In the turbolift, Kirk asked Spock, “Is it my imagination, or is McCoy avoiding us?”

            “I have noticed a certain unusual absence of the good doctor from the bridge lately, Jim.”

            “Yes…. Not exactly hanging on my chair making annoying comments, is he?”

            “No. However, I am hesitant to consider that a detriment.”

            “Oh, come on, Spock! You miss him; admit it.”

            Spock’s raised brows were the only reply to Kirk’s teasing.

            The human smiled briefly, and then sobered. “This has been going on ever since we returned from the parallel universe.”

            One Vulcan brow rose again, but without the other. “You imply a connection?”

            Kirk shrugged. “Maybe.” He turned pensive. “In fact…, I don’t quite know how to say this, Spock…, but I think it may be you that he’s avoiding.”

            Spock was mystified. “I am certain that I have done nothing to warrant such atypical behavior.”

            “Not you. Your bearded double.”

            Now the brows really climbed.

            “I’ve been thinking,” Kirk went on. “Bones was briefly alone with…him. And that was shortly after that other Spock admitted to me that he would get the information that he wanted about us from Bones, because he said that McCoy was soft, and had a ‘plenitude of human weakness.’ Something…sinister…might’ve happened.”

            Spock frowned. “To what sort of…‘sinister something’…do you allude?”

            “If I knew that, I wouldn’t have a mystery.”

            The clean-shaven Spock looked dubious. “I assure you that it is not the habit of Vulcans to ‘torture’ or ‘terrorize’ other individuals, even ones as irritating as McCoy can sometimes be.” The mere thought of such abuse was clearly distasteful to him.

            Kirk looked doubtful in turn. “I don’t know. That other Spock could be quite…ruthless.”


            “If he found McCoy to be any sort of problem, or obstacle…, or even just an annoyance…, mightn’t he…?”

            “I cannot advise you, Captain. I have never met the individual.”

            “Oh, come on, Spock,” Kirk chided him gently. “Just imagine yourself…slightly sadistic…, ruthless…, stop-at-nothing….”

            Spock said stiffly, “That personality would be contrary to my nature.”

            Kirk looked at him askance. “This from the man who once almost brained me with a stool.”

            “I was under the influence of alien plant spores, at the time.” Spock sounded slightly wounded.

            Kirk went on as if his Vulcan friend hadn’t spoken. “And who nearly strangled me to death with a Vulcan…what-do-you-call…ahn woon?…something like that.”

            “I was under the influence of pon farr, then.” Spock sounded defensive.

            “And who slugged me and knocked me backward over a table one time.”

            Spock’s brows arched. “I was under the influence of the shipwide disease that suppressed the centers of judgment, like alcohol, at that time. It was transmitted by mere touch, as you’ll recall. Human victims on the planet froze to death while taking showers with their clothes on, while I merely….”

            “All I’m saying is, you don’t know under what influence the bearded Spock might’ve been.”

            Spock clammed up, and pursed his lips pensively, if a bit grudgingly.

            “What might he have done? What could you have done, if you were…under the influence…of who knows what, and if McCoy were somehow a problem, or a handy solution, for that matter? What would you do???”

            After a pause, Spock said somberly, “Almost anything.”

            That response chilled Kirk, but after a suppressed shudder, he realized the lack of informational content, and said irritably, “That’s a big help.”

            Spock stared at him more directly. “I am constrained to point out that you are missing the obvious: go to McCoy and ask.”

            “Don’t you think that I’ve tried that??” Kirk was annoyed. “All he does is mutter ‘Nothing’ and walk away from me!”

            Spock looked fatalistic then. “That is indeed perplexing. All that I can suggest is that when the good doctor wishes to tell you, he will.”

            Kirk looked irked. “And in the meantime, I’ve got a distracted, inefficient chief surgeon. And an upset friend.”

            “What would you have me do, Captain?” Spock was direct.

            It was what Kirk had wanted to hear. He was eager. “Since you can’t guess what might’ve happened….” He winced inwardly at Spock’s visible indignant reaction to the word “guess,” but barreled onward. “ …would you do a mind meld, and find out?!”

            Spock looked affronted.

            “I know, I know, it’s against your principles to force one, and it’s against every Vulcan rule in the book, but if doing so can save a friend pain, or perhaps even save his life…!”

            “You are that concerned about him?”

            “I am.”

            Spock actually sighed. “Very well.”


            McCoy stood in his office, trying to concentrate on his reports, and trying not to see in his mind the nightmarish face of the alternate-universe Spock, coming at him with fingers raised, spreading toward his forehead like the unwelcome advances of an alien hangar-deck, opening to swallow his poor helpless shuttlecraft of a mind. “Mind rape,” human students at the Academy called it, when first learning of and whispering about the Vulcan mind probe as definitely something to be avoided. But McCoy had been so probed by the bearded Spock, and it truly had been a rape, a harrowing experience: painful, frightening, and demeaning. To McCoy’s shock and shame, the alien had even retrieved the human term “mind rape” during the meld, and had derived a modicum of amusement from it. McCoy shivered at the memory of the slight humor that had flashed back at him. He flexed his wrist; it still ached from where Spock had taken an appalling grip on it, in order to propel him across the room and pin him against the wall, so that he could inflict his mental attack. The foreign Spock had been relentless, merciless, and thorough, clinically stripping away unneeded information in order to unearth the useful facts that he sought, leaving McCoy a jumbled mass of confusion ever since. And McCoy had been utterly helpless to even slow him down, let alone prevent him from doing his cold evil. He shuddered again. That was the worst part, he supposed, even worse than the pain and the fear: his complete vulnerability to that heartless man.

            Spock and Kirk walked in. McCoy barely suppressed a gasp. He’d been avoided this universe’s Spock ever since, sensing that this one shared the same capabilities of the other, given the right circumstances; and also finding this one too much of a painful reminder: seeing the wicked face in his mind every time he gazed at this face.

            Then his alarm grew. Spock was advancing, his Spock, the one who’d never before hurt him…, and he was approaching in the same way.

            Panicked, McCoy brought his arms up to ward off an attack, and Spock seized his wrist…, the same one…, the sore one…, to gain leverage, and to push him back against the wall behind him. And it hurt.

            “Ow! Wait!”

            The fingers of Spock’s free hand spread to envelope McCoy’s face. The cruel hangar-deck was opening again to enfold him.

            McCoy cried out, wordlessly, haggardly. Within moments, Spock had all of his answers about the other Spock, even including the mild amusement that that Spock had derived from the term “mind rape.”

            The clean-shaven Spock withdrew abruptly, in shock. McCoy crumpled soundlessly to the deck.

            “What?? What?!” expressed an alarmed Kirk.

            Spock regarded him, and said flatly, “This was the wrong thing to do.”


As McCoy groaned himself gradually awake on the biobed where Spock had placed him, Kirk muttered defensively, “How was I to know that the investigation method matched the crime?”

“Hm,” Spock replied sardonically.

“Spock!” Kirk had a sudden thought. “Mightn’t it also provide the remedy?”

Spock regarded him askance. It was the Vulcan version of you-can’t-be-serious.

“No, really!” Kirk insisted. “Go back in and reassure him, comfort him! Repair the damage!”

“There is little actual physical damage, Jim. He is mainly suffering from emotional trauma.”

“Then comfort him!” Kirk said again. “Before he wakes up fully!”

“Too late,” mumbled a grouchy but intimidated voice. “Spock, please! Not again!”

“Do not be concerned Doctor. I have no intention of adding further to your difficulties.”

“Bones, I don’t see why this upset you so much!” Kirk complained.

McCoy answered peevishly, “Jim, do you even know what you’re talking about here?”

Kirk refused to take the bait, and answered moderately, “Spock’s told me some. So the bearded Spock mind-probed you, so what?”

“It hurts!” McCoy barked.

“Yes, well….”

“And it’s frightening!”

“Okay, but….”

“And it’s the most helpless, vulnerable feeling I’ve ever known!”

That stopped Kirk. If there was ever a feeling that Kirk would not wish to experience, that was it. His comprehension was written all over his face. McCoy nodded triumphantly.

On a different track, Spock said reluctantly, “Doctor, as much as I deplore admitting it, the captain may be right about the cure.”

McCoy stared at him in horror.

“I am serious. What can rip can also soothe. What can hurt can also heal. It can be a balm to your mind.”

Kirk murmured amusedly, “What can bomb can also balm.”

Spock actually glared at him; McCoy didn’t do much less.

As Kirk looked contrite, Spock went on, “And I will not restrain you by the arm this time, or by any other means. It will be painless and unforced. It will be a medical treatment….” He knew that the doctor would appreciate the term. “…not a ‘mind rape’.” The term was clearly distasteful to him.

McCoy cringed at its usage. Kirk looked surprised and amused by what he considered its colorful, childish melodrama.

“All right,” McCoy consented shakily.

As Spock hesitantly approached him, McCoy watched the spread fingers as if a house-sized tarantula were coming at him.

Kirk shook his head in bemusement. He’d been mind melded before, and it simply wasn’t that bad. Disconcerting, yes; terrifying, no. Uncomfortable, yes; painful, no. Either McCoy was incredibly fragile…, or the bearded Spock employed a radically different technique from that which Kirk had experienced. He made up his mind to ask Spock later.

Gradually, ever-so-slowly, as this Spock gently probed, the creases in McCoy’s face smoothed, revealing that his mind was soothed. Finally, after what seemed like hours, Spock carefully withdrew, leaving a consoled McCoy sleeping peacefully.

Back in the turbolift, Kirk asked his question.

“The techniques vary profoundly,” Spock explained. “In analogy, would you rather take a shower, or be drowned in the ocean? Would you rather listen to pleasant music, or be deafened by an overpowering roar? Would you rather be caressed, or bludgeoned?”

Kirk was staring at him, aghast. But when he found his voice, he said, “So you bathed McCoy, serenaded him, and made love to him.”

Spock stared at him for long minutes, with an increasingly intense gaze. Kirk grew deeply uncomfortable, wondering if this time, his teasing of his alien friend had gone too far. The fleeting thought even occurred to him that his Vulcan first officer would potentially be capable of demonstrating to him the apparently vivid difference between a gentle mind meld and an ungentle mind probe. He had never before been so nearly uncomfortable with his trusted first officer, and was actually relieved when the turbolift released him onto his chosen deck.

Now alone with his own thoughts, Spock reversed turbolift direction to return to the sickbay. He’d decided to wait patiently until McCoy should awake, and then to follow Kirk’s not-quite-suggestion…, somewhat less than literally.

            Leonard McCoy moaned, shifted slightly, and wondered why his face was so wet. He knew he’d perspired in anxiety during the mind meld with Spock, but he didn’t think he’d drenched himself. Slowly his eyelids slid up to reveal a pair of lovely blue orbs, and the human found himself staring into a pair of warm brown ones. Spock was hovering over him. McCoy was startled, and flailed slightly, and his fuzzy mind wondered why his forehead was decidedly damp. He looked to his right, and saw a basin into which the Vulcan had just deposited a washcloth.

            By way of apologetic explanation, Spock said, “You had perspired a great deal during our mind link, and I saw in your mind that you found the moisture uncomfortable. I thought that it would give you comfort if I were to administer an old-fashioned remedy.”

            McCoy smiled tentatively, self-consciously, but appreciatively.

            Spock took the soft wet washcloth and sponged McCoy’s neck and face ever-so-gently. It felt refreshing, and the delicate human luxuriated in it.

            After Spock had done a thorough job, he suggested, “Why don’t you relax a while there, and allow me to soothe you by an additional means.”

            McCoy lay back, once again closing his eyes, as Spock reached for his Vulcan lyre and began to play a calm, comforting melody.

            Meanwhile, Jim Kirk had gone back to his quarters to rest from his own eventful day, only to find a sinister intruder lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce on him.

            “Spock!” Kirk cried in disbelief as the dark figure detached from the surrounding gloom and came at him.

            Not quite Spock. A devilish beard seemed to jump out into the light as the invader came toward him.

            “No! It can’t be you! Both Spocks can’t be in the same universe at once!”

            “It is safe as long as we do not come into direct contact with one another. And I have no intention of seeking out my counterpart.” The bearded Spock was still advancing, and he had nearly backed Kirk into the wall.

            “What do you want? Haven’t I helped you enough?”

            “No, not sufficiently. You gave me only the most basic advice, and with it, I have indeed eliminated my Kirk.”

            Although he himself had recommended it, Kirk swallowed hard at the eerie feeling of hearing about almost his own death.

            Spock went on, “From your squeamish, squirming McCoy, I derived only the vague basics about how your Federation functions, and what I did learn was awash in such fear that it was blurred and indistinct at best. But I need strategy, details, from someone as hardened and devious as a Kirk.”

            Jim Kirk’s back thudded against the wall, and his wrist was immediately seized in an instantly-numbing grip.

            McCoy’s mind floated luxuriously in the cloud-soft notes, and kept rising in gentle joy even after the music faded gradually into the ether. His eyes remained euphorically closed.

            Kirk cried out in agony as Spock ripped asunder the layers of his mind which stood in his way as he mercilessly delved into the memories he sought. He ransacked the human’s defenseless mind as a thief would rip through drawers and closets, searching for treasure, and pitching unneeded items carelessly aside in the process.

            “Scott to Dr. McCoy! Scott to Spock!” The frustrated chief engineer had clearly been calling for some time.

            McCoy stirred foggily.

            “Spock here,” his companion announced clearly, while McCoy was still fuzzily trying to puzzle out his whereabouts once again.

            “Mr. Spock, thank goodness! We’d been unable to raise Captain Kirk for quite some time, and when we sent security personnel out to search for him, they found him unconscious in his cabin! We need you to head the investigation of a possible intruder, and we need Dr. McCoy to treat the captain!”

            “I’m here, Scotty,” McCoy managed, his head slowly clearing, and his memories gradually returning. “I’m on my way.”

            Spock and McCoy paused only a moment for a poignant, cherishing look between them, before both hurried off to their urgent tasks.

            The Vulcan had barely gotten his security guards organized, when McCoy was frantically calling him to say that he, Spock, was needed to “doctor” the captain, more than the doctor was. Spock, of course, was the only listener for whom that remark was not enigmatic. But eschewing lengthy, pointless explanations, Spock simply told the security people that their quarry was now upgraded to definite and “extremely dangerous.”

            After Spock had gently and carefully healed Jim, just as he had previously done McCoy, the doctor gave the captain a sedative to help to complete his recovery. Then, Spock departed, returning to the search.

            Fifteen minutes later, anti-Spock chose to move his hiding place to sickbay.

            When the bearded beast popped in, he found himself almost between a standing, working McCoy, and an unconscious Kirk on a diagnostic bed. The three formed a rough triangle. McCoy’s scream didn’t even wake Kirk.

            In an entirely different part of the ship, the clean-shaven Spock thought he heard a scream. Quickly he ascertained within his own mind that the alleged sound had not been received by his ears. Promptly realizing that he’d become somewhat attuned to McCoy’s mental emanations during the day’s activities, he raced back toward the sickbay from whence he’d come.

            Anti-Spock relished his options. “Ah, such a choice. Torture my favorite victim….” He looked at the cowering McCoy.  “Or try for even more information and see if I missed anything.” He looked at the oblivious Kirk, who was completely helpless; the doctor had sedated him thoroughly.

            McCoy’s eyes frantically searched the room for any help or weapon that he could reach quickly enough. Anti-Spock allowed himself an unpleasant smile.

            “Spock!!!” McCoy yelled.

            “You do not need to holler so loudly; I am right here.” Anti-Spock smirked in amusement. “But since you crave my attention so desperately, I will generously grant it to you.” He moved in on his chosen target.

            McCoy’s heart slammed in his chest. His knees nearly buckled; he had to plant his own back against the wall, as the bearded nightmare would’ve done to him anyway, to keep from crumpling to the deck. “Please!! Please, no!!” he implored the roguish alien.

            His pleas only amused the evil Vulcan further. McCoy’s only consolation was that his friend, the more recently injured Kirk, would be spared another trauma so close on the heels of the first.

            Anti-Spock took his time ominously moving in on the pale, trembling human, intentionally drawing out the agony of the suspense. Just as he reached him, and reached out for him, McCoy’s “real” Spock burst into sickbay.

            As anti-Spock slowly turned to face his mirror image, strange energy crackled around both of their forms.

            “You see what is happening,” said the newly arrived Spock. “Our proximity is too great. If we were to touch, for even an instant, both of our universes would be destroyed.”

            As he spoke, McCoy soundlessly sidled across the wall, moving farther and farther away from his torturer, taking maximum advantage of his rescuer’s distraction of the enemy.

            Anti-Spock feigned nonchalance. “I am sure that you are aware, as I am, that only our two universes would suffer that fate. The infinity of universes in the entire multiverse would still remain intact. Further, since you recognize the hazard if we were to touch, you have only to refrain from touching me. I have no intention of touching you.” He abruptly turned his gaze directly onto McCoy, shocking and horrifying the frightened human with his total awareness of precisely where the doctor was; McCoy’s quiet movement away had not fooled him in the least. McCoy froze, nailed in place by the cold, piercing stare of the Vulcan.

            But Spock said, “I have no wish to touch you either. But I will do so, rather than allow you to hurt McCoy.”

            A hush fell in the sickbay. McCoy was awed by Spock’s direct declaration of protectiveness to the ultimate extreme. Spock was silent because he had said all that there was to say, and now he simply awaited the response of the other. Anti-Spock said not a word as he contemplated the decision of his doppelganger. Minutes passed, while threatening energy crackled around both Vulcans.

            Finally, anti-Spock quirked a brow upward. “I suppose that I must admit, to you and to myself, that seeing the outcome of my efforts to transform my universe is even more important to me than having a second session with your frail, fragile human.” He again flattened McCoy to the wall with his eyes. “No matter how entertaining that would’ve been.”

            McCoy shuddered.

            Anti-Spock drew out a small, handheld device. “Very well. I will now return and put to use the information that I have gleaned from your Kirk.” So saying, he pushed a button and was gone in a twinkling of colorful lights.

            McCoy slumped in place, and Spock went to him. With strong arms, he pulled him back to his feet.

            “There aren’t words enough to…,” McCoy began to say to him in gratitude for his rescue.

            Spock was shaking his head so forlornly that it stopped the human in mid-sentence. He said softly, “There are no words sufficient to apologize for the unconscionable abuse inflicted upon you by someone who genetically is essentially me.” Haggard with guilt, he left the sickbay.


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