Star Trek TOS: Sins of the Apostates

Gluttony

Gluttony - It is considered one of the seven deadly sins - a misplaced desire of food or its withholding from the needy. (Wikipedia)


Spock was about to disobey an order from Starfleet Command. If he were human he would find a euphemism for his insubordination in an attempt to not only soothe his own conscience, but to plot a strategy for the court-martial that was certain to follow - "misunderstanding", "misinterpretation", or "misapprehension".

"I am a Vulcan," Spock said to the light of the single candle in his quarters to end his contemplation, as if this would solve all moral problems he had encountered during the ten minutes he had retreated to his quarters to decide on his next actions. He'd made a decision, the only possible decision. It was illogical to deceive himself about its nature or its consequences. And he wouldn't lie in front of the court-martial that was sure to follow, claiming ignorance on the fact that the mission he was going to command was contradictory to the order to not interfere with Meriahni affairs.

Meriahni affairs. Velal, their Romulan passenger on board, a spy, and normally an enemy, but in this particular mission an ally, had said that these "affairs" were not solely confined to Meriah Five but were also Romulan and Vulcan affairs. And since a member of the Enterprise's crew was trapped in a Meriahni prison during an uprising, it was his affair as well. As first officer it was his duty to anticipate the wishes of his captain and act accordingly. And Jim Kirk, had he been fit for command, would not have left him there. Would he?

You are doing it. You're trying to justify your decision. Why Spock? Because it is an illogical one? The Vulcan heard McCoy's amused voice in his mind, arguing. And he couldn't help but to argue back. It depends on one's moral standards, Doctor. I believe in some situations loyalty and ... friendship outweigh obedience.

Certainly the doctor would have something to say to that, Spock thought. But he couldn't waste any more time with this inner dialogue. Not if same dialogue partner in real life was in mortal danger.

Spock activated the comm. "Mr. Scott, Lieutenant Uhura, Mr. Sulu and Mr. Chekov, please meet me in the conference room as soon as possible. Spock out."


3 days earlier ...

Kirk was in the conference room talking to Prime Minister Coltan of Meriah Five. He could tell the minister was not too happy to see the Enterprise back in his planet's orbit, however, he seemed to be more cooperative than the last time he remembered talking to him. Guilt is a good motivator, Kirk thought. He wouldn't hesitate to remind Coltan of the brutal attack of his Secretary of Defense, Delihan, on Dr. McCoy, if he thought it could get him closer to his aim of finding more information about Tamulok, the Romulan commander, and Tal Shiar agent, and his whereabouts. "You are obsessed with that man," Bones had told him, and Spock had agreed, although he hadn't said anything then, but Kirk knew anyway.

He didn't quite know himself why he so feared Tamulok, but he did. He just knew that the Romulan was planning something. He was dangerous. Maybe it was because Tamulok seemed to have an aura that made him seem quite likeable at first glance. People were compelled to trust him. Kirk had been fooled as well, until Tamulok had killed dozens of people in a bar and kidnapped Spock and himself.

"He just ruffled your ego, and you want revenge!" Bones had further argued. He was usually right about things like that, but in this case, Kirk had a feeling that Tamulok was an actual threat to the delicate peace in the whole quadrant. Ironically, only Velal, another Romulan spy, and resident of the Enterprise's brig at this very moment, seemed to share his concerns.

"We do not know where that Romulan is, Captain. In fact there are no Romulans at all on Meriah. Why do you think he has reason to be here?"

Kirk was almost certain now that Coltan was lying. But he had to be careful to not let it show. He didn't want to provoke him. Coltan was willing to begin negotiations with Federation diplomats and Kirk did not want to destroy that. He smiled. "It was just a guess, Prime Minister. Actually, ..." Kirk schooled his face into a mask of uncertainty, "there is something else I want to talk about."

Coltan's expression seemed to show relief and curiosity. "What is it?"

"Well, ..." Kirk had hoped that he would be able to get to the information without using his last ace up the sleeve, but now he had no choice. "May I ask what happened to Secretary Delihan?"

"He was sentenced to life in one of our labor camps, for assault, treason and abuse of authority," the Prime Minister said, then added: "I hope your Dr. McCoy is able to find at least some consolation in that."

Kirk cringed mentally. Bones actually did not care what happened or had happened to Delihan, he just wanted to forget the mind rape. Unfortunately, if Kirk's plans worked out, McCoy would have to face his tormentor once again.

"Yes, about that. Prime Minister, we are very thankful that you have acted in the name of justice in that affair, although the offender was a high official in your government. Such behaviour is anything but granted."

Coltan seemed to grow a few centimetres. Kirk could tell he'd liked what he'd heard. "Well, Captain. On Meriah, all people are equal before the law. And what Delihan did is certainly against our law."

"Yes. But as I said, I know many governments that would have covered up any crime of its members."

"Not on Meriah."

"I am glad. And so is Dr. McCoy."

"I hope he is alright."

"Well, he does have some difficulties with coming to terms with the whole incident," Kirk said, observing Coltan closely.

"I'm sorry to hear that. As I said, he might find some consolation in knowing that justice has been served."

Kirk nodded slowly and almost smiled. He was going to achieve his goal. "It may. ... Prime Minister, in our world it is custom that after an offender in a trial has been sentenced, the victim is allowed to see and talk to the convict. It often helps to give them some kind of gratification."

Coltan imperceptibly raised an eyebrow. "Oh? You mean revenge?"

Oops, Kirk still had to be careful. "No, not revenge. As you said, it just gives the victim some kind of consolation to see for himself that justice has been served. Also, it may help to understand the motives of a person. It is considered to be healing in the whole process of digesting such an act of violence. But of course, that's just our system. I've found that on other worlds an offender's interests often outweigh the interests of the victim. It is a matter of opinion, I guess."

Coltan's eyebrow had come down again, but now it seemed to be too low. Kirk waited. He just hoped he had been reading the guy correctly. Not all species used the same body language of course.

"Does Dr. McCoy want to talk to Delihan?"

Kirk bowed his head in relief. "It would mean a lot to him."

"Alright. He has the permission to visit Delihan in the prison and labor camp of Prolia tomorrow morning."

"That is very kind of you, Prime Minister. We do appreciate your courtesy. Will he have to come alone, all by himself?"

Coltan sighed and his shoulders sagged which made Kirk think that Meriahni body language was not so different after all.

"If he wishes, you can accompany him. However, you must realize that this is an exception made only out of courtesy. Normally, aliens are not allowed outside our capital and government district. Our people do not wish to come into contact with outworlders. It is not xenophobia, it is our custom."

"Of course. And thank you again, Prime Minister."

When Kirk had ended the conversation with Meriah's Prime Minister Coltan, he absentmindedly chewed the inside of his lip. So far, so good. Delihan had been on Tamulok's ship. He probably knew more about him. Maybe he even had an idea about where he might be at the moment. Kirk was fairly sure that he would be willing to tell them, especially when they told him that Tamulok had destroyed his own ship with all of his crew, including Delihan's daughter.

There was just one thing that bothered him. McCoy. He had to come with Kirk into the labor camp, otherwise Kirk's explanation of why he had to see and talk to Delihan would be of no use. And Bones would not be thrilled.


"I believe her sister's death has affected Dr. Pulliam more seriously than she wants to admit," Christine Chapel told McCoy in his office.

"Why do you think so?" McCoy asked her, cursing himself for not having talked to Pulliam before. He just hadn't had the time.

"I've seen her ...," Chapel realized that what she was about to say would irritate McCoy, but she didn't care at this point. "She talks to herself."

"Oh? If that makes someone unfit for duty, Nurse, then I should have been relieved of duty at least five years ago."

"But it is uncharacteristical behaviour for her. She was always very stable, disciplined and alert. Now, she seems to be daydreaming all the time, mumbling things only she understands."

"Is it affecting her work?"

"No. But I do believe she is showing symptoms of PTSD."

"And what are you, Nurse, a counsellor?"

Christine exhaled. "No, Doctor, I'm just a nurse. But other than you, I've been on board this ship for the past 5 days." She argued a little louder than necessary. Maybe she was overreacting, but the way McCoy had stressed her profession, thus pointing out he was better qualified, suddenly irritated her. She wanted to say something else, but McCoy beat her to it.

"Sorry, Christine," his voice softened, "actually you're the best nurse I ever worked with, and I do trust your judgement more than that of some of my colleagues. I will talk to Dr. Pulliam, planned to do it anyway." They turned when the door opened and the captain entered.

Christine smiled, but also felt uneasiness crawl up inside her. She didn't look forward to telling her boss about her plans. Although in a way, he himself had just encouraged her further.

"Bones, Christine," Kirk beamed at them, slightly bowing his head in greeting.

"Hello, Captain!" Christine answered, and with a nod, left the room. Kirk was most charming, when he wanted something from his friend, Christine thought, and before the door closed she heard her boss ask gruffly: "Whaddaya want?"

He swallowed. Was he that easy to read? Well, if he wanted to hide something from McCoy of course, he had to try harder.

"You know we're in orbit of Meriah Five, right?"

"Yes. You want to find that Romulan, for reasons I don't quite understand. But if you ask me, if I were Tamulok, I would go back to that planet Spock claims is Vor-Ka-Ri, take whatever I want and then leave. Why go back to Meriah Five?"

"I thought you thought it was Vor-Ka-Ri, as well?" Kirk asked his friend who had earned himself the reputation of an archaeologist on Vulcan, for finding a world that played an important role in Vulcan and Romulan mythology.

"I'm a doctor. Not some kind of Vulcan Indiana Jones," McCoy grumbled.

"You're just trying to avoid giving a speech in front of the Vulcan Science Academy," he teased.

"Jim, I hate to repeat myself, but: What do you want?"

Jim sighed. "I believe Tamulok is on that planet. He needs equipment or supplies, maybe a different ship and some helpers before he can dig in the ruins. I know you and Spock think I'm obsessed with that guy, but my gut tells me, that he is extremely dangerous. We must stop him."

"So, you follow you're gut feeling on this? No wonder Spock disagrees."

"All the more wonder you disagree as well," Kirk said grinning.

"Well, I ... . What does it matter? You're the captain, you can do whatever you want."

"Not quite. Coltan is not willing to let us search for Tamulok."

McCoy squinted his eyes. "I believe that doesn't stop you."

"Well, that depends. We can't beam on the planet or scan it undetectedly. But we might be able to find out more information about Tamulok from a Meriahn who should know Tamulok quite well."

"You mean Secretary Delihan," McCoy said.

"Yes. Bones, this is a request, not an order: Delihan is a convict in a labor camp. Coltan agreed to let you and me visit him to talk to him. I told him it was a Federation custom, that the ... victim of a crime seeks gratification in visiting the ... offender in prison, to see that justice has been served. Now, you just would have to accompany me. I'll talk to him. I think I can convince him to tell me all about Tamulok, especially when I tell him that his daughter was killed on the ship when Tamulok told us to shoot at it." He watched McCoy closely.

"I see. I'm your ticket to some information, you think might help us prevent another war with the Romulans."

Basically it was correct, but he had tried to formulate it a little less pressurizing. "As I said Bones, it is not an order, it is a request."

"Right. If I say no, and then Tamulok turns out to become another Adolf Hitler, it will be my fault."

"Bones, I told you the truth. What more can I do?"

"I'm getting too old for this. Yes, I'll accompany you to that prison, labor camp, whatever. But really, Jim, I'm getting tired. When our mission ends, I hope I'll get an assignment that is less ... traumatizing," he smiled on the last word, winking, but Jim knew his words held some truth. Even though McCoy seemed to have gotten over the mind rape, he believed it still had damaged some inner part of his soul. Unfortunately that was a place that McCoy did not let anyone see, except himself. Maybe not even himself.

"Thank you, Bones. We'll leave tomorrow morning. You might want to rest until then."

"Rest? Well, Jim, I don't know how these Meriahns run their labor camps, but in my experience places like that are almost always full of epidemics, plagues, and pestilences. I must cook up something that is able to protect us from the most deadliest diseases. Vaccines? Maybe an immune stimulator."

Kirk nodded. "Sounds good. Thanks Bones."

And he left sickbay, thinking about what Bones had said about the end of their mission. The five years were almost over now, and he did not like thinking about the day when they would return home. No that was wrong, he looked forward to returning home, he just didn't look forward to the days after that day. It unsettled him to think that the people who had become his family in the past 5 years would go into different directions, leaving him to ... to do what? He had no idea what to do after that. He hoped to go on another mission, with the Enterprise. On the other hand, the Enterprise wouldn't be the same with another crew.


Present

Spock looked around the conference room and tried to understand the motives of those he had asked to meet him here. They were all Starfleet officers with exceptional knowledge and skills in their fields, as he had often witnessed during the years he'd been serving among them. Each of them would go on making an exceptional career when their five year mission on the Enterprise had ended.

However, they all had decided to risk this career, just as he had done.

"Lieutenant Commander Scott, Lieutenant Uhura, Lieutenant Sulu, Ensign Chekov, you have made clear that you are willing to disregard Starfleet's direct orders of not interfering with the Meriahni government's plans to destroy the Prolia prison complex where Dr. McCoy is currently being held hostage. However, since it is illogical for all of us risking our career, it will be me who takes full responsibility as your commanding officer. When you'll be questioned about this, you will say that you were merely following orders."

"Get on with it, Spock, what's the plan?" Scotty said, thinking that they would talk about this again when the task at hand was accomplished.

"Commander, after having seen and heard what's happening on that planet, I believe we're all happy to disregard the orders of Starfleet Command," Uhura said, thinking about the pictures from the labor camp she had channeled onto the bridge's main screen.

"That's right. The Meriahns are barbarians, Mr Spock. We can't just watch, and do nothing," Chekov said.

"The Meriahni society is highly evolved, Mr Chekov. Its traditions and culture have lasted for approximately 2000 years, during which time there have been no wars. None of your earth cultures have lasted that long. You call them barbaric, judging from your own limited perspective as a human from earth's 23rd century," Spock lectured the young ensign.

"Maybe there were no wars in the last 2000 years, but only because over 80 per cent of the population have been deprived of their free will," Sulu said.

"That is correct. However, it is by your own moral standard that you regard the individual's free will as higher than the individual's life."

"Yes, we do. Many of our ancestors were willing to die for their freedom."

"And many of your ancestors died for a monarch, a dictator, or a deity, Mr Sulu. The societies that you regard as the great ancient advanced civilisations, like the Romans, the Mayas, or the Egyptians, were based on similar ideologies as those of the Meriahni society."

"But we have evolved in the last 2000 years, there's stagnation on Meriah," Sulu further argued.

"I believe this discussion leads us nowhere. I have decided to intervene, for other reasons, Mr Sulu. My opinion of whether the societal structure on Meriah Five should be preserved or overthrown is ultimately irrelevant."

Scotty saw Uhura who was sitting opposite of him smile. Of course Spock's decision to disregard that stupid order and rescue Dr. McCoy had nothing to do with freeing the slaves of Meriah, although Scott himself regarded it as a positive sideaffect, Prime Directive or no. But considering the strange relationship Spock and McCoy were demonstrating on a daily basis aboard this ship, he had expected Spock to at least try and justify his insubordination with something other than wanting to rescue a dear friend's life.

Spock raised an eyebrow at Uhura, then continued: "I believe that under these circumstances it is necessary to inform you about my priorities in this mission - and that is Dr. McCoy's life. I admit it is a very selfish and arguably illogical motive, however, I also believe that the reason you volunteered to assist me is the same. Am I correct?"

Scott let his mouth fall open. Now that had quieted them all. Spock had just admitted that he wanted to rescue McCoy, simply because he would miss him if he didn't, had he not? Well, it may be true that Vulcans really are unable to lie.

"Aye," Scott nodded, as did his comrades.

"Good. Then we know what we must concentrate on. Mr Scott have you yet found a way for our transporter to penetrate the energy shield of Prolia?" Spock said, seemingly unaware of the astonished looks the crew was giving him.

"No. There's nothing I can do from here. If I were in that room with Leonard, I could deactivate the field, simply by cutting it off from it's power source. If only our places were reversed ... I could probably free myself, and he could help the captain," Scott mumbled, frustrated.

"There's no use in thinking about the 'what ifs', Mr Scott. If we cannot penetrate it with our transporter, is it possible to pass through it by shuttle?"

"If one knew the access codes - yes," Sulu said, "Meriahni shuttles have passed through the shield."

"That was before the state of emergency was officially declared," Uhura, who had been monitoring the prison complex for the past three days, said. "Now, the energy field is impenetrable ... no one is able to get in and certainly no one is able to get out. From the information I've gathered over the communication channels they've set the shield into a mode that produces oscillations that in 5 hours and 32 minutes will cause the atmosphere within the prison to ignite. Everyone in Prolia will be burned alive."

Chekov shuddered. What kind of government would do such a thing to its own people?

"These oscillations, Ensign, how are they generated?"

"They are using a special algorithm, a repeating pattern of energy bursts that builds up in intensity until it finally ends in an inferno," Chekov said, picturing 12,000 people breathing in burning air, while blue flashes of electricity made their bodies jerk painfully, as the muscles in their bodies were activated up until and beyond their bodies' agonizing death. He shuddered.

"Am I correct in the assumption that this algorithm diverts energy to some areas of the shield, resulting in an almost complete loss of energy in other areas?"

"Yes! Mr Spock, with the correct algorithm, we should be able to predict for how long and in which areas the shield would be weak enough to pass through with one of our shuttles," Chekov smiled. They could take advantage of the Meriahns' plan to set the whole place on fire.

Scott did not like where this idea was going. "But Mr Spock! At the moment the energy shield, even in its weakest areas, is much too strong to be penetrated by one of our shuttles. We'd have to wait until the oscillations have become strong enough to divert almost all of the shield's energy from its weak areas. By then the oscillations will be too fast to fly through. The shuttle would be cut in half."

"Not if we plot a course for the shuttle that follows the energy flow diagonally. We should be through the shield before it builds up again," Sulu said excitedly.

"But you won't have enough time, laddie. Five, maybe ten minutes later the shield will overload and the whole place will be on fire. That's hardly enough time to find the doctor, get him in the shuttle, find another weak spot in the shield and escape before you'll all be burned alive," Scotty argued.

"Mr Scott, I thought you said that once you were where the doctor is now, you'd be able to deactivate the shield. I believe that I could accomplish just that, if you'd instruct me before I left," Spock said calmly.

Scotty's brow furrowed. "Well, I ... I am convinced that I could do it, Mr Spock. Hadn't thought of that. I just need to get in, but I don't need to get out again. I'll just turn the bloody thing off! Then I can take my time to get McCoy and myself back to the shuttle and we'll comfortably return to the Enterprise."

"You'll need a good pilot to get through the shield, Scotty. I'll be happy to fly the shuttle. I've always dreamt about racing lightning," Sulu smiled. "It really shouldn't be too hard."

"We could program the ..."

"Gentlemen," Spock interrupted their enthusiasm, "I will go. However, I will depend on your help. Mr Sulu, Mr Chekov, you need to calculate not only where but also when the shuttle will be able to penetrate the shield. When you've accomplished that, I need you to program the autopilot with the respective data. Mr Scott, you must instruct me on how "to shut the bloody thing off", Lieutenant Uhura, I need you to give me the exact plan of the prison complex and the coordinates of where McCoy is being held."

"Mr Spock. It would be a lot easier if you let me ...," Scotty started.

"Mr Scott, I think I've made myself clear. As I said, this mission is my responsibility. We still need to get through Meriah's atmosphere without being detected and held off by Meriahni aircrafts."

"We could modify the shuttle's impulse signature so that it looks like a Meriahni freighter," Chekov said.

"That should raise their suspicion as well. All air traffic in Prolia's vicinity has been forbidden, and no violation against that no-fly zone has been recorded in the last 24 hours," Uhura said.

"Nyota," Scotty joked, "you seem to be well informed about everything that's going on on that planet. You'd make a wonderful spy."

"Or hacker, wouldn't you, Lieutenant?" Spock asked, looking questioningly at her, "Nothing has been recorded in the past 24 hours?"

"No. I have recorded the surveillance."

"Indeed. I believe those recordings would make an interesting movie clip for Meriahni officials."

Uhura smiled. "I'll make sure that they get to see it within the next hours, Mr Spock."

"Good. Then I suggest we all start working on our tasks," Spock said, rising from his chair. Uhura and Sulu got up and left to begin their work.

"What if they look out of the window?" Chekov asked, half out of the door.

"I believe, Mr Chekov, that that's a risk we will have to take," Spock answered and watched the ensign leave the room.

"Yes, Mr Spock, you take the risk. And if you fail, I will be left in command of the Enterprise, with no first officer, no chief medical officer and ... no captain," Scotty mumbled quietly after Chekov had left.

"That may be true, Mr Scott. In that case, leave orbit at once and go directly to Starbase 3. They have medical facilities there, that are able to help Captain Kirk."

"Yes. And then, I'm going to be the one to tell him that both of ye are dead."

Spock nodded slowly. "I trust that will be ... difficult. However, I assure you that I'm not taking "the easy way out", as Dr McCoy would call it. It is illogical to risk more than one person for this kind of mission. While I trust you to be able to shut off that shield, and Mr Sulu to fly the shuttle, I only trust myself to fulfill both tasks. Therefore, I am the logical choice for this mission."

"Spock. There may be another problem. I'm not sure if you've thought about it."

"What is that, Mr Scott?"

"Doctor McCoy."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "I believe he is the reason why we're planning this mission. What 'problem' does he present?"

"He may not want to be rescued," Scotty said, watching Spock's face that for once showed emotions - first surprise, then realization and finally, fear.

"I have to admit, he is somewhat like an unknown variable. Do you think it is possible that he'd refuse to be rescued?"

"I do," Scotty nodded sadly, "he has lived among these poor Meriahni slaves for two days now. He feels compassion for them, Spock, you know our doctor! He's in pretty bad shape too, physically as well as mentally. I just don't know. Spock, you have to be convincing!"

Spock nodded, "Mr Scott, I believe I have got one very good argument on my side."

"Captain Kirk," Scotty said sadly, but relieved that Spock had found an argument that would surely make McCoy step into that shuttle.

"Yes."


Two days before

Prolia was not what Kirk had expected. It wasn't the horrible dungeon he had imagined when Coltan had mentioned the prison / labour camp where Meriah's worst criminals and political prisoners were being detained. In fact, it did not look like a prison at all. There were no visible security measures, no energy fields, no bars or chains, not even guards. They had passed what looked like farmhouses with pasture land, where camel-like animals that looked vaguely familiar grazed peacefully. Then they stepped into a conveyor cage that brought them down into the dilithium mine, where many of the convicts worked, including Delihan. It was not exactly friendly, but efficient and relatively clean. The man who accompanied them to take them to Delihan was ... quiet, stoical. He reminded him of Spock, but then again that wasn't fair. Spock was always the scientist, interested in his surroundings, but this guy seemed to be absolutely indifferent, like a robot. McCoy had exchanged a surprised look with Kirk when they had been introduced to their guide. The man did not wear the headgear that the Meriahn they had met before wore, as did none of the convicts, therefore one could see his pointy ears. At least in his outward appearance he was similar to their first officer.

As they were walking along the adits of the dilithium mine, Kirk walked deliberately close to McCoy so that their shoulders were touching from time to time. It was an attempt to give him some strength and support. He still felt bad for making McCoy accompany him to meet Delihan, the man who had forced a mind melt on him. McCoy was uncharactaristically withdrawn and quiet. I promised him a trip to Yosemite or Risa and now, look where we are, Kirk thought as they passed a group of Meriahn who sat on the floor, drawing a pink viscous liquid from a tap in the wall and then downing it with a blank stare on their faces. Kirk shuddered. These prisoners didn't seem to be subjected to open violence, but he was sure that they had gone through some kind of mental mistreatment if Kirk was reading the resigned expression on their faces correctly.

They met another group of people, pushing huge antigrav mining carts piled with rocks along a trail, without sparing them a glance.

"This is the room where you will wait," their guide said, opening a door and hitting his toe with a loud noise in the process.

Kirk grimaced and felt Bones beside him shudder at the noise of metal hitting bone.

"Sit down. Delihan will be there shortly," the man said in his calm, detached voice, and left.

The room was simple. Three chairs and a table, nothing more. Kirk tried to scrutinize his friend as inconspiciously as possible, knowing that he couldn't fool McCoy. But Bones seemed relaxed enough, taking a chair, looking up at the harsh, white, bluish light on the ceiling, and didn't seem to notice Kirk's gaze, which made Kirk worry all the more.

"What do you make of this prison?" he asked to fight his own growing unease.

McCoy didn't say anything, but turned to look at Kirk, his brow creased, his eyes sparkling excitedly. It wasn't the troubled, brooding look he had dreaded to find in McCoy's face. He's trying to solve some kind of mystery, Kirk thought.

The door opened and former Secretary of Defense Delihan stepped in. Kirk heard Bones take in a shocked breath, but if it was from the terror of remembering the mind rape or from surprise about Delihan's appearance, Kirk didn't know. He sure as hell was shocked by his appearance. Delihan didn't wear the headgear he had worn before, which made his head seem so much smaller. His face was grey and gaunt, his expression blank. He was ... deflated, blank, limp. For a moment he felt compassion, but then, he reminded himself about what Delihan had done and with a glance at McCoy who had found his countenance again, he cleared his throat and stared Delihan into his dead eyes.

"Delihan. I'm sure you remember us," Kirk started, not knowing how to get to the point. He was pretty sure that the Meriahni government listened in on their conversation, even if no surveillance devices were visible. Prime Minister Coltan had assured Kirk that he had no idea about Tamulok's whereabouts. If he found out that Kirk now prodded Delihan about it, he might become miffed.

"I do."

"Well, I see you were convicted, and sentenced to a life in prison."

"Rightfully so," the Meriahn said, staring back emotionlessly.

"Yes. Maybe it interests you that the ship we escorted back to Romulan space was destroyed," Kirk continued, searching for a reaction in his opposite's face. Delihan's daughter had been on board that ship.

"Why would that interest me?" he asked flatly.

"What do you mean? Your daughter was on that ship!" McCoy said incredulously.

Kirk glanced sideways at McCoy before looking at Delihan again.

"That was a lie," the Meriahn said quickly.

Kirk remembered Spock telling him that Delihan had tried to save his daughter from dying of the Vulcan flu, by stealing information about the disease's cure from McCoy's mind. He hadn't succeeded, partly because he wasn't trained in performing a mind meld, partly because McCoy had fought him. However, in the process he had revealed that he had a child with a member of Tamulok's crew, a daughter who was living on board his ship.

"Maybe you should have read a manual on the technique of mind rape before you went messing with my head, Delihan. In the process you did not only intrude into my mind, but let me see into yours as well. I know, you have a daughter on that ship," McCoy said angrily, and added in a wrathful tone that Kirk had never heard from McCoy before, "or had."

There was no reaction from Delihan. Not a blink. For a moment Kirk was astonished. He would have bet that Delihan would feel strongly about the death of his daughter.

Then Delihan started talking: "You are telling me about my daughter's death because you want to see me mourn. If that what you say is true I do feel very sad," the Meriahn said coldly and pulled a grimace that resembled a grotesque parody of grief.

Something is definitely wrong here, Kirk thought. His mind started racing. This man looked as if he were a puppet, controlled by someone else. Someone who just wanted to get rid of them. If that was the case, there was no way they would get any valuable information about Tamulok from him.

"Have you talked enough?" Delihan asked raising an eyebrow, and Kirk suddenly remembered something about that emotionless and icy stare that Delihan was giving them. He'd seen it before.

"You! What ...," McCoy shouted, angry and frustrated, and about to leap over the table and shake Delihan, when Kirk stopped him, pulling him back by his sleeve.

"Bones! Let it go! This won't give you any satisfaction."

McCoy turned around to face Kirk and for a moment his rage was directed at his captain and friend.

"What? It was your damn idea!"

"I thought it would help you deal with the trauma," Kirk said, willing his eyes to convey a message to McCoy: Just play along!

"Yeah? Well, ... it doesn't," McCoy said, backing off, a slight question in his eyes.

"No, no, obviously not. I know, this ... prison ... is not what I expected. I thought you could see him working in the mines, doing hard work, you know. Pushing carts full of dirty rocks or something like that, and truly paying for his crime. Instead, Delihan, you're just sitting here, chit-chatting."

Delihan nodded. "Captain, you are keeping me from my work. If you weren't here, I would be outside, pushing carts of rocks, just as you wish me to."

"Well, we'd like to see it," Kirk said, standing up, holding out a hand and pointing to the door.

McCoy stood up as well, nodding towards Delihan, who then rose from his chair as well, and without further ado, opened the door and proceeded into the mine. Kirk and McCoy followed.

Without looking back, the Meriahn walked further into the adit. When they passed another prisoner, who was pushing one of the antigrav mining carts they had seen before, the woman suddenly let go of the cart, without even looking up, and sat down on the floor, letting Delihan take over.

McCoy looked back at her while they were following Delihan. She had taken a cup from her belt and was now filling it with that strange liquid from one of the taps that were installed all over the walls. Whatever that stuff is, it is not very nourishing, McCoy thought. The prisoners did not seem exactly underweight, but they seemed sick, anyway. As if they were suffering from some kind of deficiency syndrome.

"Where are you bringing these rocks?" Kirk asked. He suddenly was very aware of being unarmed in the middle of an underground mine and prison on a non-Federation planet. But he was pretty sure that Coltan would not risk the budding relationship with the Federation by letting two Starfleet officers disappear in one of his prisons. And the Enterprise was monitoring them. Although they probably had difficulties in penetrating the kilometres of rock above them.

"The mill," Delihan said.

"So, this is what you normally do?" Kirk asked fruther, looking back the way they had come from.

"Yes."

As they reached the mill, they saw many mining carts, coming from different directions being emptied into a huge pit in absolute synchrony. The miners turned their carts and started to push them back into the directions from where they had come, as if they were gear wheels in a huge machine. No one got sidetracked, no one stopped to take a breath, and no one seemed to take notice of them.

McCoy and Kirk watched as Delihan did what all the others had done before. He was a little behind, due to the fact that he had been delayed by his two "guests". When he'd emptied his cargo no one else was visible. The mill started grinding, making a lot of noise.

McCoy turned his back to Delihan and spoke into Kirk's ear: "Jim, I don't know what we're trying to do here. But I suggest we do it soon."

"You're right," Kirk said, watching Delihan maneuvering the large cart so that it faced into the opposite direction, back where they had come from.

With a sudden stride, he came up behind Delihan and shoved him onto the antigrav cart, so that for a moment the Meriahn was suspended in a field of zero gravity, floating in the air.

After a moment, Kirk reached down, grabbed him by the collar, and pulled him up to his face so that the Meriahn could understand the whispered, but still angry words: "Tamulok killed your daughter, his entire crew and 23 people on a Federation Starbase. He's about to kill many more. I want to know where he is."

The Meriahn blinked, and for a brief moment emotions rushed over his features: surprise, fear, and anger. He grabbed Kirk's wrist, using it to pull himself out of the field of zero gravity.

"I don't know where he is, but I know him well enough to give you some information," he said in a low voice, then turned his head to take a look around. "We must leave," he said, only to find that the human was still holding him in place, beside the cart.

"You're not going anywhere before ...," Kirk started to say, but then he was interrupted by McCoy who pulled at his elbow.

"Jim, I think, we might be in trouble!"

Suddenly Kirk could see a few people slowly walking towards them, carrying stones and pickaxes, ot something that looked like pickaxes. Behind them more figures were coming from out of the dark. They were silent, with dead eyes. They were in trouble. He'd seen a scene like this on the planet Spock had called Vor-Ka-Ri, when the zombie-like Romulans and Vulcans had nearly killed Dr. M'Benga. He let go of Delihan taking a step back, only to find that he'd taken a step towards the still grinding mill.

"Follow me," Delihan said, then made a run towards a wall, and grabbed at a chain which brought down a ladder that led up to a little platform and a door in the rocky wall.

Kirk pushed McCoy after Delihan. It seemed as if they had no other choice than to trust that man. The first stones came flying towards them when they were climbing the ladder. Kirk almost lost his balance but was able to pull himself up on the platform just in time. They pressed themselves onto the platform to duck the flying rocks, while pulling up the ladder. Kirk heard McCoy say something, but couldn't make out what it was, he only realized that he sounded worried, frightened actually. He strained to look him in the eyes, give him a reassuring smile, but found it was harder than expected to focus on the blue, worried eyes of his friend. Must be the dark, and also the water that is dripping from the ceiling, Kirk thought wiping the warm liquid from out of his right eye. He suddenly felt nauseous and wanted nothing more than to barf over the platform onto those zombies. He chuckled. That will teach them!

He protested when he felt being dragged away from the edge of the platform into a brightly lit room that hurt his eyes. There was screaming, and then something hit the floor. Had he not been sure that he was already cowering on the floor, he would have thought it was him because he felt very weak and he knew the feeling. I'm going to pass out.


Present

When Spock entered sickbay he braced himself for a sight that had seemed to have wringed out all the oxygen from his lungs and for a second there had broken all of his emotional barriers and self-control a day before. When Jim had been beamed into the transporter room, he'd been on the bridge, but as soon as he could, he had hurried to sickbay, where Jim had been taken by the medical team that had been waiting in the transporter room.

Spock of course had known that his captain and friend was in a bad medical condition, but this knowledge hadn't prepared him for the sight of Jim Kirk's body, lying in absolute stillness on a bio-bed, his face white as that of a corpse and in stark contrast to the brownish bandage around the man's head, which was soaked with Kirk's blood that disguised the cloth's originally light blue colour. His golden uniform was also soaked in blood and grime and they were cutting the dirty rag from him when he'd arrived. Spock had focused on Kirk's chest, willing it to rise and fall in a sure sign that the body on the bio-bed was still breathing and alive, only it had been hard to tell.

Dr Pulliam, the young female doctor that had saved Dr McCoy's life after Spock had stabbed him while under the control of that newly discovered virus, had been standing at Kirk's side, holding a hypo, hesitating to inject it into Kirk's neck and hovering undecidedly above the deathly complexion of the captain. Her hesitation may have lasted only a fraction of a second, but for Spock it had been the straw that broke the camel's back - and his self-control.

Jim Kirk had been in critical medical condition before, many times, and he had always survived. But something had been different then. On almost all of these occasions, McCoy had been there to bring him back to life. The doctor was certainly an overly emotional person, he often showed irrational and illogical behaviour and for Spock's liking his work was missing scientific method at times. But there was no doubt that Dr Leonard McCoy was the best medical scientist and physician Spock had ever met, and he still had to find out if this was in spite of or because of the doctor's peculiarities. Compared to McCoy, Dr Pulliam was an amateur and it suddenly had been absolutely clear to Spock that she wasn't adequately qualified to save Jim Kirk's life.

"Dr Pulliam, if you're unable to do your job. move out of the way and let somebody else take over! The stakes are too high to let a medical wannabe try her hand at practising medicine!" he'd said in a voice dripping with contempt and panic.

His remark had not only been unjustified, but also counterproductive, as Spock had realised as soon as he had spoken the words. He should encourage her and not spark her self-doubts, thus taking her mind off the task which was nothing less than saving Kirk's life. However, he hadn't anticipated this kind of reaction from her: The young doctor had stepped away from the bed, putting the hypo down, unused, beside the captain's head, folding her arms across her chest with a challenging look on her face.

Spock had been perplexed, unable to do anything for a split second, his mind suddenly reeling. He'd lost control. He'd let his emotions of fear for his friend get in the way of his command.

It wouldn't have been much of a problem had he commanded a crew of Vulcans. A Vulcan wouldn't have been distracted by his unsophisticated remark. But Dr Pulliam was a young, female human who had just lost her sister, most probably by the hand of another Vulcan. Those were the facts, and he had served among humans for long enough to know that this would probably have an effect on her psyche, which again would influence her performance as a doctor of the Enterprise. Being in command required a fine sense of the crew's morale and psychological condition, as Dr McCoy had pointed out to him on each of the occasions he had been in command. Not only had this eluded him, but he also hadn't realized that he'd been about to lose control of his own emotions.

This wouldn't have happened had Dr McCoy been here, he realized now. McCoy was not only a sophisticated doctor, but also the counter balance to his Vulcan thinking. He had always secretly wondered how Jim Kirk could be friends with himself and the doctor, two people whom he would consider having antipodal personalities, at the same time and to the same intensity. He'd never felt more near the answer than now. Could it be that my rationality and logic and McCoy's emotional humanitarianism form a delicate balance that together make up a perfect dynamic?

Nurse Chapel had been the first to react, first by injecting Kirk with the hypo, then by calling Dr Taylor who had come running into sickbay, unshaven, and still half asleep only minutes later. Dr Pulliam had left sickbay without a word then and nobody had gone after her. Nurse Chapel had taken her place and as Dr Taylor had later explained to Spock, she had probably saved Kirk's life when she'd injected him with the hypo when she did. It had been a close call.

Although Kirk was now in clean clothes and his head wound had been treated so that only a small red scar on the side of his temple reminded of the stone that had hit his head, his condition was anything but encouraging. He was in a deep coma, and Dr Taylor did not trust his skills enough to do the surgery he needed. His stillness was unnerving to all people who knew him as their charismatic, vibrant captain and who'd come to visit him, including, of course, Spock himself.

The sight of his still, possibly dying friend made him desperate, he had to admit. Why hadn't he ordered Enterprise to leave orbit and go directly back to a starbase where their captain could get the medical treatment he needed? Kirk was the finest starship captain in Starfleet, to lose him meant great loss not only for himself as Kirk's personal friend, but also for Starfleet and the Federation.

"Don't mind me, Mr Spock. I'm just checking the readings," Nurse Chapel said quietly to him, entering his field of vision.

"Please do, Nurse. Has there been any change?" Spock looked at her from the side and asked himself what kind of commendation would be appropriate for her.

"No," she smiled at him, "but that isn't necessarily bad news. It also means he is not deteriorating." She waited for a reaction. When none came, she went on in an even quieter voice: "I believe, Mr Spock, that you are doing the right thing. I mean, not to leave orbit and Dr McCoy. I understand it is against Starfleet's orders."

Spock raised a questioning eyebrow at her. "Nurse?"

She blushed. "In my eyes it is the right thing to do, I mean, morally. You should know that you have most of the crew on your side. Captain Kirk wouldn't have decided any differently. And I truely admire you for your decision."

Spock pressed his lips together. It was true, he also didn't think Kirk would leave McCoy to die in that prison complex. He had disregarded a direct order from Starfleet Command before, to save Spock's life during his Pon Farr. It was an event that Spock did not like remembering, for it reminded him of the ultimate superiority of a primitive biological drive over his rationality and logic. However, it also reminded him of the nature of the friendship he shared with Kirk and McCoy. He'd needed them both then, and had come out of the situation unharmed because they both had been with him.

The relationship between the three of them was strange indeed, almost as if he, McCoy and Kirk were a planet and satellites evolving around each other, keeping each other in a balanced orbit around a star. If only one of them was suddenly taken away, the remaining two would leave their paths and ultimately crash into the burning sun. Saving McCoy from that prison also meant saving Kirk, and himself.

"What I'm about to do is not an act of loyalty or friendship. It is not a selfless deed. I do it out of self-preservation, which is a most primitive motivator," Christine heard him say. If it was to her, to the unconscious Kirk or to himself, she didn't know. She was about to reach out a hand to touch his arm, when Spock looked up at her with his usual, impassive face, nodded curtly and then turned on his heel to leave sickbay.


Prolia labour camp - 36 hours until destruction

He had no idea how it had come this far, and quickly he dismissed his thoughts that all circled around formulations like 'if only' and 'I told him so'. This wouldn't get them out of this place now. Also, getting out of here suddenly wasn't on top of McCoy's priority list anymore. Jim had been hit by one of the stones that had come flying towards them, when they'd reached the platform and turned around to pull up the ladder. He'd seen the zombie-like creatures move in under them and for a moment was preoccupied with a theory that had been forming in his head ever since they had seen these camel creatures on the planet's surface. Then he'd heard the stone hitting Jim's skull, and turned in time to see Jim swaying, almost falling off of the platform but somehow regaining his balance.

"Jim, you okay?" he said, trying to get a look at Jim's face, while Delihan scrambled off towards the door in the rock wall and pounded against it with his fist. Jim didn't hear him, but was swaying close to the edge of the platform again. When McCoy reached out to pull him away from the abyss, he could feel the warm blood dripping onto his hand.

"Dammit, Jim! I'm here, come on! Look at me!" he yelled at him, pulled him towards himself, trying to see Jim into the eyes to assess the damage that stupid stone had done.

Jim smiled at him, but his eyes never found McCoy's. Instead they were searching around, unfocussed and confused. Then he started blinking and wiping a bloody hand across his face, mumbling something about feeling sick, chuckling quietly.

Shit. Severe head trauma, possibly skull fracture. And all I have is a communicator, that doesn't function because of the miles of solid rock and dilithium above and around us, McCoy thought, pulling Kirk further across the platform towards the door that had now been opened. The room behind was brightly lit, and McCoy felt a bit of hope. Light was good, at least then he could take a better look at Jim's head. Also, whoever was in there might be able to help.

When he and Jim had passed the threshold he took a fraction of a second to look around. There were two people in here, a prisoner, and a guard, whom McCoy could identify as such because the guard was wearing that strange hat that hid his pointy ears and that none of the prisoners they'd seen had worn. Then, already while turning back to face Jim, out of the corner of his eyes, McCoy could see Delihan taking a well placed swing at the guard that made him lose his headgear and then more heard than saw a second blow that made the man fall to the floor. By then his eyes were fixed on Jim again who was bleeding extensively from the head wound and who was about to lose his fight to stay conscious.

"Don't! Jim, stay with me!" he shouted not necessarily because he wanted to keep him conscious but because he'd realized Jim's breathing was becoming irregular. First things first. In an attempt to stop the bleeding, he ripped his uniform sleeve apart and pressed the cloth against Kirk's head, also counting the seconds that elapsed between each of his friend's breaths. It was slowing and becoming more shallow. The breathing, not the flow of blood.

Someone had knelt down beside him and pressed a small blinking device above the primitive bandage on Kirk's head. It did the trick. The flow of blood turned into a trickle and finally stopped.

McCoy sat back on his heels and looked at Delihan, who had provided the vascular stabilizor that had finally stopped the bleeding.

"You have an oxygen mask?" he asked, painfully noticing Jim's lips turning blue already.

"There's enough oxygen in the air. He must only breathe!" Delihan said, holding up a hand in a gesture that made McCoy's blood freeze. He could see the Meriahn was serious in his suggestion to initiate a mind meld with Kirk to get his brain to command his body to breathe properly.

"You touch him, and you're dead!" McCoy said, meaning it as a threat, but realizing that it could also be seen as a warning. Melding with Jim now could drag Delihan into unconsciousness and even a coma along with him.

"I know the technique well. It is safe," Delihan said calmly.

McCoy's eyes flashed. "You forget that I know everything about your abilities as a mind melder. Believe me, I'd be happy to break your neck the second you attempt to mess with his mind," he spit out staring into Delihan's eyes with a sudden calmness and strength he hadn't imagined of ever being able to muster while facing the man who had mind raped him only a few weeks before.

It did have an effect. Delihan backed away a few centimeters and put his hands in his lap. When he spoke, he didn't look McCoy in the eyes.

"What I tried doing with your mind was something totally different. I apologised, and I meant it. I was in a desperate situation. But triggering the breathing reflex in the brain is something all Meriahni doctors learn in med school. It is totally safe, and does not require touching a person's mind, his private thoughts or memories, at all."

McCoy would have to start artificial respiration soon. And he couldn't keep that up for long, that was sure also. So, if Jim didn't start breathing on his own then, it could be that Delihan's suggestion was his only chance. But he just couldn't let this convicted mind rapist do something with Kirk's mind that could possibly harm him in the same way it had hurt himself.

"It may not be necessary," he said simply. But something will be necessary if we're beamed out of here in the next minute, McCoy thought and muttered a prayer under his breath. A prayer to their guardian angel that was in orbit and, hopefully, watching.


Enterprise - 35.8 hours until destruction

"I've found them!" Uhura said triumphantly, beaming at Spock who was standing just a little to her left with his hands behind his back. He seemed totally calm and almost indifferent, but the bridge crew knew quite well that this was only their first officer's facade. Ever since they had lost signal contact with Kirk and McCoy, when they had descended into the mine, the crew on the bridge had followed the pictures the surveillance cameras of the Prolia complex provided. Uhura had tapped into the surveillance system of the complex and projected the pictures onto the screen. That way they had been able to see where Captain Kirk and Dr McCoy were and what they were doing. But when they suddenly had been attacked near the mill, she hadn't been able to zoom in on them. And now they were gone.

"There must be a room or something behind that platform," she had said, hoping she was right. It could also be that they were lying dead on that platform, flat on their backs so that the camera couldn't see them.

Spock had ordered her to keep listening to the communication channels and do everything to find Kirk and McCoy again.

"On screen, Lieutenant," Spock said, turning towards the screen.

The sight that greeted them was alarming. Kirk and McCoy were inside a brightly-lit control room. Delihan was with them, wearing the headgear of a guard that was lying unconscious, possibly dead on the ground. Beside the body of the guard, a prisoner was kneeling impassively on the floor.

Kirk was lying on his back, a makeshift bandage around his head and an alien medical device above his temple. He was absolutely still, too still and way too pale with a blue tinge to his lips.

McCoy and Delihan were obviously arguing about something.

"Sound, Lieutenant?" Spock asked gruffly. She could tell that he hadn't been prepared for this kind of sight.

"Yes sir, just a moment." She pressed a few buttons and after a bit of static, the ongoing argument became audible to the crew of Enterprise's bridge.

"... what it will do to a human," McCoy said in obvious anger.

"I don't. But if we do nothing, doctor, he will suffer more brain damage from lack of oxygen."

"There must be something in that first aid kit of yours, that ..."

The Meriahn half-heartedly rummaged through a small pack on the floor, for probably not the first time. "No."

McCoy had bent down again towards Kirk's face to breathe for him while Delihan spoke. When he came up, there were tears in his eyes, from exertion, Spock concluded.

"Show me the procedure!" McCoy whispered.

"Doctor McCoy, you can't do it. You're not a telepath," Delihan reasoned.

"I now, you stupid idiot! I meant, show me how this would feel to Jim!" McCoy shouted at him, then bent down again to breathe for Kirk.

"Are you suggesting I meld with you?" Delihan now whispered himself.

"Yes. What's your problem? If you're going to mess with Jim's head then I need to know that it won't ..., I don't know, make him want to kill himself later because of it. You try it on me first. I'm already a victim of your melding technique. If this doesn't work, I will know, and there still will be only one ... rape victim."

"And Captain Kirk will die," Delihan argued.

McCoy reached out a hand towards the side of Jim's face, hovering only a few milimeters above the white skin, not quite touching his injury. "Believe me, some things are worse than being dead," he said calmly.

There was a pause in the control room as well as on the Enterprise's bridge.

Delihan slowly reached out his fingers and touched the human's face, who was staring at Jim's still form, his hands holding Jim's limp right hand between them. The moment Delihan's fingers found the meld points on Dr McCoy's face, a shudder, like from an electirc shock went through him and he started coughing violently. Delihan's long fingers pulled away. The Meriahn looked satisfied.

McCoy had turned away in his cough and after another moment, he'd gotten himself under control again.

"That was all?" he asked, his breath hitching.

Delihan nodded. "It was."

McCoy's breathing was evening out, but Spock could see beads of perspiration on his brow and the tremor in his voice was audible to everyone.

"I swear, if your m-meld lasts any longer than that, I'll strangle you with my bare hands."

The Meriahn bowed slightly, and then reached out his hand, his fingers spread. His gaze was fixed on McCoy who had let go of Kirk's hand with one of his own that he now held in the air, between Jim's head and Delihan's elbow.

The touch was brief, but it had the desired effect. Kirk didn't even cough, he just started taking, slow, deep, and regular breaths.


Prolia Labour Camp - 33 hours to destruction

McCoy found himself breathing in sync with Kirk who had slipped into a coma and would possibly never regain consciousness again, unless he underwent neurosurgery soon. McCoy didn't have the means for a proper diagnosis, but he had a lifetime of experience. Even Spock would have to admit that his medical instinct seldomly deceived Dr. Leonard McCoy.

Spock. He was sure that by now the Vulcan was wearing off the floor of the bridge. Yeah, he's tearing his hair and chewing his fingernails right now, McCoy laughed mirthlessly at his mental picture. Then his hands resumed washing away the dried blood from Kirk's hair with a ragged piece of cloth he had torn from his own uniform and dipped into the basin of water Delihan had provided. It did nothing to help Jim, of course, but it gave him something to do.

"I'm sure that genius first officer of yours is going to think of something to get us out, Jim. You just wait and see," he whispered quietly to the unmoving form of his friend. There was no need to let the Meriahn hear.

Delihan was working at the control station, the other Meriahn, a convict, was still sitting there, staring blankly at the dead guard beside him on the floor. Every once in a while, he'd take a sip of that pink liquid that McCoy had seen being consumed by all the captives.

"That pink stuff, is it some kind of drug?" McCoy finally asked Delihan, not quiet succeeding in keeping his voice even. He was still terrified of the man who'd mind raped him, although Delihan had not been threatening since they'd ended up in this control room, at all. On the contrary, he had been very helpful, melding with Jim to help him get his breathing under control, providing them with water and a blanket. He was sitting with his back to them, working at the controls and sometimes scratching his head and sighing quietly. To anyone except himself he'd seem like a scientist, absorbed in his work, a bit strange, absent minded, intellectual. But not threatening.

However, McCoy had had to muster all his strength and courage to address him. If they wanted to get out of here, he had to know what was going on.

"No, it is a nutrient solution. Rich in carbohydrates," Delihan said without turning.

"Oh," McCoy stopped washing Kirk's hair and face, and looked at the regular rise and fall of his friend's chest. It calmed him somewhat. Carbohydrates. Sugar. Suddenly, he remembered the picture of Spock walking towards him with a blank stare, similar to the one of the capitve sitting across from him now, a scalpel in his raised hand.

Spock had been under the influence of a virus then. A virus that had the same roots as the Vulcan flu virus, but that turned its host into a zombie-like creature. It befell Romulans and Vulcans, who would loose their own will, and do whatever the virus wanted, Spock had nearly killed him then, and gone to the mess to gulp down tons of cake and other sugary stuff afterwards.

"You know, that virus, ...," McCoy started.

"Hm?" Delihan still didn't turn to look at him, to which McCoy was grateful.

"It didn't develop on that planet in the Romulan Neutral Zone, did it?" It suddenly all made sense to McCoy. The Vulcan flu virus had developed in the tchorka, an animal that had been extinct on Vulcan for centuries. It had looked like a big, hairy camel and McCoy now remembered the strange animals he'd seen on the surface. What if Meriah Five was the planet the Vulcans who had left their home planet, because they didn't want to follow Surak, first settled on? These people certainly did look a lot like Vulcans ... and Romulans.

"What?" Delihan finally turned around, surprised. "No. This virus, that looks a lot like the virus you have isolated for causing the Vulcan flu, has developed here, about two millennia ago."

McCoy nodded, and looked from Delihan to the captive. "We suspected the virus to control its host, communicating with other hosts of the virus telpathically. Is that true?"

Delihan made a gesture that resembled shaking his head and nodding at the same time, "The carriers of the virus lose every ounce of their personality and free will. Thus, they become very susceptible for telepathic control."

McCoy's eyes grew wide. "You mean the virus doesn't control its host, it just makes it more sensitive towards telepathic control of other telepaths?"

Delihan nodded slowly. "That ... is true, doctor. More than three quarters of the Meriahni population are infected with the virus and are ruled, no controlled, by the remaining quarter. It has been that way for over a thousand years. Over eighty per cent the Meriahni people do nothing, but what they're told to do. Our society has experienced generations of perfect peace. No revolutions, no uprisings, no violence, no wars."

McCoy's brow furrowed. "All because of an illness."

"Yes. This virus has become an integral part of our society. A pillar, maybe the only one. It supports our government, our economy, our culture and way of life - everything that is us."

"How do you prevent the remaining 20 per cent of Meriah's population from being infected?" McCoy shook his head. He hadn't found Vor-Kar-Ri after all. At least not in the Neutral Zone.

"Vorka. It's an extremely rare element that can be found on the northern hemisphere of Meriah. It's slight radiation purges the body of the virus. It also enhances telepathic powers." Deliahn pointed to the hat he had taken from the guard.

"You don't say," McCoy looked at the Meriahn sitting on the floor who made a movement as if he wanted to get up. "How many people can you control with your nifty hat?"

"It takes training. I used to be able to control only about 10 maybe 15 at a time, but some are able to control a lot more. Of course, it also depends on what you want them to do. Having them carry stuff, push carts or do other types of monotonous work is much easier than having them operate heavy machinery, write, or talk. It also depends on the intelligence of the slave."

"You call them slaves?" McCoy turned his head to see the Meriahni slave walk over to the door of their room.

"What else should we call them? They are slaves, even if they don't know it."

"My god," McCoy quickly turned back to Deliahn when the other Meriahn slipped through the heavy door and let it fall back into its lock with a loud noise.

"Where's he going?"

"I'm sending him down to get the others."

"What? Won't they, I don't know, ... kill you?"

"Doctor, while you were sitting on the floor, tending to your friend, I took control over the slaves in the mine. Not all, but about a hundred of them are free of the virus. I still can't believe it was so easy. The antigravity carts haven't been in use for long, but we found that work is so much more effective with them. You had to control twenty slaves to do the work of one with an antigrav cart."

"Wait, wait. You want to free the slaves. You want to ... destroy the pillar of your society?"

"A society like ours can't survive. We've seen other species in the past decades. The passionate Klingons, scheemingly Romulans, the thirsty for knowledge Federation. There are billions of you. We're just one planet. And three quarters of our population is in a constant sleep. Many can't even speak a language, and don't have a name. They'll make fearless and disciplined soldiers, yes, but in the end, every culture will be superior to ours, because each of these cultures is based on living, thinking, passionate people with a love for life, honour, identity. We're bloodless, passionless robots."

"You really thought I could give you a cure for that virus, didn't you?" McCoy whispered breathlessly.

"I did. When I found out, that our virus resembled one that you knew and had a cure for, I thought it would get us closer to a cure. The problem was, no one in my government wanted a cure. It would mean a total change of our lives. It probably will mean revolution, violence and the death of many. But it will also mean that we'll be able to unfold our full potential as a people," Delihan had knelt down in front of McCoy, so they were now at eye level.

"Doctor, it was no lie, when I said that I have a daughter with a Romulan. She got infected with the virus even though she had no contact with any of the infected slaves. I've come to believe that Tamulok was behind this. He'd somehow found out about our secret. I was able to get a piece of Vorka for her, to make her immune, but Tamulok took it from me."

Delihan looked down at McCoy's hand that was now hovering millimeters above Kirk's head wound again, as if to shield him from Delihan's desperate stare. The Meriahn shook his head slightly and let out a pained sob.

"That's not true. I ... gave it to him. He ... promised me, that he knew of a medicine that would cure the disease forever. He showed me the Vulcan flu virus in his ship's medical database, saying that the Federation had a cure, which would also cure our virus. All we had to do is get it. I believed him. I don't know why, but I not only gave him the Vorka, but I also taught Tamulok how to control his infected crew, step by step, and he became better and better. All the while the situation on Tamulok's ship became more and more critical, since the crew fell into the typical lethargy and neglected maintenance. But Tamulok didn't care much. When your ship arrived, it was our chance. He told me what to do and I believed him, because it suddenly gave me hope. Hope for my people. Can you understand that?"

McCoy shuddered. He could understand. The Romulan had proven to be able to deceit each and every person in his path; Prime Minister Coltan of Meriah, Captain Saluk of the P'Jem, his own Romulan crew, Velal, the female Romulan spy, the Orions, Jim, and McCoy himself. They'd all trusted him at times, although they should have known better. Somehow he'd managed to attract his opposite's sympathy. Even Spock's.

McCoy didn't intend to comfort this Meriahn, though. "Why does it matter to you? Jim did not lie when he told you about Tamulok's ship and crew, you know? He destroyed it, including your little girl, I believe."

As soon as McCoy had spoken the words, he regretted it. For they triggered feelings of loss and despair inside himself, flashes of memories that he knew weren't memories at all, but fabricated pictures of Joanna, induced by Delihan with the intention to hurt him, to pressure him into answering a question that he hadn't understood in the first place. He realized in a far away, detached, observing part of himself that he was merely experiencing a flashback scene of the mind rape, probably triggered by that new meld with Delihan. He could feel himself spiralling into an abyss of mental torture, madness. Spock had once saved him from falling into that abyss, and for a split second, he wanted nothing more than Spock here with him, catching him mentally, pulling him away from the dark pit of terror and steadying him. His mind cried out for him in a loud, desperate wail, that brought his heart up into his throat and sweat onto his brow.


Enterprise - 25 hours to destruction of Prolia Labour Camp

Spock had been in contact with Prime Minister Coltan, only to hear excuses, lies and finally warnings and threats. There was no way the Meriahn was going to allow a search and rescue party from the Enterprise into the camp. Unfortunately the Meriahni government was clearly incapable of dealing with the problem itself. Spock wasn't surprised, since from all he had learned about Meriahni society in the past hours, he deduced that these kind of situations of disobedience and resistance had never occurred in Meriahni history before.

So far, no official had entered the prison complex. The Meriahni government simply waited and observed what was going on. They did not know that Spock knew exactly what was going on, since Uhura had tapped into their communication and surveillance system. And so they kept saying, that Kirk and McCoy were unable to leave, but okay otherwise, and therefore the Enterprise should be patient and not interfere with Meriahni affairs. If they should, Meriah would see this as a violation of the sovereignity of their planet and this would drive them into an alliance with the Klingon Empire, which was something that the Federation wanted to avoid at all costs. Therefore, Starfleet Command had ordered Spock to just stand by and watch.

But Spock found it difficult to watch. He'd been alarmed when he'd seen the captain's condition. It was clear that Kirk needed treatment, desperately. Instead, he was lying on the cold floor of a prison camp. It was the most frustrating sight, and showed him the impotence of his own existence in a very distressing manner, he was ready to admit that to himself and everyone else who wanted to know.

However, he still couldn't explain the feeling of utter despair that had gripped him after he had watched and heard McCoy tell Delihan that his daughter had died on the Romulan ship. The emotion had come unexpectedly and had sucked all air from his lungs. Black spots had been dancing in front of him and the crew had turned towards him when he'd whispered the doctor's name. He'd been staring at the screen, not seeing the picture of McCoy kneeling beside their captain and friend, now gripping his shoulder like a lifesaviour, but seeing a black void behind the doctor's sweaty brow.

This shouldn't happen. I'm a Vulcan, Spock had thought then, and had fled from the bridge ordering Uhura gruffly to contact Prime Minister Coltan and put him through to the conference room.


Prolia Labour Camp - 24 hours to destruction

He'd been sitting on the cold and unyielding floor for 12 hours now. McCoy shifted for the thousandth time on the concrete floor, failing for the thousandth time to find a comfortable position. He refused to lean against the wall or to take the chair, because that meant he'd have to let go of Jim's hand and he couldn't do that.

He'd tried, but had come to realize that Jim's hand was essential to his sanity. It was irrational, sentimental, downright pathetic, but it was a fact. Delihan had not yet realized that the mental status of McCoy had rapidly deteriorated since his little conversation with him. He was preoccupied with organizing the confused, frightened and wide-eyed slaves that had joined them in the small room and were still coming.

"You love him?" A quiet voice pulled McCoy out of his thoughts. It belonged to a middle aged lady, with grey hair, and quite a few wrinkles, but intelligent, sparkling eyes. You can best see the difference in their eyes. he thought, before smiling at the woman.

"Yeah," he answered. He wasn't sure if the woman sitting on the other side of Jim had a slightly false picture of the nature of his relationship between him and Jim now, but it didn't matter. The truth was, he did love Jim. And their relationship had lasted longer than any relationship he'd ever had, except for maybe that with his parents, but that was different.

"You never let go of his hand," she went on.

McCoy looked down at their intertwined hands. "That's right. Although he's unconscious, he can probably sense my presence. It is reassuring. Many doctors use touch as a therapeutical means."

The woman's smile grew wider. "Yes. my mother used to hold my hand when I was sick."

She edged a bit closer to Jim's unconscious form. Her hand slowly reached out towards Jim's other pale hand. Then she stopped suddenly, directing a questioning look at McCoy.

"Do you think I could help him too?"

"Why not? It can't hurt. Just try it," McCoy said. He had been lying to the woman, about the reason why he held Jim's hand. It wasn't to reassure Jim, although that might be a positive sideeffect. The reason was, he needed Jim's touch.

The woman gingerly picked up the limp hand and placed it between her palms.

"It's cold," she said and started to gently rub the coldness from it.

McCoy's face fell. "No wonder. He's in a coma, lying on a concrete floor in a prison."

"Love. How does that feel?" the woman asked further, still rubbing Jim's hand between her palms.

McCoy was taken by surprise. This woman asked questions he would have expected from a child. Her big eyes looked questioningly at him, and her mouth was sligtly open and curved in anticipation of his answer. Her expression contradicted her pointy ears, which he associated with a know-it all and always seemingly arrogant Vulcan.

"It's a very powerful feeling that can give you great strength. Mothers are known to have gained superhuman strength when their child was in danger. Couples have overcome all kinds of boundaries, social, ethnic and regional, even if all odds were against them, only because they wanted to be together. People have survived the most severe illnesses and dire situations only because a loved one was waiting for them. Love is a great motivator. On my planet, it has caused wars, and ended them."

"But how does it feel?" she asked again, not satisfied.

McCoy swallowed. "It's different every time. It makes you happy. But sometimes, it makes you sad, or angry.."

She just stared at him.

"Okay. I'm not making sense, am I?" he asked, smiling. Here he was telling a pointed-eared, middle aged prisoner how it felt to love. He suddenly felt up to the challenge.

"You said you remember your mother holding your hand. What else do you remember about her?"

"I don't know. She was ... there. ... She was beautiful."

"Do you remember her face?"

"No."

"How do you know then, that she was beautiful?"

"Because I remember that I liked looking at her."

"Why?"

"It made me feel safe. Calm, and warm."

"See? That's how love feels," McCoy smiled triumphantly.

She looked at him, puzzled. "It makes you feel save, calm and warm when you're holding his hand," she said, "that's why you love him."

"Well, ...," his brow furrowed, should he admit it? "yes."

"Would you be frightened, anxious and cold without him?"

"I guess so."

She chewed her lip. "But, I don't think, it is good for him," she said after a while.

McCoy was alarmed. "What do you mean?"

"Being here. On the floor, holding your hand. I mean, wouldn't it be better to get him to a place where they could treat his head wound? Say a hospital, on the surface? Keeping him here seems to be only good for you." She was simply asking a question, there was no criticism or accusation in her voice or her face.

"What do you mean?" he asked her incredulously, "There's no way of getting him out of here! We can't get to the surface. We can't contact anyone from your government, nor can we speak to anyone on the Enterprise. Your people have tried to get out. But all doors are locked, all elevators are out of order, nobody can escape."

"Enterprise?"

"Our ship. We're not Meriahn, we're humans. Our ship is in your planet's orbit!" he shouted at her, then realized, that she probably didn't know about other planets, or spaceships.

She shied away. Letting go of Jim's hand, crawling back until she hit the wall with her shoulder.

"Sorry. You probably, don't know that," he said, forcing his voice down.


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