The World Bewitched

Title: The World Bewitched
Author: Kelthammer
Pairing: Mirror Spock/Mirror McCoy
Series: TOS Mirror
Rating: NC-17,
Feedback: okey dokey
Disclaimer: Resistance is NOT futile, Borg Queen! I will NOT be

Hypnosis challenge. Ok, here goes.

Visual note: If you've ever seen DeForest Kelley in RAINTREE COUNTY, as the
Confederate cavalryman who managed to blow away Lee Marvin as Lee Marvin
blew him away (And with those rifles, at least it was quick and you got to
see some of his bare chest), this is what McCoy is looking like right now.
After all, he's out in the criminently *jungle* for weeks and can't be
bothered to keep his hair above his collar.


McCoy had found a small white weevil-type insect, conveniently already dead,
and carefully pinched it up between his medikit's tweezers. Kneeling down
before a small nepenthe plant he thought again how much it looked like the
carnivorous pitcher plants on Earth. Instead of being tall and slender, it
was squat, fat, almost barrel shaped. Where it opened, fleshy green lips
parted with long spines like on a Venus Flytrap. He wrinkled his nose at
the unpleasantly sweet scent protruding from the peristem, and carefully
dropped the gift into the open bowl of clear yellow-green rainwater.

The effect was as drastic as dropping bloody beef into a shark farm. The
water boiled; tiny swimming larvae with poisonous mouths jumped upon the
floating weevil and began tearing it apart. They weren't as fast as the
brarkers, though. Those little purple ant-like arachnoids were swarming out
of the nest they'd constructed in a side tendril and jumping in after the
prize. For all the world it looked like a rescue team after a drowning
victim. As the doctor watched (thankful he wasn't a weevil, and especially
that one), the brarkers snatched the weevil from the larvae and dragged it
up to the lip of their nest. Whereupon, they promptly ripped the weevil to
pieces, and threw what they didn't want to the still-boiling larvae.

"Bacchanlius Romanus." McCoy muttered in Old Imperial. It translated
roughly to, "Let's feast...but on *my* terms."

Other than steam inside your own skin in the humid sun, and check and
re-check the team's equipment while everybody else went off exploring
godknowswhat, there wasn't much else to do these past three weeks (and in
the Empire, one week was ten days). Not for the first time, McCoy wondered
if Kirk was either a) mad at him for something he didn't known he'd done, or
b) getting wind of another assassination in Sickbay and pulling him out of
the environment until things calmed down. With Kirk you just couldn't tell.
McCoy knew that his captain was unlikely to sponsor someone killing him
off, because you just couldn't find a CMO that lacked ambition under any old
rock. Ambitious CMOs tended to lead to bigger, uglier things, such as
uprisings against captains.

Reluctantly, McCoy had discarded the A Theory after the first week. When
Kirk was mad at you, you got the agonizer, or the agony booth, an agony
shot, shot out of sheer existance, or just plain shot. If he was *really*
mad at you, or if you were in the way, you simply failed to appear to work
and the crew would avoid anything resembling ground pork in the mess hall
for the next two months.

So that left the B Theory. Which meant M'Benga's family was leaning on him
again. McCoy found it hard to really dislike his AMO. The man knew his
stuff, and he knew his Vulcans. You'd have to go to the INTREPID to find a
better Vulcanxenophysician. But M'Benga had the unenviable weight of coming
from a prestigous family that had its members scattered *all over* high
posts in the Empire. Being a doctor was all right in their thinking, but he
should be the very damn best doctor there is, and why wasn't he CMO of the
Empire's Flagship by now? Was McCoy phaserproof? Did he sleep with a flak

The answer to all that was, M'Benga wasn't about to be CMO while McCoy
breathed air. No, he wasn't phaserproof, and no, he wasn't sleeping with a
flak jacket, but he *had* slept with something even more effective: Fleet
Admiral Kufe. Thank God, she had no interest in going any further in rank.
Just about everyone had breathed collective thanks to suddenly-proven gods
when that happened. One of those women who looked tough and was even
tougher, she had agreed when McCoy asked to transfer, spoke to Kirk and
paved the way to Mark Piper's long overdue assassination. Kirk had gained a
xenophysician who was refreshingly grounded in sanity, dedicated to his
work, and a few favors from the fourth-most powerful warrior in the Empire.

Considering what working with Kufe-Soma had been like, McCoy could easily
put up with being sequestered from an AMO who felt the bite of overdemanding
parents every so many months. And he didn't have to go to bed with
*anybody* to keep from getting shot. Joy. Amazing what you learned to

He got to his feet and brushed sand off his kneeboots. All equipment was on
standby and ready for theoretically anything that could happen, but McCoy
knew as well as Kirk that anybody gone missing in *these* jungles, wouldn't
be more than a handful of dried bleached toothpicks by now. Protein was at
a premium here, and the market never wavered.

Underneath the endless variety of greens, Rigel V's jungle soil was hot,
poor, dry and sandy. It was full of inert and useless matter, unsuitable
for even the lightest agriculture. It couldn't even hold water properly.
The air stank of the high-quality glass and chemical-synthesizing-rendering
factories that papered the valley below. The natives rarely lived for long
under the working conditions. Constant exposure to glassmaking literally
fossilized their lungs inside their ribs. It was an ugly way to die. Only
the desperately poor criminals enacted such labor. Just the threat of the
factories was enough to make a hardened man resolve to do better.

But, glass or chemistry, that was the only option for a poor Rigellian
wanting to survive or do better than survive. The richer folk always had
the priesthood to turn to--Twelve different Mind Sects (which translated as
religion to the Empire) who could do a southern Baptist Heller Preacher
proud. McCoy had often wondered if the Mind Sects were the reason why
people didn't complain too much about their options in life. Brainwashing
at an early age...

A red-clad security man, sleeves still gleaming from his new lieutenant's
stripe, stumbled slightly as he made his way down the hill to the rest of
the landing party. His boot heels tore the delicate heath and bone-white
sand gleamed from the trail.

"We've found one." Lt. Bowyer saluted smartly across his chest, a *thump*
of attention. "The captain says you need to scan it."

Dr. McCoy glanced up from assembling another field kit from the dregs of the
campsite (antivenoms, anti-inflammatories, and anti-just-about-everythings)
and nodded. "On my way." He said noncommitally. Long experience had told
him if he responded promptly, he wouldn't be given grief for not instantly
returning a
salute. It made even hot-to-advance junior officers think he valued their

Bowyer led the way, a typical security guard in that his shoulder muscles
rippled tightly under his shirt and his hips could barely be contained
inside his tight pants. The doctor resigned himself to the rather
unaesthetic view--if he had a quad* for every crewman who pumped himself up
full of enhancers, he'd be retiring in style.

(Retiring to a career of luxury--treating the kind of old men Bowyer would
become before long: half-wrecked and addicted to all kinds of broad-spectra

Dark green Waxleaves brushed against their heads and they alternately ducked
or swept vines aside. As they entered the thick of the jungle the air
changed from Industrial-stinking to heavy, sweet, and cloying. It was not
unlike a really strong corn-based syrup with just a hint of snapdragon mixed
in. The source of the
scent was in the purse-shaped primitive nepenthe flowers that hung from
stalks in the canopy. Seemingly too large to be successfully hanging from
those stalks, they were gorgeous when the sun beamed through the transparent
membranes: mottled yellow between red of human and green of Vulcan blood,
itwas a forest of stained glass sculptures.

*Grim* sculptures. Nearly all the flowers held sillhouettes of some kind of
struggling prey. Insects mostly, but here and there the doctor could see a
soggy and disturbing outline of matted fur, and tiny, perfectly preserved
mammalian skeletons, swimming in the clear fluid of digestive saps and

For some reason, birds appeared to be immune to the guiles of the
carnivorous plants. McCoy was oddly grateful for that. He liked birds, and
was indifferent to the mice-like rodents that was the main food source for
the indigenous natives. Cute and fuzzy a-kee'leet might be, they traveled
in packs and ganged up on
anything bigger than they were for a pirhana-like fest. Which was why
everybody had a phaser with them on the landing trip.

The open air of the clearing was a relief after the thick, dizzying scent of
the jungle. Here it was a lot fresher, and sweeter. The snapdragon scent
was stronger and easier to deal with than that awful syrup-odor that hung in
the nose and stuck to the clothes.

James Tiberius Kirk's bright golden shirt glowed as McCoy entered the small
clearing. He stood in the center, yellow in a sea of red and sparkled with
the occasional science-blue shirt. The greenery was confused and tangled in
the open light. From here, McCoy could see an odd lump: someone's knee
protruding from the mat of green. Well, what was left of it. The
particular metallic-sour reek of decaying Rigellian hit him a moment later.

(You are what you eat.) McCoy thought wearily. The richer caste of
Rigellians thought a simple dinner was a gorgfest on rich food, wine and
indiscriminate sex. For some reason, all that excess came out when they
died. Poor folk didn't really smell like anything in comparison. Talk
about your past coming back to haunt
you...or at least the coroner's upon your necropsy.

Salutes were thumped against all chests. McCoy already had his tricorder
out for a medical-grade scan as Kirk took a step backwards.

"Something's oddball, McCoy." Kirk's face was set, displeased and annoyed.
It was common knowledge he disliked jungles, and he especially disliked
mysteries. "What does that look like to you?"

McCoy scanned with his eyes and instrument at the same time, taking in the
half-eaten native, the shredded clothing, and the data analysis. "Looks
like an a-kee'leet group attack, but for some reason they stopped eating. I
didn't know anything could make them stop."

"Nothing *can.* That's the mystery." Kirk set his hands on his hips,
exhaling. "Once they start, it takes a phaser to stop them. They get so
caught up in a bloody frenzy they'll even start on each other if the victim
didn't gorge them enough." Aware that he had an
audience, the captain added in a properly unimpressed voice: "They swarm
like minnows around their victim, climb up and around him, and literally
chew him to death. Then when he stops kicking, they literally haul the
corpse away about ten or fifteen feet and then start the *real* meal."

McCoy's eyebrows drew up in a "yech" expression as he looked at his captain.
"That's a little odd, all right. They kill a man, drag him away a short
distance, and then start eating?"

"Nobody knows why, but its disturbing to people who never see that kind of
thing." Kirk shook his head. "I saw a man sentenced to death in the Arena
by a pack of those things."

"Oh." McCoy was quiet for a moment. "Captain?"


"If I ever get caught trying to overthrow you, promise me you'll just kick
me out of an airlock."

Kirk snorted. "If *you* try to overthrow *me*, I'll pack you off to Ebla II
where you so rightfully belong."

McCoy opened his mouth to retort and stiffened. "Hmn, now that's odd.
Captain, are you familiar with this substance?" The higher in rank you
went, the more you knew about certain ugly tools of assassination. Although
McCoy knew damn well what most of them were, it was simply good manners to
pretend he didn't. This, however, was no pretending.

Kirk peered into the data screen. "Not at all. I'm not even sure what it

"Well, it's not a toxin, but it...damn. What the hell *is* this?" McCoy
shook his head. "I've never seen anything like it before. Almost like an
opiate of some kind, but the chemical tracings are...they're all strange."

"What's the simplest explanation for something like that?"

"The simplest? Somebody was making a poison and they didn't know what they
were doing."

"Run some samples up to the ship." Kirk jerked his head to the side,
summoning a troup of sweating young guards. "Wilson! Farrell!" He barked
to his personal bodyguards--one tall, lean, young and full of hair, the
other his exact opposite. They were a fearsome team.

"Sir?" Wilson snapped a salute.

"Pipe to Uhura, tell her to contact the capitol. It looks like we've found
the missing Praetor."

McCoy spared a surprised glance at the gnawed corpse. So that was Sackhorn.
He wondered if Kirk would collect the reward for the missing man. He
probably would. Kirk despised "police calls" and considered "backwater
planet summons" just exactly that.

* * *

McCoy was glad to be up in the cold air of the ship after three weeks of
jungle. Temperature and humidity didn't bother him; it was the *smells*
that got him after a while, he explained to Nurse Chapel as they trundled to
Biopsy Lab.

"Something's always either rotting or giving off a smell so sweet you want
to throw up. Or at least give up sugar for the rest of the year."

Chapel was making a disgusted noise as they rounded the corner and nearly
collided into the blue chest of the First Science Officer. Salutes went off
like gunfire.

"Your pardon, sir." McCoy spoke formally. More from the guards than from
Spock himself. They were as protective and nasty as hyperactive panthers.

Spock as usual was flanked by his two Vulcan guards, two of the best Life
Scientists to come out of the Academy. It was not a bad joke, that part of
their studies was "The Science of Staying Alive on a Starship."

"The captain informed me there was a problem for the lab." He said evenly.

McCoy caught Chapel's very subtle shiver. Like most women on the ship, she
was attracted to the Vulcan, but she'd be crazy not to be afraid of him too.
It was well known that Spock performed his duty and let no emotions or
persuation sway him.

"Well, that's what we're going to find out." McCoy lifted the pack of
samples in the air. "Has there been any word on why the New Praetor ordered
an entire starship here just for a Missing Persons Search?"

"It has revealed itself to be a complicated matter." Spock clasped his
hands behind his back and McCoy did his level best not to feel hard dark
eyes boring holes in his back as they all walked down the hall. "Praetor
Sackhorn was a member of the Fifth Mind Sect. That
made it difficult to simply search for him in the conventional circles."

"Yeah, a Missing Secret Gestapo Priest." McCoy shook his head. "Where
*would* you look anyway?"

Not to mention, why would you?

"The Empire is politically indifferent to a planet's infighting." Spock
paused, allowing the lab door to open. "New Praetor Nasanthakaan requested
the presence of a starship for several good reasons. I find the most
curious has to do with the fact that Sackhorn was last seen in the vicinity
of "taboo ground" which was the Nepenthe Jungle we have been exploring."

McCoy had almost missed a step at "Praetor Nasanthakaan" but recovered
fairly well. But at "Taboo Ground" he lost it again. "Why is the Nepenthe
Jungle taboo?"

"Unknown at this point." Spock explained. "We only know that *all* jungles
that contain nepenthe plants are held in superstitious awe and fear. This
taboo does not extend, conveniently, to non-Rigellians."

"Huh." Was all McCoy could say to that.

Spock nodded and his guards promptly flanked the doorway
protectively. "We will need a report at 0200."

0200 was when Kirk was expected to beamup. "You'll get it." McCoy said
neutrally. He couldn't promise a great report, but there would be

Chapel exhaled as they entered the small room. "I don't think I like the
sound of this." She said aloud.

"I hardly ever like my orders." McCoy said. "That's what I get for not
reading the fine print when I sign my name to a contract."

Chapel snorted (Spock ignored the exchange as chatter) as he turned off the
air circulator and switched on the CLOSED/RECYCLE vent. A red light set in
the door went on, its twin doing the same on the other side. Now nobody
would interrupt them until they were finished. For good measure, Chapel
ensured the lock was in working order.

"I'll confess I'm one of the mushrooms** in this matter." The Nurse
explained. "What is so special about the nepenthe plants anyway?"

McCoy half-shrugged as he peeled off his outer uniform and struggled into a
tech's blue suit. Not bad, Chapel thought as she made her own struggle.
She really wanted to ogle at Spock, but didn't dare.

Not even for a second. On the other hand, her boss wasn't exactly hard on
the eyes. So she watched him out of the corner of her eye as they all
donned the tech suits hanging on the wall racks.

McCoy was thin but carried himself with an easy grace. Despite his build he
was strong and active. The three weeks in the jungle had leathertanned his
skin and etched bright copper into his much-lighter, longer hair. Just out
of boredom, he had confided, he had let a moustache "take over" over his
lip. Chapel thought it was a nice change, but he'd have to cut the rest of
his hair once he was fully back on ship duty.

The (favorable) talk in the women's sauna had her plenty
informed, should she ever want to investigate a less professional
relationship with him. Once in a while, she considered that possibility.

What held her back was, while it was hard to find a reliable lover on a
starship, it was even harder to find someone you could trust. McCoy trusted
her because she followed his personal ethics closer than anyone else in
Sickbay; neither were interested in the sadomasochistic games that always
went around, neither chose to help
themselves to the drugs or tools, and neither really tolerated those that
did. They survived the company of most of the Sickbay, and watched out for
each others' backs, and everyone thought for sure they were lovers anyway,
but they weren't.

Chapel would never attempt to explain their relationship to anyone--she
wasn't sure she understood it herself, except that medicine fulfilled a deep
need in both of them. It was science, learning, curiosity, and something
approaching poetry to see the wonder of a body, a mind, and the emotional,
invisible bond that
held it all together. In a way they were puzzlers faced with an
ever-changing algorithm when they began their job each day. Nothing was
ever quite the same, so there was never a reason to be bored.

Of course bordeom invariably meant danger, as that was when you had to worry
the most about someone wanting your rank. Chapel was the only Nurse in
Sickbay with a
Command Sash; and she had *earned* it, not killed to get it. She had never
made a kill in her life but knew someday that would just have to happen.
Holstone, M'Benga's little suckup, wasn't even subtle about wanting her job.

"The questions I want answered the most are, if he stopped breathing before
the Praetor Nasanthakaan sent for us, why isn't he a puddle of sludge by
now?" McCoy hunched over his table, staring at the bewildering graphs.
"This doesn't make any medical sense. The
jungles are so poor, the entire and sum ecosystem is geared to take instant
advantage of any protein. That's why most of the plants are carnivorous,
and a goodly portion of the rest, symbiotic!"

Spock also bent over the table, easily reading the krypta upside down.
"Perhaps the unknown element is a preservative."

"I wondered about that. What if its also the reason that the little furry
landsharks stopped chewing on him."

Chapel pointed to a shivery blue line on the electro-graph. "There's some
kind of biochemical breakdown. Look. It's in the deepest part of the body,
but the closer you get to the skin's surface, the weaker it gets."

McCoy tapped his fingers on the computer. "Maybe sunlight breaks this stuff
down. And possible heat too. No wonder we can't recognize it; probably
exists in a wholly different form."

"A safe enough assumption for the moment." Spock said absently. "But the
substance would have had to completely permeate the body."

"Almost like getting a bath in it." McCoy muttered.

"Chemicals..." Chapel lifted her head. "Aren't the Rigellians skilled

"In a way." McCoy sighed. "You know, all the Rigel planets are infamous
for sentient hypnoid lizards, or mesmerizing predators, or an incredible
amount of natural narcotics. They probably supply half of Orion with

"Opiates as well." Spock was taking notes on a keyboard wired for Vulcana
Lingua in record speed. "The difficulty is this is all done with the tacit
approval of the Ruling Priesthood."

"Well, of course." McCoy said dryly. "If the Empire knuckled down on the
*huge* drug market, we'd be out of all our very best interrogation and
persuation substances."

Chapel made an uneasy face. "I have no doubt a priesthood that calls itself
"Mind Sects" would be interested in chemical peresuation."

"Well, Sackhorn was in the Fifth Priesthood. There were originally fifteen
to worry about, but thanks to various civil wars, only eight are left. The
way that planet keeps going, history is on the side of those who want the
Sects out of the way. They're just getting
smaller and more inbred as time wears on. Sorta. Got some bizarre new
breeding program going on I heard."

Spock looked at him sharply. "What kind of breeding program?"

"The Ruling Caste kinda resents the large amount of humanoid blood in the
lower slave--pardon me, I mean, industrial laborer--caste. They're full of
stories of the Glory Old Days of Pre-Reform Vulcan and how they should work
their way back there once they've re-purified their bloodstock. It's really
very considerate of them, when you think about it. Bas as they want to get
home, they don't want any ugly humanoid genes to follow them back to the
Motherworld and contaminate."

Spock's brows had gone completely up. "Where did you hear this
information?" He demanded.

"Admiral Kufe's office." McCoy shot back. That had been his post,
pre-ENTERPRISE. "She had to deal with some real pureblood lunatics and the
political designs was so muddy, so insane, the *Tellarite secretary* said it
was all whitewash."

"If a Tellarite says it, it must be true." Chapel was shaking her head.
"Well, here's something useful. Traces of some kind of neurodepressor. At
least that's what it looks like it WAS."

Both men craned their necks to see what she had found.

"Yep. That's what I'd say." McCoy grinned. "Well, its a good place to

* * *

*Quad: A quarter-credit. Condensed into easy terms, a quad and a smile
will get you a cheap beer in a cheap bar.

**Mushroom: Kept in the dark, fed on s***. A time-honored military word.

* * *
By 0200, the report was passable. There really wasn't much to go on, except
for the following facts:

* Sackhorn had been exposed to some element that not only preserved his
body, but made him inedible to the ravenous a-lee'keet. As that was damn
near unheard of, Spock listed this on top of the report.

* The substance was completely unknown. It might have helped matters if a
little more of the body had been left behind, but the rodents had eaten just
enough to make it impossible. Sad but true.

* Sackhorn was seen near Taboo Territory. He was certainly found deep
inside it. How he got there was up to speculation. The Caste was extremely
closemouthed and refused to give a clue as to the man's capability of
breaking sacred laws.

Kirk read over the report in the privacy of his cabin while drinking strong
coffee. Marlena hovered in the background, off duty from the chem lab and
assembling a simple dinner.

Spock awaited his captain, arms folded in the at rest pose of the Empire,
cultivating patience behind the mask of his beard. Every time he was around
Marlena, he had to remind himself not to be annoyed that a gifted chemist
had chosen to advance her way in rank via Kirk. While the practical aspect
of Spock's nature understood that she needed protection, there was still a
purist scientist that regretted she was not earning her rightful laurels.

Frustrating. Marlena was one of the finest technicians he had ever
encountered, but her temper nearly rendered her talents null. Kirk was the
strong leader for her, and Spock had to reluctantly accept the fact that she
preferred such a lifestyle.

Oddly enough, McCoy had agreed with him on that once when they were working
in the lab. The doctor was of course officially out of the usual political
loop, and hardly ever on the Bridge, but he had an uncanny grasp of people
and was generally unflappable against the foibles of humanity.

Spock knew that eventually he would have to stop living such a Spartan
lifestyle. Things had been abnormally quiet among the ship for the past
year, but it was foolish to think that would ever stay that way. He needed
a sr'ben to bond with, but so far none of his Vulcan bodyguards had shown
themselves to be acceptable. They would agree to such an offer if he made
it, but Spock was searching for a subconscious compatibility--such a mental
similarity might be the difference between life and death in combat.
Unfortunate that so far he found himself compatible with humans more than
other Vulcans, for he considered himself Vulcan above all other definitions.

Humans were annoying to him more than half the time. He did not mind them,
so long as they did their job adequately and left him alone. But to ask a
human to not wander into forbidden territory...Spock avoided glancing at
McCoy as he thought that.

Swish. Another plastic sheet was flipped over. Kirk could read swiftly,
and grasp swiftly. Another scientist who had chosen power and priviledge
over knowledge. Spock occasionally indulged in a very un-kaiidith attitude
at the rampant waste in the Empire. His captain would make an excellent
sr'ben, were they of equal rank. Kirk, however, conceeded to no
authorities, not even friendship. Again, kaiidith.

McCoy privately loathed an invite to the captain's spacious quarters. Kirk
lived in the lap of luxury in rooms that were three times the size of
Spock's, which was not just showing off the mores of rank and power, but
commonsense. If somebody went into McCoy's cabin to kill him, it would be
like killing a rat in a box trap. Kirk not only had room to maneuver, but
his shielded
bulkwalls made sure nobody could tell which room he was currently sleeping

Spock sat at Vulcanly attention, his black beard catching threads of light
from the simple Andorian lamp on the table. Once in a while, his onxy eyes
would flick to McCoy while Kirk read. McCoy knew what he was thinking. He
was thinking it too: The ENTERPRISE had been handed a hopelessly
complicated case and somebody somewhere would just love it if they failed.

Kirk signaled the end of the report by dumping it on the table. "Very
well." He picked up his coffee. "Mr. Spock, your personal anaysis?"

Spock was slow in replying, which meant he was still juggling algorithms.
"There are still enough unknown factors that we cannot rule out the
possibility that Sackhorn met with a genuine accident."

"I once read a coroner's report like that." McCoy said dryly. "A man
unpopular with the local organized crime got drunk and walked into an open
turbolift shaft, fell on his own dagger six times."

Spock shot him a look that was rather dagger-like himself.

Kirk chuckled wryly. "If I had a quad for every strange coroner's report
you had up your sleeve, I'd be a Praetor." He leaned back in his chair as
Marlena neared with a tray. "Your analysis? What of the Rigellians
themselves? Their power and religious schisms? Your file says you spent a
month here before ENTERPRISE."

"A month too many. I was with a sequestered group and isolated. I wasn't
exposed to much." McCoy shook his head. "The castes are comprised of a
high number of
albinos, captain." He winced at a particularly ugly memory. "For this
reason they've built up the neccessity of nocturnal ritual and ceremony. In
fact, its gotten to the point where you can't aspire past Novice without
being a full or partial albino."

"Well, we've seen stranger." Kirk admitted. "And we've been invited to see
the New Praetor. I've been informed by the Protocol Packet, that
Nasanthakaan will be referred to as "New Praetor" until he's had the post
for one year, and one day."

McCoy already knew that; he nodded silently.

Spock slapped his black eyes upon him. "You demonstrated *some* familiarity
with Rigel's politics before, doctor. Can you think of anything to add?"

McCoy sighed as Kirk turned his hard green eyes to him. "A lot of the stuff
I saw is still under sealed
files. But when it comes down to, say, personality of the average
Rigellian, I advise extreme, extreme cool poise." He set his jaw. "These
people take great stock in a pokerface. I submit, it may be because a
blushing or flush-enraged albino makes for bad form among the priesthood."

Kirk's lips twitched in amusement. "I have no troubles visualizing that."
He murmured. "Very well. If none of you has any objections, we'll be
beaming down now."

McCoy did have objections, and none of them would wash. He bit his tongue
and hoped for the best as they wended to the transporter room.

* * *

McCoy saw considerably more albinos present in the Hall of Learning than on
his last visit. Like the Palace of the Snow Queen, tall, willowy folk with
ethereal, androgynous features glided like will o' wisps across the massive
marble pillar'd capitol. Even the colors they wore were in relationship to
their blood. Pearls, gray, silvers, faint yellows and dusty rose
predominated. The ENTERPRISE men were almost harsh to the eye against the
soft moonlight-halls.

Rigellian New Praetorate Nasanthakaan was a tall, slender, almost bony man,
a perfect example of his species. As a typical member off the Mind-Sect
caste, he was a partial albino with snow-white hair but normal bronze
coloring elsewhere. It made him extraordinarily handsome and he was smart
enough to be absolutuely aware of it. Pre-Reform Vulcans had settled in the
system thousands of years ago and managed to (slowly) blend in
with the native and somewhat humanoid population. One would think this
meant there was relatively little racial strife on Rigel, but the truth was,
Nasanthakaan was one of several Noble Families that sought to re-purify the
Vulcan blood. Ergo, his attitude to humans was pretty much what you'd

Icy, icy pale gray eyes the shape of apple seeds swept over the room. McCoy
was fervently hoping the other man would be all business and not--

"Captain Kirk." The Rigellian spoke with surprising strength for such a
slender form. McCoy knew his appearance was deceptive. But it was his
voice that his best weapon. His voice and his eyes.

Kirk stepped forward, all tight muscle and predatory capability. Among this
Hall of pale and washed-out priest, he burned as hot and alive as the Terran
sun. McCoy felt the shivers to see these icy people watch him with the same
hunger a moth held for a flame...or a
vampire for warm and living blood.

"New Praetor." He spoke with crisp courtesy, his hands poised loosely at
his sides. "Reporting as ordered."

He was given a nod, and the apple-shaped eyes swept to Spock. They lingered
there on the Vulcan a moment longer than on Kirk, but nobody thought aught
of that; Spock was always getting second or third looks. His parentage was
as legendary as his feats.

"First Officer Spock."

"New Praetor."

If Kirk was the sun, then Spock was undoubtedly the moon. A moon under a
dark eclipse, all shadow and stark black space between the stars. Here was
someone who burned as strongly as Kirk in this faded planet, only with a
cooler, mathematical light.

McCoy had already braced himself. He knew this was going to be ugly,

The eyes hit him with the force he remembered. After he left Kufe-Soma's,
he had privately vowed to himself to never block out his recollection of the
other man. It was just too dangerous to give in to that urge to file that
memory away where it couldn't be found again. Pale gray disks shone like
platinum, and...yes, dilated


He felt the flick of eyes from the others, noting and wondering that his
medical rank had been sidestepped.

"New Praetor." He said simply.

"You humans age quickly. I tend to forget." Smooth and quiet, the strong
voice hummed like a powerful engine just outside of human hearing range.
"But you have aged rather well, as the phrase goes."

McCoy only gave a nod, not giving in one inch.

"My apologies." Kirk broke in between the gaze, polite and smooth and
deadly underneath. "Had I known there was a previous acquaintance between
yourself and my CMO, I would have brought him sooner."

(And if he doesn't have the perfect excuse for not telling me, he's going
into the Agony Booth when we get back on board!)

Nasanthakaan smiled thinly. "It was a long time ago, captain, under
circumstances that are still classified, am I right?" He didn't wait for a
response. "Suffice to say, I learned the hard way about the good doctor's
backup weapons."

Hell, McCoy thought strongly. He wondered if the Rigellian could still pick
up his thoughts. But there was no sign. Didn't think there'd be
anyway...Nasan' had had to have picked up some tricks in six years.

The Rigellian moved slowly to his chair, long fingers curling over the stone
table. "I have read your report about my brother's death." He began
slowly. All three of them couldn't restrain a reaction at that, and he
smiled thinly. "Yes...little resemblance, I know. Especially now." The
lips twitched upwards in sardonic
humor. "I was pleased to see how swiftly you could find so many answers.
It was impressive, Kirk. I hope your investigation leads us to the identity
of his killers."

Kirk nodded. "As do we, Praetor."

The Rigellian appeared to be buried in thought for a moment, then lifted his
albino head. "I had posted a reward for his discovery. You are indeed
entitled of that. Half a million credits."

"That's very generous. Thank you." Kirk spoke politely, but without giving
anything of himself away.

Nasanthakaan turned away for a moment. "I have been granted the blessing of
your High Command to direct you in this matter. Since you were able to
perform so well."

The New Praetor stopped talking for a moment, his eyes seemingly drifting
away across the room of moth-like Fifth Mind Sect members.

"Find my brother's killers." The New Praetor said simply. "I charge you
with this, Kirk. If you succeed, I will be generous beyond your

Then the eyes stopped drifting. They turned to hard silver disks. "But
fail, and I will personally kill as many of your crew as I feel will take
the place of my lost kin."

McCoy had no doubt on his chances of being first in that line.

* * *

When they were alone, Kirk and Spock faced him, as he knew they would.

"Doctor, were you aware that you had a previous acquaintance with the
current reigning planetary Praetor?" Kirk demanded.

McCoy only shook his head. "It's a common name." He heaved his breath in a
sigh. "He was a young gun on his way up, and someone had hired him to take
out my commanding officer. I got in the way." He shrugged stiffly. "Then
his contract was nullified at the
survival of his target and he had to leave. Check with Admiral Kufe if you
want the whole story. I'm not privy to all the details."

"No, no need for now." Kirk gnawed on his lip. He was deeply furious but
too wise a tactician to indulge in it. Like a proper miser, he hoarded his
emotions, and especially his anger, for when he really needed it. "Spock,
what do you know of Rigellian dynamic?"

"That Nasanthakaan is highly unlikely to get himself personally involved
with his brother's murder." Spock clasped his hands behind his back. "It
goes against tradition, in a world where alliances and clan-marriages hinge
on a remote, and objective relationship."

"Reassuring." Kirk muttered.

All of them were quiet as they absorbed each and every

"So." Kirk looked at him again. "Backup weapons, huh?"

McCoy made a face. "I stuck a hypo in his face. He assumed it was loaded."

Kirk stifled a snort, but it was clear he was richly amused. Spock's
eyebrow went up. "I believe I would have paid a good deal to see that."
Kirk mused. "That so-calm face..." He stuck his thumb in his sash and
tapped his fingers along his hip, thinking.

McCoy was glad the subject had been dropped. He really had no desire to let
the world know he kept a Capellan Stand-Ready inside his sash-pocket. It
was considerably more dangerous than a dagger, and rivaled a phaser at short
range. If you knew what you were doing with it. And McCoy did.

He wondered if Nasanthakaan still had that scar...

* * *

Somebody had been in his cabin.

The doctor paused at the door, scanning the small space with his eyes.
Controlled chaos was the name of the game; apparant disorder to anyone
snooping without knowing what they were looking for.

His laundry was normally tossed into a corner in helter-skelter order...but
with the insignia always facing down. He could see the edge of the Empire's
sword peeking from behind a sleeve. Yesterday he'd set a teacup on its
side, as if he'd let it fall over without
righting it. Now it was sitting rightside up on the small counter by the
food replicator. Suddenly, McCoy had no urge to get anything to eat until
he scanned it first.

McCoy pondered who would be spying on him at the moment. It was always
something going on. If you wanted to worry, then *don't* be under
surveillance. Usually it was Sulu, searching for anything good, or better
yet, hoping to find something that would leave Kirk or Spock vulnerable.
McCoy never kept hard copies
around. But, somebody always slipped up, and you couldn't blame the man for

Kirk. He'd bet it was Kirk. Suspicions were up and rampant since he'd
gotten a glimpse of his CMO's former life with Kufe. While he couldn't
demand details of a classified mission...well, don't as and don't tell went
the SOP.

Exhaling, the doctor peeled off his sweaty shirt, yanked a red clipcard from
his desk and jammed it into his computerslot. The screen blipped. The
harsh masculine voice of the dratted machine alerted him that it was ready
to SEND, and he simply punched the right button instead of talk to the

Kufe's strong, dark-skinned face filled the small screen. That was
surprising. Her appearance had changed little since they'd last met; a tall
slender Afrocajun with the slanted eyes of her mother's Carib blood. She
was wearing the blood-red silk sleeveless
vest of a Fleet Admiral, with redgold bands around her arms, wrists, throat
and ears.

"What's going on, Bones?" She asked crisply.

McCoy blinked. "I'm surprised to catch you that quick."

"I pay 'ttention to evrything that happens in the Rigel
System." Kufe said dryly. "What's up, you Mangrove Melungeon?"

McCoy stifled a sigh. Kufe actually thought racist labels were amusing. He
didn't. "I'm asking for a favor, Kufe."

"You're asking?" Graceful black eyebrows slid up. "Len, you are *such* a
no-game-player. You're supposed to demand a favor if you want to survive

"Admiral, we've had this talk before." McCoy gestured as he spoke, grabbing
at his left earlobe as if suddenly nervous. Kufe caught the signal: he
couldn't promise if the beam was secure or not.

"Well, what's on your devious little mind, Leonard?"

"I'm thinking maybe you should let Kirk know the specs about our little
run-in with the Fifth House."

Another eyebrow went sailing. Kufe was almost Vulcan. "That's still

"I know." He said simply.

Kufe regarded him in dead silence as they stared at each other across space.

"I'll send him a synopsis." She said at last. Behind her desk, she was
pulling out her knife and peeling a white peach. "You think things are
getting bad again down there again?"

"How would I know? You know the whole schism, not me. But Nasanthakaan's
in control of the Fifth Sect now."

Kufe paused. "Remind me to stick my informants in the Agony Booth for a few
hours." She said mildly. "That's something I should have known before I
cleared your ship's orders for Rigel."

"I shouldn't have to remind you, of all people, who and who not to torture."
McCoy spoke very thinly.

Kufe grinned. "Dahomey, but I miss our fights, you old Bajou Bilge Rat."

"*I* don't." McCoy said emphatically.

"I know. That just made it all the more fun for me. Why don't you get
transferred back down here, Snake Doctor? Erzulie is always on the lookout
for Agwe."

McCoy closed his eyes. On top of a *lot* of other interests, Kufe was a
dyed in the wool practicioner of the voudoun. Erzulie, the red-clad loa of
sex and magic happened to be her patron. Erzulie's main consort was Awge, a
pale-eyed half-breed who wore a sailor's
uniform and incorporated healing and angst in equal proportions. Needless
to say, Kufe had been trying to see if their physical similarities went all
the way to the world of the Invisibles.

"No." The doctor managed to get out through his teeth. "No, nope, sorry,
Admiral. Not interested." Kufe was grinning, showing all her impressively
healthy white teeth. She knew he would rather sell himself to the Klingons
than go back to Earth, but she always had a
lot of fun trying.

"Too bad." The Admiral chuckled. "I shouldn't have let you go. Why did I
give you up, anyway?"

"Because you owed Kirk a favor, Kirk needed a CMO who wasn't crazy, and I
had to transfer far, far away from you before I turned a hypo on myself."

"Besides that. We could have worked it out, don't you think?"

McCoy had closed his eyes again. Kirk would never know what his CMO did for
him, that was sure. Now that he had gotten what he wanted, he had to put up
with Kufe's cat playing Mouseball with him. And she was perfectly capable
of toying with him for hours.

He knew that gleam in her eyes. She was not only prepared for evesdroppers
on this conversation, she was *hoping* someone was listening. It would make
it so much more fun when she verbally vivisected him onscreen.

"Maybe." He said cautiously. "If I ever agreed to a full frontal

"Now, Len, its just a lie that I only wanted your body." Kufe took a long,
lingering bite of peach, letting the juice run down her chin. McCoy was
aware that sweat had suddenly broken over his temples. "I liked your
sarcasm too."

"You don't need a brain to be sarcastic." McCoy pointed out. He was
pulling his collar away from his throat, feeling claustrophobic in the

"Mmmn, that's true. But do you know how hard it is to find a proper
southern gentleman in High Command? They're in the distinct minority, and
I've already slept my way through them. Several times."

"No doubt." McCoy reached for his water glass. "You need to broaden your

"You've said that before." Kufe mused. "I'm not going
for any albino English, though. And that's most of Yankeetown."

"Oh, Lord God..." McCoy rubbed his forehead. "Kufe, can we discuss your
galloping nymphomania on somebody else's long-distance comm fee?" When you
sensed the ground just beginning to sift under your feet, it was best to

"Zombie pia, Len. You're as nervous as the old agaya crab. What, some
duppy coming 'round, playing plateye on your door?" Kufe's accent never
came out unless she was either seriously playing, or flat out serious.

"Maybe." He answered. That was how he could say "yes" over a potentially
unsecured connection. "And the duppy has silver eyes."

"That no duppy. For sure, that's a mocko jumby!" Kufe snorted. "Len, you
think that albino up to his tricks, I'll get your pretty captain a full

McCoy didn't hide his relief. "Thanks. I'm tired of watching captains come
and go. Would like to see this one stick around a while yet."

"No doubt he agrees. You think he could be in trouble?"

"I don't rule anything out with that Titanium Freak. I played chess with
him, remember? Wouldn't move even a pawn unless he had three other moves
lined for backup."

"Hmn. So when are you coming to visit me?"


"Never?" She grinned again, predatory. "Len, how come I have to tie you
down to have any fun with you?"

"Kufe, how come you're the only woman in the Galaxy that *has* to tie me
down to get their fun with me?"

She made a face at him. "Because if you didn't struggle, it wouldn't be
nearly so much fun."

"Uh-huh. And that's why I'm keeping three black holes, a quasar, and twelve
solar systems between us."

"You watch. I'm going to visit the ENTERPRISE someday, and spend all my
time worshipping that lovely captain of yours."

"Be my guest. His woman is a bit of a hot blooded Latina, though. For the
record, I warned you."

"That's fine, Len. I'm hot blooded too. Maybe she'll share if I ask

"Well, go ahead. It won't hurt to try."

"You mean that?" Kufe asked skeptically.

"Sure. It won't hurt *me* a bit if you try to horn in on Marlena's

Kufe burst out laughing. She was still laughing like a green heron when she
clipped off her end of the beam.

McCoy bid good bye with a great deal of relief.

* * *

Kirk and Spock had their eyebrows permanently stuck to their foreheads as
Marlena turned off the security camera.

Moreau wished they could have used the Tantalus device; it was much clearer
and would follow your target through the ship. But Spock shouldn't know of
its existence.

Kirk turned off the Tantalus Device. "Well, that was entertaining." He
commented to Marlena.

Marlena was shaking her head with a smile. "Kufe has a reputation. It
looks like for once the gossips are a little conservative."

He smiled, looking a great deal like a little boy. "So, would you share

Marlena smiled back. "Not on your life." She said sweetly.

Kirk chuckled.

Spock stoically put up with the exchange of lips. He wondered if McCoy had
been aware of the search in his room. Granted no one knew what the doctor's
behavior was like when he was alone--Chapel was likely the only
exception--but his instincts were telling him the doctor was a bit more
leery than he'd thought.
Kirk pulled away from Marlena (Spock was not unhappy to see that) and
smiled. "Later." It was his way of commanding her to leave.

Well used to his moods, Marlena smiled at him in a way that promised the
captain would get little sleep tonight, and strolled out, her short skirt
hugging her hips. Spock wondered why Kirk would act as though he had never
seen that display before.

"You disapprove, Mr. Spock?" Kirk was too amused at his First's discomfort
to take offense.

Spock collected himself. "I do not know if I will ever be accustomed to
humans." He defended himself.

"Ah." Kirk nodded with a strange look in his eye. "You know, for a while I
wondered if you were jealous when she decided to be my woman."

"Jealous?" Spock repeated as if it were a word incomprehensible to him.

"Yes. After all, she's quite talented, intelligent, brilliant on occasion
and dedicated to her job." Kirk's smile did not exactly say *which* job she
was dedicated to.

Spock replied slowly as he joined Kirk in his office. Kirk had narrowly
struck at the truth; before Khan's subversion of Marla McGyvers, Spock had
seriously considered a relationship with Marlena. But then Marla had
betrayed Kirk for Khan, and Marlena had proven herself well prepared for the
moment when she managed to kill the woman. Kirk had rewarded her with
Marla's position.

(And does she ever regret that?) Spock occasionally wondered, and told
himself it was because he was a student of the human race, and not an

"To be truthful, captain," Spock sat down at Kirk's gesture. "While I
consider Marlena aesthetically pleasing, it would be unwise for me to
cultivate a relationship with a woman of her example."

Kirk looked up from rummaging in his desk. "And what example is she?" He
wanted to know.

Spock answered his captain very carefully. "I serve among humans, with
barely enough approval from my family to permit me to use the clan name."

"You're saying you need a Vulcan woman?"

"Not specifically. I am being persuaded to invoke a sr'ben link in case
something happens to my wife."

Kirk was familiar with the specs of the infamous "sword-link" Vulcans
enacted among each other. The link did not discriminate between sex, age,
or even species (although it was usually between the same sex), its function
a psychic support in case something befell the other. To wit, if T'Pring's
Clan ever went to war with
the Soyh Clan, and she became brain-injured or dead, Spock too would die
from the link-trauma, unless someone else was already bonded to him.

"Ah." Kirk nodded. "I understand now. Sounds worse than being married
against your will. I don't envy you, Mr. Spock. You could at least find a
concubine. And if you ever achieve the high rank you're capable of, you'll
be expected to."

"I do not envy myself, captain. It is a uniquely useless pasttime."

Kirk was about to reply when his communicator chirped. "Kirk here."

Uhura's soft voice slipped over the beam into the room. "Sir, coded message
to you, from Fleet Admiral Kufe."

The men traded looks. "She does work fast, doesn't she." Kirk muttered
admiringly. "Send it through, Lieutenant." He smirked as his computer
began scrolling. "Probably not letting Sulu have a peek at it just to annoy
him. They've been fighting again."

"I was not aware they were ever at peace." Spock was honestly puzzled.

Kirk snickered. "You might have something there." He shut up and
concentrated as Fleet Coding filled his screen.

"Hmmmn...." Kirk broke his silence by flipping the screen around. "Your

Fleet Admiral Kufe was as brisk in writing as she was in life.
Nevertheless, she told a vivid story in polished detail.

The Rigel System had always been pharmacaelogically rich. Still a
Commodore, Kufe-Soma had been driven to investigate the specs of a new drug
that would boost green blood cell production in Vulcans. Such a drug, if
compatible with those of mixed heritage, could be a profitable boon to the
Empire. Of course nothing was ever as simple as it sounded, and in this
case, the
difficulty was within the Rigellians themselves.

The Ruling Caste had originally numbered fifteen families, but each family
had its own Mind Sect, which was the priesthood that ruled each ruling
caste. When a Sect died out, the Caste family officially existed, but was
little more than a figurehead. This was the fate the Fifth Mind Sect was
facing, and they had struck a
co-working alliance with their longtime enemies, the Third Sect. Hostile in
private, neither family breathed word of their disharmony to any of the
offworlders. Dr. McCoy, who was at the time, and still was, a Lieutenant
Commander, filed an official complaint that the delegate from the Fifth
House, One Nasanthakaan, was deliberately testing the boundaries among the
humans, searching
for weak spots. Kufe expressed concern that the delegate was using
Rigellian mental gifts to probe into their minds, and everyone was soon
issued mild drugs to render their thoughts unreadable.

(This was before the Empire laid down a demand that even Rigel could not
deny: That No telepath in the Empire's Space could take advantage of a
non-telepathic species unless in the line of duty as per the Empire itself,
and then only under orders from High Command.)

What followed next was a typical disastrous Imperial Snafu. Due to a
difference in body language between the two species, Nasanthakaan's leader
mistakenly came to the conclusion that Kufe was cultivating an alliance with
the Third House behind his back. Suspicious that such a meeting would mean
the destruction of his family, Nasan' attempted to kill her.

McCoy had been telling the truth when he said he "got in the way."
Literally, he had. Blocking a sword cut with his own arm, he had stabbed at
the Rigellian's face with an empty hypo. Not knowing the tool was harmless,
Nasanthakaan flinched on instinct, and backed away far enough for the doctor
to wound him into incapacity. The
report did not say how Nasanthakaan was wounded.

Kufe finished with unmistakable sarcasm between the lines: You could insult
a Rigellian, but you could never prove them wrong on anything. When Kufe
survived the attempt, she had proven them wrong about their conclusions. So
while legally Rigel could do nothing but apologize eloquently over the
misunderstanding, the Fifth House Affiliates would be simmering in feudal
resentment for a good long time.

(Curious, that.) Spock thought. (But the Admiral is only barely
forthcoming. Still, it explains much about the New Praetor's actions. If
he still believed the Empire wished to crush his family...)

* * *

The hour was late. Spock settled slowly in his one chair by his desk,
steepling his fingers in thought. Responding to previous commands, his
computer began speaking to him, outlining the latest mail he had gathered.
News from home briefly took his attention
from Rigel: T'Pring had accepted as a gift from the Soyh Clan, a metal
sculptor named Stonn.

When Spock activated his memory, he could recall a Soyh-affiliated Stonn: a
very muscular man with a classically handsome face, and no discernible wit
whatsoever...but his skills in artistry more than made up for that. T'Pring
might find herself frustrated to play host to the many number of enamored
men and women who desired to
gather his company.

Spock found himself mulling over this latest news from home. T'Pring was a
capable woman, and she would do what she wanted, regardless of what Spock or
anyone would wish. But Spock could not help but wonder if there would
be...repurcussions from accepting Stonn. Politically, the Soyh Clan was in
good form and good manners to offer her a gift of an artist. Her clan's
official metalwright had recently died. And T'Pring hardly had to worry
about Stonn killing her. That was unthinkable. Artists were forbidden to
take up weapons themselves.

All of this was yet another remainder that he needed to establish a sr'ben.
T'Pring might not have anything to fear from Stonn, but there was always a
minor war between various families on Vulcan...

...and of course, there was always the "acts of God" that took life nearly
as often.

Why had he told Kirk about the sr'ben link? Had it been an unconscious
desire on his part? He had no wish to kill Kirk, not for any reason, and
trusted him on a level he had never enjoyed with any other commander. Kirk
was a scientist, a capable man in many fields. Spock admired that more than
he admired his skills in

Ideally, Kirk would make an excellent sword-link. But his captain would
never conceed or give in a relationship. Not now, at any rate. Perhaps
when they had both been younger and less hardened, the possibility would
have existed. The curious scientist was gone.
In its place, a seasoned fighter who never hesitated to kill, and who only
barely tolerated the presence of anyone who considered themselves his equal.


Spock sighed and ordered his computer to cease. He would have to meditate
deeply for at least an hour before he could call himself ready for his next

* * *

McCoy got tired of staring at the ceiling after an hour of tossing around
his bed. He shambled out, groggily pulled on his uniform and snapped on the
computer. Something was seriously niggling in the back of his mind and,
like a fighting trout, wasn't keen on getting reeled in. So he pulled up
the reports of Rigel and played with that thought, letting free associations
flow around him.

Chapel's question in the necropsy lab: What was the big deal about nepenthe
plants? He hadn't been able to answer her. Nor Spock. But a few minutes
of cross-indexing raised his suspicions.

All nepenthe plants lured their prey in to the digestive traps by use of
strong chemicals exuded from the peristem. McCoy tried to get a biochem
breakdown of the peristem and got a large CLASSIFIED stamp across his
screen. Ok, he tried to get the same on the plant's fluid. CLASSIFIED.

Plant matter.




The god-damned root system, for Christ's sake.


The doctor began a slow burn. His fingers drummed against the desk, the
only sound in his cabin.

He requested a molecular chain on any/all Rigellian-exported drugs.


He thought of Rigel's sodium pentathol, a stronger and more efficient
version than what any other planet in the Empire could create. He requested

He got it.

A bewildering chain of shapes and colors filled his eyes. So far so good,
but nothing that was particularly spectacular. It differed from its
competitor synthesizers in its larger amount of transmitters to the human
brain. McCoy suspected he had gotten this fairly innocuous drug because it
was so widely available.

He poked into his own pharmacy. Nothing there.

He tapped with his fingers again. Then his face cleared and he went
searching for nepenthe plants, EARTH ORIGIN.


Many more minutes passed as he scanned the information. Earth's nepenthes
were dwarves, compared to some of the species on Rigel, but they were all
similarly designed.

The peristem of the plants were full of chemicals that attracted the prey
they were designed to. While an Earth nepenthe might occasionally catch and
swallow a mouse, it was rare. And different plants attracted different
kinds of prey. McCoy felt his eyebrows go up at a botanist's speculation
that each plant tailored its chemical peristem to the prey it preferred.
All plants used a scent that would be compelling to its chosen victims, but
inert or unpleasant to all others. What the peristem's composition did was
create a kind of hypnotic effect upon the brain, and possibly even an

Disturbing to think about, that you could catch a whiff of something deadly
and want to go nearer. McCoy read further.

There was even a co-existance of insect species between Earth's nepenthes.
He was fascinated to read the account of insects who, like Rigel's could
live without fear in the digestive enzymes of the plants, and rescue prey
that fell in, only to rip it to shreds and throw what they didn't want back
into the enzyme pool.

The reasons for this, it was revealed, was all nepenthes had evolved on
terrifically poor soil and could not handle an embarassment of riches. If
even two whole insects were caught and drowned in a Bornean nepenthe, the
decay of the insect could sicken, and even kill the plant. Hence, a system
that depended on insects that behaved like a'kee-leets.

Behaved like a'kee-leets.

McCoy sat upu straight in his chair.

Behaved like a'kee-leets.

Too bad if Kirk was asleep. He dove for the comm switch and paged his

* * *

Kirk rubbed tired eyes and spit out the words with a snarl: "Circumstantial
evidence, my Captain's sash! You can almost hang Rigel on this!"

Spock, looking not at all tired, stood against the wall with his arms folded
at resting position. "It would seem we have inadverdantly stumbled upon one
of Rigel's best kept secrets. I had some suspicions, but they went no
further than to wonder why the Praetorate insisted that we leave Sackhorn's
body where it was found."

McCoy hadn't heard about that. "Did they say why we should?"

Spock shrugged. "As there are countless cultures with the same custom,
there was no query."

"So we could get real proof if we could examine the remains. Maybe." McCoy
exhaled. "Lovely."

"Nasanthakaan set us up for failure." Kirk spat. "Find my brother's
killers. He knew damn well his brother's killers were a nepenthe plant and
a pack of raving a'kee-leet!"

"Typical." McCoy muttered. "Sneaky devil. Smarmy and shutmouthed."

"I suggest we play the Rigellians as they wish to play us." Spock said as
the humans turned to him.

"How so, Mr. Spock?"

"Evidence is in strong suggestion that a plant was the agent of Sackhorn's
death. Nasanthakaan has charged us to find his brother's killers.
Obviously a subtle trap, one that we will fail in if we waste our time
looking for Rigellian killers. I recommend that the Enterprise makes a
visible show of searching in the wrong direction
while myself and Dr. McCoy search for proof that this plant exists."

Kirk leaned back in his chair, frowning. "Not a bad idea. How would we
distract Nasanthakaan?"

"I suggest we ask for permission to interview possible suspects. He will no
douubt be glad to help us in our misdirection."

McCoy snorted. "Yeah, that's the way he works. But I didn't see any big
Rigellian-gulping nepenthe plants in that clearing."

Kirk and Spock considered that for a long moment.

"Well we weren't looking for one." Kirk pointed out.

"What is the usual range that an a'kee-leet pack will drag its prey away for

Kirk gnawed his bottom lip. "Depending on the size of the pack...the more
rodents, the further they drag the body. The pack that I saw in the Arena
couldn't have numbered more than a hundred."

"A hundred rodents the size of chiuhuahuas? Christ." McCoy shuddered.

"A small pack would be anywhere from two to forty. A large pack, now...I'd
say in excess of two hundred."

"This is getting more and more probable." Spock confessed. "There are many
habitats we have not personally explored, and Rigellian folklore speaks of
man-eating trees. If a nepenthe is large enough to devour a man, it would
certainly be considered more treelike than plantlike."

"And Rigellians can't touch them, can't do anything with them because all
forms of nepenthe are taboo!" McCoy rolled his eyes upwards. "Good
god...we might have walked right under that thing without knowing it!" He
thought of the sickly snapdragon smell, and shivered.

"Indeed. We must find the solution on our own."

"And that means, finding a mythical flesheating tree." Kirk agreed tightly.

"I want you and McCoy down there on planetdawn." The captain snapped. "I'm
going to play the befuddled captain and ask Nasanthakaan for permission to
interview anyone who might have had a problem with his brother. He should
enjoy aiding me in the process of justice." Kirk snorted at his own speech.
"Get some rest, gentlemen, you're going to need it!"

They beamed down at the campsite; Kirk would never de-camp at a holding on
any planet until he was on the verge of leaving. It was a sound military
caution, and they were grateful for it now. McCoy hurridly dropped his
gearbag on the lab table and ran a check through all the standing equipment
while Spock relayed to Kirk the
beamdown was successful.

"We will make our way to Sackhorn's location as soon as we finish checking."
The Vulcan glanced at the filling sky with distate. "Otherwise rain may
impede us."

*Understood. Keep us in touch. Kirk out.*

McCoy had slung up a trailbag over his shoulders and was waiting patiently.
"You go first." he offered with a faint smile. "That way, if any
a'kee-leet jump us, I can at least try to save you with the phaser."

Spock made a point of pausing as he slung up his own pack. McCoy was a
crackshot, and there was no doubt he *could* pick off small rodents with a
phaser set to needlebeam, but he had no desire to be the target for a swarm
of flesh-eating mice.

"The a'kee-leet rarely attack during the day." He reminded McCoy stiffly.

"Rarely." McCoy repeated.

Spock pretended this conversation was beneath him and started walking.
Inwardly, he was fuming.

They took their time in the gray dawn. Moisture hung heavily on the leaves
and bark, dripped from above. A low rumble of thunder and a gray cloud from
across the valley said that the rain was detouring, for now, into the
slightly cooler air west of the factories below.
Spock was gratified to see the cloudbank roll slowly off. He was wet as he
could tolerate.

"Ugh." McCoy paused, rubbing his nose fiercely. "I hate that smell!"

"What smell?"

"Snapdragon smell. I used to love it. Now its just awful."

"I would not even begin to know what a snapdragon smelled like."

"Its light and sweet, like a fancy perfume. I think its coming from all the
nepenthe plants. Gets worse when the air's wet."

"Scents carry in water." Spock reminded him. It was the main reason why
Vulcans did not smell nearly as well as humans. There was no vehicle for
much of that sense in a dry desert climate that may not see rain save once
every three generations.

"Well, here we are."

Spock followed the doctor's gaze. The curtain of waxleaves vines parted
under their hands to show the familiar open clearing. White sand still
wounded the frail loam-cover from the landing party's heavy boots. And
Sackhorn rested, that one knee drawn up in its
ghoulish way. McCoy could see there was considerably less of the Rigellian
by now; the preservative chemicals must have worn off.

Insects flew up in a cloud, small white flying weevils with black eyes. The
corpse was even more revealed at their departure. Mostly skeleton and a few
shreds of tissue hung upon the bones. That was what the weevils had been
feasting on.

"Fascinating." Spock had knelt in the tangle of gingervines and was aiming
his tricorder over the skull down to the feet. Still imprinted into the
bone of the forehead, rested a small data chip. "Not even clothing left.
This is a most efficient system for disposal."

"Or murder." McCoy said vaugely.

"Or murder." Spock agreed. He frowned and removed a small pair of
mechanical manipulators from his field kit.

Concentrating, he stitched a small ring around the data chip and removed it,
taking a portion of the skull it was embedded in with it. The brain was no
longer intact; what he could see from the impaired view was mostly liquid.
A scent wafted up, partially sweet, and partially metallic rust, but mostly


Spock thought McCoy was expressing nausea, and ignored him while pocketing
the sample inside a field case.

"Up." McCoy said again, much stronger.

Spock glanced up. McCoy was staring as if hypnotized straight up the sheer
cliff wall.

"Look." McCoy whispered softly.

There was no mistaking that large lump bulging partially over the very edge
of the 50-foot drop. It was dark green, mottled yellow and red the shade of
human blood. And, as the air grew heavy and moist from the nearby
rainstorm, the scent of snapdragons wafted down.

"The a'kee-leet must have fished the body out of the nepenthe's storage tank
and dumped it down the cliff for a leisurely feast." McCoy commented.
"Clever little buggers."

"All creatures can be quite admirable in following their instincts." Spock
got to his feet. "The question is, how did Sackhorn get lured to the

"I can't see any way from here. There must be some way around the cliff..."

"We should divide." Spock nodded sharply. "Lock your phaser and follow the
cliff in one direction. I will do the same in the other."

"Got you..." McCoy shook his head dubiously.

Spock settled his lean body among the play of vines, shrubs and
canopy-symbionts easily. It was normally difficult for a Vulcan to accept
the claustrophobic, wet environment of a jungle, but Spock had been away
from the deserts of his home for more than half his
life. Sometimes it amazed him how adaptable he had become. T'Pring would
never understand the fascination of a different environment. She was like
too many of their people, feeling that anything outside of Vulcan was a
threat, a danger, and at the very least, unpleasantly incompatible. Sarek
would understand some of what Spock felt, but his father was taciturn by
nature, and moreso since the banishment of his brother Sybok.

Thoughts of Sarek's First Son sent a sudden stab of emotion through Spock,
and out of long practice he stifled it.

Spock's communicator chirped. He flipped it open quickly. "Spock here."

*Spock...* McCoy's voice floated across the beam, shaky and weak sounding.

"Doctor, did you find a way to get to the plant?"


Spock frowned, hearing a laboring of breath.

*Spock, I've been caught in the perimeter of the plant. It seems...humans
are vulnerable to the nepenthe too.* A chill went up Spock's spine to hear
McCoy speaking in a very cold, clinical voice. *Just in case, you'd better
not follow me.*

"Where are you going?"

*Call Kirk and get yourself beamed up!*


The beam went dead.

Spock was motionless for half a heartbeat. Then he was whirling and
plunging back through the jungle.

* * *

He nearly fell flat on his face into a thornbush when he fell over McCoy.
The doctor was lying on the ground, unconscious. A hypo lay next to him.
Spock bent over him and checked his pulse. Still alive, but signs
faint. He picked up the hypo, saw an empty chamber next to it. Sedative.
Spock was duly impressed at the precaution.

The Vulcan had been holding his breath for over five minutes and was
starting to feel the lack of oxygen. He bent and picked the doctor up,
slinging him over his shoulder. Hurrying past the point of grace, he
vaulted fallen trees and skirted the standing ones, trying to get back to
the clearing where they had first spotted the carnivorous nepenthe.

Wind blew across the carpet of vines. Spock stopped and let the human's
limp body sag down, flipped open the medikit and breathed gratefully in the
cleaner air. A counteragent was quickly found and he loaded the chamber.
A stimulant on top of a sedative, even a weak one, was medically
unadvisable, but Spock felt there was a need for the action.

McCoy's eyes fluttered open at the first hiss. Confusion clouded his eyes.

"Hell." He growled. "I hope I'm alive, because I'd hate for this to be the

"You are obviously undamaged." Spock lifted an eyebrow. "Fortunately, I was
able to hold my respiration long enough to find you."

"Um." McCoy suddenly closed his eyes, hand to his forehead. "Help...m'up."

Spock complied.

"Rigellians..." McCoy was keeping his eyes firmly closed as Spock guided
him to a fallen log. "Th-the plants are taboo...because they're the prey..."
A hot sweat was breaking out over his skin as Spock let go of his arm.
"Must've kept susceptibility...even when
th'Vulcans began mixing..." He suddenly doubled up, clenching at his ribs.
"Oh, *God!*"

Spock was unacccustomed to seeing such a strong reaction from the doctor.
"What is it?"

"Head...feels like s'turning inside out..." McCoy hit the earth with his
knees, clutching his skull and grimacing. "Oh, no, get out! Get out!"

Spock could detect nothing with his senses, but he was not a fool either.
He grabbed the doctor and threw him over his shoulder. With enviable speed,
he ran from the clearing.

* * *

They were almost to the camp when McCoy lifted his head. Spock paused and
slowly set him down on his feet. McCoy's blue eyes were unfocused and
faded. Spock waved his hand across the blank gaze.

"Who were you speaking to, doctor?"

"I...I don' know..." McCoy stopped, shivered, and swallowed. "I don't
think it was...Spock, it was in my mind, but it wasn't sentient! Does that
make any sense?"

Spock tried to think. There was always the risk that a
nontelepathic species would be unfamiliar and unskilled at describing a
telepathic experience. But if it had been sentient, he surely would have
sensed it as well as the doctor. And better, too. "What do you think it
was, if it was not sentient?"

"A...compulsion." McCoy swallowed again and clutched his forearms. "A
mindless compulsion." He didn't look capable of walking, and just barely
could stand. Spock re-hoisted him over his shoulder, and, proving just how
upset he was, the doctor made no protest.

Spock was greatly disturbed.

* * *

Spock listened as the rain began to patter over their heads. Inside it was
what passed for warm and dry on the planet, but to Spock it felt clammy and
miserable. He went to the spaceheater and turned it up as far as it could
go. It needed to be done anyway, to enact a
crude de-humidifyer inside the shelter's plastic film doors.


Spock turned to see the doctor was still trying to function, still thinking
out loud.

"What about sodium pentathol?" Spock wondered where this had come from.

"Rigel's...export of narco...synthetic...truth serums." McCoy was spacing
the words out with his breath. "Must use...relative of...nepenthe. Words
are...related." Breath. "Narcotic. Hypnotic. Leaves one...
suggest-ible..." Breath. "Suceptible." Breath. "Fifth Mind Sect...taboo
plant." He was beginning to shake
his head from side to side as one thought overode another, clustered and
tumbled, stones in an avalanche. "Taboo plant! My God! Mind Sect...Holy
Priests! Controlling drugs!!"

Spock pushed him back down, noting idly that the man
was soaking wet. "I understand what you are saying. You need to conserve
your strength for the moment."

McCoy was struggling to maintain his own volition. Spock watched as he went
through the movements of making a coffee, and held it to his lips with both
hands, eyes still wild and confused. Spock had rarely seen such a chemical
reaction on a human before.

"I can still feel it." He whispered. "Its like a siren singing. I want to
go back to that thing, even though I know it's just a trap to kill me!"

Spock sank down on the other toolchest. "But you can fight it." He stated.

McCoy was motionless, then slowly shook his head. "It's just started. I
took a lungful of that stuff. I can feel it getting stronger..." His face
clenched up for a moment. "Nepenthe...why didn't we think of that? That's
how it translates to our language. Nepenthe...the poet's drink of amnesia
and peace and death."

Spock had always prided himself on having at least a *slightly* faster mind
than a human. He was chagrined to be beaten to that conclusion.

"The smaller plants must be the harvesting grounds for the hypnotic drugs
Rigel exports." McCoy was still speaking in that dazed voice. "Controlled
by the priests, for the priests...and they do it themselves because their
mental skills can give them an edge?"

"Possibly." Spock said cautiously. He thought of the odd chip in
Sackhorn's skull.

McCoy suddenly froze. "Spock, tie me down or knock me out. Or I'm going
back." He was already getting to his feet.

Spock grabbed him by the shoulders. They were so close he could smell the
human's natural amberlike scent.

"Possibly unneccesary." He snapped. "If this is affecting your mind, I may
be able to meld with you and interfere with this process."

"How?" McCoy wanted to know.

"Wait." Spock pressed his fingertips to the proper spots, and blinked as
the link opened. McCoy was very open, he realized in surprise. That was
unusual. Possibly the plant had affected him this way?

Spock decided he was right as the usual maelstrom of barriers, blocks and
muddy impressions that existed in unfamiliar minds failed to present. It
was as simple as breathing. He actually had to stop himself to keep from
sliding through the surface and into the deepest, most private areas.

(Curious) he indulged in fascination, and hesitated a moment before going

"Doctor." He spoke very carefully, planning his course of action as he went
along. "Listen to me." It was impossible for McCoy not to obey; he would
be responsive to anything asked of him while this element was in his blood,
in his brain. "We are going to the nepenthe plant. With its connection in
your mind, you should be
able to show me precisely its location. That way I can alert the ship."

McCoy nodded. His face had gone gray at the idea of going back, but he also
knew he couldn't fight the thing by himself.

Spock took a slow breath, and slung up the trail case over his back. With
one arm he helped McCoy to his feet and they went back outside.

Now that he was going in the "right" direction, McCoy's strength was
returning. Spock considered how very ghoulish this was as he fought to keep
the human in his grip. There would be Sickbay-grade bruises on his arm
later. They wended their way back to the clearing at the base of the cliff
and Spock had to hold McCoy down with some violence as he pulled a filter
mask over his face. Now he could at least breathe without fear of his
half-human heiritage taking him over.

"This way." McCoy suddenly stiffened and plunged through a stand of
colortrees. Spock kept up while mentally marking their trail, even though
it seemed like a paranoid precauution. Even their lightest footsteps tore
the tender plant growth and left wide white gashes of glittering sand
behind. Sand that was desert-dry underneath the dripping canopy.

McCoy ducked through a shimmering waterfall of dark green leaves and paused,
momentarily stymied at the sight of the cliff before them. Before Spock
could open his mouth, the doctor had reached up, and put his hand through
the curtain of plant growth. Soft ferns as
delicate as mist shied away from the crudity of an animal's touch, and they
were standing before a narrow cave.

Spock grabbed him again. "Hold still for a moment." He
advised--ordered--and reached for a handlight in the trailpack. His mental
guides over McCoy were--just--strong enough that he and the doctor were in
serious competition with the mindless will of the plant.

"I can't believe you can't smell this!" McCoy rasped. His coloring was
going from up to down, and Spock wondered how much longer he could last.

"I do not regret my lack in that ability." Spock said truthfully. In the
back of his mind he was hoping this would finish soon, before the plant's
chemistry overwhelmed both of them.

Bones met their gaze. Old, dry and perfectly preserved. There could have
been a hundred of them. Spock came to the same conclusion as the doctor:

"These were placed here!"

"I agree." Spock kept a firm grip, mental and physical, on McCoy as he
aimed his tricorder. "These remains show a high number of humanoid
Rigellians. No discernible examples from the Vulcanoid Mind Sect Houses."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"I do not know...yet." Spock admitted. He had found the emergency backup
handlight and was paying the light across the narrow cave slot. "There
appears to be a channel."

"I know. I can feel that thing coming from there. It must be some kind of
air current."

"Doctor, be careful." A sudden, shocking idea had come to Spock. "It is
possible that this nepenthe plant is part of a large trap."

"I can't be careful, and you know it!" McCoy snapped. "That's your job,

"Very well. But go *slowly.*" Spock put all the weight of his mind into
that verbal command, saw the other flinch as it "took."

Shaking his head, McCoy occasionally put his hand up to the back of his neck
as if feeling an unconscious pressure in his brain. The primitive site,
Spock realized. The center of volition and decision. It was suddenly clear
as to how McCoy would be helpess against physically resisting it, and yet
still be able to verbalize his warning to Spock. The plant had control over
one part of his brain, but McCoy still kept the rest.

Chisel marks straightened the organic and chaotic curve of the cavern
passage. A strong breeze began to blow into their faces, damp from outside.
It was coming from above them, Spock found his theory confirmed. The
scent of the nepenthe carried through the cavern and outside, dispersing
itself across a large range for its victims. The presence of actual hands
engineering the stonework
made Spock suspect quite strongly that they were walking through a trap of

"Jesus CHRIST that reeks!" McCoy was digging his fingers into the back of
his neck as he spoke. "It's not far." He breathed unevenly. "It's...its

"Move as slowly as you can." Spock was reaching for the phaser at his belt.
"We do not know if there are any a'kee-leet nearby, but it is a strong

"Joy." Was McCoy's response. Spock wondered if the doctor could ever get
stifled for long. His sense of irony seemed indefatiguable.

The need for handlights ended as pale gray dawnlight bled through the cavern
before them. The stone was turning dark green under the presence of lichens
and moss. Spock put the light away hurridly and grabbed the doctor's arm,
feeling a sudden instinctive need to do so.

"Can you resist it?" Spock spoke directly into the ear, making McCoy jump.

"Not much longer." McCoy was wiped. "Get this thing's co-ords and beam it
the hell up!"

"That is the--"

McCoy stopped so quickly the Vulcan crashed into him.

Spock glanced in the direction of the horrified stare. A dark bulge rested
at the base of the nepenthe bowl. It contained many small lumps.

"A'kee-leet." McCoy mouthed. "Don't...wake them up!"

Spock had no desire to. There must have been hundreds of them. Easily
three hundred...

Spock steadied himself. He held the doctor tightly in his arms and siezed
his gaze, forcing his will into the suppliant one. "You will stay here."
He spoke firmly, in his mind and with his mouth at the same time. "Do not
move until I order you."

McCoy nodded silently.

Spock moved as quietly as possible, the doctor's communicator held open in
his hand. He got as far as the lip of the plant, and slowly rested the tool
at its base.

He straightened slowly and backed away without taking his gaze off the
dangerous thing. Only then, with his body safely pinning McCoy against the
rock wall, did he open his own communicator.

"Captain, Spock here. We have found the plant in question. It is currently
hosting a...very large colony of a'kee-leet. When you beam up, do not
reassemble it until you have a valid target."

Kirk's voice came on the beam instantly.

*Reading you, Spock. A large colony, hm? Sounds delightful.* As he spoke,
a familiar whine filled the air.

"Do not, I repeat, do not finish the beamup. Keep the plant in suspension's
memory until you are ready to beam it down into a containment field."

*Understood. Excellent work, Mr. Spock.* Kirk suddenly snickered. *I
think the Praetorate will be fascinated at the "suspects" I'll be beaming
down to him. Do you think it would be a little too much to set it down in
the center of the palace?*

Cold, wet, and emotionally at odds, Spock considered the reactions possible.
"Not at all." He answered with feeling. "In fact, I recommend the
gesture as a show of strength."

*That's my first officer! Anything else?*

Spock watched as the enormous, barrel-shaped plant of death dissolved in a
shower of slow-timed sparks. McCoy smiled faintly as the last of the thing
departed, and he sank down against a large moss-covered stone.

"Captain." Spock glanced at the swaying doctor as he spoke. "I suggest you
wait before beaming us up. We have been exposed to the plant and I do not
recommend our joining the ship until the threat of contamination is done."

*Agreed, Mr. Spock." Kirk spoke crisply. *Your

"I will hail you in one hour. That should give us time to understand our
situation better."

McCoy frowned, stymied, at the odd conversation but knew better than to
contraidict *Spock* in front of Kirk. He watched as the Vulcan calmly
flipped off the communicator, then turned to look at him.

Spock's months-long search for a sr'ben had found a sudden solution. A
solution that was standing in front of him.

With the speed only thought can achieve, it was a perfect conclusion.
McCoy's mind was totally open and pliable under the nepenthe. Perfect for
instigating the sword-link through the link that was already there.

"'s the plant..." McCoy breathed. Give him credit; he did point
it out. "What you're looking for..."

Spock merely pushed his wet hair from his forehead. His hot mouth swallowed
up whatever else could be said. McCoy struggled to get away from the
scratch of the coarse beard; then he struggled to breathe. That was a
mistake, as he learned. Spock was inflamed.

Spock reached up and pressed his fingertips to McCoy's temples, moving in
tiny circles. The doctor's eyes drifted closed and he let his head fall
back with a shaky sigh. The snapdragon scent of nepenthe was still soaking
in his skin, his mind, every bone in his body. The jungle canopy wheeled
and dipped crazily above his skull and he stopped looking hurridly.

Spock was tugging his shirt off, then slipping hot dry fingers inside the
wicking Tee. The touch stroked across his chest, ruffled the short hairs,
sent the nubs rock-hard as his body realized what the other's intentions
were. Volition gone. Mind empty, awaiting orders. Anticipating. The
shirt was gone and the
hands stroked down the back, stopped at the base, hestitated at the
officer's sash. Spock's beard tickled his throat as a slight smile pressed
against the sweating skin and the Vulcan pulled the Capellan Stand-Ready out
of the sash pocket.

"That is a very dangerous object to carry." The Vulcan's deep voice
rumbled, sending shivers across every inch of skin the doctor owned. Spock
was still smiling, amused that McCoy had been carrying around such an object
of subterfuge for years without anyone knowing
better. "Does your woman know you possess this?"

"I don't...have a woman." He gasped as Spock pressed him down on his back
on the ground.

"No?" Spock was surprised. "Not Nurse Chapel?"

"We're just friends..."

"Friends?" Spock tasted the unfamiliar word. "I really must learn how that
was managed someday..." He bent forward and tossed the weapon aside,
running both hands down the doctor's ribs at once. McCoy sucked his breath
in at the touch. "But that can wait..." He murmured under his beard.

In the end, Spock was surprisingly gentle with him. Passion rarely got out
of control with Vulcans, unless their blood fever was unchecked. And this
was certainly not the case. His mind was strong and careful of the other's,
pulling his scattering, flying thoughts together with a deft touch of mental
skill, keeping them contained. Channeling the focus from fighting to get
away, confusing his nepenthe-soaked brain into thinking of a different

(Yes.) Spock commanded the malleable will. (This is what you want, not to

(Yes.) The other, the sr'ben, agreed in his mind.

"Small wonder we did not find this in our initial search." Spock was
hunched over the small scope on the table, peering at the (still
flesh-encrusted, gorey) chip with bone stuck to its back. "It is mostly
ceramic, using chemicals and minerals rather than metals to transmit
dataimpulses." He paused. "Quite brilliant. Instead of quartz, it uses
citrine as a base."

McCoy was lying on the cot with a cup of coffee perched on his chest,
listening to the recurrant rain spatter on the cleardome ceiling, and not
really being interested in Spock's gleeful interest in a chunk of warped
technology. "So what's it there for?"

"You noticed it was over the Third Eye."

McCoy shrugged. Nearly all hominid species had psychic or paranormal
associations with the forehead, above and between the eyes. He remembered
that he hadn't verbally answered, but then Spock was still talking, so he
must've got the acknowledgement through the link.

The link. He was going to have to get used to that.

Later. He told himself. Much, much later. Right now, he couldn't give a
flying farthing and a rolling doughnut up a hill, to quote his creative, if
obscurely lingual, grandmother.

"As of now, I cannot speculate on its specific purpose." Spock leaned back
and carefully dropped the chip in a sterile solution.

"Mn. Citrine. Doesn't that produce an electrical current when exposed to
heat?" McCoy closed his eyes as he talked, feeling the urge to just let the
rest of him melt away with his mind.

"Yes." Spock agreed, considering this bit of trivia.

"It is possible that the Rigellian Mind-Priests can employ biofeedback to
lift their body temperature in localized places. If they were to do it
where the chip was, perhaps that was how they could activate the
implant...for whatever purpose they carried."

"Gotta be involved with communication somehow." McCoy cracked his jaw in a
huge yawn.

"Mmmmn." Spock suddenly focused upon the implant with great interest. "I
wonder if the Rigellian mental powers are really as vaunted as they say...or
if they employ artifical aids?"

McCoy only yawned again, and put his coffee down before he wound up wearing
it. "You still filing symptoms of nepenthe exposure?" He drawled.


"Better add "increasing lassitude.""

"I already have." Spock eyed him. "Your brain is in serious need of

"Gotcha." McCoy yawned again. "I'll get...right on it."

Spock sighed, not quite exasperated. "Best not. I would like an idea of
how long the effects will last."

"Well, hell." McCoy said with false regret. "Have fun talkin' to
Sackhorn's brainpan. I'm gonna just go with this and hit the hay."

Spock's voice sounded in his mind, gently as an echo.

*Are you so certain it is just the nepenthe that made you so tired?*

*Certainly not, you smug bastard, but ask me if I care.*

*You are annoyed at what happened.*

McCoy coolly (mentally) drew a breath and held it for a moment.

*I'm aware that according to Vulcan mores, you did nothing wrong, but we
humans prefer at least a polite query, and in your case, how about an
apology for not giving me the option? Just as an acknowledgement that
humans do things differently?*

Spock was silent for a moment. *I cannot cause you harm, you know.*

*Yeah, I know.* His body sound asleep, McCoy continued the mental dialog as
Spock carefully packed up the samples. *But this is going to take getting
used to. Especially since I thought you considered me one of the lowest
forms of life onship.*

*Not quite that drastically. I admit to being surprised to discover what
you really are.* Spock agreed. He packed up and turned around in his
chair, taking in the sleeping form. It crossed his mind that McCoy was
going to get a haircut and shave when they returned. A pity.

*Well don't expect me to actually thank you for all this. I think you're
incredibly naive to think your wife is never going to want to kill you. And
that Stonn sculptor sounds like trouble. So if anything happens to you, I
have incipent insanity to look forward to. Just great.*

*As my sr'ben your family will be well provided for.* Spock heard a mental
"snarl" at that. *What family you choose to have, at any rate.*

*You're just the soul of tact. Are you going to tell Kirk what's happened?*

Spock hesitated. And surprised himself by hesitating even further. *He
knows my father is pressuring me to take a sr'ben...*

*But he didn't exactly volunteer himself.* McCoy had understood the
situation the nanosecond their minds had joined. *Well, as this sword-link
stuff is supposed to be kept private, I can keep another secret.*

*It is not that I do not trust the captain.* Spock absurdly, felt the need
to defend Kirk and himself. "But as you said, this is largely a private

*Mmmnn-hmn.* McCoy agreed dryly. *Sure it is. Ok, have it your way. I'm
not exactly eager to let the world know I have another personality grafted
into my skull. But you make any smartass cracks about "being the better
half" and so help me, I'll find some way to
get even with you.*

Spock almost smiled at that.

* * *
At 0800 hours, Admiral Kufe, who made all things Rigellian her business, was
richly amused to receive an hysterically outraged communique from the Fifth
House. As the details unfolded of Kirk introducing Praetor Sackhorn's
"Murderers" in the middle of a crowded palace hall, she grew even more

Humans were by nature gifted liars. They were so used to being looked down
upon by species that considered themselves superior in every way, that Kufe
was delighted to get another chance to be subserviently obnoxious.

"Oh, dear." She said sweetly. Translators weren't mechnically capable of
picking up little things like sarcasm, contempt, or mockery. "I really must
send a stern note to the Captain's Board over this. Dear me. I wish our
people weren't so bad at...reading each other's body language. It would
save so much mis-understanding, wouldn't it?"

The Praetorate Ambassador, who had known Kufe since McCoy had stuck a
Capellan Stand-Ready in Nasanthakaan's thigh, knew what was going on. With
a snarl of defeat, he broke the connection.

Kufe sent Kirk a bottle of rare Bastillan greenwine, a box of Swiss
chocolates, and a short letter scolding him for letting his mischievous
impulses get out of hand. The context of the note was somewhat detracted by
the fact it was written on the back of a thousand-credit voucher slip.

* * *

Marlena penned the thank you note for Kirk on the back of a photograph of
the captain showing a nice view of the chest muscles behind the captain's
vest. In other words, Kufe-Soma, enjoy the view, because you aren't getting
anything else.

* * *

Admiral Kufe understood the note, smiled, and made plans anyway. She liked
nothing better than a challenge.

* * *

Sulu made a study of the nepenthe plants as a side-hobby, and returned to
his old botanical interests for a while. For a while Spock was helping him,
but then the Vulcan seemed to lose interest once the chemical mysteries were
broken down, and the study of the nepenthes became all his. Later on, when
he became captain of his own ship, he made a point of keeping a large,
human-sized speciman inside its very own room. When it was fed, how often,
and by what, remained a dark speculation and cause for high crew work output

* * *

Spock had extinguished all light but from the firepot beast. In concession
to being off-duty for the next 24 hours, he had actually taken off his
uniform and was wearing the loose black robes of his father's family.
McCoy, who didn't even keep civilian clothes around, was sweating under his
uniform collar in the high heat.

The Vulcan was holding a small bottle of a dark fluid in one hand and
opening it with the other. The scent of snapdragons wafted up. A small
smile was toying at the corners of his lips as he spoke. "I took the
liberty of
running a full analysis of the nepenthe's nocturnal peristem." He said as
if discussing a pleasant day for sailing along the coast. "This is more
than a common hypnoneurodepressor, doctor. It contains an interesting blend
of ingredients.

"Neuropeptides...endomorphines...enkephalines...dynorphins...a fascinating
cocktail that causes a direct effect upon the brain, and especially the

"The hippocampus?" McCoy repeated, alarmed. That was the section in charge
of storage/memory retrieval.

"Calm yourself." Spock said calmly. "It does not appear to be harmful in
any way." He paused while rubbing a large amount into his palms. "It
synthesizes *very* easily."


The Vulcan had reached up to press his fingers along that familiar spot at
his temples. A cold tingle and he could almost feel the nepenthe soak into
all the right brain receptors. "So." Spock was saying. "How do you feel?"

"Like I'm standing in quicksand." McCoy snapped. "How the *hell* do you
think I feel?"

Spock chuckled. He circled and poised his hands above the human's
shoulders, slowly lowered them, and began a deep, digging massage into the
taut muscles. "An interesting effect on the human brain," he commented as
the doctor groaned, "when combined with the meld..."
He moved closer to the neck, feeling the nerves ripple like piano keys. "It
seems you have been neatly programmed to respond a certain way to my

"That would..." McCoy let his head fall back. "Explain a lot about...The
Rigellian Ruling castes, wouldn't it..?"

"Yes, it would." Spock had bent closer, his lips practically vibrating
against the ear. "Worthy of further research, wouldn't you agree?"

"How could I not agree?" McCoy asked with some of his old acerbity, and
Spock made a deep sound of amusement in his chest as he swung him around,
and pushed him down to the bed. "And you Vulcans say *humans* talk too
much. God."


Spock brushed his fingers along the meld points, but by now had no need to
physically enact the link. It flared under the command of his will. The
body beneath him pressed close, hands holding him by his hips. They moved
together, pressing for friction. McCoy's mouth
yielded gently to Spock's frontal assault, his hands travelling up the
Vulcan's back to rest at the strong shoulders. His lips let go and his head
fell back, sighing as Spock began trailing featherlight kisses down his neck
and across his collarbone.

Spock spread his fingers and rippled them down the strong back, feeling
different human muscles shiver at his touch. He was enjoying this even more
this time, now that they were in the privacy of his cabin, the
carpe diem urgency gone. Undressing had become foreplay, the smell of the
oil soaking throughout the cabin.

McCoy made a murmuring hum as the other began rubbing his body with the oil.
Partly sensual, and partly sheer luxury, he had no wish to do anything but
lie there and take it. Oh, Lord...the Vulcan's hot skin laid down on top of
his, and arms wrapped around bodies again, legs slowly curling against the
other's. Spock had already
discovered by his efficient trial-and-error methods that humans were far
more sensitive in the neck and nipples than Vulcans. In a few minutes his
attention on both areas was rewarded by gasps. McCoy's hands reached up,
trying to push his head away, trying to breathe.

"Shh." Spock calmed him with a touch, waited as he collected himself, and
began anew. The large hot hands traveled all over, perfectly willing to
explore what should be very familiar territory.

"Did you know," Spock began blandly, as he rolled his lover over and began
on the back, "Admiral Kufe is planning a visit to the ENTERPRISE?"

He felt the body beneath him tense. *That doesn't sound good* he heard in
his mind.

"Possibly." Spock agreed. He was calm, though, and continued his slow,
lazy strokes over the warm, tanned skin. "But nothing that cannot be dealt
with, I am sure."

Strong silence from the doctor. Not only was McCoy unwilling to commit
himself to something he knew nothing about, he wasn't eager to consider the
Admiral anywhere near him again.

Spock could understand why; that was a part of McCoy's being that he could
easily read, just as McCoy could read the troubles brewing in Spock's home.

"From what I understand," Spock still spoke in that calm, casual voice, but
it was growing husky as his hands moved slower and lower, "She is curious
about our captain."

"Not so much as--" McCoy choked, starting at the sensation of a hot finger
slipping inside.

"Not so much as what?" Spock asked in that dry, impossible way Vulcans had
when they were teasing you with their ability to keep a straight face. He
used his other hand to tease the shape of ribs and down the flank to the
outer thigh.

"Not so much as..." McCoy let his head fall back, facedown onto the bed.
*Jesus.* "Checking out her investment."

"She considers Kirk an investment?"

McCoy sort of made a shrugging motion; not easy considering the way Spock
had him trapped. "She's been silently backing his ventures for years. Even
before this ship."

"Mmmn." Spock murmured. He was up to two fingers now, watching the
reactions intently. "Is her...sexuality a guise then?"

"In a way..." McCoy rasped. His fingers dug hard into the cloth beneath
him. *She's in perfect control of herself. But most people can't believe
that, so she winds up...tricking them.*

"Ah." Spock pressed gently, to an extreme result. He withdrew very slowly,
both hands at the other's hips now. "This should be...fascinating." His
head tilted, lips tickling the round ear.

The human shivered a bit as Spock slowly joined with him. Olive colored
hands reached around, clenched around his own, a grip like handcuffs, and
they both began to move.

*If you fear you cannot avoid Kufe when she comes...* The Vulcan's strong
mental voice rippled and echoed inside McCoy's, powerful and
compelling...God, it was like a strong opiate, rubbing the soul with silk...
Rubbing inside and out, all over, every part, in his mind, what Spock called
the katra, inside his body with his easy thrusts, over his body with the
roving hands. *Then we can easily take steps to prevent anything that you do
not wish to happen...*

He cried out, his head going down as he felt the release begin in his mind
and end with his body. Spock held back gently, still holding him, still
stroking. Moving in time to the spasms that caught his sr'ben, but not
joining him yet. Soft hot lips and a scratchy beard soothed and excited the
back of his neck.

"Do not worry about Kufe." The Vulcan spoke, a harsh dry whisper against
the hot neck. He was still moving, still coaxing him along to the end he
wanted. Beyond thought--he'd passed that point a long time ago, his lover
could only arch against that strong furred chest
and give in to the next wave that washed over them. "If she respects power,
and respect she must, then she will recognize the circles of power that
exist on this ship."

Inside the core of building ecstacy, he sensed a wordless acknowledgement.
A long slow wave was building and when it crashed it would be with tidal
force. They were blending fully together, feeling one body instead of two.
Spock closed his eyes and let his head relax backwards, gripping,

The End