Once and Again
|Title:||Once and Again|
|Fandom:||Star Trek: The Original Series|
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"Kirk turns Spock in to the Empire in order to have time to think out their relationship, and unaware of the punishment for a Vulcan accused of entering an unwilling mind, finds out when Spock is returned to him for his fight against VʼGer."
The Art and an Autograph Line
In addition to the two he would be signing with Bill, she had a picture of Spock in his uniform from STVI and I suggested she have him sign that, so she would have a matched set with Bill's pic. She agreed and also decided on Shelley Butler's "Sparkling Spock" pic. She also decided to have him sign the pic Liz Woledge did for her Mirror story, "Once and Again". So that left one more signature. Well, Deanna had just happened to bring First Time 53, which has her fantabulous story "Sweet Surrender" in it. She told me that she really, really wanted Leonard to sign the first page of her story, but knowing what happened the last time he was handed a FT to sign (he flipped through the entire zine, looked at all the artwork and read a poem), she decided to think on that for awhile. 
Reactions and Reviews
I have to say, I am definitely not a "Mirror" universe fan in any way. I really do not like the TOS episode very much and there have been very, very few "Mirror" K/S stories I have read over the years that I would bother to do so a second time. But as is often said, there are exceptions to every rule and for me, that certainly applies in this case. While this story is filled with a great deal of violent content, it is a necessary element in that it reflects the brutality of that alternate universe. As the author once said to me, there is no way she could have written this story to fit in the TOS universe and I certainly cannot argue that point.
Basically, this story is the "Mirror" universe version of ST:TMP, with some very notable differences. First, whereas it is generally accepted that the reason our Spock fled to Gol was to try to regain his "Vulcanness", here the "Mirror" Spock finds himself imprisoned there after having been tried and found guilty on Vulcan for the heinous crime of violating his captain's mind. Unbeknownst to Kirk, Spock is systematically tortured and abused by his captors until at Kirk's insistence, he is reinstated to his former position on the Enterprise. But even that is not quite the same, since Spock returns not as a free man, but to all intents and purposes as Kirk's slave, although the captain refuses to look at it at that way. It is only after Spock arrives on board that Kirk becomes aware of the brutal treatment the Vulcan has undergone by the masters at Gol. To add to Kirk's horror, he soon discovers that the most violent act perpetuated upon his first officer came from the one person Kirk thought would protect Spock, that being his father Sarek. What follows is a well-written sequence of events where Kirk and Spock try to rebuild their relationship, both professional and personal, and struggle to find the means to reestablish the love and trust they once held for each other.
I know that for a lot of K/Srs, they would find this story quite upsetting because of the blatantly savage acts perpetuated upon Spock, but for me, it was not really a problem. Violence in K/S stories has never bothered me as long as it is not there just for shock effect, but is part of the overall picture. There are very few K/S authors who have not at one time or another written a story where violence played a part and here it is a necessary element, since in the "Mirror" universe, brutality is the way of survival for everyone, including Spock. Although what happens to Spock in this tale is shocking, based on what we saw in the TOS episode, it could not be called unexpected by any means. The only thing I don't like about "Once and Again" (and this is the main reason I don't like Mirror stories as a whole) is that if you are going to remain true to the characters in that universe (as this author does), then Kirk by necessity must be portrayed as a coldhearted bastard. That goes for this story, as well. There is a point in "Once and Again" where Spock is hurting and Kirk can't give him the comfort he needs, not because he doesn't want to, but because he just doesn't know how to, as it is not a part of his nature. It is only after the truth is revealed that Spock allowed everything to happen to him because he felt he deserved it, that Kirk was able to find in himself the compassion and love that Spock needs in order to heal.There is also a very important point that the author was trying to make when she wrote this story and it has to do with how we deal with changes, good or bad, in our lives. In "Once and Again", Spock has lost a vital part of himself. He is forever changed by what has happened to him. As a result, he and Kirk will never be able to share the same type of physical relationship they had in the past and there is nothing that either of them can do to change that. So they do what we all must do when faced with tragic events in our lives, they accept what has happened and try to go on living as best they can. For me, this is the most telling part of this story, that life is not always pleasant and there are times when no matter how strongly we wish to do so, sometimes we just can't prevent the ones we love from coming to harm. But like many of us, when faced with the harsh realities of life, this Kirk and Spock somehow, someway, find the strength to go on. And it is this lesson, so well-portrayed in this work, that really sells this story for me. 
Let me say right from the beginning that I am by no means a connoisseur of Mirror universe K/S. However, I generally do have a good feel for what makes a story "work"for me, and found this one both so disturbing and ultimately so disappointing that I can't resist writing some comments about it.
Inthe first place, this is an extremely violent story. Now, I understand that any tale set in the Mirror universe is bound to include violence, nor do I necessarily have a problem with violent content in stories at all, provided it's well handled and integral to the plot. In fact, some violence is necessary in this case, but I believe it was taken to an extreme that actually diminishes the drama of the plot. This tale is positively saturated with violence. Most of it is directed at Spock (who by all indications should have been long dead by the time the story opens, in my opinion), but eventually we learn of both physical and mental degradation in Kirk's past as well. At first all this was quite distressing to read, but it was kept from being unbearable by the fact that the vast majority of the violence had taken / ) place in the past. So instead of being shown in real time, all these events are revealed through dialogue—pages and pages of it. We have the inevitable conversation in which McCoy gives Kirk a list of Spock's injuries, followed by a lengthy confrontation between Kirk and Spock, during which Spock recounts in graphic detail his sufferings of the past three years. And what a lot of detail there is! I must assume all this was included for shock value, but I'm afraid that for me it failed to work even at that level. As I said, it was painful to read at first. Then I think my eyes started to glaze over and I sort of stopped listening. (A defense mechanism, perhaps?) Then, believe it or not, I actually became bored. I'm speaking here of thirty pages of uninterrupted dialogue concerning unspeakable mental and physical horrors—way too much for an eighty-three page story, in my opinion.
So much for the disturbing part. What makes the story so disappointing is that I believe most of the violence as presented was simply unnecessary. You see, the basic plot is powerful and loaded with dramatic possibilities. Following the Janice Lester incident, Spock initiates an uninvited meld with Kirkduring sex. Kirkturns him in to the authorities for this crime, even though in the Empire it is usually punishable by death. He then unknowingly puts Spock in harm's way by arranging for him to be incarcerated on Vulcan, assuming that Sarek will use his influence to keep his son alive and safe. Kirk and Spock are reunited during the Vger incident, at which point Kirk learns that in fact Spock suffered at his father's hands. He must then find a way to convince Spock that he (Kirk) did not himself order the punishment, but truly loves the Vulcan and wants him to remain aboard the Enterprise. Of course this plot sketch doesn't begin to explain the characters' motivations, some of which are quite complex, but at least if s a basic idea of what happens.
The problem is, events that are retold often don't have nearly as much impact as those that are shown in real time. And when so much of a story line is revealed through dialogue, I believe drama tends to be lost as the reader is bogged down trying to make sense of what happened to whom and when. This is not to say that I would particularly care to read a real-time version of Spock's experiences during his three years on Vulcan as portrayed in this story; that would be a lengthy and horrific account of various tortures. What I am suggesting, however, is that the current story structure could have been more effective had the back story simply been less complicated and less overwhelmingly violent. Any one or two of Spock's punishments would have made the point for me as a reader. And why must Spock be raped by virtually every person he comes in contact with on Vulcan? Sure. I enjoy sex in stories, but to my taste this is overkill. In fact, I truly lost touch with the reality of the story because the torture seemed so overdone as to degenerate into caricature. Far better to have described a single, devastating punishment such as the mental tampering performed by the priests at Gol—something the reader could easily grasp and that could be carried through the rest of the story.
Or...okay, let's talk about it: even the castration. Even , this I could believe, had it been presented differently But Sarek doing the deed himself during public, forced intercourse with his own son? Overkill again, not to mention an apparent attempt to gross the reader out. Had Sarek handed Spock over to a prison medical facility and ordered the castration performed, that would be something else. And being Vulcans, the dastardly doctors presumably would have known enough to excise the "secondary testicular system" as well. Now that would be believable, true, and lasting harm.
Which brings me to my other main quarrel with this story: despite the veritable catalog of mental and physical abuses to which the reader is subjected, none of it matters very much in the end. Spock is Vulcan, so the aforementioned secondary testicular system still enables him to be aroused and engage in intercourse, though he can't achieve enough of an erection to penetrate Kirk. His ability to experience sexual pleasure is undiminished, however, and he and Kirk arrive at a sort of compromise: Kirk will take the active physical role during sex, and Spock has permission to enter Kirk's mind during sex. But I thought Spock's Vulcan mental abilities had literally been destroyed? Turns out that because he's part human, his mind is structured differently than a normal Vulcan's, so his father and clan members and all those priests didn't do such a thorough job after all. What can t say? I almost felt cheated at this point. Yes, it makes for a happy ending, but 'once again it's at the expense of believability and drama To me it seems that all the terrible harm is just too easily and conveniently undone. Even in Kirk's case, the involuntary mental conditioning he underwent as a young man turns out to be larger/ reversible. He tells Spock that he had McCoy "remove" the "unconditional loyalty and obedience…as well as the personal loyalty to Nogura." (All I can picture here is Data from Next Gen—McCoy popping an access hatch on the back of Kirk's head and plucking out a couple of computer chips that are no longer wanted!) If such conditioning is so easily reversed, then it's not much of a threat in the first place and therefore doesn't really pack much of a dramatic punch.All in all, a disappointing read for me because I can't help imagining the outstanding story it might have been. 
I begin this review with thoughts of how differently, or rather how personally, we each view our K/S. So many times I've read something that I've loved and others have, to put it kindly, not loved.
This story is a good example of the dichotomy of feelings!
M.E. Carter gave us a thoughtful and insightful review of Once And Again in last month's issue. After I read it, I wanted to respond in part, but also to explain what I felt about the story.
I really liked the way the story unfolded along with Kirk's POV—we learn things along with him. Then later, when the prior terrible events are described, we realize why Kirk and Spock were acting the way they did. I do understand that in most stories, the use of present time is best, but here I found myself getting totally involved in both of their stories.
I didn't feel that the violent nature of the stories diminished the drama of the plot, nor did I think that it was too long. It worked for me because the past was revealed through the conversations between Kirk and Spock. These conversations were not dry—they were filled with emotions—all the hurt and pain that each had caused each other.
Yes, there's extreme violence, but it's tempered by being presented as description. I believe if it had been shown in real time, it would not have been as effective because the point of the story was not the torture—the point was the result it had on both of them and their coming to terms with what they had done to each other.
The guilt that Kirk feels for having sent Spock away is the main focus, but Spock eventually reveals his own guilt for having forced a mind-meld on Kirk.
So these two emotional issues are really the crux of the story. Both Kirk and Spock long for love with each other, but because of each of their own personal failings—they were torn apart.
And I loved the expression of their dichotomy of feelings for each other—how they loved and hated—but finally how they emerge into the light of their love—shown beautifully by the mind meld at the end.
I disagree that the back story should have been less complicated and less violent. That might have been true if it were shown in present time, but if Spock's torture had been not so bad—if what had been done to him was sort-of bad, but not really too bad, then Spock's eventual emerging into happiness and his love with Kirk would have been weakened.
Which also leads me to the castration. M.E. thought the crude method done by Sarek was overkill and unbelievable. I do agree with this, but it didn't bother me because, more important were the ramifications this physical disability had on Kirk and Spock. It took on a meaning of Kirk being able to give fully of himself to Spock, while Spock—even though unable to reciprocate— is able to be vulnerable and open to accept the pleasure and love that Kirk gives to him.
Maybe that's too confusing—simply put: Spock must be open and vulnerable and allow Kirkto penetrate him. And Kirk must always be the penetrator. These are the dynamics of their relationship forever. It is not just a compromise, it is a life commitment for both.
I didn't think that Spock's mental abilities were so easily restored. The fact that he survived and wasn't left a mental vegetable doesn't diminish what was done to him. Kirk's love helps him overcome even more.
I can't recall another mirror story with an older Kirk and Spock. I really enjoyed seeing this time period of Vger and STTMP portrayed as Mirror Universe.
And Kirk's character is excellently drawn. This is not your cardboard cut-out Mirror-type guy. This is a fully-realized, recognizable Kirk who lives in the cutthroat world of the Empire. He's strong, yet fair. He's feisty, yet reasonable. He understands his crew and he knows how to command. He's also mean and nasty as befits the Mirror Universe—which I think suits this story perfectly—it wouldn't work in "our" universe.
And he has powerful feelings for Spock which we learn in the very beginning as he unpacks Spock's things in anticipation of his return. This seemingly simple scene reveals much information as Kirk takes it upon himself to go through Spock's personal effects and even arranges his cabin for him.
Then when we and Kirk first see Spock—it's shocking. I loved the tension as Kirk waits for his arrival and then how the circumstances of Spock's exile and return are revealed. Spock's passivity and non-responsiveness are surprising, and again it's shown to us from Kirk's POV as he learns about it, so do we. Then it's revealed to us that it was Kirk who had Spock sent away to Vulcan. All we know at first is that it was because Kirk couldn't stand Spock mind-melding with him during lovemaking.
Again, the technique of slowly revealing the truth is used here and I found that it involved me so much and held my interest as I wanted to find out what was going on — why was Kirk so angry at Spock? Why did Spock act the way he did?
Lots of intrigue goes on while other events are unfolding. Kirk doesn't know whether the Vulcan guards are friend or foe and there's an exciting scene when Kirk comes into Spock's cabin unannounced and finds one of the guards engaged in a mind-meld with Spock. I loved Kirk's reaction—he literally throws the guy out of the room.
In a very sexy scene, Kirk tells Spock of their first encounter and then says why he's so adverse to a mind-meld. He's been mentally "reconditioned" too, which explains his brutal and violent nature, as well as his temper. I loved this "explanation" of the Mirror Universe- type character.
Kirk was able to overcome and survive the mental abuses. I didn't need to know all the details of the exact procedure that McCoy used to restore Kirk's memories. The point was that McCoy helped Kirk to reverse the conditioning. By what process exactly wasn't so important to me.
What is important—and what is the central focus of the story—was Kirk's struggle to regain Spock's love. He is desperate and driven—he can't leave Spock alone and he continually pleads his ignorance of Spock's plight.
Kirk tells Spock that he loves him: "I want you back in my life, my heart...even my mind."
But Spock rejects him and in an even more surprising scene, Spock forces Kirk to have sex with him. Kirk is so overcome with desire, he can't control himself even though he realizes he shouldn't do it. It's such a good scene—Kirk is headed for disaster.
More exciting things happen along with Kirk's increasingly desperate efforts to get close to Spock and convince him of his love. There's more nefarious goings- on with the good and bad Vulcan guards and culminating in a great scene where Kirk lures the evil Vulcan guard down to his death in a horrible swamp with horrible swamp creatures.
A final confrontation between Kirk and Spock brings out the truth of their feelings and they make gorgeous love and Kirk asks for a mind-meld.
A satisfying ending as they face their future, acknowledging the difficulties and obstacles they would be facing, but facing all of it together.I want to acknowledge that this story is not for everybody. It is harsh and demanding and very..."Mirror"! But I found it a very exciting story written by Ms. Gray, whose stories I always look forward to. 
I was forewarned that I might not like this story because it was somewhat harsh. So, not being particularly fond of Mirror stories, I braced myself for the worst. I will admit there were horrible, almost unspeakable things done to Spock. Worse than that, he believed all the while they had been ordered by Kirk. Remember, these are the mirror K&S, not our own. When Spock is returned to Kirk, he believes they will take up where they left off. Things could not be further from the truth.
It is at this point the author begins to explore the personalities of both men and she does a remarkable job of it. Kirk doesn’t understand because he isn’t aware of all the facts, and when he learns them he is horrified at the part he played in Spock’s three years of hell. But he is not the gentle Kirk of our universe and is not beyond taking advantage of a situation. I did find both men retain enough of their honor and enough of their love for each other to draw me into the story and to care what happened to them. I was not repulsed by them, I had sympathy for them both, as both were victims in their own way. There are redeeming qualities in Kirk and Spock even in such a brutal universe and under such cruel circumstances. They are, in fact, truly committed to each other, though it is difficult for them to arrive at this conclusion.This is an extremely well written and skillfully-plotted story with details that will make you shudder. I hesitate to say I “liked” it. Because that would be admitting I enjoy seeing depravity of the lowest kind practiced upon Kirk and Spock. I have trouble finding the words, but I guess the best way I can describe the experience is to say I’m glad I read “Once and Again.”