WARNING: This story includes NC-17 male/male material, suitable for readers 18 years of age and older. Please do not read if you object to the premise.
Kirk settled down in a soft orange chair in the Officer's Lounge and stared out the viewport. Bones had suggested he spent the next hour trying for a little rest. He knew that the doctor knew just how seriously he'd take that request.
Leaning back, he watched the stars. From this viewpoint, he was looking back at the heart of the galaxy. It was a diffuse, milky glow, incredibly distant. Spock liked to come here, to watch the stars and meditate. He pressed his eyes hard shut against the pain.
He felt himself drifting. ..perhaps he was tired after all... a little catnap, he was good at that...had to be, a captain's skill... slowly his surface thoughts vanished, his perceptions sinking down, inward...
...stranded. Abandoned. Kirk stood motionless in a barren landscape. The sky was black, the hard pure black of vacuum. No atmosphere was present to hold any light. No stars were there to give their distant glow. Distant tiny pale smudges were visible in the black sky; distant galaxies wheeling in space.
In all the worlds he had ever been on, there had been none where the night sky did not hold stars. He shivered beneath the alien power of this empty sky.
He hugged his arms around himself to keep out the chill. It was impossible to be where he was, as he was, but his mind accepted it with the logic of dreams. He was suitless, yet surviving in vacuum. Or maybe he was a ghost already, existing in some limbo, some annex to hell.
Light seeped over the horizon. It was a puny distant thing, the last weak sparks of a star nearly burned out. Black slabs of rock stood out in relief, casting enormous, endless shadows behind them. These shadows went shivering over the rocky ground until they met and swallowed each other up in an infinite blackness.
He was standing on bare cold rock, looking down. There was a grave. Like before. With his name. Like before.
The granite slab showed dull matte-grey in the flickering light. Simple letters were etched in bold strokes: James T. Kirk.
He couldn't look away. Felt paralyzed, seized by an alien force. Helpless.
Another presence was near; he was intimately aware of that proximity. Through the silence of total vacuum, he still heard his heart beating. He felt naked beneath the starless sky. There was no motion... just someone standing very close...
A whisper floated toward him. “I knew you'd find me.”
Such love in that voice. He turned in welcome.
He didn't cry out. Anguish froze his heart. Numb and disbelieving, he dropped to his knees beside the still form lying by the open grave. The dim light highlighted the slanting eyebrows, the curve of. the ears. Spock was dressed in the old uniform, the one he had worn when they had first served together. Kirk's hand grazed over his face, feeling the flesh cold and still as marble. He reached out again, ready to embrace, to warm the lifeless body, to deny.
Spock opened his eyes.
Kirk waited, disbelieving, searching for their warm brown tone.
Spock smiled. He stood, a fluid, boneless motion, towering over Kirk. Kirk himself got up, stumbling to his feet like a jerky puppet.
He loved Spock's smiles. That restrained smile that barely touched his lips yet lit his eyes. Those knowing smiles, when they were alone and Spock wanted to make love. Smiles of joy, pleasure, delight.
Not this smile. Feral. Cunning.
“I could make you a god, Jim.”
The words echoed, reechoed. Wasn't it Gary standing in front of him? And Elizabeth Dehner at his side, or maybe on her knees behind him? Weren't those Gary's hands reaching out to him, offering?
The hands of friends. Spock's hands now reaching out to him, offering. Dehner was saying in her dying voice “Almost a god..” and Gary was lying beneath him, eyes turning to silver as Kirk hesitated for one second too many. Phaser light burned and the rocks rained down.
And Spock was reaching out to initiate the meld.
He backed away. Hurt flared in Spock's brown eyes.
This is Spock. He hesitated--and the silver flowed back into Spock's eyes.
There was a phaser miraculously in his hand. He aimed point blank. Spock's smile broadened.
“T'hy'la. I love you. Be with me.”
But it was Gary who he was about to kill. An older guilt, a lesser loss. Spock had told him to kill Gary. He'd have the same advice now for himself.
--I can't do it--
Kirk's finger pressed the trigger. A powerful force jerked his hand to the side. The phaser beam hit rocks which glowed dully. Spock was still standing before him, still smiling.
He threw the phaser aside. Spock took one more step toward him.
“Join me.” The words, soft, whispered, persistent.
“Not like this!”
He pushed out with all his strength. Spock fell back and away from him, falling into the open grave. And the rocks came raining down...
He awoke with his head pounding so badly his vision blurred. His heart leaped in sympathy, jolting blood through his arteries. He gasped for air, trying to escape the nightmare image of the silver in Spock's eyes, of his own hands dealing death to his lover.
Slowly calming, he dialed coffee from the drink dispenser. In his mind, in the part he felt belonged to Spock, he was aware of a peculiar ache.
You didn't completely sever it, Spock. The realization came to him: the bond was still there--imperfect, ragged and thready.
But somehow still there.
He wished he could feel more satisfaction.
Spock was approaching the outer limits of the system of planets surrounding the dying star when it happened again.
The surge of power flared through him, probing, searching, feeling--greedily fastening upon him, an all pervasive grasp on his soul--then it was gone.
He shuddered, his hands locked tightly on the arms of his seat. ...Control... Awareness of himself as a separate identity returned to him like a tidal wave. With it came the feeling of utter nakedness and vulnerability. He'd been stripped--laid bare to the attack--then deserted.
This time, there had been no other minds to intrude upon his except for the speck of intelligence in the ship ahead. This time, the intellect of the thing--things--had reached out without any real interference. And he had gleaned no more information than he had before.
He tried to focus on what had happened to him, but his perceptions crawled away from the memories. All that remained was the sense of a boundless and utterly alien intelligence.
A sudden high-pitched warning alarm rang through the cabin. Instantly he thumbed the controls, studying the input from the scanners as his hands obeyed the messages transmitted to him.
In the few seconds during his blackout the shuttlecraft had hurtled much closer toward his goal, and was now careening into a collision-bent trajectory toward the northern pole.
He fought with the controls, bringing the ship up. He maneuvered it into a shallow, transpolar orbit and began studying readouts. Gravity was 3/4 earth normal; radiation level negligable for the most part, with high concentration in a few isolated areas.
No atmosphere. No mineral wealth. Ancient, burned out. There were some indications that, millennia ago, it had been mined for its mineral content, but the scratchings of whatever race had plundered it were incredibly ancient, nearly blurred beyond trace by subsequent crater impacts.
Sensors finally picked up what he was looking for. Close to the equator were signs of artificial construction. But this was new. There was a power source, too closely shielded to determine what type. A large, oblong structure contained an atmosphere poisonous to carbon-based life forms. The sensors displayed a contradictory set of peculiar readings.
He adjusted his instruments, carefully compensating for all known factors. The probability was good that the readings indicated life of some sort, but its biological basis was something his instruments could not detect.
Something else showed on the sensors. Remembering the other shuttle, he redirected his instruments, tracking it.
Its path skittered raggedly downward. Unconsciously he tensed, keeping his eye on his instruments. The craft pulled out of its dive and moved into a gliding downward sweep, heading toward the alien readings. He set his own craft to follow.
The closer he approached to the surface of the planet, the more intense the darkness became. What little light the distant star cast was sent glancing off huge mountain ranges and over massive plains, its greyish-white light picking out stark features. Mountains were lumped together, squat and black, broken here and there by more precipitate chasms. Plains fell into serpentine canyons that twisted and writhed, carving themselves across hundreds of kilometers.
The other craft moved lower, skittering over the broken surface like an insect over water, swerving unevenly several times, as if the pilot were inexperienced or disabled.
Sensors revealed both ships were on approach toward the artificial construction. The other craft slowed. He followed suit, tailing it over the uneven ground. The dim light had barely illuminated the outline of the buildings ahead when the small craft ahead trembled.
For a moment it sped on, barely above the blasted ground. Then it faltered, moving in jerky spurts. Finally, as if drained of energy, it settled down on a rocky outcrop.
He brought in his own craft, settling it carefully on the nearest-to-level land he could find. But barely had he keyed the power down and set the energy block when it struck again.
Fear--a need--not his--hands clenched convulsively, releasing razor-sharp claws--knees pressed up against his/her chest--her body bent double--hands clasped to her stomach--movement--stirring within--he puzzled--find out--source--for future--
He struggled, reaching down into himself for his sense of identity, grasping at his barriers to pull them tight, to construct the ragged web and fill in the gaps and chinks, to keep the other out and himself in.
He found himself slumped against the control panel. For a moment he drew in air, stilling the beat of his heart. That moment was all he allowed himself before he rose.
Shaky and sluggish, as if drugged or underwater, he managed to put on an environmental suit and gather needed equipment. Leaving the shuttle, he double-checked the security system and oriented himself. Several hundred feet of rough ground separated him from the other shuttle.
Light from his helmet-beam lanced out, cutting a narrowly defined path over the rock terrain. The ground was ink; black rough rock that bulged and dropped and slanted beneath his feet. Sure footing and the traction the suit provided enabled him to make steady progress. He walked over most of the intervening land, climbing over some boulders and up the steep incline to the higher level where the other shuttle waited, a square slab of blackness haloed by the star’s distant light.
It was easy to enter the other shuttle. No security measures had been taken. The airlock cycled automatically, decontamination field finishing its work quickly. The door slid open.
He moved immediately to the forward seats. Curled up on the pilot's seat was a grey-furred Caitian woman, her knees drawn up, her hands resting protectively on her belly.
A memory stirred--something moving inside...something which belonged...
He looked at her thoughtfully. Her pregnancy added another complication to this already convoluted maze.
She seemed unaware of him. Her head, the short, iron-dark mane clipped close, was resting on her knees. Small gasps and sobs escaped her.
He was still not comfortable in the presence of strong emotion. He busied himself by removing his environmental suit.
The customs of solace other races used were still foreign to him. But he couldn't stand still and do nothing. Hesitation was useless and illogical. He stepped forward.
Her ears suddenly pricked upright, She shrank further back, tension expanding her claws.
“Respected Sister,” he said quietly in the Caitian manner, remembering experiences on her homeworld as a child on a diplomatic journey with his parents.
A low growl of fear sounded in her throat. Her head shifted, and her fur shuddered and rippled in response.
“Respected Sister,” he said again, putting. authority into his voice.
Wounded gold eyes looked up. “I am no one's sister!” she hissed.
The words were flung at him with a mental wave of hurt/desolation that without strong shields penetrated through to his soul. Her loneliness matched all too well the remembered pattern of his own life before his bonding with Jim; the quality of being different from others, the need to make a solitary state into a virtue.
He shivered, unprepared, not desiring this intimacy. Formality was a refuge. “I beg forgiveness.”
Her ears were flattened against her skull. Her breathing was hard and ragged, gold eyes filled with suspicion and distrust.
Then something changed. Some unseen mental wall became opaque again, and Spock realized with surprise that they had been in some sort of low-level telepathic contact.
The woman stirred, then slowly straightened until she was able to face him. “It's stopped,” she said dully.
She sat up slowly as if she hurt all over, and assumed a formal military posture. Her uniform tunic swelled gently over the rounded pressure of four small breasts.
“Commander,” she said, bowing her head.
“Spock,” he replied. “And you, Lieutenant--?”
“Rea, of the Morara Kindred.”
A silence ensued. She was able to keep it comfortably, out of respect for a superior officer. He had no such refuge. They were meeting as strangers, yet on some level they had already shared their minds.
He moved toward the instrument panel and studied the readings.
Nothing new was revealed on the screen. The alien installation, less than a kilometer away, still existed, containing its poisonous atmosphere, its ragged power usage, its apparent lack of life.
He repeated this information to her, falling back on facts-as-conversation, not knowing what else to say or how to approach the question of what they were doing there.
“We're going to go there,” she stated flatly.
He turned in courtesy to look at her. “Yes.”
“I do not know.” He heard and despised the hesitation in his own voice. He admitted to himself that he was afraid. Control was automatically at hand; he overcame it.
“I don't know either,” she said, her voice thick with exhaustion. “I thought I did while I was aboard the ship. Something called me. I came. And now it's gone.”
“For the moment.”
“For the moment, yes,” she agreed. She got up and stretched, a sinuous, graceful gesture, and yawned widely, exposing sharp teeth. “I wish I could sleep,” she said. “For a little while. Being free of them...it's made me so tired. I didn't know how hard I was fighting. “
“The minds around you?”
“What else?” she snapped, glaring.
He ignored her temper. “We are not the focus of their attention now, Lieutenant. I believe it would be possible to rest at this time. You may do so,” he stated in icy formality. He was tired himself, but refused to give in to it.
“My apologies, sir,” she replied, equally formally, and without another word she curled up in one of the large, soft, Cait-designed chairs and instantly fell asleep.
He busied himself by running more intricate analyses of the installation, attempting to fine-tune the instrumentation to detect the alien life he knew must be inside. Finally he admitted it to be a hopeless task. The structure obstructed all attempts at analysis. The readings he received were contradictory and elusive. He suspected that in their own frame of reference they were logical.
Briefly he thought of his mind-link with the Kelvan guard, of the illogical and contradictory input he had received from minds so alien as to be incomprehensible. Yet the Kelvans had been able to interact with them. They had been able to come to a mutual understanding.
Perhaps the same thing could be accomplished here.
He shut down the instrumentation. It was inadequate for the job at hand. Perhaps the complex sensors on ENTERPRISE might be able to unravel the mysteries here, but the standard shuttle equipment was simply not capable of the same detailed work.
He became aware that Lt. Rea was awake and was staring at him. Turning, he met her gaze.
Gold eyes focused on his out of her triangular face. “Do you know why you're here?” she asked abruptly.
He found part of an explanation. “I present a danger to one who is of importance to me.”
Fury blazed in her eyes. “We all endanger each other!” she spat. “Even the unborn!”
Taken aback by her anger, he glanced at the visible signs of her pregnancy--the rounded belly, the four swelling breasts, normally near-flat in a Caitian female.
She acknowledged his gaze. “Four kits. I thought I was fortunate. I had no litter-mates. I grew up as a singleton. All I had was a voice to talk with others. It would be different for my children. Until this happened.”
“How close are you to term?” he asked.
“The last trimester.”
“Their minds should be in contact now.”
“Perhaps.” There was venom in her voice. “Or perhaps because of that thing out there they live in me insane.”
The idea came to him immediately and was instantly washed over by his emotions. Touching the minds of others was something he never grew accustomed to. Yet, when the necessity presented itself, he had always been willing. On Vulcan, at Clan Gatherines, he had entered into family links with young children before. This should be similar. He had certainly sought out minds more alien than hers before, and survived.
She was watching him, puzzled, as he made his decision.
“I could establish a light link--ascertain their status.”
Her eyes clouded. “I had heard those of your race can link with whomever they choose.” Barely disguised envy touched her voice.
“That is true. But it merely creates a different pattern of living--not necessarily a superior one. You are truly psi-null, then?”
“No, not blind. In many races, such abilities are extremely rare.”
“That does nothing for me. I live with my people, not separate from them!” She suddenly seemed aware of her discourtesy toward a superior office, and perhaps remembered that the ENTERPRISE was predominately a Human ship, for she lowered her head. “My apologies, sir.”
“None are necessary. Will you let me try the link?”
“You shame me. Please, take my words from your mind.”
“They are forgotten. Shall I try?”
She rose and stepped toward him, stopping a foot away. He was taller by a head. She tilted her face to look up, her gold eyes troubled. “Such a link... I know so little of your people. Could it present a danger in itself?”
“I would not offer it if it did.”
“Ohhh!” Her fur bristled in agitation. “I am shamed again. I did not mean insult. But I am afraid of this. I have spent my life alone. Would this link us together?”
He understood her fear. Reluctance spoke strongly in him. The raw pain still radiated from the recent self-inflicted wound of the now-dormant bond between him and Jim. To enter any other mind now brought fear of intensifying that pain. But his mind spoke to him also of the illogic of these emotions. “There is little danger of that,” he answered her question. “I cannot say there is none. But I consider it highly unlikely. I have entered in several such links before.”
“Then... between you and my children?”
“Highly unlikely,” he repeated.
She still looked troubled. “I have heard that Vulcans do not do these links casually...”
“No, they do not.” Perhaps an exaggeration on his part, he thought, but true in the whole.
“I do not ask this of you, Respected Brother.”
“I give it freely.”
Her gold eyes held his. “Then forgive my fear which allows me to accept what I should not.”
He inclined his head. “Please sit.”
He settled himself comfortably beside her on the floor and took a moment to clear his mind, to find the calm so necessary to what he had to do. Then he rested one hand lightly on the slight swell of her belly.
Threads of her thoughts came to him, muted and diffuse since the actual contact points had not been engaged. He sensed anxiety, protectiveness and concern for her children. The essence of her personality came through on a low level; it was one of honesty and integrity, worthy of trust.
He let his mind probe gently, searching for the tiny minds he knew must be there, and recoiled almost immediately. Alarmed, she grasped his shoulders, fear making her sink her claws into his flesh. He didn't move away from the minor pain.
“They are shielded,” he said flatly. “What their condition is behind the shield--I cannot say.”
She shuddered and pulled her hands away, mindless of the droplets of green clinging to them.
“Why are we here? What do they want with my children?” Panic edged her voice.
He kept his calm. “I do not know.” He glanced at the viewscreen. From this angle, no sight of the alien installation was available. “I suggest we go and find out.”
Kirk watched the incessant flicker on the viewscreen, intensely aware of the sounds of activity around him.
“All systems 100%,” Engineering reported.
“Analysis indicates course 3.05 would take us through the least amount of turbulence.”
“Red Alert,” he ordered, and made the general announcement to the crew. “Execute course.”
The energy field brightened, as if in anticipation of their entrance into its embrace. Kirk hoped fervently there would be no Gary Mitchells developing on his ship when they reached the other side. And that one had not already developed on the far side. Personnel had double-checked the psi records; there should be no one left on board in danger of that dark transformation, and yet...
No time left for thought. The ship speared ahead, straight into the field.
Energy licked at the shields, surging and tearing, and the ship bucked and shuddered under the impact. Communications babble mingled with the shriek of the Red Alert siren; they all held on as the ship leaped ahead, shields damping down the flow of energy until finally...
They were through.
“Damage reports minimal, sir.”
Kirk felt Bridge tension ease at those words. Collective sighs of relief mingled with people focusing on their boards, turning to the business at hand.
“Readings?” Kirk asked.
Chekov relayed a comprehensive report on the meager suns and worlds beyond the Barrier. When he reported that there were faint traces of artificial energy coming from an otherwise barren world a short distance away Kirk felt a surge of emotion--hope? fear?
“That's where they are,” he said. “Lay in a course.”
He fixed his gaze on the viewscreen as his orders were carried out. He couldn't see it yet, but he could feel it in his bones.
Somewhere out there a dead planet revolved around a dying star. Just like in his dream. He tried very hard not to speculate on what he might find there.
The structure was massive, rounded, vaguely oblong, like an immense watermelon covering acres of land. A seamless expanse of brown material met their gaze. The skin of the--building? ship?--seemed impervious, and their investigations went on for a quarter of an hour and half a mile in one direction with not even half of one side covered.
Then they found it.
The lack of available light nearly misled them at first, but Spock's tricorder picked it up plainly. It was an irregularity in the smooth material of the building, a pocked shape three feet across, four high. They paused and studied it, Spock taking further readings.
He turned toward Rea. The light from her helmet cast harsh shadows across her face. Her pupils nearly swallowed the gold of her eyes.
“It is a force barrier, and yet also a type of transporter beam,” he explain, puzzled.
“Can we enter? Where would it take us?”
“Unknown,” he said, “Readings are inconclusive.” He did not add that the readings beyond those two facts were incomprehensible. “I think, however, that we must try.” He examined his mind for any trace of alien coercion or presence, and found none. He was totally himself, contained and separate. At this moment, he suddenly thought of his bond with Jim, and the love was a painful ache, an eruption of illogical wishes... I wish this had not happened. I wish that we were together now, and I was sharing the comfort and energy of your mind. I hope that, wherever this leads me, I will not go insane, and that if I do, or if I die, that part of the bond which we still share, that I could only negate and not eradicate, will not take my pain or my death to you.
Illogical to wish, but he had learned much of illogic over the past few years with his special Human, with all the other people and circumstances he had experienced. He had learned, finally, that illogic... better named emotion... was part of his life, a part which made him complete.
He looked at Rea, knowing that she too was afraid; that she too was a separate being with an entire life of learning and feeling behind her and only the unknown ahead. He admired her control, for so few of her emotions were showing on her face.
“There is only room for one,” he said. “I will go.”
“I will follow.”
“Return to the shuttle.” He put his authority into his voice.
“Commander. It summoned us both. Moreover, my four children are in the gravest danger. I have more at stake here than you.”
He nodded, accepting. “I will go first. I consider it unwise to follow.”
She growled in exasperation. “Why talk about wisdom? We don't know anything at all about these aliens. Why not just act?”
He nodded again, turned and stepped through.
At first it was like hitting some tough membrane, resilient, resisting, impeding. Then--
--he was through and it was--
--not just himself but thousands of others, all wearing his face... sheeted reflections on broken fragments of mirrors floating in a vast and limitless starless space--
--and each fragment was frozen in eternity, each a separate moment of time, the experience going on forever, he was--
five and playing with his sehlat he was
ill from an insect bite in the desert in
pon farr in
Jim's arms at
the science lab in
his mother's womb and
a billion other fragments of his life were instantaneously dissected and analyzed and absorbed and suddenly there were
two and he was
in her mind and she in his and she was
watching from a high tree, four years old, and seeing the siblings from the family next door playing in the tall grasses, chasing each other's tails and tumbling and chewing and all knowing what the others would do and having fun with it and all of them mentally together in a way that she could sense, blind as she was; together in a way she never could be; and she knew herself to be crippled and so she hid in the tree and wouldn't come down when her mother called and
she was at the Academy on Alpha Centauri where there were only Humans around, for a year now she had been there and was about to leave, and her Human roommate Susan, a woman with hair the gold of the flean plant gave her a small treasure, a woven design of a sunset, thick wool, which she knew Susan had received from her own grandmother, and how important her ties with her family were, and knew it was a gift of great value and she wept and she was
with Leorad, crouched down while he took her, his body bent over her back, crying out in a wild spasm of passion but no tenderness, and her wondering about the Humans she had seen and how they paired together, mate to mate, and though this was good, perhaps that would be better, and knowing she could never know it, wanting something she was not capable of even as she felt the seed erupt in her ready to take root and
They were standing on some hard cold surface in a thick grey fog, separate again, Spock and Rea, standing so close together face to face that if it weren't for the environmental suits they would have been touching all over.
The fog made them effectively blind, diffusing its light source into one thick undifferentiated grey. Spock tried to peer through it, tried to listen, but there was nothing to hear. He was still trembling under the impact of what had happened, feeling as if his mind had experienced a breakdown into countless numbers of particles, just as his body did in a transporter bean, and the reassembling had left a residual shock.
Rea was making tiny noises, half-sob, half-growl. Needing something to hold on to, not able to see even her face through the fog, he reached out, fumbled, and found her arm.
She howled at the contact, then grabbed back and held on. Their suits prevented actual touch, but the sense of something solid to grasp was reassuring to both of them. Trying to move even closer, they went into an awkward embrace, the environmental suits making close contact impossible. Still the fog clouded their eyes. Resting their heads against each other, still they could not see.
Spock made a concentrated effort to order his thoughts. “Lieutenant,” he said, lifting his head; military decorum and Vulcan courtesy were always the best choices even under the most unusual circumstances.
“Commander...” There was a catch in her voice which leveled out through her next words. “I think I'm blind.”
“I believe that is an external factor. The atmospheric conditions inside this structure diffuse light in such a way that it is impossible to differentiate individual objects. I see nothing, either.”
“What happened?” she asked after a pause. “I feel like it took me apart and put me back together.”
“That is essentially what happened.” He kept his own reaction away from the clinical tone of his voice.
“What is it?”
“Can you use your tricorder?”
He felt for it. It was still at his belt. He fumbled onehandedly with it and turned on the display. He still could see nothing. “I could try to rig it to audio.”
“How long would that take?”
“Unknown. Since I cannot see to work with it, I might easily damage it.”
She was silent. In the silence, the alien environment crowded in. The quiet was complete. No sound of equipment or life intruded. The foggy light was consistent, even, sourceless; not bright enough to hurt the eyes, but enough to make the eyes ache in a vain effort to see anything.
“I almost feel as if we were alone here,” she said.
“We should move on,” he said.
Clasping hands tightly--he was grateful for the barrier of the suit which prevented the actual contact of their flesh and thus the surface touch of her thoughts--they began to walk. And walk.
He was reasonably sure they kept to one direction. Their steps made no sound. At first, their steps were hesitant, instinctively wary of potential chasms and obstructions. When nothing like that was encountered, they grew bolder.
Spock's timesense told him when an hour passed. Then another.
At last he called a halt. He had estimated the size of the installation when they had first approached it. It was large--but not this large. They should have reached the end an hour before.
“I don't understand why there's nothing in here,” she said, voicing his own thoughts. “No machines. No beings. Nothing.”
“I suspect that when we stepped through that beam we were brought, not into the interior of the structure, but someplace else. Recall that the entryway shared both the characteristics of a force barrier and a transporter.”
Her hand clutched tighter on his. “Where did it take us?”
“Unknown,” he replied. “I do not believe we will discover anything by further movement.”
“Are you saying we should just wait.”
“I will try to mentally contact whoever is here.”
Her grip tightened convulsively. “How can your mind--any mind--make any type of contact with that? You'll go mad.”
It was the expression of his worst fears, but he had already faced it. Another scene came to mind--the flashing of incredible light, the sights of whole planets, systems encapsulated into some other-dimensional place; the face of the Ilia-construct before him.
And he had reached out. Touched the mind of V'ger. And survived. Sane.
Perhaps it was false pride that made him think he could do it again. Touch the face of the unknown, not once but many times.
The Terrans had legends for it... warnings of dire punishments for those who sought into forbidden places, dared attain knowledge not meant for them.
But this entity...entities...had brought them there. To do nothing was to die. There was no way to retrace their steps. Better to die taking some action, then to do nothing at all.
“I must take that chance,” he told her.
“Don't leave me here alone!” Desperation came through in her voice, perhaps louder because he could not see her face. “Take me with you.”
He considered it. Fatigue was making its presence known. He had slept little recently; his energy had been badly drained by fighting the intruder, and the minds of the others around him.
Negating the link with Jim, sparing him that danger, had taken even more toll on his strength. To enter into a profound mental link with this woman might require more than he had to give. And while there had been little danger in the surface link he had tried to enter into before this link by its very nature: must be much deeper. And that made the possibility of the loss of separate identities much greater.
He wished intensely that Jim were here with him. And he was equally glad he was not.
He nodded, though he knew she could not see him. “Have you ever been mindtouched before?” he asked.
Her voice betrayed fear and determination.
He took a moment to prepare, to clear his mind. “I will attempt to keep the touch light,” he said, reaching blindly for the familiar points on her face, now impeded by the protective layer of their suits when before he had been grateful for that barrier between them. It made his task that much harder now. “Relax if you can,” he said. “Be calm.”
He thinned his mental shields, focusing on her, and then reached out with the lightest touch.
Like a wave swelling up, like wind forcing dry leaves high up into the sky, something surged into her--from the mind...minds...within her--within both of them--so profoundly alien he could not conceptualize its existence.
The alien thoughts overwhelmed his attempt at contact, and he found himself riding with it, following its direction and intensifying its focus. Helpless, blind to whatever force possessed him, aware of alien intelligence but not individual thought, he perceived instantly that to struggle was to have sanity ripped apart; to acquiesce was to satisfy a neutral need for knowledge.
He recognized that need, that curiosity, because it was the reflection, no matter how distorted and alien, of his own soul.
He fell with it into chaos.
He was watching from a great distance, a neutral observer of his own life.
He saw himself falling with Rea through endless time and space, each fragmentary moment of their lives drawn out forever, studied, analyzed and absorbed by...Something. Something other, and alien.
But he was with It and It was in him, and in her, and he was a part of her and equally a part of the four small lives within her, all cocooned by the warmth of her womb, protected he saw now by the shield which lay over their developing thoughts, by the already strong bond of siblings which kept them from struggling with each other inside the mother's womb, and later, throughout their lives, would hold them together when all other attachments and relationships failed or vanished.
“Your children are safe,” he said to the darkness. It was important, but he could not remember why.
“I know,” the answer came back, and she was clinging to him, clinging tightly in her terror, the shock of the unknown thing invading their minds.
He responded to her fear, needing to comfort and control, to hold to their sanity, to keep this one sane being close to him in the midst of madness.
The shockwave struck again. What they had experienced--the totality of their lives--played back a billion times faster than reality. Too fast, much too fast--and then it was over, and like the effects of the transporter beam, the annihilation was past and they had survived.
There was a voice. Somehow Vulcan. Somehow Human. Somehow Caitian. He could understand them all.
YOU ARE SO SMALL? It held great wonder.
It was comforting to receive a question. For some reason he thought of the Guardian, waiting for a question. And he understood then; out of formless chaos, a question implies reason. Purpose. Direction.
YES. He directed the answer with all the force he could. Why have you brought us here?
WE WISH...TO KNOW. The answer was fragmentary, halted, groping for a common level of understanding.
He thought of the forced and endless examination of their lives that they had been subjected to. Do you know now?
Nothing intelligible came back.
Instead came an astounding feel of vulnerability, of exposure, of imminant and critical danger.
He controlled the primal terror that filled him, desperately clinging to his intellect.
WE KNOW, the voice suddenly boomed.
Images filled his mind. Theories of impossible physics, which he somehow for a brief moment understood. He had been right, he realized; they were no longer in the same dimension as the one they had known before. The portal had taken them some place else... to this unfinished, unformed universe where nothing of their own reality applied. The universe itself was the intellect, and whether it was one being with many subfunctions, or many beings, he could not tell.
Somewhere close by he felt the bewildered presence of Rea, sensed she was holding onto her sanity through the strength of will alone; that, and the fierce need to protect her children. For the moment, unencumbered by the alien presence, their minds flowed together as naturally as water seeking the proper level.
The alien touch descended again, paralyzing them, exploring the phenomenum of their mental link but giving nothing of itself in return. Cool and distant, it explored thoroughly, and Spock/Rea drew closer together, making themselves small, trying to find some place of safety to hide in their minds.
Sensation began, like a whirlpool, fragmenting them, throwing them apart. They clung together desperately, fighting, only the instinct for self-preservation operating. From somewhere Spock found the image of a shield, and he drew it around them, a tiny invisible thing, which they clung to fiercely.
Why do you wish us harm? he shouted at the chaos.
Quietness descended. The storm could resume any moment, but Spock used the respite to regain strength, to force his mind upward to the highest level of rationality and tranquility that he could, attaining, finally, the level that only adepts of Kolinahr could aspire to.
WE DO NOT COMPREHEND HARM, the voice suddenly said. WE DID NOT MEAN TO DO THIS THING TO ANY OF YOU. WE ONLY WISHED TO KNOW.
Communication seemed easier. There was less hesitation in the expression of the alien's thoughts. He focused his own.
Why did you choose us?
THE...WOMAN (Comprehension: gender) WAS INTERESTING. SHE CARRIED BEINGS INSIDE HER. UNIFIED BEINGS, BARELY FORMED. WE WISHED TO UNDERSTAND...A BINDING WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE.
Was there ever a time when you were young--without knowledge?
WE ARE... ALWAYS. ETERNAL.
Yet you can change. You are understanding us now. This gives you more knowledge than you possessed before.
The concept that Spock sent out created some subtle change in the alien mind. Spock sensed it considering, comparing.
Then the voice returned. WE FOUND A PATHWAY TO YOUR WORLD. IT WAS NEW. WE LIKED THAT CONCEPT. WE FOLLOWED. THEN WE FOUND YOUR MINDS. SO MANY! SO SEPARATE! NOT EASY TO UNDERSTAND THIS.
Why did you choose me?
WE SEARCHED OUT MANY BEINGS. SOME HEARD US--AFRAID, NOT UNDERSTANDING. MANY WERE DEAF. BUT ONLY ONE (you) KNEW HOW TO REACH BACK TO MANY AT ONCE. WE WISHED TO UNDERSTAND HOW YOU KNOW THIS THING.
Do you understand now?
Vision flooded through him, of every telepathic contact he had ever made, so many, so different from the Vulcan way. He thought suddenly of Miranda.
There others who have contacted more minds than I, who are more skilled with this contact.
BUT THESE OTHERS ARE NOT HERE. WE FOUND NO OTHERS WHO HAVE MELDED WITH KNOWLEDGE.
Spock gasped as the crushing weight of V'ger's knowledge flashed through his brain; far faster than the hope of comprehension; felt it taken, examined, and absorbed.
WE SEE. WE KNOW. Satisfaction.
Desperate, his mind dangerously close to being ripped apart by the hurricane of images, he reached out, scrabbling for the image of the shield which had protected him before. Hands clawing, he grasped the shield--and found instead, clenched within his hands, the image of Jim.
He pressed Jim close; he surrounded himself with Jim's love--vital, immediate, alive, present--
Suddenly there was calm again.
THE MACHINE-BEING HAS DEPARTED. THIS WAS NOT THE CORRECT PLACE FOR IT.
Drawing calm now from Jim's love, as secure in its protection as he was in the heights of logic, he felt the windstorm of memory depart. What will you do now?
IT IS INTERESTING HERE. DISTURBING. WE SHALL LEAVE. WE SEE IN YOUR MIND THE CONSEQUENCES WHEN DIMENSIONS INTERSECT. THERE ARE MANY POSSIBILITIES.
There is much danger, as well. The image of Lazarus, trapped between dimensions, was taken form his mind and examined thoroughly.
Spock sensed an accord form in the mind/minds of the alien presence. An accord, and an image: Ilia/Decker/V'ger. The comprehension of interdimensional transcendance.
OUR POSSIBILITIES LIE ELSEWHERE. WE HAD NOT KNOWN. OUR SPACE IS COMPLETE. YOUR SPACE IS COMPLETE. OTHERS EXIST, AND ARE COMPLETE. YOUR ASSISTANCE HAS AIDED US.
Then, suddenly, the presence was gone. There was darkness. And, in the void, one other presence. He reached out mentally to Rea...
Go on to part 4