(Originally published in GRIP #51, March 1996)
(Historian's note: This story takes place during the fourth year of the original five year mission.)
Captain's Log, Stardate 5824.4. The Enterprise is proceeding to Trimms IV. Starfleet Command thinks that this planet may be suitable for colonization. We are being sent to find out if this is indeed the case. The world lies a comfortable distance from both the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Alliance, so Starfleet anticipates no problems from them. What should make this an interesting trip is the fact that the last four groups that went to the planet returned with no information. In fact, they were reluctant to talk about Trimms IV at all.
James T. Kirk finished this sentence of his log entry and turned to see Dr Leonard McCoy entering the bridge. Smiling, the captain finished his log: "My own Chief Surgeon, Leonard McCoy, was in the last expedition. My hope is that he can shed some light on the situation. End log entry."
Kirk thumbed the recorder off and leaned back in his chair. "Can you?"
McCoy's blue eyes widened. His hands clenched into fists. "Did you say...Trimms IV?"
At the Science Station, Mr. Spock turned from his board. An elegantly slanted eyebrow tilted upward. "Is something wrong, Doctor?"
McCoy barely glanced at him. "Not now, Spock. I'm not in the mood." He ignored the attempt of Spock's eyebrows to climb into his bangs, and addressed Kirk. "Jim, that planet is Trinneth!"
Kirk frowned. "Trinneth? Never heard of the place."
"Consider yourself lucky. Why d'you want to know about Trinneth?"
"We're going there. Starfleet thinks it's a good place for a colony."
McCoy came down to the lower level of the bridge and gripped the arm of Kirk's chair. His voice became very soft, a sure sign he was barely controlling his fury. "Jim, Starfleet is out of its cotton-pickin' mind! Trinneth is no place to build a colony. We barely escaped from that place fifteen years ago! Now we're going back?"
Kirk rose to his feet. "We're going back. You and Spock, come with me."
McCoy released the chair arm. "Where?"
"Briefing Room Three. You are going to explain yourself. Mr. Sulu, you have the Conn." Kirk strode toward the turbolift doors, Spock at his heels.
With a last cold glance at the log recorder, McCoy followed.
In the Briefing Room, Kirk gestured toward the chairs. Spock sat in one, slightly at attention, as always. McCoy, however, remained standing. He glared at Kirk, fury blazing in his eyes.
Kirk sat down. "Bones, tell me about Trinneth."
McCoy suddenly became very interested in the ceiling and the floor.
Spock cocked an eyebrow. "The Enterprise self-cleaning program is functioning adequately, Doctor." McCoy fixed him with a withering glance. The silence that accompanied it sent the other brow shooting up.
Kirk cleared his throat. "Bones?"
McCoy turned the look on him.
"Captain," Spock said. "Since the good doctor rarely lapses into silence for so long without laryngitis, it would be logical to assume that it is something on Trinneth that has provoked this unusual behavior."
Kirk simply said, "Well?"
McCoy sighed. Some of the fight went out of him. "It was a bad time, Jim. I've spent the last fifteen years tryin' to forget what happened there!"
"I need to know," Kirk gently prodded.
McCoy groaned and sank into a chair. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. "Miguel Morendez led our mission."
Kirk leaned forward, his interest suddenly piqued. "Miguel Morendez? The xenobotanist?" At McCoy's nod, he asked, "Whatever happened to him?"
Spock supplied the answer. "He had to retire from Starfleet, Captain. He was blinded during a survey mission on his off-time..." He broke off and looked at McCoy. "Fifteen years ago."
McCoy looked at him and nodded, an I-told-you-so grin appearing for an instant. It faded as he turned to Kirk. "See, Jim, Trinneth's alive. It changes one member of each landing party, takes away something important to him. If the landing party can reach the centre of Trinneth and defeat it, everything's okay. If not...." He sighed. "Ask Miguel, if you don't believe me."
Kirk shook his head. "That's pretty fantastic, Bones." McCoy's gaze turned pained. Kirk held up a hand as if warding off a blow. "Okay, okay!" He activated his monitor. "Chekov?"
"Who's your best man at weapons and hand-to-hand?"
The Russian Security Chief thought for a moment. "Ben Richards is my best veapons man. My best hand-to-hand is a voman. Berendith M'lsaan."
McCoy chuckled. "That would figure."
"Oh?" Kirk looked up at him.
Spock nodded. "She's an Archnid, Captain. Her race evolved from spiders."
Kirk frowned. "Arachnid, you mean?"
McCoy shook his head. "Archnid, Jim. Race, not description." At Jim's perplexed frown, he grinned. "Four eyes and six arms, Jim."
"Hand-to-hand." The humour of the situation caught up with Kirk and he chuckled.
"Captain?" It was Sulu, leaning over Chekov's shoulder. "We're orbiting Trimms IV. Uhura is picking up a message."
Kirk glanced at McCoy, who had blanched. "Put it on," Kirk ordered.
An eerie voice, young and old at the same time, came on the speaker. "Strangers, welcome to Trinneth. You are welcome to orbit and look, and equally welcome to visit. Should you visit, take heed...." The voice rose in volume. "Defeat the undefeatable and you shall be restored."
"End message," Uhura reported.
Kirk nodded and cut the channel. "Well?"
McCoy cursed. "Same message as before, Jim. Word for word."
"We are going, Bones. I can't tell Starfleet this planet's no good for a colony based on your fifteen-year-old memories. I have to see for myself."
He opened the channel again. "Chekov, have Richards and M'lsaan meet us in the Transporter Room. We're beaming down."
The five materialized on the surface of Trinneth. Kirk ordered tricorder readings, and Spock and the two security officers began to fan out.
Kirk moved to McCoy's side. "Doesn't seem so bad, Bones. Fresh air, green forests...."
"Eyes watchin' you from everywhere," McCoy said.
Kirk smiled. "Know what, Bones? Your paranoia's showing."
"You think I'm paranoid now, wait'll when Trinneth starts showin' itself." McCoy got out his tricorder and turned his back, ending the conversation.
Kirk chuckled and shook his head.
Suddenly, McCoy cursed and whirled back. "Jim!"
Spock was racing toward Kirk. "Captain! Energy levels accel...." His form was suddenly bathed in yellow light and he crumpled to the ground, senseless.
"Spock! Richards! M'lsaan!" Kirk cried as they were each struck down the same way.
As McCoy was cut down, Kirk heard him scream, "Curse you, Trinneth!"
"Bones! No!" Kirk reached for his friend. Suddenly, pain shot through his body and his vision was filled with yellow. He screamed wordlessly as he felt a sudden pounding in his head.
Then all went dark and quiet.
Kirk opened his eyes and sensed something was wrong. He climbed to his feet and looked around. He was in a circular pen with high, smooth walls. The top was open... but he couldn't get there. He looked around. No door readily visible. What was so wrong? He was on edge.
Kirk swallowed hard, trying to dispel the feeling of dread. Then he tried to call to his crewmates. No sound came out. His hand flew to his throat. His fingers explored it, finding everything normal.
He tried to call again. Still nothing.
Kirk closed his eyes and sighed deeply. Then he struck the wall in frustration. This was almost the worst thing that could happen to a starship captain. He could not speak!
Swearing silently, he began to search for a way out. Where were the others?
McCoy had been right, he admitted to himself. Something or someone on this planet changes people.
Where were the others? Had they been changed as well?
Spock opened his eyes. He lay on his stomach on the dusty ground. He rose to his knees, shaking his head to clear it.
He stood, surveying the situation. He was in an open-air pen twelve meters high. The top was open, unless a force-field sealed him in.
He glanced around. The sides were smooth. No visible door. Up seemed the only way out.
"Captain? Doctor? Anyone?" he called. No answer. He turned his attention to his cell. Sliding his hands along the smooth walls, he found no discernable door. He craned his neck again, looking up. Twelve meters tall. Open at the top.
He ran a hand along the walls again, this time more carefully. Yes, there they were. Small, nearly invisible handholds.
Steeling himself, Spock began to climb.
A half hour later, his arms shaking, Spock emerged at the top of the pen. He sat on the narrow ledge for a moment, catching his breath and steeling himself for the twelve-meter drop to the ground. Then he looked down.
Surprisingly, the outside of the pen was only a meter above the ground! Spock dropped to the ground and checked the other pens, of which his was the third of five.
The first pen held M'lsaan. The lithe, deceptively weak-looking Archnid was already halfway up the wall, her race's six arms serving her well. She raised her four eyes to Spock and smiled at him. Spock nodded in response.
Spock moved to the second pen. Richards was on his feet, checking the walls. He looked up when he saw Spock's shadow. "Hallo!" he shouted. "Mister Spock! Can you get me out of here?"
"I shall ask M'lsaan." He returned to the first pen. "Lieutenant?"
"I heard," she called. "Tell him I'll be happy to get him out, as soon as I'm clear!"
Spock bent over Richards' pen. "I heard," the Englishman called up. "Thank you, sir!"
Spock nodded and moved past the empty third pen to the fourth. McCoy glared up at him. "You grow wings or somethin'?"
"No, I climbed. You are eleven meters underground."
"I figured that out, Spock. I can't climb that far!"
"Perhaps M'lsaan...?" Spock looked back toward M'lsaan's pen.
M'lsaan, emerging from her pen, called, "Sit tight, Doctor! I'll be there soon!"
McCoy huffed and leaned against the wall.
Spock moved to the fifth pen. Kirk was on his feet, sliding his hands along the walls. "Captain! Jim!"
Kirk looked around him.
"Up here! Jim!"
Kirk raised his eyes and broke into a wide grin. Then, instead of speaking, he tapped his chest and pointed at Spock.
Spock blinked. "M'lsaan is rescuing the others. She will be here soon, unless you wish to attempt to scale these walls yourself."
Kirk grinned and shook his head. No, thanks!
"Are you all right, sir?"
Kirk shook his head, pointing at his throat.
Spock blinked again. An eyebrow rose. "You cannot talk." It was a statement, confirmed by Kirk's nod. "How?" Spock asked. Kirk shrugged.
Minutes later, the landing party was reunited outside the pens. McCoy ran his medscanner over Kirk. "No vocal cords," he said quietly. Shaking his head, he ordered, "Jim, come here." Kirk took a step forward. McCoy put a hand on his throat and felt his larynx.
Kirk flinched away, mouthing Ow!
McCoy grinned sheepishly. "Sorry. Let me take a look." He looked into Kirk's throat and shook his head. "That dad-blasted machine's wrong. They're there! Fool planet's muckin' with the tricorders!" Then he swore vehemently.
Kirk blinked at him.
"I was afraid of this, Jim," McCoy said. "I warned you something would happen...." Kirk frowned. McCoy sighed and continued, "Trinneth is alive! The whole planet is one organism, like the old Gaea theory."
Kirk shook his head. He pointed to the sky and shook his head again. He pointed at his feet and nodded.
"Yes," McCoy said. "Unlike Gaea, this is real. Trinneth tests each group that comes to it. It changes the leader, taking away the thing he values most, what makes him a good leader."
Spock nodded. "In your case, Captain, you can sway people with your words. So, Trinneth... removed your words. The question is, how? The vocal cords are present."
McCoy shook his head. "Medical tricorder's useless. Until I can get access to the ship's computers, I can't tell how come he can't talk."
Kirk mouthed a curse.
McCoy grinned. "I understood that." He sobered. "The planet issued a challenge to us before we beamed down, remember?’Defeat the undefeatable and you will be restored.'"
"Restored to normal," Spock said, nodding. "I understand. But the 'undefeatable'?"
"The challenge," McCoy said, "is to find the nerve center of Trinneth, its...brain, if you will. We have to defeat it to return to normal."
"And if we fail, Doctor?" Spock asked softly.
McCoy paused for a long moment. Then he said just as softly, "We don't dare fail. If we do, the change is permanent."
Kirk drew in a sharp breath. Spock raised an eyebrow, glancing at his commanding officer. "Permanent," he said, almost to himself. "You are right, Doctor. We dare not fail."
"Sir?" Richards asked, as he and M'lsaan moved to join them. "Where is this nerve center?"
"North," McCoy said, pointing over Spock's shoulder. "At least, that's the general direction. This place will try everything it can to confuse us. It won't be easy."
Kirk tapped his communicator. McCoy shook his head. "Useless, Jim. Trinneth drains all the energy. If the pattern holds true, the Enterprise has been lured away by a phony emergency call. We're on our own."
Kirk blew out the air in his cheeks. He thought for a moment, then squared his shoulders and waved a hand northward.
As the five set off, none of them noticed the curious gaze that followed them out of the woods.
An hour later, the landing party emerged into a large clearing. Kirk walked over to M'lsaan and laid a hand on her uppermost right shoulder. She focused her right two eyes on him. "Yes, sir?"
Kirk smiled gently and tapped the tricorder her central right hand held. Her amethyst eyes softened as she passed the tricorder to her upper right hand, then to his hand. Then, eyes hardening, she used all three right arms to push Kirk behind her.
Kirk peered around her jet-black ponytail and saw bushes moving. They parted, and out jumped a small, furry primate.
It hopped over to them, cooing. It went from one landing party member to another as they gathered around it.
"What is it?" Richards asked softly.
"It could be dangerous! Careful, all!" M'lsaan said.
"How could this be dangerous?" Richards asked, holding out a hand. "It's so cute!"
The primate reached for Richards' hand. Suddenly there was a phaser whine and it fell, stunned. Richards blinked and turned.
McCoy sheathed his phaser. "If all security men are so reckless, it's no wonder we lose so many red-shirts!"
Richards grinned sheepishly. "What was that?"
McCoy met his eyes. "We called it a bullape. If it had touched your hand, it would have grown to over seven feet tall and sprouted six-inch claws and fangs." He grinned slightly. "Bet you wouldn't have thought it was so cute then, Ben."
Kirk pushed some buttons on the tricorder, and handed it to McCoy. "'I wonder what's next'," McCoy read aloud. "So do I, Jim." He handed the tricorder back to Kirk and turned to Spock. "You're awfully quiet."
Spock was running his tricorder over the unconscious primate. "Merely observing, Doctor. Everything on this planet seems to have the same DNA structure. There is no difference between plants and animals--the DNA is exactly the same." He rose to his feet. "Doctor, it appears you were correct. This planet is a single organism."
Laughter rang out around them, then a voice taunted, "You're on the right track. One of you has passed. Keep coming and defeat Trinneth--if you can!" Laughter rang out again, and then faded away.
It was not the same voice they had heard on the ship. Five sets of eyes turned to Kirk. Kirk stood stiffly, fists clenched and jaw set hard. His eyes narrowed to hazel slits.
The voice had been Kirk's.
McCoy laid a hand on Kirk's shoulder. Kirk turned to face him, fury blazing from his eyes. McCoy nodded sympathetically, and then said, "North."
Kirk closed his eyes and nodded slightly. When he opened them the anger had lessened, but not vanished. He nodded and his lips formed the word, North.
Night fell. The five found a small clearing and prepared camp. Kirk pointed at M'lsaan and McCoy, indicating that they had the first watch.
Kirk drifted into an uneasy sleep. Shouts woke him. It was still dark, cut only by the glow of the fire Spock had started hours before.
Kirk rolled over and stood... or rather, tried to. Something had his ankle in a solid grip. He flipped onto his back and kicked.
Whatever had him tightened its grip. Kirk gritted his teeth and reached for his phaser. Aiming it at his ankle, he fired.
Nothing happened. Kirk shook the phaser, and then tried again.
"Jim! Here!" Spock shouted. Kirk flung the useless phaser away and reached for the piece of burning wood Spock thrust at him.
He jabbed the makeshift torch at his ankle. The firelight revealed what held him: a coiled length of vine. Kirk thrust the fire at the vine a second time.
The vine tightened its grip again. Kirk's foot began to go numb. The vine retracted, dragging Kirk's leg with it. Kirk felt himself begin to slide. The fire wasn't working!
He glanced around. The others were climbing out of tangles of torn, limp vines. Nobody was looking his way. He couldn't even yell, to get their attention!
Kirk grabbed at the ground and found a good-sized pebble. He flung it at Spock, and it crashed at the first officer's feet. Spock turned and saw Kirk's plight. "Captain!" he cried. "M'lsaan! With me!"
M'lsaan outran Spock as they raced to Kirk's side. Kirk had dug his fingertips into the ground to keep from sliding any further into the forest. The vine was still doggedly trying to pull him in.
Spock moved to one side of the vine, M'lsaan to the other. Four pairs of hands linked onto the vine and pulled in two directions. The vine didn't stop.
"We need more hands," M'lsaan gasped.
Spock raised his head to call McCoy and Richards, but they were already at his side. They grasped the vine and all four pulled.
The vine suddenly broke in two. Kirk was sent tumbling as his foot was released. The vine fragments twitched, then lay limp.
McCoy was quickly at Kirk's side. "You okay, Jim?"
Kirk felt his ankle, then nodded and climbed to his feet. He gestured at the vines, and then tapped the phaser at McCoy's side.
"Why didn't they work?" McCoy guessed. At Kirk's nod, he said, "Trinneth drained the energy, the way it did with our communicators."
Kirk looked puzzled. He shook his head, pointed at Richards, then at McCoy, and mimed firing a phaser.
Spock nodded. "Yes, sir. Doctor McCoy was able to use one earlier. But all five were dead in this latest attack. Did this happen when you were here before, Doctor?"
McCoy shook his head. "We had laser rifles, not phasers. I guess Trinneth didn't know what they were until I had to use one on that bullape."
Kirk's stolen voice rang out around them again. "Very good, Doctor. I have underestimated you. Two of you have now passed. One test to go. Then you must defeat me--IF you can!" Trinneth's laughter faded as the sun began to rise.
"No communicators, no phasers," Richards said softly. "I don't like this one bit."
"Two of three," M'lsaan mused. "Wonder what three will be?"
"Mineral," McCoy sighed. "We'd better go." As they set off, McCoy made a mental note to check Kirk's leg at the earliest opportunity.
The Captain was limping slightly.
Around midday, the five emerged in a large clearing surrounded by rocks and dominated by the mouth of a cave set into the face of a small, grass-covered mound. Kirk sat down on a boulder and rubbed his ankle. It still throbbed from the attack of the night before. Several choice words ran through his mind, but he could not articulate them. Frustrated, Kirk slapped his hand on the rock. He hadn't even been able to thank Spock and the others for saving him!
M'lsaan sat beside him. "Captain? Are you all right?"
Kirk nodded a bit too quickly. Then he met her amethyst eyes and smiled slightly, shaking his head.
"Your foot?" she asked. He shook his head again. "Your voice." This time it was a statement.
M'lsaan covered his hand with one of hers. "We'll get you through it, sir. We will get your voice back."
Kirk looked at her, his smile turning ironic. It must have showed in his eyes, because she suddenly laughed. "Odd. If one of us were in your place, that's exactly what you'd say to us!" At his nod, she laughed again. Then she was serious. "Captain -- I mean it. Hang in there. We'll make it."
Kirk nodded slowly, covering her hand. A second one of hers covered his, and then two more pushed her off the rock. She stood there for a moment, gripping his hands, and then turned to go.
And the rock Kirk was sitting on began to shake.
M'lsaan turned back, two more of her hands gripping his forearms. "Mister Spock! Doctor! Ben! I think Number Three's just hit!"
Kirk jumped off the rock as it began to crack down the middle. It parted and became two humanoid rock-beings.
McCoy raced up and cursed. "Stonemen!" he gasped. "We're here! That cave's it! The stonemen protect the entrance!"
The two gray, blank-faced humanoids stood immobile, one on either side of the cave's entrance. They made no threatening moves: they just shifted so that no one could get past either of them.
"Let me guess," Richards said. "We have to get past them to get to the nerve centre."
"Right," McCoy said. "Jim, this is where we failed. We couldn't get past the Stonemen. From here on, I don't know what to expect."
"What did you do?" Spock asked.
"First we tried to rush past them, but they're too strong to move. Then we tried to talk our way past them, but that didn't work either. Then Miguel had two of the team distract them, and he tried to get past on his own, but by the time we found him, he was totally lost and blinded."
Kirk held up a hand. He was staring at the Stonemen. They were listening carefully to everything that had been said.
"Captain," M'lsaan said, "If the previous party did not distract the Stonemen, what chance have we?"
Kirk shrugged expressively. The faces of the Stonemen swiveled to M'lsaan.
"They seem to be attracted to sound," Spock observed. "Perhaps that is the distraction that is needed. Lieutenant, have you noticed that you have an advantage over other beings....."
The Stonemen's faces swiveled over to Spock. Spock and M'lsaan continued to chatter while Kirk edged around them and into a cave.
Kirk found himself at the top of a flight of stairs cut into the rock. He walked down, expecting to see rows of computer banks. Instead, the walls were pale pink, spongy and damp. With a slight sense of nausea, Kirk realised that he was inside a brain--Trinneth's brain!
"Welcome!" The voice that used to be Kirk's echoed from all around him. "You discovered my pets' secret. Three out of three. Not bad. But now you face... me!"
Kirk stepped forward, opening his mouth to give an impassioned plea. His mouth closed as he belatedly remembered this criminal world had stolen his voice. He could only listen helplessly as Trinneth went on.
"You have no chance of defeating me. You are, after all, only human. I am an entire world!"
Kirk's eyes widened. He was starting to pick up a pattern in the ramblings -- a slight oddity in the speech pattern....
"I see you are amazed. How is it that I speak with your voice and inflections?"
Kirk smiled. The voice was his, but the inflections certainly weren't!
"You smile. You think you can defeat me? You have already lost! Here!" Part of the wall of the chamber slid back, revealing a case suspended in midair. "See the prize you have given me!"
Kirk stepped forward. Inside the case was a silvery film. Trinneth spoke and the film vibrated with each word.
"This case holds the components of your voice, Captain Kirk. This film mimics the precise vibrations of your vocal cords. Thank you. This voice suits me much better than my old one. It holds more power."
Kirk lunged for the case and bounced off a force-field.
As he picked himself up, Trinneth laughed again. "Return to your friends, Captain Kirk. Leave Trinneth. You have lost, and I have won." The laughter grew louder. Kirk stumbled backwards, out of the chamber and up the stairs, to the patch of light that marked the mouth of the cave.
"Here he comes!" Richards cried.
Kirk emerged from the cave. The stonemen stepped back and blended into the hillside, sealing off the entrance again. Kirk shook his head with a look of despair.
McCoy groaned. Spock looked at the now-sealed entrance and whispered, "No."
"Captain!" M'lsaan called. "I've made contact with the ship!"
"It would seem our distraction was useful after all," Spock observed.
Kirk's face brightened. He grabbed his own communicator and flipped it open. Handing it to Spock, he nodded and began punching buttons on his tricorder.
Spock paused a second, then spoke. "Spock to Enterprise."
Scotty's voice erupted from the grille. "Finally! Mister Spock, are ye all right?"
"Yes, but the Captain has been injured."
Before he could say anything else, McCoy interrupted. "Scotty, why are you still in orbit? Didn't you get lured away?"
"Aye, fer a while. I thought the call was a phony and checked it out with the long-range sensors. 'Twas a fake, and we stayed put. We've been tryin' ta contact ya fer the last seven hours!"
Spock nodded. "Very well, Mister Scott. Five to...." Kirk laid a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. He handed Spock his tricorder.
Spock read the message Kirk had typed. He looked at Kirk, who nodded. After a second, Spock said, "Belay that order, Mister Scott. Instead, lock photon torpedoes on the following co-ordinates." He read them off. "Then you are to beam down two phaser rifles boosted with dilithium augmenters."
Scotty whistled. "That's some pretty powerful weaponry! Are ye sure?"
McCoy grinned. "We're sure, Scotty," he said. "Beam them down."
The rifles materialized at Kirk's feet. He picked them up and handed one to Spock. McCoy held out a hand. "Here, Spock. I've got a score to settle with this planet."
"Oh?" Spock replied.
"Miguel Morendez was one of my best friends."
Wordlessly, Spock handed over the rifle.
"Are you still here?" Trinneth boomed. "Transport up to your ship! I have released you --- you've lost! Go!"
Kirk smiled. There it was again. He waved an arm toward a group of rocks.
The five ducked down behind the rocks as Trinneth laughed again. "You think to hide from Trinneth? Your attempt is utterly futile!"
We're not trying to hide, monster, Kirk thought. He looked at Spock and made a cutting motion.
"Fire, Mister Scott," Spock ordered.
Twin starbursts erupted around the landing party. There was a tremendous explosion that shook the ground.
Kirk peered over the rock he was using for cover. The sealed cave now stood open, smoke pouring from the entrance.
"You hurt me!" Trinneth boomed. "Now you will die!"
The rocks split and changed, becoming Stonemen once again. They began to grapple with M'lsaan and Richards.
"Go!" Spock cried, jumping in to help the security officers.
Kirk bolted for the cave. He gestured for McCoy to join him. A Stoneman followed them. McCoy aimed at it, and Kirk grabbed the barrel of the augmented rifle, pointing it at the ground. He shook his head.
McCoy sighed. "Right. Can't let it know, yet." He stood his ground as the stonemen charged, then stepped aside at the last minute. The Stonemen crashed into the wall of the cave, crumbling into a pile of pebbles.
Kirk smiled and motioned for McCoy to follow him. They entered the cave and began to descend the staircase.
McCoy whistled. "So this is Trinneth's nerve centre."
Kirk's stolen voice, thick with pain, said, "So you have returned. You did not defeat me before. You will not defeat me now."
"Sounds just like you," McCoy said, shivering slightly.
Kirk smiled, shaking his head.
"You don't think so?"
Another shake of the head.
"Hmm." McCoy looked at the pink, spongy walls. "Looks like we're inside a brain."
Kirk's smile became bigger. He shook his head and pointed with the barrel of his rifle. McCoy followed the barrel. He saw part of the wall shimmer and, just for an instant, he could see metal behind it.
"A machine!" He gasped. "You were right -- the whole planet's artificial!"
Kirk nodded. He led the way to the inner room where the case rested with his vocal cords.
"What are you doing?" Trinneth gasped. "Your efforts are futile! Trinneth cannot be defeated!"
Shut up, Kirk mouthed. He shouldered the rifle and fired at the case.
The augmented phaser fire struck the force-field. It swelled around it, turning from clear to yellow to red. Then the field collapsed, and the phaser's energy struck the case, shattering it.
Trinneth screamed. The scream changed from Kirk's voice to the curious young/old voice they'd heard on the ship. The pink, spongy walls shimmered and became cold, grey steel.
Kirk staggered as if he'd been struck. He sagged to his knees and clutched at his pounding head.
"Jim!" McCoy raced to his side.
Kirk raised a hand and gripped his arm. Gaining his feet, he smiled at McCoy. "I'm all right," he said hoarsely.
Not daring to believe his ears, McCoy dropped the rifle and gripped Kirk's shoulders. "Your voice!" he gasped. "You can talk!"
Kirk nodded. "I think we destroyed the paralyzer."
"What?" McCoy asked, looking at the destroyed case.
"I'm right, aren't I?" Kirk demanded.
After a long pause, Trinneth's young/old voice sighed. "You are. I used that to freeze your synapses. Your words could not be formed in your throat. I fooled your machines to make you think your vocal cords were gone."
Kirk nodded. "You say you fooled our tricorders. That's why you read as organic?"
"Yes," Trinneth sighed, sounding very weary.
"But...Miguel!" McCoy said. "He's still blind after fifteen years!"
"He believes he is blind," said the tired voice. "That makes him so."
McCoy's fists clenched in helpless rage. He grabbed for the phaser rifle.
"Bones! No!" Kirk cried sharply, tossing the rifle out of reach. "It's over! We've won!"
McCoy glared at Kirk, rage making him incoherent. Then he closed his eyes and sighed. "You're right," he said, looking at the humming machinery. "You've lost. You've finally lost."
"Leave Trinneth," the voice said, becoming softer. "You have won. Leave me in peace."
"Come on, Bones," Kirk said, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Let's go home."
As they came out of the cave, they saw Richards, M'lsaan, and Spock standing over piles of pebbles.
"How'd you--?" McCoy sputtered.
M'lsaan smiled. "They just crumbled, about five minutes ago."
Spock stepped forward, communicator in hand. "Are you all right, Captain?"
Kirk smiled at him. He took his communicator and flipped it open. "Kirk to Enterprise."
Richards and M'lsaan burst into cheers. Spock closed his eyes and visibly fought a smile.
"Scott here, Captain. Are ye all right?"
"I am now, Scotty. Doctor McCoy was right -- this planet is completely unsuitable for colonization. Five to beam up."
"Five??" Chekov spluttered in the background. "Ve didn't lose anybody?"
"Thanks for the concern, Chief," Richards called.
Kirk laughed. "Let's go, Scotty. Beam us up."
Later, in McCoy's office, Kirk downed his glass of Saurian brandy in one gulp.
"So tell me, Jim," McCoy said, sinking into his seat, "how'd you know that thing was a machine?"
Kirk smiled as McCoy refilled his glass and Spock sat down beside him. "It boasted that it had my inflections, but it sounded mechanical."
Spock raised an eyebrow. "Mechanical?"
"Well, yes." Kirk set his glass down. "It would pause after every few words as if it was processing its next thoughts." He shook his head, chuckling. "I don't talk that way."
McCoy broke into a grin and looked at the desktop. Spock's other eyebrow shot up towards the ceiling.
Kirk looked from one to the other. "Do I?"
The monitor on McCoy's desk beeped. "Saved by the bell," McCoy muttered, activating it. "Yes, Scotty?"
"Is the Cap'n there?" When Kirk acknowledged him, he reported, "Captain, we're out of orbit. The beacon's ready."
"Hold position, Scotty. We're on our way." Kirk drained his glass and set it back on the desk as they left the office.
"Launch beacon, Mister Scott," Kirk said as they entered the Bridge.
"Beacon away, aye," Scott said, touching a button on the console.
Kirk sank into his chair. "Show it to me, Sulu."
Trinneth, powerful and imposing, appeared on the viewscreen. A flashing green light was now in orbit around it. "Let's hear it," Kirk ordered.
Uhura touched a button on her console, and the computer voice from the beacon intoned, "...this area immediately. Attention, approaching ship: be advised that this planet is under permanent quarantine, by order of the United Federation of Planets. You are hereby ordered, by authority of Starfleet Command, to leave this area immediately. Attention, approaching ship...." Uhura cut it off.
"That should do it," Kirk said. "Satisfied, Bones?"
"Nope?" Kirk sat up straighter. "What do you mean?"
McCoy nodded at the screen. "We tried it fifteen years ago. Watch."
Suddenly, a crimson beacon shot from the surface. The beacon disappeared in a flash of light, to become dust floating in orbit.
Kirk closed his eyes for a second. Then he opened them and ordered, "Warp factor four, Mister Sulu. Get us out of here." He shook his head and leaned back in his seat again. "Nobody is going to believe this report...."
Spock turned from his station. "Captain... one thing still concerns me."
"Yes, Spock?" Kirk asked.
"We have established that Trinneth is a machine."
Kirk turned to face him. "Yes?"
"Who created it? For what purpose?"
Kirk sat up straight. He turned to face the viewscreen and blanched.
McCoy laid a hand on Kirk's shoulder. His eyes met Spock's. "Let's leave that to the bigwigs, shall we?"
Spock raised an eyebrow and nodded.
Kirk leaned back in his chair and smiled. "Well, that's it." Then he turned to McCoy. "Now, about the way I talk...."
"Sorry, Jim," McCoy said, striding for the turbolift. "Need to tackle the mound of paperwork on my desk."
Kirk turned to Spock, but Spock was gazing into the viewer at the science station, engrossed in his next project.
Kirk leaned his head back and smiled up at the ceiling. It was good to have things back to normal.
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