Spock settled back, nodding reluctantly at McCoy's request. "I am engaging in a ritual hunt--one of the more important rituals of my people. Since I am a male of full physical strength and dexterity, I seek out the most dangerous beast of all. It is the mok farr--
the time of remembrance."
"Another Vulcan ritual--and me with only a medikit," thought McCoy, appalled.
"The hunt does not end in a killing. Instead, I shall meld minds with the animal, as you have seen me do before. The purpose of the tradition is to see and understand, in the ferocity of the beast, the savagery of the Vulcan nature, which we have hidden and controlled so carefully."
"And then what?" McCoy asked skeptically, thinking privately that Spock, unlike young men on Vulcan, had doubtless already encountered more savage ferocity than he would ever require.
"Then I shall officially be an adult."
"You mean you're not?" McCoy asked, amazed.
Spock shook his head, shamefaced. "My human heritage impeded my telepathic ability, and I was quite young when I left Vulcan. I could not have successfully completed the ritual. Since then, I have had mind contact with many aliens--Humans, the Horta, a Medusan. Now I am prepared. I do not wish to further postpone the rite."
"Wouldn't it be safer to put it off until you could get to Vulcan?" McCoy ventured tentatively.
"Doctor. The mok farr
the Vulcan rite of passage into adulthood. If our positions were reversed, would you put it off?"
"I guess you've got a point."
Spock curled up like a cat on a pile of leaves--he was carrying primitivism a bit too far, McCoy thought resentfully--and prepared for sleep. "The correct phrase would be 'Good night, Doctor,'" Spock said sleepily. McCoy crawled into his sleeping bag, and for a long time listened to the voice of the warm wind.
As usual, Spock was up at dawn, irritatingly alert, and as usual, McCoy slept half an hour longer, savoring each precious moment of sleep with an intensity he had not previously possessed. Once McCoy was finally wakened, Spock had them ready for the trail in practically no time at all.
In three days the Vulcan had taught McCoy something of the rudiments of stalking--enough to tiptoe quietly down the trail. Spock, who by this time had appropriated the carrying of nearly all of McCoy's pack, was more silent still.
"How long until we find your owltiger?" McCoy panted.
"We have been following a scissorbuck herd for two days now," Spock replied. "Eventually, one will make an appearance."
"Dr. McCoy, do you know nothing of hunting?" Spock was watching the lithe brown forms of the scissorbucks move slowly in the distance.
"I've fished a little."
"I have never been able to comprehend the Terran attitude that fishing is a sport. Considering the mass ratio between man and fish, it can hardly be called an equal contest. At any rate, you may trust me. I know what I am doing."
At that moment Spock's keen eyes caught the leaders of the herd sniffing the air nervously. "Wait here," he commanded, slipping off the bulky pack and moving quietly toward the herd. After a few minutes, McCoy crept after him, clutching the medikit firmly in hand.
From a slight rise he watched Spock approach the now skittish herd. The Vulcan's Star Fleet uniform was relatively easy to spot--McCoy recollected the incredulous eyebrow-raising he'd encountered when he had suggested wearing different clothes for the occasion. Apparently Spock considered his uniform an auxiliary skin.
McCoy strained his eyes looking for an owltiger, then finally flipped open his medikit to check its lifeform-sensor. He hadn't wanted to take one of the Enterprise's
tricorders on a private excursion, but the medikit would perform the same function.
Yes. Spock was cautiously approaching the location of a large animal only a few hundred yards from the herd. Then McCoy saw the owltiger.
It was huge, a mottled dun color, with a small white ruff. The owlish ears were what gave the beast the name owltiger, McCoy knew, that and the two wicked fangs placed close together, which gave the impression of a beak.
Had it seen Spock? The scissorbucks were beginning to scatter. Then McCoy saw Spock fling himself toward the giant carnivore at a dead run. The great cat roared, and responded by leaping toward him.
As the two closed, McCoy cursed the government regulation that made phasers in Primitive Areas forbidden. He watched helplessly as the beast attacked. Spock was almost under its paws, and then suddenly standing over the brute, which was twitching convulsively. "He's safe!" McCoy shouted thankfully, then added, "Knock on wood."
The owltiger's short red thoughts flooded into Spock's mind. Spock struggled with the problem of handling its bestial emotions without suppressing them, and attempted to calm the beast by mentally asserting, "We are one mind. Our thoughts are moving together." Hurt, pain, attack, slash.
"No! We are unity--no need for that!" Run, leap, bite, hurt.
"The twitching in the
legs will stop..." Flesh rending food, the hunting...
Fascinating--all thoughts the same. Monomania...monom...mon... Teeth, claws, kill,
The owltiger shook itself and bounded off. McCoy watched it go with a feeling of great relief. "Well, that's that," he told himself, satisfied. He was startled, then, to hear an unearthly roar.
Or was it a scream? It's Spock! McCoy realized. "I'm coming," he yelled, and recklessly scrambled down the slope toward his comrade.
Spock was crouching on all fours, flexing and unflexing his hands, looking at the strange blunt claws. He felt clumsy and off-balance. The whole landscape was full of confusingly different colors, sounds, and odors. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the scissorbuck herd, alerted and on the run, and he growled in irritation.
Some creature was crashing down the hill at him. Suspiciously, he prepared to spring. But foggily, from the back of his mind, he remembered that the creature had something to do with sickness and whirring things that hurt, and his own blood. Rattled, he got up on two feet and fled.
"Wait, Spock, wait!" McCoy puffed. He'd known that catching Spock was impossible from the moment that Spock had started to run, but had continued until the last glimpse of the blue shirt was gone in the distance.
"Damn!" McCoy remembered bitterly Spock's tendency to get so tied up in the mind of the being he was contacting that he had to be pried loose. "I'll have to bring him back to himself, or he'll be yowling at the moon for the rest of his shore leave." McCoy grumbled. Nagging at him was the recollection of Simon van Gelder. Spock had snapped back to normal immediately after being pulled away from him. Never before had Spock maintained mental identity with a being so far away from him. Worriedly, McCoy reached for his communicator to summon help.
It wasn't there. He'd let Spock carry it, along with most of his gear. The doctor scrambled over the dusty grasses to where Spock had dropped his pack, opened it, and rifled through. No--Spock had carried both their communicators securely on his belt. And they were both lost with him.
Glumly McCoy considered the situation. The nearest Wilderness Station was about twenty miles back along the river. By the time he could get there and call the Enterprise,
Spock could wander off so far that the...