Title: BEN TOR KATRA
Pairing/codes: Spock/McCoy (there ya go, Plato!)
The KEEPER needs very little time to make a wish; hardly more than a thought. But I was asking it for more than a wish, and it too was getting something in return.
I watched, deep in the subterranean caverns, while its records of the past--and or you--were eventually discovered. A telepathic machine can be disconcerting, but we had struck a friendship long ago, and we were comfortable with each other, odd as that might seem to most. I know it would not surprise *you* at all--you would laugh and state this only re-affirmed your view of the way this Universe ran.
The information was finally pulled; blood on the end of the Black Knight's spear. I was aware of sweat. Vulcans are eccrine creatures, so that was an obvious display of my sudden apprehension. I had committed a Legal Offense--and it was as severe as my abducting Chrisopher Pike; as severe as Jim's theft of the ENTERPRISE to rescue both of us from death and madness. But this...not even Sam Cogley, were he alive, be able to save me from prosecution if I were caught. Not even Sarek, now dead, could intervene on my behalf. But the potential consequence meant nothing; only the results.
Your violent protests of the engrams echoed across the known space. Word comes even to the deepest depths of the Romulan Empire. I hoped the Federation spies reported the stir among the people; Romulans value their elders highly, and it horrified them that one would have so little choice in his own fate.
The KEEPER was assembling your blood cells; I was fascinated by the variety. Vulcans have few cells that perform many functions; in humans the reverse is true. The defense mechanisms alone are highly complex. Vulcanoids once thought it impossible for iron-based life forms to exist; they would be too vulnerable to the corrosive and
poisonous effects of oxygen. And deadly bacti thrives in iron. But despite it all your people learned to adapt, and even thrive against the odds.
The KEEPER interrupts my thoughts; Picard is patrolling the Neutral Zone. I think for a moment how very patient that human is, and how insightful. He did not act overtly offended when I refused to return to the Federation upon news of Sarek's death.. But he-and Riker--learned of our flamoyant exploits in school. They would not believe I would be absent upon your deathbed.
(I hope that my theft of your mental patterns has NOT been traced to me; it would place Picard in difficulty to arrest me and confiscate what is left of you.)
Much about Vulcan is no longer forbidden to off-worlders. But some is yet hidden.
Vulcans acknowledge you by no other name; the Refusion is so dangerous, to rare. And our priestess was the last of her Study to even know how to attempt such a thing.
The KEEPER is selecting certain cells now; setting them aside in the tank. I have no idea why, but will wait. I can barely see beyond the glass; it is cloudy with nutrients. An embryonic beginning.
I cannot contemplate; I rise and pace. I am suddenly a young and awkward pre-adult Vulcan again, prone to small, chaotic fits of emotion. Your katra is still asleep in the depths of my mind; it needs the respite. I stare at the endless column of computer screens--machine capable of snatching thought and creating reality from it.
We had so little time before the Refusion began its deeper work upon us. For a brief space, it was almost like the old days. But you and Jim were sent to Rura Penthe with the help of MY student. My Valeris, the pupil any teacher would dream of; my fault. I had wished to re-create the delight of watching another young mind like Saavik's grow...
I woke in my cabin, trembling from a cold deeper than anything I had ever known, and I realized it was you; exposed to the harsh polar world. A harsh awakening. I had stripped myself bare in order to place my essense into you for burial. And now your own essense, facing its own death, was instinctively opening itself the same way. I could do nothing to protect your privacy. And I saw, years younger, the bearded visage of my counterpart, forcing your mind open, leaving it wounded and crippled, sowing the seeds of confusion and insanity in the wake of Genisis.
"Why did you never tell me?"
Even now, I whisper it to you, no more than a sleeping promise of a human in that tank. But I've forced myself to face the answer. I was immature enough back then to shoulder illogical guilt. I would have; it would have threatened our friendship, and it was fragile enough.
You carried my katra, but it was Jim I turned to after the Refusion. I did not een remember who you were until long afterwards. I remember how you stepped back, quietly, and let me return to him. I remember you doing that, pulled away from the others as they crowded around me, freeing my attention to my th'y'la.
What did that effort cost you? I knew you drank more than humans should; but after Rura Penthe you never looked at alcohol again. I remember that you begged not to be transferred with Jim later, to return to Natira. Jim was reluctant to let you go; he feared you would never come back. But you left, and Natira died soon after. I remember her as a young woman, not the silver-haired priestess you tended to. I am not sure if you and Jim were ever the same again. You told him in my presence the fight did not matter; and after Jim was taken by the Nexus, we recieved word that he had arranged your promotion to Commodore.
Did you know what would happen? Vulcans cannot claim to know foresight but you have displayed it in the past. Jim's way of apologizing to you the only way he knew how: Rank. Promotion. Power. Everything you resisted being. But you did seem to know, before any of us, that his days were limited. His last accomplishments were to libraries, his wealth to schools, and his influence to promoting those who were ignored honor from their lack of ambition.
When Jim died we all tried to continue. I know you remained honest in your contempt for the Fleet mindset, and no doubt believed your rank would climb no higher. But, as our generation declined, another was rising--one whose first contact with outer space was through our ship. One who was younger and more polyglot than their elders, who knew the ENTERPRISE from school--and even children's books (!)... young people who were inspired by our sacrifices to do just as well, or better. They are our children, more than the genetic ones we could ever have, the legacy we leave behind.
You enforced codes of behavior that refused no specis, regardless of politics. By the time your ranking enemies realized you were "dangerously idealistic" you were Fleet Admiral of the Medical Ships and untoucheable. You were also, unreachable to people you had no patience for.
I saw you often over the years, but there was little need to actually SEE you; the bond between us was always there, a background music that never died and was quickly soothing. But time was passing, and every time I saw you, you seemed to get smaller, frailer, more firey.
Jim was more than my th'y'la. He was a fire that fed my own, and made me believe we alone were equal to most problems. How our combined innocence terrified you! But you never discouraged our friendship--only our self-imposed complacency.
I would have had another th'y'la, Ben-tor-katra, and you would have been he. But the fire between myself and Jim was jealous. With the patience of my years I see how you quietly manipulated me into being Jim's closest friend, protector, guardian angel.
I knew you desired that, know now that you realized long ago that Jim would never hark to you as he did to me. And SOMEONE needed to be at his side in battle, someone he WOULD listen to. "I don't need you!" He spat when he sent you away the first time--I think we all cringed at that. Worse words never existed for a man who defined himself by his ability to aid. But V'Ger forced together what our prides had driven apart. And you forgave him...and me...again.
The murky tank is darker. I believe I can make out a form inside the cloud. Soong would be fascinated by this place; the KEEPER would never allow it. Only I have been invited to share its loneliness since the Caretaker died. It knows the danger, and the allure of superior technology.
As if conjured, the dry, mechanical voice alerts me.
WE ARE READY, SPOCK.
Yes; ready. And I cannot avoid wondering just what I am doing. Not only am I responsible for the theft of priceless engrams, but I am re-creating life. Your life. Not even clones are permitted in Federation space. This is...going to be...interesting.
I produce the engrams; an encoding smaller than the proverbial lik'kat's eye. A slim drawer opens from the wall and takes it.
YOUR SKYMACHINE IS STILL PATROLLING, SPOCK. BUT WILL EVENTUALLY FIND YOUR ION TRAIL.
Disturbing news. "Not too soon, I hope."
DIFFICULT TO ESTIMATE.
"And the ENTERPRISE is no longer mine."
MY APOLOGIES. I AM PREPARED TO DISGUISE YOUR ESCAPE. INDEED IT WOULD BE ALL THE BETTER IF THEY DID COME.
"You are generous, KEEPER." I say.
I WILL NEVER BREAK MY WORD, SPOCK. YOU WERE MY COMPANION WHEN I WAS LONELY.
"I can only hope I will continue to be."
I HAVE NO DOUBT OF THAT.
The KEEPER sounds dryly amused. I almost laugh out loud at the sudden insight. My body had been artifically regrown on Genesis and then iluminated when my katra transferred from you, into me. And now, YOUR shell was being remade, and your katra, with MY help, was being reunited.
And I wait as your shell rests; the uniform is from the old days, and must be replaced. An oversight; the KEEPER is more concerned with what is INSIDE the uniform. Physically you appear to be 45 again, but the KEEPER has made the adjustments I require. Other changes can wait; there are more humans, and more human-Romulan breeds in the Empire than the Federation--and the Federation would not like to
admit it. You will fit in, well enough.
I wonder if I am doing the right thing. You were tired at the end, defeated of your fight to prevent he engrams made of your mind. I felt the despair you did not reveal, as powerful as the night when your daughter died.
I am giving you a new life, and part of this is because of that despair you felt. (I will see to this, Leonard,) I assured you as well as our link allowed, as death began around you. (Have faith in me.) I want you to be alive again, to you will know they did not win after all. Your engrams are being returned to you, inside a body that is yours down to the last cell.
Leonard. When mother refused to call you Ben tor Katra, I
disapproved. She laughed at me and said, "A true holy man never sees himself as such." As so with her simple insight, I broke millenia of tradition and called you Leonard after that...most of the time.
"Keeper, how will you distract the ENTERPRISE?"
SIMPLE ENOUGH. I WILL COPY THE ENRGAMS AND PICARD WILL...discover...YOU USED THEM AS A HOSTAGE; TO GUARANTEE YOUR SAFE PASSAGE TO THE NEUTRAL ZONE.
"I doubt Picard will accept my actions."
HE WILL HAVE NO CHOICE. HE WILL NOT DESIRE TO LOOK TOO DEEP.
"But the copy will be incomplete. The resonance will be poorer."
NO. MY TECHNOLOGY IS FINER THAN THAT. BUT I RECOMMEND THE ENGRAMS BE...CHANGED. THE PROGRAM HIS ENGRAMS WILL BE ABSORBED INTO WILL NOT BE A PERFECT COPY OF HIMSELF.
I consider this; you would like that. Not a thieving of your katra, but...something you would consider "just desserts."
"Picard will notice." I repeat uneasily.
HE WILL NOT. TRUST MY TECHNOLOGY. WHAT CAN HE DO WITHOUT PROOF? There is definite amusement in the computer's voice. And this is true: Picard will do absolutely nothing.
THIS EMH PROGRAM...SLOPPY. The KEEPER turns thoughtful. NO ROOM FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF A PERSONALITY OR INDIVIDUAL THOUGHT. THEY SEEK TO BYPASS ALL OF THAT BY COLLATING ALL THE GREAT MINDS OF MEDICINE INTO A HOLOGRAM...NONSENSE.
"We would agree." I say.
The KEEPER is silent a moment. But how many miles of electronic thought pass in those seconds?
I WILL TAKE THE ENGRAMS. McCOY'S TRUE STRENGTHS WILL PREDOMINATE; WILL BE WHAT SURVIVES, NOT HIS BASIC KNOWLEDGE AVAILABLE IN ANY DATABASE. THE ENGRAMS WILL BE OF HIS CAPACITY TO DISCOVER, AND QUESTION. EVENTUALLY THE EMH WILL DEVELOP COMPASSION AND INSIGHT.
"The EMH is an emergency program." I remind the KEEPER.
YES IT WILL TAKE TIME FOR THIS TO BE DISCOVERED, DON'T YOU AGREE? Amusement again. AND BY THEN IT WILL BE FAR TOO LATE FOR THEM TO ERASE HIM.
I realize I am smiling.
The engrams--mental patterns not unlike those of the Skorr, only microscopically smaller, are encoded. Just to be certain all is well I brush the meld points. Most of "you" is "there"...the rest will follow gradually. It was no easy feat for me to reach through space at the moment of your passing, and collect your katra before it could flee to wherever it is that human katras go. Traditional Vulcans find nothing so terrifying as a wandering katra...My father was always bewildered and amazed and in awe of my mother, who insisted that death was nothing more than another journey.
I hope this is not going to make you angry. Humans seem to dislike being "yanked" back to life, to use your words.
We fought it badly in our first years, but fate ties us together, one destiny with two bodies--once it was three, but we share Jim's katra between us, an ember warm and comforting. You always insisted that boundaries begin in the mind before they exist in the world, and it led to arrogance. You saw no difference in man, woman, human or
alien. And I hope this acceptance will mak your new life adaptable.
I need you, ben-katra.
A humming emerges from the circular databanks of the KEEPER. The computer is watching my old "skymachine" closely. I wish it was safe to leave now, but still I must wait.
You gave me a great gift, ben-katra; you gave me Jim, my th'y'la. You stepped aside for us over and over again. I did not know that when I spoke to Jim, blinded from radiation and behind glass, that you had withdrawn into the background, crying into your hands where we could not hear you. I saw that later, when the link between us deepened. You have no idea how much of you I have seen. For all
your vaunted outspokeness, you were the silent one of us three. What an irony that speculation ran so rampant on if Jim was *my* lover. I doubt that the media (who never understood what it was to be ENTERPRISE)--would have believed the truth. It was enough that the family of the ENTERPRISE knew--and it began with Nyota.
Ben-tor-katra. You hate it when I refer to you by your Vulcan name, but sometimes I cannot resist.
"It's not even translateable as a HUMAN name!" You snarled as we watched T'Khut rise in the Vulcan night behind S'leya. "It can go so far as "son of the rock" but there's nothing to be done about "katra" unless it's a pet name for Catharine and I don't see that!"
"Ben" is not untranslateable." I remind you. "We have had this conversation 23 times before."
"We've had this ARGUMENT 23 times before!" You exhaled; you looked to heaven. "Ben: Custodian. Guardian. Familiar (in itself descended from old word meaning family slave). Vessel. Receptacle. Container. canopic box! You make me feel like a God-damned Mason jar!"
"What is a Mason jar?"
"It's what we put moonshine in." A sidestep if I've ever heard you give one. Sometimes you prefer to hold back on a story until a better time comes along.
"Very well." I lift my fingers up; "But I would think your katra would be quite at home in such a place...Leonard."
You snorted. "How little you know." You return my touch, but for every Vulcanism you accept, I must accept a human one, so what follows is an easy sling of your arm around my neck. "Let's just hope these kids hurry up. I thought I'd be done with giving away brides at *this* age."
"No doubt Uhura thought she was done with the idea of being a bride. But I believe she is making a political statement with giving you the honor. Her husband's people..."
"Yeah, I know *all* about the J'Juif, Spock. I was stuck on that planet with her, remember? Shades of the Old South, Polarized! At least Koipa is colorblind!"
"I doubt our Commodore would settle for a limited soul as her bondmate."
"Hoo-boy." You shivered as if water had doused you. "This is going to be rough. I'm happy for her--I really am. But I like the spotlight about as well as Jim would have liked the idea of choking on his own vomit."
"I've often had cause to be grateful that my imagination is limited compared to yours."
You only laughed at that; it was a poor retort, as far as they go. The night wind was picking up and running through your whitening hair.
"I notice you are letting your hair grow past Federation Length."
"Of course I am. I want to see who has the nerve to complain."
"You are an Admiral, Leonard. Who would complain?"
"Son, as long as I live, there will be somebody to take offense at my presence. To quote a great Irish ancestor, "If you ain't a threat, you ain't worth much."
"I've often thought you were a victim of your surroundings."
"There, that's better. You had me worried for a moment there."
I shake away the reverie. The uniform must be left behind; it is of the past and I must leave no traces behind.
I've almost forgotten the differences of time: the bullet wound on your arm from Neural is there; mine, and all my life's scars, were erased under Genesis. But all marks aquired past the visit to this planet are gone.
"What is this" I asked you, Sixty Standard Years ago. A thin gray line running across the floating ribs.
"A carryover from the Vians." You replied sleepily. You didn't really want to be awake; you wanted to keep your head buried *under* its pillow and ignore the harsh croaks of the herons practically outside the bedroom. "F'some reason, their magic wand missed'at."
I touched a triangular mark lower down. "And this?"
I hesitate. "You never reported they hurt you." I sound accusing even to myself.
You sighed, giving up on sleep and rolled over. "Oh, you know how it is. I gave'em a piece of my mind while you two were absorbing kironide and she broke a cup on me, on impact." You brushed your fingers through my hair, away from my face. "I tol' em they'd better get used to scenes like that because unpleasant was my natural personality." You snickered. "They hated that! So, quit worrying, mom, it's over and done with..."
I brush your hair through my fingers again--dark chestnut now, no longer white. The bones are once more shielded by young, healthy flesh and the age-lines largely confined to your eyes. I can feel your katra resettling into old, familiar paths.
A touch of my fingers against your unconscious mind, seventy standard years ago. "Remember." and my katra was inside you.
A touch of my fingers against your static mind, today. "Remember." And your katra is back where it belongs.
Simple--and very difficult. I have no pretensions of being a healer, but no one knows our minds half so well as each other.
Illogically, I watch for a reaction, but of course there is none. And I can well imagine what it would be if you awoke now, to find me dressing you in my meditation robe!
"What the HELL?" Your imaginary self indignates. "Shouldn't that be a *BURIAL ROBE* you crazy Vulcan?"
No distance could break the link that hummed between us, no more than Jim's presence would ever leave our katras. But it has been 32 years since I last saw you, since we touched our fingers together one last time. And our separation had been as painful as neccessary. Illness had left you so frail I was afraid to touch you any more; the xenopolycythemia had been stopped, but in many ways, your body had never recovered, and no one knew until you were in your 80's. You did not want me to watch your decline when I should be thinking of "stuffing Surak down Romulan throats."
Sixty years ago we had decided what it would be. That did not make the parting easier. That came with time, as the bond strengthened and strengthened.
Time. Time and more time; repeated bold actions in our lives that reset Time for another chanec. Irreverent to the last, you referred to my Refusion as "Hitting the Snooze Button of Fate." You never explained "that*, Ben-katra. Will you now?
SPOCK, IT IS TIME.
"Thank you, KEEPER."
IT IS NO PROBLEM. TRAVEL WELL AND SAFELY.
I pick you up; you should begin to awake before we reach the Outpost. I have friends there, of many races. The Dominion Wars have shed blood but ironically forged unlikely allies, and the Romulans are among them. Some of my friends are physicians. And they all want to meet you.
"All of my friends look like doctors." You once said. I am starting to understand that a true doctor has much in common with his peers; dry and sarcastic, impatient of foolishness and unable to hide a bit of sentimentalism in an armored heart. Gerw'd, a Romulan serologist, could be your spiritual twin. You both should enjoy each other's sarcasm.
You laughed at my dream of reuniting Vulcan with her Romulan children. "Poor bastards. Haven't we done enough to 'em? And now you're dragging Surak into this? Do the words 'cruel and unusual' mean anything to you?"
You always mocked my barriers. You forced me to see my weaknesses and then deliberately went too far, pushing me to retaliate to prove you wrong. I knew what you were doing, but could never resist joining the game.
Jim, he gave me the pride of my human part by shining example.
You, in a far more subtle way, gave me the pride of being Vulcan. How could I not be proud, when you forced me to defend my people every day I knew you?
I seal the hatch and examine my flight plan. The ENTERPRISE is heading away. I send a thought to Picard, who once shared his mind with me: Continue in your path, captain. We must go now...