DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc and Viacom. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2002 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.
Spock reached into the closet and pulled out the three-dimensional chess set he had brought on board with him but had never had occasion to use. Opening the case, he was suddenly assailed with memories of all the times he and Jim had played this game. He closed his eyes for a moment and surrendered to the power that Jim's memory still had over him.
The chime at his door pulled him from his reverie. "Come."
Kerr walked in, by his expression Spock deemed he was somewhere between uncertain and ready for a fight.
Spock began to set up the board on the table in front of his. "Please sit," he motioned for Kerr to take his choice of the couch or the chair that faced it. Not surprisingly, Kerr picked the chair. He leaned over the table and took some pieces from the case, helping Spock set up.
"Would you care for something to drink?"
"Ale is good."
Spock nodded and walked to his replicator. "Do you prefer a particular type?"
"There's a little brewery outside of Calgary. The Pale Ram. That'd be good. Even if it's not the real thing."
"I have stout in bottles."
"Life's good when you're the captain." Kerr smiled as he leaned back. "But I guess you should get to stock what you like. It's a bit heavy for my tastes though."
"Coming from a man that can drink blood wine, I find that hard to believe," Spock said with a lift of his eyebrow. He ordered the drink and carried it to the table, then went to his beverage cabinet to pour himself a stout.
Kerr regarded him quizzically. "How do you know I drink blood wine?"
"I saw you and Christine as I was passing by the party General Mak'chak gave on Felstrar's Colony." Spock could still remember the jolt he had felt when he had seen Christine dancing so close to Kerr. He had quickly sublimated it, turning his attention back to Ambassador Pardek. At the time, he had thought he could live with the choice he was making, and with the one that Christine appeared to be making as well. At the time, he had thought it was for the best. He had been a fool.
Kerr seemed to know what he was thinking. "You should have joined the party. I'm sure she wouldn't have minded if you had cut in."
"I do not dance."
"Whatever you call it then," Kerr said, his face becoming as expressionless as a Vulcan's. "Things might have turned out much differently if you had."
Spock sat down. "It is easy to look back and see how things could be different. And impossible to go back to change anything. Your move first," he said, indicating the board.
Kerr's opening actions surprised Spock. He had not been exaggerating the level of his skill. Spock recognized his tactics as a variation of one of the openings Jim had used. He found himself in the position of being put on defense and not recovering even as the game progressed. It had been a long time since he had been really challenged in chess. "Interesting play," he said as he calculated the next few moves, finally moving his knight.
Kerr smiled slightly. "There are other pieces," he said as he moved his rook.
"Coming from a warrior?"
"Sometimes the best strategy is to not fight. To find another way." Kerr dropped his queen to the next level, surprising Spock greatly.
"You seek to remove her from harm?" He sent his knight toward the opening left next to the king, seeing his mistake only when Kerr moved his queen to another spot, one from which she would take his knight in two moves.
"It's not her I'm worried about. The queen will always break a knight." Kerr's eyes were stony. "The question is whether she can bring down a king."
Spock raised an eyebrow. "She often does."
Kerr nodded, taking the knight and leaving Spock few openings. "King's champion out," he almost seemed sad.
Spock saw a possibility that he hoped Kerr hadn't calculated yet. He dropped his bishop to the bottom level, leaving his queen open but not in immediate danger.
Kerr frowned. "Why would you do that?" He studied the board, smiling when he worked out Spock's strategy. "I like that. I'm going to remember it." He looked at the board some more. "A good counter needs to be both dramatic and elegant," he said as he swept his queen down a level, blocking the bishop's advance.
Spock smiled slightly as he studied the board. He found playing against Kerr exhilarating. He was brilliant and unpredictable in his moves, yet they all held an undeniable logic when carefully scrutinized. He tried to put pressure on Kerr's queen with his rook, bishop, and queen but Kerr would not be trapped. Spock's bishop was soon sacrificed as he moved his own queen into a position more suitable for guarding his suddenly very vulnerable king.
Kerr grinned. "You're good, Spock."
"You are quite skilled yourself."
"Yeah, well I told you that," Kerr said as he moved his queen to a daring new location, leaving her highly vulnerable.
Spock analyzed the move. If he took the queen with his own, he would leave his king vulnerable to an attack from either Kerr's rook or knight. Mate in two. He looked for another move. If he took Kerr's rook, it only postponed the inevitable to four moves. He knocked his king over.
Kerr sat back. "Feels good to be the victor."
He shot Spock a cocky grin. "I told you I always play to win."
"So I see. Another game?"
Kerr nodded and helped set up the board for the new game. He smiled--the first genuine smile he'd given Spock all night.
Kerr walked across the hall to Christine's quarters. When she answered the chime, he found her sitting on the couch wiping her eyes and he suspected she had fallen asleep waiting for him. Spock and he had played far more games than Kerr had anticipated. He hadn't expected to enjoy them as much as he did. And, despite his outer cockiness, he hadn't expected to win half the games. He had know that Spock would be a worthy opponent.
"How did it go?" Christine asked as he joined her on the couch, pulling her into his arms.
"Three to three," he said as he leaned in to kiss her. He recognized that his need to touch her, to possess her was being enhanced by the new level that chess had added to the competition that was going on between him and Spock.
"That's good," she said as she nuzzled his neck.
He wanted to throw her back and take her, to make her respond to him without thought. He forced himself to be gentle. But it wasn't what he wanted and the animal somewhere deep within him complained. He wanted to touch her until the only thing she could do was whimper in desire or scream in release.
"Randall?" Christine asked in a strange tone and Kerr realized he had tangled his hand in her hair, was pulling it slightly.
He let go immediately.
"What is it?"
He shook his head. "I just wanted to win."
"Not good enough," he said, knowing as she looked away that she understood exactly what he was saying. "Sweetheart," he murmured, gently turning her face toward him. "I don't want to talk." He kissed her again.
"No?" She smiled slightly.
"No. I want to touch you." He began to demonstrate precisely how he wanted to touch her.
She threw her head back and slid down slightly to give him better access. He watched her face as she began to react to what he was doing to her. As she called out, he felt another fierce surge of possessiveness. She was his.
For the time being, the more logical part of himself pointed out.
Shut up, he told it, as he rose and pulled Christine off the couch and into the bedroom. It was a long time before they fell asleep.
Spock waited in the transporter room for Kerr and Christine to join him. He felt a small pang of jealousy as they entered the room arguing about something that made them both laugh. It had been three days since he and Kerr had played chess. Three days in which to allow Christine's relationship with the colonel recover from what she and Spock had done to it when they were in San Francisco. Three days for Spock to again get used to the idea of not having her.
"Sir," Kerr said, straightening slightly when he saw Spock was already there.
"At ease, Colonel." Spock stepped onto the transporter pad, waiting for them to take the spots to either side before he told the transporter chief, "Energize."
The raw, dry heat of Livornin immediately assailed him. The planet reminded him of Vulcan, only he immediately sensed that it lacked the vital undercurrent of hidden life that was prevalent on his world.
"Captain Spock," a familiar voice called out behind them.
He turned, surprised to see Carol Marcus striding toward them.
"So good to see you again. You're looking much better than the last time we met," Marcus said.
He could see Christine bristle at her humor. "Commander," he said in quiet warning.
She glanced at him. "I'll behave, Spock. If she will."
"Why, Doctor Chapel. Hello," Marcus said with a slight smirk. "I heard you were CMO on a ship now but I had no idea it was the Carter." She glanced at Spock, her look implying clearly that she wondered at his choice.
"Commander Chapel is also our first officer. Damn fine one," Kerr said quietly.
Marcus smiled at him. "I don't believe we've met."
"No, ma'am. I don't believe we have." Kerr's tone was courteous even as he chose not to introduce himself.
"Was it you, Doctor Marcus, that requested that the Carter investigate the disappearances you've been having?"
She nodded. "I knew if anyone could get to the bottom of this it would be you. And you were in the area. More or less."
"Try less," Christine said as she walked toward the patch of ground Marcus had left to greet them. It was a vivid green in a sea of brown. Kneeling down she began to scan the area. "Still playing god, I see."
"You know what they say, you can't teach an old scientist new tricks."
"Not even if the old ones don't work?" Christine stood and walked back, her disapproval obvious.
"Well the work is the same but the methods are new. We're committed to finding a viable means of terraforming that won't take the years it does now to make a hostile environment more suitable for colonization."
Christine walked to another patch of grass, this one much smaller and far less healthy looking. "I'd say whatever created this one doesn't work."
"Oh, that's Doctor Gregory's process. He's having some difficulties with sustaining growth." Marcus led them to another patch with unevenly distributed grassy areas and some spots of black rot showing in the corners. "Doctor Camden's brave new world isn't doing very well either."
That explained his initial sense of the planet, Spock realized. Livornin felt lifeless because it was. A barren world, perfect for ongoing experimentation in making inhospitable worlds habitable. "Genesis again?" he said quietly.
Christine shot him a startled look. "We shouldn't be discussing it."
"The genie's out of the bottle, Doctor Chapel. Classifying it to death won't stop that." Marcus turned to Spock. "This isn't Genesis. It was a failure. I freely admit that. But there's nothing wrong with starting over. Looking at it from a new perspective."
Christine stared at her. "Genesis was your obsession. I can't believe you'd just abandon it."
"I haven't abandoned it. Not the lessons I learned from that or the price I paid." She glanced at Spock. "That many of us paid...they will never be forgotten."
He nodded, remembering the price Genesis had extracted from him...from Jim. He glanced at Christine. She was glaring at the other woman. Curious. He did not think they had worked together. He would have to ask her the next time they were alone.
Kerr stepped forward. "As fascinating as all this is, we're here to investigate the disappearances you've been having."
"Quite so," Spock agreed.
"The first one happened a week ago. Lieutenant Commander Frederick Jackson is one of the team leads on the Starfleet side. He was showing several new Starfleet team members the installation--" she pointed to some buildings in the distance "--and our latest work here. They never came back from the tour. Two days later, one of our scientists vanished when his partner had gone to get some additional equipment. One minute he was there, the next 'Poof!'." She shook her head. "The last group was working near here just yesterday."
"There were no ships in the area when the disappearances occurred?"
"We checked for that, uh Colonel is it?"
He nodded. "Lieutenant Colonel Kerr."
"There was nothing."
"Unless it was cloaked," Christine suggested.
"Why would a cloaked ship be hanging around Livornin?" Marcus asked skeptically.
"Why would someone want to kidnap your scientists?" Christine countered.
"Nobody said they were kidnapped. They disappeared."
Spock looked across landscape, which was perfectly flat to the horizon. "There is no place to hide here, Doctor. If they were not taken forcibly, where did they go?"
"That's why you're here, Captain Spock. To figure that out while we get on with the work at hand." She pointed to some scientists that were setting something up a short distance from where they stood. "Would you like to see a demonstration?"
She didn't wait for their reply, but started moving briskly toward the other group, explaining as they walked. "That small piece of equipment is a detonator surrounded by my own invention, an accelerant for lack of a better term. It jump starts the terraforming process." She waved at the other group and they stopped what they were doing and waited for her group to get to them.
"Are you the project lead, Doctor?" Spock asked, curious as to how much influence she actually had.
She shook her head. "Just one of the successful applicants when this project was competed. That was quite a long time ago. We've been working on this for years now. I was lucky to be included. But then I do have a certain reputation in the field, Captain."
"That you do," Christine muttered just loud enough for Spock to hear her.
He glanced back at her and she shot him an innocent look.
Marcus stopped about ten feet from the others and called over, "I wanted our Starfleet guests to see what it is we're so excited about. You can proceed."
One of the other scientists picked up the device Marcus had described earlier and keyed in something. She set it down carefully, then she and the other scientists walked quickly over to where Marcus waited.
"The device has a limited range because it is so small. But we still don't want to take any chances."
There was a small explosion and then the ground began to crackle with energy. A pattern of sparks resolved, covering a square of ground about five feet on each side. There was a flare and then a great deal of vapor. Spock thought he felt a cool breeze waft over him for a moment. He turned his attention to the plot of rich grass where the device had been.
"Where did it go?" Kerr asked
"Hmm?" Marcus asked as she smiled in pride at her latest success.
"The device. Where is it?"
"Transformed along with the land into something else, something brand new." She turned to Spock. "I can show you where the others disappeared."
Spock nodded then noticed Christine staring at the new grass. "Is something wrong, Commander?"
She shook her head. "I'd like to stay and study this if you don't mind." She began to scan the area with her tricorder.
"There's some additional equipment in the med lab I'd like to get sent down here."
Spock nodded. "Mr. Sovar is arranging for some specialized equipment for us, I'm sure he can bring whatever you need as well."
"Sorry, you won't be joining us," Marcus said as Christine adjusted the tricorder settings and scanned again.
"No, you're not." Christine didn't look up as Marcus started to head back.
Spock and Kerr hung back for a moment.
"Is something wrong?" Spock asked.
She nodded. "Just not sure what yet."
"You will inform us when you know what it is?"
"Count on it."
Kerr looked around at the arid landscape and frowned. "Drink water frequently if you're going to stay out here. If you get thirsty, you're already well on your way to dehydrated."
She smiled at him and tapped her water container. "Yes, Randall. I'm a doctor. Remember? I know the rules."
"Just don't want to lose you out here," he grinned.
Spock nodded in agreement.
"You're not going to lose me. Now go catch up with that woman. I don't trust her."
"So I gathered. You will brief me later?" Spock asked.
When she nodded absently, her hands already making new adjustments to the tricorder, Spock hurried after Doctor Marcus, Kerr following close behind.
Christine wiped sweat from her forehead and tried to will herself to feel cooler as she again scanned the area that had been terraformed. The level of growth surprised her; the grass seemed overly mature, even given an accelerated growth rate. She rose, trying not to notice how her uniform was sticking to her thighs and stomach where she'd been bent over. "Great goddess, what I wouldn't give for some shade," she said.
"Can't give you any of that. But I do have a refill on your water."
She turned as Penhallon walked up. His uniform was sweat stained and the ends of his hair hung damply.
"You look like I feel," she said, accepting the cooler water gratefully. "And for the record, I'm not out of water. I know better than to gulp it." She uncapped the new container. "But given the choice, I'll take the cold."
"I've heard it's actually better for you to drink the other," he said as he walked over to the patch of green in the otherwise unrelieved bareness. "Now this is something."
"What are you doing down here? I can't believe you volunteered for water patrol."
"Oh--" he walked back to her and dug into the carrier that had held the waters "--Sovar said you needed this. I helped him bring down some equipment for the captain and the colonel. Since Spock needed Sovar's help and also since I was in no great hurry to return, they asked me to give you this." He deposited the small instrument in her open palm.
"Ah, good." She walked over to the grass and set the machine at the edge facing the larger expanse of green. "This will analyze any bio signs with far more accuracy than the tricorder I'm using," she explained to him. "But we need to move away or we'll interfere with the readings." She walked over to him and they moved off about ten feet. "This should be far enough."
"How long does it have to work?"
"Half an hour or so." She wiped away sweat that was dripping in her eyes. "You picked the wrong duty, Stephen. This is going to be an uncomfortable thirty minutes."
He took a sip of his water, then shoved it back in the bag. Pulling the strap over his head he set the carrier down on the dirt. "Too hot to carry it if I'm not moving."
Christine took another drink from the cold water and felt her stomach start to clench. He was right, the water was too much of a shock. She unscrewed the other container and combined the contents. Taking another drink she found the water still pleasantly cool. "Here, I don't need two," she said, as she handed him back the nearly empty container.
He shoved it in the bag, as she looped her container back over her head.
Penhallon sighed dramatically as he tried to dry the damp ends of his hair. "And to think I could have been flirting with a blonde."
"Let me guess, Carol Marcus?" Christine didn't try to hide her scowl.
"That would be the one. You don't like her."
"You might say that."
"Because of Genesis?"
She didn't look at him. "Genesis is still a sealed subject."
"My sources said it didn't work."
Christine remembered how it had felt to hear about Spock's death...and his quick rebirth. It had worked. For some things. "It's still classified, Commander. That should tell you whether it worked or not."
"That only tells me that bureaucracy lives, Commander. Anyone can roll something up in so much red tape that it never gets released."
"It could be the worst weapon the universe has ever seen. If the bugs were ironed out."
"And you know this how? I thought it was a sealed subject?"
"After what happened, there had to be an evaluation. Everyone from the project crew except for Carol was dead. Starfleet wanted answers, but not from her. And not from independent scientists. They wanted their own people to conduct the postmortem. I was selected for the team."
"Ah, so you dislike her because you found her to be at fault."
Christine shook her head. "There were shortcuts taken. But she wasn't to blame."
"You defend her but I can still hear the dislike in your voice," he needled her.
"Drop it, Commander. That's an order."
He looked away. "I don't remember seeing that assignment on your official record."
She stared at him. "Why were you looking up my record?"
He grinned. "I was curious about the woman who disliked me so."
"Oh." She looked down. "It's there. You just have to know what you're looking at. It was a good assignment for me. A turning point really. I came to the attention of some ranking officers I might never have known otherwise. It's what got me the job in Emergency Ops. And probably the Carter."
"Then I consider it a good thing." He looked at his chrono. "How have you stood this heat for so long?"
She closed her eyes and took a shallow breath of the searing air. "I barely am standing it. I'm not cut out for this. Give me Seattle and San Francisco. Nothing like a maritime climate. Sea mist on the air and a cool wind blowing."
"Like that?" Penhallon asked just as she felt it too. A gentle flow of cooler and humid air washed over her.
Then she heard the crackling sound. Turning, she saw the air in front of them rip apart and she felt herself being sucked into the hole. "Run," she yelled.
But it was too late. She heard Penhallon cry out as he too was pulled into the hole behind her. She felt a strong burning sensation as she passed through whatever the rip in the air was. Then it ended as she was thrown to the ground. She came to rest on cool and shady grass. Penhallon landed next to her.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
"I'm okay. What about you?"
"Nothing broken." She reached back to move something that was digging into her back, then realized it was her water container. Pulling it away from her back, she glanced up and saw the rip suddenly begin to repair itself. "No," she yelled, trying to scramble to her feet. But it was gone by the time she made it up.
She met Penhallon's eyes. Neither of them said anything. Then he rose slowly, looking around with wonder. They were in a small clearing, surrounded by tall trees. The temperature was pleasant, the air soft with a hint of coolness. It smelled of resin and soil and all the things Christine associated with the forests of home. It was overwhelmingly green and lush. Except for one patch of seared ground, that lay in the middle of the clearing.
"What the hell?" She walked over and studied the area.
"It's the exact same size," Penhallon said, as he came up behind her.
She bent down and picked up the twisted remains of the device Carol Marcus had used to start the accelerant. "That's because it's the exact same piece of ground."
"I don't understand."
She threw the device to the ground. "Neither do I. Not the hows and whys. But I do know this. She isn't terraforming anything. She's stealing from here." She looked around. "Wherever here is."
Kerr took the sensor that Sovar had brought and set it up just outside the main administration building. It would monitor the skies for anything suspicious. And also keep track of those people that were on the planet. He checked the settings. 245 people. That was right, 240 that according to Doctor Marcus were assigned to the project. And five more from the Carter. He moved to the next piece of equipment but before he bent to the task of setting it up, he looked out to where Christine was still studying the newly terraformed ground.
He could see that Penhallon was with her. He tried not to feel jealous watching how closely they stood to each other. Christine had very little personal space with those she liked, and somehow Penhallon had wormed his way into her affections. Kerr wasn't sure precisely how. On Felstrar's Colony, she had been clearly annoyed with the protocol chief but over the last month she and Penhallon had become friendly. Kerr found himself wondering when she'd had the time.
Shaking his head at his own possessiveness, especially when his real rival was someone else entirely, Kerr turned back to the task at hand. He was testing the piece of diagnostic equipment when the sensor beeped loudly.
He straightened and looked at the readouts. There was nothing in the sky, but the population count had gone down by two. A sudden suspicion made the hair on the back of his neck stand up and he turned slowly.
Christine and Penhallon were nowhere to be seen.
He realized that Spock had come out of the building, was standing beside him. "Christine?" he asked, his hand slowly rubbing his temple.
Kerr shook his head, already moving quickly toward the spot. He pulled out his tricorder and scanned the area for anomalous energy readings, weapons discharge, anything. There was nothing. "She's gone. Penhallon too. They were right there, sir. I saw them not five minutes ago."
"Spock to Carter."
"Sabuti here, sir."
"Check sensor logs for the last five minutes. Look for anything anomalous, no matter how small."
They reached the terraformed area. The bag Penhallon had been carrying was still on the ground about ten feet from the grassy area. It was the only sign that the two officers had ever been there.
Spock rubbed his temple harder.
"Are you all right, sir?"
Appearing to not even realize he was answering, Spock said, "She was afraid."
"Was?" Kerr swallowed hard at the thought that she could be dead.
Spock stood up, the distracted look fading from his eyes. He dropped his hand from his forehead. "Was. But she's not now. She is unharmed."
"And you know this how?" Kerr asked, despite having a strong feeling he didn't want to know the answer.
Spock shook his head. "We seem to have a connection. A strong one." The Vulcan had the grace to look a bit chagrined. "I cannot explain it but she seems very close right now."
Kerr scanned the horizon. "Then where is she?"
"I don't know." Spock walked over to the grass. He picked up a small device. "She was using this to scan the area. I suggest we deliver it to Lieutenant Kavall. I would like to look at the Carter's sensor log myself."
"Understood, sir. I'll continue down here." Kerr already had his communicator out as Spock beamed aboard. "Kerr to Major Collins."
"Collins here, sir."
"Beam down here with a security contingent. Desert environment. Bring lots of water."
Kerr heard someone approaching. He turned to see Doctor Marcus.
"What's happened?" she asked.
"Commander Chapel and Commander Penhallon have disappeared." He watched as she took that in. "I need to know everything, no matter how insignificant you think it is, about these disappearances."
"Collins to Kerr."
"Beaming in now, sir."
The air shimmered slightly and Collins and a team of five other marines appeared. A second group of six appeared just behind them. Collins had them well armed. Kerr shared a look with the man.
"You sounded worried, sir," he said as he handed Kerr a close combat fighting knife and a phase rifle.
"Commander Chapel's disappeared," Kerr replied.
Collins expression became all business. "Well, let's get her back, sir."
"Not that easy. We don't know where she went." Kerr gestured to the other groups still working on plots of land scattered around the main cluster of buildings. "I want two men on each group. Stay back about twenty-five feet. And don't take your eyes off your group. Someone or something is taking these people, and I want to know how."
As the marines began to move off, Kerr motioned Collins over. "Jeff, you're with me. I have some equipment I want to get set up." He pointed to the admin building.
Collins nodded. "I'm on it, sir." He walked quickly away toward the waiting equipment.
"Impressive," Marcus said. "You remind me of someone I used to know."
"I have that kind of face, ma'am."
She laughed. "No, you really don't. " She started walking back the way Collins had gone. "We've logged the disappearances into the science records. I'll give you access."
He nodded and followed her.
"I couldn't help but notice your concern for Commander Chapel. I take it you two are friends." She glanced at him, and must have seen something in his expression because she smiled tightly. "Or more than friends, perhaps?"
"Ma'am, begging your pardon, but I don't see how that's relevant to my mission."
"Oh, I'm sure it won't get in the way of you performing your duty, Colonel Kerr. You seem like the very essence of a dedicated Starfleet professional." She turned away from him. "She just doesn't strike me as your type."
He chose not to answer. Christine was exactly his type. Not that he'd known that at first, back when getting close to her was just part of his assignment. Then it hadn't mattered what he felt.
Everything had changed since then though.
"Not that it's any of my business--"
He pulled out his best, focused Marine voice as he cut her off. "--Ma'am, I'm really not interested in having a personal conversation with you. I've got missing crew; you've got missing personnel. I intend to find them. All of them."
"Of course, Colonel," Marcus said evenly as she led him into the building and to a free computer terminal. She logged him in and showed him where the files were. "I'll leave you to it then."
"Thank you, Doctor."
He had the sensation that she stared at him for a long time before finally turning and walking away.
Wherever they were, Penhallon thought, it was utterly beautiful. He watched as Christine examined another burned plot in the otherwise verdant landscape.
"How long can she keep stealing pieces of this planet?" he asked her.
"Well, when she pulls a fully mature tree along with the grass it should be a wakeup call." She kicked at the dirt. "But only if she's willing to hear it. I'm not sure she will be."
"She likes playing god, Stephen. That's the sense I got from her when I interviewed her during our investigation. And hearing that she isn't creating anything won't be an easy message for her. First Genesis fails, now this. It'll be a blow." She indicated they should keep walking. "But only if she'll accept it. I've never met anyone as arrogant as she is." She smiled bitterly suddenly.
"What?" he asked as he caught up with her.
"That's not true exactly. I used to be engaged to someone as arrogant."
"Was it what broke you up?"
"No, the fact that he'd moved his consciousness into an android body and tried to kill Captain Kirk pretty much did that. Plus there was this female android who was really fond of him...it wasn't pretty. Well, okay, she was pretty, but the whole situation wasn't."
He grinned at her light tone. "Yeah, those android babes can be a real deal killer."
She nodded, sharing a grin with him. Then her expression fell, becoming sad. "I loved him so much. Gave up everything to try to find him when he disappeared."
He looked over at her. "So you didn't meet Spock till after you'd found him."
"Oh ho. So you were searching for long lost love and you were nursing--" he grinned when she glared at him for the pun "--a thing for a certain Vulcan?"
"It sounds so sordid when you say it."
"Nonsense. We're complex creatures. Especially our hearts and what we feel for people. Anyone that tells you that you can't love two people at once is crazy."
"Voice of experience?"
He laughed. "But of course."
She smiled but didn't say anything else. They walked in silence for a while, then she veered off suddenly. He thought he saw something metallic gleaming from the edge of the trees.
"What is it?"
She held up a water container. "Maybe someone came across here. Wasn't so lucky with their landing. It's cracked at the base, useless."
"To them, but not to those of us following," he said as he looked around. "Now we know they're here too."
"At least eight of them, according to the reports. But where?" She seemed to come to a decision. "Let's keep walking. There's no reason to believe this place isn't inhabited. We just may have appeared in the middle of a protected area or something."
"Ever the optimist," he grinned at her.
"I know it must seem daunting to you, stuck here with no amenities and no impressionable women to attempt to seduce."
He laughed. "Can't do much about the amenities. But you could pretend to be impressionable."
"And you could pretend to seduce me." She shook her head at him. "I thought we'd gotten beyond that."
"Do people like us ever really get beyond that?" He watched her carefully to see what her reaction would be.
"Who says we're alike," she asked mildly.
"Not too long ago, you would have been incensed at even the suggestion that we shared any qualities."
"Well, I've mellowed. Or you've improved. I'm not sure which."
He was pretty sure he hadn't changed.
"You really think we're alike that way?" she asked.
"What way?" He pretended to be absorbed in a study of the ground. It was a little mean to want to hear her say it. But then he had never claimed to be nice.
"You aren't sexual?"
She rolled her eyes. "Why are you twisting this when you're the one who started it?"
He grinned. "Sorry, just yanking your chain." He stopped walking.
She turned to look at him. "Sex is important. If that's what you mean." She turned and started walking again.
"But it can get you into trouble." He strolled behind, stopping alongside her, his next comment forgotten as he was struck by the view that unfolded before him.
"It's beautiful," she breathed, her eyes soft as she looked down at the valley below them. A narrow river ran through the middle, it's water sparkling a silvery blue in the bright sunlight. The hillside running down to the valley floor was gently graded. It would be an easy hike down.
Penhallon scanned the land farther out; it was pristine wilderness as far as the eye could see. He should have felt dismay, yet a feeling of peace had filled him as they walked. Now, looking down at this beautiful sight, he was aware again of a serenity that kept him from feeling sad when he said, "There's no one else here, Christine."
"I know," she said. But she had the same tone as him. "I should be more upset than I feel."
He just nodded as he followed her down into the valley.
Spock walked out of the administration building; his search of the databases had yielded no new information. He shivered as the cold night air hit him. As with any desert clime, the temperature had dropped precipitously.
Kerr had a fire going and was looking intently off in the direction that Christine had been working when she disappeared. Major Collins sat in a chair near him, staring morosely at the fire, his look a twin of what Spock had seen on the faces of the bridge crew. He wondered if he too wore the same look of woe or was his face mirroring Kerr's with stoic determination covering any other less positive emotion?
Major Collins saw him and stood up. "Take my chair, sir. I need to check on the men."
Spock sat down and felt the warmth of the fire take away the chill that had quickly come over him. "Do I want to know where you found fuel on a planet like this?"
Spock leaned forward, letting the fire warm him even more. "Then I shall not ask."
Kerr's voice was nearly a whisper when he asked, "Can you still feel her?"
"Not really." When Kerr looked at him in alarm, Spock held a hand up. "I normally am not aware of her, Colonel. So this would seem to indicate that she is all right and in no danger."
Kerr sighed. "So you can't usually feel what she's feeling?"
"No, Randall, I am not privy to her everyday life, if that is what you mean." Nor to what you two do in it, he added silently.
"That's good to know, Spock."
"Lieutenant Kavall thinks she may have found something significant. She is analyzing the readings now."
Spock stood. "It is late. There is nothing more we can do here. We should return to the ship."
Kerr shook his head. "I'm not leaving."
Spock sat back down. Kerr looked over at him.
"Then I shall stay too."
"You don't have to."
"I am aware of that." Spock leaned back. "You should not have to keep this vigil alone. And truth be told, I don't know how much use I would be back on the ship."
Kerr nodded. "That's how I feel. Useless. Like if we don't find her..."
"We will find her, Randall."
Kerr looked over at him. "Are you sure?"
Spock was anything but sure but he forced his voice to sound confident when he answered, "I am certain."
Kerr didn't say anything, just turned back to stare out at the darkness.
"Good thing it isn't cold here at night," Christine observed as she watched Penhallon attempt to fashion a cup out of a large leaf. "It's a damn cinch neither of us would survive very long."
He grinned at her as he gave up with the leaf and just used his hands to drink the water from the small stream they'd chosen to camp by. "My idea of roughing it is going without a shower."
"You could just drink from my container like a normal person." She leaned back on the grass.
"Where's the challenge in that?"
She laughed. The stars twinkled at her in the gathering blackness of the night. "It's beautiful here."
He crawled the few feet to join her. "You say that now. What if we can't get back?"
"I refuse to think that way," she said, barely able to make out his face in the nearly full dark. "Don't you either. Not yet."
"Whatever you say, Commander."
She heard him stretch out and then sigh. The grass was thick and the ground soft and, despite their predicament, Christine could feel herself relaxing. She had the sudden notion that the planet itself was welcoming them. Silly, she chided herself. It's just the peacefulness here.
But Penhallon was right. What if they couldn't get back? Christine closed her eyes, trying to will herself not to dwell on that option. As they lay side by side in silence, a moon began to rise, throwing off a faint light and allowing her to see him turn to face her.
"So what's the real reason you dislike Doctor Marcus?"
"What's to like?"
"I'm serious. Tell me what there is to like about her?"
"She's driven." Christine put her hands behind her head. "She's selfish. She's obsessed. She's a hateful person."
"Did you work with her?"
She looked over at him. "No. But I saw her effects firsthand. She hurt someone that I..." she trailed off; this was not territory she had intended to cover. In the brightening moonlight, Christine realized that Penhallon was studying her carefully. "What?"
He said, "You didn't finish your thought."
"And I don't intend to."
"Come on, Christine. It's confession time around the campfire. Just you and me."
"We don't have a campfire."
He didn't smile. "Pretend we do. What were you going to say?"
She looked away. "Nothing."
He touched her hand. "If it's nothing, why does it upset you?"
She blinked back unexpected tears. "I'm not upset."
"You were saying that she hurt someone that you..."
Christine looked away. "That I cared about."
"Who?" When she didn't answer, he rolled to his back and sighed heavily.
She was surprised to hear herself whisper, "Kirk."
He didn't move. "As in Captain James T.?"
"You know another?"
He ignored her sarcasm. "You served with him on the Enterprise."
"With him. With Spock."
"And he knew Dr. Marcus..." He seemed to remember something. "Oh. David Marcus."
"Yeah." She could still see the teenaged David running through the halls of the Starfleet science section. Carol had indulged him shamelessly even as she'd selfishly kept him away from his father.
Penhallon rolled to his side, watching her again. When she gave him a tired glare, he smiled gently. "I didn't know you were friends with him."
She laughed, the sound a bitter explosion of air. "I wasn't."
He frowned. "I'm not really following. But then you don't seem to want me to." He made a resigned face. "As you wish, Commander." He turned his back to her.
She watched the moon for a moment, then said softly. "It was a very dark time for me. And for him."
He didn't say anything, but she knew he was listening.
"I was on Earth. I'd finished my medical degree and was just wrapping up my residency. Kirk was just back too. He'd finished his tour on the Enterprise and had accepted a desk job. I don't know why he did it. He hated it. He was bored and lonely. And then there was David, the son he couldn't see. I'm not sure what happened exactly between Carol Marcus and Jim to make her deny him access to his son. But I think that he thought he might get to know the boy once he was safely on terra firma. It didn't work out that way.
"And then Spock..." She stopped, gathering her thoughts. Penhallon moved slightly, as if to show he was waiting for her to continue. "He decided to go back to Vulcan. To study the discipline of Kohlinahr."
"I know it's hard to believe now. But at the time, it was what he wanted."
She shook her head. "I've never known."
"You and he weren't close then, were you?"
"Let's just say that my feelings for him were much fonder than his were for me."
"Ahh. But Kirk and he...were they--?"
"Lovers? I never thought so. But..." She exhaled deeply. "That's not exactly true. I never _wanted_ to think so. Because of what it would have meant for my own chances with Spock, I guess. I just told myself they were very close friends. With a bond of love, yes. But not lovers."
"But when Spock left?"
"Jim was devastated. We both were. And he was bored at work. And he couldn't see his son. It was nearly too much. We ran into each other, went to a bar. He needed someone to talk to. Drinking made it easier to talk. To share what we felt."
"Yeah. And the loneliness. I could understand what he was saying, who he was missing because I felt it too. I understood the feelings of betrayal. The loss. We drank too much that night. Far too much."
"And you ended up going home together," he guessed.
"We just wanted someone to hold, I think. Someone that wasn't a stranger."
"I've been there. We all have. Nothing to be ashamed of."
"I know." She closed her eyes. "We kept doing it though."
He turned over, his eyes when they met hers held no censure. "I've been there too."
"They announced that a new captain would be taking his ship out. It was even someone he'd recommended. Will Decker." She could still see Kirk's face as he told her the news. "I think that made it worse, that he was envious of his own pick for successor. He complained about Decker. Said that Will wouldn't have any idea how to treat the Enterprise. That he wasn't good enough for her. I didn't argue." She looked away. "But I should have. Because Will was my friend. I knew he was working day and night on the refits. He knew that ship better than almost anyone. But I didn't say that. And later I didn't say anything to Kirk when Decker offered me the position of CMO. Did you know that? That I was supposed to be CMO of the Enterprise?"
"I knew you were Deputy CMO there. How did Kirk take the news?"
"As you might expect. I was just one more betrayal in a life that must have seemed full of them." She brushed a tear away impatiently. "I mean it wasn't like we were in love or anything." Her voice caught and she took a deep breath. "I should have told him sooner. He would have understood...would have urged me to do what was right for me, for my career. He was that kind of man. I don't know why I didn't just tell him."
Penhallon waited for her to continue.
"Luckily for him, V'Ger came along and he had the reason he needed to take the ship back. Got to keep it in the end too when Decker sacrificed himself." She trailed off, remembering the intense light that had been all that was left of Decker and Ilia. "And Spock was with Jim again too. Just like always." She hated how bitter her voice sounded. Gave him a sheepish grin. "How many years have gone by and I still can't let it go? Pathetic."
He smiled back sympathetically. "Did you stay on the ship?"
"Yes. But I found myself once again working for Leonard McCoy. Same old Christine Chapel only now I had Doctor in front of my name instead of Nurse."
"And you and Kirk?"
"I don't think he ever really forgave me. I don't mean that he ever treated me badly. He wouldn't. He was a really good man. But we were never close again. I tried a couple of times to see him privately, to explain. He was polite but distant. So I attempted to forget it ever happened. Tried to be happy in my role as deputy."
"You and Spock?"
She smiled bitterly. "He was cordial."
"Ah." He reached over and touched her cheek, smoothing away another tear. "You've never told anyone this, have you?"
She shook her head.
"Not even those two men you love so much?" There was no mockery in his tone.
"They don't want to know."
"Why do you say that?"
"They don't. They think they know who I am. And they're happy with that. They have their vision of who Christine is and they don't want this darkness intruding. No one ever does."
"Do you really believe that?"
She nodded. "If you asked them who I am, they'd tell you words like loyal and dedicated. Nice and gentle and unselfish."
"Not bad things. But I do understand. I remember you looking at me and seeing the opposite qualities. You thought I was shallow, selfish, and not very bright. Others have thought that too."
"But when they get to know you, they learn who you really are. The good things replace what they thought. That's easy for people. But when the things they learn aren't so good, then it's hard. They don't want that. It interferes with the image they have of you." She sighed. "I'm not allowed to have a shadow. So I keep it inside." She looked at him searchingly. "But I'd want to know, you know? If it were someone I loved, I'd want to know the real person. The good and the bad."
He looked at her searchingly. "Are you sure about that?"
He stared at her. "What if it was really bad? What if it turned everything you thought you knew about the person on its head?"
"Then I'd especially want to know. Or else it'd be as if I never really knew the person at all...just a hollow image."
His expression was unutterably sad as he nodded. "I believe you."
"Wouldn't you want to know?" she asked him softly.
"I don't know. Sometimes ignorance is bliss." He sighed. "Go to sleep, Christine. It's been a long day."
"Thank you for listening."
He smiled gently. "Thank you for trusting me." He closed his eyes.
"Good night, Stephen," she whispered. She rolled over and stared at the stars until she could no longer keep her eyes open.
"Carter to Spock."
Kerr jerked awake as Spock reached for his communicator. "Spock here."
The fire had burned down. Which considering the heat this early in the morning could only be a good thing. Kerr kicked some sand into it just to be safe. Not that there was much of anything to catch on fire here, he thought ruefully.
"Sir," Kavall said breathlessly. "I want to show you something. Permission to beam down?"
"Of course, Lieutenant."
They waited the few minutes it took her to get to a transporter room. She was already talking as she materialized. "--it's not the right signature, sir. I checked the figures twice, and the differences are very subtle. Easy to miss if you don't scan to this level. Although why a reputable scientist wouldn't scan to this level is beyond me." She glanced at the administration building behind them. "Is Doctor Marcus here?"
Kerr looked at Spock, assuming the Vulcan had not fallen asleep as he had. Some vigil he'd kept.
Spock's eyes held no censure as he nodded. "She came in an hour ago."
Kavall sighed. "She's not going to like this news, sir."
"Then the sooner she hears it, the better." Kerr said, rising and walking into the building. Collins met him in the hall. "Could you get Doctor Marcus?"
"Yes, sir," Collins replied, moving quickly into the depths of the still-dark administrative building. A few minutes later he emerged with both Doctor Marcus and a large cup of coffee for Kerr.
"Bless you, Jeff," Kerr said softly, taking a long swallow and ignoring the slow burn as he waited for the caffeine to take hold.
"What's so important I couldn't finish my breakfast?"
Spock nodded to Kavall. "It's about the area you terraformed. Before she disappeared, Commander Chapel took some very detailed scans."
"Of the grass?" Marcus asked.
"No, of the life living in and on the grass." Kavall took a deep breath. "And there is life there. Life with a signature that is different than that which would be found in this universe."
Marcus looked at her as if she was crazy. "You must be joking. You dragged me away for this?"
"See for yourself," Kavall said as she thrust the tricorder at the other scientist. "Even the grass is off. Not to mention awfully mature. That never bothered you, Doctor Marcus?"
"The accelerant at work," Marcus said with a shrug. "The growth is accelerated, more mature. It's to be expected." She looked at the readings and suddenly her cockiness disappeared. "This is impossible."
"I know, Doctor. But the evidence is right there."
Marcus handed back the tricorder. "Take the readings again. Or better yet, test the next section we create. We have another test this afternoon."
Kavall looked at Spock. "Sir, I don't believe that's a good idea."
"You have one piece of evidence that does you no good if you can't repeat it. Surely as a scientist, you realize that, Lieutenant." She turned away. "The test is in one hour. You can analyze those results, if you like. But I'm not going to call off years of work based on one, possibly anomalous, reading." She strode angrily back into the administration building.
"We stay for the test." Spock looked at Kerr. "Did you notice a similarity between the disappearances?"
Kerr thought about it. "There'd been a test of Marcus' procedure each day. I didn't think it was significant at the time."
"Nor did I. But it would seem that perhaps it is." He led the other two into the administrative building.
Kerr motioned to Collins. "We're going to be observing a test. We think it might be a key to where Commander Chapel and the others have gone."
"You're with me, Major. The rest I want scattered well back. I don't want any of us too close to the others until I know what is going on."
They waited as the scientists came together for the test and started to carry the equipment to a distant spot. The Carter team followed them out, watching as they blocked off a much larger area than before.
"Is it smart, sir? Increasing the test area?" Kerr looked over at Marcus as she walked around directing the placement of the device that would start the process. "I'm no scientist, but this seems unwise."
"I agree with you," Spock replied. "Doctor Marcus, why are you increasing the test area?"
She turned and regarded him with unconcealed annoyance. "Because our timetable calls for it."
"But the disappearances--"
"You have no evidence that my experiments had anything to do with them. If you think I'll stop my life's work because you have a hunch, then you are very much mistaken."
"Where is the head of this mission? The Starfleet head. I wish to speak to him or her before you go ahead with this."
She smirked. "Commander Lollard is off planet just now. And Commander Jackson is missing. They blessed the schedule, Captain. You have one piece of evidence that may or may not be good. If it isn't, I've lost valuable time because of your unnecessary caution. I say we go." Before anyone could reply, she nodded to her assistant and the man started the detonation process.
The scientists all backed up rapidly as the accelerant was ignited and spread over the ground. Sparks again covered the area and as the bare earth gave way to green grass, Kerr felt a cool vapor rush over him.
An area about three times the size lay before them, identical to the other they had seen created. Except this had full-grown wildflowers growing in it.
"Sir, the flowers..." Kavall trailed off, looking to Spock for guidance.
"Start your scans, Lieutenant. We shall all stay here while you do it."
Kerr watched Marcus. She had bent down and was examining one of the wild flowers. Her face a study in tension, she slowly touched the stalk of a particularly tall one then looked over at him. He thought for a moment that she looked unsure, then she rose abruptly and turned away. Don't go too far, he thought, as he watched her go.
As the heat beat down on them, they waited for Kavall to set up the device that Christine had used the day before.
She adjusted it several times before joining Spock and Kerr. "We need to move back a ways. I don't want any of us to interfere with the readings.
Kerr motioned to Collins and the other marines to fall back.
Then they waited. Kerr could feel the sweat trickling down his neck and between his shoulder blades. He wiped his forehead, glancing over at Spock as he did. The Vulcan wasn't even sweating. Suddenly Kerr felt a cool breeze again and his gaze was torn to a sharp sparkle in the air. Some sort of tear was opening in midair near the marines that were standing on the other side of the new grassy area.
"Christine," Kerr said as he took off running. He could hear the others behind him. Then he saw that the rip was pulling the two marines closest to it inside. Another marine ran to help, grabbing his comrade and digging in to the loose soil, trying to anchor himself.
"Hold on," Kerr heard Collins yell behind him.
But even as they got closer they saw the first man suddenly fly into the air and disappear into the rift.
Christine's in there, Kerr thought, as he put on an extra burst of speed. If I can get to her.
The other two marines were suddenly yanked off their feet and pulled violently into the rift. Kerr saw that it was starting to close. "No!' he yelled as he launched himself at the rapidly diminishing hole.
A tackle brought him to the ground short of his goal. But not before he saw the rip close well before he would have reached it.
"My apologies for the unorthodox means of stopping you," Spock said as he got up. "It was a good idea but only part of your body would have made it through."
Kerr just nodded. He had been so close.
"We will find her," Spock said as he held out his hand, waiting for Kerr to take it. When he finally did, the Vulcan pulled him up effortlessly.
Kerr looked at where the rip had been and sighed. So very close.
"I got it, sir," Kavall's voice rang out.
Spock and Kerr turned to look at her.
She held up her tricorder. "I scanned the rift or whatever that was."
"Good work, Lieutenant." Spock turned to Kerr. "Doctor Marcus will run no more tests until we get to the bottom of this."
"Yes, sir." He motioned to Collins. "I have your permission to place her under arrest if she doesn't comply?"
Spock's look was dangerous as he said, "You have my permission to take any steps you deem necessary, Colonel."
"I think I hear voices," Penhallon said as they made their way into a small clearing. "Coming from this direction."
"Not one more step," a gruff voice warned them.
"Where is he?" Christine whispered.
She thought she heard a ghostly echo say, "Whereishe" from just to her right. She turned and followed the voice.
"I said stay where you are," a man said, stepping out from the trees just beyond where she was walking.
She sensed Penhallon coming up behind her, saw but couldn't force herself to move as the stranger lifted a phaser and fired directly at her.
Penhallon pushed her and she fell to the ground clear of the fire. But his momentum carried him directly in the weapon's path. With a cry that was abruptly cut off, he fell to his side on the ground beside her.
"Stop firing, we're Starfleet," she yelled to their assailant as she leaned over Penhallon. "Stephen."
He looked up at her, his eyes awash with pain. "Christine...I don't think I'm going to charm my way out of this one." He began to shiver in reaction. "Had to keep you safe."
"Yes, Stephen, you kept me safe." She began to inspect his injuries; the front of him was bloody and she tried to locate the source of the bleeding.
"Just...one...kiss," he managed to say, looking at her dully.
She leaned down, her lips almost touching his, and said, "Penhallon, I'm a damn doctor. Do you think I don't recognize a flesh wound when I see it? Just one kiss, my ass."
He groaned as he sat up, clutching his arm where the phaser had hit him. "Well, it really does hurt, you know. A kiss might have made me feel better."
"Yeah, I bet it would have." She tore some cloth from his shirt and pressed it firmly to the wound. She was about to glare at him again but the look on his face showed real pain. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," he said, as she tied a longer strip of cloth over the pad, holding it securely in place.
"Who the hell are you," the man who'd fired on them said as he approached.
"Commander Christine Chapel and my erstwhile champion here is Commander Stephen Penhallon. And you are?"
"Lieutenant Commander Frederick Jackson." He looked into the trees and barked, "Okay, you can come out now."
Six more people walked slowly out of the woods. They looked shell-shocked.
"The missing teams," Christine said. "We've been looking for you."
"Not very damn hard. We've been here quite a while," Jackson said.
"Where's here?" she asked
"Why'd you shoot at us," Penhallon asked as he allowed Christine to help him to his feet. "A week away and you can't recognize a Starfleet uniform when you see it?"
"You're the first strangers we've seen in all this time. Can't blame me for being a bit edgy." He looked around as if waiting for something, his eyes wild and not quite stable. "Besides, this place is pretty creepy."
"Creepy how?" Christine asked.
"Creepy voices. Creepy dreams when you try to sleep. Creepy feeling of being watched."
"Creeeeeeeeeee," the echo came again.
Jackson whirled and fired, nearly hitting one of the people in his group. "Show yourself, dammit."
Christine frowned. "It's what I thought I heard earlier."
"Heeeeearrrrdd," came the echo.
"There it is again," Christine said as she tried to follow the sound.
"Make it talk again, I'll take care of it," Jackson said, bringing the phaser up to reset the weapon to kill.
Christine glared at him. "Put that thing away. And be quiet."
Jackson made a disparaging sound.
Christine looked at Penhallon. "There's something here."
In the silence, she closed her eyes and listened hard. The sound was coming from just behind her. She turned slowly, opening her eyes briefly to make sure she wasn't going to bump into Penhallon, then closed them again as she walked forward a step at a time.
The sound stopped.
She whispered, "I know you're there."
Suddenly she felt something brush against her arm. The touch was feather light and she didn't move. Another touched brushed her neck and she heard one of Jackson's people gasp as her hair was lifted from her neck.
"Shhh," Christine cut Jackson off.
"Shhh," repeated a ghostly voice.
Out of the corner of her eye, Christine saw Penhallon slowly move to her side. "What is it?" he whispered.
"Whatisit," the voice whispered back, the words run together and barely intelligible.
"Can you understand me?"
"Canyouunderstandme," came the nearly inaudible echo.
"There's something here," she repeated, looking back at Jackson and motioning for him to put his phaser away.
He looked at her skeptically.
"Please?" she asked.
"Please," the ghostly voice repeated.
"We don't know what this thing is or even if it's friendly," Jackson said stubbornly, clutching his weapon more tightly.
"Thing..." The voice seemed less breathy and more substantial. "Friendly."
"I think it's learning our language. The same way our universal translators do. By listening. I think we should keep talking," Penhallon said.
"Can you help us?" Christine asked. "We don't know how we came to be here. We don't really want to be here. We need to get back to our own world and our own people. Can you help us get back there?"
"Oh this is just foolishness," Jackson holstered his phaser. "I don't know what you think this thing is or how in the hell you think it's going to help us get back, Commander? Do you know how much time we've spent with this thing shadowing us, echoing our words? Didn't help us one goddamn bit."
"Time is foolishness," the voice said before Christine could answer.
"What does that mean? Is there no time here?" Penhallon reached out toward where the sound had come from, then grimaced as his wounded arm protested. "Where are we? What are you and why can't we see you?"
"Time to see you."
"Well, that's certainly helpful," Jackson noted as he stepped up to where Christine was standing. "My people and I have been here too damn long to not know that time passes just fine on this world. What I want to know is how did we get here and how the hell do we get back?"
"World passes. Time passes."
"How did we get here?" Christine shivered as she felt something touch her cheek. "Who are you?"
"Can't you see it's just an echo," one of the woman in Jackson's group said. "You're talking to something that's mimicking you is all. You surely don't expect to have a real conversation with that do you?"
The voice did not answer.
"Where did it go?" Penhallon asked, looking around as if he could find it.
"Come back," Christine said. It needs words, she thought sadly. We aren't giving it enough. Or maybe we are giving it too much. Maybe it needs more than words. She remembered how it felt when she had been in the meld with Spock. How there were words but somehow they were richer, more nuanced than when just spoken.
She sank to the ground and closed her eyes, trying to relax and open her mind to whatever this thing was. More than words, she thought, imagining the voice in her mind the way Spock's had been. I am open to you.
Nothing happened. She almost laughed out loud. Did she really think she could talk mind-to-mind? She opened her eyes; ready to take any ribbing Jackson cared to give out and gasped as she did.
A woman, nearly transparent, stood in front of her, close enough to touch.
"Christine? What is it?"
She didn't take her eyes off the woman, as she answered, "You can't see her, Stephen?"
The woman smiled. Her voice was rich as it filled the air, "They cannot see me."
"Who are you talking to, Christine," Penhallon said, his voice getting closer as he too dropped to the ground. "I can't see anything."
"I can," she said, as she drank in the sight of the woman. She was tall and lithe, her form draped in graceful robes. Her eyes were kind and serene. Even as Christine watched, she seemed to become more solid. "Who are you?"
"My name is Taillte."
"Why can't they see you?"
The woman looked at the others. "Because I do not wish it."
"Then why can I see you?"
"Because I wish it."
"What the hell does it want with us?" Jackson asked.
"Want? There is not want. I am here always. You are the ones that come." Taillte suddenly flinched in pain. "Another door opens."
"Another door opens?" Christine repeated in confusion.
"What does that mean?" Penhallon asked.
"This world was inviolate. Apart and whole. Now it is torn, invaded by too many."
She flinched again and Christine reached out, not even pausing to think. As her hand touched the woman's robes, she was filled with a sudden burning. Her hand fell away and she slumped, leaning hard against Penhallon and panting slightly as she tried to catch her breath.
"Inviolate," Taillte repeated. "Until worlds touch."
As Penhallon supported her, Christine felt the fire in her hand begin to spread through her body. She cried out as pain filled her.
"Christine?" Penhallon eased her down.
"Now you feel the doors opening. Feel the burning."
Christine couldn't speak. She was in agony, her entire world reduced to the bright spark of fire that was consuming her.
"You're hurting her," she heard Penhallon say angrily.
"Understand. Feel." Taillte moved through Penhallon and lay down on the ground facing Christine. "All is linked here. Pain to one, pain to all. You are part of this now. Feel."
"Christine, dammit, tell me what's going on." Penhallon sounded angrier than Christine had ever heard him.
She reached up for him, a sudden thought filling her. "Stop the doors from opening."
"Yes. Stop the doors," Taillte said softly.
"What the hell are the doors," Jackson asked. "How do we close them if we don't even know what they are."
"They burn," Taillte said.
Christine moaned. "They burn."
"They burn?" Penhallon said. "What are they?"
"Burning the ground," Christine said, the thought popping into her head through the pain. She could almost hear Taillte's voice saying it.
"The accelerant...it's burning," Penhallon said.
Christine saw the seared patches of ground. There would be another one soon. "Burns," she repeated.
Jackson laughed. "Are you crazy, man? We need it to transform Livornin. It's the most promising of the methods we've tried."
"Not transforming, stealing," Christine gritted as the burning in her body increased.
"Now you understand." Taillte closed her eyes in satisfaction.
The fire reached her head and Christine screamed. Penhallon and Jackson disappeared and were replaced with the flickering colors of open flame. Gold and red and white-hot blue all flashed before her eyes. Her strength at its limit, she gave up and surrendered to the pain, she felt a connection between herself and everything around her--the trees, the grass, the sky, and the woman, who was all of them. They all burned.
She screamed again.
Then Taillte leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. Sudden relief filled her and the burning subsided. "You are yourself," the woman said softly as she slowly faded away. "Do not forget us."
Christine took a ragged breath and struggled to sit up.
"Take it easy," Penhallon urged her, helping her.
"Taillte is the whole planet," Christine said in wonder as she looked around. "And the planet is alive in a way we can't begin to understand. We're hurting it." She shuddered. "Hurting it so bad."
"That's bull and you know it, Commander." Jackson had pulled his weapon back out.
"It wasn't bull that she was in pain," Penhallon said.
"Look around you. This isn't Livornin. You saw that dustball and this couldn't be it. How could what we are doing there have any effect here?"
"Parallel universes," Christine said slowly as she reasoned it out. "The accelerant is somehow creating a bridge between the worlds. Commander Jackson, did your team disappear about an hour after a terraforming demo?"
"We did too. The accelerant must have an aftereffect; it opens a door to here. " She tried to stand, Penhallon supporting her when staying upright proved beyond her strength. "We have to stop it."
"No, we have to get back. I don't suppose the planet told you how to do that? " Jackson sneered at her.
Christine tried not to feel despair as she realized he was right. "She didn't."
"Yeah, I thought as much." He nodded to his group. "Let's get moving. This was a fun little rest stop, but obviously we aren't making any progress here."
"Wait, you can't just leave. You heard her."
"I heard the wind and a weird echo. Same as we've heard for a week. Anything more than that would be crazy." Jackson snapped them a mocking salute. "Commanders."
"Just hold on a minute," Penhallon said.
"Not a chance. We're looking for a way back, not some damn crusade to save a 'living' planet. We really don't need you two along to waste more of our time." Jackson briskly led his people away.
Christine watched them go, disbelief warring with anger. "Damn him!"
Penhallon grimaced as she bumped his injured arm. "Well, we're quite the pair, aren't we?"
She let him ease her down again. "We have to find the next door." She felt a hand brush her neck, thought that Penhallon had done it but then realized that his hands were both still holding her arms. "Taillte?"
"Shhh. Rest." The woman's voice was very gentle.
Christine felt a wave of weariness engulf her. She looked over at Penhallon and he too was having trouble keeping his eyes open.
Taillte's tone was hypnotic. "Sleep. Learn. Be."
Be what? Christine thought desperately as she fell into the welcoming darkness.
Kerr sat in the midday sun, heedless of the hot rays beaming down on him.
"Come inside, sir," Collins urged, standing in the shaded entrance behind him.
Kerr just shook his head, felt a glass of water being pressed into his hand.
"At least drink this." When he didn't move, Collins leaned down and said softly, "You'll be no good to her if you're in sickbay with heatstroke."
"I'm no good to her as it is, Jeff."
"That's not true," Collins said, crouching down. "We'll get her back. Captain Spock and Lieutenant Kavall seem to be making some kind of progress." He shrugged. "The captain actually seemed excited."
Kerr turned to look at his second in command. "You're not just saying that?"
Collins smiled and shook his head. "I swear to god, I thought he was going to have an expression."
"She'll be back," Collins said, resting his hand lightly on Kerr's shoulder. "You two were meant to be together."
As Collins walked back inside, Kerr brought the glass to his lips. The water felt good. He had been punishing himself. So sure that he'd lost her. But Spock wasn't giving up so neither should he.
Of course he didn't have that mental connection thing going with his lover like the Vulcan seemed to.
His lover. He sighed. But for how much longer? Even if she didn't leave him for Spock, a fact he was increasingly less sure of, she was bound to get Farrell's message sooner or later. He'd have to be a fool to think that he could stop it from reaching her especially when he had no idea where it would come from or even what form it would take.
The lies were beginning to eat at him like some gangrenous wound. He knew from experience that the only way to stop the rot was to cut it out. But was it too late for him to turn this around? Was it too late to come clean?
He sipped the water again. I'll make a deal with you, he said to the universe and whatever deity might control it. You have Spock walk out here right now and I'll tell him the truth. No more lies. He thought of Nako. Well, none that involves just me anyway.
"Colonel, are you all right?" Spock stood in front of him.
Kerr laughed outright.
"Sir, I need to talk to you. Somewhere private. Can we walk for a minute?"
Spock nodded and followed him away from the administrative building. They walked for a good five minutes before Kerr stopped and turned to him. He tried to think of where to start and found himself at a loss for words. He kicked at the dirt and watched a small dust cloud rise up.
"Randall, I assume this is important?"
"It is." He looked up, met Spock's eyes. "I need to tell you the truth."
"The truth?" Spock's eyebrow went up. "I wasn't aware you had ever told me anything but."
Kerr looked down again. " On every mission we've been on, I've been your security chief, and I've always spoken my mind. I've come to love this ship, and this mission. I've come to admire you...our personal issues notwithstanding."
Spock nodded carefully.
"But I'm not exactly who you think I am."
Spock took a deep breath. "Your past service is rather hazy, but not out of the ordinary for someone who has made a career in the Special Forces."
"It's more than that." He looked up again. The truth called for him to look Spock in the eyes. "Farrell wasn't just an occasional flunky. And she wasn't working alone."
Spock stood very still.
"I was working with her."
"Why are you telling me this now?"
"Because I can't stand the lies anymore, sir. Because I feel like I've found something that really matters here on the Carter. Something I don't want to lose."
"Her, but more than just that." He looked away. "It was a wondrous game, Spock. The things we'd do in the section. The power was heady. The ability to make change without anyone realizing what we'd done or how we'd done it was such a rush." His eyes met the Vulcan's; saw curiosity and the smallest amount of censure. "But then this mission started. It was supposed to be a convenient way to mount some ops that we'd otherwise never have the means and access to do. But as we worked, something changed...inside me. Something began to matter other than just having fun, than just going for the rush. I fought with Ren after we confronted her about the virus. Told her I was out. She was going to turn me in to our superiors."
"So you killed her." It wasn't a question.
"No! Sir, I didn't."
"Can you prove that?"
Kerr nodded. "I was with Christine. I was trying to keep her away from Ren. Because of what Ren had threatened."
"To tell her about your past?"
Kerr said softly, "Christine was part of my assignment."
Spock finally looked taken aback. "You don't love her?"
Kerr didn't look away. "I do. Now. But at first...not the way she thought I did."
"This would hurt her beyond measure."
Kerr nodded. "I know. It still may. Ren sent some kind of message. I thought the letter Christine got from Admiral Farrell was it. But it wasn't."
Spock looked away. "What you've told me constitutes betrayal of the highest order."
"But I'm telling you now...when I don't have to."
"Yes, but how can I believe you? You say you lied. How do I know that you would not kill?"
"I'm telling you that I was with Christine, I left the mess and ran into her in the hall. We went back to my quarters. We were there till she got the call from Carpenter. She'll vouch for me."
"Unfortunately, she is not here. And I cannot trust you without her word." Spock studied him carefully. "There is another way. We forced Christine to do it, you and I. Can I ask less of you?"
"A meld?" Kerr asked, shaking his head regretfully. "I wish I could give you my thoughts. But I took an oath, Spock, that I'd keep the secrets safe. There's too many of them inside here--" he tapped his forehead "--to just open my mind to you."
Spock's jaw tightened. "A handy evasion. It will make any sort of truth serum as problematic."
"And probably ineffective. I've been trained in countermeasures."
"Of course." Spock's look was thoughtful. "There is another way. But you have to trust me, Colonel."
"I do, sir."
Spock pulled out his communicator. "Spock to transporter room."
"Transporter room here, sir."
"Two to beam up."
"Aye, sir. Transporting now."
In seconds, they were on the pad. Spock led Kerr off the platform, walking quickly for the turbolift.
"Spock to Nako," he commed.
"Nako here, Spock. What can I do for you?"
"Are you in your quarters?"
"Yes," she answered.
"I will tell you there." As they entered the lift, he told it "Deck two."
Kerr frowned slightly. Why was Nako being brought into this? Could Spock possibly suspect her role in Farrell's death, in Randall's cover up? He followed in silence as Spock led the way to her door. It hissed open as they walked up.
"Come in," her voice called from inside the room.
Kerr wanted to warn her but wasn't sure how.
She was sitting at her terminal reading. She looked up and smiled at them. "Just catching up on some back issues of Diplomacy. It's amazing the things these so-called professionals think are new ideas." She glanced at Kerr; saw how stiffly he was standing and the way he shot a warning glance at her. "Is something wrong, grandsons?"
Spock took the few steps that would bring him close to her. "I need your help, Nako. Strictly off the record."
"Of course." She glanced again at Kerr. "And what does my other grandson need?"
"He has told me some things I did not know about him. He says he has told me the truth about the murder of Lieutenant Commander Farrell, but I cannot believe it without proof."
Kerr had to give her credit. She didn't miss a beat as she asked, "What does he say?"
Spock looked at Kerr. "You tell me, Nako. What does he know of this? Is what he told me truth or just a carefully packaged lie to go along with the others he says he has told us?"
Kerr kept his expression neutral as she approached.
"Grandson, have you been up to no good?"
He nodded slowly.
She stood with her back to Spock. Her eyes searched Kerr's face as she slowly reached up to lay her hand on his forehead.
He pulled away with a jerk. "I said no mind meld."
Spock shook his head. "It is not a true meld. She gets something more akin to impressions."
"Feelings, the sense of the person." She smiled at him as she once again reached for him.
He felt her hand touch his skin and he shuddered. Hands that can kill, he reminded himself. And we never found a weapon, he thought suddenly. What did she use? Or did she even need one?
Nako raised her eyebrows at him as she pressed her hand more firmly against his head. He felt a surge of calm rush through him. How could he be afraid of her? When she could offer such peace? He tried to give her his feelings, tried to clue her in to what he had revealed to Spock.
"He has lied about many things," she said, her voice harsh and cracking as if she was speaking with great effort. "He is not what he seems." She turned so that Spock could see her face as she pressed her face against Kerr's chest. Her eyes closed as she said, "He loves her so."
Kerr saw Spock look down.
"He would do anything to protect her."
Spock suddenly looked up, his eyes locked with Kerr's.
"Except that which you suspect him of, Spock." Nako pulled away. "He has killed in the past, but he is not the killer you seek."
"Can he be trusted?"
"With what?" She looked at him with an expression that Kerr could not decipher.
"With the lives of the people on this ship? With the mission? With the faith I put in him?"
She looked over at Kerr. "Can you be trusted, Randall?"
He didn't look away from Spock's eyes as he nodded solemnly.
Nako turned to Spock. "It seems he can. But what of you, grandson? Can you be trusted?"
Spock glanced at her in question.
"With something he values? Can you be trusted not to try to take it away?"
Kerr shot her a warning look but she just shook her head. "No, Randall, if there are to be no secrets then let this be spoken of too. You already suspect, I can feel it in you."
Spock did not move.
Kerr broke the silence with a muttered, "I don't want to know."
"You already know," Nako said vehemently. "It is time for the secrets and the lies to stop. You will never build a bridge to the truth if all that is false is not brought to light."
Kerr stared at her, amazed at her audacity. She smiled benignly at him. Spock took a deep breath and rose slowly.
"You are wise, as always, Nako." He moved to stand in front of Kerr. "I took something that was not mine to have. I am not proud of it. And I regret any pain I caused you." He paused. "But I cannot say I would not do it over again."
Kerr could feel his face tighten. "Forgiveness requires contrition."
"Oh bull, Randall," Nako said with a laugh. "If that were true, nobody would ever be forgiven."
Both men stared at her.
"You heard me. Contrition is not necessary. Just the truth. And the will to not hurt each other again." She sighed and her eyes seemed to shift out of focus, "Once you find her, there will be an explosion. You will all be tested." She looked at them, her expression confused.
"A premonition?" Spock asked.
She shook her head as she looked at her loom. "I'm not sure." She seemed genuinely surprised at what she had said. She straightened and turned back to the terminal. "He didn't kill Farrell, Spock. You will have to decide if you can live with the lies he has told. While you're deciding, why don't the two of you do something useful like finding my favorite granddaughter?" She turned away, the conversation clearly over as far as she was concerned.
Penhallon wandered the pathways alone, but he was aware of every living thing around him. The soil on which his feet stepped told him her story. The trees above him gave their shade along with the stories of their lives. The water he knelt down to drink laughed merrily as most of it ran through his fingers. He laughed too, utterly delighted in the feeling of belonging. Of finally belonging.
"It's so beautiful," he heard behind him and turned to see Christine. She smiled at him as she played with a stone. "Tell me a story," she whispered to it before setting it back down. "The stories never end," she said dreamily as she sank down on a bed of old leaves and fallen sticks. "Never ending."
He moved till he was standing over her. Felt a rush of attraction sing through him. She looked up at him and smiled. Then she laughed and threw a twig at him. He grinned and leapt at her but she was up and running before he could get her.
She screamed as he rushed after her, the sound one of pure delight. When his hands reached for her again, she let him catch her. As he pulled her to a stop, she turned and smiled at him. Staring at her intently, he felt a reticence come over him. Her look was vastly tender as she leaned in and laid her cheek against his. "The story never ends," she whispered into his ear.
Then she was off again. A girlish trill of laughter trailing after her. He laughed and spun around and around until he was so dizzy he was reeling. She came up behind him and put her arms around him, steadying him as he stared up at the sky.
"So beautiful," she said again.
He held his arms out again. "Everything here is. It's like I've never really seen anything before."
"Yes, exactly." Ducking under his arm, she faced him and held out her hands.
He took them without hesitation and let her pull him into a crazy spin. He leaned back until he could only see the sky and the sun.
Finally she slowed to a less wild pace and he pulled her close. He wanted to kiss her. And he didn't.
"Find another way," a voice said behind him.
"Taillte," Christine said, letting go of him and rushing to the woman. She fell to her knees in front of her. "I want to learn."
"You are learning, dear one," the woman said, holding out her right hand and when Christine took it, drawing her back to her feet. Taillte turned to Penhallon and held out her other hand. "Come to me, love."
He nearly ran to her side, felt the shock of connection to all around him deepen when he took her hand. She was everything. All that was. The planet, the life on it, the essence inside them. "Taillte," he whispered in awe.
Christine looked at him and smiled. "Now you see."
He smiled back. "No. Now I feel." He felt his desire for her change into something purer, something sweeter. "We are all one," he realized.
"All one. Never ending," Taillte said, leaning down to kiss the top of his head. She let go of them. "Never forget."
He was confused. "How can I forget this? This is all there is. All I'll ever want."
Taillte's look was full of compassion. "Once tasted, always desired. Ever has it been."
"Come away," Christine pulled at him, her look distracted. "I hear them."
"No, there's no one, Christine. Stay here."
She gave him a serene smile. "He calls to me. Can't you hear his voice?"
He reached for her but she had already turned away. Walking slowly toward a bare patch of dirt, he realized they had somehow returned to the place they had first appeared on Taillte. "No," he said dully
"Spock!" she cried, and the cry turned into a piercing scream, waking Penhallon with a start.
Christine was the one screaming. He reached for her and yelped in pain. He had forgotten about his injured arm. In the dream, he had been whole, complete. He felt a sadness fall over him as the sense of belonging he had felt dissipated.
He shook Christine awake with his good arm.
"Spock," she sobbed. "I can feel him. But I can't reach him."
He nodded. "We have to go back. To where we came."
"The dream," she said, her eyes widening.
"The dream," he said sadly.
She looked down. "We were one with her."
"We were one with goddamn everything." He had never felt so bitter.
"Stephen, I'm sorry." She reached her hand out to him but he pulled away.
"It'll be light soon. Let's start walking. We have a long way to go." He got up and strode into the dark, not even paying attention to where he put his feet. Then he stopped. The darkness was alive with motion, with life. He was seeing in a new way. He sensed Christine coming up behind him. "Is it different for you too?"
"I can see perfectly." She took his hand. "I guess we're still one with everything. At least until we get back."
He squeezed her hand before pulling her gently into the night.
"Christine!" Spock jerked awake, his hands clenched around the plastic handles of the chair he sat in.
"Sir?" Kerr rushed over.
"Christine. I could barely hear her. She was calling to me, but I could not make out the words."
"Is she all right?"
Spock nodded, tried to recall what he could of the dream he's been having. Going back...he had the sense she and Penhallon were going back. Back to where? He looked at Kerr. "She said they were going back."
He shook his head. Then he rose and walked out into the late afternoon sun. The landscape was as barren as it had ever looked.
"Back to the beginning," Kerr said. "Back to where they were taken from."
Spock followed his gaze out to the plot of grass. "They must have wandered from it."
"Perhaps they ran into the others that disappeared?"
"If they're going there, Spock. Shouldn't we?" Kerr didn't wait for an answer, just scooped up several water containers and his tricorder and set out.
Spock was about to follow when he sensed that someone was watching him. Turning, he found Carol Marcus staring at him. Her gaze, caught by surprise, was full of some dark emotion.
"You know your work here is finished, Doctor." It was not a question.
She nodded. "You seem always to be involved in the ending of my work, Mr. Spock."
"Hardly a loss as you are not really terraforming anything here."
"We don't know that for sure. It's ludicrous to think that I could reach through and snatch part of a planet from another universe. Completely outlandish."
"Yet that appears to be precisely what is happening."
"You don't have any proof." She stepped closer to him. "Why did you survive?"
He cocked an eyebrow at her.
"David didn't. He died on that planet too. Why didn't he come back from the dead?"
"There were significant differences in the manner of our deaths, as you well know, Doctor."
"Yes," she said bitterly. "Jim wasn't willing to move heaven and earth to get him back." With that she turned on her heel and walked away.
Spock let out breath he had not been aware he was holding. Sighing slightly, he headed outside and saw that Kerr was halfway to the plot. Spock slowly followed behind him, trying to determine--as he had since he learned the truth--what the colonel's motive had been for his confession.
Kerr turned to look at him. His expression was grim, as if expecting the worst.
Spock walked up to him. "You realize that in telling me the truth, you put at risk everything you care about?"
Kerr nodded, never taking his eyes off Spock's face.
"I could force you to leave the ship."
"I know, Spock."
"She would be mine then."
Spock found himself unable to hold Kerr's gaze any longer. He looked toward the grassy area. "Tell me why I should not do just that?"
Kerr didn't answer.
"To have you around, to know that my trust has been abused, to know that you are with a woman that I care about. Why would I want that?"
"Well, there is a logical reason. If you let me off at the nearest Starbase, then my superiors will only send someone else. Or turn someone that's already here. At least with me, you know what I am and that I want to work with you to keep them at bay as much as I can."
"As much as you can?"
"If I don't cooperate in some ways, they'll know that I've turned. And then they'll find a way to get me off the ship." He shook his head. "And then you'd be back at square one again, wondering who you can trust and who you can't."
"Your argument is logical," Spock conceded. "But I find I am reacting to what you have told me on an emotional level, one that is unfortunately not swayed by your logic. So I still wonder why I should let you stay."
Kerr shrugged, turning away for a moment. Then he looked back at Spock. "Because you trust me and I get the sense that you don't trust too many people. And because as much as I may have put that trust at risk by lying to you, you still believe in me."
Kerr shook his head. "For once, this isn't about Christine, Spock. This is about us, Spock and Kerr, the captain and his head of security. Two dedicated officers who if circumstances were different might have been friends. Two men who have to find a new way now that the ground that they thought was so firm has been revealed as quicksand."
Spock looked away. "I want to believe in you, Randall."
"But you can't?"
Spock thought that over. Betrayal cut him deep. But how much betrayal had there been in this case? He had tried to consider the price of the lies Kerr had admitted to. Spock was having a hard time finding the harm.
And the betrayal had not been one-sided. His memory still burned with images of what he and Christine had done in her bed in San Francisco. While this man waited. None of them had behaved well. He looked at Kerr. "Do you think it is too late for us to be friends?"
"I ask the question seriously."
"Well, I know it'll be damned hard to be friends if you kick me off the ship." A grin threatened. "Would make the whole bonding process real tough."
Spock nodded trying to be serious, even though he could feel a small smile threatening. "There is something else that will make the bonding process tough."
"Okay, so maybe it is about Christine."
"The conversation does seem to return to her with alarming frequency."
Kerr did grin this time. "Damned if it doesn't. But for that damned cave-in..."
"Indeed. Ironic the way fate works. I had taken all the steps I thought possible to ensure the matter would be handled in a private way...one that would not involve Christine."
Kerr nodded. An uncomfortable silence fell between them. Spock turned to survey the horizon, eyes seeking but not finding a single interesting feature in the harsh landscape. Truly Livornin was an unpleasing planet.
"Do you want me to go?" Kerr asked quietly.
Spock didn't answer.
"If you want me to, as soon as we get her back, I'll go. You can't expect me to leave before that."
"What if I did? What if I told you to go now? Would you?"
Kerr shook his head slowly. "Don't ask me to, Spock."
Spock allowed his mouth to turn up slightly. "She would never forgive me if I did." He saw the relief on Kerr's face. "You do plan to tell her?"
Kerr swallowed hard and nodded slightly.
"And when you do she may be the one to ask you to go. You know that?"
"I know." Kerr walked over to the grass and sat down. "I just want to see her again. One time. Then I'll go."
"Do not leave on my account," Spock said as he walked slowly around the grassy plot. When Kerr looked up at him hopefully, Spock said sternly, "Consider that an order, Colonel."
"Sir, yes sir," Kerr said with a grateful smile.
"But she will--" Spock stopped speaking, cocking his head slightly to the side as he tried to hold on to the whisper he thought he had felt in the back of his mind. *Christine?* he asked softly.
*Spock..." Anything else she sent him was too faint to make out.
*T'hy'la, where are you?* He could sense her frustration as her mind voice faded. He opened his eyes.
Kerr was staring intently. "That was Christine wasn't it? You can sense her?"
"Just that she is there."
"I can't even feel her." Kerr picked at the grass savagely. "I just have to take your word for it that she's even still alive."
Spock had an idea. "Perhaps not. Stand up and give me your hand. And think of her." He saw Kerr starting to protest. "This is not a mind meld. Just an augmentation. It is possible you will sense her too."
Kerr frowned but did as Spock said. Spock closed his fingers around Kerr's and tried to picture Christine in his mind.
"Think of her," he urged Kerr as he called her again. *Christine!*
*Spock?* He could feel her surprise.
*You can't do it alone.* He sent her an image of Kerr, working with him.
*Of course.* Her presence disappeared for a moment, then it was back, stronger than before with Penhallon added to the mix. *Spock?*
But it still wasn't enough. Even as he sent her his thoughts he could tell she wasn't getting most of what he said. Her frustration rose. He heard her mind call out, *Taillte!* and wondered who she was talking to.
And then it was if it he was standing next to her, the sense of her was so strong. *Christine?*
*We are here,* said a voice that was hers...and so much more.
He let go of Kerr's hand and took several unsteady steps forward, shaken by the feel of her...so close and not anywhere near at all. *Christine, where are you?*
*The same place the grass is coming from. Each time Marcus tests her accelerant she rips more of this world away.*
*We know.* He felt her relief. *The rip opens after the accelerant is used.*
*Yes.* He could hear her say something but it wasn't to him and the words were indistinct. She seemed to be trying to convince someone of something. When she turned her attention back to him, he could feel both her satisfaction and something else's trepidation.
*We think we can get back if you run another test. Here, next to the last place we were. The rip will open and we can come through.*
*In theory,* he agreed.
*But just the once more, Spock. The tests are killing this world. Taillte must survive.*
Even as he asked, he felt a presence separate itself from Christine's consciousness and say, *Stop the burning.*
*We will. But we must get our people back.* He thought of the other disappearances. *Christine, it is not just you. Where are the others?*
*They don't trust us. We passed them on the way back. They ignored our calls. We could have led them back home, Spock. But they are too afraid.* He could sense her sadness and her anger.
*It will take some time to set up the equipment. Perhaps you can find them?*
*We will try, Spock,* her voice was not very confident.
*I will call to you when we are ready.*
The other presence inserted itself. *Do not call to her. I am stronger. Call me. And we will come.*
*As you wish,* he agreed and felt her slip from his mind. He opened his eyes slowly, not even sure when he had closed them. "We need to do another test, Colonel." His voice sounded harsh, gravelly. As if he had not spoken in weeks. "They will try to get back the same way they went."
Kerr didn't ask any questions. "I'll go get Doctor Marcus."
Christine turned to Penhallon, frustrated that hours of searching the area they had last seen Jackson's party had yielded nothing. "This is where we saw them yesterday." She called out loudly, "Commander Jackson!"
Penhallon joined her. "Commander Jackson. We've found the way home!"
There was no answer.
Christine threw her head back. "Where are they? Damn him." She sighed. "I guess we widen the search." She turned to set off but Penhallon's hand on her arm stopped her.
"Leave them, Christine."
"Leave them." He gently turned her back toward Taillte. "Which is more important? Finding a paranoid fool--" he looked down at his wounded arm with a rueful look "--or stopping what they're doing to Taillte?"
"We can't just leave them?"
"Why not? They just left us."
She stared at him.
"Christine. Think about it. A whole world or a handful of fearful people. Which is more important?"
"The needs of the many?"
He didn't look away when he nodded. "In this case, yes."
Christine was torn. She couldn't reconcile her responsibilities as a commander with the overwhelming need she felt to get back to where they needed to be.
"We can always come back for them when we know it works," he said.
"Can we? It would hurt her."
Christine closed her eyes, trying to connect with the echo of Taillte she still felt in her mind. *I can't just leave them,* she sent.
*It is time. Come back,* Taillte answered.
*The others. I can't just leave them here.* Christine could sense Taillte considering this. She tried to send her impressions of what would be required to come back.
*The door is too small for all of you,* Taillte answered calmly. *Come back later and gather those who are not my children.*
*But it will hurt you.*
*To stop the burning forever, I will endure a few more small hurts.*
Christine opened her eyes. Penhallon was staring at her and without a word turned and began to walk quickly back to their rendezvous site.
"You heard?" she asked.
"No 'I told you so,' Stephen?"
He didn't look back at her. "No."
"Hold it." When he only seemed to walk faster, she half ran to catch up with him and pull him to a stop. "What's wrong?"
His eyes, when he turned to face her, were lost.
"I want to stay."
"I want to stay. Here. With Taillte."
She stared at him.
"I belong here, Christine. I know you understand because you were in that dream too." She started to reply but he cut her off. "No! You felt it. I know you did. We were part of this, part of her. I still feel her, don't you?" He looked down, didn't see her nod. "For the first time in my life, I really belong to something. I don't want to give that up."
She stared at him. Stricken and unsure exactly why.
"Don't look at me like that."
"Stephen, I need you on the Carter."
His sigh was ragged. "Please don't ask me to leave here."
She could feel his emotion resonating through the echo of the link with Taillte. He was not understating his need to remain. But she could not ignore her own certainty that she needed him back in their world. "We're going back. Both of us. That's an order, Commander."
"Don't pull rank on me. This isn't a career choice, Christine."
"Yes it is. Spock needs you on his team."
"He can find someone else."
"Well, I can't, Stephen. I need you." She touched his arm. "Please come back?"
He shook his head. She felt her mouth set in a firm line. "Fine. Then stay here." She walked past him. When she heard him following, she turned and lashed out. "I mean it. Stay _here_ if you aren't coming."
He looked at her helplessly.
"I'll do this myself." She tromped away, not looking back. About five minutes later, she heard the sound of someone coming up behind her.
"Don't say a goddamn thing," he said quietly.
She didn't turn to look at him. "Stay here if that's what you really want." She heard him sigh and turned to meet his eyes.
He gave her a strange look. "I have things waiting for me on the ship. Things I haven't gotten around to doing yet."
She shot him a curious glance.
"The truth, Christine. It's my job to make sure you know it."
She smiled slightly. "You've done a good job so far."
"I hope you keep on thinking that." He tried to give her his practiced smile. The attempt fell curiously flat. "You may live to regret this day."
Before she could answer, a voice called out, "Who goes there?"
Three marines stood on the path, well ahead of them but effectively blocking their way. They were all fully armed.
"Well, now we know who came through when I felt the burning," she said to Penhallon. Raising her voice so that the marines could hear her, she yelled, "It's Commanders Chapel and Penhallon. Identify yourselves."
She could hear the relief in the marine's voice as he shouted, "Sergeant Donnegal, sir. With Corporals Callahan and Yuen."
Christine nodded to them, as they got close enough to make out their faces. Donnegal gave her a warm smile and she returned it, recognizing him from her frequent visits to the marine lounge.
"You're just in time to go back," she joked and saw the corporals relax slightly. "Come on."
They followed her without question, falling into step behind Penhallon and her. She glanced over at him. His face was set, as if he were marching to some terrible fate.
"If you want to stay..."
He didn't look at her as he shook his head.
"I'm sorry, Stephen."
He did look at her then. "No, you're not, Christine. We're too much alike for me to ever believe that."
Stung slightly, she asked, "Don't you think I'd like to stay?"
"I don't think that possibility ever crossed your mind." When she started to protest, he held up a hand. "Let it go, Christine. I'm coming back with you. I don't want to discuss this to death."
"Fine." She tried not to feel guilty.
Taillte's voice filled her mind, distracting her from anything else. *It is time, my own.* Christine could sense Penhallon was included in the conversation. *Close the doors. Stop the burning.*
Behind Taillte, Christine could sense Spock's essence. *I couldn't find Jackson,* she told him. *Someone will have to come back for them if this works.*
She could feel Spock's concern, then Taillte's reassurances that she understood what that meant.
As Christine saw the plot of dead ground come into sight, she heard Taillte say to Spock, *All is ready. You may begin.*
Spock nodded at Carol Marcus. "They are ready." He watched as she checked the device a last time then set the timer. She hurried over to where Spock and Kerr waited with Kavall and a detachment of marines.
The effective of the accelerant was no less dramatic the third time. Spock watched in something akin to wonder, as the land appeared to transform itself. But the scream of the planet that he heard in the back of his mind reminded him of the terrible crime that was being carried out. A sentient planet; it was a marvel. He almost wished he could go there, speak to her without the barrier between the universes getting in the way.
Marcus's jaw was set as she walked over to check the plot.
"You realize your experiments are over once we get the missing crew back?" Spock asked.
She nodded shortly.
"There are other ways to terraform," Spock continued.
She turned to face him. "Yes, slow, old-fashioned ways. Don't you want us to get beyond that? To find a better, faster way?"
"Faster isn't always better," Kerr said.
"I wouldn't expect you to understand, Colonel. But Captain Spock is a scientist."
"But not above everything else. There are always considerations, balances that must be struck."
"Do you think the great pioneers in our field were thinking about balance?" Marcus turned away. "I can see it is useless to argue with you. You are first and foremost Starfleet. I have always known what that meant."
"Who is funding your research here, Doctor?" Kerr asked.
"Oh, I'll use them when our interests dovetail, but I don't have to like them," she replied with surprising candor.
Spock cocked an eyebrow. "And when your interests and those of Starfleet do not coincide?"
She stared back at him, her expression neutral. "Why, I'll cease and desist as ordered, Captain. What choice do I have?"
Spock did not trust her. He could see by Kerr's face that he wasn't alone in that judgment. He was about to say something when he heard Taillte's voice say, *It begins.*
"It begins," he echoed her and pulled out his tricorder. Next to him, he saw Kerr do the same. They scanned for the same signature that Kavall had captured during the last test.
"Back up twenty feet," Kerr called to one of his marines. "Looks like it's opening about five feet from your current location."
The marine hurried back, barely escaping the pull of the rift as it suddenly opened.
"Move in but remember to keep at least twenty-five feet from it," Kerr yelled, even as he and Spock moved forward.
*They come,* Spock heard. He looked at Kerr. "They are attempting to cross now."
Kerr nodded. Spock heard him take a deep breath. "She will be alright."
"She has to be," Kerr agreed.
For a moment, Spock considered what his life would be like if Christine didn't survive the crossover. Then he saw her tumble out of the rip, barely rolling out of the way of Penhallon and the three marines.
"Now," yelled Kerr. Several marines engaged portable tractor beams, holding the recovered crew fast as the rift tried to suck them back in. A few moments later the rip collapsed in on itself.
As Spock hurried forward, he could feel Christine's relief and the fear she had felt as the rift tried to pull her back. He saw her turn to Penhallon and help him up as the man grimaced.
"You re-injured this when you fell," she said as she examined his arm gently. Turning to Spock and Kerr, she said, "He should be in sickbay."
"Consider it done," Kerr said, calling up to the ship for transport. "You should be there too," he suggested as Penhallon was beamed up.
"I'm fine." She let her gaze sweep across both Spock and Kerr. "It's great to see you again." She saw Marcus walking away from their group and her expression closed down. "She won't be allowed to continue, will she?"
"No." Spock looked at the plot of grass. "I felt Taillte's pain."
She shook her head. "No, you felt an echo of it. The real thing is much worse."
"I will take your word for it." Spock looked at Kerr who was staring at Christine as if afraid she would disappear again if he took his eyes off her. He wondered if he was wearing the Vulcan approximation of the same look. "You should report to sickbay before we debrief you."
"Christine," he said warningly and saw Kerr nod in agreement.
"Okay, I know when I'm in a losing battle." She gestured to the marines that had come through with her. "Come on guys, we've got to get checked out."
They gathered around her, then they all disappeared in the shimmer of the transporter.
Kerr wiped his hand across his mouth as he let out the breath he must have been holding. "Are you going to tell her the things I told you?"
Spock shook his head. "No, you are."
Kerr sighed. "Thank you for that."
Spock just nodded. "Come, we are both eager to see her again."
Kerr reached out to stop Spock, then realizing the liberty he had been about to take, he dropped his hand. "This can't go on."
"No. It cannot."
Kerr shook his head and laughed reproachfully. "Who am I kidding? Like there'll be any question who she wants to be with once she knows the truth."
"You do not know that."
Kerr made a face. "Oh come on, Spock. We both know how she's going to react."
"She is a complex woman. She may surprise us both," Spock said, although he did not really believe it. Kerr's truth would hurt her deeply, probably beyond any possibility of forgiveness. He felt a curious conflict at the thought.
"Well, you look fine but I want you to rest in your quarters for the rest of the day." Carpenter turned and set down the diagnostic tool. "Commander Penhallon got the same orders after I healed his arm. So don't try to argue."
"But I'm fine."
"And running on sheer adrenaline."
Yawning suddenly, Christine realized she was right. The long trek without any sleep back to the place she and Penhallon had first arrived on Taillte, combined with the stresses of getting back, had left her wiped out. "Okay, I'll rest," she conceded with another yawn.
"I'm glad you're back." Carpenter smiled.
"Hell to break in a new boss?"
"Yeah, that's the only reason." Carpenter laughed and waved her off. "I'll tell the Captain that I've given you and Commander Penhallon the rest of the day off."
"He needs to debrief me."
"It can wait."
"I'm not sure it can."
Carpenter frowned. "Well, if it really can't, then he can do it in your quarters while you rest. That's an order."
Back in her quarters, she showered and was just changing into clean clothes when her door chimed. She was surprised to see Penhallon standing there. "Didn't get enough of me on Taillte?" she asked with a smile.
He didn't smile back.
"What is it?"
"The truth," he said as he handed her an envelope addressed to her in Renata's handwriting.
He gave her a conflicted look. "Just read it, Christine. This is one of those things I told you I had to come back for. And you did say you wanted to know the shadows."
He turned on his heel and walked back down the corridor, not even slowing when she called out, "Wait."
She let the door close behind her as she took the envelope to the table and opened it, sitting down as she began to read. The words blurred after the first few sentences and she blinked several times, her heart beating rapidly, her breath catching in her throat.
"I told him what to say. He knew what you'd respond to because I made sure he knew."
"It was good for our mission for him to get close to you."
"He really is too good to be true."
"It's all a lie."
When her door chimed again, she didn't even turn as she called out, "Come." She held the envelope against her stomach and tried to breathe.
"Christine?" Kerr's voice was concerned.
"Are you all right?" Spock said, his voice just as worried. "Perhaps the transition did not go as smoothly as we thought."
"Is it true?" she asked, her voice barely a croak.
"Is what true?" Kerr asked.
She turned slowly. Kerr's eyes went down to the envelope she was cradling and his face lost all color.
"So, it's true," she said.
His eyes met hers. A rush of pain filled her and she blinked back tears as she said, "How could you lie to me like this?"
"It started out a lie, but that's not what it is now." Kerr walked toward her but stopped when she raised her hand as if to ward him off. "Sweetheart--"
"Don't call me that. She told you it's what I like to hear!" Christine felt as if she would explode if she didn't get up. She threw the envelope down on the table and stood.
"Christine," Spock walked toward her. "I do not believe he is lying to you now."
"This doesn't concern you," she snapped at him.
"On the contrary, it does. Randall told me the truth. Before you and I made contact."
She laughed bitterly. "Of course he did, Spock. He's a smart guy. He knew I'd find out. This makes him look less guilty."
"He did not know then that we would get you back. There was no reason for him to confess except to clear his conscience."
Kerr tried again. "Christine--"
"That's Commander Chapel to you."
Spock touched her shoulder. "You did not see him when you were gone, Christine. I did. And what I saw was not a man pretending to be in love." When she looked away, he touched her check and turned her to look at him. "It was very much the real thing." His look made it clear that he thought he would recognize that sentiment. She wondered that he would show such blatant evidence of how he felt in front of Kerr. "He loves you."
"It's all a lie."
"He's not the only one that's been hiding those, is he?" Spock looked over at Kerr with a look of shared understanding.
"Were you ever going to tell me?" Kerr asked.
"Well obviously I didn't have to." She turned on Spock. "How could you tell him?"
"It is time to end the lies. Randall and I agree that things cannot continue as they are."
"Oh, you agree on that, do you?" She looked at Kerr, then turned back to Spock. "Did you hash out which one of you gets me too?" She pointed to the door. "Get out. Both of you."
Spock looked at her calmly then went to sit on the couch. Kerr took the chair across from him.
"Get out," she said again.
"No," Kerr said. "We have to talk about this."
"Fine. You two talk. I'll leave." And without giving them a chance to react she hurried out of her quarters and down the hall. She half expected at least one of them to give chase but no one followed her. She kept moving, her feet almost unconsciously heading to the one place she could think to go. She ran the chime, muttering, "Please be here, please be here--"
The door opened and Penhallon took one look at her before stepping aside to let her in. As the door closed she moved the two steps to him and felt his arms go around her.
"It's all right," he said as she started to cry.
"It'll never be all right," she answered through the sobs. She felt his arms tighten around her.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have given you the letter."
She pulled back slightly. Saw how contrite he looked at, how truly stricken he was in the face of her pain. "I had to know. And you had to be the one to tell me," she whispered as she moved closer to him. His eyes narrowed as she reached up to kiss him.
"No," he said firmly as he pushed her away.
She looked at him in confusion. "No?" she repeated dumbly.
"No. Don't you think your life is complicated enough without adding me to the mix?" He let go of her and stepped back several feet.
"Scared?" she asked, her earlier anger returning.
"Not at all. Cautious." He smiled mockingly. "You're very dangerous when you're like this, Christine. But that's your shadow, isn't it?"
She frowned. "I don't want to talk about my shadow."
"Fine, then tell me what happened."
"It's all a lie. Just like she said."
She looked at him in question.
"Was a lie. Kerr loves you now, Christine. Any fool can see that, and neither of us is a fool."
"And you've never lied to him?" He looked at her knowingly.
"You know what the letter said?"
"Well, it's all true. He never really wanted me."
"But he wants you now."
She felt like screaming. "Why are all of you defending him? He's not what he seems."
"Ah, now I understand. You're the only one allowed to have a dark side. You should have said that up front, my dear." He walked away from her.
"That's not what I meant."
"Sure it is." He poured himself a drink. "Scotch?"
She shook her head. "What he has isn't a dark side, it's a black hole, Stephen."
"A matter of degree, I agree with you. Perhaps he's lied about more things than you might have lied about to him. But tell me, how has he hurt you?"
"How has he hurt me?"
He nodded. "This new Kerr, this imposter. How has he hurt you?"
"Yes, we've established that. How did that hurt you?" He said each word very slowly, as if she were just a bit slow.
"Damn you. That's an idiotic question."
"I've watched you since I got here, Christine. You were hurting after Kirk died and Spock retreated into his own pain. Kerr was there for you. Even if he was prompted every step of the way, he comforted you, didn't he?"
"Yes, but it was a--"
"Yes, I know, a lie." He shook his head. "Christine, he loves you."
She sighed in frustration.
"Has he ever given you cause to think that he doesn't?"
She stared at him for a long time before finally shaking her head.
Penhallon walked over to her and used his free hand to steer her to a chair. "Sit down." He took the chair across from her. "I think that there's just one thing you need to figure out. One thing that really matters." He looked at her as if he wanted her to figure out what it was.
She frowned for a moment then the implication of the letter hit her. "Did he kill Ren?"
"You're quick." He smiled grimly at her. "I couldn't come up with an answer to that one."
She remembered back to that terrible night. They had been in his quarters when Carpenter had called her frantically. "I was with him when Ren was killed. He couldn't have killed her."
"Well, there you go." Penhallon finished his drink and put it down on the small table next to him. "So. How has he hurt you? And how have you hurt him?"
She met his eyes. His were neutral, full of curiosity but no judgment. She stood up slowly. "You're a good man, Stephen Penhallon."
"Well, don't spread it around. It'll completely wreck my reputation." He didn't get up as she walked to the door.
Without turning around, she asked, "Do you really not want me?"
"Why is it so important to you that I should?" he shot back.
She turned. "Who said it was?"
He rose slowly and walked to her. Taking her hand, he laid it on his chest over his heart. He placed his over hers. Smiling, he said, "We're a lot alike you and I. It's our nature to think with organs a bit lower than these." He pulled his hand away. "But, surprisingly enough, there are other ways to connect with people, Christine. It's what Taillte was trying to tell us. I think I'm starting to learn the lesson, but perhaps you're not there yet?"
"Don't even try to tell me you're not having sex with whomever you please."
"Oh, of course I am. And enjoying it quite a lot." His grin was devilish. "But I'm not in the kind of relationship that you are, now am I?"
She looked away.
"I'm not judging you. I wouldn't do that. I'm just warning you. The time may have come to choose."
"Weren't you the one that told me I didn't have to do that?"
"Sounds like something I'd say." He winked. "But why in god's name would you listen to my advice?"
She bit back the smile that threatened. "Fat lot of good you are."
He grinned and she could feel her own expression soften.
"Bet you wish now that you'd let me stay on Taillte, don't you?"
"Not on your life. Life is much more interesting with you around." She smiled at him, the sweetest smile she could give him. "Thank you, my friend."
"You never have to thank me." He pulled her to him, kissing her gently on the cheek. "Now, I think you have a problem to sort out, don't you?"
"Then get out of here already."
With a last fond look, she left his quarters for the short walk back to her own.
Nako pulled the loom toward her for the third time, determined that this time she would concentrate on the pattern. She made a few passes with the shuttle before the thread caught and nearly tore.
She left the wooden guide in the barely started cloth and rose. "I can take a hint," she grumbled, as she gave in to the feeling that she was needed somewhere on the ship.
The corridor was empty. She stood for a moment, for once undecided where to go. Normally when she felt that she was needed she also had a sense of where she should go.
Perhaps it was Randall? He had risked much in telling Spock the truth. He would risk even more when he told Christine. But Spock seemed to believe him...and to believe Nako when she vouched for the colonel.
And Randall had kept her secret. As she had suspected he would but had not known for sure. His sense of honor had held. He could be trusted. He was worthy.
She sighed, tired of waiting and about to head back into her room and try the loom again when Penhallon's door opened and Christine walked out.
You'd think after all this time I'd learn to trust my feelings, Nako thought to herself as she took in the other woman's reddened eyes and resolute expression. "Granddaughter?"
Christine looked up and stopped, taken by surprise at Nako's presence.
"I didn't mean to startle you, Christine."
"I just didn't expect anyone."
"Are you all right?"
Christine nodded. "I have to be somewhere." She glanced down the hall toward her own quarters.
"Someone is waiting?" Nako guessed.
"You could say that." Christine suddenly looked exhausted. "Have you ever had to make a choice before you were ready?"
Nako thought of Farrell and nodded. "Come in for a moment?" When the woman hesitated, she said, "I can make you tea."
"Tea. That sounds good." Christine shook her head. "But I've got to do this."
"Then I won't keep you, granddaughter."
Christine smiled fondly at her. "I missed you, Nako."
"I knew you would come back safely."
"Somehow, so did I. Kind of felt it deep down, you know?"
Nako nodded. This one was special. So strong. Nako couldn't regret the things she had done to make sure that Christine's future was assured in the way that would best serve the universe. Or at least Nako's vision of the universe. She knew that sometimes it was necessary to walk the secret paths in order to shift the balance of power. Walk them and be willing to do what was necessary. A nudge here. A jab there. And during the Time there was the opportunity to reweave the strands of the future on a much grander scale. She had thought much while she was secluded in her cabin. Had seen the potential for disaster that lay ahead, had known that Amanda's death was sure to be too much for an already reeling Spock. Nako would have done anything to spare him the pain of going through that kind of loss alone. She would have moved mountains...had, in fact--one cave-in on an already unstable planet was a simple rearrangement of threads. Silencing Farrell, on the other hand, had required a personal touch. But then an act that dark always came with a price.
"I hate secrets," Christine said, as if reading her mind.
Nako thought of Kerr. The moment of truth had come for him and this woman. She met Christine's eyes. "Don't throw away love, my dear. It comes so rarely."
Christine smiled sardonically. "Or it comes from many places all at once."
"Listen to your heart."
"That's pretty much how I got into this mess." Christine grinned as if at a private joke. "I have to go."
Nako watched her until she was out of sight. She sighed heavily, worried for the two men she considered friends.
A sudden prickling at the back of her neck made her turn. Penhallon moved from his doorway. She was unsure how long he'd been there.
His expression as he walked up to her was unreadable. "Nako," he said pleasantly.
"Grandson," she returned just as pleasantly.
"Of course. What could be wrong?"
His eyes bored into her. She didn't look away.
"Yes, what could be wrong?" he asked, his serious expression finally giving way to the pleasantly likable one he normally wore. But underneath the smile, she sensed something darker.
As she watched him she got an image of a lonely little boy sitting by himself in a schoolyard, trying not to cry as the other children ignored him. Then she saw him all grown up twirling madly in a forest, his laughter rich and childlike in its wonder. She could feel Christine's essence twining around his. Yes, she thought, weave him to you, granddaughter. Hold fast to this one. Champions are hard to find. Reaching out to touch the side of Penhallon's head, she said, "Such a good boy."
He seemed momentarily taken aback but recovered quickly. "I'm headed for the mess hall. Have you eaten yet?"
"I have not."
He held out his arm. "Then it would be my pleasure to escort you."
She made a great show of accepting. "So kind of you to take pity on an old woman."
He laughed. "You are many things, Nako, but you will never be old."
If only you knew, she thought even as she smiled brightly at his gallantry. If only you knew.
Christine almost laughed when she walked back into her quarters. Spock and Kerr were sitting in the same position, looking decidedly uncomfortable and rather uncertain if she was ever going to return. Their relief at seeing her was palpable. Spock half rose and Kerr started to speak.
She held up her hand. "I get to talk."
They both watched her warily, but neither attempted to say anything.
She sat down on the far end of the couch and took a few moments to study them. Kerr looked wretched. His face as he stared back at her was tight and almost resigned. Spock's expression was harder to read. She reached for him. ''Give me your hand," she ordered him.
Kerr started to get up. "I don't have to watch this--"
"Sit down, Randall. This isn't a choice. It's just communication."
Spock looked uncertain, but he laid his hand in hers. She closed her fingers around it and felt the conflict inside him. Love for her, admiration for Kerr, guilt over what they had done in San Francisco.
"Thank you," she said as she let go.
She turned to Kerr. He was staring at her hand miserably. She waited until he finally looked at her face to say, "You lied."
"You did too."
"More or less, yes." She turned to Spock. "He betrayed us."
"We betrayed him," Spock replied.
"Yes, we did." She sighed. "Where are those people we were? Where is Christine the noble? Randall the forthright? And Spock the just?" She looked at them. "Where have they gone?"
Kerr looked down. Spock just shook his head.
"They were never here. Ever. Instead we now see Christine the wicked, Randall the liar, and Spock the thief."
Now both men looked down.
"Who are these people?" She fell silent. No one said anything for a long moment.
She stood up suddenly. "We don't know, do we? Who is this Vulcan who would betray another to get what he wants? Who is this human who would win a woman through deception. And who is this woman--" she touched her chest "--who would break a promise so easily?" She picked up the envelope. "Ren hated you, Randall. Did you hate her?"
"I did," he answered.
"But not enough to kill her," Spock said.
"How do you know?" She looked at the two. "Did you meld?"
"Too many secrets," Kerr mumbled.
"Then how do you know?" she asked Spock.
"Ah." Christine nodded. "A good test. And I can tell you that he didn't. I know he couldn't have killed her because I was with him." She looked at Kerr. "I never have to wonder about that, do I?"
He didn't look away. "You don't."
She walked back to the couch and sat down. "So, here we are. Three different people than we were a week ago. Or are we? My perception of you has changed, Randall, but have you? And you know that I'm capable of hurting you, of cheating. But does that mean that I'm any different than I was before?" She turned to Spock. "And you. You want me enough to have taken something that you believe belongs to someone else. What does that say about who you really are? You're not the man he thought you were."
She stood up. "I think that maybe, now that we've seen both sides and we're finding out who we really are, that maybe it's time to start over. Without the lies. Without the illusions. Maybe it's time for you both to discover that I'm neither Christine the noble nor the wicked, but merely the flawed." She looked at Spock. "And you're the lonely. And you, Randall, you're the conflicted. Do you think that it's possible to start over?"
Before either man could answer, Kavall's voice broke in on the comm. "Kavall to Captain Spock."
"Spock here, Lieutenant."
"Sir, someone on the surface just sent us a strange message with an unknown wave signature. It's accompanied by what seems to be a countdown."
"I'm in Commander Chapel's quarters. Send it here."
A moment later the comm screen lit up with a wave oscillating in an unusual pattern. A voice that Christine thought sounded familiar was indeed counting down. The number was at 575.
Christine recognized the wave just as Spock took a sudden step forward. She felt a wave of pure panic coming from him. "She wouldn't have!" she gasped.
"She did," Spock answered.
"What is it?" Kerr said.
"Genesis," Christine answered. "She knew we couldn't stop it. Not when there's 237 people on that planet." She looked at Kerr, wondering if she needed to explain more.
He seemed to understand the implications perfectly. "If those are seconds, we don't have much time."
"I believe Doctor Marcus was counting on that. She is obviously not willing to go quietly into retirement. One last shot at greatness." Spock looked at Christine. "She is no doubt counting on us being too busy trying to beam the scientists up to try to stop her. Or maybe she is hoping we will die trying. She seems obsessed with the fact that I survived."
"That you survived when David didn't. Well, fortunately, this is a relief ship. Let's see what her crew's made of, shall we?" Christine smiled grimly as she walked over and hit the comm. "Chapel to medical and relief personnel. We have a code C evacuation in process. Prepare for displaced personnel. All transporter staff you have less than five minutes to beam up 237 people from the planet's surface. You know the protocols. Proceed immediately."
The transporter rooms began to check in even as Kerr sent an emergency message to the surface. He shook his head as he signed off. "We don't have time to warn them all but I got most of them. There'll just have to be a few very surprised people being beamed up here." He hit the comm panel again. "Kerr to security. Code C evac underway now. I want security details to all transporter rooms at once."
Spock was speaking as soon as Kerr finished. "Spock to Sabuti."
"Sabuti here, sir."
"Lieutenants Sabuti and Kimble. We are evacuating all Livornin personnel. There is an explosive device on the planet. Prepare for escape maneuvers, warp nine, at my command."
They could all hear the countdown in the background; Carol Marcus's voice intoning, "464, 463, 462."
"We need to get to the transporter room," Christine said.
Spock shook his head as he studied the wave. "No time."
"Yes, there is," Kerr said. "Computer. Initialize site-to-site transport, three in this location to medical transporter room. Code five four seven sub-rosa."
"Authorization?" the computer asked.
Kerr looked at Christine and grinned. "Blue eyes."
"Nice toy." Christine said as they materialized in the transporter room, realizing they had been lucky to not transport on top of someone. The room was crowded with scientists being hustled off the transporter pads by no-nonsense marines. "Status?" she yelled over the din.
"78 to go, sir," one of the lieutenants on duty called back.
"Keep me advised," Christine looked at Spock. "Did we get Carol yet?"
"54," yelled the ensign assisting in the transports.
Kerr stopped one of his marines then turned back to her. "I don't think she's on board." He followed as Spock and Christine hurried to the transporter.
"Chapel to Kavall, status?"
"240 seconds left, sir."
"Everyone's onboard but one, sir. Whoever it is, is blocking transport."
"I'd say we found Doctor Marcus," Kerr said.
"Finding her and actually securing her are two different things. We do not have time to get her. Spock to Sabu--"
Christine grabbed his arm. "Wait." She turned to Kerr. "Do you have a toy for this too?"
He nodded and stepped to the panel. "I'll need to program it in though."
Spock raised an eyebrow. "We are running out of time, Colonel."
Kerr didn't look away from the panel, but Christine could tell he was grinning. "I'm a fast programmer, Spock." He wasn't lying. His fingers sped over the panel and then he said. "Initiating." He turned to Spock, "She's in the buffer, sir."
"Spock to Sabuti. Now, Lieutenant."
Christine could feel the ship jump even as Kerr turned back to the transporter. "Okay, Doctor. Time to face the music."
"Sabuti to Captain Spock."
"We have passed terminal range."
"Good, continue speed and course. Countdown to audio."
"Aye, sir." As she cut off, they could hear, "48, 47, 46." A view of the planet appeared on the panel.
Kerr looked at his security detail. "The person beaming in now is dangerous."
They drew their weapons and surrounded the pad.
"Energizing," Kerr said.
Carol Marcus appeared on the pad. She took one look at the security detail and then smirked at Christine. "So you've got me. Big deal. You can't stop Genesis."
"You just couldn't let it die, could you?"
"Genesis _will_ work. I know what we did wrong the first time. And you gave me no choice. I won't just be shut down. Not when I'm so close." She looked at Spock. "It would only have been justice if you'd died here."
"I already died on one Genesis Planet," he said with more bitterness than Christine expected. "I do not intend to do it again. Or lose anyone else."
"The crews on Taillte. We won't get them back," Christine reminded him.
"Regrettable, but at least they will be unaffected by the device," he said.
"Five, four, three, two, one, zero," the countdown said.
Christine closed her eyes as an explosion on the planet flared. Then the effect of the device could be seen, racing over the surface of the bare world. Life from lifelessness, she thought. At least Taillte would be safe from this. No more incursions into her world.
Then Christine felt the burning. "No," she said, looking frantically at Marcus. "You used the accelerant?"
"Something had to replace the formula that David corrupted."
Christine began to shake, as her whole body became fire. Spock reached for her, his hand not even touching her before he too began to tremble. She realized he was reading the pain through her and she tried to shut down whatever link there was between them.
*Too late,* his mind voice said, just before he groaned and fell back.
"Help him," Kerr yelled to his marines as he caught Christine. "Hold on, sweetheart. Just hold on."
As the planet in front of them began to glow, Christine screamed. The agony was too much.
"Look at it," Marcus said blissfully. "Just look at it."
Christine felt as if her body was being pulled apart. She bucked in Kerr's arms and screamed. In her mind, Spock screamed too.
"Christine," she heard Kerr say. "Stay with me."
But the pain was too much. She reached for him as her entire world flared one last time. Goodbye, she tried to say but couldn't get the words out.
Then the burning stopped. Christine sensed Spock's relief as she opened her eyes and stared up at Randall. "It's gone. Taillte's gone."
"The new Livornin," Marcus said. "And it's perfect. And proof finally that Genesis works."
Saldusta's confused voice startled them all. "Captain, we're being hailed from the planet."
"That's impossible," Marcus said.
Christine suddenly felt a gentle ghostly touch and began to laugh. Kerr looked at her in concern, and she held up her hand. "I'm not losing it. It's just so funny." She looked over at Spock. "I bet it's Jackson. Don't be surprised if he swears a lot. I don't think he's quite stable." She giggled again then looked over at Marcus. "This isn't Livornin. It's Taillte."
Every eye was on her. "You didn't terraform anything. You brought the whole damn planet over from the other universe. Genesis isn't just a failure. It's a crime. You just displaced a sentient planet, Carol." She felt Taillte's touch again. "I know because I'm a part of it." Deep in her mind she suddenly sensed Penhallon's essence. He was part of it too.
She struggled to get up and Kerr lifted her to her feet.
She saw Marcus look at the screen in disbelief. "That's impossible," Marcus said, the first signs of doubt creeping into her voice.
"Get her out of here," Christine told Kerr.
"You heard the Commander," he said to his marines. As they led Marcus out, he asked Christine. "Are you all right?"
She nodded then looked over at Spock. "How about you?"
"I am unharmed." He was studying the visuals of Taillte. "Lieutenant Sabuti, set a course back to the planet."
He turned back to look at Christine. She saw him take in Kerr's arms around her, holding her up. Christine felt Kerr's hold loosen and she put her hands over his, keeping him close. Spock saw that too. A strange look crossed his face and Christine felt a wave of profound sadness crash over her mind.
*Spock?* she sent to him.
He didn't answer her but the note of longing lingered even as his expression returned to normal and he nodded as if in satisfaction.
"Sir?" Kerr said.
"We did it, Colonel."
Christine chuckled, finally pulling away from Kerr's grasp. "We did, didn't we?"
Kerr started to smile and she grinned back at him.
"I better go check on those scientists," Kerr said, then looked at Spock. "What are we going to do with them?"
"There is nothing for them to do here," Christine said firmly. "Taillte is not just another world for colonization. She's sentient. It should be up to her who gets to go down there, if anyone."
"I'm sure Starfleet can send another ship to take Doctor Marcus into custody and transport the scientists to new assignments."
"Not us, sir?"
Spock raised an eyebrow as he walked toward the door. "We'll be needed here. We have an entirely new species to open diplomatic relations with."
"Yes, sir," Kerr said as he and Christine followed Spock into the corridor.
Christine felt an awkwardness descend as the three of them stood alone outside the transporter room. "Well, some of us better get to the bridge."
"An excellent idea," Spock said, moving to the lift.
She looked at Kerr.
"I'll see you around?" he asked.
"Yeah." She realized Spock had gone on, giving them some privacy. "It can't just go back to the way it was. For any of us. You know that, right?"
He nodded and looked down.
"I've got to go."
He stopped her as she started to walk away. "When I said I loved you. I never lied about that."
She stared at him hard. He didn't look away. "Okay."
He walked with her to the lift, stepping in with her when the doors opened. "I'll ride up, if you don't mind."
She shook her head and smiled slightly. "I don't mind." When the doors opened on the bridge, she looked over at him and with a brief smile walked out.
Spock was just finishing giving Starfleet Command a preliminary report when Christine chimed. She hadn't taken as much time with Kerr as he expected. He turned to watch her walk in, trying to stop his emotions from dancing so unpredictably just because she was near.
"You've informed Starfleet, I take it?"
"They are relieved to hear that we did not destroy their new ship so early in our mission."
She laughed. "I'm sure. And Taillte?"
"They have agreed to send a delegation of telepaths and other sensitives to evaluate."
"Kind of overkill, but I'm glad to hear it. You don't need to be telepathic to sense her. I did and I'm an idiot on the psi scale."
He thought of how easily she reached out to him and found it hard to reconcile with her low scores. She wasn't exaggerating them though. He had checked when they'd gotten back from Earth. According to her scores, she really had no discernible psychic potential. So how did she manage to reach his mind so easily?
He realized she was watching him, a nervous look on her face. "What is it?"
"Everything's changing. Again." She looked despondent.
He smiled slightly, "It's all right, Christine. I can see how this will end."
Her gaze dropped. "That's funny. I can't." She looked up, and he saw she was crying.
"Don't cry. I know you will choose him."
Her face crumpled slightly. "What if I choose you?"
For a moment he allowed himself to think of that. She suddenly sobbed and he realized she was reading his desire, his longing. "I'm sorry," he said.
"How can I not choose you? I can sense you right now. I could even sense you from another universe, Spock."
He wanted to walk around his desk and go to her. He forced himself to stay where he was. "Well, we should be well set for our next lives then. Don't your goddesses adhere to that tenet? Soulmates and reincarnation and many opportunities for love?"
"Even if they did, you don't."
"If it were to mean that someday I might have you, I could perhaps be persuaded to embrace that belief."
She laughed. Her eyes shone brightly and he was struck as always by how blue they were.
"You should choose him, Christine. Grow old with him. He will always be there for you." For a moment, he saw the sands of Gol, heard the first stanzas of the Kohlinahr ritual. How close he had come to leaving all this behind. How he had hurt Jim and her when he had done so.
She was tracking his thoughts. "In my mind, I never allowed you to be lovers."
"You did not approve of the relationship."
"It wasn't that I didn't approve. It was that if I acknowledged that you and he were together, then I'd also have to admit that there would never be room for me. He was always the only one you saw."
Spock sensed that she wanted to say more but had stopped. He met her eyes and felt a strange guilt coming from her. An image flashed in his mind, and he understood that she was trying to tell him in thoughts what she could not say. He saw her and Kirk holding each other, loving each other.
"Christine, I already know."
She looked at him in surprise.
"I saw it long ago. In his mind one day when he was particularly open to me. I saw the pain I caused him and how the two of you tried to help each other."
"You didn't mind?"
"Why would I mind?"
She looked down. "I betrayed him."
She met his eyes, clearly not believing him. "I should have told him I was going with Decker."
"And I should have told him I was going to Gol." Spock shook his head. "The past is forever out of our reach, Christine. Let it go."
"And the future?"
"We are together here. We are friends."
"Is that enough?"
He stood and walked to the viewscreen. "It will have to be. You have only one logical choice." He turned to look at her, trying to force his features to be at their most Vulcan as he said, "I would only disappoint you in time."
She stood up and walked over to him. Her hand reached for the meld point and seemingly without effort she initiated the link. He gasped at the force of her mind in his. *Then what is this? If we aren't to be together, what do we do with this?*
*I do not have an answer.*
She gently pulled away. "I don't know how I even do that. We're not bonded, are we?"
He shook his head. He wanted to touch her desperately. He forced himself to stand perfectly still and say lightly, "It will be helpful if the communicators should fail."
"Yes, it will." She reached for him, then pulled her hand back. "The trouble is that I want you both."
"You can't have us both, t'hy...Christine."
"I know." She looked away as her eyes filled with tears. "I love you."
"As I do you," he replied. "You should get some sleep."
She looked up at him. "We're a good team, the three of us. I wasn't sure."
He nodded. "We are."
She stepped away from him and headed for the rear door. He watched her go, wishing despite his best intentions that she would come back. A feeling of profound loss overwhelmed him; the idea of never holding her again caused him real pain.
She stopped walking. In a low voice she said, "You can't send me away and then think those things." Turning, she hurried back to him.
He caught her up in his arms, and she buried her head in his chest, wrapping her arms tightly around him.
"You'll never lose this," she said.
They held each other for a long time before she pulled away and walked to the rear door, exiting without a backward glance.
Christine took several deep breaths as she rode the lift down to deck two. She had a strong need to turn around, to run back into Spock's ready room and tell him she'd stay with him forever.
But she had an even stronger feeling that she shouldn't.
And the reason why was waiting outside the door to her quarters.
"Hi," she said.
"Hi." Kerr looked down. "I know I shouldn't be here. That you need time. But I just wanted to make sure you were okay."
"Come in," she said, walking to the replicator. "Tea, jasmine, hot." She looked at him. "Do you want some?"
He shook his head, standing awkwardly just inside the door.
She carried the mug to the table and sat down, watching him. "You can sit down."
She shrugged, suddenly annoyed. "Suit yourself."
The envelope was still on the table. She pushed it out of reach.
"Who gave you the letter?" he asked.
"Why? Are you going to eliminate them?"
"That's not funny."
"Who said I was joking?" She took a sip of her tea. "Could you please sit down, Randall?"
He took a deep breath, considering.
"Please?" She pointed to the chair next to her.
He nodded and walked over, lowering himself into the chair as if he thought it would break. "I'm not going to hurt anyone."
"Which is more than you can say for me, right?"
He looked at her startled.
"You're not that hard to read. Not on the little things anyway. It's those really big lies that I can't seem to see through."
"What happen to Randall the conflicted being okay?"
"He may be okay. But Christine the flawed wants to hurt him right now."
"And Spock the lonely?" His eyes were intense as they met hers.
She didn't look away, nor did she answer for a very long time. Then just as he seemed about to look away in defeat, she said, "He's still lonely."
The hope that filled his eyes made her feel guilty. She had to look away.
"Who gave you the letter," he asked again.
"Someone who is a good friend to you. The letter came with a pretty strong lecture about second chances. Renata picked the wrong recipient if she thought he would ruin you."
Kerr frowned. "Just tell me who."
He processed that. "I thought...with the two of you on the planet."
She smiled. His jealousy was so dependable. "Not everyone wants me, Randall."
"Maybe not. But I think he does." He held up a hand. "It's okay. I'm not going to grill you about what happened while you were there."
"I guess I owe him."
She nodded. "You do. I do too. He probably saved my life on Taillte."
"Is that how his arm got wounded?"
She nodded. "Took a phaser shot meant for me."
"Just like Saldusta did. You do inspire champions." His look changed slightly. "I'd die for you, you know that?"
"So would Spock. He really loves you." He looked down again.
"And I really love him. I probably always will. That kind of thing doesn't just go away no matter how much you want it to."
He started to get up, "Okay, then that pretty much covers what we needed to talk about--"
She pushed him back down. "I'm not going to make any promises. We both know I didn't do so well with that the first time."
He nodded. "That really hurt. You shut me out. And then you let him in."
"Christine the flawed."
"It felt more like Christine the wicked."
She shrugged. "Coming from Randall the liar that doesn't mean all that much."
He visibly winced. "Maybe I should go." He got up.
"Not really in the mood to fight. I just wanted to get you back from there. I was so worried about you when you were lost. But you couldn't feel my worry, could you? Just his."
"I can't explain the connection and I can't get rid of it either."
"It bothers me."
"I bet." She smiled in sympathy. "It started after the Pon Farr. Not after this latest..."
He nodded, looking down in unhappiness. Then he looked up again and she saw the veiled fury that he had fought when she'd arrived back from Scotty's memorial. "Did you screw him the whole way home?"
Her grin completely disarmed him. "We really are messed up, aren't we, Randall?" She took another sip of tea. "Not once on the way home. It wasn't that calculated. Although it might not seem that way right now."
"I've spent most of my time lately convinced I was going to lose you because of this damn letter." He flicked the envelope to the other side of the table. "I never imagined I'd lose you to him, not when you'd come back to me after the Pon Farr."
They stared at each other. He was the first to look away.
"You didn't lose me to him," she said quietly. "If you had, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
He laughed against his will. "Considering how well this conversation is going, I'm not sure that's much consolation."
She started to chuckle too. "I guess not." She stood up and carried her mug to the recycler. She could feel his eyes on her, could sense him come up behind her. His arms wrapped around her and his lips touched her neck, making her shiver.
"Did Ren tell you how much I love this?"
"Do you do it because I like it? Or because you do?" Her voice was hard.
"Will you assume that everything I say from here on out is just me, not her?"
"When I think about being with you, this is one of the things I think about a lot of the time. Coming up behind you, pulling you against me. Feeling you relax when you know it's me. Touching you." His hands began to illustrate what he was saying.
She stopped them. "Talk. Don't touch." She realized she had confused him. "I want to hear what you have to say. What _you_ have to say."
"I've been talking for months." He leaned against her. "Ren wasn't in here with us."
"She was at first though, wasn't she?" She turned around and looked up at him. "Other than me, have you ever called a woman 'sweetheart' in your entire life, Randall?"
He shook his head.
"Then don't call me that anymore."
"But you like it."
"No more. Find another name."
He nodded. Then he began to smile. "Find...another name?"
She felt an answering grin threatening. "That's right. I don't want to hear that from here on out."
His smile got bigger. "I really like those words, 'from here on out.' In fact, I think they're my favorite words ever." His smile faded. "Loving you was just supposed to be part of the job, Christine. A pleasant part. But nothing big." He swallowed hard. "I never expected to fall this hard."
"I believe that."
"Good. It's the truth." He brushed her hair out of her eyes. "Do you remember that night at Mak'chak's feast when we danced?"
She could almost hear the overwhelmingly sensual beat of the Klingon music, could almost feel the way his body had pushed against hers...and how she had wanted him. "I remember."
"I fell in love with you that night. I mean it had been happening since Kirk died but that night when we danced and I felt you let go, I was lost. What I felt was so strong, I almost ran away." He grinned. "But you saw Spock walk by and you ran away first...or at least nearly passed out."
"You knew I saw him?"
"Kehmak pointed him out to me."
"She's _your_ champion." Christine smiled.
He stroked her cheek.
"What did I say about touching?"
"I don't know." He said as he leaned in to kiss her. "I forget." His lips against hers didn't feel any different than they had before. He seemed to read her mind, pulling away to frown at her. "She told me how to win you. She didn't tell me how to keep you. What we did in here was just between us. What we do now, it won't be that different. Not for me."
"Well, maybe a little. Ren said you liked it gentle, to be careful with you because you'd been hurt. But that wasn't really the vibe I was getting from you and it's not how we've been acting lately." He grinned. "I mean, remember the Pesadii?"
"But Ren was supposed to be the one that knew you best, so I tried to keep to her original script." He turned Christine around in his arms, holding her tightly from behind as he forced her head back and to the side so that he could kiss her. He was rougher than normal and Christine felt herself responding. "That's the real me. That's what I think about," he said huskily.
She leaned her head against him and smiled.
"And you like it," he said with a grin.
She laughed. "Ren only really knew Christine the noble."
"Her loss." His hands began to roam. "It's even better when you do this in front of a mirror."
She shivered at his touch. "You could show me?"
"Later," he practically growled. He turned her and pushed her up against the wall. "A lot of the time, when I think about you, I don't feel like being particularly gentle." He kissed her hard.
She kissed him back harder. "So does this mean that the sensitive guy that won me doesn't exist?"
He gave her a tender smile, then the expression changed into something far more ferocious. "He exists. Just maybe not right this second." He kissed her again hard and pushed her toward the bedroom. "Later, though, I bet you'll see him. He missed you too."
She suddenly stopped him. "I like this. A lot. But it isn't exactly what I meant when I said things were going to change." She looked down. "I'm not sure this is a good idea."
"Do you want me?"
"Do you love me?"
"Do you forgive me?"
"I don't know." She frowned slightly. "Maybe that depends on whether you forgive me."
He looked away.
She smiled. "We're not ready to do this." Gently she pulled out of his arms. He groaned and she felt portions of her anatomy protest also. "Well, part of us isn't."
"You want me to go?"
She shook her head. "I want you to stay. And talk to me. I want to know everything you can tell me about the real Randall Kerr."
"Only if I get to hear about the real Christine Chapel."
"You've got a deal but it may not be pretty."
"Nope, it may not." He took her hand and led her to the couch. As they passed the door she had a sudden sense of Spock. She realized he was walking by, probably on the way to his own quarters. She waited for Kerr to ask what was distracting her.
He didn't. Just looked at her with knowing eyes and said, "He's out there, isn't he? That's the same look he got when he was sensing you."
She nodded. "Like I said, not pretty."
"Pretty's overrated," he said as he kissed her again. "Kissing's allowed, isn't it?" His eyes glinted evilly.
"Shouldn't be," she said as he leaned in again. She deliberately moved so that he missed her lips and ended up kissing her cheek. "We're talking, remember."
Working his over to her ear, he whispered, "How about if I kiss you after every other word? Really short ones preferably."
She laughed, relieved that his sense of humor appeared to be his own and finding that fact more comforting than anything else that had happened. Pushing him away, she said sternly. "Talk, don't touch."
"Okay. What do you want to know?"
"How did you get into this business?"
"I can't tell you all of it. I took an oath."
She assessed his expression and accepted what he was saying. "Then tell me what you can. I'll make up the rest." She suddenly yawned.
"Fair enough. But not tonight. You're exhausted and you don't even know it." With a regretful smile and one last kiss, he stood up and walked to the door. "See you tomorrow?"
His look turned nostalgic. "And the next day? And the day after that?"
She nodded again, happy to see that the sensitive Randall was poking his head out too.
"My love," he said softly, just before he walked out.
My love, she thought. It had a nice ring to it. She considered standing and realized how tired she was. It was too much work to get up and walk to the bedroom.
She curled up on the couch, finding comfort in the still-warm spot Kerr had left. In her mind, she could sense just the barest hint of Spock as well as the slight tingle that was Taillte. It's starting to get crowded in here, she thought as she closed her eyes. She smiled sleepily, realizing that she didn't really mind at all.