*BLOW BACK: Chapter 1

Captain James T. Kirk had been lost, presumed dead, for seven years, and during that time Spock had assumed the mantle of a full ambassador from Vulcan in service to the Federation of Planets.

Spock still grieved Kirk's death, borne as an ancient penitent might, with ashes and lashes, all internal, of course. To the universe, his pain was never visible; Spock had moved on, as had everyone else who had served under or loved Kirk. The venerated ambassador knew that his was a wound, which would never heal, a chronic ache that at best could be managed but never fully subdued, not even by a Vulcan.

He had cut himself off from his other shipmates, even Dr. McCoy. To be near them, to reminisce about their adventures and catch up on what was happening in each other's lives, children, marriages, ex-marriages, and new adventures were simply more than Spock cared to hear. Without Kirk, his blood brother, it all seemed empty and trivial. He drifted away from his nearest and dearest, although he couldn't acknowledge it without bringing down his logical citadel of emotional cards with which he had erected to protect himself.

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Pharagos was a class M planet where Ambassador Spock and his contingent were closing their dialogue with two combatant worlds in an inhabited planetary system of five, in an attempt to establish safe and regulated shipping lanes between the planets and throughout the system without managing to kill off every pilot that could fly a spaceship.

Frankly, Spock was weary-and leery-of it. It was what his old friend Jim Kirk might call, "a milk run," and, as such, easy assignments had a way of becoming dangerous and volatile perhaps for the reason that when safety seemed assumed, people tended to allow their guards to drop, giving instability a venue into the larger undertaking.

As usual from his outward appearance, Ambassador Spock's demeanor was calm and tranquil.

After ten days of mediations, mitigations, compromises, and refereeing, he was tired and actually looking forward to returning to Vulcan for a respite from the emotional chaos that surrounded him constantly. He had entered a type of grotto or apse, which allowed him to meditate and settle himself before boarding the T'Pol for his return trip. After a time, Spock arose, and headed toward the section of the spaceport where he would rendezvous with the rest of his delegation.

"Ambassador Spock," S'Rex his young Vulcan personal assistant, appeared as if suddenly beamed there by his side as he exited the quiet corridor into the bustle of the common area.

"Ambassador, there is an Admiral Janeway urgently requesting that you return his communique at Haumea Station. The admiral says it is of utmost importance." The young Vulcan's skin was flushed darker green with his not so concealed emotion.

"Very well, S'Rex proceed to our ship and determine what has the good admiral so agitated?"

Milk run, Spock thought. Always trouble.

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Spock found a secure comm unit inside T'Pol, and within seconds, was staring into the craggy, blue-eyed face of Admiral Richard Janeway.

"Ambassador Spock, many thanks for getting back with me so quickly." Janeway's eyes were direct and his attitude was straightforward, and he wasted no time getting to the point, "We have a two Starfleet ships missing. One, a medical ship, the USS Comfort is a state of the art hospital ship that was dispatched from Starbase 19, two standard days ago, to rendezvous near the Firth Nebula with the USS Blue Ridge, a crew and supply ship returning from 309.890, a terraforming planet and its station near the Romulan Neutral Zone. The Blue Ridge is assumed missing in action as well."

"According to Blue Ridge's captain, two days into her return trip, there was an outbreak of an unfamiliar virus with high casualties. That's all we are able to gather from her garbled communique; what little we received was lost or blocked 198 seconds into transmission. With the Saratoga at the apex of her Neutral Zone patrol, there was no ship within 6.2 standard days of accompanying the Comfort, as you know Starbase 19 is the closest monitoring station to the neutral zone. The Comfort was not scheduled to be at the base, but due to an unexpected environmental problem at Starbase 18, her schedule was amended and she was at 19 when the distress call came in.

"As time is obviously of the essence, she was dispatched to set up quarantine and determine what it was, how the virus was transmitted and then establish a treatment protocol or quarantine. The hospital ship should have arrived at the Blue Ridge's last known coordinates ten hours ago, and that's when all communication was lost with both ships.

"Comfort reported them having the Blue Ridge on long range sensors; no communication was established.

"The T'Pol is the closest Federation ship we have to their last known position. We need information about what's going on—yesterday. From your present location, you should be able to reach their last known coordinates in 12 hours at top warp speed. We need to find those ships and to prevent a widespread panic—or widespread contagion—and find out if it's a natural illness or a possible biological weapon deployed by the Romulan Empire. I realize that may sound a bit paranoid, but being so close to the neutral zone, it is a scenario that needs considering. Contact must be established with all due haste, if God forbid, it is a biological weapon... I trust I am being clear, Ambassador?"

Spock's face was impassive. "You are Admiral. We will be getting underway within the hour and you will be getting a situation report. I trust, sir, if you receive more pertinent information that it will be relayed to our ship, as soon as possible. It seems quite suspect that an illness could act so quickly that communication was terminated by the captain of the Blue Ridge while it was still being transmitted."

Especially since most Star Fleet ships had biological decontamination protocols built into transporters as standard equipment, Spock thought.

"Agreed, but that's exactly all we have, Ambassador."

Spock asked again, "What about the Comfort? Her last report was simply picking up the supply ship on her long range sensors?"

Janeway steepled his hands in front of him and his face became broodingly dark.

"Yes. The captain of the Comfort reported picking up the Blue Ridge on long range sensors and then nothing, no visual confirmation. Not another single bit of data from her."

Janeway's blue eyes looked haunted, as he continued, "I know this is irrelevant, and I would be just as alarmed no matter what ship was out there, but," the admiral looked down at his hands as they wrestled together on his desk, "My son is a science officer on the hospital ship. I know his captain and if there was any way to get a message through or a way out, she would have found it by now."

Spock asked, "May I ask who are the captains of the ships, sir."

Janeway looked as if he could burn a hole through Spock with those dark blue eyes. An ironic and poignant expression fought for control of the weathered face of the admiral.

He said, "The Ridge is under the command of Captain Kevin Riley. Both captains were crewmates of yours on the Enterprise, under Captain Kirk. I am sorry, Ambassador. I understand that this could only make it more difficult for you."

Would it, Janeway thought to himself? Spock left the service after Kirk's death, so the admiral felt he had assumed a great deal, especially about a Vulcan.

Spock's face was stoical, "Yes, I am familiar with him. He is a fine officer and I don't believe he would exaggerate the severity of his crew's condition. And the other ship?"

"The Comfort is under the command of Captain Christine Chapel, one of the best Emergency Ops officers that I ever served with, not to mention a great doctor—xenobiology is her specialty, which should help tremendously."

Before Spock could wrap his mind around the admiral's words, Janeway leaned forward as if he wanted to touch the Vulcan, and in an impassioned voice he said, "Spock, before you were an ambassador, you were a hellava Starfleet officer and captain. From this point on, you are to assume command of the T'Pol, with the approval of the Vulcan High Counsel. Your orders are to find them, Captain Spock. Contain whatever this unspecified illness is, and bring back those ships and their crews.

"Ambassador, the Federation needs you. I need you. "

Physical pain seemed to ripple across Admiral Janeway's face. "If the outbreak is a biological weapon, do you duty, Captain, and do what you must to protect the Federation."

The admiral took a deep breath and said, "Godspeed and good hunting. Janeway out."

The screen flashed back to the Federation emblem.

Across Spock's mind flashed the faces of two people connected to the ship that had changed his life, and to the man whose ship and crew meant everything to him. A man he once knew and was indebted to for his life in many ways.

Spock almost smiled as he leaned his head forward to rest in his palms to gather his thoughts. The universe is truly a strange and remarkable place, he thought, more than logic could explain. Riley and Christine.

Christine. The last time he had seen her was at Jim's memorial. It had taken both of them to get

Leonard McCoy back to his home. She volunteered to stay the evening in case Leonard needed her. All Spock could do was give monosyllabic answers when she asked him a question; feeling McCoy's and his own loss had been almost more than he could bear. He needed to get away from McCoy, for a while anyway. Spock had cleared the door of McCoy's large white house when she softly called his name.

Spock stopped on the porch and turned back to face her. It was softly raining and the air had turned cool for Georgia.

Pushing the screen door open, she stepped out onto the porch, meeting him in the semi-dark. The lamps from inside the house were the only illumination. Her usually neat hair had wispy pieces falling around her face and she looked as tired and heartsick as he felt.

Christine's glacial blue eyes were filling with tears. Looking into his dark eyes, which not many people would do these days for fear of what they might see there, she whispered, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry he's gone, and I'm so sorry for your loss."

She rested her hand on his left shoulder, and he did not push her away.

"Take care of yourself, Spock. Please," she barely whispered, leaning close enough for him to smell her light perfume.

At that moment all he wanted was to fall into her arms and sob until he was spent, as he used to do with his mother when he was very, very young, and she would make it all better. But Christine was not his mother, and it would never be made "better."

He reached up and gently wiped away a tear that was running down her left cheek. Christine thought he still looked shell shocked, and she was worried.

"Your face is wet, Miss Chapel."

The not so softly veiled reference did not nostalgically take them back to their time on the Enterprise. If anything, it made him feel more loss—more regretful about so many things. Her skin was smooth and cool on his hand. If through nothing else, their service aboard Enterprise, under Jim Kirk, would bind them longer than they would live. Jim Kirk's Enterprise would be the stuff of legend.

She had smiled gently, and said, "I think it will be wet for quite a while yet."

"Perhaps that is as it should be, Christine."

He held the back of his hand against her cool skin. Christine's emotions were strong, but not overwhelming. Spock realized that he had always underestimated her, to his detriment.

Dropping his hand and lastly his eyes from her face, Spock turned and left in the night, seven years ago. Later, early in the morning hours, he found a ship to take him back to search where Captain Jim Kirk had been lost.