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Crushing Captain Kirk's windpipe was proving far easier than Spock had ever dared to imagine.
The captain of the I.S.S. Enterprise struggled futilely in the merciless grip of his half-Vulcan first officer. Kirk's fists struck at Spock's torso, ribs, groin. His fingers pried at Spock's hold, clawed the backs of the hands that were strangling him. Spock's grasp only closed tighter, condemning Kirk to a swift death by suffocation.
Killing such an accomplished officer as Kirk seemed a waste to Spock. And waste, as Kirk's alternate-universe counterpart had reminded Spock only a few days earlier, was illogical. Unfortunately, as Spock now realized, it was sometimes necessary.
Kirk's strength was fading, but his eyes were still bright with cunning. He twisted, reached forward to pluck Spock's agonizer from his belt only to find the device absent. Removing it had been a grave breach of protocol, but Spock had decided that willfully surrendering to another the means to let himself be tortured was also fundamentally illogical. He would no longer accede to the Terrans' obsessive culture of self-inflicted suffering. It was time for a change.
Marlena Moreau stood in the entryway of Kirk's sleep alcove, sharp and silent while she watched Spock throttle Kirk to death in the middle of the captain's quarters. There was no bloodlust in her gaze, a crude affectation Spock had witnessed in many humans. Instead, she wore a dark expression, one of determination tinged with regret. Her sleepwear was delicate and diaphanous, but her countenance was hard and unyielding; she was like a steely blade in a silken sheath.
Still Kirk struggled. Again it struck Spock how great a waste this was, and the words of the other universe's Captain Kirk returned to his thoughts, the argument that had forced Spock to confront the futility of the imperial mission to which his civilization had been enthralled. The other Kirk had summed up the intrinsic flaw of the Empire with brevity and clarity.
The illogic of waste, Mister Spock, he had said. Of lives, potential, resources...time. I submit to you that your empire is illogical, because it cannot endure. I submit that you are illogical, for being a willing part of it.
And he had been unequivocally right.
Red stains swam across the eyes of this universe's Captain Kirk. Capillaries in the whites of his eyes had ruptured, hemorrhaging blood inside the eye sockets. Seconds more, and it would be over.
There had been no choice. No hope of altering this Kirk's philosophy of command or of politics. His doppelganger had urged Spock to seize command of the I.S.S. Enterprise, find a logical reason to spare the resistant Halkans, and convince the Empire it was the correct course.
Spock had hoped he could achieve such an aim without resorting to mutiny; he had never desired command, nor had he been interested in politics. Science, reason, research...these had always been Spock's core interests. They remained so now, but the circumstances had changed. Despite all of Spock's best-formulated arguments, Kirk had refused to consider mercy for the Halkans. Even when Spock had proved through logical argument that laying waste to the Halkans' cities would, in fact, only impede the Empire's efforts to mine the planet's dilithium, Kirk had not been dissuaded. And so had come Kirk's order to obliterate the planet's surface, to exterminate the Halkans and erase their civilization from the universe.
To speak out then would have been suicide, so Spock had stood mutely by while Kirk grinned and chuckled with malicious self-satisfaction, and watched a planet die.
Now it was Spock's turn to watch Kirk expire in his grip, but Spock took no pleasure in it. He felt no sense of satisfaction, nor did he permit himself the luxuries of guilt or regret. This was simply what needed to be done.
Kirk's pulse slowed and weakened. A dull film glazed the captain's eyes, which rolled slowly back into his skull. He went limp in Spock's grasp and his clutching, clawing hands fell to his sides. Dead weight now, he sagged halfway to his knees. Not wanting to fall victim to a ruse, Spock took the precaution of inflicting a final twist on Kirk's neck, snapping it with a quick turn. Then he let the body fall heavily to the deck, where it landed with a dull thud.
Marlena inched cautiously forward, taking Spock's measure. "We should get rid of his body," she said. Stepping gingerly in bare feet, she walked over Kirk's corpse. "And his loyalists "
"Have been dealt with," Spock interjected. "Show me the device." He did not need to elaborate; she had been beside him in the transporter room when the other universe's Kirk had divulged to him the existence of a unique weapon, one Kirk had promised could make Spock "invincible." The device, which Marlena called the Tantalus field, had been the key to the swift rise of this universe's Kirk through the ranks of the Imperial Starfleet.
Marlena led Spock to a nearby wall, on which was mounted a trapezoidal panel. She touched it softly at its lower right corner, then at its upper right corner, and it slid soundlessly upward, revealing a small display screen flanked by a handful of buttons and dials.
"This is how you turn it on." With a single, delicate touch, Marlena activated the device. "These are the controls."
"Demonstrate it," Spock said. "On the captain's body."
He observed her actions carefully, memorizing patterns and deducing functions. With a few pushed buttons, she conjured an image of the room in which they stood. Some minor adjustments on the dials narrowed the image's focus to the body on the floor. Then she pressed a single button segregated from the others inside a teardrop-shaped mounting, and a blink of light filled the room behind them.
Marlena lifted her arm to shield her eyes, but Spock let his inner eyelids spare him from the flash. It was over in a fraction of a second, leaving him with a palpable tingle of electric potential and the lingering scent of ozone mingled with Marlena's delicately floral Deltan perfume. On the floor there was no trace of Kirk no hair, no scorch marks, no blood...not a single bit of evidence a murder had occurred. Satisfied, he nodded at Marlena, who shut off the device. "Most impressive," he remarked.
"Yes," she replied. "He let me use it a few times. I only know how to target one person at a time, but he told me once it could do much more, in the right hands."
"Indubitably," Spock said. The communicator on his belt beeped twice. He lifted it from its half-pocket and flipped it open. "Spock here."
"This is Lieutenant D'Amato. The ship is secured, sir."
One detail loomed paramount in Spock's thoughts. "Have you dealt with Mister Sulu?"
"Aye, sir," D'Amato replied. "He's been neutralized."
"Well done, Mister D'Amato. Spock out."
Spock closed his communicator and put it back on his belt. He crossed the room to a wall-mounted comm panel and opened an intraship PA channel. "Attention, all decks. This is Captain Spock. As of fourteen twenty-six hours, I have relieved Captain Kirk and assumed command of this vessel. Continue on course for Gamma Hydra IV. That is all. Spock out." He thumbed the channel closed and turned to face Marlena. "It would seem, for now, that circumstances favor us."
"Not entirely," she said. "Last night, Kirk filed a report with Starfleet Command about the alternate universe. He called its people anarchistic and dangerous...and he told Starfleet he suspected you of helping breach the barrier between the universes."
Her news was not entirely unexpected, but it was still unfortunate. "Did the captain speculate why I might have done such a thing?"
"No," Marlena said. "But he made a point of mentioning your attempts to convince him to spare the Halkans."
He nodded once. "It would have been preferable for there to be no official record of the other universe's existence," he said. "But what has been done cannot be undone. We must proceed without concern for details beyond our control." Looking into her eyes, he knew that, for now, she was the only person on the ship perhaps even in the universe whom he could really trust, but even her motives were not entirely beyond suspicion...at least, not yet. But if the Terran Empire and its galactic neighbors were to be spared the ravages of a brutal social implosion followed by a devastating dark age unlike any in recorded history, he would have to learn to trust someone beyond himself and teach others to do the same.
Picturing the shifting possibilities of the future, he knew he had already committed himself, and there was no turning back from the epic task he had just set for himself.
The great work begins.
"Congratulations, Captain," a passing junior officer said as he saluted Spock, who dutifully returned the gesture while continuing down the corridor to his new cabin.
Pomp and fanfare had never appealed to Spock. Pageantry had its uses in the affairs of the Empire, but aboard a starship it was a needless frivolity, a distraction ill afforded. He preferred to focus on tasks at hand, on the business of running the ship. The crew, sensing his mood, had obliged him. But the human compulsion to laud success was irrepressible, and he accepted it with stoic grace.
His ascendance to command, however, was only the second most compelling item of news aboard the Enterprise the crew was buzzing with hearsay of the alternate universe. Chief Engineer Scott, Dr. McCoy, and Lieutenant Uhura, despite having been ordered to secrecy during their debriefings, apparently felt liberated to speak freely of it now that Kirk had been assassinated. Spock had made no effort to curtail the rumors or to interdict the crew's personal communications. The truth was out; attempting to rein it in would be futile. It had a life of its own now, and he decided to let it be.
He arrived at the captain's cabin, which he had claimed as his own. The door opened with a soft hiss. On the other side of the threshold he was met by the dry heat and dim reddish-amber glow that he preferred for his private quarters, a crude approximation of the light and climate of his homeworld of Vulcan. He was pleased to see the last of Captain Kirk's belongings had been removed from the compartment, and his own possessions had been moved in. On the far side of the room, Marlena was gently hanging his Vulcan lute on the wall.
Spock stepped farther into the room, clear of the door's sensor. The portal slid shut behind him. Marlena turned and folded her hands in front of her waist. "I assumed this was where you would want it displayed," she said.
"It is," Spock said. He had not expected her to still be there. She had been Kirk's woman for some time, and though she had sympathized with Spock's cause, he had anticipated little more from her than silent acquiescence. Apparently, she had taken it upon herself to supervise the transfer of his personal effects and to complete the preparation of his new quarters.
"You've received several personal transmissions in the past few hours," she said, moving to the cabinet where beverages were stored. "Some from other starship captains, some from the Admiralty...even one from Grand Admiral Garth himself."
"Yes," Spock replied. "I have already read them."
She opened the cabinet and took out a bottle of Vulcan port and two short, squarish glasses. "Missives of congratulation, no doubt." She glanced up at Spock, who nodded in confirmation, then she half-filled both glasses with the bright green liquor.
He accepted the glass she offered him. By reflex, he sniffed it once, to try to discern any telltale fragrance of toxins lurking in its tart, fruity bouquet.
Keen to his suspicion, Marlena smirked. "It's not poisoned. But if it will make you more comfortable, we can swap glasses."
"Unnecessary," Spock said, and he took a drink.
At that, she smiled. "Trust?"
His tone was calm and even. "A calculated risk."
With slow and languid grace, she reached up and stroked her fingertips across his bearded chin. "I've been a captain's woman, Spock.... Am I still?"
A stirring in the dark corners of his soul, the animal cry of his human half. It felt something for this woman a hunger, a need. Dominated by his Vulcan discipline and his credo of unemotional logic, his human passions were deeply buried, strange and unfamiliar to him. But they paled in comparison to the savage desires of his ancient Vulcan heritage, whose lethal furies were the reason his people relied on the dictums of logic for their continued survival as a culture.
As if with a will of its own, his left hand rose and cupped Marlena's cheek, then traveled through her warm, dark hair. It was soft and fell over his fingers like a lover's breath. Her skin was warm. His fingertips rested on the side of her scalp, while she traced a line with her nails down his throat.
"You are still the captain's woman," he said.
Her hand moved along his clavicle, to his shoulder, down the length of his arm, until it came to rest atop his own hand, on the side of her face. "When I was a girl, I heard stories about Vulcans who could touch minds," she said. "Is it true?"
"Yes," he said, revealing his people's most closely guarded secret, one for which entire species such as the Betazoids and the Ullians had been all but exterminated. "We hide our powers from outsiders, and such a bond is never performed lightly. The melding of two minds is a profound experience."
She took a half step closer to him, all the while holding eye contact and keeping her hand pressed against his. "Do both people know it's happening?"
"They become as one," Spock said. "No secrets remain."
Resting her free hand against his chest, she whispered, "I wouldn't resist if...if you wanted to..."
It was subtle, nimble, and quick. His fingers changed position on the side of her face, spreading apart like the legs of an arachnid, seeking out the loci of neural pathways.
Marlena tensed and inhaled a short, sharp breath. Though she had said she wouldn't resist, she couldn't have known what the touch of a Vulcan mind-meld would really feel like. Nothing could have prepared her for the total loss of privacy, the ultimate exposure of her inner self to another consciousness. Even the most willing participants resisted their first time.
"My mind to your mind," Spock intoned, his rich baritone both soothing and authoritative. "Our thoughts are merging. I know what you know. Our minds become one. We become one."
The dark flower of her mind bloomed open in his thoughts, and the coldly rational structures of his logic gave form to her chaos of passions and appetites. Fears fell silent, motives were laid bare, and the union of their psyches was complete.
Years, days, and moments wove together into a shared tapestry of their past. The cold disapproval of Spock's father, Sarek, stood in sharp contrast to the volcanic fury of Marlena's father, François: an icy stare tore open a silent gulf between a father and son; a broad palm slapped a young girl's face again and again, leaving the hot sting of betrayal in its wake.
I have made my decision, Father.
I'm sorry, Daddy! Please stop! Don't!
Defenses took root, grew coarse, became permanent barriers. Marlena's weapon of choice was seduction; Spock's preferred implement was logic. He planned ahead, a master chess player thinking two dozen moves beyond his current position; she lived in the moment, moved with the shifting currents of power and popular opinion, never planning for tomorrow because who knew what the universe would be like by then?
Yin and yang, they stood enmeshed in one another's thoughts. She, quick to anger, rash to act, desperately seeking one moment of tenderness, one solitary moment of affection, in a life that promised nothing but strife and loneliness. He, aloof and alone, desiring only knowledge and order, but watching the Empire begin an inexorable slide toward collapse and chaos.
All they had in common was the shared experience of meeting the humans from the other universe, the glimpse of a reality so much like theirs yet so different. He admired their discipline, their restraint, their stability. Marlena yearned to live among people of such nobility and compassion. Blending her memories with his own, Spock knew that the qualities he had so respected in the visitors, and the ones that Marlena envied, were inseparable. The others' self-control and focus in collective effort were made possible by the peaceful ethos they embraced.
Spock also had not forgotten that the visitors' merciful ways had saved his own life, when the alternate Dr. McCoy had risked being left behind in this cosmos in order to save Spock from what would have been a fatal subcranial hemorrhage. Marlena had witnessed that moment as well, with Kirk's alien assassination device. What she hadn't seen was that, after Spock had risen from the table, he had mind-melded with McCoy to force the truth from his weak human brain and beheld a vision of the universe the visitors called home.
It was not without its conflicts, but the civilization to which the humans belonged was no empire; it was a federation, a democratic society, committed to peaceful exploration and coexistence, eschewing violence except in its own defense or that of others who ask for their aid.
That would be a society worth fighting for. Worth saving.
In every revolution...there is one man with a vision.
Marlena reached up and gently pressed her fingertips against the side of Spock's face. "I share your vision."
There were no lies in a mind-meld. Spock knew she spoke the truth; she knew his thoughts, understood what he meant to do, though she likely did not realize all the consequences of what would follow. But her sincerity was unimpeachable, and for the first time in his life, he knew what it was to be simpatico with another being. They were each the first person whom the other had ever truly trusted. Though they knew the galaxy would likely align itself against them and their goals, they were not afraid, because at that moment, in that place, they had one another, they were one another...they were one.
He pulled back from her mind. Loath to be left alone once more, she resisted his departure, clung to his thoughts, pleaded without words for a few more moments of silent intimacy. It was a labor to leave her mind, and for a moment he hesitated. Then discipline reasserted itself, and he gently removed her fingers from his face as he severed their psychic link. Tears welled in her eyes as she looked up at him. His mien, masklike and vaguely sinister, did not betray the swell of newfound feelings he had for her...but then, despite his best intentions, a savage chord in his nature asserted its primal desires. He pulled her close and kissed her with a passion no Vulcan would admit to outside the sacred rites of Pon farr.
She kissed him back, not with hunger or aims of seduction, but with devotion, with affection...with love.
Though he would never have imagined himself destined for such a fate, he realized he might almost be able to let himself reciprocate her feelings. How ironic, he mused, that after all the times I have chided Sarek for choosing a human mate, I should now find myself emulating his behavior.
Embracing Marlena, he knew he would never give her up and she would never betray him. Whether that would be a strong enough foundation upon which to erect a new future for the people of the Empire, he didn't know, but it was an ember of hope, one with which he planned to spark a blaze that would burn away a failed civilization already in its decline, and make way for a new galactic order that would rise from its ashes.
For the love of a woman, Spock would destroy the Empire.
He would ignite a revolution.
Copyright © 2010 by Paramount Pictures Corporation.