By: M. C. Pehrson
The muted sound of a conversation gradually drew Spock toward consciousness. Though not yet capable of movement, he began to assess his physical state. He was lying flat on his back, in a sheltered area. Bones unbroken, internal organs functional, heart rate satisfactory, body temperature...low of normal, but rising.
Ah, yes. Images of an icebound world came to him. He had been stranded in Sarpeidan's remote past with Doctor McCoy. Vaguely he recalled the subzero temperature, driving snow, and signs that the thin warming suit under his uniform was malfunctioning. Then, encroaching hypothermia overtaking his desert-bred body...Leonard refusing to leave him...and a fur-wrapped figure approaching...
He slowly opened his eyes. The voices seemed louder as he lay perfectly still, taking stock of the crude, cavernous chamber in which he found himself. Though he could not determine the source of light, it was adequate. And the air was far warmer than outside.
He heard Leonard's voice rise in distress. "What do you mean, we can't go back?"
"The Atavachron changes you," a woman replied. "Our metabolic structure is adapted to whatever time we enter."
"But why in the world did you choose a place like this?"
"I didn't," she replied. "In my case, I was exiled here by Zor Kahn because two members of my family were involved in a plot to kill him."
As Spock continued to listen, more memories returned. He and Leonard had been with Captain Kirk in a Sarpeidan library, trying to determine what had become of the doomed planet's population. With the help of the librarian called Atoz, Leonard had been viewing a Verism tape of an ice age seconds before they followed Kirk through a portal. But upon reaching the other side, the captain had disappeared. Since Kirk had been studying a different era, he had apparently emerged elsewhere. And now all three of them were in Sarpeidan's past.
Finding his strength returning, Spock sat up and called to his stepbrother. "Leonard, where are you? Leonard!"
The conversation broke off. Leonard rushed in, followed by a scantily clad young woman. At sight of her, Spock felt a stirring of something other than scientific interest. Quite deliberately, he turned his attention on Leonard, whose physician's instincts were in full play.
Taking a medscanner from the kit at his waist, Leonard swept it over Spock's torso and checked the readings. "Get back under that fur," he then declared, with a shove that laid him flat. "You're not out of the woods yet."
"Woods?" Spock countered as he glanced at their austere surroundings. "I see no trees here."
"Funny, Spock. You're a regular comedian."
Spock's eyes settled back on the woman and found her staring at him apprehensively.
"Zarabeth has never encountered a Vulcan before," Leonard explained.
"Nor has she now," Spock corrected, "for I am fully half human, as well."
Leonard turned toward Zarabeth and reached for her hand. "See? I told you he's harmless. Though he can be somewhat annoying..."
Seeing their hands joined in a surprisingly tender manner served, once again, to rouse Spock in a baffling and inappropriate way. He was, after all, fully devoted to his wife. Yet just now Leila seemed very far away...
Back on his feet, Spock pulled a fur more tightly around him as he studied the technological center of the cave complex. Here, at its deepest point, an efficient device tapped an underground hot spring for power that provided both heat and light. It was clear that Zor Kahn had not meant to kill Zarabeth, but merely trap her in a solitary existence. A cruel fate for such a beautiful woman...
With an effort, he turned his thoughts to his captain. Before Jim stepped through the Atavachron portal, Spock had glimpsed a street scene with a rustic level of civilization. Jim was not in any danger of freezing to death, but was likely facing perils of his own. As second-in-command, it was Spock's duty to locate him and help return them all to the Enterprise. But Zarabeth asserted that any such attempt would result in death. Could she be trusted?
Only hours earlier, he had dreaded the thought of spending the rest of his life here, in a state of intellectual starvation, separated from his wife. But now those matters seemed to grow less and less important, as if they belonged to another life.
Spock closed his eyes and rubbed at a nagging pain in his temples. He could not seem to focus his mind. Perhaps an aftereffect of hypothermia...
Abruptly he turned and followed the dimly lit passage to the cavern's main living area. There he found Leonard and the Sarpeidan woman seated side-by-side, much too close, softly laughing. At him, perhaps?
Annoyed, Spock said, "Doctor, if you can pull yourself away from your...entertainment...we should formulate a plan for our return."
With one arm slipping possessively around Zarabeth, Leonard gave an acerbic smile. "Return? There's no possibility of returnin'. You know that."
Inwardly tensing, Spock stepped closer. "Do I? You are very quick to believe anything this woman tells you. Perhaps she only wants to keep you here."
Leonard's eyes flashed with swift anger, and suddenly he was on his feet. "Are you calling her a liar? Why, you green-blooded, pointy-eared-"
Infuriated, Spock caught him by the shirt and yanked him closer. "I don't like that! I never have! Do you hear me?"
Rather than lashing out, Leonard just studied him. Spock was marginally aware of Zarabeth shrinking in fear. Coming to himself, he released his hold on his stepbrother and retreated to the bed area.
Dinner was an uncomfortable affair. Aside from a few scraps of vegetables, it consisted entirely of meat. That, of itself, Spock could tolerate, for he had learned to eat the flesh of animals during his Earth upbringing. On this occasion, it was the company that he found troubling. Leonard and Zarabeth all but ignored him, sharing humorous remarks and casting tender glances at one another.
Later, when it came time to sleep, Leonard approached him with a fur in hand, and firmly declared, "You'll be bunking out here tonight, Spock. Zarabeth and I..."
Spock's own simmering desire for the woman flared dangerously, and with scarcely a thought, his hands went for his stepbrother's throat.
Leonard's eyes widened. "Spock!" he rasped. "Are you tryin' to kill me? Over a woman? My God, man, you have a wife. Or have you forgotten?"
It seemed to Spock that he was forgetting a good many things. Faced with his own shocking behavior, an answer came to him...and he forced his hands to relax and drop to his sides.
Numbly he said, "Five thousand years in the past. What is it like on our planets now, at this moment? On both Vulcan and Earth, many of our ancestors are barbarians. Irrational, warlike barbarians..."
Frowning, Leonard rubbed at his neck. "We...we're regressing?"
"So it would seem," Spock concurred. "And at such a rate that there clearly is not much time. Do as you please, but as for myself...I must find my way back or die trying."
There was a sound nearby. They turned to find Zarabeth watching them with a stricken look. Clearly, she had overheard.
Leonard went over and gently grasped her arms. "Spock's right. If we stay here, we'll both become savages. We have no choice...we have to get back to our own time." His voice caught. "The truth, now. Do you think it's possible?"
Her eyes fell. Contritely she admitted, "I'm not sure. I only know that I can't go back..."
"Will you show us the portal?"
Tears tracked down her cheeks as she nodded.
And so, bundled in furs, they left the comfort of the cave and headed back out into the blizzard. An icy gale pelted them with snow, but they did not go far before Spock faintly heard the captain's voice calling from a seemingly solid wall of rock.
"Here, Jim!" he shouted back. "We are here!"
"Stop, we've found them," Kirk's voice said to someone. "Hold it steady, Atoz. Spock, can you hear me any better?"
"Yes," Spock replied. "We hear you perfectly now."
"Follow my voice," came the order.
Spock reached out, and his hand easily slipped into the stone. "Here it is! Come, Leonard!" He glanced over at his brother and found him gazing into Zarabeth's sorrowful eyes.
Kirk called out again. "What are you waiting for? Hurry!"
"Leonard," Spock quietly urged. "We must leave now."
Grimly Leonard nodded, drew Zarabeth into a final kiss, and then stepped through the portal with Spock.
A moment later they were all safely aboard the Enterprise, and Spock noticed a welcome easing of primal tensions. Leonard hurried with him and the captain to the bridge-not an unusual state of affairs, for the doctor would want to assess Kirk's condition. The Enterprise left orbit, and they were standing together when Beta Niobe went nova and engulfed Sarpeidon. Spock thought of lonely Zarabeth, already dead for five thousand years. The distant past should lay behind them now, but judging by the grief on his brother's face, Leonard's heart would not soon leave Sarpeidon's ice-bound cave.