Simple Gifts

The End of the Beginning

Home Before Home


The Alternate Christopher Jones

The Visit

Human Voices

Full Circle

The Charm

"Music I Heard..."

Variations on a Theme

"...And Bread I Broke"

The Author's Home Page

The End of the Beginning

Part 3 of 4

Having seen Sarah Halsted wearing a medical tunic, an informal summer outfit, a bathrobe, and nothing at all, Jim Kirk was totally unprepared for the apparition in pale blue that appeared at the captain's table that evening. Spock and McCoy had not yet arrived, and only Scotty and Sutek were witness to Kirk's speechless stare as she took his outstretched hand.

"Captain Kirk." If she were in the least embarrassed, no one would have known it. "It's good to see you again." And she obviously meant it.

He realized immediately that he had been foolish to avoid her when she beamed up. One thing he and Sarah could never be was uncomfortable with one another.

"Welcome aboard, Doctor." He turned to introduce his chief engineer, noting with some amusement that Sutek's eyebrows had risen precipitously at the sight of his colleague in non-work attire, and that Scott looked bedazzled.

The four of them were making small talk about Scott's attractively nationalistic dress uniform when the door swished to admit McCoy.

Eager to make amends to his abruptness earlier in the day, Kirk took Sarah's arm. "Doctor, I'd like you to meet my chief medical officer, Leonard McCoy...."

The captain's voice drifted into silence.

McCoy stood as though rooted to the spot, staring at Sarah, the color draining from his face. Then, finally, he moved forward again--but slowly, his eyes fixed on Sarah with a kind of horrified fascination.

"Bones," Kirk said firmly, "Sarah Halsted." What the devil was the matter with him?

"Doctor...Halsted?" McCoy swallowed, and finally managed a weak smile.

"Good evening, Dr. McCoy." Sarah's voice was firm and pleasant as usual. But she was clearly aware that McCoy was behaving oddly. "I'm sorry. Is there something wrong?"

"No. No, I--" With an obvious effort, McCoy pulled himself together, managing a reasonable facsimile of his usual smile. "You look very much like--well, that's an old line, isn't it." He gave Sarah his hand, still studying her intently. "You were born on Earth?"


"Yes. Of course you were." McCoy frowned. "My apologies, Doctor. I seem to have forgotten my manners. Welcome aboard." But almost before Sarah's "Thank you" was audible, the door swished open again to admit Spock.

In an instant, McCoy was at Sarah's side, guiding her toward the first officer. "Dr. Halsted--" He had suddenly come alive: the genial southern gentleman making introductions. "Dr. Halsted--" As they neared Spock, McCoy repeated the name again, emphasizing it slightly. "This is Commander Spock, first officer of the Enterprise. Commander, Dr. Sarah Halsted." For the third time.

It seemed to Kirk that his first officer had almost turned to stone. For a split second, Spock's eyes widened in shock; if someone had struck him without warning or apparent motivation, the effect would have been similar. Watching, Kirk winced with involuntary empathy. But then Spock's every muscle stiffened and slowly relaxed as McCoy's voice went on smoothly, covering the silence with pleasantries while Spock established his control. Kirk had no idea what the doctor was saying. Nor, he was sure, had Spock.

Sarah was quite aware of the first officer's initial reaction to her, even as she had been of McCoy's. Having worked with Vulcans for several years, she read with ease the signs of strong emotion quickly controlled, and wondered how in the universe she could be causing so much havoc simply by her presence at a social gathering. Thank heaven for the likes of Leonard McCoy. As she exchanged greetings with the now impassive Spock, she wondered briefly whether he appreciated the excellent job the doctor was doing of diverting everyone's attention from Spock's momentary struggle for control.

After its shaky start, the cocktail hour passed uneventfully. Jim Kirk, having realized (Sarah thought affectionately) that he was in no danger of being embarrassed in front of Sutek and his senior officers, relaxed and promptly reverted to his usual charming self. Scott invited the two passengers to tour the engine room the next day, and was obviously delighted when both of them accepted. Sarah had the impression that Spock was pleased to have another Vulcan on board, and she was sure that Sutek was relieved not to have to spend the entire voyage in the company of humans.

She enjoyed the dinner thoroughly, and readily answered McCoy's interested questions about her work, trying not to confuse the others with technical jargon.

"I understand," McCoy was saying as they began their dessert, "that the brachial implant genetic synthesizer has been perfected to a point where conception is almost certain and delivery at term is virtually without incident. Are the artificial gestation units obsolete now?"

Sarah nodded. "Essentially, yes. The AGU's were a temporary measure thirty or forty years ago, when the synthesizers frequently malfunctioned. But the mortality rate for the AGU's was over 50 percent. As soon as the synthesizers could maintain the fetus to term, in vitro gestation was abandoned. That was about--" She glanced at Sutek. Over 50 percent had been bad enough. She would let him take this one.

"Twenty-four point six seven standard years ago," Sutek contributed expressionlessly. It was almost the first time he had spoken during dinner, and McCoy turned to him politely.

"You must find it exciting--er--" McCoy glanced at Spock. "--Fascinating to do research among the Kiso, Dr. Sutek."

"Indeed. The experience will be most interesting." Sutek frowned slightly. "However, one must be prepared for an initial period of failure when working with a new racial mixture. During the initial phase of the Terran/Vulcan project, the fetal and maternal death rate was 95.4 percent. The synthesizer must be adjusted over a period of time--"

"Maternal death rate?" McCoy interrupted, startled. "From blood poisoning? But isn't there some warning when the synthesizer fails?"

"Indeed." Sutek spoke the single word and then firmly remained silent.

"But--" McCoy hesitated, genuinely confused. "Terminating such pregnancies as soon as the mother's life was in jeopardy ought to have kept the maternal death rate considerably lower than the fetal death rate."

There was another short silence. Then Sutek said quietly and with obvious resignation to the inevitable: "Vulcans do not terminate pregnancies, Doctor."

McCoy stared. "You don'twhat?"

Sutek repeated himself expressionlessly.

"You mean it's against the law to perform a therapeutic abortion on Vulcan?"


Kirk moved uneasily in his chair. "Bones--"

"No, no. I want to hear this." McCoy waved his hand at the captain as though he were chasing a fly away. With a somewhat forced smile: "Dr. Sutek and I are scientists. I'm sure we can discuss this--er--unemotionally."

Spock blinked once, but did not speak. Belatedly, Sarah realized that he had not participated in the conversation at all. Yet he watched both Sutek and McCoy intently, as though he were the first-time observer of a fascinating phenomenon.

"It is the Vulcan way, Doctor," Sutek answered with the touch of condescension. McCoy apparently brought out the worst in him, Sarah thought regretfully. He sounded downright stuffy. "Vulcans believe that death is tragic only if the life is wasted. A life terminated in utero is the ultimate waste, since the individual in question was given no opportunity to actualize his or her potential. Thus abortion is the ultimate crime."

McCoy opened his mouth, but Scott began to speak before the doctor could. "What ye seem to be sayin', Doctor Sutek, is that ye'd let a woman die because she's lived longer than her child." He shook his head in disbelief. "Mon, that's inhuman!"

In spite of the gravity of the subject, Sarah could not restrain the smallest of smiles. Then she realized that Spock was watching her. Their eyes met for a moment, and then he looked away, his expression again impassive. But for just a moment she had had the impression that he too was about to smile.

"That's not really what Sutek was saying, Mr. Scott," she began, deciding that the time for clarification was overdue. "No Vulcan would ever let anyone die. Many times at the Academy I've seen four or five Vulcan physicians working around the clock to save a patient. I rarely saw that happen when I was interning at the hospital for offworlders, where the staff is 75 percent human."

"But--but--" Scott was almost sputtering now, and Sarah began to like him even more than she had before, realizing that he could be as genuinely upset about an ethical problem as he was enthusiastic about his beloved engines.

"There's another aspect to the ethical question," she went on. "Did you ever notice that a Vulcan almost never says 'Thank you'?"

"Aye." Scott exhaled gustily, now glowering at Spock. "That I have." Spock stared back at him, one eyebrow slightly elevated. McCoy was grimacing, and Kirk sat with his hand hiding his mouth.

"On Vulcan," Sarah continued, "it's the giver, not the receiver, who's obligated. No gift is ever given lightly, or for superficial reasons. The word for 'gift' translates 'mine-to-you,' and the choice of what is suitable to be given to someone else is made with a great deal of thought. Instead of saying 'Thank you,' the receiver says 'I accept your gift of self.' And the giver answers 'The obligation is mine' instead of 'You're welcome.'" Sarah hesitated. But neither Spock nor Sutek seemed to want to add anything to what she was saying. "The gift of life is the most valuable gift of all, and the receiver is infinitely vulnerable. A child can't choose to exist or not to exist. So the one who gives life is infinitely obligated. A Vulcan woman understands this, and accepts the obligation at the time of her--betrothal."

"Your patients are human women," McCoy said flatly.

"They understand," Sarah insisted firmly. "They choose, understanding. No Vulcan would marry a woman who didn't understand--and accept."

The discussion had run its course, and both Scott and Sutek excused themselves. As the Vulcan geneticist took his leave of McCoy and the captain, Scott hesitated beside the first officer.

"I suppose, Mr. Spock," the chief engineer said wryly, "that I should have thanked you for trustin' me in the access tube that time with the integrator bypass control?"

Again, Spock's eyebrow rose. "Only if your ethics so dictate, Mr. Scott," he answered, not quite deadpan. And Sarah thought, My God, he's pulling the Scot's leg. A Vulcan? And then she remembered.

"Ach!" Scott threw up his hands, both amused and disgusted, and turned to Sarah. "Doctor, I'd be honored to give ye a wee tour of the engine room if you're not too tired."

"Ah--Scotty," Kirk interrupted hastily, "I planned to show Dr. Halsted the ship this evening." His smiling eyes met Sarah's. "If you're not busy, Doctor."

"But you already know I'm not busy, Captain," Sarah returned in kind, and noticed that McCoy was watching them. That man, she decided, did not miss much.

A few minutes later, McCoy and Spock entered the turbolift together. When the doors slid shut, McCoy said, "Spock, I'm sorry I didn't have time to warn you about--about Dr. Halsted. It all happened so fast--"

To his surprise, Spock turned to look directly at him, hands clasped behind his back. Prepared for some sort of verbal onslaught, McCoy had difficulty keeping his mouth from dropping open at Spock's words.

"I accept your gift of self." The voice was almost expressionless, yet there was an unfamiliar quality to it that was very like gentleness. "You achieved your purpose quite efficiently, Doctor."

"The obligation...." Trying to get it right, McCoy narrowed his eyes slightly. "...Is mine?"

"Doctor McCoy--" Still the unfamiliar tone, but now there was a touch of affectionate mockery there too. "I think there's hope for you after all." The lift doors swished open, and Spock moved out quickly. "Good night." And he began to walk rapidly down the corridor toward his quarters.

"Hey--that's not your line!" But Spock had already disappeared.

"I seem to have upset your first officer."

The tour of the ship had ended on the observation deck. The warp engines were not engaged, since Scott was giving them a periodic inspection, the timing of which was included in the calculation of their ETA on Tara. But it seemed to Sarah that the panorama of stars outside was passing at breath-taking speed nevertheless.

"McCoy too."

"Yes, but Spock was controlling, and it was very difficult for him."

"You mean repressing," Kirk said absently, his mind still on McCoy.

"No, I mean controlling. They're not the same thing, you know."

Now giving her his full attention, he said skeptically, "No, I don't know."

"Vulcans can trigger the inhibitory neurological mechanism in the hypothalamus at will. It's part of their mind-body integration. In effect, they flip a switch, and the emotion goes away. It's not repressed. It's just gone."

"But why?"

"You know their philosophy. Emotions get in the way of clean living." She sighed. "I'm sorry. They make it work. No wars for centuries. No crime. No petty bickering. And they don't get ulcerative colitis, or migraines, or hypertension--unless the cause is physiological. We should do as well."

"But Spock wasn't able to--we could see that he was upset. It's happened before."

"His control is more erratic than a full Vulcan's. Like Simon's. They have to work at it. A full Vulcan does it almost automatically, on the pre-conscious level. But they all can startle or feel pain if the stimulus is strong or unexpected." Kirk nodded. "Then they have to repress, or something like repression. But that's not what a Vulcan means by 'control.'" Kirk shook his head, obviously not completely convinced. "Jim, if it were repression, they'd all be psychotic by the time they're ten. No humanoid could continuously repress emotion and remain sane."

"I wonder why Spock never told me."

"Did you ever ask him? They take it for granted, just like we take our preconceptions for granted."

He was looking at her speculatively now. "Do you think it's--a better way than ours?"

"For the society, definitely. For the individual...." She shook her head. "It depends on the individual. Hybrids are in a double bind. The Vulcan physiology is always genetically dominant, but without rigorous training they can't control the way a full Vulcan does. The Vulcan parent has expectations that invariably aren't met. So does the human parent. It can get pretty complicated."

"Mmm." He was beginning to smile. "Well, we did end up talking about Vulcans after all."

"Among other things." She too was smiling, but he knew that she was not completely at ease with him now. "Did you enjoy your leave?"

After a moment, he said softly, "Still 'no,' huh?"

She sighed, but relaxed a little. "In a minute it's going to be my turn to say 'Don't spoil.'" Sensing what she wanted to do, and why she was afraid to, he took her gently in his arms and drew her head onto his shoulder. She relaxed completely then, holding him as she had when she had said I think this is what you were really looking for. "When we were planetside, I said you weren't really 'here,' but I didn't know what I meant. I do now--seeing you on your ship, especially when we were on the bridge. And you weren't even on duty. There's something--I can't even describe it in words. But there just isn't enough of you to go around."

Slowly he pulled away and gazed intently into her eyes, holding her by the shoulders. "Sarah, are you a telepath?"

"Me? No. Quite the contrary. Why?"

"You--sense things that aren't even being verbalized. You've done it with me several times."

"It's not thoughts," she answered, frowning a little. "It's feelings. Beliefs. Gut-level things. I've done it ever since I can remember."

"Can you believe," he asked softly, still looking directly at her, "that I wish there were enough of me to go around?"

"Oh, yes." This time she did not hesitate to put her arms around him. "I could believe that very easily."

"So that's it," Kirk was saying to McCoy a few minutes later. He smiled wistfully. "At least I got my beach to walk on. For a little while, anyway."

"What more did you want?" McCoy asked carefully, pouring.

"I don't know, Bones. I wish I did."

"It's all off, then?"

"So it would seem." Kirk downed half his drink. "Now kindly tell me what that was all about before dinner. You looked like you were seeing a ghost."

"I thought I was," McCoy answered softly. "Her voice is different, and her personality is very different. But she's a dead ringer for Zarabeth."

"I was afraid of that." At McCoy's astounded look, Kirk repeated Sarah's story about her alien grandmother. "If she's not a direct descendant, she could be a relative. Well, she's made it more than clear that she doesn't want to get emotionally involved with me. If Spock is interested in her--"

"Jim, she's not Zarabeth. She just looks like her. I talked to Spock afterwards. He's fine." A faint, wry smile. "My advice is let well enough alone."

"You don't think I should say something to him?"

"What're you going to say? 'I can't score again, buddy. She's all yours'? No, don't get mad again. Hell, I've got eyes. I know it's not like that. But think through the conversation, will you? What could you possibly say to him that wouldn't give him the wrong impression?"

During the two-week trip to Tara, McCoy found himself spending more time with Sarah Halsted than he had expected to.

Kirk had taken his advice about Spock, as far as he knew. The first officer had regained his usual composure, and treated both passengers with his usual impersonal courtesy. McCoy had the impression that Sarah and the captain still spent time together, and she also conferred with Sutek on several occasions. But it was to the chief medical officer that she turned most often for companionship, and as the voyage continued, she began to volunteer her services in Sickbay on a daily basis. She was a pleasant and efficient colleague, and McCoy found himself regretting that her stay aboard the Enterprise would be so brief.

"Whatever made you decide to intern on Vulcan?" he asked her on the second-last afternoon of their voyage. There had been a general announcement that the warp engines would be tested at 1800, and most of the crew were involved in preparations for the test. Except for McCoy and Sarah, the Sickbay was deserted, and they had moved into his office for coffee.

"My area of specialization. Vulcans are the galactic experts in hybrid obstetrics."

"Is that why you're doing a residency at the Science Academy?"

"Partly that. Partly because I wanted to work in a Vulcan hospital."

"Why?" McCoy asked wryly. "I think one Vulcan is about all I could stand on a regular basis."

"Their professionalism, Doctor," she answered quietly, but with a sympathetic smile. "They irritate me too sometimes. But when a Vulcan does something, it generally gets done right."

They sat over coffee in companionable silence for a few moments. At least it seemed to be companionable silence. For several days, McCoy had had the impression that Sarah was not herself. It was nothing he could describe specifically, even to himself. She did not appear unwell, but simply preoccupied. Now he considered whether he should leave well enough alone. But there was something--

"If we're going into warp drive, I have to ask you for an anti-ab shot."

For a moment, he literally could not comprehend what she had said. She was looking at him steadily, with a kind of calm but genuine apology in her eyes, as though she regretted the inconvenience.

Automatically, he reached for his medical scanner, which told a story eminently decipherable to them both.

In the silence after he shut it off, she said quietly, "No, Doctor, I am not on estrogen. Your diagnosis is correct. Space medicine isn't my specialty, but I believe I need a shot before 1800. Not that I understand why."

"Join the club." It came out sounding like a croak, and McCoy cleared his throat, still staring at her. "Nobody understands why yet. It just--happens." Then, abruptly, he rose and went to prepare the medication she had requested. It was none of his business, he told himself. A colleague had become a patient and requested treatment. The fact that the same colleague and the captain of the Enterprise appeared to have regressed to the twentieth century was their business, not his. But the more he thought about it, the madder it made him. Now you've done it, Jim-boy.

Returning to where she sat, he said as casually as he could, "You do understand that if you don't have this, all your worries'll be over by morning." But try as he would, he could not keep the brittle sarcasm out of his voice.

"Is that your standard speech, Doctor?"

"I don't have a standard speech, Doctor. There isn't much call for this p'ticular pound o' cure."

All human she was not, but the reference was obviously not lost on her.

"I lived with a human male for three years while we were in medical school." Although she seemed to find it necessary to justify herself, she did not sound particularly defensive. "For two of those years, we--I wanted a child, and he thought he did. Nothing happened. We were tested for genetic incompatibility, and the tests were inconclusive. Still nothing, for another year and a half. I--this time, I just never even thought about it. You're right. That was irresponsible. But I didn't accomplish this all by myself, you know."

"I'm sure Jim made the same assumption you did," McCoy said uneasily. "Most of them would have, and most of the time they'd be right. He knows that."

"Would have?" she repeated wryly. "You can do better than that, Doctor Starfleet, sir. Are you telling me that it's standard procedure to let a healthy, sexually active male in the prime of life go running around the galaxy making assumptions?"

McCoy sighed. "You're not gonna believe this."

Sarah closed her eyes and gently massaged the lids. "Try me."

"He's allergic to about half the synthetics in existence." She was already nodding, still massaging her closed lids. "If he ever gets hypermetropic, I won't even be able to give him Retinax Three."

"It figures." She sighed, dropping her hand. "Comedy of errors. Except--it's never very funny, is it."

"That it's not." McCoy held out the airhypo. "This will be effective until you get to Tara," he said gently. "It'll give you some time to think."

"I don't need any more time to think. I've been doing almost nothing but for the last three or four days." She held out her hand. "If you will, Doctor." He laid the hypo in her palm, and she expertly injected herself.

She was not Joanna, he told himself, anymore than she was Zarabeth. But it was no use. "You're not going to have an abortion?"



"I've seen a few." Their gaze held, and he nodded briefly. "Besides, it's not what I want. Can I talk to you about this?"

"Ah--I'm not sure I'm the one you should be talking to. I might not be able to tell you what you want to hear."

"But you don't know what I want to hear," she answered quietly. "You just think you do. He and I aren't looking for the same thing."

"Are you sure?"

"Doctor McCoy, if I were to say 'Love would make him over' or 'In his heart of hearts he wants a permanent commitment' or 'This time it's different for him,' what would be your answer?"

For the first time since the conversation began, McCoy felt himself relax a little. This might not be as bad as he had thought it was going to be. "It is different. You've become friends--had time to become friends. He generally doesn't have that opportunity. Nor do any of us."

She nodded, smiling a little. "Yes, we have. But you didn't answer the first two."

"Sarah, I can't speak for him. You know that. All I can say is--he even surprises me once in a while. He could surprise you too."

"I doubt it." It was simply a statement of fact. He could detect no resentment in it. "But I want this child. My parents were killed when I was eight, and I never had anyone who was really mine after that."

"My dear, you can't expect your child to fill that void!"

She shook her head. "It isn't that I want to fill a void. It's that I want my baby to have me." For the first time, tears came to her eyes.

Touched, he nevertheless felt a twinge of apprehension. One thing Jim didn't need was for history to repeat itself. "What about Jim? You must expect something of him."

"I expect him to care." She drew a deep breath, blinking away the tears. "The first time I saw him, he was protecting and comforting a child he'd never seen before." Briefly, she described the scene at the emergency entrance of the hospital. "And Peter is--" She glanced questioningly at McCoy, who nodded, watching her intently. "Jim talked to me about him. He has quite an emotional investment there, and Peter is only his nephew. He's proud of him, and he doesn't want him to forget who his father was. It's just--not all that hard to see what he'd be like with his own child." She leaned forward and put her hand on his. "He's arrogant and self-centered, and I'm not all that easy to live with. Even if we were together, we'd probably last about a year. But he's also the sweetest man I've ever met. What am I supposed to do--get rid of the baby I want because I can't make Jim Kirk over? That way, we'd all lose."

After a moment, McCoy said slowly, "You have done a lot of thinking."

"I had to."

"Well--that doesn't necessarily follow. Unfortunately." He hesitated. "Not that it's any of my business--"

"I was the one who wanted to talk, remember?"

"Do you have any family at all?"

She nodded. "That's part of what I've been thinking about. I have a cousin--Christopher Jones. His parents took me in when I lost mine, so he's really more like a brother. He and his wife were in medical school with me, and they're both doing residencies at Salk. They're my best friends. They're part of an extended." She paused, watching his face. He was trying not to change expression, but not succeeding. "An extended family, Doctor. Not a communal marriage. They share responsibilities, not partners."

"Who said something?" McCoy looked around. "Did I say something?"

"All right." But she was still smiling a little. "Anyway, Cris and Mary have been trying to talk me into moving in, and I think that just might be my answer. It's worth a try."

He nodded, still watching her intently. "When are you going to tell Jim?"

"Not until Sutek and I finish our assignment on Tara," she answered firmly. "He might take it into his head that I shouldn't go for some reason, and I don't want to quarrel with him. Not about this."

An attendant came to the door and summoned McCoy to the examining room: a crerw member had wrenched his back working out in the gym. McCoy waved the attendant away, but rose reluctantly, his eyes on hers.

"It's too bad." He smiled a bit wistfully. "You make a striking couple."

"Would that it were that simple."

He nodded wearily and departed, wishing he could shake the lingering apprehension that, after this voyage, none of their lives would ever be the same.

Tara (nee Blacktower) might have been Earth's twin but for the fact that many of the dominant life forms were insectoid, and that no known intelligent species had evolved on the planet. Its day was 23.5 hours, Standard, and its year 378 local days. It had two small natural satellites named Armstrong and Aldrin. Its sun was a middle-aged yellow star approximately six light years from Earth, but invisible to pre-twenty-first-century telescopes because of its proximity to the great Centaurus binary.

The planet's equatorial latitudes were a fertile wilderness, temperate in climate the year around. Here Earthmen had built their city, the beginning of a colony that they hoped would one day provide an alternate home for some of the millions of humans who yearly left their over-populated planet to seek lebensraum among the stars. The most modern agricultural methods were used to cultivate every bit of arable land within many kilometers of the city's heart; the culture was essentially agrarian, but its objectives were Promethean. "Toward a New Earth" was the motto of Eustace George, the human governor-general. And the city did indeed resemble a Terran city of that era.

But only a few minutes away by hovercraft, Tara's most intriguing natural formation rose toward the sky--the Black Tower for which the planet had originally been named. The mountain was made of a crystalline black substance twice as dense as granite and laced with many metallic ores. A shining monument to the movement of some ancient glacier, it towered above the newly cultivated plain, surrounded at its base by a freshwater lake that appeared bottomless, reflecting in its translucent depths the Tower itself as well as a wide expanse of the planet's pale green sky.

The original colonists had christened the lake Tower's Ring. But shortly thereafter, someone on the Federation Council had suggested that the new colony was serious business and should not be made to sound like a mythological kingdom. The fact that the city was called Tower City was bad enough, or so it was said at the highest reaches of bureaucracy. The idea took hold, and for a few years the planet had been known as UFP 1248, its official Federation designation. But the second governor-general had been a nationalistic Irishman named Flynn, who had renamed the planet Tara, the Gaelic word for "tower." From that time on, there was no longer any hope of making anyone call the planet Twelve-Forty-eight again.

The colony had been flourishing for six standard years when several spaceships full of Kiso refugees had requested political asylum there. The Kiso--four-toed humanoids with copper-based blood --were natives of the fourth planet in Tara's solar system, a scant 11,000,000 miles away. A more aggressive species even than humans, the Kiso were at the time engaged in systematically exterminating one another, their method a unique combination of antiquated atomic weaponry and sophisticated space-to-surface missiles (SPASMs).

The Kiso defectors consisted of the losing side's peace agitators, jaded by war and in fear for their lives. At first their hopes for finding asylum seemed doomed: the dominant faction back home had threatened to annihilate the entire Tara colony if the defectors were not returned, and seemed totally unimpressed by the warnings of the Federation. But after considerable negotiation, the Kiso had agreed to leave Tara unmolested if no further refugees were permitted to land there.

The treaty had finally been signed three standard years before the Federation had given the Vulcan Sutek and the Terran Sarah Halsted a three-month grant to do research among Tara's human/Kiso population. The intermarriages had been relatively few in terms of the general population, but the possibilities of opening new frontiers for research were obvious: although almost two dozen human/Kiso marriages had taken place over a period of five years, no living offspring had been born to any of these couples.

When Sarah and Sutek beamed down with their equipment, the captain of the Enterprise designated his first officer as their official escort.

"No," he had assured McCoy earlier that day, "I'm not 'playing cupid.' Eustace George is the governor-general of a Federation colony, and I can't get away. As long as we're so deep in Federation space, Scotty's cleaning house. He's got the phaser banks deactivated for maintenance inspection, and he wants me to approve some modifications. We might as well get that done while we're in orbit around Tara."

Both McCoy and the captain were on hand to wish their passengers farewell in the transporter room. Spock and Sutek watched, impassive, from their positions on the pads as McCoy kissed Sarah's cheek and patted her shoulder. "Take care, now," he said gently, and Sarah nodded and briefly pressed his hand before turning to the captain.

"I'd like to say 'Keep in touch,'" he said wistfully as they hugged each other. "But I don't know if it'd do any good."

Moving away a little, she took his hands in hers, her smiling gaze holding his. "I might surprise you."

Kirk was aware that Spock was now giving Sarah and his captain his familiar puzzled-pixie appraisal. Relieved that his friend no longer found Sarah disturbing, he answered, "Let's hope so," kissed her lightly and released her hands as she turned away and mounted the platform. "Mr. Spock, I'll be minding the store. Take as long as you need to see that our passengers are comfortably settled. No need to check in. We'll be here a while." He glanced at Scotty, manning the console, and Scott nodded wryly. Then, on impulse, Kirk added, "But don't stay for lunch unless they ask you."

Even as he said it, it seemed a bad attempt at a joke. But suddenly, if only for an instant, four humans and one half human were drawn together in a moment of complete understanding, a sharing of gentle, nostalgic amusement. Sutek stared expressionlessly, the epitome of polite patience, unaware that in the minds of his companions, the voices of five different but timelessly similar human mothers were calling down the years: "Don't stay for lunch unless they ask you."

Kirk saw Spock smile--not as noticeably as the others were smiling, but a smile nevertheless. "I wouldn't think of it, Captain," he answered, one eyebrow arching. And Kirk thought, There you go, my friend. That didn't make you one bit less Vulcan, did it?

Then, abruptly, the moment ended, and Spock and his charges shimmered away into nothing.

When the sound of the transporter had died away, McCoy said testily, "She shouldn't have her molecules spread all over the place." Then, glancing at Kirk: "I mean--nobody should."

"I knew what you meant," Kirk assured him, believing it. They began to walk toward the doorway while Scott spoke with the transporter attendant. "Bones, don't worry about her. She can take care of herself."

"She's so sure she has all her answers," McCoy said, brooding. "Too sure."

"Maybe. But I'm betting on her." Then, grinning: "Did you see Spock when I told him not to stay for lunch?"

"He got it!" McCoy smiled in spite of himself. "By golly, I think we might see the humanization of Mr. Spock yet."

"Ah, noo, Doctor." Scotty joined them and the three of them moved into the corridor together. "If you're lookin' for the day Mr. Spock'll be humanized, you're in for a disappointment. Would it be logical for a body who's half one thing and half t'other to abandon--"


"Aye." But Scotty's dark eyes were twinkling. "Whatever he may become, that is one leopard that willna change his spots."

Eustace George was more than pleased to have Commander Spock stay for lunch. In fact, he insisted on it.

It was not long after their beamdown into the governor's house that Sarah began to sense that he was disturbed about something that had nothing to do with his visitors. He was a slightly overweight man in his early fifties--not one of the original colonists, but a retired Starfleet officer who had been appointed governor-general only a few years before. He had several human aides and a Kiso administrative assistant--tall, broad-chested, coppery-gold, and apparently either sulking or genuinely preoccupied. Sarah was sure that George and the Kiso had had an argument. She tried to ignore the fact that they barely paid attention when she displayed a small genetic synthesizer arm implant--the one piece of specialized equipment that she carried in her shoulder-slung medikit today, anticipating some interest on the part of the governor and his staff.

One of the aides asked a polite question, but no one was really interested. Both Vulcans wore a carefully impassive expression that Sarah knew masked acute boredom. She wondered why the governor did not have her and Sutek shown to their quarters and be done with it. Outside, the air was fresh and mild, and the great mountain, the Black Tower, could be seen in the distance. She would have enjoyed taking an aircar aloft to see what the place looked like....

"Eustace George," the Kiso said in a cold voice that Sarah suspected masked real anger, "the newcomers are eager to get settled, and Commander Spock to return to his ship. I suggest that we adjourn." He rose and turned his back on the room, staring out toward the distant mountain.

His tone, slurred by a faint accent, was both insolent and abrasive. Sarah and the two Vulcans kept their eyes on the middle distance, but George and his aides simply stared at the Kiso's back with a kind of hopeless resignation. Finally, the governor sighed.

"My apologies, Doctors, Commander. I'm afraid you arrived in the middle of a family quarrel." And then, as lunch was served, the governor explained the nature of his disagreement with his assistant, obviously happy to have someone from Starfleet present to give him moral support.

Late the previous afternoon, in violation of the Federation treaty with Kiso, another refugee ship from that planet had landed on Tara. The passengers claimed that the ship had been damaged by a meteorite, and asked permission to remain on the surface until they could make repairs.

"After/ they landed," the governor emphasized while his assistant smouldered in silence. "'May I come in' after they were inside the door."

"The ship was inoperable," the Kiso burst out, whirling to face George. His fury was so great that even Spock and Sutek were startled. But oddly enough, George and his aides acted as though the alien were speaking normally. "Even now, they cannot reach the next planet safely unless you permit them to remain longer."

"The famed Kiso temper," the governor said ruefully. He then went on to explain that he had given the refugees one local day to repair their ship and continue on their way, a length of time that his assistant obviously considered inadequate. But the Kiso was not merely angry. He was furious. The very air seemed to vibrate with his fury. And wondering uneasily what it might be like to have a worldful of such tempers unleashed, Sarah began to understand the governor's arbitrary stand against giving the impression of having violated a treaty with them.

"I must insist that they leave this afternoon." He spoke mainly to Spock, and again Sarah sensed that he was seeking Spock's approval. "Even if the ship is dangerous to operate, there are only seventy-eight of them and nearly twemty-three thousnd colonists. I'm responsible for the safety of twenty-three thousand people. I can't risk an atomic war over seventy-eight." But Sarah knew that there was more to it than that. There were several children in the house; she could hear them. "We've worked hard for what we have here," the governor continued. "One of these days Tara will be the most popular Earth colony in this sector. Once we get the bugs out," he added, and then waited expectantly.

The two aides chuckled, and Sarah realized that George had made a local joke.

"Governor George," Spock began, "if the refugees need assistance in repairing their ship--"

"Assistance is being provided, Mr. Spock. We are doing everything humanly possible to facilitate--"

"The 'bugs' will get you out, Eustace George," the Kiso interrupted viciously, as though no one were speaking. His manner suggested a vindictive child bent on revenge, on making the governor as miserable as possible even though there could be no practical value in pursuing the argument. "The Clawed She will infest the Tower with her eggs. And when they hatch--then we shall see if Eustace George is truly a deity or only a mortal after all." And with that parting shot, the young Kiso stomped out of the governor's house.

"Again, my apologies, Dr. Halsted, gentlemen." George's tension had obviously increased at the mention of the Clawed She. "You can see, perhaps, why I do not wish to be involved in a war with these people."

"Governor George," Spock asked, "who or what is the Clawed She?"

If he had intended to distract the man, he succeeded. It became immediately obvious that the animal the livid Kiso had mentioned was viewed by George and his aides as a menace even more threatening than war with the Kiso.

The Clawed She was the Kiso name for the largest insectoid life form on Tara. The human colonists called her the Black Widow, since there appeared to be only one, and she was obviously female. She had appeared in the vicinity of the Tower less than a year before--a huge insect, as long as a man is tall, resembling an enlarged Terran ant. She took no notice of the colonists, and did not threaten them. Her main function was apparently to lay eggs, which she was doing all over the surface of the mountain.

"Has she harmed anyone?" Spock asked as soon as the governor ceased speaking.

"Not yet. But that's not the point." Spock's eyebrows went up, but the governor seemed not to notice. "People who have seen the Tower's surface from a hovercraft say that she's laid thousands of eggs already. If this goes on, we may have to destroy them all or be inundated with thousands of her kind. Not much future for the colony then. But somebody took a shot at her the other day with a blaster. I hear she was pretty badly burned, and she hasn't been seen since. So maybe the problem is solved."

Both Spock and Sutek had stopped eating, and Sarah felt acutely ashamed that she and Eustace George were of the same race. This had once been a Starfleet officer?

"But you said she wasn't hurting anyone," she said aloud, hoping that she had misunderstood the man. "Why did this person shoot her?"

George shrugged. "I don't know. Does it matter? I'm sure it's all for the best."

The two aides both nodded thoughtfully.

There was a moment's silence, and then Spock said quietly, "Governor, I will not be on duty aboard the Enterprise or several hours. May I have the use of a hovercraft?"

"Of course. One of my aides will accompany you."

"That will not be necessary, sir." Commander Spock in impeccable form. Had Sarah not known Vulcans as well as she did, she would have believed that the story of a tortured animal left untended on the mountain was of as little significance to Spock as it was to the governor and his aides. "I believe that Sutek may wish to accompany me." Sutek inclined his head slightly, face inscrutable. "Dr. Halsted?" Spock's eyes met hers, deliberately moved to her medikit and then met her gaze again. She nodded without answering.

Later, as they were about to enter the hovercraft, the governor dismissed his aides and joined Sarah and the two Vulcans.

"I appreciate your concern for the injured animal," he said tightly. "But if you see it, you'll understand why we can't have thousands of those things crawling all over the planet. It's--it's hideous." No answer. "Let be, Spock! If it's dying, let it die."

"We are going sightseeing, Governor."

"Like hell you are." Then George seemed to remember something. "Ah--about that mountain." He hesitated, obviously trying to decide whether it was better to leave well enough alone. "You'll be examining it more closely than the colonists do, and there's a--uh --a place down near the lake line on this side where I--uh--I have some valuable equipment stored. Nobody here knows about it except my family and me. It's--in a cave." He was almost stammering now. What in the universe could the man be up to? "Well, never mind. But if--I'd appreciate it if you'd all avoid mentioning this to anyone else in the colony." Having said that, he looked as though he regretted bringing the matter up.

Click on the right arrow below to go to Part 4 of "The End of the Beginning"

Copyright 1991 C. Gabriel, all rights reserved.