Spock stared unblinking at the young woman before him. She pushed her fair hair away from her slim shoulders and smiled sweetly at him. Then just as suddenly as she had appeared, the vision faded as it dissolved into the dark void of his quarters into innumerable particles.
"Zarabeth," he murmured, his voice nearly strangling on the name. He closed his eyes tightly, an agonized groan emitting from his throat.
"Personal log, Stardate 5944.1. The tragedy of Sarpeidon has moved me to sleeplessness. I don't know if I can ever understand the true nature of the catastrophe, but" Jim Kirk paused as the door buzzer sounded. "Come."
The corridor doors swished open softly, and Leonard McCoy entered. "Busy, Jim?" he inquired, glancing around the captains quarters.
"Just recording my personal log on yesterdays mission." Kirk studied his friends face that was lined deeply with fatigue. No matter how stressful things became, McCoy was willing to give 150 percent, but it was obvious that this time the rigors of the mission had taken their toll. "Sit down, Bones."
"Oh, I cant stay long." The tone was dull. "Just have a favor to ask." The doctor idly picked up a computer tape, then another, carefully stacking them in a neat pile on the corner of the desk.
Kirk watched him, discerning his discomfort. "Name it."
"I want you to have a talk with Spock." McCoy fingered one of the tapes thoughtfully, avoiding Kirks gaze.
"Spock? About what?"
"I think he may need someone to confide in. Id talk with him, but Im afraid hed tear my head off." The doctor laid down the remaining tape and rubbed his throat. "In fact, he already tried that."
Kirk frowned slightly. Something was definitely bothering Bones, and it wasnt in his character to hedge about an issue. "What are you talking about? We've been through all the data now on Beta Niobe's nova."
"Spock dealt with some pretty heavy emotions on that planet." McCoy looked up. "Hes bound to be confused."
"Emotions? You're talking about Spock."
"Dont forget that hes part Human. He has emotions and, believe me, they surfaced." Turning away. McCoy cleared his throat. "As you now know, there was an attractive young lady named Zarabeth that he was...involved with." He wiped sweat from his brow. "And captured his heart. Spock fell in love with her." McCoy reached out to steady himself against the edge of the desk. "Damn its warm in here."
"Love? Spock?" The startling revelation was overshadowed by Kirks concern for McCoy. He noticed how glassy the doctors eyes were and the pale pallor of his skin. "Are you all right?"
McCoy nodded, quickly diverting the topic of conversation back to Spock. "If I were diagnosing our pointed-eared friend, I would say he was suffering from what we in the medical business call complicationsof the heart that is." He sighed.
Kirk was unwilling to be distracted. "Are you sure youre all right? You look awfully pale."
"Im just tired," McCoy said, shrugging off the show of concern. "Seems like the workload tripled in the one day I was gone."
"Why dont you get MBenga or Sanchez to help out?"
"Damn it! I can handle it," the doctor grumbled. "Just need...need to get this business with Spock taken care of first," he added stubbornly, his trembling fingertips tracing the beads of sweat at his temple. "Its hotter in here than in Spocks quarters."
Kirk stood up and grabbed his friends arm. "Sit down before you collapse."
McCoy feebly tried to pull away. "I dont have time. I..." But he never finished the sentence. The captain caught him before he hit the deck.
Lifting McCoy in his arms, Kirk carried him into the sleep alcove and laid him on the bed. The doctor was already coming around and struggling to sit up. Kirk pushed him back down gently. "Lie still. You nearly scared me to death. Im calling Sickbay and getting you checked out."
"But," McCoy began weakly, his blue eyes blinking in protest.
"Thats an order, Doctor. Stay put," the captain said firmly as he hurried to the intercom to put the call through.
Fingers drumming on the smooth surface of his desk, Jim Kirk sat waiting impatiently with his gaze trained on the semi-dark sleep alcove. After what seemed like an eternity, MBenga came to confront him.
"Whats wrong with McCoy?" the captain demanded, his voice tinged with anxiety.
"Leonard is suffering from complications," MBenga said evenly.
Kirk closed his eyes wearily. Theres that phrase againthe same thing Bones said about Spock. He braced himself for the prognosis.
"Coupled with damage from his bout with hypothermia, his metabolism has been adversely affected by his trip through the portal. I understand that neither he nor Mister Spock were adequately prepared by the atavachron."
"I wasnt either, but I havent suffered any ill effects."
"His condition was more weakened from the harsh elements, and he remained longer outside the safety of the library than you. Either or both of these facts could explain the problems hes having now," theorized the doctor.
"And Spock?" Kirk felt a cold knot of fear grip him. Please God, not both my friends. The thought nearly suffocated him.
"His Vulcan physiology may make a difference," offered MBenga hopefully. "But Ill need to check him out as well. Have him report to Sickbay as soon as possible."
Jim Kirk stood up and peered into the dimly lit alcove at the still form on the bed. "You can help him, cant you?"
MBenga shook his head sadly. "Well do everything possible, but without the knowledge of the atavachrons cell alterative function..." His voice trailed off, and the futility of the situation hit Kirk like a lead balloon. "Ill have Leonard transferred to Sickbay, and well run more tests," the doctor promised, hurrying out.
The captain nodded wordlessly. Two friends with complications, both in dire need. He sat back down behind the desk and let his head drop down into his hands. Why is this happening? he thought woefully.
After McCoy was taken to Sickbay, Kirk went directly to Spocks quarters. He found the Vulcan sitting alone in the candle-lit room softly stroking some chords on a lyre. Mindful of the intrusion, the captain self-consciously cleared his throat. "McCoy tells me that you need someone to talk with."
"The doctor has a habit of interfering where he is not wanted, Jim. Surely he can find other concerns," came the dark reply.
"Hes worried that your experiences on Sarpeidon may be bothering you," Kirk persisted, endeavoring to find a soft spot in his friends non-emotional armor.
Giving the instrument a final stroke, Spock lay it down. "I would prefer not to discuss the matter," he said with finality, avoiding Kirks gaze.
"Damn. Dont close me out, Spock." After all the dangers of past missions, Kirk was genuinely gripped with fear over the possibility of now losing the two people closest to him.
The Vulcan peered into the flickering candlelight at the anguished eyes that pleaded with him. "Something has happened to Doctor McCoy," the Vulcan deduced.
"Hes in critical condition. I wasnt going to tell you until MBenga had run more tests," Kirk said as he sat down heavily. "Complications from both the cold and the trip through the portal."
Spock raised a single eyebrow. "Indeed. I was concerned about that. The build up of endochronic particles"
"MBenga wants to check you out."
"Very well. I will report to Sickbay at once."
"Funny, Bones was sick, but he managed to make it to my quarters to try and help you. Looks like you two care more about each other than youre willing to admit," Kirk said softly, running his fingers through his sandy hair.
Spock looked away in an attempt to mask his concern. "The doctor is correct, Jim. In addition to the discovery of the source of Beta Niobe's supernova, I am having problems dealing with emotions that arose while in Sarpeidons past," he admitted.
"McCoy said you two had a disagreement on the planet."
"I experienced emotions that I was not only unfamiliar with but also unable to control. At one point, I became insane with anger and jealously. I took my wrath out on him."
"I see. And Zarabeth?"
"I loved her, and I believe I will never have such a feeling again." A cloak of depression threatened to envelop the Vulcan.
"Im sorry, Spock. Is there anything I can do?" Kirks mind raced desperately as he tried to find comforting words for his friend.
"Negative," came the hollow reply.
Kirk got up slowly and sighed. "Ill see you on the bridge after you've been cleared by Sickbay." He exited the Vulcans quarters.
Preoccupied, Spock nodded solemnly, his thoughts diverted to a cavern and its lone occupant. Reaching out, his long, thin fingers stroked a single chord on the lyre.
In Sickbay, MBenga sat on the edge of McCoys desk studying the compuclipboard clutched in his hand. He glanced up when Spock walked in.
"The captain requested that I report here, Doctor."
"Im just checking to make sure you dont have any adverse reaction to the time portal," the doctor advised, laying the board aside to pick up a mediscanner.
Spock watched silently as MBenga ran a preliminary body scan. "Well, everything appears to be in order," informed the physician.
"I understand that Doctor McCoy has not been so fortunate," commented the Vulcan.
"Yes, Leonard is having complications. Hyperthermia combined with a cellular degeneration from the absorption of endochronic particles has made his condition critical."
"Indeed. I would like to see him."
"Id like to say hes resting, but that isnt the case. Hes in the ward, reviewing medical tapes."
The Vulcan nodded as he entered the ward doors. He found McCoy propped up in bed with the beds viewing monitor in front of him, staring intently at the small screen. Spock scrutinized the Human. The doctor was a man of complex emotions, many times making the Vulcan ill at ease in his presence. And yet, he valued McCoys opinion tinged with predictable stubbornness. He had already lost Zarabeth, could he also endure the death of this friend? "Doctor McCoy, I have come to discuss your medical status."
McCoy pushed the monitor aside. "A rather futile effort, Spock. Ive already scanned the ships medical banks. There doesnt appear to be any comparative case in the available data files. Being exposed to endochronic particles seems to have damaged my cellular structure, and there's nothing we can do about it."
"It would be most illogical to assume the Enterprises medical banks are the only solution."
The doctor coughed, then rubbed his chest. "I have all the symptoms of pneumonia, but the cellular degeneration has affected my intestinal tract as well. Id be overly optimistic to say that I have more than a few days to live at best. It looks like your Vulcan physiology is immune to this form of radiation," he added tiredly.
"Unlikely. I suggest that it was the food from Zarabeth's age that you consumed. I chose not to consume much as it was animal flesh." Spock's countenance flashed almost a brief frown of regret. "I regret that this has occurred. I wish there were something I could do."
McCoy started to reply, but a violent fit of coughing stopped him. Spock quickly held a glass of water to the doctors quivering lips.
"Thanks...Im okay. At least Jim and you werent affected."
"Doctor, on the planet I was not able to control my emotions completely. I should not have been angry with you."
The doctor smiled slightly. Memories of the frigid terrain and Spocks refusal to leave him to die certainly took precedence over the angry words that had been exchanged later. "Apology accepted. I was aware of the emergence of your ancestral emotions." He noted the Vulcans more than usual somber expression. "Im sorry we had to leave Zarabeth behind."
"It was unavoidable." Spocks eyesight blurred as he recalled his final moments with the brokenhearted Zarabeth. "She would not have survived the trip back through the portal as we both know now."
McCoy squeezed his eyes shut. "I couldnt survive there...and now I can't survive here."
Spocks hand rested briefly on the doctors frail shoulder. He would not fail his friend. "We will find the solution," he vowed.
When Spock reported to the bridge precisely at 1800 hours, he found the captain staring aimlessly at the main viewing screen into the black void of space.
The first officer walked stiffly to his science station, then peered into the monitor on the control panel. As he checked the data, suddenly the vision of Zarabeth appeared gazing up at him. In a pleading motion, she reached out to him as tears ran down her pale cheeks. He shook his head slightly to clear it and she vanished. How long? How long will you haunt me? he thought in guilt-rendered misery.
"Mister Chekov, plot a course to Camus Two. We have a supply shipment to deliver," Kirk called, his voice unable to disguise the depression he felt.
Putting his tortured thoughts aside, Spock stepped down from his science station to stand next to the command chair. "Captain, when we were in the library on Sarpeidon, I ran a brief tricorder scan of the atavachron. The recorded data may be of some assistance in duplicating the mechanism."
The captains eyes lit up with anger. "I don't want you building that damned contraption, Spock. Using it destroyed Beta Niobe."
"That is a fact I am well aware of, Captain," Spock said, almost darkly. "But understanding how the device functions to should enable us to stop the doctors current physical deterioration or devise a treatment to alleviate the cellular degeneration."
"Get together with Scotty on this, Spock. We dont have any time to waste."
After his duty shift on the bridge, Kirk headed straight to Sickbay. To his dismay, he found his friend up and working in the research laboratory. The slump of McCoys shoulders revealed the doctors fatigue.
"Id hoped that youd be resting," began the captain, his voice filled with concern.
"Dont like to leave undone business," the doctor remarked huskily, then cleared his throat. "These test cultures need analyzing."
"I see. Looks involved," Kirk replied, glancing down at the greenish-gray smear on the lab slide McCoy was holding.
"Not really. In fact, this last sample will complete a project that I started last week." The doctor coughed. "Seems like a long time ago," he added softly, then sighed. "Can I do something for you, Jim?"
"Well, I came to Sickbay to see how you were doing."
"Doing fine." McCoy sat down in front of a bio-computer and slipped the culture slide into place. "MBenga is doing a great job of keeping me going."
Kirk noted that the doctors hand shook. It was nearly impossible to stand by, watching as his friends health deteriorated. "I still think youd be better off in bed, resting."
"Damn it! I refuse to lie down and die." Leonard McCoy looked up with red-rimmed eyes. "Sorry. Its not your fault. I just feel so frustrated." He lowered his gaze self-consciously. "Promise me that youll personally tell Joanna when I...when I die. I dont want some Starfleet bigwig letting her know. If I find out you let Heihachiro Nogura tell her, I'll come back from the grave and"
"You dont have to joke about it, Bones. Ill handle things." The friends eyes met in an unspoken bond. "Hows Spock?"
"Not good. I dont know when Ive felt so helpless. I cant seem to find a way to help either of you." Jim Kirk clenched his fists.
The doctor studied the troubled expression on his friends face. He knew that Jim was being torn apart psychologically and needed reassurance. "Spock will be all right. Hes spent a lifetime of hiding his feelings. That tough Vulcan philosophy will take over."
"Yes. But its taking its toll now. He cant hide his concern for you either."
"He was down here this morning to visit. Its strange seeing him without totally cloaked emotions. Makes me feel guilty somehow."
The captain nodded. "I know, like were intruding. Hes working with Scott trying to determine how the atavachron functions. He hopes to find out how it dealt with endochronic particles."
"Really?" McCoy removed the lab slide and switched the bio-computer off. "Is that possible?"
"I dont want to give you false hope, but he made a brief tricorder reading in the library on Sarpeidon. It might help developing a treatment for you." Kirk waited for the doctors reaction. Will this glimmer of hope keep Bones from giving up?
McCoy took a deep breath painfully. "Well, that could take a long time...too long."
"Thats why I want you to conserve your strength."
The doctor stood slowly. "All right, you win. Ill go back to bed." He started toward the door, then faltered.
Kirk grasped his friends arm. "Steady, Bones. Youve got to start letting someone else take over. Youre the patient now."
"Its hard getting used to that, Jim. Very, very hard."
Montgomery Scott stood in the engine room and shook his head in defeat. "Yere wasting your time, Mister Spock. Were nae making any progress."
"I am afraid I must concur. The tricorder data does not appear to be sufficient."
"Poor McCoy..." The chief engineers voice trailed off as he realized the futility of their efforts. It seemed impossible that a once-healthy, vital friend was critically ill. During the past few years they had become close, sharing personal problems and concerns over brandy in their quarters. He recalled one particular late night nearly eight months ago when the distraught doctor had agonized over his inability to save Miramanee and Kirks unborn child. McCoy had often reminded him how fragile life was. Aye. Too fragile, Scott thought ruefully.
Hands locked behind his back, also in thought, Spock examined the piece of machinery before him. "Fascinating. I believe I have the solution, Mister Scott."
"Well, out with it man!"
"How illogical I have been, my mind clouded with other concerns. We must go backward, not forward."
"I dont understand ye."
"Trying to study the atavachron will not aid McCoy. The device was only designed to prepare the time traveler through the portal. We must simply rid his body of the endochronic particles from Sarpeidon's past. Their interaction with the particles from Sarpeidon's present is what is causing the cellular degeneration."
"Ye are making no sense, Mister Spock."
"Time is of the essence. Simply put, the landing party picked up the endochronic particles from our trips through the atavachron. These generated a temporal static charge on our way back to the present, and that the charge dissipated as we returned to the time-matched era on Sarpeidon. However, anything that we consumed would accumulate the particles, and cause the sort of complications Doctor McCoy is experiencing."
"Aye, I understand. Rather than having an 'even' dosing, you've got this horrendously anisotropic charge distortion that would, as a result, produce a distortion of the chemistry of everything nearby, disrupting cellular function."
"Exactly, Engineer. Although easily fatal if not stopped, this would resolve fairly quickly with the removal of the particles, and with a judicious application of a tissue regenerator. We should be able to use our sensor readings to detect endochronic atomic particles from Sarpeidon within McCoy's body. We must simply remove those particles and replace them with particles from other contemporary materials we have aboard the Enterprise. The decompression chamber can be redesigned to suit our purpose. It will allow us to flood the chamber with excess oxygen to help in restoring the tissues as well."
Scott nodded, his face beaming with renewed hope. "We can use a cargo transporter unit and a biofilter to remove those particles from his body. We can store them in a magnetic bottle and jettison them into the nova by long-range probe when we're done. Ill have the equipment moved to the decompression chamber adjacent to Laboratory Two."
"Our major concern now is whether McCoy is strong enough to survive the treatment," the Vulcan said, exiting the room.
The chief engineer sighed. "May the saints be with us all."
Kirk was in his quarters when the urgent message came from MBenga that McCoys condition had worsened. Rushing into Sickbay, the captain found Christine Chapel wiping tears from her reddened eyes.
"McCoy, is he..." he began, fighting to control the fearful tremor in his voice.
"MBenga is in the ward with him now. We almost lost Doctor McCoy a few minutes ago. Hes on life support now. Hes so weak," she said, then sniffed self-consciously. "Excuse me, Captain."
Kirk nodded, hurrying through the ward doors. He found both MBenga and Sanchez hovering over their unconscious colleague.
Motioning to Sanchez to continue monitoring McCoys vital signs, MBenga drew the captain aside. "It would take a miracle to save Leonard now. Theres nothing more we can do for him. I think his daughter should be notified at once. If you wish, I will send the message to Starfleet."
Kirk shook his head. It was a tribute to McCoy to see his staff so dedicated to him. "That wont be necessary. Ive already informed them of McCoys medical status. Ill let Joanna know. How much longer does he have?" he asked, dreading the answer.
"We can keep him on a life support system indefinitely," the doctor began. "But Leonard has already told us he wishes to die naturally. I was only waiting until we heard if Scott and Spock had made any progress before I took him off life support. Death should come soon afterward."
The finality of MBengas words completely devastated the captain. Dear God, Im going to lose Bones, he thought forlornly.
Suddenly, the intercom came to life with a resounding bosuns whistle that cut through the silence. Kirk took a deep breath and pressed the required button. "Kirk here."
"This is Spock, Captain. Mister Scott and I are in Laboratory Two. We have redesigned the decompression chamber to regenerate McCoys cell structure."
"You dont know what a relief it is to hear those words, Spock."
"I must caution you, Captain. There is no way to guarantee our efforts will result in a positive response to the doctors metabolism. It may well kill him."
Across from him, MBenga and Sanchez exchanged worried looks. "It can't hurt to try at this point, Captain," Sanchez advised.
Kirk frowned deep in thought. "Give me the odds for success."
"Untested, my estimate would be a sixty point one percent chance of success."
The captain glanced over at the diagnostic bed. McCoy was coming to. "Jim?" came the hoarse whisper.
"Its all right, Bones. Im here," Kirk called.
"Is Spock here too? I...I cant see."
The captain swallowed hard. "Spock is on the intercom. He and Scott think they can help you, but Im afraid to take the chance."
"My choice...choice. I trust Spock. Let him try," McCoy said softly.
Kirk closed his eyes, saying a silent prayer. "Mister Spock, get the device ready. Well be right there. Kirk out."
"Affirmative. Spock out."
A slight smile tugged at the corners of McCoys mouth. "Itll be...be okay, Jim. Dont worry."
Jim Kirk nodded as he continued to agonize over the consequences of his decision to proceed.
Strapped securely to a gurney and hooked up to a portable life-support unit, Leonard McCoy was rushed through to the decompression chamber adjacent to the Sickbay complex.
While in Laboratory Two, Spock and Scott made last minute adjustments to the controls on their particle substitutor/cell regenerator. They turned expectantly when they heard the passageway doors swish open. Kirk and the others quickly entered. "Ready?" Kirk asked anxiously.
"Affirmative," replied the Vulcan. "The unit is ready, functioning at full potential."
"What does this thing do exactly, Spock?" asked Kirk.
"Its designed to take Doctor McCoys body and purge it of the endochronic particles he absorbed while in Sarpeidon's past then substitute acceptable particles from our own environment. If he survives that process, the pressurized oxygen within the chamber will promote healing as well as a tissue regenerator field."
"A simple 'clean out the crap in his body' would have been sufficient, Mister Spock," grumbled McCoy.
MBenga gently laid his strong hand on his semi-conscious colleagues shoulder. "Were with you, Leonard. Are you ready?"
"All right," the doctor murmured. "Let's get this over."
The captain watched as MBenga and an orderly readied McCoy, then carried him into the decompression chamber. He stepped aside as the door was shut and sealed. Too late to turn back, he thought as sweat beads began to form on his brow.
Outside the chamber, MBenga monitored McCoys vital signs. "His blood pressure is dropping. Pulse slower," he warned.
Spock pushed several buttons on a control panel. "Mister Scott, neutralize the gravity in the chamber."
"Aye." Scott quickly moved the switch accordingly.
Through the viewing window, Kirk saw the doctor floating peacefully in the chamber. Dont give up on us, Bones. Hold on.
"Hes stabilizing," reported MBenga, reading the monitored vital signs.
"Increase the transporter level another degree," advised Spock. "We must remove all the material from Sarpeidon from within his body. Decrease the tolerance on the biofilter half a degree."
"Aye. Increasing now," Scott called as he readjusted the switchs position. "Particle substitution is underway." He read a reading. "Ye realize 'tis nae much matter involved."
Spock nodded. "It was simply a few random molecules that he absorbed that the captain and I did not, which is why he was becoming debilitated and we weren't."
McCoys breathing became more even, and the captain found himself inhaling and exhaling in kind.
"Blood pressure rising. Pulse stronger." MBenga glanced up happily from the monitor. "The cellular regeneration is commencing."
"Its working?" asked Kirk hopefully, wiping sweat from the palms of his hands.
MBenga smiled broadly. "The degeneration is reversing. His system is registering back into the low-normal range as we speak. Its working all right. Thank God, hes going to make it."
The captain slapped MBenga on the back, then glanced over at Spock and Scott with a look of deep gratitude.
After McCoys condition warranted it, he was transferred back to Sickbays patient ward. His friends were there waiting for him.
Kirk studied the indicators over the diagnostic bed the doctor was lying on. "Its all Greek to me, Bones, but MBenga tells me those indicators are recording some miraculous vital signs."
"Indeed, Doctor, a few hours ago your chances of survival were a mere sixty point one percent. Now you are well on your way to recovery," remarked Spock.
"Thanks to you and Scotty," replied the doctor as he raised up on his elbows, then turned, straining to read the indicators over his head.
MBenga entered the ward frowning slightly. He knew from past experience that Leonard McCoy was going to be a difficult patient. If he didnt keep a tight rein on him, the chief medical officer would soon be up, running Sickbay before making a full recovery. "Remember, Leonard, youre a patient, not a doctor," he said with mock indignation. "Youre supposed to be resting, not reviewing your vital signs."
McCoy grinned sheepishly and settled back down onto the bed. "Yes, sir."
"Thats more like it," his colleague replied. "Im happy to report that your cellular status is back to normal. Now Im prescribing a two-day bed rest."
"Two days?" protested McCoy unhappily. "But I have lab work to finish, reports to tile, physicals to schedule..."
"Two days," repeated MBenga firmly, then turned to the captain and Spock. "He needs to rest whether he likes it or not."
Kirk nodded, patting McCoy on the shoulder. "Well come back later, Bones," he said, following MBenga through the ward doors.
"Spock, can you stay a minute?" McCoy called.
"Do you require something?" asked Spock, returning to the bedside.
"Uh," the doctor began, searching for the proper words. He smoothed the bed sheet offhandedly as he continued, "About Zarabethare you going to be all right?" He examined the Vulcans emotion controlled features for an indication of his mental status.
Spock locked his hands behind his back and arched a single eyebrow. "This morning I would have said I was still haunted by her memory and by the loss of an entire planet. But when I diverted my attention to your survival, I realized my concern had been illogically thwarted."
A lopsided grin formed on McCoys face. His friend was going to be all right. "You know, I think were both survivors."
"Indeed, Doctor. Indeed."
"Theres an old Earth saying: May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back... Its part of an Irish blessing."
Spock nodded thoughtfully, then added, "And may you live long and prosper."
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