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Sondra Marshak & Myrna Culbreath

The Price of the Phoenix

CHAPTER I

Dr. McCoy had one thought in his mind: Spock must be spared this! He turned hastily to the next transporter position and took Spock by the arm.

The Vulcan did not even protest as McCoy led him off the platform. McCoy wanted to steer him through the corridors of the Enterprise, hustle him to the haven of Sickbay—anything but let the Vulcan stay and see the security men bringing up the stretcher with the bodybag.

But Spock stopped at the transporter console. He planted himself like a rock with that immovable Vulcan strength, and now his peculiar immobility amounted almost to catatonia.

“Energize,” Spock said, in a shockingly normal voice.

Scotty stood at the control console himself. He looked blasted, empty, suddenly old. His shoulders struggled to hold themselves at attention, as if they were an honor guard. His hands worked the controls with special care… as if it could matter now.

Uhura stood inside the door, neither explaining her presence nor apologizing for the tears which ran quietly down the beautiful dark face.

The transporter shimmered.

The two Enterprise security men materialized, took a firmer grip on the anti-grav lifts, and stepped carefully off the platform with the stretcher that bore the body of Captain James T. Kirk.

Spock followed them through the door, his eyes not moving from the stretcher. McCoy clung to his arm, not sure whether he was giving support or getting it He could feel the Vulcan’s strength. But was it fully sane?

Leonard McCoy knew that he would always remember that quiet procession as nightmare, but it was nothing to the nightmare of going to the planet and collecting the charred body, nothing at all to the nightmare Spock had seen.

Enterprise personnel lined the corridors, stood beside the turbo-lift.

They knew, of course.

Omne had made sure that they knew.

The owner of the hole-in-the-wall planet had announced it bluntly, brutally, sending his special signal through his impenetrable shields which cut off all other communication and piped directly into the ship’s intercom. “Captain Kirk is dead. Permission granted for Enterprise physician and party to attend.”

The crew had not believed it. Their Captain could not die!

Now they read the finality in McCoy’s face and in Spock’s.

McCoy stopped Spock at the door as the body was carried into the small, sterile autopsy room.

The purpose of the room was only too well known to Spock as a scientist. Standard. All violent or sudden deaths. Dr. McCoy’s own strictest rule.

Dr. M’benga was there, raising an inquiring, offering eyebrow at McCoy.

McCoy shook his head. That he would do himself. It was the last thing he would do for Jim Kirk.

The Vulcan First Officer looked at him with perfect comprehension. “Thank you, Doctor,” Spock said. “He would want that from you.”

McCoy found himself without words.

But the Vulcan had spoken—for the first time except for the single order in the transporter room.

McCoy must catch that thread of sanity, draw the Vulcan back somehow to some hold on life.

“Spock—” he began, but the Vulcan was gone again, lapsing into the rigid stare with which he had watched the recovery of Kirk’s body from the ashes. The fixed eyes spoke of murder, madness, some terrible release for what could not be released and could not be endured.

McCoy felt certain that Spock’s very life was in danger. The Vulcan had survived believing that Kirk was dead once on Vulcan, when Spock thought that he himself had killed his Captain and friend. But the terrible Vulcan emotional control had broken completely in this very room when Spock saw Jim reappear through the door alive. And that was years and many layers of friendship ago. McCoy was not sure that Spock had ever fully believed that Kirk was dead when the Captain had disappeared in the Tholian sector and McCoy and Spock had listened to Jim’s recorded last orders together. But Spock had risked the ship on an impossible chance to get Jim back. Still years ago—and what would he risk now, if there were any chance? How would he live with the fact that now there was no chance at all?

The Vulcan repression of emotion was a weakness as much as it was a strength. God knew it had carried the Vulcan through terrible times—sometimes carried them all. But McCoy had always known that it could break down explosively. He had given Spock hell often enough trying to break it down bit by bit before that day would come. This day.

McCoy knew with bleak certainty that this could do it, was probably the only thing which could. He, too, had lost his closest friend. But Spock had lost the only man he had ever permitted really to reach into his self-imposed prison of Vulcan restraint and to touch his naked soul.

McCoy dropped on one knee beside Spock’s chair. “Hold on, Spock,” he said very softly in the tone of a quotation and almost in another man’s voice. “Don’t let it break you. Hold on.”

The Vulcan shuddered and his eyes reached for the look of comfort Kirk would have offered.

“Thanks, Bones,” Spock said very deliberately in the same voice, using the name Kirk would have used.

Then his eyes blazed suddenly with such ferocity as McCoy had only glimpsed. He locked his hands behind his back. “I shall have to “hold on,’ Doctor. Murder has been done, and all hell is about to break loose.”

“Murder?” McCoy gasped. “But surely it was an accident? My God, Spock, not even Omne would set that up as a trap. A suttee, Sandorian-style? Burn the whole house? The wife? The baby? The woman really died, Spock. No trick. Jim just couldn’t stand it—not the baby. It was an accident’

“Or an exact calculation of the Captain’s psychology,” Spock said grimly. “It was Omne who staged the delegates’ tour or the alien enclaves, lectured us on the Federation’s Noninterference Directive—claiming no Human honored it—marched us in and kept the Captain close, explained to him the custom of immolation, just as the house was fired and the woman dashed in carrying the child. It was Omne’s Romulan mercenaries who blocked me when I tried to go after Jim.”

He broke off, and McCoy could almost see the flames flare high behind his eyes. McCoy could see behind his own the glowing ashes and Spock still standing locked between burly Romulan renegades, Vulcanoid and as strong as he. Spock still holding a screaming, naked boy baby perhaps six months old. Spock, who couldn’t hold a tribble or a cat without petting it, holding the baby and quite oblivious to it McCoy had taken it from him, parked it almost as obliviously with some woman, tried to question Spock, finally gotten the stock in fragments from witnesses: Spock bowling down Romulans like tenpins, reaching the door, seeing Kirk with the mother clawing at him, holding him. Kirk had pitched the baby to Spock, who caught it just as the Romulans caught him again, and just as the flaming house collapsed with Kirk inside.

McCoy closed his eyes. It didn’t help.

But if Spock thought that he had seen murder-maybe his sanity really had snapped. Maybe he had to have somebody to kill. And what would that do to his Vulcan philosophy of peace? Spock’s face showed nothing of Vulcan’s thousand years of peace. It was the face of his savage heritage, five thousand years deep—or five million.

McCoy’s legs were not doing too well. He shifted to the chair behind the desk. Spock was a walking mass of grief, but he was in command of the Enterprise now, with power to destroy a planet. There was a war brewing here anyway. This miserable outlaw planet was the intrigue center of the galaxy. And McCoy doubted that Omne’s Black Hole was safe now, even behind its impregnable shields.

Spock glanced up and caught McCoy’s fixed look. The Vulcan stopped abruptly. He came and settled on a hip on the corner of McCoy’s desk—an uncharacteristic pose for him.

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