As Kirk sat on a park bench in the southern Malkerian city of Prautoria he could barely believe the reality of his situation. The weather was warm and tranquil, the hot sun made bearable by a fresh, intermittent breeze. Birds sang and flitted about the sky, small stands of trees rustled in the wind. Occasionally small, rodent-like mammals would approach him cautiously, their eyes glinting in the hope of food and then chatter indignantly as he showed empty hands, and run back to the thick and tangling undergrowth that edged the parks paths and grassy areas.
If it wasnt for what he knew about Malkers strict, almost puritanical, ways of government and law he would have said this was the perfect place for shore leave. He could not imagine, however, four hundred and thirty odd crewmembers beaming down to the place and not breaching a drunkenness law, or a littering law, or some other of the hundreds of small but strictly enforced regulations that kept the planet so peaceful and tidy. Malker had seemed almost a paradise of orderliness on their first beam-down to the planet, but what he had learnt of the places laws since reminded him more of a totalitarian state than a would-be Federation member.
It was Kirks first time in this park, and he hoped he would not have to return too often. He had read enough literature and heard enough rumours about the place to know that these city parks, along with back alleys and industrial areas, were where Malkers more seamy side was swept under the rug or, more literally here, hidden in the undergrowth. Malker had its fair share of crime, poverty and homelessness, and however it might deal with it, those individuals unlucky enough to be involved had to exist somewhere, out of sight of the planets police force or tidy-minded, honest, upright citizens. The thick undergrowth in these places gave plenty of space for Malkers more undesirable segments of society to hide and continue to survive.
Of course, that was why he was waiting here. Spock had duly managed to make his way to Prautoria, and necessity had compelled him to take shelter somewhere in the vicinity of this park. His last, swiftly aborted communication to Kirk of only three days ago had named this as the place where they should meet. He had not managed to be specific about a location, but there was only one main path through the park, and he had suggested that Kirk find a seat somewhere along it, some time after the lunch-time rush had subsided, and Spock would find him.
Dear God, Jim hoped Spock would find him
Every strung-out gap between Spocks brief communications was an agony of uncertainty. Would Spock survive to contact him again? Would he manage to access a radio with getting caught? Would he even manage to find food without getting caught? Was he in the park now, or back in a Malkerian cell somewhere, or perhaps even
Jims head jerked up at soft, determined footsteps. He had to restrain himself from leaping to his feet and running to that lean, tall figure that was moving with purpose and poise along the path. Spock looked tired, thin, and worn down but he had lost none of his grace.
Kirk rose to his feet, a smile spreading over his face.
Spock, he said simply but there was a wealth of warmth and relief in his tone.
Spock moved towards him, aware of the sight that he made, dirty, unkempt, unshaven, with unbrushed hair and ill-fitting clothes that he had worn for weeks on end.
I must apologise for my appearance, Captain, he said rather tentatively as he reached him.
Spock, your appearance is the most wonderful thing Ive seen in over a month, Jim said with a broad smile.
He stepped forward, and without further hesitation he reached out and hugged the Vulcan tightly, despite the odorous clothing and his unwashed state. The very solidity of him the feeling of bones and flesh beneath his hands was like the manifestation of a miracle. Even the pungent scents of alien sweat and weeks worth of unwashed clothes were welcome signs of absolute reality.
Captain, Spock said a trifle awkwardly. I am hardly piquant. Surely
Spock, youre perfect, Kirk said firmly, releasing the Vulcan and patting him heartily on the arm. I wouldnt say you couldnt do with a bath, he added. But I thought you were *dead*, Spock. We all did
Spock met his eyes, and nodded once.
For a brief time, so I did I, he said sombrely, one eyebrow raising under his hat.
Come on. Lets get out of here, Kirk said nervously, touching his arm again and hurrying him towards the edge of the park where the aircar sat. He didnt even want to think about those few moments when Spock had believed himself to be entering death, and he didnt want to tempt fate by lingering too long in the open. When did you last eat, Spock?
Spock hesitated, then said, I have not managed to find food for the past four days. Theres a lot of competition in this place, and I have not been fortunate in my timing
Kirk looked him up and down, taking in his tired, thin face again, and the very slight tremor in his hands.
Come on, he said. The house is only ten minutes away. Im fixing you something to eat as soon as we get through the door. And running you a bath. Hell, you can eat *in* the bath if you want.
In the ten minute ride back to the house Kirk learnt that over the last month Spock had been sleeping in alleys behind buildings, squeezing into any space he could find to rest where he was certain he would not be seen, or sleeping in fields or woods as he travelled from town to town. He had been eating a melange of food from rubbish bins, or scraps he found dropped on the street, or whatever he could steal.
I dont believe I have slept in a bed excluding the prison bed, of course, he interrupted himself sombrely, since I left the Enterprise.
Well, theres a freshly made up bed in the house, Spock, Kirk assured him, not wanting to dwell on the weeks Spock had spent in prison believing he was waiting to die. Clean sheets, plumped pillows, a choice of duvet or blankets, or both. Where did you sleep last night, Spock? he asked curiously. There was a definite lingering dampness and earthiness to the Vulcans clothing.
Spock hesitated, then said, Did you notice the horticultural bias of the park where we met, Captain?
Horticultural bias? Kirk echoed. Lots of bushes, I suppose, and low, scrubby
He trailed off as he realised what Spock was saying.
You slept in that undergrowth? he asked slowly. Spock, do you know what kind of people
Captain, I know precisely what drug users and sexual aberrants and homeless itinerants frequent that park at night, Spock said tiredly. It has been my home for the past week.
But dont they shoot
Again, he trailed off. He had been shocked to find that this areas solution to homelessness was to hunt out vagrants and simply eliminate them. The strained, exhausted look on Spocks face was becoming easier and easier to explain. He had been living like a hunted animal ever since his escape, even without the authorities looking for him directly.
I wish McCoy was here, Kirk said suddenly, his eyes firmly on the tree-filled vista ahead as he banked toward the small rented cottage.
As Spock looked at him questioningly he said, Youve been eating left over scraps from bins, sleeping in places like that, in all sorts of weathers
Id be happier if McCoy could give you a thorough physical.
The weather has been remarkably clement. And I am well enough, I assure you, Spock told him firmly. I have had too little to eat, and too little sleep. That is all.
Doc said there might be some problems from the drug cocktail they used to try to kill you, Kirk said, those last words seeming to stick in his throat. You might have heart or kidney damage.
Spock touched a hand briefly to the side of his chest, pressing his palm over his beating heart. Kirk had the momentary impulse to reach out to and put his hand over Spocks, just to reassure himself of what Spock was feeling, of that firm evidence of life. He stayed his hand, keeping it firmly on the aircars controls.
I have noticed some irregularity of heart rhythm on occasion, and a tendency to tiredness, Spock said gravely. I ascribed the problem to lack of food and lack of proper rest. Did Dr McCoy prescribe a solution?
He sent me with the equipment and drugs for a temporary treatment, Kirk nodded.
He banked the aircar again, bringing it in for a smooth landing on a bare concrete slab just outside a small, squat house. The building was surrounded by a small clearing, and then ringed by a sprawling wood, quite isolated from other buildings.
Spock descended from the car, surveying the building before him with interest. It was decidedly rustic, the first storey built of natural boulders and the second of roughly hewn boards rising from the stone wall. The windows were relatively small and wooden framed, and the roof was shingled with tiles of the same wood as the walls. He had seen plenty of houses like this on his trek through the Malkerian countryside, and even broken into a few. If it was true to type it would be laid out with living quarters upstairs and bedrooms on the ground floor, heated by real fuel fires and furnished with homely accoutrements. It would also be quite private. There was very little overt curiosity displayed by Malkerian nationals.
Come on, Kirk said, touching his arm. Lets go inside. What would you like first? Bath or food?
Spock hesitated, and then looked down at himself and said with an edge of reluctance, I believe bath, Captain. And do you have clean clothes I can wear?
A complete supply, Kirk nodded as he passed his key fob over the door and it clicked open.
He glanced at Spock as he stepped inside, interpreting the look he had seen on the Vulcans face when he had chosen bath over food. Spock was like a cat. His habitual state was one of meticulous cleanliness, and on those occasions when he was not clean he always rectified the situation as soon as possible. Presumably he found his current state of dishevelment deeply unpleasant. But he was also hungry starving hungry, or as close to starving as Kirk had ever seen his friend. It had taken a great degree of discipline to choose to wash before he satisfied his craving for food.
Last door at the end, here, Kirk said, nodding down the wooden floored hallway. I turned the heater on earlier, so it should be warm in there. Shall I leave you to it? Theres towels and a robe already in there.
Thank you, Captain, Spock nodded. I shall not be long.
Take as long as you like, Kirk said magnanimously. Theres no hurry. Ill leave some clothes outside the door for you. Ill be upstairs, in the kitchen.
He watched Spock disappear through the bathroom door, then turned quickly to the stairs, intent on preparing something both filling and pleasant for the Vulcan to eat as soon as he was ready. It didnt take long to fix what he hoped would be a pleasant and relatively filling meal, but he was wary of overwhelming the Vulcan with too much food after a prolonged period of abstinence.
He hesitated for a few moments in the kitchen, wondering how long Spock would be. Then he remembered he had promised to find the Vulcan clean clothes. He put the plate down on the counter and went back downstairs to find a suitable outfit. He had settled on mainly dark, plain, inoffensive clothing, all in the Malkerian style, for Spock. There was a bit more variance in colour and style in his own clothes, but Spock was more reserved in his fashion sense. At least he thought he was more reserved. It suddenly struck him that he had very rarely seen Spock out of uniform. Even on shore leave the Vulcan usually stubbornly refused to relinquish his uniform. It was true, though, that at those times Jim had seen him in civilian clothing he had always tended towards blacks, charcoal greys and dark browns.
He piled the clothes he had chosen together, and went to the bathroom door. He knocked softly on the wooden panel.
Spock? he called. Shall I leave these clothes here?
There was the shortest moment of hesitation, and then Spocks voice came from inside.
Come in, Jim. I am quite decent.
Kirk turned the handle, and opened the door into a billow of warmth and steam. Evidently Spock had just finished his bath. He stood in front of the bathroom mirror, carefully using Kirks razor to remove four weeks worth of beard growth. So far he had only shortened and neatened the dark hair in preparation for removing it completely.
Spock turned as Kirk entered, passing an appraising look over the small pile of clothes. He was naked but for a clean white towel fixed about his waist, and with his dark, wet hair tumbling over and disguising his slanted eyebrows and pointed ears, Spock looked rugged, almost piratical.
You know, perhaps you should leave that beard, Kirk pointed out, as much to fill the suddenly awkward silence as for any other reason. For a disguise, I mean.
Spock raised an eyebrow, but there was a glint of humour in his eye. A trifle melodramatic, dont you think?
I prefer to be clean shaven, Captain, Spock said, turning back to the mirror. But I was intending to leave my hair as it is. Longer hair is not uncommon here, and it does disguise certain
Certain devilish features? Kirk finished with a grin.
As you say, Spock nodded, without expression, focussed intently on the removal of his beard with the softly humming electric razor.
Jim regarded him in the mirror, noticing that the thinness he had seen in Spocks face extended to the rest of his body. His collarbones seemed to jut from his body, and he could almost count the ribs beneath the olive-tinted skin.
Ill put these here, Kirk said quickly, laying the clothes down beside the basin. I hope theyll fit. I didnt take weight loss into account
They seem quite adequate,, Spock nodded, sorting briefly through the pile to assess its contents.
Well, then Ill see you upstairs in a minute, Kirk said, turning back to the door. It was uncomfortably hot in the bathroom, and the air in the corridor was a cool relief as he stepped outside.
When Spock appeared in the kitchen, clad in a charcoal grey shirt and trousers, with his black hair clean and brushed, he looked far more like the efficient science officer that Kirk knew from the Enterprise. The length of his hair, though, still gave him an oddly exotic cast, bringing out the dark intensity of his eyes far more than his usual trim cut.
You didnt need that hat, you know, Kirk said with a smile, noticing how Spocks pointed ears only just peaked through his hair. That hair covers a multitude of sins.
Vulcan hair does grow significantly faster than human, Spock replied. His eyes tracked unobtrusively to the plate on the nearby counter, and he asked, Is that my food, Jim?
Oh yes, Kirk nodded quickly, transferring the plate and a selection of cutlery to the table.
He sat down opposite the Vulcan, his mind tracking unwillingly back to the last time he had sat across a table from Spock, when armed guards had been watching and Spock had been awaiting execution. Spock had looked a good deal healthier then, but the expression in his eyes now was far easier to meet.
He continued to watch the Vulcan as the amount of food on the plate steadily decreased. Spock was eating with something close to alacrity, rather than with the usual appearance of believing consumption to be an encumbrance that was necessary but mildly annoying. Kirk noted again the thinness of Spocks face, and then become aware of an unusual tinge to his skin that had not been evident before he had washed.
You look pale, Spock, he commented, although he wasnt surprised by the fact.
Spock looked up from his food.
I am anaemic, he said bluntly. The Malkerian diet is not rich in copper.
Oh! Kirk exclaimed, hit by a sudden remembrance.
He stood quickly and went to a small black case on the nearby counter, carefully stocked by McCoy before he had left the ship. He opened it and rifled through the various containers of drugs in there, then selected one and tossed it to the Vulcan. Spock caught it reflexively, and examined the label.
I forgot Bones sent iron tablets copper tablets, I mean, Kirk amended with a smile. One with every meal, he said. He figured you might be anaemic.
Spock nodded, his eyes flitting over the label again, before he opened the pot and took out a small, round tablet. He swallowed it with a small sip of water, then turned his attention to his food again.
It is striking how the good doctor makes his presence felt, despite being light years away, he commented, looking up briefly.
Ive had my instructions, Kirk said with a grin. First order of the day, Spock after youve eaten has to be a proper medical examination, he said firmly, aware that Spock was even more averse to medical checks than he was to eating. Bones gave me a full dossier to pass on to you what those drugs might have done to you, what symptoms to look for, and how to treat them. He thinks youre capable of treating yourself, to a point.
The doctor is probably right, Spock nodded, pushing his now empty plate aside. However, I imagine we have more urgent matters to discuss than my health.
Your health keeping you alive is the reason Im here, Kirk said firmly.
That is true, Captain, Spock nodded. However His face had shed some of its look of friendship, and had reverted to an expression beautifully familiar to Jim the logical, unemotional mask of a Vulcan intent on a mission. There is one reason why my life was endangered and that reason is murder.
A few hours wont make much difference but they might do to your health, Kirk said with deadly seriousness. Mr Spock, we are going to go through that dossier of McCoys, point by point, and do what we can to stabilise any problems you have. *Then* we will discuss the facts of the murder. Is that clear?
Spock met his eyes again. His gaze was lit by an appreciation for the familiar structure of command, rather than any kind of resentment at Kirks natural assumption of that command.
Very clear, Captain, he said flatly, pushing his chair back and getting to his feet. If I may have McCoys instructions I will see to it now.
The self-administered medical examination was relatively brief but disturbing. Spock discovered that the muscles of his heart had lost ten percent of their normal strength since his last official examination, and that his kidneys were operating at only seventy percent of their normal efficiency. If he could have disguised those facts from Kirk he would have, but his captain insisted on being present, since he was the one that McCoy had instructed in how Spock should proceed.
The treatment, to prevent further degeneration, was no more than a matter of regular injections and scans, but for a complete return to normal he would have to have a doctor perform the delicate task of cellular regeneration, probably under anaesthetic in order to keep his heart rhythm controlled during the procedure. There was nothing that could be done on Malker without revealing himself to the authorities.
We should move the sitting room downstairs, Kirk mused as he followed Spock back up to the main room. Try to limit unnecessary stress
Captain, Spock said with a degree of asperity as he reached the top. I am no more unwell now than I was half an hour ago. It is quite likely that I am actually improved, since I have administered McCoys potions. I am rather more prone to tiredness. Nothing more.
Hmm, Kirk said doubtfully.
Spock arched an eyebrow.
I did not think the transfer of katra was possible between living humans, he murmured as he entered the living room.
What was that, Spock? Kirk asked curiously.
It seems you have been imbued with the living spirit of the Enterprises chief medical officer, he said in a tone of fascination. I believed I was lodging with Captain James T. Kirk, not Captain James H. McCoy.
All right, point taken, Kirk said, raising his hands in a gesture of surrender. I wont refer to your physical condition outside of examinations. Is that satisfactory?
It is highly doubtful that you will adhere to such a promise, Spock said cynically. But, yes, it is satisfactory.
All right, Kirk nodded, moving a small portable computer to the table, and taking a seat in front of it. Ive got all the details of this case as I know them in the computer here. I guess theres some things I know that you dont know, and vice versa.
I would imagine that your knowledge of the case would be far more detailed than mine, Spock said, sitting at the table and folding his hands in front of him. I was allowed very little access to information from the time of my arrest onwards.
The Malkerians are very cagey about allowing off-worlders to interfere in their legal processes, Kirk said, shaking his head. We tried our damnedest to get more information before you were sentenced and afterwards, too but it was almost impossible. We were allowed to read the preliminary report about the crime. That was just about it. I wasnt even allowed to attend the trial.
I did not realise, Spock said slowly. The accused stands behind a screen during trial. I could not see who was in attendance.
Kirk met Spocks eyes briefly, caught with a sudden empathy for just how lonely Spock must have felt from the moment of his arrest. Lonely, frightened, helpless they were all human, emotional terms, but he could not help but believe that Spock must have been assailed by at least some of those feelings.
All right, he said stoutly, pushing the computer aside. In the absence of other data, lets start from the start. Go through what happened from the moment you left me and Bones, Spock. Anything you remember, no matter how slight, might tell us something. The one thing I never heard was your own statement.
A slight frown ruffled Spocks forehead, and he stared down intently at the table before him, his gaze roaming over the grain of the wood, and the contours of his interlocked fingers on top of it.
Spock? Kirk asked curiously.
My memory troubles me, Spock said carefully.
You mean you dont remember?
No. It is not that, Captain
I know I did not commit the crime, Spock said in a puzzled tone. But
But? Kirk prompted him gently. Spock had frozen, with an odd, haunted look on his face.
But I seem to remember certain details, he said slowly, almost as if I had committed them with my own hands
You *know* you didnt do it? Kirk said.
The firmness he had intended in his voice had given way to the tone of a question. Spock did not make guesses, he did not work on intuition or hope. The most reassuring thing about having the Vulcan on his bridge for all these years was his ability to be definite. Now, however, he was faltering, vague and what was amounting to being an extremely unreliable witness.
Spock met Kirks eyes.
I *know* I did not do it, he nodded. I would have no reason to do it. But my memory is recalcitrant, at best. I do not remember those things which would tend to support my innocence, while I do seem to remember details that would serve to convict me. I am not sure how useful a statement would be.
Kirk sighed, rubbing a hand over his forehead.
Well, where do you suggest we start, Commander? he asked with just a hint of irritation in his voice. Weve got almost no information from the authorities, no information from the scene, nothing about the victim and nothing from you either.
Im tired, Jim, Spock said honestly, looking up again. I have had no opportunity for meditation since my escape, and few chances for undisturbed reflection. With your permission, Ill go to my room, and attempt to marshal my memories. When I have arranged my thoughts into a coherent narrative, then I will be able to provide you with a statement.
Kirk smiled apologetically.
Im sorry, Spock, he said, seeing how truly tired the Vulcan was by his lack of rigidity in his chair. I guess this is getting to me more than I expected. You go rest. I promised Bones Id fill him in on your condition, anyway. Thisll give me the chance to send that data to him. Your rooms the first on the right at the bottom of the stairs, by the way.
Thank you, Jim, Spock nodded, getting to his feet again.
Sleep well, Kirk added as an afterthought, as the Vulcan made to leave the room.
Spock half turned, raising an eyebrow.
I do not intend to sleep, Captain. But I will endeavour to meditate well.