Planet, it was a much more serious affair. Once the formalities had been arranged Kirk felt free to turn to a more personal matter. McCoy had been under a great deal of strain; ideally he should have taken shore leave, but there was no prospect of that in the near future, and with his usual stubbornness, he refused to be relieved of duty.
As the next best thing, Kirk suggested that he and McCoy should take advantage of their enforced wait at the Time Planet, and themselves take a trip into the past. He told Bones that as a child he had been promised a trip to London, a trip that had been cancelled because of an illness; he had never had that holiday, and had always regretted it.
"Come with me, Bones," he suggested. "I know I can use the break, and I'm sure you can; it'll only be a couple of days, but we can see the sights, take in a show, have a bit of a rest." McCoy agreed readily; he knew himself he needed a break, and it might be fun.
The ship's stores provided them with the appropriate clothes and money, and it was with an almost forgotten sense of anticipation that they passed through the Time Gate and stepped from an alley into a busy London street.
They spent the next two days simply enjoying their holiday, revelling in the freedom of tourists as they visited the historic sites by day, and in the evening joined in the varied night life of the city. Over breakfast on their third morning, McCoy said, "I don't know about you, Jim, but I feel like being thoroughly lazy this morning."
"Good idea. Let's go to the park and feed the ducks." In response to McCoy's quizzical glance he went on defensively, "Well, I read about it once. People do that sort of thing in London, and I promised myself that if I ever got to London, I'd have a go."
"All right, then, as long as we find somewhere quiet."
When they left the hotel, Kirk insisted on buying some bread. McCoy was teasing him about it as they waited to cross the road, when their attention was caught by a car that had stopped for the traffic lights; there was something familiar about the tall dignified figure in the back seat. Curious, Kirk moved for a better look, then said, "Look, Bones. It's Sarek."
It was indeed the Vulcan Ambassador, Spock's father, younger than they knew him, but unmistakable. As the car moved off McCoy said, laughing, "Well, they do say that if you spend long enough in London you'll meet everyone you know, but I don't think they had this in mind."
The sheer normality of the scene in the park was a tonic to the two men, for whom the unexpected, the dangerous, sometimes the terrible, were part of everyday life. Here on the cool grass children played, dogs ran barking, lovers walked hand in hand as they had done for centuries. On the lake, the birds waited expectantly for the food that long generations of experience had taught them would be forthcoming.
At last their aimless strolling brought them to an area of the park which seemed to be deserted. They came through a belt of trees to find themselves standing on the crest of a slope which ran down to the water's edge; the bank rose in a curve, forming a small bay sheltered from view by the trees. Feeling like a rest after their walk, Kirk and McCoy stretched out on the grass, enjoying the warm sunshine on their faces.
After a few minutes, McCoy touched Kirk on the arm, and pointed silently. Below them at the water's edge a child had appeared as if from nowhere. Kneeling on the bank, he was offering food to a pair of magnificent swans; the birds showed no fear, but glided closer, at last bending their graceful necks to take the food from his fingers. A flash of colour sped from the bushes below them to the boy's foot - a red squirrel, showing no trace of timidity, had run up to claim his share. The child laughed softly, and held something out; the squirrel took it, and sat up on its haunches to nibble contentedly. The two men smiled, enjoying the scene - the confidence of the normally shy squirrel, the grace of the birds, the child's pleasure in his companions. Then, suddenly, horribly, the tranquillity of the scene was shattered. With no warning, a shower of stones hurtled down on the group; the swans vanished in a flurry of white wings, but the squirrel was not fast enough - he lay broken and bleeding beneath a jagged rock.
A group of children came through the bushes to stand in a semi-circle round the boy. Their faces were sullen and hostile, and each carried a stick or a piece of stone. Though he must have been aware of their presence the boy, who was bending over the squirrel, did not react at once; he gently laid the broken little body down on the grass, his fingers lingering for a moment on the soft fur, before he stood and faced the intruders.
Kirk could not repress a gasp of astonishment as he saw the boy's face for the first time. There was no mistaking the slanting eyebrows or the elegant pointed ears; a Vulcan child, perhaps seven years old, Kirk estimated, about half the age of the children who now surrounded him. The menace in their attitude was unmistakeable, but the child showed no fear in the face of their hostility. He knew there was no escape, and with the dignity of his race composed himself to meet whatever might come. At first, only words, which he could pretend not to hear.
"Freak! Halfbreed freak!"
"With those ears, he should be in a circus!"
"Devil child! You've got no right here!"
"Why don't you go back to your own world - monster!"
The insults grew worse as the child's calm indifference enraged his tormentors. Kirk felt his anger rising at the unfair odds, but for the moment he dared not interfere; he knew the risks of taking any action which might alter the past. The oldest of the children called out mockingly.
"Come on! Let's show Spock we mean it - we don't want him here!"
Spock! Was it possible? Kirk's eyes flew to the face of the Vulcan child. Yes, it could be... it surely must be. He would be about the right age, and they had seen Sarek only that morning. He turned to McCoy, but the question on his lips was never spoken, for the Doctor's face was white, and his eyes wide with horror.
"My God, no!" McCoy screamed. "Stop!"
It was too late. Even as Kirk turned back to the scene below, the barrage of sticks and rocks struck the Vulcan child, and he crumpled to the grass. In the same instant Kirk and McCoy sprang to their feet and rushed forward. The children fled, startled by their sudden appearance, but neither of the men had time to be concerned with them. Sick with terror, Kirk dropped to his knees beside McCoy, who was already at work.
"It's bad enough, but not too serious, apart from the wound on his head. The cut's deep, and there may be concussion. " He worked steadily for a few minutes, dressing the cut on the child's head. At last he sat back on his heels.
"Jim, my readings confirm it - the child is half Human. It's our Spock, all right. I've got to keep him under for a while - he mustn't see us. Trouble is, we can't stay here and I don't want to move him too far; he's had a bad shock, and it could be dangerous, but there doesn't seem to be any concussion. We can't leave him like this, yet if he comes round and gets a good look at us, heaven knows what complications that will cause."
"We'll worry about that later. We should get under cover, though - there's a hut among those trees; we can take him there, and you can keep an eye on him."
As they walked back through the trees, Kirk tried to control his confused thoughts. It was difficult to realise that the child in his arms would grow up to become his First Officer. Spock - dependable, trustworthy, unshakably loyal Spock, as dear to him as a brother. Disjointed memories of the past - or the future - came through to him.
" ...You would not... have survived this... "
"... You know, of course, I could never have made it without you... "
"... Listen to me, Jim. Be with me. They are only illusions... "
So many times, defeat turned into victory, danger into safety, the risks shared, perils overcome, the joy and the agony.
How would it be - he could not imagine how it would be - to return to a world that did not hold Spock? The child was in danger, he could read it in McCoy's eyes. Was this part of Spock's past, or had their presence altered things? He would not know until he returned to the Enterprise.
When they reached the hut he laid Spock on a pile of sacks in the corner. McCoy passed his medical tricorder over him, and sighed with relief.
"I think he's going to be all right."
Their eyes met.
"You felt it too, didn't you, Bones?"
"I must be going soft in the head!" Then, quietly, "Yes. I suddenly realised that I could not contemplate the idea of losing Spock; it'd be like losing part of myself. But if you ever tell him I said so...!"
Kirk nodded; he knew only too well the solid affection and friendship for Spock that underlay McCoy's sarcasm. Then to his surprise, the Doctor continued in a tone of bitter self-disgust, "I thought I was so clever - that I understood him. How could I even begin to guess at - this! Think of it, Jim; think what his childhood must have been like! Yet somehow, by some miracle, I swear, he became the man he is. We both know what he's done for us on the Enterprise; we could never begin to understand how much he had to forgive."
"You said it yourself, Bones. That's the kind of man he is."
As the afternoon passed, the shadows lengthened under the trees, and the child slept on. From time to time McCoy leaned over to check his progress, and was satisfied. Twilight was fading into dusk when Spock stirred and woke. In the dim light the two men could see his face only faintly, the dark eyes wide with surprise; their own faces were hidden from him in the shadows.
"Where am I? Who are you?" The questions came calmly, as only Spock could have asked them under such conditions.
"Do you remember what happened?" McCoy's voice was very gentle.
"Yes, I remember. The children... you must not blame them... they do not understand. I must seem a - freak - to them. In time, they will learn."
For a moment, Kirk felt tears sting his eyes. Even so would the adult Spock have spoken.
"You were hurt," he said softly. "If you feel up to it, we will take you home now - your parents will be worried."
"Thank you, I am quite recovered. But who are you?"
"Forgive me, but I cannot tell you that, nor can I explain why we must not be seen. Can you trust us?"
The child considered for a moment, then smiled. "As you wish. I think - no, I am sure - that I can trust you."
"Thank you, Spock."
"You know me?" The question came swiftly; even at seven, he missed nothing.
"One of the children called you by name," McCoy broke in. "We must be going now - I don't think we have much time."
Kirk too had felt the familiar sensation that warned him that their stay in the past was drawing to a close; soon the Guardian of Forever would reach out for them, and return them to their own time.
Guided by Spock, they set off towards the Vulcan Embassy, where Sarek and his family were staying. Accepting their wish for concealment, he led them to the rear of the building, and showed them where to climb the wall into the garden. Across the lawn, they could see the tall figure of a woman restlessly pacing the terrace.
"My mother, the Lady Amanda," whispered Spock. "Will you not meet her - she will wish to thank you."
"No, we must go now," said Kirk. "Don't keep your mother waiting any longer."
Still the child lingered. "Then I must try to thank you myself." He extended his hand, fingers spread in the Vulcan fashion. "Live long and prosper. I believe we will meet again."
Gently, Kirk touched his fingertips to those of the child. "I hope so. Live long and prosper, Spock of Vulcan."
Turning, the child held out his hand to McCoy. "Thank you for your care. I think that we too will meet again."
"Farewell, Spock. Try not to judge all Humans by those children."
"I could not, after meeting you. Farewell." He inclined his head gravely, and was gone, running across the lawn to the woman, who knelt, arms wide, to receive him. As mother and son met, the scene faded round them, and Kirk and McCoy were standing on the sand before the Guardian of Forever. Kirk pulled out his communicator.
"Kirk to Enterprise."
"Enterprise - Scott here."
"Two to beam up, Scotty."
As they stepped down from the transporter platform, they were surprised to see Spock himself at the controls.
"Something wrong, Mr Spock?"
"No, Captain, all is in order. I trust you and the Doctor had a restful trip."
"Hardly restful, Mr Spock. Eventful, perhaps."
"I see. My calculations were correct, then?"
For answer Spock lifted his hand to his forehead, just where the stone had hit him all those years - or hours - ago.
"When I was seven, I visited London with my parents. I was - hurt, and two men helped me. I never saw their faces, or heard their names - until I joined the Enterprise."
"How long have you known?"
"I did not at first. I came to recognise you only as I knew you better; and I realised that for you, the event had not yet happened. When you left, I knew when and where the Time Gate would take you, and that I could speak of it at last."
"It was quite a coincidence, though," said Kirk, "that out of all the people in London, it should have been Bones and I who found you."
"Coincidence? I think not." McCoy spoke softly, seriously, his usual sarcastic wit laid aside. "I think that the bonds of friendship that hold us were strong enough to draw us together, even out of our own time."
"For once, Doctor, I would not disagree." For a moment the smile of the child Spock had once been lit his usually impassive face. McCoy returned the smile warmly, and Kirk grinned in relief.
It would not last, of course; soon they'd be back to the usual bickering, but he knew they all had a better understanding of the very real affection that linked them.
Copyright Valerie Piacentini