Within fifteen minutes Spock was on his feet and helping to examine the panel by the door. He was up before McCoy was, in fact, and Jim wished he would have taken longer but there was nothing to be done about it. Vulcans would be Vulcans. At least he seemed all right. Only the faint glow of the bracelets and occasional tick of Spock's head told them that anything was happening to him at all.
When Bones got back up he took the tricorder to the other panel, and Jim kept a careful eye on both of his friends.
"I believe I had nearly discovered the release mechanism…" Spock was saying. However, either he hadn't, or his compromised condition was preventing him from correctly remembering what he may or may not have observed before their captors made themselves known.
It took nearly another two hours just to get a panel open. In the end of it they got the tricorder back from McCoy, and once Spock had tinkered with it he found a frequency that disturbed the panel's inner workings long enough that it popped open. Spock did not look pleased that it had taken so long. He didn't say anything, but the near-scowl on his face said it for him.
Jim didn't say anything either—merely let a hand brush the Vulcan's shoulder before he nodded to the open circuitry. They still had work to do, and Spock would understand what he meant.
It wasn't his fault. He was doing the best he could.
Spock nodded in return, but before he could reach into the wires he staggered back a step with a strangled cry.
He wouldn't so much as put a hand to his head. He wouldn't show even that much weakness; not that it would have been, but he would have seen it that way. He froze in place instead, blinking rapidly and forcing himself to regain control.
Jim was startled, worried—his heart was in his throat. Over the past two hours he'd gotten too used to being able to pretend that his first officer was just fine. He'd forced himself to ignore the sudden small shakes of Spock's head that were all he would allow himself. Somehow he'd managed to ignore the fact that they'd become more frequent and more violent in the last several minutes.
Bones was on his toes, too, only a step behind Spock and with a hand half outstretched as if he could do something.
He couldn't, of course, and Jim knew that as a doctor he hated that. The look on McCoy's face said it now all over again.
A harsh breath or two, and then his breathing evened out again and Spock took the step back to the wall and began to work with the panel's insides. He never said a word, not even to assure them that he was fine. Maybe he knew that was pointless by now, or maybe it was just easier not to expend the effort.
Jim slowly backed away and hauled McCoy off to the side. "What have you got on you? Is there really nothing you can do for him? No sedatives, anything?"
"Nothing that would help him, no. Nothing strong enough. Not with the current amount of negative stimulation. The one or two mild sedatives and tranquilizers I've got wouldn't even begin to cut through it. And painkillers would be useless; it isn't that type of pain."
"No. They only chance we've got is to get out of here."
"What about the tricorder? Spock was able to use it to get that panel open; maybe we could disrupt whatever frequency is making those bracelets work."
Bones shrugged. "That would be a job for you or Spock, Jim. I'm a doctor, not technician."
Jim let out a breath of frustration, but he took the tricorder anyway. As long as Spock was still functioning he was the better equipped to work on the door, and Kirk figured he might as well let him alone to do it and see if he could do something else useful. The tricorder was only a medical one and wasn't likely to help—they were extremely lucky that it had been able to put out anything capable of disrupting that panel, and whatever was controlling the bracelets was likely much more sophisticated than a hidden panel catch—but it was worth a try.
He settled against the wall near Spock, fiddling with the tricorder settings, trying to isolate any transmissions coming into the room. There didn't seem to be anything, but there had to be. Maybe it was more advanced a way of communication between machines than the Federation could conceive of yet, but it had to be there. If he could find it and isolate it maybe he could jam it.
Damn, but he wished they still had their communicators, phasers…anything. Anything to have more to work with.
Two more hours. Or was it three? The tricorder had a chronometer, but he wasn't paying attention to it. Certainly not now, when he was frustrated with the instrument for not doing exactly what he wanted it to do. Granted, Spock didn't seem to be losing any ground as far as control was concerned, but he wasn't gaining any either.
A scuffing sound from several feet away, a sudden heavy breath, and Jim jumped to his feet quickly and looked to find Spock leaning into the wall by the open panel. The metal rings had stopped glowing.
Jim let himself hope. "Spock, are you all right?"
The Vulcan straightened slowly, frowning down at the now-dark bracelets around his wrists. "The pain has ceased…for the moment." He looked up at Kirk, but quickly let his gaze slip away to a neutral location. Jim could see why; there was certainly something there, on his face, just under the surface, but without him looking anyone in the eyes it wasn't quite obvious. "However, seeing as they have not released us, it seems unlikely that is the end of it."
Jim was sure Bones saw it too, but he was covering well by putting himself in Doctor mode. While Kirk was still, he took the tricorder from him and removed the small cylindrical medical scanner to see to Spock.
"Doctor, that is unnecessary."
"I can't make sure those blasted things aren't leaving any permanent damage? Let me do my job, you green-blooded hobgoblin." McCoy snapped.
"If you must," the Vulcan deadpanned. "However, I must continue my attempt to open this door."
"Do whatever you want; I'm not stopping you."
And he didn't. Spock turned back to the panel and McCoy scanned on. He didn't look happy, but then again neither was Jim, and at least the doctor didn't look any more alarmed once the scans were completed.
"He's fine for now, as far as I can tell."
"Good to know."
"As I attempted to communicate, doctor," Spock commented without looking at them.
"Like I said: you do your job, and let me do mine."
After that all was quiet for a while. Jim stood by Spock, assisting him with the re-wiring in any way he requested.
"It's been hours. Surely they'll be looking for us now that we haven't checked in," Bones said eventually.
"Of course, but will they know where to look?" Jim shrugged. "We could be on the other side of the planet from our beam-in site, as far as we know. For that matter, we might not even be on the planet."
"Thanks for the optimism."
"I'm just trying to be realistic…getting out of here may be up to us."
Again, Spock didn't even look at them, but he did offer his two cents. "May I point out that the alien or aliens have expressed the intention to release us themselves."
"Yes, but if this…whatever it is they think they have to do is going to continue I'd rather be out of here sooner rather than later. You can't say you don't feel the same, Spock."
"'Feel' is an inappropriate term, as you well know, Captain, however…" This time the Vulcan did glance back at him, just for a moment. "It would be preferable."
Jim nodded slowly, knowingly. "Of course."
He didn't exchange a concerned glance with Bones until Spock was focused again on his work. It was the shared look that distracted them just long enough that they nearly weren't ready when it happened. Before any of them knew anything had changed the bracelets were glowing again, brighter this time, and Spock cried out and dropped in a fashion reminiscent of McCoy's own collapse only hours ago.
Spock wasn't ready this time. None of them were.
It took both of them to catch him, and to pull him far enough from the wall to lower him to the ground. By the time they did that, though, he was already fighting them—already trying to get back to his feet.
"No. I am all right. I—ah!" He cut off in a gasp and collapsed back into them. The gasps continued, but it was clear he was still trying to control it all. "I…am a Vulcan. I control…my mind. I control—"
Kirk swallowed. "Spock, it's all right! Unless that's really going to help—"
"It will. I am a Vulcan. I can control the pain. It does not control me. There is no pain. I control my mind…" Watching his face go through contortions even as he tried to keep it straight was not Jim's idea of a good time.
McCoy cut in, ranting rather than showing his worry. "Maybe you control your mind, Spock, but there's a physical center of synapses in that Vulcan brain of yours that controls pain and other sensations just like in any other species. A physical center, you pointy-eared bastard. You know what that means? You're not responsible for controlling it. It's not an insult to you or your blasted heritage or anything else if you can't."
The only response was a short garbled cry that Spock cut off as quickly as he could, and by now McCoy had shifted Spock's weight to Jim and pulled out the tricorder's scanner again. The way he paled didn't make Jim feel any better.
"Jim, these readings are worse—the level of pain is worse than anything I read from him at Deneva, and certainly worse than anything he was going through a couple of hours ago before it stopped."
"It's like—like they knew he could control it. Like they took a break to decide what to do with him and came back with this." The entire proclamation was laced with barely concealed rage.
Jim swore and focused on his first officer. The more audible reactions had stopped, but his chest still heaved, his jaw was clenched, and sounds that did escape were small and desperate and frustrated—determined, but frustrated.
But Jim didn't want to speak up. Despite the greater level of pain it seemed like Spock was gaining control, little by little even though it was taking much more effort this time around. Kirk didn't want to disturb anything and leave Spock open to the full force of it all again as he had been when it hit him unawares.
He looked at Bones, and the doctor seemed to understand. McCoy fell silent with him, and they waited, anxiously. Spock's eyes were shut tight, and he didn't move for a long, long time. The only further indications he was succeeding in his efforts were the lessening frequency of the small sounds he made, and the slow unclenching of the muscles around his eyes. The rest of him still rested against Jim's shoulder, though rest wasn't really the word; he was far too tense for that.
When the Vulcan finally opened his eyes Jim couldn't decide whether to be relieved or not. He had gained control—the pain had not stopped; the continued glowing of the metal rings told them that—but he looked awful. It was clear he was attempting not to, but the dark circles beneath his eyes gave him away.
He sat up slowly, unhindered, Kirk and McCoy still hesitant to say or do anything for fear of breaking his concentration.
"I can return to working now," was the first thing he said.
Bones reacted immediately. "Are you crazy—?!"
Jim, however, saw a better tactic, and he held up a hand to quiet the doctor. "Spock," he said gently. He reached and not unkindly pried one of his first offer's arms away from his body and held it out. Spock's hands were shaking. "You can't work like this."
Another memory, all too recent—Spock in his quarters, arms shaking when Jim caught one of them as he tried to get an answer, as he tried to figure out what was wrong with his friend and why he needed, so desperately, to return to Vulcan. Spock, vulnerable in a way Jim had never seen him so before. It hadn't sat well with him then, and it didn't now. Not when he knew how much it meant to Spock not to be vulnerable. To be Vulcan.
Spock, ever himself, did not snatch his hand away as Jim would have in his position. He waited patiently, instead, for Kirk to let it go before drawing it back.
"I can supervise. I can still be of assistance."
Jim nodded warily. "Of course." He had to hold off Bones at that, but what other answer could he give?
Spock nodded in return and got to his feet. Jim followed him back to the open panel and work resumed, though now with Jim getting into the guts of the thing while his first officer stood beside him rather than the other way around. Spock was much better at this, but Jim did know what he was doing. He didn't always need the Vulcan's instructions, and when he did he tried not to think about the fact that sometimes the answer to a question took more time than was usual for Spock.
He also tried to ignore Bones, who didn't seem to have anything better to do than scan Spock with the medical tricorder and scowl. Spock was ignoring him too, and somehow it was the lack of banter that bothered Jim the most.
It didn't help either, though, that making this open panel useful was not working. They hadn't affected the door in the slightest. Some of the guts of the wall were a completely unfamiliar type of power conduit altogether, and even if they knew what they were doing with the wires, it didn't appear to matter. The part of it they didn't understand was keeping them from accomplishing anything.
"Why don't you try to use those blasted things on Spock's wrists?" McCoy suggested eventually, frustrated. "Obviously there's some kind of power in them. Maybe they could short themselves and the door out and all our problems would be solved."
Jim shook his head. "We don't know what kind of power it is. Too risky." He managed a tight grin. "We don't want to blow his arms off, after all, right, Mr. Spock?"
"That would not be a preferable outcome, no," the Vulcan deadpanned.
At that Jim managed to keep his smile for a few seconds more—until he'd looked at his first officer long enough to realize that a thin sheen of sweat covered his forehead. Or he thought it did. It could have been a trick of the light, but…no. No, that was definitely the beginnings of sweat. Damnit. Making a Vulcan sweat was not easy; Jim didn't think he'd seen Spock sweat once even through the entire incident at Deneva, but here he was doing it.
Sometimes Jim almost wished he were telepathic, and now was one of those times. He wished he could communicate what he saw to Bones without Spock knowing, but then again maybe it was better if McCoy didn't notice. The doctor was worried enough as it was, and Jim was relatively sure his friend was still harboring some of the guilt he'd felt over nearly permanently blinding Spock in trying to free him of the neural parasite a couple of months back. That had to be hard enough on him, and the last thing Jim wanted to do was add to it.
"Spock, why don't you take a break?" Jim suggested.
"That is not necessary, Captain."
"The hell it isn't; don't make me order it." Spock raised an eyebrow and glanced at McCoy, too, who didn't have to say anything to make it clear he agreed. "Go on, Spock," Jim said.
Finally he did. He nodded and moved off, and while the lack of further protest was worrying at least he sat down. He sat against a wall and stared out at nothing, probably concentrating on control.
Jim let out a breath and went back to work. He was beginning to tire himself, but he ignored it. Getting Spock the hell out of here was much more important than that, or the fact that he hadn't eaten breakfast.
It took more time, and maybe it was just pure dumb luck—he certainly didn't understand the more alien parts of the workings any better—but finally something happened.
It seemed unreal when there was a loud mechanical hiss, and the door slid open. Kirk jumped back a little, surprised. When he looked down Spock and Bones were looking at the opening mildly, not moving yet, apparently not believing it either.
McCoy, who had taken a seat on the floor next to Spock, finally stood up. "I'll be damned."
Jim motioned to empty corridor that stretched beyond the door. "Gentlemen, I believe that's our cue to leave." Spock, however, was still sitting. "Spock?" Jim went to him, and just in the few steps it took to get there his first offer's head ticked more than once. Still, the Vulcan looked up at him and moved as if to stand. Jim held out a hand, which paused him in that effort.
Spock didn't hesitate long before taking it, and Bones caught his other arm as he came up. "We've got to get these things off of him first, Jim. We can't leave the surface until then; we don't know what it'd do to him."
"Doctor, while I may not have emotional responses to such an action, I would still prefer it if you did not speak as if I were not here."
"Yes, yes, you're both right, now come on," Jim said quickly, urging them out the door. They needed to get going before what they were doing was noticed.
Spock broke away from both of them and went out first, as if to scout ahead.
He didn't make it three steps before he collapsed.
"Spock!" This time it was Bones who called to him and jumped to help. Jim stayed frozen for a long moment or two, horrified as the metal rings' glow flared brighter and his first officer and friend shivered on his knees and shouted.
He didn't stop shouting, which really was not something that should have been happening, and McCoy had the tricorder's scanner out again by now. "Jim!" The doctor yelling at him spurred him to motion, and he moved quickly down to Spock's side as Bones scanned him.
"I don't know, Jim! He tried to leave and this happened!"
Return with him to the confinement area, or he will die.
Damnit. Jim looked up, and his grip on Spock's shoulder's tightened. "Haven't you done enough! We understand! Stop this! Leave him alone!"
Return now, or he will die.
With that the bracelets flared again, and Spock jerked back into Jim as if physically struck. This time he screamed, and it was not a sound Kirk had ever thought he would hear from a Vulcan. It certainly wasn't one he wanted to hear. He felt sick.
"Jim, he will! He'll die if this doesn't stop!" Bones confirmed, panicked and clearly angry with his tricorder. "There's nothing I can do!"
"All right!" Jim growled at the voice. "All right, just stop!"
It stopped. The bracelets grew dark entirely and Spock was suddenly dead weight, unconscious. They certainly weren't going anywhere now.
Jim swallowed hard and got to his feet, and Bones helped him drag Spock back the few feet into their prison. The door shut again behind them, and the panel sparked and sputtered of it's own accord. Once glance told Kirk it would be useless now. He let out a breath of anger and dropped to sit on the floor by his first officer's head. Bones was already sitting opposite him, already scanning again, making sure Spock was all right.
It took a moment for him to answer. "He's fine," came the terse answer when there was one.
That much was good.
But what now?