(This is an alternate to the Shadow Captain series.
It begins at the story "Danse Macabre").
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Return to Valjiir Stories
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Return to Part Two
Return to Valjiir Stories
Return to Valjiir Continum
Return to Valjiir Stories
Return to Valjiir Continum
Return to Valjiir Continum
"Brain damage," McCoy reported, taking refuge in being purely clinical in his evaluation. "And getting worse by the second." He handed the scanner he had used to the waiting Nurse Chapel, then looked across the bed to where the engineer stood. "And I have no idea what to do about it."
DelMonde nodded numbly as if he had expected McCoy's words. “All her life, Len,” the Cajun said quietly, tears standing in his eyes. “All her life, she afraid o' this. My girl… my strong, beautiful girl… “ The engineer’s voice broke. “… Who not never afraid o' not'ing…This the t'ing that scare her…”
"From what I've read of these creatures," McCoy continued, struggling to keep his tone even and detached, "even a keheil won't come near a sauvrn. Too dangerous."
Despite the heavy sedatives, Ruth Valley’s body twitched violently. Del’s hand reached out to stroke her hair, but the awful thing sucking life out of her put out such waves of pure malevolence, he instinctively recoiled from contact.
“The Antari,” he began, as if to explain this involuntary cowardice, “they not believe in hell or th' devil or not'ing. They jus' got this. This t'ing… This is hell fo' them.. This t'ing right here in front o' our eyes…. This t'ing that got my sweet girl… This eternal damnation fo' a telepath…”
McCoy paused and looked away for a moment. He signaled Chapel to give them some privacy. “Del, son…” His voice was shaking when he spoke again. "I've never approved of euthanasia, but there are times when it's necessary..."
DelMonde wiped his face resolutely. "You say it can be removed by another telepath, Doctor?"
"No,” the surgeon warned firmly. “What I said was that no other keheil will come near her."
“"Cause this t'ing eats telepaths.” Taking in a deep breath, the engineer slowly forced his hand down to the mattress beside his beloved. “The only t'ing that could lure it away from my girl is another meal.”
“Del, I know what you’re thinking…”
The Cajun looked up at him with tear-reddened eyes and gave him a crooked smile. “I t'inkin' we sure lucky we happen t' have a spare telepath hangin' 'round this place makin' a nuisance of himself.”
“Len, you ‘member jus' a li'l while ago, when we almos' shook the ship apart from goin' faster'an th' laws o' nature intended this t'ing to go?” The engineer pointed at his own chest. “That were my idea. ‘Member ‘fore that when we dove into a verilium-obsitrate cloud an' took on three Klingon battle cruisers? I had a hand in kickin' that off. ‘Member that other t'ing that happened that we not gonna mention? You know exactly how big a part I play in that. To summarize, they jus' one item on my T'ings-to-Do list today – Save Ruth Valley. So far, Vulcans, Klingons, an' the laws o' physics ain’t stopped me. I respect you, man, but I sure not gonna let you slow me down.”
McCoy sighed and gave a short laugh despite the tragic seriousness of the situation. “You do seem to be on a roll, son….”
“Here’s hopin' my luck holds more'an it usually does.” DelMonde knelt down beside the Antari’s shivering form. His hands hovered over her for a moment before he looked up again. “Oh, you got a phaser down here?”
“In the equipment locker.” McCoy frowned. “Why?”
“Best get it,” the Cajun advised
The surgeon didn’t budge. “Why?”
“I be hopin' you gonna get a chance t' shoot this t'ing if I can get to let go of her. But, Len, if it get me, you gotta shoot me.”
“Yes,” the engineer contradicted firmly. “No point in me gettin' this 'ing out her if I jus' gonna turn 'round an' be an incubator fo' an army of ‘em to come back at her. If it get in me, th' only way to get rid of it is to shoot me. Not to mention I much prefer a quick end to what she goin' through right now.”
“Get the phaser, Len,” DelMonde ordered quietly. “You know it the right t'ing to do.”
The surgeon held his gaze stubbornly for a moment, then relented with a deep sigh.
Del tentatively stroked his love’s hair while the physician fetched the weapon. “Shh, baby,” he crooned to her. “Shhhhh, my sweet, gold, honey-girl. It gonna be all right. You gonna be jus' fine, darlin’. You gonna bounce right back from this, baby. You gonna do what you not know you can’t do -- like always…”
The phaser looked awkwardly large in the physician’s hands.
“You lookin' awful shaky, Len,” the Cajun commented critically. “You do know how t' fire that t'ing, non?”
The surgeon drew himself up indignantly. “Young man, I was winning marksmanship awards with one of these when you were in diapers.”
“Mais, then I sure you know the safety still on,” the engineer pointed out impudently. Then as the physician hastened to rectify this oversight he added, “An' you gonna make sure it not go off by accident, non? 'Cause I willin' to make a sacrifice here, but I sure as hell gonna come back an' haunt your ass if you disintegrate me jus' 'cause you got a bad case o' twitchy fingers...”
McCoy drew in a deep breath. “Good luck, Del.”
“I gonna need it,” the Cajun agreed, turning back to his wounded love.
For several long moments he was very still, his hands hovering over Ruth's violently spasming body.
C’mon, Satan, he said silently, opening himself to the creature as he placed his hands on his lover’s temples. It dinner time.
Ruth’s pain was unbelievable. It cut through him like hot knives. His hands tightened involuntarily as he gasped. Fighting the red-hot waves of agony, he forced his grip to gentle and sent pure soothing love back into his angel’s tortured mind.
My girl, my love, he called to her, sending tendrils of his affection into her screaming, acid-seared consciousness like a million lifelines cast out for a brave sailor gone overboard. Take hold, girl. Come to me, baby. I need you, honey. I always need you, cher. Be wit' me, my love, my own.
No! Noooooooo! The shreds of Ruth’s once strong, pure consciousness howled like a ragged demon.
The real ghoul, the parasite within her, began to ooze towards him. It was horrifying. A formless, ravening hole of pain and darkness…
Yeah, there you go, you nasty faceless fiend, Del called to it, swallowing his revulsion. Come on. A juicy Cajun dish jus' waitin' fo' you over here. Li'l bit o' soul food fo' ya, demon… A li'l spirit etouffee all laid out an' waitin' fo' you… A li'l fillet o' brain -- ripe an' ready fo' your stinkin' maw…
The shredded bits of what was once Ruth were responding. A ripped and bloodied core of consciousness tried to resist, but was too weak to refuse his call -- unable to help herself, or to stop the blending.
More pain than he believed he was capable of enduring sliced into Del’s brain as the tendrils of his thought made contact with Ruth’s scored and ripped mind. Dread so powerful it made him ache with fear spread through the Cajun’s psyche as the creature slithered down the lines of love binding him to his darling. Pain, destruction, endless aching torment… The Antaris needed no fancy gothic window dressing for their Hades. Eternal agony and blasting torment were just everyday realities for this hellspawn creature…
Del summoned all that was good in him that he had to give and concentrated on pouring it on Ruth’s blighted mind, ignoring the inexorable approach of this grinding horror as it slid along the bridge forming between the lovers’ minds.
Despite the balm of his presence, Ruth was too weak. There was almost too little of her left to hold strong.
Del groaned with pain and horror as he felt the thing begin to feed on him. Panic ripped into him, yet he held steady, waiting. His body convulsed with psyche-shredding agony as the soul-eater slowly began to devour him.
Hold on, fool, he told himself, gritting his teeth. Hold on. Let this demon gator get a good thick bite an' it gonna let her go…
Del arched backwards in agony as a thousand sucker-pods of ravenous hunger latched onto his soul. He could see McCoy lift the phaser. “Not yet!” he tried to protest, but his mind was in the grasp of a million-tentacled sucking demon and could no longer control his body. He watched distractedly as one of his hands left Ruth’s forehead and began to flail.
Like an automatic reflex, pure blue began to build in him.
Push… out… he tried to encourage whatever this phenomenon was, but coherent thought wasn’t possible when you were being eaten from the inside out.
The blue welled up like a volcano… like an engine on critical overload… like a plasma coil getting ready to blow.
Ba... iey…ya… Del’s brain would no longer form words.
The blue inside him exploded in a thousand directions all at once. A shimmering green thing seemed to splatter against the nearest wall. Del was free… too free… blown into a thousand bits. He heard terrible screaming… familiar screaming... as his mind shattered into a million weeping shards…
Sickbay sounded like a madhouse. Sulu could see McCoy and Jade Han and two orderlies clustered around one of the beds, but couldn't see who was in it. The weird howling and rasping shrieks seemed to be coming from everywhere at once, as though the room had suddenly become an echo chamber. He saw Ruth lying motionless in one of the other beds, but as he looked around, he didn't see the one person he was desperate to find.
Christine Chapel rushed past him holding several hyposprays and he touched her arm to get her attention.
"Christine, what happened?" he asked. "Where's Jilla?"
"I'm sorry, Sulu," the nurse said without stopping. "Dr. Han sent her home."
"Who's making all the..." Sulu began, but Chapel was no longer listening. He watched as she reached the cluster of medical personnel. She said something to Jade as she handed one of the hypos to McCoy. Jade turned her head to glance back at him, said something to McCoy, who nodded brusquely. She stepped away from the bed, and before one of the orderlies moved into her place, Sulu caught a glimpse of dark hair, a handsome, contorted face, a red tunic...
The screaming filled his head, incoherent and steeped in madness. Hysterical despair mixed with riotous agony and hopeless terror. It seemed to grab a hold of his thoughts, seeking something solid, as though it could reform into lucidity if it only had something to hold on to.
There were no words Sulu could understand in the cacophony. His mind reeled, threatening to be shorn away by the cerulean blue power behind the insanity.
Fuck no you don't! roared from somewhere deep inside him, and the grasping, clutching madness was pushed out and away from him. He blinked and swallowed, and realized that only a second or two had passed. Jade was still moving toward him.
"Sulu," she said as she reached him, "I sent Jilla home. She's fine, although she'll need emotional support." The doctor took a breath and forced a smile. "The Klingons didn't touch her."
"What's wrong with Del," Sulu rasped.
"He tried to pull a sauvrn out of Ruth..."
As Jade explained the nature of the telepathic parasite, horror rose in Sulu's mind. How much damage had it done to Ruth? Was it inside Del now, feeding on his powerful but oh so vulnerable brain? Was there any way to remove it, kill it, without killing Del?
"There's no trace of it remaining within Mr. DelMonde," Jade was continuing, "but the damage it did before he was able to expel it..."
"Expel?" Sulu repeated. "Then he's...?"
"He's free of it, yes," Jade affirmed. "But as I said, we have no idea of the extent of the damage it did, either to him or to Ruth." She paused, softly clearing her throat. "Without another highly trained telepath, there may be no way to tell - or to repair their minds." She reached out, touching Sulu's shoulder. "Go home," she advised. "We'll let you know if anything changes." She paused, then added in a tone devoid of expression, "And I'll inform you when the Captain wakes up."
Sulu nodded, betraying nothing of his sudden guilt and remorse. "Thank you, Doctor," he said, and with a final glance at both Ruth and Del, left Sickbay, wishing with all his heart that there was something he could do - and knowing there wasn't.
Sulu stepped into his quarters trying to formulate how to tell Jilla about Ruth and Del. It was a sore subject, but Ruth was still important to her, even if she couldn't admit it. And as she herself had said, she didn't blame DelMonde. After all, he wasn't married. How to tell her that a telepathic parasite had somehow invaded Ruth's mind, and that Del had taken it from her - but the prognosis for both was more than uncertain? Yet when he heard the sound of her lyrette, all he wanted to do was hold her and never let her go again.
He found himself rushing toward the bed where she sat, intending to pull her into his arms.
"Baby, I was so worried about you..." he began.
Jilla looked up from her instrument, her eyes filled with unshed tears. She struggled with words for a moment, and finally managed, "Is Ruth dead?"
Sulu stopped, startled, then knelt down next to her. "No, hon, why would you ask...?"
"The sauvrn," was her quiet reply.
"How did you know about that?"
"The Klingons...." she shuddered and put her lyrette aside, her next words coming out as a hoarse whisper. "They used it to contain her abilities. But they did not know, or did not care, that this creature was female and was going to lay eggs in Ruth's mind." Her voice trembled, her pale skin lit with the force of her emotions. "She wanted to die, Sulu. She needed to... she was begging for - for Spock to..." Her voice faded, then she took a deep breath and gazed into his eyes, a mixture of hope and fear shining in them. "She said only another telepath could save her," she continued. "Did Spock....?"
Sulu grimaced, knowing what she was asking. If Spock had removed the sauvrn from his wife, then there was the possibility that all would be well between them - and between Jilla and Ruth. How could he tell her that Spock wasn't available to even try and that he and his 'little bit of treachery' were to blame? And that it had been DelMonde who had destroyed the parasite at the cost of his own sanity?
"Uh - hon - the captain's been... Dr. McCoy declared him unfit.... he'd been awake for over the time the regs allow without medical certification...."
It was the truth, as far as it went, but Sulu knew by the horrified look that came into the Indiian's gray eyes she knew he was withholding something from her.
"Sulu," she whispered, "what have you done?"
His jaw tightened. "I didn't do anything," he replied.
She swallowed. "What did you allow to be done?" she asked.
"He ordered you into a trap - again!" he exclaimed, taking hold of her arms. "He wouldn't allow us to rescue you - again! He....!"
Shut up, shut up, SHUT THE FUCK UP! screamed inside him and he abruptly closed his mouth. To tell her would be to make her an accomplice after the fact. Even if she agreed with what he, Del, McCoy and Scott had done - and with the way Captain Bastard had treated her, he was sure she would - he couldn't put her in that position. He couldn't take her honesty from her.
He took a deep breath, determinedly calming himself. He gentled his grip on her arms, pulling her into an embrace.
"It doesn't matter," he assured her. "Spock is fine. McCoy ordered him to get some rest. He's probably waking up now. Yeah, I was pissed, but you're here and you're safe and Ruth will, I hope, be all right soon and that's all that matters." He pulled away, searching her gaze. "Please, Jilla, that's all that matters."
He watched as her eyes closed, then reopened as wells of fear and sorrow and anxiety. "I love you," she murmured.
"And I, you," he returned and again took her into his arms, but foreboding marred what should have been a joyous, restorative reunion.
Swirling confusion, fear of the pain, surprise at finding none. Tired. Weary. God, I hate Sickbay! I want — hungry? No, I want — too cold. Kor. No, goddess, no not...! He's gone. All right. It's all right. Cold, damn it! Go home. Go to bed. Go to Spock.
Ruth dragged herself to her feet. Incoherency clouded her mind, an exhaustion that somehow didn't touch her body. There was a riot going on somewhere outside her, but it tore at her far too painfully for her to be able to acknowledge it. There was too much healing she had to do first. She needed warmth, heat, home, a drum roll against her heart....
Her legs knew the way to the turbolift, to her quarters. But before she could reach them and a surcease from her turmoil, she felt a firm hand on her arm.
"Ma'am," a voice said. It sounded very far away. "Ma'am, should you be wandering the corridors like that?"
She glanced down, both surprised and not to see that she was wearing nothing but a Sickbay gown.
"Have to..." Her voice was strained, and she tried to clear her throat to no avail. "My cabin... have to..."
"I think I'd better call Dr. McCoy," the voice said, and though it was kind, the grip on her arm didn't go away.
She heard the sound of more voices, but she couldn't focus enough to make out what they were saying. She kept repeating that she had to go home, she had to see Spock, but no one was listening, and she wondered if she was speaking out loud at all.
She didn't know how much time had passed when a caring face with blue eyes came into her line of sight.
"Ruthie, let's just get you back to Sickbay," McCoy urged.
"Bones, I have to..." she began.
"Not just now, honey," the doctor said. "Now don't you go arguin' with me. You need more rest, and I've gotta keep an eye on you. Come on with me now."
Protests filled her thoughts, but she found herself meekly following McCoy back down the corridor and into the lift, and back to a cold, pain-filled bed where screams echoed around her trembling mind.
Spock's eyes opened, and in an instant he comprehended where he was, what had happened in the moments before he lost consciousness, and how he must have gotten to his quarters. Fury warred with despair. That at least three of his officers had conspired to render him unable to continue in his duty was clear. If he allowed for emotional reaction, he could even understand why they had done so.
He had used detached logic to send Ruth Valley and Jilla Majiir into a potentially dangerous situation - and it had not been the first time - deliberately endangering Sulu's wife, then denying him any opportunity to see to her safety.
Noel DelMonde truly cared for Ruth, regardless of the pain that knowledge engendered within him, and he had also denied the engineer the chance to rescue her.
He had alienated Dr. McCoy, and he knew how difficult that was for the emotional doctor to accept; in his heart of hearts, McCoy had considered Spock a friend, second, perhaps, only to James Kirk.
What they had done was, to their minds, the only hope they had of retrieving Ruth and Jilla from the Klingons.
Still, a part of his mind cried out: I explained my reasoning! Why could they not have trusted me? Has the past eight months so completely countered the years before?
Of course, relentless Vulcan logic reminded him. Was that not the intent?
For a moment, Spock's head bent into his hands, weary grief almost overwhelming him. If only he had told Ruth of his contact with Jim back when this all began. If only he had trusted Jilla to be Vulcan and react with reason rather than Indiian emotionalism. If only he had not confused the reckless, immature boy who had consorted with Ensign LiLing with the good and capable officer he knew Sulu to be. If only... if only....
Logic abruptly reasserted itself. He glanced at the chronometer on his desk. His time sense was slightly distorted, but he knew he could not have been unconscious for an entire day. Therefore, judging by the time displayed, Sulu had been in command for nearly six hours.
And Noel DelMonde has known that Jim Kirk is alive and in the past for exactly that long.
The shock of that realization came with the memory of the engineer's psychic attack - and the telepathic taste of xenoneurophene. Had DelMonde actually kept a supply of the drug, or were his gifts able to recreate it at will within him? And did it matter? As the engineer had thrown all within his mind at Spock, so he had received all that Spock held in his own. He now knew that his captain's coldness had been but an act required by Starfleet Headquarters. Would that knowledge make any difference to the Human? Would he tell Ruth....
....and if he did, I could not be accused of reneging on my agreement with Starfleet. I could confide in Ruth, I could repair all that I have damaged, I could enlist the help of every capable officer on this ship in search of....
Details of DelMonde's attack assailed him, slashing into his train of thought: burning black resentment, leaking emanations of pure loathing, a jagged riptide of black hate and electric blue bitterness...
The memory churned within him, burning his soul, turning his hope to ashes. No. Noel DelMonde would do nothing to aid him. And therefore, Noel DelMonde had to be added to the list of people he had to manipulate into ignoring the truth.
He rose from his bed and strode to the intercom, snapping out orders in quick succession.
"Mr. Sulu, Dr. McCoy, report to the Bridge. Miss Ryan, escort Mr. DelMonde to the brig. Captain Spock out."
Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive!
The famous quote from an obscure poem by Sir Walter Scott kept running through Spock’s brain in a mocking sing-song… sometimes recited with a distinctly Cajun accent. The Vulcan banished the stanza again forcefully as he awaited for the turbo lift doors to open onto the Bridge.
Although he did not feel he had the time to review the log entries for the past six hours, the bare-bones status report the computer had given him had provided him with the broadest outlines of what had transpired. The ship was badly damaged and was currently en route to Betara for repairs, escorted by the Kali. The Galileo was once more safely parked inside the Enterprise’s shuttle bay – also currently under repair. So, Sulu and DelMonde’s object had been a rescue. Apparently it had been a successful one.
This was a positive. Starfleet could privately be mollified more easily by a messy triumph than a quiet failure.
Also a positive that your wife does not seem to be in the custody of the Klingons, the feeling portion of his brain reminded him. An act for which you will never be able to thank them…
How exactly does one “thank” mutiny? his Vulcan half demanded coldly.
Both sides quickly hushed this thought. The word “mutiny” must never pass his lips. He must suppress his own emotional reaction and work purely from a detached, rational point of view if all of them were to emerge from this incident with their careers intact. Ironically, his human half’s keen sense of betrayal was easier to combat than the indignation that kept overflowing from the Vulcan side of his heritage. How dare his subordinates defy him! It was illogical. Dishonorable. Treasonous. DelMonde was the worst of the traitorous lot. A primal male response from deep inside him growled at this interloper. Was it not sufficient that this impudent upstart steal his mate? Must he be expected to endure attacks from this brash intruder as well?
Spock forced himself to take a deep calming breath. Despite his six hours of enforced rest, he still was not fully recuperated from the engineer’s assault. It might take weeks of meditation to discover and correct the extent to which his mental balance had been disturbed and possibly contaminated by the xenonuerophene-fueled barrage he’d endured.
DelMonde was going to be difficult Spock knew Sulu and McCoy. He knew them well. No matter how far they had trespassed, they were honorable men of deep feelings… who could be bullied and shamed back into proper compliance. But DelMonde… Who had he told of what he’d found hidden in Spock’s brain? How much had he told? Could he be convinced that what he’d seen had been a lie? A projection produced by his own distorted expectations? Could the unnaturally lingering presence of xenoneurophene in his system be used to convince others – and perhaps even the engineer himself – to doubt his sanity? How would DelMonde react to a threat? Could the mere prospect of prosecution bring him to heel? Would Ruth try to intercede?
Spock’s heavy heart persuaded him to erase his wife’s reaction from his projections.. at least for the moment. The ever-efficient Lieutenant Ryan probably already had DelMonde cooling his heels in a security cell. Perhaps an extended sojourn in close confinement would soften the engineer’s defiance… six hours or so seemed fitting…
“Sir…” Sulu began, a fraction of a second after the lift doors opened. The first officer’s demeanor bespoke a supreme effort being maintained to cloak his anxious guilt
“Where is the doctor?” Spock pointedly ignored him as he swept past to the Security station. “Lieutenant Ryan. Is Mr. DelMonde in custody?”
“Uh…” The normally unflappable Security officer seemed flustered. “He is… Sir, he’s in sickbay.”
The Vulcan frowned. “I ordered him placed in the brig, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, sir, but…” Ryan glanced over at Sulu as if seeking his assistance on a reply.
“But?” Spock repeated imperiously.
The first officer stepped forward. “He’s in sickbay as a patient.”
The Vulcan turned back to Ryan as if the former helmsman’s input was unimportant. “Have him transferred to the brig. I wish to question him.”
“That might be a very one-sided conversation, sir.” This reply came again from his first officer.
Spock lifted an eyebrow.
“Ruth…I mean, Lieutenant Commander Valley,” Sulu corrected stiffly, then stopped and took in a deep breath as if the explanation required a great effort. “Do you know what a sauvrn is, sir? It’s a telepathic parasite…”
Despite Vulcan discipline, dread hit Spock in the pit of his stomach. “I am aware of nature of the creature, Commander.”
“The Klingons used one on her.”
It was a long time before Spock could speak. He stood transfixed by the sudden sting of guilt and dread. It took every ounce of Vulcan discipline he could summon not to fall to his knees weeping. Keeping his mask in place with an iron grip on his feelings, he asked, “Is she…?”
“Dead?” Sulu supplied all too quickly. “No, sir. Del… saved her.”
Any celebration that Ruth was still alive was immediately quashed by the aching realization that once more DelMonde had been there for his wife when he was not. His mind reeling from the implications of this he slowly asked, “Was he… infected…by…”
“The creature was destroyed,” Sulu reported with an impassivity born of reactions still numbed by shock. “Unfortunately, so are portions of Del’s brain.”
Spock put one hand on the command chair to steady himself. While one half of his brain worked the engineer’s incapacitation into its equations, the other half wept for his beloved, wounded wife and the young man who had lost so much in his attempt to save her.
“Dr. McCoy is not here because he is still trying to…” Cracks in Sulu’s calm were audible in his voice. “We still don’t know if there is anything that can be done, sir… Ruth is… very weak…”
The detached, strategy-obsessed portion of his brain informed Spock that there were two positive sides to this unexpected development. DelMonde was out of the way and Sulu was going to be very, very easy to convince of the negative consequences of his defiance. The former helmsman was going to all the hard work himself. He’d already been at it for quite some time.
“Did Mr. DelMonde attempt this…” Spock paused cruelly. “…rescue… under your orders, Mr. Sulu?”
The first officer hung his head. “No, sir.”
“I am not surprised.” Half of him hating himself for the role he was forced now to play out, Spock continued harshly. “He does not respect you, Commander. He does not respect the chain of command. He is following the model that you have set.”
“Sir…” Sulu’s protest was feeble. Apparently, he was already accusing himself of much worse.
“The computer informs me that this ship is undergoing repairs for damage consistent with what might be incurred in a space battle with a Klingon warship,” the Vulcan stated mercilessly.
Spock gestured at the main viewscreen like an overbearing schoolmaster reprimanding a recalcitrant pupil. “Did the Klingons enter the sector of space in which we are currently traveling?”
Sulu seem surprised to be able to answer positively. “Yes, sir.”
“They were in pursuit of the Enterprise,” the first officer confessed, his cheeks burning with shame.
“Just the Enterprise? Not the Kal and the Siva?”
“Just the Enterprise,” Sulu confirmed.
“Why were the Klingons pursuing the Enterprise?”
The former helmsman’s chin lifted. “Because we had retrieved the Galileo and its occupants.”
The Vulcan frowned at this resurgence of spirit. “Peacefully?”
“No, sir.” His first officer’s head bowed once more. “We traveled through the verilium-obsitrate cloud and launched a surprise attack.”
“Mr. Sulu, did I or did I not convene a briefing before…” Spock paused as if it took him a great deal of effort to come up with an acceptable euphemism. “… my unfortunate lapse into unconsciousness?”
“Did I not fully brief senior staff on my strategy for dealing with the Klingons?”
The former helmsman’s usually deep, clear voice was sinking lower and lower into near inaudibility. “Yes, sir.”
“Were you present?”
“Was your incursion into the cloud and subsequent surprise attack in any way in accordance with my stated plan of action?”
“No, sir,” Sulu admitted guiltily.
Spock crossed his arms. “Had I not suddenly become unavailable for consultation for several hours, is it your belief that we would have penetrated the cloud and launched a sneak attack…?”
“Sir, about that,” Ryan interrupted from her post, looking guilt-stricken, her eyes flashing almost apologetically toward the first officer. “My records show…”
Ice suddenly flowed through the Vulcan’s veins. Records? Had the conspirators been careless enough to leave behind evidence of their misdoing? “Yes, Lieutenant?”
“Sir, damage control records do not indicate any malfunction in the security cameras in the turbolift cars…” The Security Officer paused swallowed then continued. “…Not until after Lieutenant Commander DelMonde had entered.”
His heart was sinking, but Spock had no choice but to order, “Launch an investigation of the incident, Lieutenant.”
Ryan, in turn, had no choice other than to reply. “Yes, sir.”
A deathly silence descended on the Bridge as if everyone had suddenly started to hold their breath. Spock knew that it was going to be a long painful time before any one of them would be able to relax and breathe easy again.
The whistle of the comm unit broke the uneasy silence. “McCoy to Bridge.”
Spock hit the button on the edge of his command chair. “Spock here.”
“Captain…” The surgeon’s voice sounded infinitely weary. “I… I don’t know if it will be of interest to you, sir. But your wife is conscious and asking for you.”
“Understood,” the Vulcan replied stiffly, breaking the link. He turned to his first officer. “Mr. Sulu, doubtless you are exhausted by the activities of the past six hours. You are relieved of duty to reflect on your actions and prepare a detailed report for me. I will expect you in my office at 09:00.”
“Dismissed.” Spock rather pointedly waited for Sulu to leave the Bridge before him. “Mr. Chekov, you have the con.”
“Do not change the ship’s present heading without informing me,” he ordered ruefully as he exited in the next lift car. “No matter how great the temptation may be.”
Ruth had slept again after returning to Sickbay and when she woke, her mind was clearer, though it felt weak and bruised. She sat up, glancing around, and Christine Chapel was immediately at her side.
"Dr. McCoy said you weren't to get up," the nurse told her, pulling the blanket back over her.
Ruth blinked. "Ok," she said slowly. "Do you happen to know why I'm not dead?"
She thought she heard Because Spock is a decent man despite what the rest of you might think, but Chapel gave her a comforting smile.
"The sauvrn was removed," she said. "Scans show there aren't any baby sauvrns growing inside your brain either."
The light-headed, almost giddy relief lasted barely a moment, until Ruth remembered the only way to remove a sauvrn from a telepath was another.... "Spock," she rasped. "I have to... Christine, can you....?"
"I'll tell Dr. McCoy you're awake," the nurse replied.
Ruth fidgeted, wanting to get the rest Bones clearly thought she needed warring with the need to get up and find her husband. When the doctor strode over to her, his expression was one of weary relief - but it was mixed with a heavy dose of grief and despair.
"Hallelujah and praise the Lord," he said. "How are you feeling, Ruthie?"
"Confused," she returned honestly. "Scared." She took a deep breath. "Is Spock all right? Can I see him?"
McCoy frowned. "I'm not certain..."
A voice abruptly came over the shipwide comm. "Mr. Sulu, Dr. McCoy, report to the Bridge. Miss Ryan, escort Mr. DelMonde to the brig. Captain Spock out."
"Speak of the devil," the doctor muttered.
Ruth grasped his arm. "He's back on duty?" she demanded. "Why is he placing Del in the brig?"
McCoy 's body language was clearly uncomfortable. "Well, it was only a little case of exhaustion..." he began.
"A little case of... Bones, what are you talking about? Didn't he get the sauvrn out of...."
The doctor's blue eyes widened. "Oh god, Ruth, you don't remember.... No, honey, it wasn't Spock. It was DelMonde."
"Del?" Ruth whispered, panic rising within her. "His shielding isn't... oh god, the sauvrn hasn't...."
"No, no, he drew it out of you, then splattered its slimy green pieces all over my Sickbay wall," McCoy assured with a false smile. "It's just that - well, honey, you were pretty out of it while you recovered. DelMonde - well - he's not.... I mean, maybe he needs time too..." His voice faded, and Ruth could sense the hopelessness in his thoughts.
"Oh god," she moaned. More pictures formed in her memory, the sound of Del screaming, the incoherency of his shattered mind. "Oh god! OH GOD!" She pushed the blanket off, practically leaping out of bed. "Where is he, God, Bones, WHERE IS HE!"
McCoy took her firmly by the shoulders, forcing her back down. "We've got him sedated, Ruthie. We're making him as comfortable as we can..."
"Until he DIES?" Ruth finished the thought. "Let me go to him, let me heal..."
"You've barely recovered yourself, I can't authorize...."
"Then get Spock down here! He can. He has to..." She choked on the tears that leapt into her eyes. "God, he has to..."
She crumbled against McCoy, and he put her back into bed, then turned to the comm.
“Captain, I… I don’t know if it will be of interest to you, sir. But your wife is conscious and asking for you.”
Disorienting emotion burned through Ruth, tearing at her, pushing her in too many directions at once. She had cast her thoughts out, seeking Del, only to recoil at the monstrous derangement that lay beneath heavy sedation. She probed her own memory, the terrible fear and guilt, Jilla's anguish and fractured loyalties all consumed by the agony of the sauvrn boring into her mind. She touched the devastating helplessness of feeling Del luring the parasite out of her. She had tried to fight him, but she had had too little strength left.
Del, why did you do this? she cried silently. Your gifts are strong, but they're unstable! You had to know this would happen! How could you destroy yourself?
Because he loves you, came the immediate counter. He loves you enough to risk his life, his soul, his sanity. What other choice did he have?
There was Spock...
But McCoy said he was exhausted. If they had to fight the Klingons to rescue us - which they obviously did, because I'm here, not in a Klingon cruiser - maybe Spock had to rest before...
If they had to go into the verilium cloud, Engineering would have been twice as busy and Del managed...
You know why Spock didn't come. You know why he left you to die.
Grief crashed around her, and she could no longer deny what had been true for so long. Spock no longer loved her. His last act of kindness had been to allow her liaison with Del - though why he wouldn't simply divorce her...
Because he's Vulcan, came the swift, bitter answer. As far as he's concerned, we're not really married. A contract is a legally binding form of cohabitation, nothing more. He's only waiting for the term to expire because it doesn't mean anything to him.
Tears were sliding down her cheeks by the time the captain walked into Sickbay.
In preparation for his Kahs’wan ordeal, Spock had done research on the creatures he might encounter in the Sas’a’Shar desert. A surprising menace had been the vgri, a small winged insect. Vulcan children were taught to listen carefully for the peculiar chirping noise created by the creature’s wings since they nested near the rare, scattered access points to the underground caverns that ran below the blasted plains that the Earthers called “Vulcan’s Forge.” The chirp of the vgri indicated that water was nearby – though not necessarily accessible to a being larger than an insect.
There was a counter to this potentially life-saving characteristic, though. A traveler who upset a vgri nest might cause the creatures to swarm. If one could reach the source of water, the research material promised that insects tended to become distracted and pass harmlessly by. If one could not, the texts blandly stated that the swarm would overcome the traveler and use their body as a source of water.
For months, Spock’s dreams had been filled with the crescendo-ing buzz of vgri swarms.
These childhood nightmares came to mind now as he stood over Noel DelMonde’s bed. Although the engineer’s body was still, a disturbance hung in the air around him. Nothing visible. However there was a faintly perceptible energetic presence. Diffuse. Unorganized. Not at all like the normal psychic emanations of a living being – telepath or no.
Spock checked life sign readings. The engineer was indeed still alive.
Fascinated, he cautiously let his shielding drop slightly. Impressions too fleeting to be called thought or memories misted through his awareness like a light rain. Scraps of emotion, images of people, places, and many, many machines winked in and out of focus like a living kaleidoscope.
This was what was left of the person Noel DelMonde had been, Spock realized. All his experience… All his knowledge… All his feelings… now set adrift like the outer rings of a destroyed planet circling a dormant core…
Spock’s mouth quirked as he began to see images of himself in the wreckage – distorted, demonic. Colored in the most lurid tones the Cajun’s flamboyant cultural background could supply…
One floating bit contained the registry number of the free trader vessel that had given Spock his last piece of relevant information about Captain Kirk’s abduction… An image of Kor… An image of the mind sifting device that the engineer was not likely to have ever seen.. So he did know…
As Spock’s pre-conscious mind had been attempting to warn him by drawing forth his childhood memory, the vgri chaos of DelMonde’s shattered consciousness began to focus on him. As if jealous of his mind’s integrity, the engineer’s fragmented bits of psyche began to crowd closer to him, pressing against his mind… buzzing… demanding.. beginning to swarm… invading… swarm…
Spock’s head jerked back involuntarily as he slammed shut his mental barriers.
“I was wondering if you’d be able to feel it.”
The Vulcan turned at the sound of the doctor’s voice.
The surgeon checked the engineer’s readings. “The boy threatened to haunt me,” McCoy gave a humorless laugh as he administered another dose of sedative into the engineer’s sleeping form. “Looks like he’s trying to get a headstart.”
Not wishing to confirm or deny the troubling contact he’d just been reckless enough to experience, the Vulcan chose not to respond.
“So you’ve come down to throw him in irons personally?” the doctor asked acidly.
Refusing to respond to this baiting either, Spock folded his hands behind his back and asked formally, “What is Mr. DelMonde’s status?”
“His status is desperate, sir,” the surgeon replied, wearily turning a viewscreen so that the Vulcan could see. “Telempathy is exceedingly rare in Humans… as I’m sure you already know. Therefore, unsurprisingly, the 'normal' biochemical/electrical signature of Mr. DelMonde's brain has always deviated significantly for norms for the species…” McCoy flashed forward to another slide. “After exposure to xenoneurophene, these readings began to deviate further…” A bright blue line traced a jagged arc over the previous two readings. “Immediately after he was able to expel the sauvrn…and perhaps some offspring… we can’t be sure… less physical damage than we feared registered in the readings.” The chart was replaced with a three dimensional outline of a brain that rotated slowly. Isolated areas of red blinked like miniature red alerts. “However within moments…” The red bloomed like poisoned roses. “And as for the biochemical and electrical output of the brain…”
The readings were so impossibly low that Spock had to check the life monitor again. “Will he live?”
“I don’t know,” the surgeon admitted sadly. “I think the xenoneurophene is the only thing keeping him alive now.” McCoy snapped off the viewscreen. “Ruth is beginning to pull through. She’s very weak… very vulnerable…”
Spock nodded as if this were merely any other piece of routine data about a crewmember. “If she were to attempt a healing…?”
“It could kill her,” McCoy confirmed. “Antari recuperative powers are not to be underestimated, but at this moment… given the extensive damage to her own brain… the corrosive effect of xenoneurophene on the Antari nervous system… An attempt could kill them both.”
Drawing in a deep breath, Spock turned his back on the young man who had allowed himself to become a living ghost in order to save his beloved wife.
“Oh, thanks for sending this guy,” McCoy remarked sarcastically as the security guard on duty outside the isolation ward snapped to attention as they passed out of the chamber. “We needed a free hand to fetch coffee…”
“Lieutenant Majiir has been released from Sickbay?” Spock asked, inwardly hardening his mask of immovability to a duranium shield over his aching heart as they strode towards the ward room.
“Yes,” the doctor confirmed. “She hadn’t been physically harmed and given the nature of her sensitivity, we thought…”
Ruth was sitting up in her bed. Her hair flowed down her shoulders like animate gold. She looked up, her violet eyes shone with tears. “Spock…” his name seemed wrenched from her soul, more a despairing prayer than a greeting.
Spock turned to McCoy. “Lieutenant Commander Valley’s sensitivity also puts her at risk from the... disordered state of Mr. DelMonde’s psyche.”
“Spock!” This time his name was a reprimand. “No! I’ve got to…”
Ignoring it, he continued. “She must be transferred to her quarters as soon as is feasible.”
“Spock!” This time outrage entered the mix. “He saved me, I’ve got to…”
“She must not be allowed to come into physical contact or even close proximity to Lieutenant Commander DelMonde,” the Vulcan continued, while his human half throbbed with guilt-stricken despair.
“Spock! No! He’ll die!”
“If she becomes uncooperative, have her confined and restrained,” he ordered, turning heel and exiting before half his heart broke.
“Spock! No! No! No….” His wife’s cries made the walls of the sickbay echo with anguish. “Spock, please…!”
“It’s all right, Ruthie,” he heard McCoy soothe her with words none of them believed. “It’s going to be all right…”
Go to Part Four
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