I own nothing of/about/having to do with Star Trek, except my own stories; the characters, deep sigh, are on loan.

**I wish to thank in advance, although I usually take the time to do that personally to every person who reviews, any one who takes the time to review. It makes writers like me feel like it was worth the time to know someone enjoyed it.

Chapter 1

Doctor Christine Chapel, ACMO, USS Enterprise, was absorbed in the data padd she held in her hand, busily scrolling down checking her information and didn't see the impact coming.

"Aww! Dammit!" Christine looked up in time to see a spherical leather object spinning away from where it had slammed into her right upper shoulder. "What the-?"

"Sorry, Doc," Lt. Spike O'Connelly huffed out as she raced over to pick up the football. "Really. You okay?"

"I'm fine," muttered the doctor, "but if I get hit again, you're physical is going to be hell. And that's not an empty threat, Lt." Her expression belied the heat in her voice.

Spike flashed Christine a grin while picking up the football and then racing back across the large, expansive grassy field, quickly getting back into the rhythm of the game.

Serves me right, Christine thought, trying to work down here on this beautiful planet. I should be enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. Deciding to do just that, she placed the padd on the grass beside her and lay back staring up at the sky, listening to the sounds of the crew at rest.

For the first time in months, the crew of Enterprise was planet-side, on a class M world-Earthlike world, no less. And the pent-up energy of the youthful crew was finally allowed to be fully unleashed for a while. Physical, rigorous play was the rule of the day as far as Chapel could see. And that was good. The crew needed the release.

She had barely closed her eyes and felt the tension leave her shoulders when she heard her communicator chirp. Tearing it from its holder from against her waist with a sigh, she answered, "Chapel, here."

Captain Kirk's came through the tiny speaker. "Doctor, we've got an injury in your vicinity. An Ensign Sadowski has what may be a broken leg. Rock climbing accident. Please stand by to beam to her location."

"Affirmative, Captain," Grabbing her padd, she barely had time to stand before she was enveloped in the beam.

In an instant, she was standing at the bottom of an incline next to a small group of climbers whose average age couldn't have been over 23. They were in various positions surrounding a petite brown eyed girl who was leaning back against a large rock. Her mouth was twisted into a grimace of pain.

"Okay, guys, someone want to tell me what happened," she asked while already pulling out her medical tricorder. Kneeling down beside the girl, she couldn't see an obvious break, but her tricorder was certainly telling her different.

Several voices clamored at once. "Stop." Chapel stated firmly. Looking up quickly, she picked an ensign she recognized readily, "You, Mirrenov, what happened?"

Mirrenov spoke quickly, "We were trying to access the cavern at the top of the rock climb that several other crew members had told us about. Julia fell from about twenty feet up. It looked like she slid most of the way down"

A hypo hissed against the injured woman's neck. "Okay, Julia, that should make you feel a lot better. Tell me what happened to you." Chapel leaned forward listening while looking into the ensign's eyes as her pain was brought under control.

"It was like Stephen said, Ma'am. A rock gave way under my boot and I couldn't grab hold of anything before I just slid down to the bottom. It was the rocks at the foot of the hill that really hurt." By now the leg was beginning to swell.

Chapel spoke to her and gave her a reassuring smile. "I have no doubt of that. You have a simple break, but this shore leave is over for a while. We've got an appointment in Sickbay." Flipping open her communicator, she said, "Chapel to Enterprise."

Commander Scott's voice answered, "Enterprise here, Doctor."

"Scotty, two to beam up, and have an anti-grav waiting in the transporter room. Got a crewmember with a broken leg."

"Aye, Doctor Chapel. Will do. Scott out."

Christine sat back in her chair. Ensign Sadowski was resting comfortably and the leg was in the bone knitter. Peace and quiet. With most of the crew, including McCoy planet-side, the ship seemed almost deserted. Putting her feet up on her desk, she leaned back closing her eyes.

Deep breaths. In. Out. In. Out. There were few times that an ACMO of a starship had a few minutes of such serenity, and Christine didn't want to waste these. Slowing her breath. Deep. In. Out. In. Out.

"Doctor Chapel." A smooth, deep voice broke her concentration like a bucket of cold water being tossed over her head. She dropped her legs and snapped open her eyes simultaneously.

Commander Spock stood quietly in front of her desk, hands behind his back, looking for all the world like a peaceful Yoda from old Earth cinema.

"Spock. I didn't hear you come in. I was…just taking a minute to enjoy the quiet." Truth told, Christine was a little embarrassed. How long had he been standing there before he had spoken?

The Vulcan/human first officer elevated his trademark eyebrow, "I, too, find it pleasingly less stimulating with fewer personnel to supervise."

Christine couldn't help smiling up at him. "Well, that's one way to put it. I thought you were beaming down with Captain Kirk and Leonard for a little 'back to nature' adventuring."

Spock seemed to consider his words carefully before answering. "After more consideration, I decided that meditation would do more for me in terms of recreation than listening to McCoy after he ingests a great deal of Tennessee whiskey."

She smiled knowingly, "Well, I can understand that." Christine pushed out a chair with one of her feet, "Have a seat," she offered. "I can't offer you the entertainment value of the good doctor, but …"

"Thank you, Dr. Chapel. I would like to know the source of Ensign Sadowski's injury." As first officer, Spock was officially in charge of crew status.

Christine slid her data padd across the desk to Spock. "You can read the details for yourself if you like, but, basically, a simple fracture of the tibia. She had a rock climbing accident but was quick to point out that it 'was the rocks at the bottom' that did the damage."

"No doubt," Spock said wryly as he rapidly perused the padd then placed it back within her reach on the desk. "Youthful exuberance." He almost sighed.

Christine cracked a small smile at him. "Wishing you had exhibited more 'exuberance' or thanking God that you didn't."

Spock opened his mouth to answer that Vulcans didn't exhibit exuberance, his standard reply, when their banter was interrupted Mr. Scott's voice.

"Scott to Sickbay. Doctor Chapel?"

Reaching over and touching the comm unit on the desk, Chapel replied, "Here, Scotty. What's the problem?"

"We've got another patient coming aboard, lass. Captain Kirk said you'd best meet them in the transporter room."

"What? Another broken bone?" She smiled and shook her head at Spock.

"Not this time. Looks like some sort a' ailment."

"Aye, Scotty; I'm on my way. Chapel out." She rose and grabbed her med scanner from the desk in one fluid movement. "Duty calls."

Chapter 2, "Contagion"

Ensign Stephen Mirrenov and his fellow crewmates had finally made it to the cave halfway up the mountain's granite-like face. Unlike the crew members that he had mentioned to Dr. Chapel, he and his friends had actually made it to the cavern.

The cave couldn't have been more than fifteen feet in diameter at the opening. Taking time to scan the stability of the surrounding hillside, Stephen was satisfied of the safety of entering.

The group of three that had finally made the ascent followed Stephen one by one into the depth of the cave. Switching on their illume-lamps on their forehead bands, they made their way carefully inside, picking over fallen rocks and other natural debris.

"Wow. More rocks." Ensign Sarah Johnson was tired, hungry, and hot. Not a good combination. Now it seemed like the arduous climb had been for nothing. "Not even one stinking stalactite or stalagmite…just dust and rock."

"Yeah, I was hoping at least for a small trickle of water to help cool off," groused Ensign Sean Osuko. He sat down on a large boulder, and looked up, throwing the narrow beam of light around the upper reaches of the cave. "No alien treasure in here, Ali Baba."

Stephen's enthusiasm was undaunted. "I didn't say that there'd be treasure, guys, but come on; it's still great to be exploring something—anything—without Commander Scott on our asses, isn't it?"

"I'll give you that," Sarah said, grinning at him, finally. "If I hear, 'Come on laddies and lassies, I could train a good collie better than you bloody lot', I am going to have to run screaming into the halls, begging for the Klingons to take me." They all laughed.

Stephen continued on into the darkness, away from his two companions who had now both sat down and continued mimicking Commander Scott's numerous Gaelic insults to their parentage and performance. The walls of the cave seemed unusually smooth back here. Stephen had been spelunking in many different places, yet he had never seen cave walls look so natural and yet so unnatural at the same time.

Suddenly the beam of his light picked up some type of marking on the wall in front of him. "Hey, I've found something. Get over here," he called out excitedly.

Taking his fingertips, Stephen gently brushed the dust off over what looked like words carved into the cave wall.

"What is it?" Sarah asked. "What are those hieroglyphs?"

"Didn't Mr. Spock say there was no evidence of any civilization ever having been here in our briefing?" Sean asked.

"He did," Stephen answered. "But look. I don't think they're hieroglyphs, though; they look more like petroglyphs, but also like words. It's like no language I've ever seen or studied."

"Weird," Sarah answered. "I think we should let the captain know about this though. It's probably nothing, but…" Her voice trailed off.

"Look," Stephen said, "let's explore a little further before we drag the captain in here or Mr. Spock. We don't want to look like total dumbasses if it's nothing, and if it's something, well…I could use a commendation, especially to offset some of Mr. Scott's reprimands," he added.

This last part elicited a laugh from both his crew mates. "No kidding," Sarah said. "'Lead on, MacDuff.' Damn, that's Scottish, too, huh?"

Her friends laughed as they all three traipsed off into the darkness.

Dr. Chapel reached the transporter room quickly. "Go ahead and erect a containment field. Make sure the bio-filters are at maximum in case we have a crewman who might have picked up an alien bug," she told the transporter tech.

"Yes, Doctor, already on it. Whenever you're ready ma'am."

"Go ahead, Lt. Let's see what we got."

The hum and lights of the transporter quickly faded. Standing on the pad was one sickly looking Lt. O'Connelly?

"Spike!" Christine said, going quickly to the woman who looked as if she might faint, vomit, or both.

Scanning her while her two sickbay techs moved her onto the anti-grav unit to transport her to sickbay, the doctor asked her when her symptoms had started.

"After the football game. I chased the ball into some high weeds and fell into some kinda sticky plant. Got it on my clothes, later I tried dusting it off and it stuck to my palms and I couldn't get it off. Tried washing it off, but I started having vertigo and feeling nauseous."

"Probably an allergic reaction." Looking up at the techs, "Let's get her to Sickbay."

The trio of ensigns had gone deeper into the cave than they'd intended. And found nothing.

"Guys, I think this is seriously a waste of time," Sarah said from behind the two men. "We haven't found a thing except some funny symbols. Let's go back, make a report, and get the hell out of here."

Stephen responded, but not as she expected. "Has either of you noticed that there hasn't been one turn off this main tunnel? Don't you think that's a little odd?"

"Yeah, I noticed that earlier," Sean said. "And the walls are really smooth back here. That's creepy. I'm with Sarah. Let's get out of here and make a report. Let Mr. Spock and his science team get in here and check this out."

It was as if Stephen had only heard part of what his friend had said, "I noticed the smoothness earlier. It is weird. I don't think this is a natural cave at all."

"All the more reason to get out before we contaminate something," Sarah insisted. "Look, if you two want to keep going, go on, but I am turning back." She stopped in the tunnel.

Stephen turned, "How about ten more minutes, then we all go back? Fair enough?"

Sarah looked skeptical, "Fine. Ten minutes, no more."

They went on.

Lt. O'Connelly was looking decidedly better. After treating her for a severe contact allergic reaction, she was sleeping soundly.

Christine was finishing up her notes when Spock came into Sickbay. "I hate to say, it Spock, but we really need to stop meeting like this."

"I have to agree, Doctor Chapel, but such injuries are to be expected. The crew is quite fortunate to have experienced so few incidents during the last 24 hours."

"Oh, I know that. But I did send a warning planet side about the strange plant that Spike encountered. There could have been much more serious side effects, and may be for someone else, such as anaphylactic shock."

Suddenly Spock asked, "Have you eaten yet, Christine?"

Looking up at him, "Are you asking me to dinner, Mr. Spock?" Her eyes glittered with humor.

Without missing a beat, he answered, "Since I am asking you to partake of your evening meal in my presence, then, yes, I am." He looked faintly satisfied with himself.

Grinning openly now, she said, "I'd be delighted. Give me time to wash up and I'll be right with you."

The tunnel ended suddenly. They were walking along, occasionally touching the smooth walls whenever they found more of the strange markings when there was suddenly nowhere else to go.

"Great, just great. All this for nothing." Sarah was frustrated and livid. "Dammit!"

Stephen couldn't believe it. He touched the wall, feeling for anything that might shed some light on why there would be such an abrupt halt to the tunnel. He had been so sure that he would find something. Why, he didn't know. He just was sure.

"Let's go. We've wasted half a day in this place already, and we've really found nothing," Sean added. "We'll do what we discussed earlier, talk to Commander Spock and let him figure it out."

"Still," Stephen insisted, "there has to be more to the tunnel than this." He gestured toward the wall, lit up crazily by their three individual lights spinning around in the darkness.

"Well, there isn't, so, this is it for me guys." Sarah turned and headed down the way they had come. Anger stiffening her stride.

"Come on, Jacob, there's nothing here. Sarah's right. Let's get back." When Stephen didn't turn around or answer, Sean turned and hurried after Sarah.

Stephen looked and acted as though he hadn't even had two companions along. He continued to creep along the wall, centimeter by centimeter, probing. Finally, for some strange reason, he had the desire to place his ear against the stone wall. Was that humming he heard? Damn! Maybe he could get out of engineering altogether with a fantastic discovery under his belt. Wouldn't Captain Kirk have to let him help excavate anything that they might find here? After all it was his idea to come up here, right? It was his keen skills of observation that led him to the petroglyphs. He had been the one to push them to go on until the end of the tunnel. Now he would be the one to find out what the strange sound meant coming from inside the mountain.

He went back to the last carving on the wall. Tracing it with his finger, he flicked out the dust, and then blew into the strange design to get a better look at the detail of it. The humming grew noticeably louder. Stephen began to grow more frustrated by the second.

He had to find a way beyond this wall! There had to be a way. Falling to his knees he began to dig along the base of the wall. Nothing. It was as completely smooth, as if it were one piece. Stephen sat down at the base of the wall. Not giving up, weighing his next moves. The strange humming sound grew louder when he blew on the letters, right? So…he got up and traced the letters over and over. What word could they mean? What sounds could they represent? As a student of engineering he knew that any locking mechanism had to have a trigger. What was this one's?

Suddenly and with force, Stephen spat into the letters. The humming grew much louder. He smiled. He reached down and pulled a small utility tool from his belt. Taking the small knife, he held it above his left thumb and made a slice all the way across his digit. Dark red blood began to seep across the cut. Taking his thumb, he reached into the letters and rubbed the blood into the strange word as hard as he could. The action left the skin of his left thumb rubbed open, and now the blood was dripping down onto the dry dust at his feet making dark colorless droplets.

The humming was now thunderous. It surrounded him, engulfed him. The sound was so great that his body seemed to vibrate with it. There was an ancient groan as the wall in front of him began to crumble, and he instinctively stepped back. When the last stone fell from the wall in front of him, Stephen took a tentative step forward and peered inside. His small pin prick of light didn't do much for the monstrous hold that had opened up before him. It was most abject darkness that he could ever imagine, and a terrible coldness swept through and around him. Ensign Stephen Mirrenov for the first time thought of something besides ambition. He had always thought that it was just an expression, the hairs on the back of your next standing up, but it was true, he realized much too late. The strange humming sound had a form.

Chapter 3, "Contagion"

Christine threw her napkin down onto the shiny surface of the table. "That was either delicious or I was starved."

Spock glanced over at her plate which was completely devoid of food. "How long has it been since you last ate?" he inquired.

"Not since early this morning, before I treated Ensign Sadowski's leg." She killed off the last of her glass of pink lemonade. "Ahh." Sounds of satisfaction emanated from her side of the table.

"Starvation," Spock affirmed. He tiled his head slightly and there was a hint of a smile when he asked, "Are you always so vocal when you enjoying yourself?"

Christine stopped for a split second, not sure she had actually heard him ask what she thought he had. Leaning forward, she whispered, "Always."

The old pre-V-ger Spock might have teased her, but not like post-V-ger Spock. He seemed so comfortable in his own skin, maybe for the first time in his life. Christine enjoyed that about being in his company. She was ecstatic for him. He deserved it.

"I will keep that in mind, Dr. Chapel," Spock said, eyes almost twinkling. If McCoy had been present he would never have teased her so openly. That would have put the good doctor's sense of obnoxious humor on overdrive.

"I am enjoying this quiet, Spock," she said, shifting the subject. "I'm actually getting some work done on some journal articles and not having to take leave time to do it." She paused, not sure how far she wanted to go to testing the waters with this newfound comfort level between them. Plunging ahead, but quietly, she asked, "Would you be interested in going to the ship's vid showing tonight? Probably won't have to fight the crowds."

Without hesitation, Spock asked," What's the feature?"

Christine let out the breath she had been silently holding. "An ancient vid called 'High Noon.' Supposed to be a cowboy classic."

"Well, I am sure I will have to see it again when Captain Kirk returns; that is his favorite ancient cinema," he explained. "However, I would be more than pleased to see it first with you." Again with that smile that melted her knees.

"Great. Meet you there at 1900 hrs?"

"Doctor Chapel, is this a date?"

Christine smiled, "Well, since I am going to be at the vid at the same time you are, and we will be watching together, then, yes, it is."

Spock gathered up his tray and rose. He looked down at her softly and said, "Good. I'll see you there." He walked over, left his tray, and exited the mess hall.

Christine took her things over to the recycle unit, reminding herself repeatedly that he didn't make her knees melt anymore, but they were a little weak.

By the time Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy arrived at the site of the cave-in, Christine and Spock were already there. Christine was treating Ensign Mirrenov's injuries, considering that two of his comrades had been killed in the same accident from which he had escaped, his injuries were slight.

"Tell me what happened, Ensign," Captain Kirk asked. "I'd like to know why the three of you chose to enter a dangerous vicinity, especially when you had been specifically instructed along with all your crewmates to avoid potentially dangerous areas before leaving the ship."

Turning to Christine as she rose, Kirk asked," Doctor, what is his condition?"

She shrugged, as if she didn't understand it. "Extremely lucky, Captain. Minor cuts and bruises."

Kirk continued grilling Ensign Sadowski. "Ensign, why are two of your friends dead yet you are relatively unscathed?"

Mirrenov looked up, his face a picture of misery. "I tried, sir, they just insisted on going further, even after I told them we needed to leave since the rock formations seemed unstable." He tried to speak, tears clouding his eyes, "Sir, I…tried." His voice trailed off in a sob.

McCoy pulled at Jim Kirk's arm, said softly, "He's in shock, Jim. Let Chris take him back aboard; there's nothing more he can do right now until we retrieve the bodies."

"All right, Bones, but I want some damn answers. Something about this doesn't smell right."

"Dr. Chapel, take Ensign Mirrenov back to the ship, and keep me updated on his condition," Kirk's tone was firm. "I want to debrief him fully, as soon as he is in better shape."

"Yes, sir." Helping Mirrenov to his feet, the two made their way a short distance away from the rest of the group and were quickly beamed aboard Enterprise.

Captain Kirk turned back to Spock and McCoy. "Gentlemen, let's get those bodies out of this mountain and find out what the hell happened here."

Spock said, "Yes, Captain," and began to give instructions to one of the excavation teams.

Christine Chapel examined Mirrenov thoroughly and couldn't find more than superficial cuts and abrasions, some bruising on his knees and elbows from where it appeared that he had apparently fallen forward and tried to brace himself. Strangely, once aboard, Chapel didn't think that the ensign exhibited any symptoms of shock. In fact, he seemed pretty calm and collected despite having been witness to the deaths of two of his shipmates.

"Ensign, although I don't find any significant injuries, I'd still like you to remain in sickbay for a while, maybe 12 hours or so, under observation," Chapel said to the young man sitting quietly on the biobed. Dismissing him to the care of one of the nurses, she went to one of the sickbay monitors and began to pull up data from the perscan devices from the three involved in the cave in. What she found was a little surprising.

"Well, I'll be damned," McCoy stated. "That just takes the cake."

Christine responded, "That's what I thought. Not one elevation in Ensign Mirrenov's adrenaline levels. He could have been at a church picnic from the looks of this." She gestured toward the readout with one hand. "I couldn't believe it either. Seems quite inconsistent with what he told the captain about the incident. "

"Quite," McCoy said dryly. "When we got to the bodies, there was so much physical damage from the damn rocks that all we could tell was that they were running hell for leather for the entrance. But they sure didn't make it."

"Their adrenaline levels were off the charts. Osuko's was so high, I wouldn't be surprised if he had died of a heart attack," Christine said.

"Now that we've determined Mirrenov is just peachy, we've got time for autopsies. Why don't we go over the two who didn't lead charmed lives with a fine toothed comb and just see what we can find, missy?" The look McCoy gave her was anything but teasing.

Chapter 4

McCoy and Chapel were both sitting at a small conference table in a sickbay office enjoying cups of coffee when Kirk and Spock entered. Christine noticed that Jim Kirk always entered a room as if the last room that he had been in had been on fire. Some things didn't change with time.

"Jim, Spock, cup of joe," McCoy asked raising his cup. "Finest coffee beans in the galaxy."

But Kirk was in no mood for lightheartedness, even from McCoy. "What are your results, doctors? Did the autopsies shed any light on the deaths of Ensigns Osuko and Johnson?"

Christine intended to let McCoy do the honors since he was more hardened to the effects of Kirk's brusqueness.

Gesturing to the other chairs at the table, "Have a seat, gentlemen, this may take some time." Turning to Christine, McCoy asked her to pull up the details of their autopsies of the two dead crewmen.

"First, both bodies show signs of defensive wounds. Here, here, and here," McCoy said, pointing to the image of both body's graphics, one above the other, on the table's screen. "If you take away the last layers of damage and start at what we'll, for the sake of argument, call 'Layer 1' then it appears that there's been a physical fight. There is significant damage to the backs of the hands, facial bruising, broken ribs that may, and I have to emphasize with all the other damage, may be from before impact from the cave in. And, since the bodies were found face down, some of the internal damage that should have been convex, so to speak, is concave, to put it in layman's terms."

Spock said, "It would be the difference between something hitting them from the front as opposed to hitting them from the back as the weight of the mountain would most certainly have, and since they were facing down most of the damage would be from the back toward the front."

"Which means…?" McCoy was cut short.

"They were hit by something before the cave in—from the front," Kirk finished for him.

McCoy said, "It appears that way. With so much damage," the good doctor shrugged. "There was some hellacious tonnage on those bodies, but one thing I can tell you is they were alive when the ceiling fell in. We'll say, that is, when 'Layer 2' damage occurred. All damage was ante mortem. The cave-in is what did the majority of the damage and ultimately killed them."

Kirk looked to Christine, "Anything to add, Doctor Chapel?"

Looking at Kirk, she replied, "The perscan device readings on both Osuko and Johnson's adrenaline levels were off the scale. Since we haven't pinpointed the exact time of the cave in, it's almost impossible to determine whether it was a response to the impending collapse of the cave or something else, as opposed to our survivor's adrenaline levels which were as steady as the North Star." She continued, "And we both still find the seeming emotional resilience with which Ensign Mirrenov has exhibited quite remarkable. Most humans would be somewhat subdued and emotionally disturbed after witnessing two of his friends die. According to Mr. Scott, before the accident, he seemed somewhat surly and insubordinate, yet Mirrenov's been the perfect patient." It was her turn to shrug, "So his behavior, unless it changes drastically, is not going to be an indicator of emotional trauma, but he could be masking his feelings. We've both recommended, of course, that he see the ship's counselor."

Kirk glanced between the two of them and spoke, "Let's wait for an evaluation from her and see where that might lead us. In the meantime, alert Mr. Scott to look for any changes in Mirrenov's performance and behavior once he reports for duty and to report that to you both immediately. Either Mr. Spock or I will be on the planet's surface for the next few days supervising the excavation teams looking for what would make a seemingly stable geological area suddenly become so unstable."

"What do you mean," Christine asked, this time looking at Spock. "Didn't Ensign Mirrenov say that he tried to talk the other two out of going into the cave because of the tricorder readings indicating the thing was unstable?"

Spock said, "Yes, he did say that, but we found all the tricorders carried by the trio. All of them showed no readings which might indicate danger."

Christine was shocked. "Then that means—"

"That means, Doctor Chapel, that Ensign Mirrenov is lying," Kirk said. "And I'm damn sure going to find out why."

It was 1900 hrs and Christine was exhausted. Two autopsies in 24 hours were weighing heavily on her. That was one duty she had never relished and never would. She had keyed in her ID code to her cabin door when a voice spoke behind her, "I expect that today was exhausting, both emotionally and physically." It wasn't a question. And it was sure as hell fact.

Christine turned and looked at Spock, almost at the same eye level. She gave him a tired, wan smile. "It was."

"Have you eaten yet?"

"Haven't had a chance. Once we finished the documentation, I was too exhausted to go to the mess."

"If you are not too tired, I could return with something for both of us," he said.

"That should give me just enough time for a shower and a change of clothes. I'll be waiting."

Spock turned to go then stopped suddenly. "What would you prefer?"

She smiled at him, a little enervated suddenly, "Surprise me."

Stephen Mirrenov had finally been allowed to return to his cabin to rest. His roommate was on duty so that left him some much longed for privacy. He was much relieved to be alone. Ever since the accident on the planet, the engineering ensign had not felt like himself. For instance, he really wasn't exaggerating when he told Dr. Chapel that he couldn't remember anything before the accident. Which, he felt, she seemed to doubt. After all, he didn't even have a concussion, so why couldn't he remember? Stephen felt like they all looked at him like he had caused the damn collapse. Hell, he was a victim, too.

He had deliberately left off telling the doctors that he honestly couldn't remember what Johnson and Osuko had looked like. Stephen knew that was odd. Other crew members came up to him frequently and expressed their condolences and said it must be hard losing both his best friends at one time. Shouldn't he remember what they looked like? Maybe it was some kind of emotional trauma. He would—he might—ask that counselor woman tomorrow about it when he was scheduled to see her. For now, though, he logged onto his computer terminal and referenced the crew manifests for holo-images of his dead buddies.

Christine had changed into soft, loose pants and an over-sized shirt with Mars Vikings emblazoned across the front. She heard the chime signal that someone was waiting, and crossing to the door, opened it to find Spock there, arms loaded.

"Oh, let me help," she reached and took some food, then hurried to put the extra warm containers down on the table. "Smells great!"

Spock set the remainder of the food down. "I hope it is to your liking. The mess special tonight was an Earth Cajun vegetarian dish. I added extra vegetables, as well."

There was a short awkward moment when they both stood there eyeing each other. Many years had brought them to this point. Many times before, Christine had thought they'd never be friends, much less, well, whatever they were now. Certainly nothing romantic had occurred between them, but since their shared experience on the planet Rikidin, they had seemed to be something more than friendship brewing between them.

"Shall we eat," Spock finally broke the silence, "before it gets cold?"

"Yes, please." Christine sat at the table and Spock sat to her left.

After a few minutes, the doctor came up for air. "Delicious. Good choice."

Spock gave her one of those rare smiles. "I can tell, and I am glad you approve." His eyes were a warm, chocolate brown that seemed full of good humor and Christine felt the room grow very warm. Maybe it was just her. Looking down, she quickly took a sip of her tea, and managed to smile. What was wrong with her?

"What is the plan of the evening?" Spock asked.

"Excuse me?" She felt the heat rush to her cheeks. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, do you have something planned for this evening?" he said. Spock appeared to take in every detail of her. Christine felt herself blush. His eyes seemed to physically touch her. He seemed to absorb every detail, from the silky strands of her hair, pulled back into a loose bun, to the deep blue of her eyes. "I was hoping we could spend some time together, but I know you are tired from your work today."

Christine looked into his familiar alien visage, and unconsciously licked her lower lip before she said, "I am not too tired to sit and chat, if that is sufficiently entertaining, Commander Spock." It was her turn to elevate an eyebrow.

"Dr. Chapel, I would find discourse with you this evening most pleasing, I believe," Spock responded, his voice almost a whisper.

Christine decided instantly that she would find discourse with him most pleasing as well.

Stephen Mirrenov came alert with a start. The last thing he remembered was logging onto his computer terminal, and he now was in the ship's library. What the hell? Mirrenov broke out into a scared, cold sweat. Looking around, he found he was alone. Checking the nearest wall chronometer, he discovered he had lost three standard hours. What was happening to him? He headed for the door to the passage outside the library. As he raised his right hand to wipe the sudden perspiration from his forehead, he noticed there was something on his sleeve. Pulling the sleeve tighter and raising his arm, he stopped in his tracks. Touching the stain with his other hand, he pulled it away as if he'd been burned. Mirrenov felt suddenly nauseous. He started to wipe the blood off his left hand back onto his pants but he stopped, and he turned back to find the nearest lavatory. Once inside, he attempted to wash it off until he could get back to his quarters where he could change.

What had he done? What had he done for three hours? Where had the blood come from? It didn't seem to be his own. After washing all that he could away, Stephen rinsed his face in the sink and then threw up into the toilet.

Chapter 5

Disclaimer: I own very little. And Star Trek certainly isn't mine.

The med-tech on duty was nearly dozing when the perscan device signaled an emergency. Racing to one of the sickbay consoles, he pulled up the information on the alarm. Eyes widening, he hit the communications port opening a channel to the doctor on call.

Christine Chapel had been abed a half an hour when she was awakened by a call from sickbay. Reaching out with her eyes still half closed she palmed the comm and opened the channel. "Chapel here. Report."

"Dr. Chapel, this is Lt. Roberts, I have a perscan device that is signaling total biological failure as of 0110."

Instantly coming awake, Christine responded, "Who and have you dispatched an emergency med team and security to the location of the alarm?"

"Yes, ma'am, an EMT unit is on the way to Shuttle Bay I, as is Security. It's Lt. Bonita Mendoza."

"I'm on my way. Notify Commander Spock, as well."

"Yes, ma'am. Roberts out."

Chapel was up, dressed, and headed down the passageway to a lift in seven minutes flat.

Shuttle Bay I should have been nearly empty, instead it was a hive of activity. Three medical personnel were huddled around a figure lying almost behind the shuttlecraft Cairo. Standing nearby were two security officers.

"Report," Chapel almost barked as she hit the floor beside the EMT's.

Lt. Suran quickly hit the high spots. "Lt. Mendoza. She's dead ma'am. Her neck appears to be broken."

You got to hand it to the Vulcans, Christine thought, they've got a real knack for understatement.

Lt. Mendoza's neck wasn't just broken; it looked like somebody had tried to wring her head off; the dead woman's face appeared to be almost completely turned around backwards. Blood had pooled around the woman's head and the upper portion of her body where both the vertebrae in her upper neck and the bones in her throat had been torn asunder and perforated her skin as her head had been violently wrenched around.

Christine couldn't help but mutter, "Damn," as she surveyed the dead lieutenant's body. She knew it was useless, and that more sophisticated instruments had already ascertained the certainty of death, but the doctor instinctively put her fingers on the woman's throat, or what was left of it. She didn't see Commander Spock until he crouched beside her.

"She's dead, Spock. And not for very long. It looks like it was brutal and fast. Whoever did it was damn strong."

"I have already instructed security teams to secure the shuttle bay area and to take genetic samples from everyone who was present when the body was discovered—including the medical personnel to eliminate them from possible suspects later."

Christine answered, "I suggest we get Lt. Mendoza's body to sickbay as quickly as possible to look for any forensic evidence that might help us find out who killed her."

"I concur. I will also alert Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy," he said. Looking up he saw the anti-grav unit waiting to take the body to sickbay and stood to move out of the way. Spock reached down and gently pulled Christine Chapel to her feet beside him.

While the body was being loaded, she turned toward him. The intimacy that had begun to grow was still between them, and he was quite aware of her closeness. Spock was suddenly filled with an illogical need to protect her. Maybe not so illogical; Spock didn't believe in coincidences and three crewmen dead in less than that many days wasn't just illogical; it was a of pattern, but figuring it out could be challenging.

Christine lowered her voice and said to him, "This was the result of unbridled rage. Whoever did this could have torn her entire head off with little extra effort. So why did he or she stop?" She wiped a hand across tired eyes. "God, I was hoping I wouldn't have to do another autopsy again for a long time after today. They're just kids, dammit, but even if they weren't…."

Spock wanted to say something to comfort her, but there was no more time for words. The body was loaded, covered, and secured. Christine escorted it out, headed for sickbay.

Captain Kirk was not a happy man. Three dead crew. One obviously murdered, and two dead under strangely suspicious circumstances. He was pacing sickbay like a caged tiger waiting for McCoy and Chapel to finish autopsying the body of Mendoza.

Spock sat waiting patiently, from all outward signs, since entering the room a few minutes before. He had been examining evidence relating to the scene of the murder all night. Finally, he spoke, "Jim, I understand that you are disturbed by the death of Lt. Mendoza, but you cannot rush the results by your refusal to rest."

Glaring at his friend, yet yielding to the wisdom in his words, Kirk sat down across from his first officer. "Why is it taking so long? They've been in at it for five hours."

"I don't know, but I am sure that they would allow you to observe them if you so choose," Spock said.

Kirk gave him a 'thanks, but I'll pass' look. "I'll wait."

"I am sure they're giving great attention to detail," Spock said. "However, I do have some news. One of the excavation teams has found what looks like some type of symbols on one of the cave walls. I had them beam the fragments up to one of the labs. After we get the autopsy results, I plan to examine them myself."

"Good. So far what little we've managed to find isn't helping us. What did you find on the security recordings of Shuttle Bay I?"

Spock folded his hands in front of him, as if preparing for a lecture. "Very little. Difficult as it may be to believe, someone on this ship bodily picked up Lt. Mendoza, came exceedingly close to twisting her head off, and then managed to throw her approximately 20 meters where she impacted against the Cairo. All of this 'activity' took place in the places not covered by recording devices and without being witnesses by anyone else. That in itself is relative. The murderer had to have knowledge of which areas were and were not monitored by security, manned or by device."

"May I ask where our survivor Mirrenov was when the attack on Mendoza occurred?"

"In what way do you think Mirrenov is connected to the murder?" Spock asked him, intrigued.

Kirk answered, "Call it 'gut instinct.'"

At that moment, McCoy and Chapel walked into the office. Spock noted that they both looked weary. Dr. McCoy looked all of his years, and Christine had dark circles under her eyes.

Captain Kirk waited until they were seated; he too knew the last two days had been extremely arduous for them.

Christine Chapel looked at McCoy who tightened his lips and shook his head slightly. She looked across the table at Kirk and Spock. Her expression was professional and grim.

"We have spent hours going over every centimeter of Lt. Mendoza's body. There is not as much as one skin flake from another person. Not one fingerprint. Nothing to help indicate who might have done this," she paused, drawing in a deep breath. "The amount of strength required to do what was done to her is tremendous. Not your average human crew member that's for certain. Maybe a Vulcan or another alien species, but all were accounted, for if you go by the perscan devices on their belts. That's all we can tell you, gentlemen. The who and why is up to you," she said, getting quiet.

"Thank you," Kirk said. "I am ordering both of you to get some rest. Unless there's another emergency, I don't want to see either of you back in for at least 12 hours. Understood?" He rose, and said, "Commander, you're with me." Together Spock and Kirk left to continue their investigation.

Spock had been running the strange symbols through the database for 22.63 minutes when he found a match. He doubled checked his results, then triple checked. Then he called Kirk on the bridge.

Kirk was incredulous. "It's what language"?

Spock said it again, "It's Aramaic, an ancient Earth language. The dating of the inscription is speculative at best. The instruments could date the rock, which correlated to the age of the planet itself, not the inscription, per se. It is approximately 2300 years old."

"That's …incredible!" Kirk finally said. "How could that be? Any theories, Spock?"

"None as of yet. I have too little data. I do suggest that we continue to search the cave ruins and see if there is more yet to be found, however, I haven't told you the translation."

"The translation? They aren't just letters? What does it say?" Kirk asked, eyes narrowing.

"It appears to be a warning."

"What kind of warning? To stay out of the cave?"

"No a warning of what is in the cave. Unless there is more that we haven't found yet, it simply translates to, 'Outcast.'

Chapter 6

I own nothing concerning Star Trek, except my memories and ideas.

Spock personally supervised most of the excavation process the next day. He proceeded as if he were working an archeological site. In fact, he brought down several science teams to assist with the work, yet there were no other discoveries to show for the extra effort.

Mirrenov was having more frequent and longer periods of time for which he couldn't account, and when he was himself, his mind seemed muddled and his body tired. Stephen hadn't given much thought to the murder of Lt. Mendoza. Frankly, he wasn't aware of much outside of his own sphere. Maintaining an atmosphere of normalcy was getting more and more difficult. He hadn't bungled enough to gain Commander Scott's notice, but he felt that it was only a matter of time before his commanding officer did.

Christine had slept for nine hours straight. Rolling over onto her back, she stretched out like a cat and wiggled her toes. Quiet could be so wonderful at times. Well, relative quiet. There was always the subtle hum of the ship, but that wasn't noise to her. She likened it to living next to the ocean; after a while a person just didn't hear it anymore because it became such a part of their daily existence. It was only when it was absent that it became noticeable.

Lt. Spike O'Connell was frustrated and angry enough to kick a baby rabbit. The murder investigation was going nowhere—fast. No clues, no motive, and no damn suspect. The only thing she did have going for her was the allergic reaction that she'd had on the planet had cleared up super fast after Dr. Chapel had given her some hypos in sickbay. Maybe she'd volunteer to work the surface for a while, security detail at the dig.

The transporter beam released the Dr. Chapel and Lt. O'Connell into bright sunlight. Spike moved off to find her security duty posting. Christine stood still for a moment, taking in the dig. She was amazed at how much rock had been moved, and it might be tough work, but there couldn't be a more beautiful day for it. Ambient temperature hovered around 78 degrees Fahrenheit, a slight breeze, and a beautiful blue sky. The doctor walked over to the edge of the mountainside and shielding her eyes with her right hand, she marveled at the incredibly earthlike vista before her. Christine felt a small twinge of homesickness for earth which she hurriedly squelched; too far away and too long away for that right now.

Turning her attention to the group of red and blue clad people behind her, it was surprisingly easy to pick out Spock. Christine didn't know if that said more for his presence or her presentiment for where he would be. At the moment he was deep in conversation with two science crewmen who were showing him something they had found in the wreckage. As if sensing her eyes on him, he looked up and his eyes met hers. She smiled and moved toward him through the rubble and people.

"How goes the quest?" she asked, indicating the activity surrounding them.

"I fairly certain that one of the science teams has found another piece of stone with more symbols carved on it. That particular area has been assigned additional personnel to help with the search," Spock answered. Changing topics, he asked, "What brings you to the surface, Doctor?"

"Cabin fever," she answered, smiling. "Actually, just plain and simple curiosity. You have your work cut out for you here, searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack."

"Yes, there are tons of rock and soil here and unless the searchers are extremely careful, they may very well overlook any more of the symbols, and there may not be any more to find. Any trace of them may have been destroyed, broken into a hundred different pieces from the collapse of the cavern."

"You may be right, Commander, but I have a feeling that if anyone can find them you can," she answered.

Spock looked at her strangely quirky smile and was about to respond when his attention was drawn to one of the science team with whom he'd been speaking with earlier.

"Mr. Spock! Over here." The ensign signaled his whereabouts to the first officer with an arm wave.

Christine accompanied Spock over to the young man. He was holding out a chunk of stone around five inches in circumference and depth, on it was more of the strange symbols that had been etched on the other broken remnants.

"Very good, Ensign. Mark the location with a small transponder, and continue with your efforts," Spock said, taking the stone from him.

Christine looked at the strange markings, and asked, "Is it the same language as the others?"

"Unknown. But if I had to hazard a conclusion, I would have to say no. There are some similarities, yet …. The only way to be sure is to get it back up to the ship and run more tests." Looking at her, he asked, "I assume that you'll be here a while longer?"

Lifting her face up toward the sun, she replied, "I have a little break and I think I'll take it in the sunshine. See you later?"

Giving her a slight twist of his lips, Spock only answered two words, "Affirmative, Doctor."

Chapter 7

The sunshine felt good against her skin. Christine lay back onto the grass; the only sounds she heard were the distant echoes of voices from the dig site.

Her mind was a trifle calmer than it had been. The ACMO had beamed down from the ship to put some distance between herself and the horror of the past couple of days. When she had first tried to relax, Christine's mind had been a maelstrom of emotions as she rehashed the discoveries of the bodies and the autopsies that followed. And one of them a murder.

It was hard for her to conceive of any of the crew of the Enterprise being a killer, but it was obvious that there was one, however, the damage on the victim was extensive and could indicate more than one person was involved. It just didn't make any sense to her at all. But then, murder didn't have to be rational that was for damn sure. In fact, it was almost a given that it wasn't.

************************************************************************************X

Christine awoke with a start. It took a few seconds in order for her to get her bearings and remember where she was. The planet's sun was sinking on the horizon which explained the chilliness of the air. Catching movement out of the corner of her eye, she jumped nervously.

The commander was seated beside her with his legs pulled up and his arms resting on them. He looked like he'd been there a while.

"I did not mean to frighten you," Spock's deep baritone voice assured her. Looking more intently at her, he added, "Christine, are you all right?" She was paler than normal and her jumpiness was out of character.

"I was having a nightmare," she said. Christine abruptly pushed herself up into a sitting position.

Spock noticed she still looked a little disoriented. "Technically, since it is still light out, would it be a 'nightmare'?"

The doctor appreciated his attempt at distracting her, smiled a little. "No, I suppose that would just make it a bad dream. But it was bad." She shivered. "It's no wonder with what I was thinking about before I fell asleep."

"Ah. That would be the murder aboard Enterprise, I assume. I have a tendency not to dream, but I can understand why yours would be particularly distressing," Spock answered. "You and Dr. McCoy did have to deal more directly with the consequences of the violence."

Christine was facing forward, watching the sun turn the distant horizon into a riotous blaze of oranges and reds. Spock was facing the same direction, but his attention was on her, observing how the red hues played over her hair and pale features. He noticed there were tension lines around the edges of her mouth.

"Christine." Spock said only that. And waited.

Without turning, she spoke as if to the colors. "I have seen much more havoc, damage, and trauma, whatever the hell you want to call it, wreaked on any number of beings. I've seen them die from their injuries." She swallowed hard, finally turned to face him. "It's just the violence of it, the pure rage. The knowledge that someone did this with his or her bare hands is so…." She didn't finish. She just looked back into the sunset away from him. She shivered again involuntarily.

Spock took two fingers and placed them gently on the side of her chin, turned her face back to his. "It is hard to imagine: how one sentient being could look into the eyes of another and yet still take a life," Spock said. "It is disturbing for me, Christine, and I did not have to take the pieces and try to make sense of exactly how it was accomplished. You would be abnormal in human terms if you were not somewhat distressed." The look on his face was compassionate and understanding.

"Thank you," she said.

Spock appeared puzzled, "For what?"

Christine didn't answer; instead, she posed a question of her own. "What are you doing here?"

"I was on the planet when you arrived," he said smoothly.

"That's not what I mean and you know it. Here." She pointed down to where he was sitting. "Beside me, instead of back with your minions."

Spock elevated his eyebrow, "My 'minions' as you incorrectly term them, are capable of working without my supervision. I was….perplexed….when you failed to return after 2.3 hours. Since there has been violence, and I am your commanding officer, I felt it was my duty to check on your whereabouts."

Christine could swear he looked faintly smug after that explanation. She smiled softly at him. Still Spock, after all these years. It was secure and good to know some things, some people, didn't change—much.

"Thank you, again."

This time, Spock didn't pretend to not understand.

.

Chapter 8

Scotty was livid. There was simply no other way to describe it. "Denton, assume Mirrenov's post." This was the last time he would allow the man to get by with being tardy for his duty. He was going to find the lad and when he did, dead friends or no, there was 'gonnae be hell ta pay'.

*************************************************************************X

The stench hit Spock's sensitive olfactory system before he got within 75 meters of Mirrenov's quarters. He found Commander Scott and two security guards waiting for him in the hall. All of them had on filtration masks. Without waiting for him to ask, Scotty handed one to the Vulcan, who took it slipping it on hastily.

"When the lad didna show up for duty, I came here looking for him before I notified either you or the captain. This is how I found it," Scott explained.

"I know it smells like somethin' rotted in here, Mister Spock, but we've done a cursory check and cannae find anythin," Scotty said from behind his mask. Spock noticed the Chief Engineer's eyes still watered a bit from being in the room earlier.

Spock stepped into the Mirrenov's quarters. The room was a wreck: clothes strewn everywhere, food half-eaten, beds overturned. "Where is Ensign Mirrenov's roommate?" he asked.

Scotty said, "I sent a security guard to his assigned duty post for the day. The lad ne'er showed up. Mr. Spock, what is that god-awful smell?"

"That I can't answer Commander Scott. It bears a striking resemblance to rotted meat," Spock said, or a dead body, he thought, but didn't say aloud. "For now, seal off the cabin, then get a science team in here to go over every millimeter of this area. The most pressing order of business at hand is to find Ensign Mirrenov and his roommate as soon as possible. I will notify the captain."

******************************************************************************X

Christine Chapel walked into the main conference room off the main bridge. She was early so she hadn't expected anyone to be there, but wasn't surprised when she saw Spock seated at a computer screen, his face a tableau of intense concentration. She sat down at the conference table across and one seat down from where Captain Kirk would sit. Leonard's place would be at one side of Kirk, and, as always, Spock would be on the other.

Christine didn't speak not wanting to interrupt Spock's concentration, but Leonard McCoy, walking through the door within a few minutes of her, felt no such compunction.

"Well, hello, fancy finding the two of you here alone," McCoy oozed. "Shall I exit and leave a romantic moment alone?" He smiled from ear to ear, ignoring the warning glare from his fellow doctor.

Spock didn't even glance up at him. "Doctor, really, is that the best you can come up with after all this time? Quite elementary school."

"One takes one's shots, where one finds them," he quipped. "I find mine still like to target Vulcans."

"Vulcans or a particular Vulcan, Doctor?" Still Spock didn't deign to look up.

"Well, what are friends for Spock if not to make a person feel better?"

"I assume that 'person' is you, Doctor McCoy," Spock replied.

Christine rolled her eyes. God, Leonard could be so predictable. "I swear, Len, if I was your primary school teacher, I'd mark you down for 'doesn't work well with others'."

"Well, now, darlin', that depends on the other," McCoy said wiggling his eyebrows suggestively at her. She couldn't help bursting out with laughter.

The conference room door swished open again, and the humor faded. Captain Kirk came in, followed by Lt. Commander Chekov, Security Chief; Commander Scott; and Dr. Amanda Russell, Mirrenov's counselor.

Kirk took his place at the head of the table, folded his hands, and said, "Mr. Spock, would you please bring everyone up to speed on our current situation involving Ensign Mirrenov?"

"Yes, Captain," he addressed the assemblage, the log recording began automatically. "As you all know, Ensign Mirrenov was involved in a cave-in on the planet's surface approximately three standard days ago. Two of his friends and shipmates were killed. Based upon the autopsy results of Ensigns Johnson and Osuko and tricorder readings left at the site, there have been questions raised as to the validity of Mirrenov's truthfulness surrounding the event. Also, based on the medical observations and advice of Dr's Chapel and McCoy, Ensign Mirrenov was assigned a psychological evaluation and counselor, Dr. Russell. Commander Scott, his immediate commanding officer, was also instructed to contact Captain Kirk or myself if anything about the ensign's behavior became unusual. As of 0600 hrs, Ensign Mirrenov and his roommate, Ensign Watts, failed to show up for their respective posts.

Commander Scott went to Ensign Mirrenov's quarters to attempt to locate his missing crewman, and, finding his cabin in disarray, contacted Security and myself, First Officer Spock. Neither Ensign Mirrenov nor Ensign Watts has been located aboard Enterprise."

Spock paused momentarily allowing the information to be processed by all those present.

Captain Kirk looked from face to face in the room, "As you can see ladies and gentlemen, we appear to have a problem." Looking down the long table at Dr. Russell, he asked, "Is there anything you can tell us, Doctor, which might help us locate our missing crewmen."

Unaccustomed to being summoned before the captain, Dr. Russell was, nevertheless, composed. "There is very little I am allowed to reveal to you, Captain. I can, however, say that while under my care I never saw any indication of suicidal or homicidal tendencies in Ensign Mirrenov's behavior."

"That's all well and good, Doctor Russell, but I have two men missing and I might need a little more to go on than that," Kirk stated flatly, irritated with this sidestep around what he really wanted to know—which was everything she did.

McCoy interceded, "Captain Kirk, Dr. Russell is under oath to protect the confidence of Ensign Mirrenov or anyone else under her care, and you know that as well as I do."

"What I know, people, is that I have two missing crew on top of three dead crew, and I don't have any damn answers. Hell, I don't even know where to start." Captain Kirk looked ready to blow himself.

"Captain," Dr. Russell started, "if I may?"

"You may, Doctor, you may!"

"Ensign Mirrenov's only abnormality, if one would couch it that way, would be that he seemed too well adjusted to what had happened to him. He said the right things; he didn't send up any red flags, he seemed….well, normal. Which in itself was abnormal. Stephen should have been sad, depressed, or both, but he just wanted to move on like it never happened. Honestly, Captain Kirk that is all I feel comfortable saying." The counselor looked as if she wished the deck would open up and swallow her.

Christine spoke, "That basically coincides with our observations in Sickbay. He was polite, courteous, and seemed content once he was back aboard the ship. Although 'content 'may be an odd way to describe him. He was anxious to get out of Sickbay. But as Dr. Russell said, Mirrenov was 'abnormally normal."

Kirk turned to Scott, "How about his performance in Engineering, Scotty?"

"Sir, if anythin' the lad's work ethic improved til the day he took a runner. The reason I was so angry at his tardiness was that combined with his previous times late to his post, it was so bloody numerous. Bad for morale, it was," Scotty said.

"Spock, what, if anything, was found inside Mirrenov's quarters?" Kirk asked, frustration written on his face. Kirk was a man of action, and all this "nothingness" and "normalness" was driving him up a wall.

Spock looked a little uncomfortable for a split second before answering. "Ensigns Mirrenov's and Watts' quarters contained nothing unusual that one would not expect to find in a junior officer's quarters. The smell that was emanating from them was distinctly unpleasant, and resembled the odor of decomposing flesh, however, we could find no source for the odor, nor could we discern why the smell suddenly disappeared."

There was silence in the room until Kirk spoke, quietly, and with frustration in his voice. "So. We have an 'abnormally normal' miraculous survivor who is missing. Along with his roommate-who had a sterling record from what I have been told by Watts commanding officer. Both are sans perscan devices, of course. Ship's computer doesn't read them as being aboard, according to Chekov's report from before our meeting. Yet no shuttles taken or unauthorized beam outs have been reported. We have smells of putrefaction which appear to emanate from nothing. An ancient language used on Earth is carved in stone on a planet which has no previous records of civilization, according to our data, which spells out a single word. And I still have three dead crew with no explanation as to how or why. Does that about sum it up, ladies and gentlemen?"

Spock broke the uncomfortable silence in the room, "Captain, I do have one suggestion to offer."

Captain Kirk slightly tilted his head at Spock, with an expression that seemed to say 'and you waited till now?' "By all means, Mr. Spock."

"I suggest that while Commander Chekov and his security teams continue to search the ship for the missing men a team of linguists continue to work on the rest of the broken fragments, but I would also like to delve into any historical references in Earth history to the words and language found here."

"To what purpose, Spock," Kirk's interest was piqued.

"Simply a different avenue of looking at the problem, sir. The single word that we do have 'Outcast' would seem to suggest that someone or something was present on the planet's surface at some point. Logic dictates that the word did not carve itself."

"Are you suggesting an alien presence or a human presence?" Kirk was leaning toward Spock as he asked his question.

"Unknown, Captain."

For the first time, Kirk felt they might be onto something. "Very well, Mr. Spock. Get on it. Everyone….keep me appraised of any new developments. Dismissed."

Chapter 9

"You shouldn't be here."

Christine Chapel didn't need to turn around to know who was speaking. "Have I been banned from this particular observation alcove, and I didn't get the memo?"

"You know very well what I mean, Doctor Chapel," Spock's tone was all business. "This is not a well-traveled area at this time of night and with two crewmen already missing, I don't believe the captain would think it very prudent for you to be here alone."

"You're probably right," Christine was too tired to argue. She had gotten off shift and left Sickbay in the company of one of the nurses, but after they had eaten, hadn't wanted to go back to her quarters just yet. She rose to her feet and turned to the first officer. "Sorry, Mr. Spock, I wouldn't want to upset the captain."

He studied her, saying nothing, then added, "The first officer doesn't think it is very prudent either, Christine, and he might be more 'upset' than the captain."

She smiled. "Well, since the first officer is unfamiliar with being 'upset' and probably wouldn't like the connotations of that word being applied to him, would he be inclined to escort the doctor back to her quarters safely so that she could remain in his good graces?"

Spock's stern visage softened. "The first officer is both logical and gracious and I believe he would be so inclined."

They fell into step and headed down the corridor toward her quarters, oblivious to the figure hiding in the shadows at the front of the room.

******************************************************************************X

Christine handed Spock a glass of chilled water with a twist of Earth lemon as she sat down beside him on the sofa in her quarters.

"How's your history research going?" she asked.

"I have discovered some interesting information relating to the term "outcast" as it was used in ancient Earth history, particularly in the regions where the language Aramaic was spoken. I was also able to partially piece together what I believe to be another word from the wreckage of the cave in, which has been rather intriguing, as it also relates to a certain type of outcast, however…" Spock looked decidedly uncomfortable suddenly.

"What? What did you find?"

"According to what I have read thus far, the words in the cave would seem to point to some type of 'demon.' Something that with the consent of a host, usually through some method of deception, perhaps promising something that would of course, never come to pass. They bring about pain and destruction, and ultimately the destruction, either physically or spiritually—or both-of the host. In recent time, modern studies have decided that brain dysfunctions of some sort probably cause the types of manifestations that used to be termed as 'demons' but I cannot rule out the possibility that some type of alien may have been imprisoned there for the protection of others. Why the word would be in Aramaic is beyond me. I have found no evidence to support any type of research or exploration beyond cursory mapping of this system by the Federation."

"Are you suggesting that Mirrenov because he was the sole survivor, no pun intended, of the cave in, somehow discovered this being and released it, and now it is in him?"

"There is that possibility," Spock conceded, "albeit a farfetched one."

"So what does that do to Mirrenov's vital signs? Why haven't we been able to detect him aboard ship? And the smell that came from his quarters?"

"I do not know as of yet. My research continues. Legend and records, sketchy as they are, do seem to indicate that there needs to be some type of host. Since these types of beings are non-corporeal, they would need a living or organic medium in which to reside. Science teams did not find evidence of another body in the debris, but until now, we weren't looking for anything organic that could possibly contain such a creature. There is some anecdotal evidence that suggests the 'demon' might be physically possible to detect with some modifications of the electromagnetic spectrum. The creature may be able to manipulate energy and may be more powerful and may understand more about human beings than we are aware of, hence the alien's incredible ability to manipulate."

Christine's eyes were alight with curiosity and something else which Spock couldn't define. She asked, "What exactly does it do physically to the host? If it uses it up, wouldn't the host that originally contained it be dead or useless by now?"

"My studies appear to indicate that missing memories, super-human strength, and awareness of knowledge or languages that a host may not have had previously may be present. The strange smell that we detected in person, but could not measure, may very well be part of the same creature's effect on Ensign Mirrenov or perhaps some type of 'signature' associated with the creature itself," Spock paused. "I might also speculate that our inability to detect his physical presence may due to an altered physiological structure literally at a cellular level."

"What has the captain said about your findings?"

Spock said, "You are the first person to whom I have revealed my data. I was on my way to inform him when I saw you in the observation alcove. My attention was diverted momentarily by your….vulnerability at the time. "

Christine noticed that he didn't seem embarrassed to admit such a thing. For some reason it pleased her immensely. "Again, thanks for pointing out to me that I should have been more aware of my….vulnerability."

"I would be most… displeased if something were to happen to you, Christine. This is the second time that I have been aware of in which you were alone and could have been in danger. I would like you to give me your word that you will be more careful. Obviously, Mirrenov, in any form, must be considered dangerous, and until he is located, we must all be more alert to our surroundings."

Christine was taken aback by the intensity in his dark eyes and the unspoken emotion in his voice. "I give you my word. Good enough?" She smiled, meeting his eyes.

Spock laid his hand over hers where it lay resting on the cushion between them. They hadn't even been remotely close to touching since he had entered her quarters, but he wanted to feel her skin beneath his, if only to illogically to reassure himself that she was fine.

Glancing at the chronometer on her desk, Christine looked at him and asked what she had never dared, pushed further than she had ever dared push, and said, "It's only a couple of hours until morning duty shift begins. I would like you to stay until then. The captain could probably use a couple more hours rest, speaking as a physician, of course." She felt herself holding her breath, waiting for him to refuse.

He did not.

*********************************************************************************X

Chapter 10

Spock watched the rhythmic rise and fall of Christine's breathing. He was still and that's all he concentrated on for a long time; it was mesmerizing. She looked so quiet and peaceful, unlike a few hours before when he had been explaining some of what he had discovered in his examination of the legends and history surrounding the ancient words, and what they might denote. There was more than scientific curiosity in her eyes. Something beyond the gruesome murder of Lt. Mendoza was disturbing her. Something she didn't want to talk about yet.

Spock accepted her reticence, and instead of pushing her into revealing what was bothering her, when she became finally too tired to stay awake, he had suggested they lie down and rest until he had to leave to report to the captain. The tension had slowly left her body and now she slumbered peacefully as he lay watching her. Spock really didn't know why he was so fascinated by something so routine, but he was. This woman was so different from the nurse who had at times seemed so unsure of herself around him during their first five year deployment. But then again, so was he. He could not imagine himself doing this then, allowing himself to become close to her and not feeling he had to sacrifice the Vulcan part of himself to do it.

His exposure to V-ger had changed him in ways that he was still discovering.

Christine shifted and turned into him, her head resting on his arm. She seemed to shiver suddenly and need his warmth. He offered it to her. Spock placed his other arm over her and his higher body temperature seemed to soothe her restlessness. He realized with a slight shock that this is what it was like to be needed for himself, not for his expansive scientific knowledge or his enduring logic, but for simply who he was. He remembered what she had told him many years ago under the influence of the Psi 2000 virus: she loved both the human and the Vulcan Mr. Spock. He had never forgotten it because it had cut to the very heart of how he had felt all his life. It was as if she had seen his inner warring and accepted him for who he was regardless of what he wanted to show to the universe at large. For a person as complex as Spock, it was dazzling in its simplicity; he couldn't fathom how he hadn't understood it until now.

******************************************************************************X

Four hours later:

Christine pulled the pillow over and sniffed. Okay, that is just too high school, she thought to herself. Still, it did smell like him. She smiled a silly grin, after all, a woman her age! They hadn't slept together, in the Biblical sense, she thought wryly-considering their subject of the early morning hours—but Spock had lain with her until she fell asleep. The discussion about Mirrenov had disturbed her more than she had been willing for Spock to see, so his staying had been a comfort.

Unlike him, she had been raised as a Christian, which was odd enough in this day and age, and she couldn't bring herself to tell him that in her mind maybe there was such a thing as a 'demon.' After all, who could truly define evil? You could call behavior 'evil', but these days that word wasn't applied much to sentient beings. Christine had seen what had happened to Lt. Mendoza. In med school, she had worked emergency and trauma rooms and had seen what people could do to each other and this was way beyond anything she had ever witnessed. There was a viciousness and savagery there that she couldn't get out of her mind. And now that she thought back, in Sickbay after the incident on the planet, Mirrenov had seemed so detached. He had lost two friends, and it was as if he was affected, but yet he wasn't.

Christine took in deep breath to calm herself, and unbidden, a line from Shakespeare ran through her mind, "that way madness lies." She couldn't believe it. She should be pleased that she and Spock were progressing to a different level in their relationship, but all she could think about was the 'boogey-man.' Well, one thing was certain: for now, sleep was out of the question.

She threw back the cover on the bed and swung her long legs over the side. She needed to exercise, get her blood moving. That always helped to clear her head and relieve stress. Not at the indoor track either, where she felt like a hamster on a wheel. A run through the lower Engineering section, where she didn't have to dodge too many crewmen and then a walk through the arboretum where she could smell the earth and flowers, would be just the therapy she needed.

********************************************************************************X

The being whom others had known as Mirrenov had almost vanished. Certainly his sense of morality and compassion had been consumed by the creature which now lived in his consciousness. During his more lucid moments, the young man felt that his mind was racing out of control and that he would take his own life if allowed; it was as if his outer layers were spinning out and unraveling around him and he wasn't sure how much longer the center would hold—or even if it still was—if suicide looked like a reprieve. But the thing living inside him wouldn't permit suicide.

Mirrenov had made a pact. He had been promised things-things which hadn't come to pass. He was still a grunt in Engineering, still a nobody, not a captain; women didn't fawn over him because he was a hero survivor. In fact, when attractive female crewmembers tried to get close to him, it was as if he could see the blood coursing through their veins, and his preoccupation with their smell drove him to terrible thoughts.

His senses had become like those of an animal. He could smell people before he saw them, could tell their sex, sense their fear, or their distrust of him. Wrath had become his primary emotion and release: on three separate occasions he had now killed. It was all that sated the inferno that burned out of control and then his strongest emotion was overwhelming remorse. Why hadn't he realized that his life hadn't been so bad the way it was. Why had he been so discontent? What had he done? If he could have cried out to God, Mirrenov would have, but it was as if a veil had come between him and whatever spiritual connections he had ever acknowledged. Now all was emptiness and abandonment.

He had left Watts' body stuffed under the hull plating in an obscure storage section on the lower decks. Mirrenov had amazed himself with his own strength, ripping it open like it was paper. He didn't even remember why he had killed his roommate now. All he knew was that at the time, it gave him a grim sense of peace. Peace that was now gone. He would need another release soon and perhaps this time, after it was over, he could be granted some quiet in his soul.

**********************************************************************************X

Chapter 11

After his briefing with Kirk, Spock had spent most of his morning working on adapting the ship's sensors. If his hypothesis about being able to detect the missing ensign with alterations in the internal scanners was accurate, then the process should be relatively simple. The real problem was going to find the right spectrum that was broad enough to pinpoint Ensign Mirrenov, but yet precise enough to filter out elusive 'ghosts'.

When Scotty, with whom he had paired to make the needed changes, announced that he was going to 'ha' to break for a bite, 'fore I waste away, sir', Spock decided to go to Sickbay to seek out Christine and ask her to lunch. He was still somewhat intrigued by whatever had seemed to bother her earlier.

"Well, what brings you to my neck of the woods, my Vulcan friend?" Dr. McCoy drawled as Spock crossed the threshold.

"I am seeking Dr. Chapel. Is she available?" Spock liked to think was past being taunted by McCoy, but that didn't stop the doctor from trying.

"You know, Spock, it used to be customary for a potential suitor to ask permission of the paternal figure of his romantic interest before courtship….and since I believe I would fulfill that role for our good Dr. Chapel, well, then, technically, you would need my permission." McCoy was grinning from ear to ear, blue eyes dancing.

Spock looked at McCoy completely unperturbed, "I will make a bargain with you, if Dr. Chapel agrees to your role as her patriarchal protector, I will be happy to abide by her decision; however, I must see her first. So I ask again, is she free to speak with me?"

"Who? Christine? No, she won't be in for another few hours."

"I checked the duty roster; she is scheduled to be here," Spock said, doubting McCoy.

"She was. She asked for some extra time this morning. Check her quarters." McCoy grinned again, and said, "You have my permission, son."

**********************************************************************************X

Spock exited Sickbay and accessed the computer panel in the corridor. "Computer, location of Dr. Christine Chapel?"

"Doctor Chapel is on Deck 48, Engineering section."

Spock was instantly moving.

**********************************************************************************X

Spock exited the turbo lift and rapidly scanned both sides of the corridor. There were no crewmen present, which was not unexpected. This was an active part of Engineering, just not the the most active section. He had observed before that on occasion members of the crew would run here; he assumed for privacy or variation in their exercise routines.

Spock checked both sides of the corridor again and chose the left side. Since Christine was right-handed, logically, she may have chosen the right side so he could meet her coming back on the left.

Suddenly, the same sickening odor from Mirrenov's cabin overcame him. Spock felt bile rise in his throat. It was worse here, if that was possible, than before.

Quickening his pace, he had taken not more twenty steps when he heard an emergency alert sound throughout the ship. A phaser had been fired! Then, another warning sounded. There were strategically placed call stations, or ECS's, all over the ship where, if without a communications device or a computer panel nearby, a crewman could sound an alert and his or her location would automatically be registered in Security.

"Emergency, Engineering Section 2-C, deck 48, corridor Charlie-Alpha. "Emergency, Engineering Section 2-C, deck 48, corridor Charlie-Alpha." The ship's computer voice intoned emotionlessly over and over. Spock ignored it as he raced down the passageway. His mind was filled with the terrible images of Lt. Mendoza.

He rounded a curve and there she was. Spock had time to register that Christine was on her hands and knees over a body on the floor. She had blood all over the front of her exercise clothing. As he got closer he noticed that her hair had come loose and was flying about her face as she did chest compressions on the prone figure.

When he finally got to her, Spock saw that Christine was huddled over Lt. O'Connell. The blood was the lieutenant's. Although he tried not to, Spock felt overwhelming relief.

"Report," Spock said, falling to his knees beside her. He spied a small hand-held phaser lying near the injured woman's body and picked it up and did a quick visual check of the corridors. They were empty.

"We were running and the son-of-a-bitch seemed to come out of the damn wall!" was all Christine managed to get out before a security team, led by Commander Chekov arrived. McCoy and a medical team arrived a minute later. Christine stopped her ministrations as they stepped in with their equipment. Dr. McCoy eyed her as he began work on his patient.

"You okay?" he asked without looking back up at her.

"Yes," she whispered, not taking her eyes off of Spike.

Spock pulled her over to the side of the corridor as a med tech handed him a blanket to wrap around Christine to prevent any further symptoms of shock.

Chekov stepped over to where Spock had pulled Christine aside. "Doktor, can you tell me vhat happened?"

As Christine spoke, Spock and Chekov could see she was physically trembling. "We were running and Ensign Mirrenov, honest to God, seemed to just appear in front of us. Before Spike could even react or draw her phaser, he had—"She had to swallow and take a deep breath, "eviscerated her. I grabbed the phaser that she dropped and shot him. It didn't take him down, but he seemed to stagger, and he left back that way." She pointed down the way Spock had come.

"That's impossible, Doctor Chapel, I would have seem him," Spock said mildly, trying not to upset her any further. Then he remembered the smell.

"Damn it! I'm telling you what I saw!" She had raised her voice.

"Very vell." Chekov turned to give orders to his security personnel. They began to fan out in search of their quarry. Spock pulled Chekov over to the side and said something to him under his breath. Chekov looked surprised, then nodded and left.

Spock turned back to Christine and the med team. He watched while they lifted the anti-grav unit with O'Connell's pale body on board and headed toward the turbo lift.

Gently, Spock guided Christine onward behind the sickbay personnel. They waited for the next lift, and allowed the McCoy the sole use of the lift and room in which to work.

Now alone in the corridor, Spock turned her slowly around to face him. "Are you sure you are not injured?"

"No," she whispered. "But this is my fault. I promised you I wouldn't go alone, and I asked Spike to come with me. And now—oh, God!" She felt herself tilting towards him and quickly caught herself. She didn't want to get blood all over him.

"Christine," Spock said softly, very near her hair, and placed an arm gently around her waist to steady her as the turbo lift arrived and they entered.

******************************************************************************X

They arrived in Sickbay and McCoy had already taken Spike into surgery. Nurse A'nyna Barou escorted Christine to a bed in one of the examining rooms. Spock knew she was distraught or she would have been arguing vehemently to be in surgery with Dr. McCoy. The nurse covered her with a warm blanket, elevated the foot of the bed, and issued her a small sedative via hypo.

"I'm fine, A'nyna, really. Let me know as soon as you hear anything about Spike's condition," she instructed the nurse.

"Yes, Dr. Chapel." She left, and Spock sat down on the chair at her bedside.

Christine smiled wanly at him, "Well, this is a change."

Spock twitched one corner of his mouth. He recognized her attempt at levity was part of her stress reaction to what had occurred, but he still appreciated the irony.

Captain Kirk entered the examining room. "Dr. Chapel, are you all right?"

"Yes, Captain, but Lt. O'Connell is in surgery with McCoy."

The captain turned toward Spock, "Any sign of Mirrenov?"

"Commander Chekov has numerous security teams scouring Engineering, as we speak. I was about to ask Dr. Chapel for more information concerning the attack. There may be some detail that may help us in locating him or decoding his modus operandi."

Captain Kirk nodded for Spock to go ahead. Looking at Christine, he asked, "You feel up to this?"

"Yes, sir. Anything that I can do to help catch him."

Spock asked, "So you saw him. It was definitely Ensign Mirrenov?"

"Yes, I was as close to him as I am you. We were running, and then suddenly there he was. I know it sounds incredible, but that's what it seemed like."

Spock asked, "Was he closer to you or to Lt. O'Connell when he came at you?"

Without hesitation, Christine answered, "Sp-Lt. O'Connell. He was on the outer side of the corridor, so she was closer to him. He had a weapon of some sort already in his hand; I could see the lights reflecting off of it. Before Lt. O'Connell or I even came to a complete stop, he," she closed her eyes for second and then continued, "made a swipe up, catching her in lower right abdomen. The phaser must have been knocked off her belt because it was there, on the floor, and I grabbed it up and aimed for his chest and fired. He staggered, but didn't go down completely, so I fired again. Mirrenov seemed to hesitate—almost as if he were wondering if he had time for me, too—before he turned and ran back the way you came, Mr. Spock." Her eyes searched Spock's, waiting for more questions.

"Dr. Chapel," Spock was looking at her strangely, "did you adjust the setting on the phaser before you fired?"

"No. I didn't have time. I just fired. Why?"

Spock didn't have time to answer her.

"Did he say anything? Anything at all?" This question from Captain Kirk.

Christine stared at the foot of her bed, as if mentally reliving the terrifying moments. "Nothing, Captain. He didn't say a word."

"One more question before you rest, Doctor," Spock said. "Did you notice a smell?"

She looked at him sharply. "Yes, like," Christine drew up her lips and nose in disgust, "a decomposing body."

Spock simply nodded, and looked to the captain to see if he had anything to add. Kirk shook his head. "Rest, Dr. Chapel, "Kirk said. "And stay here until you're released by the doctor on duty. I'll have him alert Mr. Spock, when you're ready to go to your quarters in case he has any more questions."

Kirk gave her a reassuring smile and left the room.

Spock rose and lay his had lightly on her forearm. "I'll be back as soon as I can." His dark eyes were as hard as obsidian, when he said, "Stay here until I or someone else takes you back to your quarters. Consider that an order."

Christine nodded, but couldn't speak, her throat was full and she felt tears were imminent. "Yes, sir," she said quietly.

He lightly squeezed her arm and left to join Captain Kirk.

Before he got to the door, she suddenly asked, "Spock, why did you ask if I had adjusted the phaser?"

The Vulcan looked at her for a full moment before answering, "It was set to 'Kill'."

**********************************************************************************X

The combined being of Mirrenov and the creature that inhabited him had blended now until there was no 'Stephen Mirrenov' anymore, just the One. He had heard the sounds of the security teams as they searched, literally, right over him in his lair. He smiled in satisfaction. Not even with all the advances that mankind had made could they find him. He wanted to growl aloud with pleasure, but the pain in the human body burned and threatened biological failure. He need help to repair it. This body must function until he could find another willing recipient.

The craving inside him for the taste of blood and fear had not been sated. The woman he had observed after his first kill in the shuttle bay had stopped him. She had been with the one who was not human.

The smell of her fear had intoxicating, but, oddly, she had looked at him as if she recognized him. Him. Not the body he had taken. But he who was many. He almost giggled maniacally, the old expression 'two for one' coming to him. That's what he could have had if she hadn't driven him away. 'Two for one,' Two for one,' he kept repeating over and over like a disturbed mantra.

No matter. Time would deliver all he needed. But first he needed help for this damage caused by the woman. Then he would taste the woman again. If she knew who he was, that would make it all the better. Yes, he would taste her in many ways.

Chapter 12

**********************************************************************************X

Christine was in that nether region between sleep and wakefulness. The sedative was doing its job incredibly well. The dream state that she was in allowed her mind to run free of its usual restraints. Her mind kept going back to the attack, but the tranquilizer kept her from becoming too alarmed; so she dissected it moment by moment, concentrating on Mirrenov's facial expressions and his eyes. There was something there in those eyes that seemed inhuman, without compassion or mercy. Looking at him had evoked a visceral reaction in her, a hair-standing up on the back of your neck moment. The two of them, Spike and her, meant nothing to him; it may as well have been anyone. That's how indifferent he seemed to be to the suffering and fear he created.

When Christine had fired on him, she definitely felt she had registered on his radar then. Had she not fired twice, would she be with Spike in surgery or would she be in the morgue with Mendoza?

Her mind began to wander disjointedly, emotive varied with coherent thoughts, such as Spock and the few hours they had shared together, his body's warmth, and how she had felt so safe. Safe from what? She couldn't remember why she had been apprehensive.

The doctor wasn't aware of it, but she was mumbling in her sleep. Her thoughts flowing in abandon now. She wasn't ready to die. She wanted to know how it would feel to stay with Spock all night. To be held in his arms and know that she was the sole object of his attention. And God knows, Spock's attention to detail was legendary. With those warm and slightly erotic thoughts to comfort her, and Mirrenov far from her mind, Christine found eventually peace in sleep.

*********************************************************************************X

Spock shut the face of the control panel, sealing away the work that he and Commander Scott had completed. Turning to Captain Kirk, he stated, "Sir, the scanners are ready."

Kirk turned around in his chair, facing Spock, "Let's find him. Do it, Spock."

Without delay, Spock's fingers flew over the console in front of him, "The process will take a few minutes. The scan will begin simultaneously fore and aft and cross mid-ship. It will repeat instantaneously upon reaching its terminus."

"How long will it take Mr. Spock?" Kirk asked.

"Unknown, Captain. If Mirrenov is still located in Engineering, it should be relatively soon, since that will be checked rather quickly. The more protected spaces, such as Sickbay and crew quarters, will be last of course."

Kirk nodded, tapped a button on his console, "Commander Chekov?"

"Keptin," Chekov's voice immediately replied.

"I assume all is at ready in Security?"

"Yes, Keptin. I have armed security teams posted all over the ship, sir. There is nowhere Mirrenov could be that I could not have a security team there within minutes."

"Very good. Carry on, Commander." Kirk cut communications, and turned to look at Spock again. "Well, Spock. Now we wait."

********************************************************************************X

Dr. Paul Jennings was checking the notes on Christine Chapel left by Nurse Barou, who was due to go off-shift shortly. He was about to call the nurse over for clarification on one of her notations when a panel on the wall near pharmacy storage was unexpectedly propelled across the room with tremendous energy striking Nurse Barou squarely in the back, knocking her to her knees.

Before the doctor could get to her in order to check her for injuries, a terrible odor assailed him, triggering his gag reflex; simultaneously, he heard a scraping noise. Choking down the urge to vomit, he turned quickly in case another panel was about to come flying across Sickbay. Instead, Dr. Jennings watched in horror as a man covered in blood crawled through the opening in the wall and rose to his feet.

Behind Dr. Jennings, Nurse Barou, by using a biobed to pull herself to her feet, screamed in terror. The man was a sight to behold, not only was he covered in dried blood, but there were two ghastly burn wounds; one was on his shoulder, the other, worse one, was on his abdomen. The flesh had been totally burned away, leaving sickening scorch marks across his diaphragm and small intestines. The superior portion of his pelvic area had been so burned that the tips of the bones were visible. On his left shoulder, the phaser had burned completely through his clavicle, which was now in two separate pieces, and had left loose charred strips of muscle hanging off his shoulder bone. Now mixed with the first obnoxious smell was the shocking smell of burned human flesh.

Nurse Barou reacted before the doctor did in spite of her pain. Slamming her palm down on the comm unit on the nearest wall, she screamed, "Intruder in Sickbay."

********************************************************************************X

Christine was vaguely aware of an unpleasant odor and unusual sounds, but her sedation was too heavy to allow her to fully register the terror going on outside her door.

*******************************************************************************X

When Captain Kirk's comm switch was activated, Chekov's voice filled the bridge.

"Keptin, we have an intruder in Sickbay. We don't know yet if it is Ensign Mirrenov, but I have teams moving to intercept."

"Understood. We're on our way. Spock." At his command, Mr. Spock rapidly left his post and they entered the turbo lift headed for Sickbay; both of them concerned with what they could find upon arrival.

******************************************************************************X

Mirrenov's eyes were strangely calm as they surveyed the room. The nurse, terrified by the wall comm, and the doctor, who was frozen by the table, amused him. "Well, what a chatty pair you two are."

He moved closer to the doctor who involuntarily wretched up his lunch onto the spotless floor. "Oh, and there goes Starfleet's finest." Mirrenov continued to smile that disturbing grin as he came nearer. "You," he pointed to Dr. Jennings, "Fix this." Mirrenov pointed toward his abdomen, "And this," and then pointed to his shoulder. The doctor didn't move. Mirrenov raised the razor-sharp blade he carried, "Now would be a good time."

*****************************************************************************X

Captain Kirk and Commander Spock arrived at Sickbay to find Chekov and his security teams trying to gain entrance.

"What the hell is the problem, Chekov? Get us in there." Kirk demanded.

"We're trying, Sir, apparently before he entered, Mirrenov-if it's him-disrupted the command routines for the doors. Scotty is trying to help us reroute access now."

Spock asked, "The intruder has now had 9.53 minutes alone. I do not need to remind anyone what damage he could inflict in that short a time."

At that precise second, the doors slid open. With phasers at the ready, security teams moved in with Kirk and Spock alongside.

There was a general sound of heaving and vomiting at the sights and smells in the room.

Mirrenov's body, or what was left of it, was lying on an examining table. Nurse Barou was lying in a pool of her own blood beside it. She had been split from navel to breast bone, but was still, miraculously alive. On her forehead was a strange carving of some sort. McCoy who had been off-duty, but alerted by Uhura, rushed in to her assistance.

"Help me here! Let's get her onto one of the gurneys," McCoy called as he propelled her into one of the operating rooms. "Somebody get me another nurse and some help in here, pronto!"

Spock and Kirk stood looking at what remained of Ensign Mirrenov. "After all that, did he just...die, Spock? It's a little too good to be true."

"I agree, Captain."

Commander Chekov returned, "There's no one else here except other patients-unharmed- but the doctor who was scheduled to be on duty is missing. Dr. Paul Jennings. We will begin by inspecting how the intruder entered Sickbay and backtrack his route and try to find him. With your permission, Keptin?"

Kirk nodded his assent, "Get on it, Chekov." He turned to Spock, "Anything?"

Spock looked at him, "I believe our quarry has simply changed appearances, but not essences, as it were. Excuse me, Jim." He turned toward Christine's door. He knew that security had already checked the rooms and that he would have known if she were injured by now. Still, he needed to see for himself.

Entering the room, he observed her peaceful slumber, completely unbeknownst to her was the devastation and horror outside her door. For that Spock was very relieved.

Chapter 13

Spock was standing outside the door to Christine's small room in Sickbay when she came out dressed in her uniform, more than ready to go to her quarters, five hours later.

"Commander. Thank you for escorting me," she said in a subdued tone of voice.

Spock replied, "It is not an inconvenience, Dr. Chapel. The captain wants you accompanied, especially since the latest incident here in Sickbay."

He continued as they walked out and into the corridor, heading to her stateroom. "I would also prefer that you not be alone for a while. You were extremely fortunate that the intruder did not have time to do a more thorough search through—." She cut him off, and stopped abruptly in order to look fixedly at him.

"I get it! Please. I don't want to think about it anymore for a while, if you don't mind." Christine nervously tucked a stray hair that had escaped from the tight bun back behind her ear. She suddenly shivered. "Enough. I just want to get to my cabin and stay there for a while." Safe, she thought. Just feel safe for a time.

"Of course," Spock answered. "It was thoughtless of me to remind you again of that which you have no doubt been told numerous times. You will be able to rest more comfortably and regain your emotional equilibrium. Perhaps then we can talk." Reservedly, he touched her upper arm and gently propelled her forward.

*********************************************************************X

Dr. Paul Jennings lay back in his warren under the deck plating. Here the interference from the warp engines should confuse the scanners for a while. This mind hadn't deteriorated as far as the other had before he abandoned it. Now, there was more order to the chaos. This human had far more knowledge of who he should be wary of and how the others intended to find him. Now, he must decide what to do with that information.

***********************************************************************X

Spock and Christine reached her cabin. She opened the door and hesitated, watching Spock standing at the entrance, not moving to come inside. She really didn't want to be alone right now, but she wasn't sure she wanted to be with Spock either. They stood there, neither of them saying a word, until unexpectedly tears started to stream down Christine's face. Spock placed his hand lightly on the small of her back and walked with her inside. There, he seated her on the small sofa and he lifted her feet, placing them up on a chair he pulled over from the computer desk. She continued to cry silently, not watching what he was doing or caring much. Two of her friends were in Sickbay, hopefully, recovering from brutal attacks and a third was missing, presumed dead.

Surprisingly, she felt him wrap something around her and tuck it in beneath her feet—her grandmother's quilt. The familiar smell engulfed her. She cried harder.

Spock seated himself beside her, and, without warning, he drew her over to his side where she wept until she fell asleep.

***************************************************************************X

Christine heard Spock's voice speaking softly and heard Captain Kirk reply. She lay still allowing herself to gently fall awake. Becoming more alert, she recognized that she was lying on her bed, boots off, covered once again with the quilt. She could see Spock in her living area discussing something with the captain via the computer terminal, but couldn't quite make out what they were discussing. Rising slowly, she swung her feet down off the bed and realized that her hair was down. Not down in a messy I've-had-a hellava-night mess, but it had been taken down. The pins were lying neatly on her side table.

She arose and walked to the door just in time to see Spock shut down the terminal.

"Hi," she said softly, almost a whisper. "What are you still doing here? How long have I been asleep?" She moved to sit down on the sofa across from him.

"I have been waiting for you to awaken for approximately 3 hours and 34 minutes."

"What? No seconds?" She smiled slightly.

"If I told you the exact seconds, Dr. Chapel, you might think that I had been watching the clock waiting for you to come to like Sleeping Beauty in Earth fairy tales." His eyes were mischievous, for a Vulcan, she decided.

"Silly Vulcan," She teased back. "Watching the clock didn't wake her. It was a kiss." Too late she grasped the connotation of her comment.

"Number One, Vulcans are never 'silly,' Miss Chapel. Number Two, I am going to have to speak to my mother about the terrible gaps in my Terran fairy tale literature education."

Christine couldn't help it; she laughed aloud. "See that you do, mister."

Spock looked at her and how vulnerable she appeared. "Some tea?"

"Yes, please." She leaned back, closing her eyes. Opening them upon his return from the replicator, Christine asked the question that she hadn't wanted to. "Tell me what you've learned since the attack. Why are you here instead of out there hunting that thing?" Taking a sip, she waited.

***********************************************************************X

Dr. McCoy was rechecking his patient when Kirk walked through the door to Sickbay; he didn't enter the small room but stood waiting for the doctor to finish on Nurse Barou.

McCoy said something to the nurse with him and walked out the door, motioning to Kirk to follow. Once inside his office, McCoy almost collapsed into his chair; the captain remained standing, leaning against the doorway.

"How is she, Bones?"

Leonard McCoy ran a hand over his worn and haggard face. "Damn lucky to be alive. That bastard. She didn't pose any threat to him, Jim. He damn near cut her in half."

Reaching into a bottom drawer, the doctor pulled out a bottle of bourbon and poured a small shot into a plastic cup on his desk. Watching him, Kirk nodded his head, so the good doctor pulled out another cup and poured some for the captain.

"And before you ask, I haven't checked in on the autopsy on Mirrenov, yet. I just got out of surgery. I do have Hughes and Jones on it. They're excellent doctors, and I'll be going in shortly to see what they've found."

The captain nodded his understanding, then said, "You know time's of the essence; we can't let whatever this thing is take another life or risk its escape onto a planet or another ship, or God knows where.

Suddenly tired, Jim Kirk sat down in the chair across from him, "Bones, you may not realize it, but Barou is a threat to it. Just like Christine and Spike. They are the only ones who have come into contact with it and lived. They may know more than they realize. Nurse Barou must have seen something—at least—I'd like to know if she witnessed how he got from Mirrenov into Jennings. But Christine is the only one conscious, so right now…." He sipped his whiskey, felt the warmth flood his chest.

"So you're saying, all of them, but especially Chris, may still be in danger?" If it were possible, McCoy's face looked even more stressed. He rotated the cup in his right hand nervously, watching the light catch the amber liquid.

Kirk nodded, "I'm afraid so. That's one reason I am having Spock stay with her for a while, and two security guards should be here shortly. The captain rose to leave, setting his cup back down on the table.

"A'nyna."

"What?" Kirk looked back at him, uncomprehendingly.

"Nurse Barou's first name. A'nyna."

A pained expression flitted across Kirk's face, then as suddenly as it appeared, it was gone. The captain walked out briskly, leaving behind Bones, his bourbon, and his bodies.

**************************************************************************X

"I am here because your safety is paramount and I need to ask you some more questions about your encounter with the alien. Chekov and the captain have the search firmly in hand," Spock answered, never taking his eyes from her face.

"Don't you mean demon, not alien," Christine said quietly. "Because that's what 'it' is."

Christine was always the consummate scientific professional, and having her pronounce something so….fantastic was a bit uncomfortable to Spock.

"Christine, I assure you, though its behavior may be described as 'demonic,' this creature, whatever it is, has no supernatural powers, nor is it a creature from Earth mythology." Although he had said it carefully, he could tell he had somehow caused offense.

"Is it mythology, Spock? I don't believe so. Vulcans have their own brand of 'mythology,' of katras and such, but you believe it, don't you? Why should this be any different?" Her face could have been carved in stone. She leaned forward so quickly that it almost startled him. "I saw him. There was nothing human in those eyes, in fact, there was barely anything sentient there."

"He is an alien; of course, there would be nothing human," Spock said. "But as for sentient, Mirrenov's behavior did drastically deteriorate, but that could be contributed to the body's failure."

"Those things you said earlier, about how it has to be invited in, the language found and so forth. Have you explored how, historically, of course, to get rid of it?" She paused to take a breath. "By the way, what was the other language? You said there was another piece found in the ruins, but I never asked you what it was."

She watched Spock's face; it changed from open to Vulcan unreadable instantaneously. "It was Sumerian."

Christine's eyes widened noticeably. "Sumerian and Aramaic. Spock, I know you've calculated the odds of that, and they must be astrofreakingnomical."

"Against my better judgement, I agree with you; it is a rather significant discovery, however, that does not make this creature a demon." She noticed he looked 'significantly' awkward for a moment.

"What is it? There's something you're not telling me, Spock," she demanded.

"The creature carved a word on Nurse Barou's forehead. Fortunately, Dr. McCoy will be able to remove it with skin regeneration." He stopped, and Christine could have sworn he pursed his lips for an instant.

"Well? Dammit, Spock what was it?"

"TTo'pvn. It means 'whore' in Greek."

****************************************************************************X

Chapter 14

**I wish to sincerely express my gratitude to all the readers, but, especially, the people who took the time to review. Thank you. The views expressed in this story are my own, and I may not agree with the characters' conclusions or even their actions because they do seem to take on a life of their own and write themselves. LOL!

Spock was finishing his second cup of tea while Christine showered. She was right; there were a significant amount of anomalies that no amount of logic could explain away. He didn't have an explanation thus far, but historical anomalies and similarities to a mythological being did not a demon make, in his opinion.

He closed the computer screen as Christine came from her bathroom. Her hair was up in a loose bun with wisps falling down around her face. Devoid of any make-up she looked fresh and unguarded. There was no point in disturbing her further by telling her what he had discovered.

"You know that you can post a security detail and go on to your own quarters to rest. Even you are allowed to have some down time." She pulled her feet up onto the sofa and tucked a pillow under her right arm, getting comfortable.

"I have my orders, and Captain Kirk was very specific about staying here until further instructions." She could tell by his countenance that there was no point in arguing further.

"I also wish to apologize," he added.

"For what?" Christine was genuinely surprised.

"I should have remembered that you were Christian, after all, you did give me the St. Jude's medal when we were on Rikidin. The patron saint of lost causes; I looked it up. I knew why it was appropriate for me in that specific instance, but I never asked you why you chose to wear that particular medal." He turned his head expectantly, waiting for her answer.

She looked serene and answered him resolutely. "I have always believed that all things are possible with God. St. Jude is the patron saint of hopeless causes, and I've seen a lot of those in my career, in one form or another. I have sometimes seen things that could only be explained as miracles. Oh, I'm sure that you could probably find a more logical answer, but there were times when, scientifically speaking I simply had no answer as to why some things happened. Astounding and astonishing recoveries in patients when I and others had simply nothing else to offer except prayer and faith. Yet they lived. What is that but amazing?" She paused to take a steadying breath. "There's more. And I have absolutely no doubt that you are going to find this preposterous, but I assure you, it happened." Taking a deep breath, she said, "I saw an angel when I was a child."

Spock appeared to absorb her words. "I do not know how to respond to that without offending you further, so perhaps I should not offer a comment."

She smiled, "Perhaps not, but it happened, nevertheless, and you are only one of three people whom I have ever told. That's not the kind of thing you spread around unless you want your mental stability questioned." She emitted a half-laugh, half-huff of air. "It is logical to assume if there are positive beings there are also negative ones; do you not agree?"

Spock seemed to consider her statement before answering. "Your logic of the 'yin-yang' of the universe is sound, such as matter and anti-matter and just as for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; in spite of this, I am still finding it problematic to discuss this without disrespecting your faith or beliefs."

His eyes grew softer, "I do though have faith in you, and, if you believe you saw an angel, then I believe you, Christine."

"Thank you. I guess my religious beliefs are a discussion for another, less critical time." She gestured toward the terminal, "Now, what else did you find," she asked.

Deftly sidestepping the question, Spock stated, "Dr. McCoy, your physician, left standing orders that you are to rest and I agree. I will stay here if you've no objection and you will sleep or read or whatever it is you need to do, but there will be no more discussion of this particular topic for," he checked the chronometer on the wall, "six hours at least, barring unforeseen circumstances."

"You've got to be kidding! He's out there—in Paul's body. And Leonard's got to be overloaded with critical care patients."

"Dr. McCoy said to tell you that he has ample help in Sickbay, and as I told you earlier, Captain Kirk and Commander Chekov have every available resource on Enterprise, and I can do nothing on the bridge that I cannot access from this computer terminal, so you are to remain in my custody as it were until we locate this being." She also didn't need to know, he thought, that there were two guards posted outside her door as well, and she was far safer here than roaming the ship.

********************************************************************************X

'Paul Jennings' was restless. He needed off this ship; the universe was a vast and marvelous place and the things he could do out there, the people he could become. This person was infinitely better than the last. Though the other was slightly younger this one had knowledge of ship operations and personnel, better yet personnel relationships. Relationships meant vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities meant excruciating entertainment. He did have a grudge to settle before he left this ship; the woman who had wounded him. He detected the smell of the Jewish carpenter about her and the delight at taking her would be pleasurable beyond measure. He loved to take His followers. They liked to think their faith would protect them, but they nearly always stumbled when horrendous physical anguish was involved. It delighted him; the Carpenter's kind might fall short of their Master's level, but they held out for soooo long. He laughed aloud with glee as he slithered from beneath the ship's panel.

******************************************************************************X

Spock had decided to meditate while Christine slept, but since he wasn't in his own quarters, he lay back on her short sofa. His mind kept going back to his previous discussion with Christine about her religious beliefs. He had to admit to himself that she was right. He had his own beliefs and though they may not involve a deity, as such, he knew that to her and others, Vulcan beliefs probably looked as superstitious as he felt hers were. Still, he had known her a long time and in all the years they had served aboard Enterprise, he had never known her to not be a talented and accomplished scientist, not given to flights of illogical reasoning.

His research into demonology, per se, did lead him to believe that alien possession was probably the cause here. In ancient Earth times, it was more than likely mental illness. From what he had read, many people had died during so called 'exorcisms.' Although at this point, Spock was inclined to think if some of what earlier peoples had tried had worked, such as certain herbs, waters, salts, and so forth, that were in themselves, harmless substances, perhaps they deserved another evaluation. They would not hurt anything—except his credibility if he gave in to Christine's beliefs. On the other hand, there were now four dead, two in critical condition, and one missing crewman; he should logically try anything that may stop the being's reign of terror.

Spock heard Christine get up from bed and assumed she was going to the bathroom. He heard soft footfalls approaching, and remained with his eyes closed. The doctor deserved a little privacy; it was her stateroom, after all, so he did not acknowledge her presence nearby.

Unexpectedly, he felt a soft touch at the collar of his uniform. Christine found what she was looking for, the medal hanging on its silver chain. If the lights had not been dimmed, she probably would have seen him turn a deeper shade of green. How had she known? She must have seen it peeking out, he immediately decided.

She pulled the medal out and knelt beside him, being careful not to wake him, and began to speak.

"Most holy Apostle, St. Jude, faithful servant and friend to Jesus, you are honored by the Church and universally as the patron saint of hopeless causes and of things despaired. Please pray for us now and intercede on our behalf for we are helpless here in the vastness of your universe against one so evil that we do not even know his name. Please intercede and pray for the Lord to come to our assistance and spare us any more evil or harm. Protect our ship, our crew, and most especially Spock, for he does not understand Thy ways and he may be in great peril. I promise to be ever mindful of this great favor, and to glorify the name of the Lord, forever and always. Amen."

Christine released the medal, carefully tucking it back where it belonged.

Spock could not have spoken if he had wanted.

*********************************************************************************X

"C. Chapel, ACMO" read the plate beside the door. Looking down at the deck, Jennings, smiled. Child's play, he thought.

****************************************************************************X

Chekov's voice cut through the air on the bridge like a laser, "I have a reading on the intruder. Deck 12, Officer's quarters!"

Kirk was already on his feet, "Get somebody there now! Chapel's?"

"Yes, Sir! There should be more security there in seconds to secure the deck," the security chief said, as they entered the lift together.

******************************************************************************X

Using only a fraction of his now immense strength, Jennings pulled the doors apart just as the Yellow Alert went to Red Alert and sounded throughout the ship. Spock sprang to his feet, and pulled his phaser out in time to see the doors coming apart.

Without waiting for the intruder to enter, Spock fired. He knew that the most powerful setting would only incapacitate it, so he fired again without hesitation.

With speed that blurred to the naked eye, even a Vulcan's, Paul Jennings grabbed at Spock's throat with nails that had now grown to at least 4 inches. Green blood pooled around the nails as they dug viciously into the Vulcan's neck.

Christine came from her bedroom, and fired again from the phaser she carried. "Paul! Stop! Please!" The creature dropped Spock like a rag doll, and turned to the doctor.

"My dear, so sorry to crash your long-awaited romantic liaison, but I just had to have you for myself."

********************************************************************************X

Chapter 15: Chapter 15

Chapter 15, Contagion

"He has burst petechial in his eyes, a partially crushed trachea, larynx, a terribly injured esophagus, and three cracked ribs. That's not even the visible injuries for the most part; on the outside of his neck, as you can see for yourself, Jim, those damn fingernails, if that's what they were, made lacerations that punctured the skin on both sides of his throat. I would never want him to know it, of course, but if he didn't have that tough Vulcan physique, he'd probably be dead now from suffocation," McCoy said, eyeing his patient and the readouts on the computer screens around him.

"You've got to wake him, Bones. I need him. We need him if we're going to find Christine before that thing kills her—or worse," Jim Kirk wouldn't have demanded waking up someone in Spock's condition if it wasn't critical, and McCoy knew that.

The doctor pressed the hypo against the Vulcan's shoulder and straight away, Spock's eyes opened. He looked at the two of them standing at either side, and rasped, "Dr. Chapel?"

Kirk didn't mince words, "She's gone Spock."

He tried to rise on his own, but Kirk reached around and helped him sit up. Kirk continued, "She still has her perscan device on; why he didn't remove it, we don't know, but we do know right now is she's still alive."

His first officer looked at Kirk questioningly and managed to get out, "Her perscan device? Christine was in nightclothes when Jennings came through the door. It would have been either left on her nightstand or on one of her uniforms." The importance of Spock's use of her first name wasn't lost on either of his two friends.

McCoy gave them an answer that none wanted to hear, "Maybe he wants us to know she's alive for some reason. Christine's readouts have been all over the scale. Heart, respiration, adrenaline levels, you name it."

Spock's voice was barely above a whisper, "If her perscan device is still functioning, we should be able to locate her."

"That's what Scotty and I both thought, but somehow he's managed to find a way to reflect the readings back through so many routes and subroutines, it's going to take a while to find her. Paul Jennings was a doctor, not a computer programmer, and there's no way in hell he would know how to pull that sort of maneuver," Kirk said.

Spock asked, "Yet, he did. Has Nurse Barou awakened yet?"

"No," McCoy answered, "Why?"

"We must talk to her and ascertain if she knows anything that may help us."

"Spock, that's a hellava long shot, don't ya think?" McCoy said, tension putting an edge on his voice and manner. "Look, we've got to find Christine before that son-of-a-"Dr. McCoy broke off, unwilling to put into words the visions that his mind was already churning up.

"Bones," Kirk reached out and took the older man by the shoulder, "we'll find her."

"Yes," Spock said firmly, "we will."

**************************************************************************X

Christine was floating in and out of consciousness. Since being taken from her cabin, 'Jennings' had injected her with some type of sedative, and she felt drowsy and unable to move. In the deep, primal recesses of her mind, she was screaming at herself to get away, but her physical being just wasn't capable.

She turned her head over to the side to try to see where 'Jennings's was, but she couldn't. Couldn't hear him either. Was she alone? Where was Spock? A twinge of anguish managed to stir something in her that the sedative couldn't numb. Spock. Did Jennings kill him? He said….Christine immediately realized that nothing the creature said could be trusted.

Abruptly he walked into her line of sight. Reaching down he patted her check. "Are we awake?" He smiled at her, but it was an alarming facsimile of a human smile. The mouth expanded too largely and she could spittle was hanging from his teeth like he was salivating for something. Then with a dawning horror, Christine realized that he was craving something from her.

Reaching down he jerked her roughly into a sitting position against a bulkhead and then hunkered down beside her. She looked around but couldn't recognize where they were. She did however, get a good look at the damage done to Jennings' body when she and Spock had both fired on him; it was mind-boggling that the body could still be functioning.

Two chest center phaser burns had exposed the sternum and she could see through the fibrous covering, oh damn, Christine thought, was that his heart, barely beating. She could tell one lung had collapsed. How could he possibly still be functioning? It was not humanly possible. Shock should have killed him, not to mention a sucking chest wound like that. His left side, where her shot had hit, had burned away the flesh to reveal his spleen and part of his intestines, but the heat from the phaser blast had seared the injury and prevented him from bleeding out. Even her dazed mind could grasp how impossible it was that 'Jennings' could still be alive, much more so conscious and animate.

"Who are you?" she managed to get out. "You're not Paul Jennings. Who…" Christine trailed off.

His eyes grew large, "My lovely Christine, I'll bet I never told you that I wanted you did I. I entertained myself frequently with you in mind." The creature tapped his chest, or what was left of it. "I'm your old friend, Paul. Good old steady Paul."

"You lie." She damn sure knew she was tempting fate, but the odds were definitely in favor of house that she was going to die, so what the hell. "Who are you?" Her voice was a little stronger now.

The smile grew larger if that were possible. "I am the big bad wolf, the ogre under the bridge, the evil stepmother. You like fairy tales don't you, my dear?" Again with the cheek stroke.

Christine flinched. "Stop touching me. You're nowhere near as benign as those creatures; you're something else entirely. Is it in you to tell the truth?" The drug must be wearing off; she was feeling less weak and foggy headed, and exceedingly more scared.

"Why must you insist I am more than I am? What do you think I am?" He suddenly leaned forward, with his face only a few inches from hers. She could smell his putrid breath. Gagging, she turned her head away.

"I know what you are!" She leaned forward abruptly, attempted to head butt him, but he was way too fast.

He cackled aloud. "Splendid. There's still a little fight in there. Why do you know who I am, Christine? How is that? That you, among all these intelligent, Starfleeters, are the only one who knows who I really am. Say it. I want to hear it." He smirked at her.

Christine looked at him, unblinkingly, and said, "You are a demon. One of the fallen ones."

************************************************************************************X

A'anya Barou didn't want to wake up. She was safe and comfortable and in a place where she never had to face the horror of her attack. But someone was nudging her awake, talking to her. No, she whispered in her mind, no, no, no.

"Nurse Barou, wake up. This is Captain Kirk. I need your help. The ship needs your help." Looking up at Bones from where he was leaning over Nurse Barou, he asked, "What's wrong? Why isn't she waking up?"

"Because she probably doesn't want to, Jim. She's been through a hellava trauma. Let me up the dosage a bit." Again, McCoy hit her with the stimulant from the hypo.

This time she didn't have a choice. "Wha...," she mumbled.

Kirk tried again. "A'anya, this is Captain Kirk. Listen. We need you to help us figure out what happened the day of the attack in Sickbay. Can you do that?"

A'anya's eyes were opened now and she struggled to make sense of the words the captain had asked her. "The attack. Oh, God." Her eyes tightly closed again.

Kirk tried again, "A'anya, please. The creature, he took Dr. Chapel. Help us. You can help us understand what happened in Sickbay."

She opened her eyes and nodded her head slowly. "He has Dr. Chapel? No." She whispered. "He will kill her."

"Maybe not, if you help us. How did the creature get into Paul Jennings's body? Did you see it leave Mirrenov's body?"

She shuddered. "Mirrenov threatened to disembowel me. He had already carved on my head," involuntarily, her hand moved slowly to her forehead. There was nothing there. The dermal regeneration had done its job. "Paul offered himself, if he would let me live…." The young woman trailed off.

Spock bent low so she could hear his damaged voice, "How? How did he get from Mirrenov to Dr. Jennings?"

"I don't know. Suddenly, Mirrenov's body was just dead, and Paul wasn't Paul anymore. He—"she closed her eyes tightly again at the memory. "He cut me." A'anya began to sob.

"No more, Jim." McCoy injected her with the sedative and she was out like the proverbial light. "I fail to see how any of that helps."

"Nevertheless, it does, Dr. McCoy," Spock managed to get out. "We know now for certain, this creature must be invited in or given permission before it can take control of a sentient being." Turning to Captain Kirk, he said, "I want to see the sensory logs right before the creature appeared at Dr. Chapel's quarters." They started to leave before the bridge.

"Wait," McCoy said. Slapping a soft tissue regen unit into Spock's palm, he said, "Use this on your throat while your studying the readouts; you'll have your voice back shortly."

"Thank you, Doctor." He headed out the door, but at the last moment, turned back to McCoy, "We will find her."

"I know, Spock. Just please find her in time."

*****************************************************************************X

"Ding. Correct answer." He bowed in an elaborate fashion, while the inner organs did a little dance all their own, she noticed. "I am not Paul Jennings, and eventually, I did want to be recognized for who I am." He leaned forward again, "After all, don't we all."

Instinctively, she pulled back. "Your name?"

"I have gone by many names. Let's see: Anzu, Akop, Apepi—Do you want me to go in alphabetical order, or just hit the top ones?"

"Your sick attempts at humor are repulsive."

"My pleasure, my dear. Speaking of which…." The demon-thing trailed his hand from her ankle to her knee before she could jerk away.

"No! Don't touch me!"

"My dear Christine, we're going to get much better acquainted before your Vulcan friend gets here."

"What are you talking about?" The repellent feel of his touching her was sickening.

"Like the children in Hansel and Gretel, I left your precious Vulcan just enough breadcrumbs to find us, but not enough to get back."

********************************************************************************X

Chapter 16: Chapter 16

Spock had been at his computer station for over an hour, pouring over every scrap of data from when the creature had appeared outside Christine Chapel's quarters. Finally, he turned to face Captain Kirk, who was sitting in his command chair behind him.

"Captain, I think I know how to find the creature. Sensors detected small molecular changes in the atmosphere outside, not only Dr. Chapel's quarters, but also in the Engineering section and Sickbay where it also made appearances. Strangely, there was also an ambient temperature drop of between 2.45 and 5.78 degrees, as well. I think if I recalibrate the scanners, we should be able to pinpoint exactly where he is at the moment, most possibly where he is holding Dr. Chapel as well. I have also been working on a containment field, which may help us in trapping the alien."

Kirk didn't hesitate, "Do it, Spock!"

******************************************************************************X

The creature had disappeared for a while. Where it had gone or why, of course, Christine had no idea, but she had spent the time examining every inch of the small space in which she was confined. It appeared to be part of a storage room which had been sealed off by a large piece of bulkhead, taken from God knew where. All she knew was that she couldn't budge it; it weighed a ton.

She had also shouted, tried contacting someone through her perscan device, and, in a fit of frustration and fear, had kicked and beaten on the bulkheads. All to no avail. Ultimately, Christine leaned against the wall and slid down onto her rear-end to wait, while the worry in her gut chewed on her stomach lining.

************************************************************************************X

Spock looked up from his station. "I have located the creature. It is on Deck 16, near the port nacelle storage units."

Kirk hit the comm. button on his chair, "Chekov bring a security team and meet us on Deck 16. We've located the intruder."

********************************************************************************X

When Kirk and Spock reached the port nacelle storage area, security forces were already there.

Chekov said, "Keptin, we are detecting Dr. Chapel's perscan device and reading one human life sign, but that is all. No sign of the intruder."

"Why can we detect her location now, but we couldn't earlier?" Kirk asked.

Scotty answered him, "The emanations from the nacelle would have provided a dampening effect for any readings over even a slight distance."

Captain Kirk turned to Spock, "Any reading on the alien?"

Spock looked up from the small device in his hand, "Dr. Chapel is not alone."

Kirk gestured to Scotty, who had also been alerted, "Get it open."

"Yes, sir." Placing two small devices, one on each side of the large bulkhead, he stepped back. "I hope the lass is back away from the wall." Scotty looked toward Spock.

"It appears from the readings that she is approximately 7.76 meters away from this wall."

Kirk gave the order to blow the wall panel. The group gathered there stepped back.

Scotty said, "Detonating now, sir. Three, two, one." The wall partition lifted up and flew back into the opposite corridor.

Christine did not hear the commotion in the corridor outside her improvised cell. She turned her head as far as she was able to ascertain what the noise meant.

Captain Kirk and Spock were the first ones to the opening, weapons at the ready. They were first accosted by a revoltingly putrid smell. Then the sight before them stopped them in their tracks before anyone spoke.

Christine was being held with a knife to the front of her throat by what was a poor facsimile of Dr. Jennings. His physical body has so deteriorated that he had a definite corpse like appearance. The smell was clearly stemming from him, since it definitely looked like his body had begun to partially decompose although it was still obviously animate.

The knife blade was pressed so tightly against Christine's neck that there was a small line of bright red blood where 'Jennings' held it.

"Didn't anyone ever tell you, it's impolite to crash someone else's party, gentlemen?" As 'Jennings' spoke the mouth only partially moved because it looked like the jaw on the left side of his face had begun to decay.

"Now, all of you, except the Vulcan, step back and down the corridor, or I promise I will slit her throat like a lamb's." To emphasize his point, he took the point of the knife and pricked another spot on Christine's neck, where blood began to immediately ooze down across her collarbone. Her eyes were wide with terror, but to her credit, she neither moved, nor made a sound.

Kirk exchanged a look with his first officer, and made a gesture indicating they all move back.

Spock stepped forward. "What do you want? You are not Paul Jennings. Who or what are you?" He looked as harsh as Christine had ever seen him.

"What is this preoccupation all of you have with names? Does it matter, Vulcan? You are right; I am not anything near to being human. But," then he stroked Christine's check in an obscenely intimate manner, "I am very fond of them."

Spock's countenance was as rigid has she had seen it since his abrupt return from Gol. She watched as he stepped into the storage area itself now.

"What do you want with Dr. Chapel? Why did you allow me to stay and send the others away?"

"I needed the lovely doctor in order to bring you here eventually, though she does have her own desirable qualities. You are certainly the most outstanding physical specimen on this dismal vessel; I intend to use you to escape and make my way throughout the universe. And that is only the beginning. I can show you things, give you things you only dreamed of in your wildest imaginings." 'Jennings' leaned forward and licked the side of Christine's face, causing her to cringe in revulsion. "Including her."

"I will never allow you to use my body, nor will I allow you to take Dr. Chapel. You cannot give me anything that I want that I do not already have. Your temptations are useless. Release her. If you harm or kill her, we will destroy the body which contains your essence."

"Ah, but you don't know if that will destroy me. Isn't that the BIG question? And if I do release her, then what? What will become of me? Imprisoned again. I don't think so. There are so many things that I had forgotten that I enjoy." Saying that he suddenly pushed Christine back against the wall of the storage compartment, and with one hand ripped open the sleepwear which she had on, exposing her breasts, all while shifting the knife's position to where he was now in front of her.

Spock had never seen any human being move that quickly. It was astonishing and not good news. He moved toward Christine and the alien, and without releasing the weapon, with one hand, 'Jennings' threw Spock against the adjacent wall of the room.

Turning his attentions back to Chapel, he took one of his full breasts in his free hand. She began to fight him, but the creature pushed the blade in deeper and she stopped. Anger, fear, and revulsion mingled on her face.

Spock, using the wall as an aid, pushed himself to his feet. "Leave her alone."

The alien twisted his head in what should have been an impossible move for a human to look over his shoulder at the Vulcan and smile. "Is that jealousy, Vulcan? Then watch this."

'Jennings' ripped Christine's clothes completely in half, exposing her in her panties. Fumbling with his pants, he leaned in and said loudly enough for Spock to hear, "Just pretend I am the Vulcan, doctor, it will go so much easier."

"Noooo!" Christine screamed, and began to fight wildly, but her efforts were fruitless. He continued.

Spock stood and approached him again, shouting, "No! I will do as you ask."

'Jennings' stopped, turned and smiled. "Really, Vulcan. I would have thought you had more stomach than that." He shook his head as though disappointed. "Oh, well, that will change."

Turning from Christine completely, the creature eyed Spock appreciatively. "Good. Say it. Say, I accept your presence. Come into my being and my soul, I offer myself to you." The alien's approach was almost sexual in nature.

"I have to alert my captain first. I want him to expect Dr. Chapel in the corridor first. I saw what you did to Nurse Barou in Sickbay. There will be no repeat of that here."

"Ah, but you may be sorry that I let her go so quickly, but it's irrelevant; we can always go right back and get her. Trust me, Vulcan, you'll be enjoying her before the night is through."

Spock stood his ground, "I will not acknowledge or invite you in while she is still in danger. Allow me to alert my shipmates and captain."

"Go," 'Jennings said, "You have one minute, and then I will taste her pleasures myself regardless of what you decide."

Spock ran for the blown wall.

***********************************************************************************X

Within one minute he was back, "Let her go and I am yours."

'Jennings' released her and stepped away. "She is free—for now."

She stumbled at being released so suddenly, but gathered up the edges of her gown. "Spock, no! Please!" Christine pleaded. "It will be worse than death."

"Get out, Christine. Now!" Spock's voice was ugly and harsh, but she didn't stop looking at him until she was out of the room and down the corridor.

***************************************************************************X

The millisecond that Chapel exited the room, a force field closed off the hole in the storage area.

"Do they think that will restrain me?" He laughed, an ugly sound. "Now I have a better hostage even if you don't invite me in. I'll simply torture you until you do. You can't win with me. You are all just so much dirt and air, but you aspire to so much more. Pathetic really."

Spock asked him again, "Who are you? How did you come to be on this planet?"

The alien began to circle him, as if inspecting goods that he had just purchased. "I was cast into this darkness for my torment of mankind, or womankind, I don't discriminate, over a thousand years ago. I won't tell you by whom; it only increases His power and notoriety and I refuse to give him any free press. Suffice it to say, your Dr. Chapel had a better understanding of me and my origins that you do with all your intelligence and scientific knowledge, but, this is all irrelevant."

He paused, looking at Spock and suddenly his mouth seemed to grow larger than humanly possible, "Invite me now, or the pain begins.

Spock appeared unperturbed, "Very well. I invite you into my soul and my being."

'Jennings' face smiled an ugly, dreadful grin, then suddenly Dr. Jennings' body collapsed onto the deck. Spock stood completely still, waiting.

********************************************************************************X

Suddenly there was a huge roar as from a fatally wounded beast that echoed down the corridors of the ship. Captain Kirk yelled, "Start the transporter beam, Scotty."

And where the storage room had been, there was nothing, no walls, no blown out panels, nothing.

*******************************************************************************X

Christine was finishing up paperwork at her desk in Sickbay. McCoy was off duty and she was alone on what was called the 'evening shift,' although there really wasn't an evening in space. It was quiet and peaceful. She was grateful to be free of her quarters and allowed to be back at her job.

Unexpectedly, a shadow fell across the floor of her office. Still edgy from her encounter with the alien, she jumped.

"I did not mean to frighten you, Christine." Spock's gentle voice spoke from the doorway.

"It's okay." She leaned back in her chair. "Have a seat."

"How are you?" He asked, tilting his head slightly, the way he did when he was peculiarly interested in something.

"I'm fine, thanks to you."

Spock nodded sagely. "I do not think anyone will have to worry about the alien again. The small, lifeless planetoid where he is encased is in a relatively untraveled sector of space in the middle of an asteroid belt. The containment field would hold even if the asteroid itself sustained a major impact or weapons' hit."

She smiled, "It was ingenious, sending in the hologram. I couldn't believe my eyes when I left the room with you in it and then ran smack into your arms in the corridor."

Spock didn't look even a tad uncomfortable at the memory of grabbing and holding an almost naked Christine Chapel. "I had to make sure that you didn't cry out and inadvertently let on what we had done before the containment field was in place. We wanted to make sure that he had left Dr. Jennings' body completely and was in limbo in order to limit his power. Apparently in a non-corporeal state its physical power was quite limited." He added, "The hologram was created by Commander Scott; it is the new technology Starfleet is experimenting with for starships."

Shyly smiling, she said, "You took a hellava chance. I appreciate your saving my life, and for trying to protect me before I was taken. I enjoyed our conversations and having you in my quarters made me feel safer."

Spock gave her one of his rare smiles mixed with a wry look, "Even if you were not all that safe. I did not protect you after all. But I, too, enjoyed the time with you."

Christine looked away and then back at him before saying, "Maybe we could enjoy each other's friendship sometime when there's not a crisis."

"I would find that most pleasant." It was his turn to look a little shy, "I found it….interesting that the creature knew that I would be the one who would trade his life for yours and not the captain."

"Well, Spock, you were in my quarters when he attacked, I suppose he thought we were mates or …something. And he did have Paul's and Ensign Mirrenov's memories. Perhaps, Paul thought…." She let that trail off.

"Did it ever occur to you Dr. Chapel that others might possibly see something which we do not?"

Her clear blue eyes meet his soft brown ones, as she asked in an innocent tone, "What would that be, Mr. Spock?