"Your attention, please. Falcon Space Liner, Flight F603 from the Sol system is coming into terminal orbit," announced the loud speakers over the Shanaikahr Space Terminal, then resumed, a few moments later: "Arrival of Flight F603 at Shuttle Gate Sixteen. Passengers for Flight 604 to the Sol system are invited to proceed to Shuttle Gate Twelve for embarkation."
In the main lounge of the spaceport, several passengers began to gather their bags and make for the gates. The tall, distinguished-looking Vulcan who had been standing by the tinted bay in abstract contemplation of the scenery turned around and moved sedately to the exit.
He was crossing the hall when a pair of Humans brushed past him with a brief "Excuse me!" One of them, however, looked round, stopped and exclaimed. "Ambassador! My apologies. I hadnt realized. Are you also booked on The Falcon Flight? I hope I shall have the pleasure of your company?"
"Greetings, Commissioner Mendoza. I regret, but not this time. I only came to greet a friend from Terra."
"Too bad! Another time, perhaps. But I must be going. Nice meeting you, Spock! See you next time, I hope." And the Commissioner was already half way down the escalator, while the Ambassador, eyebrows raised, walked the other way.
After all these years, he still could not comprehend why Humans should waste their breath in such pointless small talk.
The passengers of the Falcon Flight F603 were already coming through passport control when the Ambassador entered the reception area. He quietly mingled with the crowd and stood watching the incoming travelers filing past the gates. Presently, Spocks attention sharpened as an elderly gentleman came in, escorted by a steward, and for a split second, the Vulcan could but stare, shocked by the physical appearance of the Human. He knew that Doctor McCoy had been unwell for some time, but he did not expect him to look so frail, so wasted.
Then, seeing that the doctor had halted and was looking uncertainly about, the Ambassador pushed forward to greet him. "Doctor McCoy!"
"Spock! You old devil! Am I glad to see you!" The smile which lit up the doctors face proved at least that McCoys indomitable spirit was intact.
"I am gratified to see you as well, Doctor. Welcome to Vulcan." The warmth that shone in the dark eyes left McCoy in no doubt that he was indeed very welcome.
Spock was already taking the matter in his hands. "Thank you, officer," he told the steward. "I shall take care of your charge." Having thus dismissed the attendant, Spock eyed McCoys carryall bag. "Is that all you have for luggage, Doctor?"
"Thats all I need, Spock. I always travel light, you know."
"Very well." And without further ado, Spock shouldered the bag and led the way out. "Come, Doctor; let us go home," he said.
Moments later, the air car, emblazoned with Spocks family crest, was speeding over the red sand dunes, bound for ShiKahr. A companionable silence reigned in the cabin, and McCoy, thankfully, relaxed. He felt exhausted after the long voyage from Earth, not mentioning the physical and emotional ordeals he had recently gone through.
Well, he had made it, he had reached Vulcan at last, and he knew that he had made the right decision. He stole a side glance at the austere profile of his silent companion and smiled inwardly. Hard to believe, but the Vulcans calm presence and rational mind were exactly what he needed at the moment.
Presently, he sat up and cleared his throat. "Are we still far from ShiKahr?" he asked.
"Another twenty-four point two minutes, and we shall arrive, Doctor. Are you all right?"
"Sure, Spock, just a bit tired," the doctor airily replied, then he added with appreciation, "My word! This is what I call riding in style. A deluxe air-car waiting for me at the terminal, and piloted by the Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Vulcan, no less! Or is it the eminent professor of the Vulcan Science Academy? I never know which of your many hats youre wearing, Spock, what with all that you do."
"Let me point out, Doctor, that I never wear a hat when I can help it," Spock remarked, deadpan.
"Perhaps its just as well," McCoy chuckled. "The few times I saw you wearing headgear, generally for security reasons, they didnt improve your looks. Must be those pointed ears."
"Probably," the Vulcan placidly replied, realizing with some surprise how much he had missed being teased by his old sparring partner.
The next moment, however, a choking sound made him look around in alarm. McCoy was caught in a fit of coughing which shook his thin frame uncontrollably. Swiftly setting the autopilot, Spock held the doctor tight until McCoy painfully regained his breath.
"Feeling better?" Spock asked as he gently eased him back in his seat.
McCoy nodded and rasped, "My medikit...in my bag, please." With trembling hands, the doctor gave himself a shot of tri-ox and gulped some pills. Then, seeing that his Vulcan friend was still watching him with concern, he said, with a wan smile, "Sorry, Spock, but its a sick old man who has landed in your lap. Trouble is...is these damned fits...fits dont last long, but there is nothing I can do to prevent them. Isnt that ironic? A physician incapable of healing himself?"
"I am sure that you will, McCoy. Remember all the crises that you have faced on the Enterprise, and the cures that you eventually discovered."
"I know, Spock, but those were the good old days. Its too late now, much too late," McCoy whispered, and he closed his eyes, feeling exhausted.
A few moments later, he heard Spock announce sotto voce, "It wont be long now; we shall arrive shortly."
"Good," murmured the doctor. "Ill be glad to lie down for a while."
"Of course. Your old room has been prepared as usual, Doctor."
Doctor McCoy had had in the past many occasions to appreciate Vulcan efficiency, but this time, they surpassed themselves. In less than no time, he was taken upstairs to his room, the one next to Jims, and his bag was unpacked by a young servant while Spocks housekeeper was running a bath.
After indulging in a long soak, McCoy found himself wrapped in a soft Vulcan robe and relaxing on his bed, a cup of scented tea at his elbow, and his medikit within reach. He closed his eyes and heaved a contented sigh, vaguely aware of the presence of his host moving noiselessly about the room.
Then, close by, a deep voice quietly asked, "Is there anything else that we can do for you, Doctor?"
"No, thanks, this is fine," McCoy mumbled drowsily. "I think...Ill just take a nap..." And the next moment, he was fast asleep.
A frown furrowed the Vulcans brow as he stood looking down at his Human friend. After some hesitation, he placed his hand on the doctors face. And, by means of a light mind touch, he let waves of calm and comfort flow gently into his friends troubled mind. Then, withdrawing as gently as he had entered, he straightened up and observed with satisfaction that McCoy had relaxed and was now sleeping peacefully. Quietly, Spock let himself out of the room, deep in thought.
Apparently, McCoys condition was more serious than he had assumed. The short subspace message received but a week earlier had told him little except that the good doctor, having a health problem, wished to take medical advice from his colleagues of the Vulcan Academy Healing Center, and asked whether Spock could put him up for just a few days. He apologized for the inconvenience, but he would be "real glad" to see Spock as soon as possible. Yes, it was obvious that McCoy was facing a crisis, and to anyone reading between the lines, the message read almost like a call for help.
Naturally, Spock had replied at once that, being in ShiKahr at the moment, he would be honored to greet McCoy in his fathers house for as long as he liked. A message that had brought McCoy posthaste to his doorstep.
40 Eridani A was sinking slowly below the horizon and setting the sky ablaze with scarlet and ruby hues when the ambassador led his guest to a comfortable armchair in the patio of the stately old mansion.
McCoy sat back and looked contentedly around him. Nothing seemed to have changed; it was as beautiful as he remembered it, from the time when he, Jim and Spock used to come on shore leave in Sareks home and from their extended stay on Vulcan following the destruction of the Genesis planet and Spocks resurrection. His gaze swept from the austere symmetry of the arcades softened by sweet-smelling vines and creepers, to the evergreens and flowers which framed the pool and its babbling fountain, then came back to his host who was handing him a cup of coffee.
"Brandy, Doctor?" Spock suggested. "I suppose you have not changed your habits about intoxicating liquors?"
"Too late to change, Spock." McCoy shook his head. "Old habits die hard, you know. But I see that you havent changed either and still observe your mothers after-dinner ritual."
"Only on the rare occasions when I am receiving guests at home," Spock admitted. "Actually, I seldom find the time, and I always preferred tea to coffee. But as far as possible, I try to maintain our family traditions and to keep this place as it was at the time of my parents."
"Well," the doctor said pensively while warming the balloon of brandy, "to me it looks just as it did when you had your family gatherings...I can just visualize Sarek and Amanda sitting over there, and Jim..." His voice tailed off to silence. Presently, he resumed with a sigh, "Yeah, those were great times that we shared together, great times that we stupid Humans truly appreciate only when theyre gone. You cant imagine what it means to me to be back in this house...one more time."
"You are most welcome, McCoy, but I distinctly remember my father telling you and Jim to consider his house as your home, and to come whenever you wished. That invitation still stands."
"I know and I appreciate it, Spock, but, what with one thing and another...and then after Jim..." His voice cracked on that name, and he bit his lower lip. The loss of James Kirk, their captain and friend, had created such a void in their existence that things would never be the same, as they knew only too well.
A few moments full of nostalgia went by, then Spock quietly remarked, "And so, you have come after all. Considering the risk of undertaking this long voyage for a man of your age and physical condition, I assume you must have very strong reasons. Perhaps the state of your health is not the only one?"
"You smarty pants Vulcan! There is no fooling you, is there?" McCoy snorted, "but youre right in a way. First thing I came for is to check my tests with those medical experts of yours, to have them confirm my diagnosis. But I did have another reason for coming, and I am damn lucky that you happen to be at home right now because..." He paused, hesitated, then resumed, "Damn it! I know you will blame me for being an illogical, sentimental old fool, Spock, but somehow I have had that strong feeling that I must come and see you one last time."
The Vulcans keen gaze searched McCoys face as he repeated slowly, "One last time, Doctor? Explain."
"Explain? What can I say?" McCoy began but was interrupted by a fit of coughing. When the spasms subsided, he drew in a shaky breath, gulped down some brandy, and bluntly declared, "To tell you the plain truth, Spock, its over for me. I am terminally ill, finished, dying! Im facing an incurable disease, and Ive only got another month or so to live, probably less. Thats why I made that long trip, one last time."
Spock kept silent. For an unguarded moment, a deep emotion flashed in his eyes to vanish almost instantly. Finally, in a carefully controlled voice, he inquired, "Is it irrevocable?"
"Trust me, I know what Im talking about, Spock!"
"I dont doubt your expertise but," Spock hesitated, then continued, "I suppose that you have taken the Fabrini Medical Archives into account?"
"Of course! First thing I did. But it must be something that they never came across before. I have got some kind of virus which attacks the lungs. Perhaps some kind of bug that I caught in that hellhole of Rura Penthe that lay dormant for all these years. I have never felt quite the same after our little jaunt there, Jim and I. It could be, who knows?"
Spock winced perceptibly. "A jaunt for which I hold myself responsible," he said, "and the more so now that it is probably the cause of your fatal illness."
"What?" the doctor exclaimed with something of his youthful fire. "You are not going to blame yourself again for that, are you? You were fooled like the rest of us. It was a set-up, you know that! No one could have foreseen the turn that events were to take. And who got us out alive, I ask you? You and the crew, and no one else! So, for Heavens sake, stop blaming yourself. And for all I know, I may have caught that disease anywhere. Regulus Five, Miris Planet, Deneva, God knows how many planets Ive actually visited in my career in Starfleet."
"I would estimate..."
"Spock," McCoy growled in warning, "anyway, suffice it to say Ive had ample occasion to do so in my career. It has been latent for years in my system, probably, and now that I am old, its kicking in and taking over."
"Very well, Doctor, I yield to your arguments," Spock conceded, "but, considering the situation, dont you think it would have been more logical to contact me with these details? You had but to let me know, and I would have commandeered the fastest of our courier warp shuttles and brought along any number of our medical specialists as was necessary."
A grin lit up the doctors face. "Logical? Come on, when have you known me to be logical? Its not now that I am going to change. Not that I dont appreciate the offer, mind you. It is nice to have a big shot for a friend who can pull strings in all spheres of influence. Actually, I never thought of that. All I wanted to do was to get away from Earth, from all their show of sympathy, their solicitude which, more often than not, covered up a morbid curiosity for my case. So, one day, at Starfleet General, I was so fed up with being considered like a glorious guinea pig that I decided to make my getaway. At first, I didnt know where to go, to whom to turn. Then I thought of Jim and you, the most reliable guys I have ever known, and that was it.
"I called your embassy and was informed that you were back on Vulcan, having resumed your lectures at the Sciences Academy. That suited me fine since I could kill two birds with one stone: first, get a corroborating opinion from your Healers, and, second, have a last chance to see you. And so, I sent you my message, hoping that you would not mind putting me up for a couple of days, and knowing that you, at least, would spare me the conventional platitudes."
"Indeed?" Spock lifted a quizzical eyebrow. "This is quite a change of mind, McCoy. I seem to recall that it was precisely what you used to find so objectionable in me: my lack of feeling, of compassion, my deplorable bedside manners, my cold-blooded Vulcan indifference...need I go on?"
"No need, Spock; I remember only too well!" McCoy chuckled, well aware of the twinkle in the dark eyes watching him. "But that was part of the fun and games, and believe it or not, thats exactly what I am looking for now."
He paused, considering, then resumed seriously. "I believe that I have but a short time left to live. I admit that it isnt easy to accept, especially for a physician who has battled with death all his life. I thought I had long since come to terms with death, but standing at its door is something else altogether. But somehow I know that I can rely on you Vulcans to help me face the situation with dignity."
The two men shared a lingering, meaningful look, then Spock soberly replied, "You can, Doctor, and although I deeply regret the circumstances, I am honored and touched by this proof of your trust. Now, far from me to question your long medical experience, but are you quite certain of your conclusions?"
"I sure am. I know that Im dying. How long? I cant tell; thats why I want to get the healers opinion, if only to confirm my diagnosis."
"Very well," Spock stifled a sigh, "it shall be as you wish. We have an appointment tomorrow morning at the Healing Center, if you have no objection, of course."
"None at all. The sooner, the better," McCoy declared, sitting up. "Do you know who will see me?"
"Healer TLian. You remember her, dont you?"
"TLian? Of course, I remember. A lovely lady and a very professional physician. But how come shes still practicing, hasnt she retired yet?"
Spock, rising smoothly, tossed an amused glance at his guest. "She is only one hundred twenty-six years old, much too young for a Vulcan to even consider retirement, Doctor."
"Thats right!" McCoy pushed himself to his feet. "I always forget its different for you Vulcans." Then, he gripped Spocks arm to regain his balance and said in a voice husky with emotion, "Spock, you are truly the best. You take me in, you listen the rambling of a sick old man, you..." Words failed him.
"But, Doctor, as Jim used to say, isnt that what friends are for? As for your rambling, so far as I can tell, you are not in your dotage yet. On the other hand, you are tired, and it is getting late, high time for you to take some rest. Come along, Doctor!" the Ambassador firmly declared, as he steered his guest into the house.
Over the rustle of leaves in the night breeze and the murmur of the fountain, the good doctor could be heard grousing, "All right! All right! I may be on the brink of death, Spock, but dont you imagine that you can boss me around!"
To which a deep voice retorted imperturbably, "I would not even dream of it, Doctor."
The next morning, the ambassador was striding briskly along the gallery connecting the lecture halls of the Science Academy to the Teaching Hospital. If his rapid pace, quite unseemly for a Vulcan academic, attracted some curious, even disapproving stares, he did not care, having a more serious concern in his mind.
At the appointed time, he had brought McCoy to the Chief Healers office where he had left him in the care of TLian and her team. Then he had proceeded to the amphitheater to deliver his regular course in astrophysics.
Now, as he was hurrying back to the Healing complex, Spock could not help but hope, against all logic, for the Vulcans medical expertise to succeed where the Fabrinis science had failed in finding some therapy, some antidote, some treatment--anything to save McCoy.
But, as soon as he entered the wards, he was informed by a young intern that Healer TLian asked him to wait in her office where she wished to see him in private. Spocks heart sank but, keeping strict guard over his face, he nodded and stepped into the healers sanctum. He stood there waiting, looking blindly out of the window, more moved than he would have believed possible. TLian wishing to talk to him in private could only mean...
The sound of the door made him turn round, and he looked questioningly at the tall, grey-haired woman who stood in the doorway, her spare figure clothed in the lime-green uniform of the medical personnel. Their gazes locked, and she shook her head at his mute question.
"Your Doctor McCoy is very brave, very lucid, Spock." She pulled the door shut behind her. "He knows he is in a critical condition. Unfortunately, despite the present advanced state of our medical attainments, we can do nothing to save him." She sat at her desk and kindly said, "Take a seat, Cousin. You knew, did you not?"
Spock sank in a chair and nodded. "Yes, he told me last night."
"I see..." She paused, folded her hands and continued, "Doctor McCoys reputation as an outstanding physician is widespread. His loss will be deeply felt by the scientific community, and particularly on Vulcan where we have come to know and appreciate him. But," she added softly, "it will be mostly felt by you, Spock. Am I right?"
"Indeed. McCoy has been part of my life for so long. He has been my fellow officer, my doctor and my friend for more years than I care to remember." He paused as if looking back at the past, then resumed, "Curious, the death of Jim Kirk has somehow drawn us closer. You see, TLian, he has come all the way here so as to see me one last time before he dies." He swallowed hard and added in a husky voice. "I ask your forgiveness; I find that I have some difficulty in facing this situation."
"Understandable," the Healer replied evenly. "To be the last one left of a group of friends as close as you were with James Kirk and Leonard McCoy must be somewhat difficult to manage."
"Yes, it is," Spock murmured, staring down at his folded hands.
TLian watched her cousin silently, moved with compassion for this man who had suffered loss after loss all these past years. First, James T. Kirk had been lost and presumed to be dead; then his mother, the lady Amanda; then Sarek, his father, the Head of their clan; and, only but a few years past, his captain had been found and then died, heroically defending an insignificant planet in an insignificant star system, which of course was a cause for great shock and grief for Spock as the two were linked by the bond of thyla. No, she could not blame him for his lapse. While these sad thoughts flashed through her mind, Spock had regained his customary composure, and he presently asked her with apparent detachment. "How long?"
"So far as we can determine," she replied in kind, "I estimate ten to twelve days, at most." She saw his dark eyes widen in shock.
"No more than that? McCoy had estimated a month."
"Yes," she nodded, "that was correct, provided he stayed on Terra. But the voyage here with all the over-exertions involved has shortened his life expectancy by half. He is now paying for the illogical risks he took in coming here." She broke off and looked searchingly at her cousin. "You must mean a great deal to this Human for him to have taken such unreasonable risks, Spock."
"So it seems," Spock whispered, a flash of sorrow showing in his eyes. "I did not know until now, when it is too late."
"Nothing is ever too late, Spock," TLian said quietly.
"Perhaps... Does he know?"
"He does. I told him."
"And his reaction?"
A faint smile softened TLians face. "Very calm and rational. Almost like a Vulcan... Interesting. I remember him to be a rather emotional Human."
"Emotional, unpredictable, illogical...yes, he is all that, but I also recall how brave and level-headed he can be in the face of adversity," Spock said thoughtfully. Then, he asked, "Is he in pain? I have seen him subjected to severe bouts of coughing."
"The pain is not as acute as you could expect considering the condition of his lungs," replied the healer who launched into a brief analysis of the disease, adding in conclusion, "A most unusual case, never encountered before, and, so far as we can tell, non-infectious to vulcanoid species. However, although the medication and tri-ox doses that the doctor takes are effective enough, I have set our labs working on a more potent therapy based on our traditional phytotherapy which, I think, might ease his breathing difficulties."
"And perhaps find a cure eventually?" Spock suggested tentatively.
"Of course, we shall work with that aim in view, but do not expect the impossible, Spock. You, a scientist, know only too well that research is a long and exacting task. It takes patience and painstaking work to obtain results eventually."
"Agreed," Spock assented, "but, for the present, what do you recommend?"
"For Doctor McCoy? Long periods of rest, appetizing and nutritious food, and some mild activities to engage his mind. But he knows that as well as I do," TLian promptly replied as she got to her feet. "The problem is that he means to pursue his research until the end."
"Indeed? In his present condition?" Spock wondered.
"Yes, he is very determined. I would not recommend it, of course, but it is for him to decide." The healer opened the door, but her cousin had another question.
"One last word, TLian," he said, "I believe that McCoy means to go back to Earth shortly. I dont think that a trip on the regular spaceliner would be wise, so would a transfer on my private deep space shuttle be acceptable?"
"Out of the question!" she retorted. "He would not live it through. Too risky. But again, I can only give my recommendation. He is the one who makes the decision."
When the two Vulcans entered the private room where McCoy had been examined, they found him recovering in an easy chair, a glass of fruit juice in hand, and a lovely pointed-eared brunette Vulcan in attendance.
At seeing them, he smiled and said genially, "Hi, Spock! Heard the news? My diagnosis and my tests have been fully confirmed by Healer TLians team, to the rate of ninety-five point six percent. Pretty good, eh? So I was right, whatever that moron at the Starfleet Sector General said to the contrary. How about that?"
McCoys attempt at cheerfulness was painful to see, but Spock carefully replied, "Under any other circumstance, Doctor, I would offer my congratulations for I know from experience how much you value being proved right. But in this case, allow me to desist. I would rather you had been proved wrong."
"Yeah, well, sounds logical, doesnt it?" McCoy wryly admitted. "I would certainly be better off if I were wrong. But I have at least the satisfaction of scoring this last one over John Stanford, damn him! Too bad that I wont have the time to finish my research. Ah, well, it will be up to you, Healer TLian, and you, my dear, to find the antidote." He flashed one of his famous smiles at the young woman sitting beside him. "You know Doctor TVal, dont you, Spock? We have been talking shop and I have just found out that her specialty is xenobiology."
"I have known Healer TVal and appreciated her scientific achievements for many years, Doctor," Spock said with a nod of acknowledgment at the young healer. "But perhaps we should come back to the matter in hand. May I know what your plans are for the present?"
"What do you mean...my plans?" demanded a nonplused McCoy. "Do I have any choice? In a couple of weeks, Ill probably be dead. So all I have to do is board the next Falcon Flight back to Earth, day after tomorrow."
Prompted by a meaningful glance from Spock, TLian intervened, "Doctor McCoy, I fear that you overestimate your physical capacities. Given the rapid evolution of the disease, and taking into account the fatigue inherent to space travel, I doubt that you would survive the journey."
"Oh? You mean I might die on the way back? So what?" McCoy bluntly asked. "What does it matter after all to die on that ship or anywhere else?"
A look of disapproval registered on the womens faces, but Spock, impervious to McCoys peculiar brand of sarcasm did not turn a hair and merely remarked, "I doubt the captain of the Falcon Liner would share your view, Doctor. However, allow me some clarification. From what you told me last night, you have no intention of taking residence at the Senior Officers Nursing Home?"
"Good Heavens, no! You know what? They would be duty-bound to keep me alive artificially on life-support in the hope that some day someone would eventually find the antidote. No, thank you. I know only too well what it means to be subjected to that kind of therapeutic harassment when all you want is to be left alone and die in peace. I have seen it done to my poor father, bless him!"
His voice faltered, he cleared his throat then said with grim determination, "On no account shall I go through that nightmare, do you hear?"
"We understand, Doctor," Spocks deep voice was calm and soothing. "But where else could you stay to be properly looked after? Your daughter, perhaps?"
"Certainly not! For one thing, we have not seen much of each other lately. Not that I blame her. Joanna is a good girl, but her husband is a damn fool; I cant stand the guy! And she has her life, her family. Why would they burden themselves with a cranky old man dying of an alien infection, I ask you? And that granddaughter of mine, shes got her own career as a doctor aboard a starship. Kates got no time to take care of me. And Teresa..." He choked back a sob. "She's long gone. At least we had all those years together..." He shook his head. "No, Spock, if I make it back to Earth, Ill find some quiet place, out of the way where I can breathe my last in peace."
"I see. In other words no one, no friend is waiting for you on Terra?" Spock quietly concluded.
"Friends?" The doctor gave a short laugh. "The friends I have left...my God! You know better than I where they are, gallivantin all over the galaxy. So theres only you here, for the moment, at least. Lucky me! But why do you ask? Whats your point?"
"The point is precisely what I am coming to. You just said that you have no one, no place to go to on Earth. I, on the other hand, am here on Vulcan, and so are you. Therefore, I ask why should you undertake this hazardous journey back to Earth while logic dictates that you stay here and spend the last days of your life in peace and comfort in my house?"
This left the good doctor speechless. Overcome by emotion, he felt the sting of tears in his eyes. He blinked them nervously away and looked at the three Vulcans successively. They solemnly returned his gaze to which Spock added his lift of the eyebrow.
"But," McCoy protested, "why would you want to saddle yourself with me? You cant be serious, Spock!"
"Never more so, my friend. I assure you that it is the least I can do. When I died on the Enterprise, you held my katra in your mind--unknowingly, I admit, but you kept it secured, at great risk to your sanity, until the time of refusion. Were it not for you, Doctor, I simply would no longer exist."
"I concur with Spock, Doctor McCoy," put in TLian. "For what you did on Mount Seleya, our people will always be in your debt. As for myself and my team, we shall be honored to be of assistance in your research, and, if you so wish, I shall put one of our laboratories at your disposal. TVal, I am sure, will be happy to second you," she added with a nod at her assistant. "Naturally, should you wish to stay at our hospice, a room will be prepared."
"I...I dont know what to say," McCoy stammered, "this is so unexpected."
As the Vulcans waited patiently for his decision and gazed at him with a genuine sympathy which they reputedly were incapable of feeling, the doctor was struck by the thought that support and understanding could sometimes be found where they were least expected. He was not only touched by Spocks staunch loyalty, but also by the true compassion shown by the two healers.
He knew he could rely on their total respect for privacy to allow him to end his life as he wished, with dignity. Who could have imagined that the safe haven which he was looking for would be found on Vulcan? Then why not accept their hospitality as simply as it was offered?
But McCoy, true to type, covered his emotion with his caustic wit and wryly asked,"I guess it is the logical thing to do, eh, Spock?"
"Absolutely, Doctor," replied the Vulcan, a spark of humor in his eyes. "As you told me once on the Enterprise, you would be well advised to yield to the logic of the situation."
"God! Spock, you had to bring that up!" The doctor shook his head, moved by the memory. "That was so long ago." He drew a shaky breath, feeling suddenly physically and emotionally drained. "Okay! Lets be logical. I might as well stay here, considering my condition. Thank you, both of you, and I accept your offer of a lab, Healer. It will be a pleasure to work with your assistant. But a room at the hospice is not necessary. I would prefer to stay with Spock if he can put up with me a little while longer. After all those years of spacefaring together, we have got used to each others moods and habits, havent we, Spock?"
"Indeed, Doctor," the Ambassador blandly agreed.
"Very well, it will be as you wish, Doctor McCoy," TLian readily said. "But," she added, seeing the face of McCoy drawn with fatigue, "it is time for you to take the good doctor home, Spock. This session has been too long, and he needs food and rest now."
"Yes, Spock," McCoy mumbled, pushing himself painfully to his feet. "I think I have had enough for the day. Take me home, please."
Shortly afterwards, while TVal and a medical assistant were making McCoy comfortable in the Ambassadors aircar, the latter was giving his full attention to Healer TLians last recommendations.
"Of course," she said, "when the doctor comes to our labs, I shall have him examined; or, if he does not, TVal or one of my healers will make a house call to check on him. But, should anything happen at your house, do not hesitate to call us."
"I am most grateful for your help, cousin," Spock said. "I shall do my best but..." He faltered. "...I only hope I shall be equal to the responsibility."
"We are here to serve. But you, Spock, are his friend. I know that when the end draws near, no one can help him through the Passage better than you. Go now. Take him home. Peace to you both."
As the aircar rose smoothly, McCoy looked down at the landing stage where the Vulcans were still standing, watching them go. He waved to them then sat back wearily, a happy smile on his face. "God!" he breathed. "I love those pointed ears!"
"I beg your pardon?!"
"That young healer, TVal. Didnt you notice? A real peach, Spock!"
The heavy door of the study opened stealthily, and a head poked in.
"Busy?" asked McCoy in a hoarse whisper.
Ambassador Spock looked up from the BellComm and, seeing who the intruder was, waved him in and pointed at the chair in front of his desk.
The doctor sat quietly and, while listening with half a mind to the conversation that Spock was carrying on in Vulcan over his BellComm, he looked around approvingly at the sparse yet comfortable study which had been Sareks sanctum before becoming that of his son. A son who, as far as McCoy could tell, had respected the arrangements of the room as he had done in the rest of the house.
It had been five days since the doctor had taken up his quarters in this house, and already he and Spock had adopted a daily routine which suited them both perfectly. In the morning, Spock shared his time between his teaching at the Science Academy and the briefings with his diplomatic staff at the External Affairs Office in ShiKahr.
McCoys activities were more commonplace. When he stayed at home, a leisurely breakfast taken in the patio was followed by a stroll in the garden before the oppressive heat forced him to retreat into the house, preferably in Amandas cozy sitting-room. He liked to relax with a book in the cool and refined atmosphere of the room which reminded him so much of the lovely lady who had reigned over this household for so many years. He also sat at the BellComm to contact and check with TVal on any progress that she and her team were making in the research which concerned him in the highest degree. He had given up doing it himself after hours of intense work in the biolabs had left him in a state of exhaustion. So now he was doing his research by proxy, as it were, with the pleasant feeling of taking it easy while his delegate was doing all the work. A paragon of a delegate, highly intelligent and competent as a true Vulcan, but also gentle and considerate, keeping him informed and never failing to ask for his learned opinion. A nice touch which helped him believe that he was not entirely useless. And to crown it all, the young woman was as pretty as a picture with her ponytail and her adorable pointed ears.
The good doctor was so lost in his reverie that it was some time before the silence in the room called him back to his surroundings. He blinked and found his host, hands steepled, head tilted to one side, regarding him with mild interest.
"Daydreaming, McCoy?" Spock inquired.
"Huh? Er...yes, as a matter of fact, I was," McCoy confessed sheepishly.
"About a pair of pointed ears, I presume?"
A flush colored the gaunt cheeks of McCoy who glared at the Vulcan. "Thats not fair, Spock! Youve been reading my mind!" he exclaimed.
"Without your consent? You disappoint me, Doctor," Spock retorted loftily. "How can you accuse me of what is the most heinous crime for a Vulcan? You know that I would never demean myself in doing that."
"Okay, I take that back," the doctor grumbled. "Fact is that you caught me unaware. How did you guess, anyway?"
"No guess, no mental contact, no ESP are involved, Doctor. Just a simple matter of observation and deduction. The sight of the rapt, not to say beatific expression of your face was sufficient for me to logically deduce that your thoughts were focused on the young person who seems to have caught your fancy." Then noting the stunned look on the Humans expressive face, Spock added for good measure, "Elementary, my dear doctor."
"Okay, you win; you and your infernal logic!" McCoy growled. "But, for Petes sake stop parroting that ancestor of yours. You make me feel like Doctor Watson."
"And what is wrong with that? Doctor Watson was an honorable gentleman and a loyal friend, of a somewhat limited intellect, perhaps, but a perfect example of the typical country doctor. Is that not what you always claimed to be?"
Seeing Spocks lips twist wryly, McCoy finally caught on and sat back, a grin on his face. "Well, well," he drawled. "In a teasing mood, arent you? My word! But you have changed, Spock. When I recall that stiff-backed walking computer that we used to have for First Officer!"
"Given the prolonged exposure to your emotional species that I was subjected to, a certain contamination was inevitable, dont you think?"
The dark eyes were regarding him with amusement, and suddenly McCoy realized how much he had missed the verbal contests which the two of them used to indulge in. Somehow, now that he and Spock were again sharpening their wits on one another, things seemed to be back to normality. His days were numbered? So what? He was going to enjoy every one of them to the fullest.
So, it was with something of his old zing that he retorted, "You bet I do! But let me tell you that this contamination has greatly improved your personality."
A prim eyebrow arched slightly. "I beg to differ. But of course that is a matter of opinion. Now, Doctor," Spock sat forward, his slim hands folded on the desk, "I have a proposal for you."
"Oh, an honorable proposal, I hope," the doctor quipped.
"Definitely, since it has TLians full approval. What would you say to an early morning trip into the desert to watch the sunrise from the Hills of Kerak; then proceed to the TsaiKal valley and have breakfast at the farm?"
"The TsaiKal valley?" McCoys eyes lit up in anticipation. "I would love to, Spock. How soon can we go?"
"Tomorrow, provided that you are well enough."
"Ill be fine. Dont worry about me. I only had a few fits today, thanks to TLians magic herbal potion. Lets go tomorrow. But what about your lectures, your students?"
"I have given them a day off to meditate, as it were. As for the rest, it can wait, and Sirvann will take care of it. You remember Sirvann, dont you?"
"Sure! That handsome young man who used to be one of your fathers aides or secretary or something?"
"Correct. He now heads my staff, and is a very competent and astute negotiator. I am training him so as to replace me when I am gone."
"Oh, I see..." was all that McCoy found to say.
But Spock was moving to the door. "Tomorrow it is then," he said deliberately. "Now, if you will excuse me, I must see about our arrangements. Shall we meet on the patio in twenty minutes, before the evening meal? I suggest you retire early tonight since we must leave before daybreak."
"Thats fine with me, as long as you wake me up in time," said McCoy. "Ive never been much of an early bird."
"I remember that all too well, Doctor."
And Spock was gone, leaving the doctor grumbling, "I just bet you would. I wonder if there is anything at all that Vulcan doesnt remember!"
It was not yet dawn when Spock landed the skimmer neatly between tall basaltic crags on the top of the Kerak Heights. There were only a few meters to spare, just room enough to open the hatch and slip out.
The Vulcan shouldered a bag, jumped down and turned to help his passenger alight. Doctor McCoy, once on safe ground, looked around in the dim starlight and shuddered retrospectively. That they had not crashed into one of those cliffs was little short of a miracle.
"My God!" he gasped. "That was close. No need to tell me that youve done it before," he added as his Vulcan friend led him through the semi-darkness.
"On the contrary, doctor, this is my first attempt. I always came here on foot, across the desert," Spock admitted.
The doctor stopped short and gulped. "Your first attempt? And it is now that you are telling me? You must be kidding! Unless it has something to do with your special night vision or some other kind of Vulcan mumbo-jumbo."
"Nothing of the sort. I only made use of a new set of close range sensors." The hint of humor in Spocks voice did not escape the doctor.
"I knew it was something right in your province anyway," the physician said.
A few minutes later, McCoy, warmly muffled in a hooded Vulcan cloak, was sitting beside Spock at the edge of the plateau, sheltered by rocks from the wind which still blew fiercely around the heights. Above their heads shone the starry splendor of the Vulcan night. Down below, the vastness of the Sas- a-Shar desert, still shrouded in darkness, spread out as far as the horizon where the sky was already paling down to the hues of dawn.
The doctor was deep in rapt contemplation when a familiar smell tickled his nostrils and made him look round. Spock had a thermo-flask in hand and was pouring coffee in a cup which he handed him with the caution, "Be careful; it is very hot."
"Coffee? Just what I needed, Spock." After a few sips, McCoy remarked, "I was just wondering what you could be carrying in that bag. Not just coffee, to judge by the size of it?"
"No, indeed. I also have a tin of biscuits, two liters of water, your medikit, your drugs, an oxygen mask with an extra supply, your sun visor, one of your sweaters, and some"
"You crazy Vulcan!" The doctor burst out laughing. "Do you really believe that I need all that stuff?"
"Doctors orders," the Vulcan retorted deadpan.
"What do you mean doctors orders? I never asked you to"
McCoys protest was cut short by the wry remark, "You forget that you are not the only doctor of my acquaintance."
"Oh, you mean TVal?" McCoy sounded somewhat disconcerted.
"TVal and TLian. They both gave me strict instructions as to your welfare," Spock primly reply.
"Oh, Lord!" McCoy grunted irritably. "Thats all I need now! A bunch of Vulcan mother hens."
Spock, not the least put out by McCoys gruff and grumble act to which he had become immune over the years, merely remarked, "An intriguing reversal of situation, Doctor. But dont let the idea upset you. Here, have a biscuit..."
McCoy, utterly disarmed, shook his head and helped himself to the biscuit tin. "You know," he finally said, "As Jim was fond of saying, you never fail to surprise me, Mister Spock."
"Thank you, Doctor. I shall take this as a compliment. But here is your visor. Better put it on. It wont be long now."
Indeed, by then most of the stars had twinkled away and the cold wind had gradually died down, leaving the desert and its creatures in a silent expectancy. Over the horizon, the sky was now displaying a riot of vivid colors. McCoy hastily put on his sun visor and settled himself as if sitting at the front row of the dress circle to watch the show that the Vulcan sun was about to produce.
The sky turned from rosy to scarlet, then, suddenly, light beams shot up high, heralding the rise of 40 Eridani A, and presently the huge crimson disk peeped over the skyline to rise slowly and expand with a majestic pomp.
The doctor was watching in silent wonder when some shrill cries high above the hill broke the spell. Several wide-winged birds were circling and gliding in the air currents, calling each other, breaking the silence.
"Spock! What are these birds?" McCoy asked under his breath. No reply. "Spock!" he called louder and jabbed the Vulcan in the ribs.
"Mmm?" the Vulcan stirred and emerged from his contemplation.
"What are these birds flying overhead, Spock?"
"Xirahnah, Doctor, also called silver-birds. They nest further north in the L-Langon range and usually come over the Sas-a-Shar at dawn."
"Beautiful!" breathed McCoy, head tilted up to watch the ballet performed over his head. Moments later, however, the silver-birds gathered and, with a last eerie call, swept away and disappeared from view in the sunrise.
The two men sat in silence, absorbed in their private thoughts, but also quite conscious of sharing a moment of exception. 40 Eridani A was rising steadily and setting the desert ablaze. The heat of its furnace could already be felt.
McCoy gave a start as his companion stood up beside him. "Are we going?" he asked.
"Yes. The companion star will soon be rising, and the heat will increase rapidly. You must not be exposed to its dangerous effects. But first, your medication, Doctor, and some water." Spock handed McCoy his medikit and a flask of water which the latter accepted without demur, only too glad of a cold drink.
Then he let Spock haul him up to his feet, and, with a last look at the desert, quietly said, "That was a wonderful experience, Spock. Thank you for bringing me here."
"I thought that it would please you. I am glad that I am right. Come; it is time to leave."
As they retraced their steps to the aircar, the doctor had a question. "Tell me, Spock. You said that you always came here on foot. That must be a hell of a hike. How long does it take from ShiKahr?"
"Normally six hours thirty-five minutes. Why? Do you wish to try?"
"Hell, no! But I remember those trips across the desert you used to take with Jim. Did you ever bring him here to watch the sunrise?"
The Vulcan only walked on, and it was not until they reached the skimmer that he briefly replied, "Yes. I did."
Not another word was spoken while Spock strapped the doctor in his seat, handed him an oxygen mask and pulled the hatch shut. McCoy sat, quietly breathing in the tri-ox compound, and wondering why the simple mention of Jim Kirk had made the Vulcan clam up all at once.
The aircar was now rising steadily between the sheer faces of basalt, and McCoy could not help but squeeze his eyes shut with apprehension. A few seconds later, he heard Spocks voice, tinged with irony, say quietly, "Doctor, since obviously we have not crashed, perhaps you might care to open your eyes and admire the scenery?"
McCoy snatched his mask away and looked down from the side port. They were indeed underway, flying swiftly over a desert plateau furrowed by deep canyons and gorges. "Well," he said, "looks like we made it, all right. Thank Heaven and those clever sensors of yours!"
"No deity nor computer system were involved, McCoy. The controls were set on manual," Spock coolly replied.
The doctor blew out his cheeks in exasperation. "Why, you insufferable Vulcan! What is it with you? Trying to scare me retrospectively?"
"That was certainly not my intention, Doctor. Now, are you ready for breakfast?"
"Sure I am! Im starvin. How long before we get there?"
"E.T.A. is twenty-five point seven minutes at present speed. I suggest you take this opportunity to rest before we arrive. Are you comfortable?"
"Just fine, Spock. Stop mothering me, will you!"
For a while, only the steady throb of the engine was heard in the cabin. It lulled McCoy into a dreamlike apathy as he looked out at the reddish cliffs and crags sweeping below. He still pondered over Spocks curious reaction, and, after a moment, glanced at the Vulcan who seemed to be lost in his own thoughts. Maybe nows a good time. So he began tentatively, "Er...Spock?"
"I...I may have spoken out of turn, back on the hill, when I asked about you and Jim. Im sorry; I didnt mean to..."
"Doctor, please," Spock broke in, "there is no reason for you to apologize. I am the one who should express regrets for an ungracious response." He paused, hesitated. "I have no excuse, but it seems that I am still unable to come to terms with the death of my captain."
This simple admission touched the doctors heart. "That makes two of us, Spock," he whispered. "God! I miss him so much."
"I know, McCoy, I know," Spock said softly. "That is why I brought you to the Kerak Hills. You see, on his last trip to Vulcan, Jim spent a few days with me. And on the evening before he was due to leave, we crossed the Sas- a-Shar to spend the last night on the hills. Jim built a fire, I recall; we talked through the night, looking at the stars; we had coffee and Jim roasted marshmallows."
"Marshmallows? How about that!" McCoy chuckled softly.
"Yes. For the sake of traditions, as he said," Spock paused as if re-living the scene, then resumed, "and so we sat together until dawn, and then we watched the sun rise. A few hours later, he left."
"Mmm," McCoy nodded pensively, "and you never saw him again?"
"No, I never saw him again, Doctor."
"Spock, I may be wrong but I have the impression that on the hills, you wished to share with me what you had shared with Jim on your last day together," McCoy said slowly.
"Well, Mister Spock," McCoy declared, masking his emotion with a caustic remark, "all I can say is that for a rational, non-emotional Vulcan, you show a dangerous propensity to sentimentalism."
Spocks eyebrows went up at once. "Do I, Doctor? This is an accusation I would not have expected from a Human, least of all from you who have been badgering me for years to release what you called my Human emotion."
"And I'm awfully glad I did!" the doctor replied with spirit. "See the result? A great improvement over that damned stand-offish Vulcan that you used to be, and this is meant as a compliment. Besides I..."
An insistent beep from the comm unit interrupted McCoys recital. Spock depressed the key and a male voice was heard speaking rapidly in Vulcan. Spock replied likewise then signed off.
"That was Xan from the farm. He was asking how soon he could expect us to arrive. We should be there within ten minutes now. Remember Xan, Doctor?"
"One of the twins? Sure I do. The trouble was I could never tell him or his brother Shoran apart. So they are still living on the estate?"
"Certainly. They both run the plantation now that their father is dead. I am quite pleased with them," Spock explained.
"I remember how they used to show me around," McCoy recalled happily. "We had a great time there, Jim and I. They were really nice boys."
"Hardly boys now, but fine-looking men, both married and each with a child. A boy and a little girl."
"You dont say! And it seems but yesterday...Thats what makes me feel like an old fossil, only good enough to be thrown to the dogs!"
"A fossil who still has his wits about him, and who is expected with great anticipation. Here we are, Doctor."
The small craft, after cresting some more cliffs, suddenly dived in a smooth descent onto the TsaiKal valley, a luscious oasis where Spock owned one of the finest plantations of Vulcan.
The welcome that Doctor McCoy received there was all that he could have hoped for. Despite their innate reserve, the two handsome Vulcans who greeted them on the landing pad managed to convey their pleasure in receiving the famous doctor escorted by Ambassador Spock, their cousin and landlord. The ladies of the house were duly introduced and, after the ritual offering of a cold drink, everyone proceeded to the cool inner garden where the mid-morning meal was being served.
As McCoy sat on a pile of rugs and held in his hand a glass of KVass, he had the uncanny impression of being thrown back in time.
The pleasant company gathered around the low table loaded with appetizing food and drinks, the crystal clear sound of water gushing and running from fountains, the heady scent of blossoms, everything around him brought back bitter-sweet memories. Raising his eyes, he met the steady gaze of Spock and he knew that the same thoughts were crossing the Vulcans mind.
For an instant, they held each others gaze, then Spock deliberately raised his glass. "To happy memories, Doctor."
To which McCoy, doing likewise, replied, "Yes, Spock, and to departed friends."
Then they both drank, and the Vulcans solemnly followed suit, for, even if they did not fully understand the significance of the toast, they certainly concurred with the words.
To McCoys pleasure, everything was as he remembered. The taste of the salads, the flavor of the breads and fruit, even the easy conversation which was held in standard in deference to their guest who was content to listen and put in a word here and there as well as many questions on the farm.
By the end of the meal, however, feeling a bit tired and drowsy, the doctor asked to be excused. He would be glad to lie down for a while. Refusing to break up the party, he only accepted the escort of Shorans wife and left the company with the assurance that he would be fine after a short nap.
He was shuffling along the passage to the bedchambers when a sudden, excruciating ache in his chest made him gasp with pain. He tried to catch his breath but failed. A startling thought flashed through his mind: This is it! Im done for. Then darkness enfolded him, and he knew no more.
The doctor came around to a pain in his chest and a muffled drone in his ears. He took a cautious breath and realized that his oxygen mask was in place and his breathing easier. So far, so good. Opening his eyes, he saw a blue ceiling overhead and wondered where he was. He tried to raise his head but was prevented by a restraining hand on his shoulder.
A familiar face appeared in his field of vision. "Do not move, McCoy," said Spocks voice. "You have lost consciousness, but you will feel better presently."
McCoy nodded and concentrated on breathing in and out regularly, and on testing the pain which he still felt latent in his lungs. Apparently, that damned virus had scored one point but it had not won yet. Hearing the faint whir of his mediscanner hovering over him, he removed the mask and wheezed, "What does it say, Spock?"
"See for yourself, Doctor." A strong arm held him up, and he squinted at the readings and made a face.
"Not too good, uh? But could be worse. I really thought I was a goner! How long was I out?"
"You lost consciousness forty minutes ago," he was told. "We are on our way to ShiKahr where the healers are expecting you for a complete examination."
"On our way? But, Spock! I didnt even say goodbye."
"Under the circumstances, you may be excused, Doctor. And I am sure that Shoran here will gladly convey your farewells to his family."
Peering over Spocks shoulder, McCoy then realized that their skimmer was piloted by one of the twins.
"So you see," Spock went on calmly, "there is nothing to worry about. Are you still in pain? How do you feel?"
The doctor took a tentative breath and winced. He felt at once the light touch of a warm hand on his brow and heard the Vulcan murmur, "No more talking now. Just breathe slowly and relax."
In the somnolence which insensibly took hold of his being, one last lazy thought surfaced in the doctors mind. "Your bedside manners have decidedly improved, Mister Spock! Thank you," was the last thing that his mind registered before he dropped off to sleep.
The voice sounding deep in his mind pulled McCoy away from his dreams and brought him back to the present. He blinked and found himself lying on a diagnostic bed with TLian standing beside him, her hand placed on his temple and cheek.
She calmly straightened up. "I hope you are feeling better, Doctor."
"Yes...yes, much better." McCoy tested his condition. "I still feel a sharp pain if I breathe in too deeply, but that is to be expected, I suppose."
"Yes, given the rapid progression of the disease. Here, let me show you on the screen."
The healer activated the medical viewer placed beside the diagnostic bed. A medical assistant oriented the bed so as to let McCoy see more easily the image of his body as it appeared on the screen in transparent details.
"As you can see here and there..." TLian pointed at the screen. "This is what caused this sudden crisis. We have been able to control the damage for the time being."
"But it will happen again, by the look of it," McCoy commented dispassionately as if they were discussing the case of some other patient. "As I see it, another rupture might start some kind of chain reaction, and then..." He gave the healer a meaningful look.
"I agree...but when? I cannot tell," she said. "We shall have to be prepared, Doctor. As a matter of fact, today's crisis might well have been fatal had Spock not acted with speed and discernment."
"Oh, you mean by transferring me here?"
"Yes, but also by stabilizing your condition until I could intervene."
"But how could he do that?" McCoy asked in disbelief.
"Spock has the gift, Doctor."
"The gift? You mean the ability to heal himself in a trance?"
"Yes, he has that knowledge taught to all Vulcan children in their earliest years. But that is not a gift, Doctor. What I mean is the innate ability to ease pain which Spock has inherited from his grandfather. In each Vulcan family, throughout the generations, an individual is endowed with the gift. I have the gift which I have developed into a profession."
"Does that mean that Spock could have become a doctor like you and me?" McCoy, obviously, was tickled by the notion.
"Perhaps, if he had acquired the knowledge and been properly trained, but I doubt it. He chose instead to devote himself to sciences, space exploration, and now diplomacy, like his father," TLian added with the hint of a smile.
"I still cant get over it," McCoy declared. "He really is something, isnt he?"
"Spock is a very special man, indeed," TLian quietly stated. "But, concerning your case, Doctor. After this alert of today, I should recommend that you stay with us in our intensive care unit, and under constant observation. However, I am well aware of your reluctance to spend the last days of your life in a medical complex. So I propose an alternative: you can stay with Spock, but on one condition: that you accept the presence of a medical attendant permanently posted in the house. No intrusion on your privacy, Doctor McCoy, only a security for your welfare. Spock may not always be at hand, you understand?"
"Of course. I thank you, Healer; this is most considerate of you. I gladly accept this option. I have a question, however. On Vulcan, are the home nurses male or female?"
She looked at him with genuine surprise. "Does it make any difference, Doctor McCoy?"
Meantime, Spock was crossing the botanic park on his way to the governmental section of ShiKahr. An urgent message from the External Affairs had advised him that a high priority communication awaited him in his office.
He climbed the steps rapidly and, not slackening his pace, walked into the office of Sirvann, his aide. "That communication? Where is it from?"
"From Starfleet Command Communication Center. Priority One and scrambled. I patched it in to your personal security channel, sir."
"Thank you, Sirvann. Make sure that I wont be disturbed, will you?"
Once in his sanctum, Spock dropped his cloak on the back of a chair and sat down at his desk. As he quickly punched in his code, he firmly curbed any tentative speculation. Any possibility he might have considered would have been wide of the mark for it was an unexpected face which greeted him brightly from the screen.
"Ambassador Spock! My respects, sir," the gray-haired, distinguished-looking woman said.
"Greeting, Admiral. To what do I owe the honor?" Spock blandly replied.
"Well, if we had time to spare in small talk, I would say just for the pleasure of saying hello, Spock," replied Uhura, dropping the formalities. "But since we dont, Ill come straight to the point." On Spocks nod of assent, she proceeded. "You realize, of course, that my position as Head of Starfleet Communications gives me access to certain confidential channels, and the opportunity of gathering some interesting tidbits of information here and there. Do you follow me, Spock?"
"I am right with you, Uhura."
"Good! Now, I have noticed recently a certain agitation in high circles. A flurry of communications between Starfleet Command, the Surgeon Generals office, Starfleet Intelligence, the Federation Merchant Shipping Board, and even...brace yourself, Spock!...the Vulcan Embassy."
"Indeed?" The cool reply and slight tilt of an eyebrow halted Uhura in her tracks.
"Did you know?" she asked suspiciously.
"I did not, and I find your account fascinating. Please continue."
"Well, I wouldnt have paid any attention if the name of a certain party hadnt popped up in all the conversations. That naturally aroused my curiosity."
"Naturally," Spock put in imperturbably.
"Spock!" she exclaimed. "If you know something about Doctor McCoy, please tell me. Im getting worried about him. I havent seen him for quite a while, and no one seems to know where he is. When we last met for lunch, about a month ago, he looked ill, a bad cold, he said, nothing to worry about. It seemed more than the common cold to me, but, well, he is the doctor after all.
"Later, when I called his labs to see how he was doing, I was told that he had been admitted to Sector General Hospital. So I went there to visit him, but there again I drew a blank. I couldnt see him because hed been transferred to an isolation ward where no one was admitted. But I was told that he was being well looked after, everything was fine, blah...blah...you know that kind of bureaucratic drivel. I am sure now that they were trying to cover something up. Theres been quite a commotion over how Doctor McCoy broke out of the hospital and took off for parts unknown, you must know.
"So, I started making inquiries, discreetly, through my contacts, and heard that they had gotten in touch with your embassy, still about McCoy. I thought that perhaps you were involved, Spock, and that is why I called."
"I see." Spock dryly commented, "A high priority and scrambled communication, Admiral?"
"Well," she countered with a knowing smile, "with this hush-hush business, I thought it safer to keep our conversation private, dont you agree, Ambassador?"
"I do, Uhura. I admit that you acted wisely in these circumstances. Now I trust that you will keep what I am going to tell you strictly confidential."
"Of course. So I was right? You have news about McCoy, good news, I hope?"
"Yes and no, Admiral."
"What do you mean?" she asked filled with a sense of foreboding.
"The good news is that Doctor McCoy is on Vulcan. He has been staying with me, in my parents house for a week. But..." He paused, and Uhura saw his dark gaze softened with compassion. "But I regret having to tell you that his physical condition is deteriorating rapidly. His days are numbered."
"Oh no!" she whispered in dismay.
"Doctor McCoy is terminally ill, Uhura," Spock told her gently. "According to his own diagnosis, as corroborated by our healers, he has only a week left to live."
Uhura was devastated, her dark eyes shining with tears. "My God! I never knew; I never imagined! Why didnt he tell me?" she stammered.
"You know our good doctor, dont you?" Spock quietly asked. "Never one to attract attention upon himself."
"Youre right. Ive never known a man more devoted to others and less to himself," she sadly replied. "But isnt there anything that can be done to save him? I dont understand!"
"Unfortunately, no, not in his present condition. Our best xenobiologists are currently working under his direction. They may one day come up with a treatment, but it will be too late for McCoy. I am not at liberty to tell you more."
"I understand, Spock. One question, though, if I may? Is there any particular reason why he left the Starfleet medical facilities and went to Vulcan?"
"There are several reasons, Admiral," he replied with an ironical twist of the lips, "the main reason being the total incompatibility between his views and those of Starfleet Medical. As I understand it, their disagreement over his case grew to such an extent that McCoy chose to quit. To use his own terms, he made his getaway."
"And he came to you," Uhura concluded with a fond smile. "He hasnt changed one bit, has he? I understand what made the Surgeon General Office so jumpy, of late. But, come to think of it, I hope that, for all the extra precautions I have taken, Starfleet Intelligence is not going to trace my call back to you!"
"Whether they do or not is immaterial," Spock said loftily. "I shall deal with that problem when it presents itself. Still, it may be wise not to prolong our conversation. I shall of course report it to the doctor. Have you a message for him?"
Uhura, overcome with emotion, shook her head. "What can I say, Spock? Tell him...tell him that my thoughts, my heart are with him. Tell him that I am glad you are together...Give him my love," she faltered and lowered her head.
"And please," she added in a hoarse whisper, "please, let me know when..."
"I will, Uhura," Spock gently said. "I promise you will be the first to know. But be careful. I would not want you to run into trouble with the authorities because of us."
"Dont worry, Ambassador. I can take care of myself," she told him with her usual pluck. "Good bye, bless you, bless you all!"
"Peace and long life, Uhura."
Having signed off, Spock sat back in his chair, lost in thoughts. Then rousing himself, he flipped the intercom switch and gave his secretary a series of instructions which she dutifully noted.
"I shall see to it immediately, sir. Through the usual diplomatic channels, I suppose?"
"Yes, but send the message to the Embassy on high priority and scrambled. And as soon as the replies come in, be sure to forward them to me at my home."
"Very good, sir. Anything else?"
"No, TShon. I must go now. For the rest, I leave it to you and Sirvann."
Having thus dispatched to his satisfaction a number of inquiries and recommendations through his private diplomatic network, the Ambassador set forth to the Healing Center.
In the late afternoon, McCoy was reclining comfortably on his favorite settee in Amandas parlor. He was, as he put it, mighty glad to be there and not in the ward of healer TLian. Following the latters instructions, a nurse had arrived at the house, taken possession of a room and turned it into some kind of Sickbay. As a true Vulcan, she was efficient and unobtrusive and made her presence felt only when it was needed. In fact, the only thing wrong with her, in the doctors opinion, were her looks. She was tall, strong as an ox and as gracious as a le-matya. But, to be fair, she had quite a few talents of her own such as brewing the most delicious and invigorating herbal teas that he had ever tasted.
An admission that McCoy gladly made as he took another swig from his mug. He was pretty tired and short of breath, but he couldnt complain considering that he was still alive. Actually, he might well have died that morning, at the farm, but for that good old pointed-eared Vulcan sitting at ease in the armchair across the fireplace.
McCoy gazed fondly at his host who was sipping his tea while poring over a batch of documents brought in by special messenger from his ministry.
Spock, an ambassador! And not just an ambassador from some God-forsaken little planet at the back of beyond, but the Ambassador of Vulcan, and of the Federation to boot!
The doctor smiled to himself and wondered what Jim Kirk would have said at seeing his lanky first officer turned into one of the most exalted personages of Vulcan. Not that he looked that much imposing just now, sitting relaxed by the fire, in casual grey slacks and camel turtle-necked jumper.
Finally, aware of the doctors attention, Spock raised his eyes, then an eyebrow at the grin on the Humans face. "Is anything the matter?" he politely inquired.
"No...I mean yes. As a matter of fact, I was just tickled at the thought that you dont look much of an ambassador in that garb."
"Indeed? I hope you dont expect me to wear the robes of my calling at all times."
"Of course not. But I admit to being impressed by those fancy ambassadorial robes that you wear at ceremonies. I remember that celebration last year, something to do with the Federation Diplomatic Corps anniversary, when you walked in in those fetching blue and gold robes. My! That was something! Everyone was gawking at you, as I recall."
"Good. That is precisely the intended objective," Spock calmly said.
"What?" McCoy exclaimed. "Do you mean that you Vulcans parade around in those fine trappings only to dazzle the crowds?"
"Something of the sort, Doctor. Actually, the design, the colors, the very fabric of our ceremonial vestments come down from our oldest traditions. Every detail, from the choice of the gem to the pattern of the embroidery, has a significance. But I admit that the effect produced by our appearance is not inconsequential. In particular in our diplomatic dealings with outworlders involving delicate negotiations. If, for instance, the ambassador and his retinue appear in full Vulcan regalia, there is a ninety-five point two percent probability that he will not only draw attention to himself but also to what he has to say. Believe me, appearances and decorum play not a small part in diplomacy."
"That I can well believe," McCoy acknowledged, "especially when I think of Sarek. I have never met a man who impressed me more than your father."
"Sarek was a master," Spock simply replied.
"So he was, but you are not doing too badly yourself, Spock," McCoy conceded with his lopsided grin. "The reconciliation between the Romulans and the Vulcans was sheer genius."
"Thank you, Doctor." A deadpan response. "More tea?"
"Well, I wont say no. I dont know what stuff it is made of, but it sure is invigorating."
"That is also the intended purpose," Spock remarked as he poured the fragrant liquid in their mugs. Then he sat back, stretched his long legs, and with a glance at McCoy, said deliberately, "Now, Doctor, since you appear to have recovered remarkably well from this morning's crisis, I can perhaps give you some interesting information."
"Oh? What about?"
"A message for you. Live transmission from Earth."
"From Earth?" McCoy looked startled. "But, who knows ...?"
"From Admiral Uhura. She sends you her love."
"My God! Uhura..." McCoy sank back on his cushions. "How did she know? I never told her, never told anyone that I was coming here."
"Come, Doctor! You know how determined and resourceful she is, especially when she sets her mind on obtaining coded information. And keep in mind that being the Head of Starfleet Command Communications presents certain advantages. Added to that the fact that she was quite worried about you, and you have, as a result, her high priority and scrambled communication which reached me today at my office."
And Spock then proceeded to tell the good doctor the gist of his conversation with the admiral in charge of Starfleet Communications.
McCoy, torn between his gratitude for Uhuras loving thoughts and his regret for having kept her in the dark, was very moved indeed. After blowing his nose, he said haltingly, "You know, Spock; I never thought she cared that much about me. I mean, to take all that trouble, perhaps even risk her career."
"I dont think it will come to that," Spock calmly said, "but, if it does, Im sure she will accept it with dignity. Like you, she is well past Starfleets retirement age. As head of Starfleet Communications, the admiral is literally at the pinnacle of her career. She can advance no further. But I shall take whatever steps I can to see to it that these actions do not cause her career to suffer from the officious bureaucracy which so often prevails at Headquarters." He looked at the doctor in puzzlement. "What I dont quite understand, however, is why her concern for you should come as a surprise, Doctor. Dont you realize that you were always a favorite with the crew?"
"Me, Spock? You must be kidding!"
"Vulcans do not kid, Doctor," was the austere retort.
"Come off it, you prim Vulcan!" McCoy chuckled. "You know what I mean. I dont see how a crusty, country doctor can be popular with his patients."
"We are not talking of popularity, but of caring, of friendship," Spock replied levelly. "In the course of your career, particularly on the Enterprise, you gave so much of both that it is only logical for you to receive some of it in return."
"Why, Mister Spock, I believe you are again letting your feelings run away with you." McCoy teased to cover his own emotion.
"Not at all. I am only speaking the truth. It took me some time to admit it, but I realize now that what made the Enterprise so special is that understanding, that friendship that we shared."
"Well, I am glad I have lived long enough to hear you admit that much, Spock, but you are quite right. There was something unique, not to be found on any other ship, from what I heard. I guess it was not that way when you served under Captain Pike?"
McCoy shot a quizzical look at Spock who lifted both eyebrows in reply. "No, of course not. Captain Pike was a remarkable officer, a starship commander who knew how to run his ship. I learned much under his command, but..." Spocks voice tailed off as he stared at the fire.
"But," the doctor continued, "he lacked Jim Kirks charisma, his warmth, his enthusiasm. Remember, after less than six months in command of the Enterprise, he already held the crew in the hollow of his hand."
"I remember." The Vulcan nodded pensively.
"It took him longer to win over his new first officer, though," McCoy slyly added. "Frankly, I thought that he would draw a blank with you. I recall telling him that he was wasting his time over you," he chuckled, "that cold, arrogant, impossible Vulcan! Not even worth trying! But Jim was so damn persistent, wasnt he?"
"Yes, he was persistent, but never intrusive, never overbearing," Spock softly remarked. "He offered his friendship then waited for you to make the next move."
"Yes," the doctor sighed, "he had the gift for understanding."
The two men fell silent, each wrapped in his thoughts, yet linked together in their memories of the exceptional man who had been their friend and whose loss they still grieved.
After a few seconds, McCoy shifted into a more comfortable position and said reflectively, "Spock, everyone knows that your friendship with Jim was something exceptional, almost unique, to the point of having become a legend in Starfleet, right?"
"Correct, Doctor. But Jim and I were more than friends. We were thyla."
"I know, although I still am not quite sure what it is exactly that the term implies. Brother or friend or... Never mind. The point Im coming to...and, please, dont get me wrong. Im sure I dont want to pry...just curious, you know. Now, where was I?" The doctor paused uncertainly.
"Trying to come to the point," Spock suggested.
"Oh, yes! You see, Spock, what has always baffled me is how two beings so far apart as you two were, with worlds, cultures, upbringing, characters, et cetera, et cetera, so totally different as to be almost contradictory, how could you, a Vulcan, and Jim, a Human, become such close friends? I think its extraordinary, but Id like to know if you have any idea how or why such a thing happened?"
For a brief instant no response came. Spock sat staring at the fire as if seeking there the answer to the question he had often asked himself. The fact that Jim Kirk had chosen him for a friend never failed to arouse in his heart a sense of wonder, of grateful acceptance. But he was incapable of giving a logical explanation. He looked across at his guest who was watching him closely and simply replied, "I regret, Doctor. All I can give you for answer is that it just happened."
"Thats all? You mean it happened because it was bound to happen? From time immemorial you were fated to leave Vulcan, meet Jim and become his friend? Come on, Spock! You disappoint me. You, the infallible, know-all Vulcan, you cant come up with a proof, a rational explanation?" Blue eyes sparkled with impish glee as McCoy challenged his long-standing opponent.
"Doctor," Spock began in a long-suffering tone of voice, "there can be no explanation for..." He paused, stared into space, then with a faint smile on his lips, refocused his gaze on McCoy. "Or, perhaps, there is..."
"Okay, then, lets have it!" the doctor sat up, all agog.
"Very well. Jim and I became friends because it was him and because it was me," Spock said.
"Very neat, Spock." McCoy sounded mildly sarcastic. "Is that another gem fished out of your bag of Vulcan logic?"
"Not at all. It is a quote from your Terran literature, from the great French essayist of the sixteen century, Michel Montaigne. I think I can even give you the full citation." Spock rose and moved to the book shelves of the Lady Amandas library. "Do you speak French, Doctor?" he casually asked.
"Me? Heavens no! I can manage the menus in fancy restaurants, but thats about all. But, do you, Spock?"
"Of course. Dont forget that my mother was a teacher and a linguist."
There was a hint of Vulcan smugness in Spocks voice, as he scanned the old bound books neatly stacked against one of the walls. He drew with care a dark brown volume from its niche and brought it back to the fireside. As he leafed through the pages, he explained, in his customary precise diction, "This book of Essays is the life-long work of a Humanist who meditates over Human nature, his own and that of his contemporaries, over the continual quest of Humankind for truth and justice, and who comes to the conclusion that the art de vivre must be founded on wisdom inspired by understanding and tolerance. Principles which come surprisingly close to Suraks tenets of IDIC. For a Human of that time, I think it is remarkable. But here is the answer to your question, Doctor. I translate what Montaigne wrote after the untimely death of his friend, Etienne La Boetie. Listen:
"If you press me to say why I loved him, I can say no more than it was because that was him, because that was me.
"There you are, Doctor. I can say no more than that. Is your curiosity satisfied?"
"Quite, Spock. I like that. Concise and to the point. Did you mention this citation to Jim?"
"No. That question never arose between us."
"No, of course not," McCoy admitted with a grin, "but I am sure he would have appreciated your wayor rather Montaignes wayof expressing his feelings. Amazing how much can be revealed in a few words, isnt it?"
The Vulcans eyes returned the Humans quizzical gaze with perfect equanimity and quietly replied, "Indeed, Doctor," and the subject was closed.
But McCoy was left with the conviction that another step had been made on the way to mutual understanding.
The following day, the doctors condition suffered a relapse. The night had been restless with occasional coughing spells which brought his host and his nurse to his bedside. Feeling better in the morning, McCoy had insisted on taking breakfast in the patio, as usual. But, while he was taking a few steps in the garden, he suddenly collapsed, torn by a stabbing pain.
He would have fallen flat on his face had it not been for Spock who scooped him up in his arms and carried him back to his room where Nurse TTann took charge. She worked quickly and efficiently to ease McCoys suffering. After a few minutes, the pain abated significantly, but the anguish he felt as he fought desperately for air was so evident that Spock moved forward and said, "I shall take over now, Nurse."
The woman stepped back at once to let Spock take her place and initiate the healing meld. She well knew how much of a strain it was to open ones mind to a patient and absorb his pain. So, she stood by, attentive and ready to assist, while Spock exerted the full power of his mind to pull McCoy out of his agony and give him some of his own strength.
At last, the doctors harsh pantings subsided and gave way to a more natural rhythm of breathing. Spock, visibly drained, straightened up slowly, but he let his hand rest on McCoys brow a while longer to imprint in the Humans subconscious some peaceful images conducive of restful sleep.
Then he turned to the nurse. "I leave him in your care, Nurse. Be sure to let me know if there is any change. I shall be in the study."
"Very well, Ambassador, but allow me to say that you yourself are in great need of rest. You should retire to your rooms, it is recommended after a healing meld."
"I know, TTann," he replied wearily, "but I have no time for rest just now. I have work to do."
"As you wish," there was cold disapproval in her voice, then she relented. "Shall I send you some tea?"
"Yes. That would be most welcome."
In the quiet of his study, the Ambassador leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes and gave himself a few moments of respite. He longed for the relaxation of a long meditation but that had to wait; he had more pressing matters to attend to. Giving himself a mental shake, he sat up and activated his BellComm unit. As tea was brought in, he took long refreshing sips while calling successively TLian to inform her of McCoys present state, then the Secretary of the Science Academy to apologize for being compelled to cancel his lectures until further notice and recommend a substitute.
Last, he called Sirvann, his Chief of Staff, and told him that, given the aggravation of Doctor McCoys condition, he, Spock, had to stay at home, leaving him, Sirvann, at the office to "hold the fort."
"Sir?" Sirvann looked bemused.
"A colloquialism of Captain Kirk, Sirvann. Meaning that you are in charge until further notice."
"Indeed?" the aide brightened perceptibly. He had always been fascinated by the saga of the Enterprise and her command team, and loved it when the Ambassador indulged in one of his retrospections. "Very well, sir, I shall hold the fort and keep you informed about any development concerning Terra. But..." He hesitated, then overcoming his Vulcan reserve, added, "...if I may, sir, I would like to express my regrets about Doctor McCoy."
"Thank you, Sirvann. Your concern is appreciated. I shall call later."
Spock had hardly signed off when a familiar droning sound drew his attention to the window, just in time to see the green and white skimmer of the Healing Center hover by then disappear from view. TLian had apparently lost no time in dispatching a medical unit to check on McCoy. Stifling a sigh, Spock got to his feet and went out to greet the healers.
Doctor McCoy opened his eyes to a vision so beautiful as seeming to come straight from Heaven. A young and serious face, incredibly lovely, was hovering above him, large grey eyes regarding him attentively. He blinked. "Gracious!" He wondered aloud, "Since when have angels got pointed ears?"
The grey eyes widened in surprise, and the face turned questioningly toward another face just coming into view.
That dark magnetic gaze, those satanic upswept eyebrows? No, Im definitely not in Paradise. "Damn!" McCoy muttered and closed his eyes in frustration. "I must have taken the wrong turn at Albuquerque."
"I do not understand," said a voice softly. "What could possibly make him delirious? It is strange."
"I think there is nothing to worry about, Healer," replied a deep voice. "Our doctor is only exercising his wit at our expense. The fact that he has enough breath to do so confirms that the worst of the crisis is over. Dont you agree, Doctor McCoy? How do you feel?"
Leonard McCoy took in a cautious breath and checked on the dull ache he still felt in his chest.
"Lousy, Spock, which means that I must still be in the land of the living," he said. Then reopening his eyes, he smiled most charmingly at his favorite healer. "Morning, my dear. Real nice of you to make house calls!"
After submitting McCoy to a thorough examination, Healer TVal could only confirm Spocks apprehensions. The doctors condition was deteriorating more rapidly than anticipated and, as she told Spock in private, it was now a matter of days.
McCoy, of course, was well aware of the situation. He made his own diagnosis and discussed his case with TVal and her assistants. His resilience and courage compelled the Vulcans respect. The word had gone around town that McCoy, former Chief Medical Officer of the legendary Enterprise, whom many Vulcans had seen at the refusion ceremony on Mount Seleya, was very ill and staying in the house of Sarek. None of them would even consider trespassing on their privacy, but messages of sympathy and support were brought in daily.
Which proved again what McCoy had finally acknowledged some time ago: that the Vulcans reputation for being cold-blooded, arrogant snobs was quite unfounded indeed.
TVal spent some time keeping McCoy company and reporting on her work in the labs. She also made sure that he was well looked after by the nurse. Then as she was taking her leave, she turned to Spock and submitted his face to a close clinical scrutiny.
"You seems to be much fatigued, Ambassador. Have you gone through the customary procedures following a healing meld?" she asked point-blank.
"I have not had the time, TVal," Spock said, looking a little sheepish, much to McCoys amusement. "I had many things to attend to which could not be postponed."
"This is quite unreasonable," the young healer declared with authority. "You know how vital it is, after a healing meld, to replenish ones strength through the appropriate mental disciplines. I suggest that you do so now, without further delay."
"Excuse me, but what is the matter with Spock? What has he done?" put in McCoy quite intrigued.
The two Vulcans exchanged a glance. Spock lifted an eyebrow and, much to McCoy s delight, so did TVal as she replied, "I am only blaming Spock for neglecting his own health after taking care of yours, Doctor McCoy. But there is still time to remedy the situation, dont you think?"
The side glance she gave Spock was persuasive enough for him to assent. "Agreed, TVal. I shall follow your recommendation forthwith. If you will both excuse me?"
"Thats right, Spock," McCoy chimed in. "You sure look plumb tuckered out. You go and lie down. Doctors orders."
While Spock complied without more ado, the good doctor treated his fascinated audience to a recital of his recurrent clashes with the Ambassador when the latter was First Officer of the Enterprise.
"Thats the way he was, back on the ol Enterprise. I always had a hell of a time to get him to Sickbay for his regular physicals. He always found a pretext or another to excuse himself, more often than not, that he was too busy to waste his time in useless examinations. I guess he wanted us to believe that he was indestructible. Hasnt changed a bit, I see!"
Spock, meantime, was sitting on the stone bench in the meditation garden, his gaze fixed on the green stones set in ritual pattern on the raked sand. He had worked his way through the first levels of discipline and was about to reach the level of pure relaxation and peace, when his mental concentration was shattered by an intrusion. A presence was hovering at the edge of his awareness, waiting to be noticed.
Curbing a brief sense of irritation, Spock pulled himself back to his surroundings and to the sight of Savonn, the young man-servant who was standing at attention just outside the enclosure. "Yes, Savonn? What is it?"
"I beg forgiveness for intruding, sir, but Sirvann is calling from your office. A communication of the utmost importance, he says."
"Ah, what I was expecting, probably. Thank you, Savonn; your interruption was a logical one."
The Ambassador went off with his long-legged stride leaving a gratified Vulcan to follow at a more sedate pace.
On the BellComm viewscreen, the unflappable Sirvann managed to look both apologetic and outraged. "I regret, Ambassador, but there was nothing I could do. He wants to speak to you personally. He is most insistent, not to say arrogant, to the point of venturing insinuations perfectly unacceptable."
"Indeed?" Spock arched a questioning eyebrow. "Of what nature? And about whom?"
Sirvanns cheekbones flushed green with indignation. "About you, sir. And of the most offensive nature."
Spocks lips curled up with disdain. "That does not surprise me," he said. "I have known Admiral Karunski for many years. He has earned himself a well-deserved reputation at Starfleet Command Headquarters for being particularly unpleasant and offensive."
"Do you think Admiral Karunski is calling you about Doctor McCoy?"
"Of course. That is the logical deduction. The report from the embassy, confirmed by Admiral Uhuras communication leaves no doubt about Starfleets suspicions. Is Karunski still on line, Sirvann?"
"Yes sir. He said he would not budge from his damn desk until I go get you, sir. In his own words."
"I see." The two Vulcans shared in a significant glance, their poor opinion of such ill-mannered individuals. "Very well, Sirvann," Spock said serenely. "Perhaps we have kept the Admiral waiting long enough. Patch his communication in to me, please. And you may monitor the conversation if you wish. It might be beneficial for your information about how to deal with Humans."
"Yes, sir. I thank you."
Sirvanns handsome face faded out, to be replaced by the familiar logo of the Federation which remained on the screen for some time. At last, Admiral Karunski filled the screen with his ruddy, puffy face lit by a pair of small, steely blue eyes, and topped by thick grey hair cut roughly. "Ah! There you are. About time!" he exclaimed irritably at the sight of the Vulcan. "Took me a hell of a long time to get hold of you, Spock! Or should I say Ambassador Spock?"
"Indeed, you should, Admiral," Spock coolly replied.
"Ah...er...yes! I always forget how touchy you Vulcans are about your ranks and titles and what not. Seems to me, though, that you are not so particular about other peoples ranks. That sidekick of yours came within an inch of sheer impertinence, I can tell you!"
"Really?" Spock expressed his disbelief with the rise of a haughty eyebrow. "You surprise me, Admiral. My aide is reputed in diplomatic circles for his even temper and impeccable behavior...unless, of course, he is unduly provoked."
Having made his point, Spock went on imperturbably. "But I suppose that the question of civility is not the object of your call, Admiral. To my regret, I have but a limited time to spare you, so I would appreciate it if you would come to the point."
Karunskis face reddened with vexation, and he stiffly said, "Very well, Ambassador. Since I have no time to waste either, Ill come straight to the point. It may not be quite to your liking, though. It concerns one of your former shipmates, when you had the honor to serve in Starfleet. Yes, it is about one of James Kirks cronies, the ships surgeon, Leonard McCoy."
Here Karunski paused and watched the Vulcan, hoping for a reaction, but the latters face remained impassible.
"Well," Karunski resumed, "it so happens that Doctor McCoy has been missing for some time...exactly..." He looked down, apparently to check on some data. "...yes, exactly for eighteen days since he left the Starfleet Nursing Home where he was being treated for something or another. Yes, Ambassador?"
He looked searchingly at Spock whose right eyebrow had quivered for a split second, but the damn Vulcan only replied phlegmatically, "Please, proceed, Admiral."
Karunski cleared his throat and complied. "At the Surgeon Generals request, inquiries discreetly conducted at McCoys home and laboratories among his relatives and friends, have given no clue as to his whereabouts. Its as if the man had just vanished into thin air. Now, Starfleet Medical is greatly concerned over this case. It seems that McCoys ailment has affected his mental faculties...if you know what I mean?"
"I am afraid I dont, Admiral, unless you mean that his judgement is impaired, or perhaps that he is deranged?"
"No, nothing of the kind!" Karunski beat a hasty retreat. "But, well, the doctor is no longer what he used to be, and in his present physical condition it seems that loss of memory...er...senility, worse, perhaps..."
Spock let the Admiral flounder in his explanations, then, deciding that he had heard enough, he broke in curtly, "Much as I regret hearing this sad news, I dont see what I can do for you, Admiral."
"All right, Spock! Thatll be enough of evasive maneuvers. You know damn well what I mean." Infuriated by the dark stare and disparaging eyebrow he was confronted with, the Admiral was fast losing his temper. But, as he still had an ace up his sleeve, he restrained himself and resumed, "For one thing, your close association with Kirk, McCoy and the Enterprise gang is well known in Starfleet. For another, it is common knowledge that none of you would stop at anything for the sake of the others. Yourself, Ambassador are the living proof that, come what may, you all stick together."
"And your point is?"
"We know that you must be aware of McCoys whereabouts, in which case Starfleet Medical demands to be informed." The admiral paused for effect and tried to out-stare the Vulcan. "As a matter of fact, we strongly suspect that McCoy is, at this very moment, on Vulcan."
"Indeed?" was the cool response to Karunskis bombshell. "On what grounds do you base your suspicions, Admiral?"
"Information received," the Human replied with a smirk. "Damn it, Spock! Youve been in the service long enough to know that nothing can escape the attention of Starfleet Intelligence."
"Admiral, putting aside the fact that Starfleet authorities may have blatantly ignored the most elementary inalienable rights of a free citizen of the Federation, I find it strange that the Surgeon General has not considered that it might have been McCoys free choice and decision to come to Vulcan."
"Ah! So you admit at last that he is on Vulcan!" crowed the Admiral.
"I never said that he was not, Admiral," countered Spock, the picture of Vulcan innocence.
Karunskis fat jowls turned from red to purple. "Okay, then," he snapped. "Since McCoy is on Vulcan, he must be brought without delay to Starfleet Sector General Hospital in San Francisco. Is that clear, Ambassador?"
"I am afraid not, Admiral. For what reason is Doctor McCoys presence so necessary to the Surgeon General?" Spock blandly asked. "Doctor McCoy held that position for many years before retiring, but I doubt he could offer much to the present Surgeon General if his condition is as grave as you suggest it is."
"Classified, Spock. All that I am at liberty to say is that McCoys illness must be closely monitored. He must be confined in isolation and given intensive care."
"Then you can tell the Surgeon General that he need not be concerned. Vulcanoid races are naturally immune to the kind of disease affecting Doctor McCoy. Our biologists have isolated the strain of the virus and are currently working on researching an antidote. As for the doctor, he is at present staying at my home, well looked after by our best healers, and, unless he decides otherwise, this is where he will stay."
The admiral slammed his hand down on his desk and fumed. "This is preposterous! You have no right to keep McCoy on Vulcan, Spock! No right at all! Who do you think you are? You Vulcans have absolutely no right"
"Right, Admiral?" Spock cut in, fixing Karunski with his most glacial stare. "You dare speak of rights? But no one has any right on a sentient being, let alone a sick man who only wants to be left in peace. The doctor came here of his own free will and at his own expense. No one, not even Starfleet can force him against his will."
"I am damned if I understand you, Spock." The Admiral tried another argument. "You, one of Starfleet finest? This should matter to you, damn it!"
"I am no longer part of Starfleet, Admiral. Neither is McCoy, and I must admit that the present conversation does not induce me to regret it," Spock replied frostily.
"Wait till you hear from Starfleet Medical, Ambassador," Karunski threatened. "The Surgeon General is not without influential friends in high places, particularly in the Federation Council. I warn you, Spock, there is such a thing as an extradition procedure."
"Despite the fact that Vulcan is renowned for its non-extradition policy, you would attempt to require that Vulcan extradite Doctor McCoy like a common criminal? Is that what you mean, Admiral?" Spocks voice was edged with a withering contempt.
Karunski shrugged. "If that is what it takes to get him, sure we would!" he retorted.
"That would be unwise, Admiral. I doubt that the Vulcan High Council would appreciate such a high-handed procedure against a physician who is held in high regard by my people. As I stated, Vulcan has maintained a strict policy of non-extradition since it joined the Federation. Moreover, I am sure I would have no difficulty in obtaining from our Elders a decree proclaiming Vulcan off limits for as long as necessary. Yes, Admiral, while Vulcan has a non-extradition policy, it will allow for such a thing as medical quarantine."
Spock regarded with polite detachment Karunski struggle on the verge of apoplexy, then he added for good measure, "Naturally, Vulcan-Federation relations would be seriously, if not irreparably damaged by these drastic measures, and that would be quite regrettable, wouldnt you say?"
Karunski glared at Spock. "My God, Spock! This is bordering on blackmail!"
"Vulcans do not blackmail, Admiral," Spock said icily, "but, apparently the same cannot be said of you." Then raising a dismissive eyebrow, the Vulcan concluded, "Since we seem to have reached a deadlock, dont you think it would be better for all concerned to let the matter stand?"
"You and your diplomatic verbiage!" Karunski snarled, you are worse than your father. But dont you imagine that the matter is closed. I shall report you to the Starfleet Medical. You have not heard the last of this!"
"I dont doubt it, Admiral, but neither have you. I am sure that the Commander in Chief and the President of the Federation Council will be most interested by the report I intend to draft to the board of inquiry," was Spocks cool response to the threat.
"What the hell are you talking about? What board of inquiry?" barked Karunski, eyeing Spock with suspicion.
"The commission which will be appointed at my request, to look into the exact circumstances of Doctor McCoys stay at Starfleet Sector General Hospital, and of his hasty departure therefrom," the Vulcan explained.
"What?!" Karunskis ruddy face paled perceptibly.
"Added to that," Spock went on relentlessly, the curious determination of Starfleet Medical to search far and wide for the doctor, to the point of bringing in Starfleet Intelligence, and their illogical insistence of having Doctor McCoy brought back to Earth, an insistence bordering on illegal and certainly unethical intimidation. I find the attitude of Starfleet Medical most curious, not to say suspect. Dont you, Admiral?"
The Admiral only stared, bereft of speech.
"I am sure that you will agree that this disturbing state of affairs calls for an investigation," Spock paused, then deliberately raised an eyebrow, "unless of course Starfleet Medical cares to reconsider its position?" Staring fixedly at Karunski, he let the sentence hang in the air.
But, before the Admiral could find a suitable rejoinder, he declared, with cold finality. "If that is all, Admiral, I must interrupt this communication. There are pressing matters claiming my immediate attention. I have the honor to wish you good day. Spock out."
On a slight nod of farewell, he turned off the transmission, and the face of Admiral Karunski, purple with rage, blinked out of sight. A welcome silence descended on the room, and Spock took a deep breath. Perhaps his leave-taking had been a bit abrupt and had lacked diplomatic niceties, but he had had more than enough of this distasteful discussion, and felt that there was nothing more to be said. For the rest? Kaiidth! Only time would tell.
"Spock? May I come in?" McCoys voice broke in on his reflections. The doctor was standing in the doorway, supporting himself with one hand and looking more frail than ever.
"McCoy? What are you doing up and around?" Spock stood up and helped the doctor take a seat. "Should you not be in bed and resting?"
"No, Im fine," McCoy gasped, fighting for breath. "That treatment TVal gave me...works wonders...I feel much better. But, Spock, that is a dangerous enemy that you have just made."
"Admiral Karunski? You heard?"
"Sorry, I didnt mean to eavesdrop, but your door was ajar...and when I heard you mention Starfleet, and Karunskis voice..."
"He was most insistent. He wants you to go straight back to Earth."
"Yeah, I heard. The son of a bitch! He is a member of the Starfleet Medical Oversight Committee, and a crony of John Stanford...always liked to throw his weight around." McCoy sighed despondently. "Idve thought that a man can dispose of his life and his death as he wants, but no! These Starfleet brass have to interfere, even as far as here."
Spock chose not to mention that Earth was only sixteen lightyears from Vulcan, barely a day away at maximum warp. "You are safe with us, Doctor; they cannot do anything," Spocks quiet voice was a balm to his soul.
"I know," he gripped the Vulcans arm and squeezed it affectionately. "Its good to have you for my champion, Spock. My! That was quite a tirade that you gave Karunski. I never thought you had it in you."
"I had a good teacher, Doctor."
"You bet!" the doctor smiled reminiscently. "I think Jim would be proud of his pupil."
"I am gratified, Doctor, but it is you who were my teacher in this particular field. Excuse me, please," he turned to the BellComm which was beeping insistently. Spock sat at his desk and pressed the key. "Yes, Sirvann?"
The face of his aide presented a curious un-Vulcan combination of satisfaction and perplexity. "Ambassador, my apologies. Much as we appreciated your dealings with Admiral Karunski, there are some points which..."
"One moment, Sirvann. Do I understand you to say that my conversation with Starfleet has been monitored by all of my staff?" Spock demanded.
"No, sir. Only TShon and myself. She was in the room when the call came in. I thought that the presence of your secretary would be permitted."
"Very well," Spock granted, "but keep in mind, both of you, that as far as diplomatic exchanges go, this discussion left much to be desired. Now, what is it that you want to know?"
"We will certainly keep your recommendations in mind, sir," Sirvann dutifully replied. "But there is the question of Doctor McCoys situation. Should Vulcan be declared off limits, the quarantine would surely affect the life of Vulcan citizens. Dont you think that they should be warned?"
"I dont think you should worry over that problem, Sirvann. I believe that neither Starfleet Command nor the Federation Council will resort to these extreme measures such as extradition," Spock said levelly.
"But, sir, unless I am mistaken, I heard you and the Admiral definitely say that..." The aide paused uncertainly, the sight of the Ambassadors inimitable rise of the eyebrow making him wonder whether there might be something he had missed. Then realization dawned. "...or, perhaps it was what the Admiral called blackmail?" he suggested.
Spock shot a side-glance at McCoy whose broad grin challenged him silently. Then he brought his gaze back to the screen. "Not exactly," he told his aide. "I believe that bluff would be a better term for Admiral Karunskis attempt at intimidation. It is a method favored occasionally by Humans, and which I have sometimes seen practiced by Captain Kirk. I can recall a number of instances when his talent for bluffing got the Enterprise out of critical situations. Should you wish to study this method, Sirvann, I suggest you look into our data concerning Human recreational activities, in particular a game of cards called poker. I believe that you will find it profitable."
A snigger could be heard from the direction of McCoy, but Spock continued deadpan. "Now, Sirvann, is there something else?"
"Yes, sir. About that board of inquiry." The aide hesitated, obviously embarrassed. "I hope I do not sound critical, Ambassador, but have you sufficient elements of information, sufficient evidence to warrant an official investigation?"
"Good point, Sirvann." Spock nodded with approval. "As a matter of fact, I have none, but it is sometimes good policy to let your opponent believe that you know a lot more than you actually do."
"But, with due respect, sir, wouldnt that constitute a lie?" Sirvann argued.
"An exaggeration. Exaggerating to a devious adversary to serve a greater good is sometimes necessary. This is a fact that you will learn through experience."
"I see..." the young Vulcan replied thoughtfully. "Then, your mention of a board of inquiry was only some sort of diplomatic move?"
"Something of the sort," Spock agreed.
"Interesting," Sirvann said consideringly, "this reminds me of some of Ambassador Sareks maneuvers during certain delicate negotiations."
Now, this revelation gave the present ambassador pause. "Are you implying that my father resorted to such methods in his diplomatic dealings?" he asked somewhat startled.
"On several occasions, sir. At least, it seems to be a very similar approach."
"Fascinating," Spock said under his breath, "I never thought that Sarek could..." He broke off, well aware of McCoys glee, and he said, "Sirvann, I would appreciate an account of Sareks ...er...similar diplomatic moves at the earliest opportunity."
"I shall see to it at once, Ambassador," his aide briskly said. "Is there anything else that you wish to be done?"
"Nothing pressing at the moment, other than keeping me informed of any development concerning Starfleet. For the rest, carry on as usual."
Having thus dismissed his aide, Spock looked across at his guest who was shaking with laughter, and he assumed his expression of long-suffering patience. "When you are quite finished, Doctor, perhaps we could..."
"Oh, come on, Spock!" the doctor chortled. "Dont give me that look. Admit it; youve had quite a jolt, honestly! Hard to imagine Sarek, the upright Ambassador, maneuvering his way through the complexities of diplomacy. Why not? I think its wonderful. See? Youre following right in your fathers footsteps."
"I suppose I must take this as a compliment."
"What else, Spock? Sarek was regarded as the epitome of diplomacy all over the Federation, wasnt he? Anyway you gave that young man of yours food for thought. How old is he now?"
"Sirvann? He is more than fifty-five years old."
"I suppose you mean in Vulcan standard?"
"Correct. For a Human, his age would correspond to twenty-nine."
"Thats right," the doctor nodded. "I know that you multiply by three for a cat, multiply seven or nine for a dog, and divide by something for a Vulcan, but Ill be damned if I can ever remember by how much!"
"Really, McCoy, I find this comparison insulting," Spock looked affronted.
"Why? There are worse things to be compared to than cats and dogs. Besides, you always had a soft spot for furry creatures, like kittens like Popsy and tribbles, and I remember a number of times when Butler and you..."
"I am sure you do," Spock interjected firmly as he helped McCoy gain his feet, "but you are exhausting yourself with all this talking and excitement. Come, you should take some rest now."
"Now, you bossy Vulcan, dont you start!" McCoy grumbled by force of habit.
"I shall have to if you persist in being unreasonable," Spock sternly replied. "I am beginning to think that you would be better cared for at the Healing Center of TLian."
"Probably," McCoy wheezed as he shuffled along, hanging on to the Vulcans arm, "but there is one thing I know for sure..." He paused and looked up at Spock with twinkling eyes. "I wouldnt have so much fun!"
The next days passed quietly in the house of Sarek. McCoys forces were slowly draining from his thin body. Much to his annoyance, he could no longer move about by himself, his legs being too weak and shaky to carry his body. A hover-chair had been sent for which he used quite deftly, and there was always someone around, TTann or young Savonn usually, attentive and ready to help, but always in the strict observance of the respect for privacy. Spock, of course, was there, always at hand to carry him when necessary, or ease his pain with the healing touch, or just to keep him company.
This was the time the doctor enjoyed most, when the two of them conjured up fond memories of Jim and the Enterprise, or, when tired of talking, he would listen to Spock playing soft melodies on his Vulcan harp, or some favorite classics on Amandas piano. McCoy appreciated the Vulcans calm and comforting presence, feeling somehow that he was granted something of what Jim and Spock had shared together, that unique friendship which he had sometimes secretly envied them.
One early afternoon, after lunch, the pair was sitting by the pool on the patio, when Savonn appeared to announce an incoming call for the Ambassador. Before McCoy knew it, Spock was on his feet and gone with his usual soft tread. Shaking his head, the doctor sipped his coffee, recalling with amusement how the Vulcan used to make him jump by turning up silently at his side.
Barely three minutes had elapsed that his host was back, as swiftly as he had left. He sat down, picked up his mug of tea, then looked at McCoy, a glint of amusement in his eyes. The doctor raised both eyebrows.
"Whats that cocky look for, Spock?" he asked. "You look like a cat thats got a bowl of cream."
"Another of your irrelevant metaphors, I suppose?" the Vulcan smugly asked. "I have news, Doctor, most interesting news."
"Go on, then, I am all ears."
"I just had a call from Sirvann who passed on to me a priority, coded communication from my representative at the embassy on Terra, who in turn was transmitting a message from...Admiral Uhura."
"Uhura?" McCoy sat up in his excitement. "Why didnt she just call you here directly?"
"I assume that, given the situation at Starfleet Headquarters, she deemed it safer to send me her message by indirect means; and being the astute lady that you know, she made a pretext of an official diplomatic reception to contact Supack, head of the Vulcan Embassy on Earth, and give him the message. I must point out that she is well known and appreciated among the embassy personnel, since she stayed there for a while. I am sure you remember the circumstances, Doctor."
"Sure I remember! If it hadnt been for Sarek granting her diplomatic asylum, she might well have been arrested by Starfleet Security and charged with treason for helping us renegades steal the Enterprise and run away to Genesis. Those were the days! But, that message, Spock?"
"Well, the message ran: Starfleet Medical authorities have definitely canceled all operations concerning Doctor McCoys repatriation to Earth, and have declared all information past and present related to his case classified at the highest level."
"My God, Spock!" the doctor stammered. "You did it! You made them back down!"
"It seems indeed that those at Starfleet Medical have reconsidered," Spock dryly commented.
"You know what? I think they must have had good reasons to do so," McCoy declared. "Well never know whats at the bottom of this affair, but I have an idea that your mention of a board of inquiry has sort of clinched the matter. Its pretty obvious that the last thing they want is an investigation."
Spock looked intrigued. "Do you believe, then, that the questions I raised could be justified?"
"I dont know for sure, Spock, but I always thought there was something fishy in the close relations that some members of Starfleet Medical have with the oversight committee. I suspected that Doctor Stanford hadnt even bothered consulting with the Vulcan Healers, and thats going to be an embarrassment to Starfleet Medical. I also suspect thats why Karunski nearly had a fit when you had the nerve to tell him that Vulcan biologists are working on an antidote. And thats why he changed tack and tried intimidation."
"And failed," Spock put in.
"And failed, of course!" McCoy gave a short laugh. "I wonder if anyone ever succeeded in intimidating a Vulcan?"
"Not to my knowledge," his host blandly replied. "But, to come back to the matter in hand, we can logically assume, from Admiral Uhuras message, that our confrontation with Starfleet Medical has been satisfactorily settled to our advantage."
"You can bet your pointed ears we can! And I cant tell you what a relief it is to be rid of that problem. But, to me, the cream of the jest is that I owe it to you, my solemn Vulcan. You certainly have come a long way."
Spock eyed the doctor suspiciously. "Are you referring to something in particular?" he asked.
"Yep! Im referring to that clash you had on the bridge with Commodore Decker, during our first five-year mission. He accused you of bluffing, and you retorted in that freezing tone of yours, Vulcans never bluff. Remember?"
"I do indeed." A faint smile played on Spocks lips as he recalled the circumstances of their encounter with the Constellation, Commodore Decker and their dramatic confrontation with the planet killer. The Doomsday Machine, as Jim had called it.
"And so," McCoy continued with obvious relish, "we know now that, contrary to popular belief, the Vulcans can not only bend the truth, but also bluff whenever they choose to. Right, Mister Spock?"
"Incorrect, Doctor. Vulcans never bluff. I did not bluff to Admiral Karunski. I made a promise."
McCoys blue eyes widened in disbelief. "Do you mean that you were prepared to declare Vulcan under medical quarantine, and request that board of inquiry?"
"Certainly, if it was necessary."
"I cant believe it!"
"Why not? It was the logical thing to do, considering the situation."
"You were prepared to take the risk of a major incident with the Federation just because of me, Spock?"
"Perfectly. But it was a calculated risk, Doctor. It seemed unlikely that the president of the Federation Council should endorse such an extreme measure as extradition, especially given Vulcans policy of non-extradition. I assumed that Starfleet Medical would soon realize its faux-pas...which it eventually did, as confirmed by Uhuras message."
"Well, Spock, I must hand it to you. That was a real feat of diplomacy. Congratulations. I think this calls for a toast." McCoy raised his cup in salute and intoned, "To Ambassador Spock, who..."
"One moment, Doctor," the Vulcan interjected. "I dont think that coffee is the appropriate drink for a toast." Beckoning Savonn, he gave him brief instructions in Vulcan, then sat back and favored the doctor with a quizzical lift of the eyebrow.
"Now what?" wondered McCoy, setting his cup down.
The young man was back already, carrying a tray laden with two glasses and a fat, yellow-labeled, black bottle which McCoy recognized at once.
"How about that!" the doctor gasped in surprise. "If Im not mistaken, this is that famous old Armagnac that your father kept for special occasions, isnt it?"
"So it is, Doctor, one of the few bottles left. And this is a special occasion, dont you agree?" Spock poured with care some of the brandy in the glasses, handed one to McCoy and picked up the other one.
"Sure, Spock," the doctor said, his attention on the amber liquor which he swirled slowly in his balloon glass, "an occasion to be remembered." He raised his glass. "To you, Spock. May you live long and prosper and succeed in all your missions, diplomatic, scientific, whatever comes your way."
They drank with due solemnity. Spock, as was his wont with strong drinks, only wet his lips. On the other hand, a glow of pure bliss passed on the doctors face as he slowly savored the liquor. Finally, he declared, "This is exceptional, Spock. Sheer velvet, just perfect. But arent you going to toast ?"
The Vulcan stared pensively at his glass then said, "I drink to you, Doctor, to Jim, to us three, and to the destiny which brought us together."
"To us," echoed McCoy, feeling a tightening in his throat, and, a few moments elapsed in a quiet sharing which said more than words.
Spock, while covertly observing his friend, felt that he was right to grant him this small pleasure. Alcoholic beverages were, of course, strongly contra-indicated by Vulcan medical regulations, but, as Healer TLian had wisely said, McCoy had not much longer to live. Why not, then, make things pleasant for him, why not do the utmost to ease his last moments?
"Some more Armagnac, Doctor?" he offered as the doctor set his glass down.
"Well..." McCoy, obviously tempted, hesitated. "I know I shouldnt, but...oh, what the hell!" He held out his glass. "Just a wee drop, as Scotty would say." Spock poured a small amount into the glass. "Thanks..." He breathed in deeply. "Funny thing is, I feel quite revived, all at once. I think thats just what the doctor ordered."
"I know it is," Spock said deadpan. "I only follow your prescription."
"Whats that supposed to mean?"
"Come, Doctor. Isnt this why you kept a stock of bottles in your office, safely under lock and key in that medical cabinet of yours?"
McCoys eyes widened in dismay. "You knew?" he gasped.
"Of course. I knew that the frequent visits which the captain or Mister Scott paid to Sickbay were not necessarily to undergo physical examinations. It was my duty as First Officer to be aware of these covert practices, yours and those of other people as well."
"Such as?" inquired the doctor looking dazed.
"Such as...the still that Mister Scott had illegally set up in a storage compartment in Engineering, for instance, and which produced a poor ersatz of whisky, from what I heard."
"It wasnt that bad, really, but, of course, it didnt compare with the genuine article," the doctor admitted. "What else?"
"What else?" Spock paused, pretending to search his memory if only to keep the good doctor in suspense. "Well, I could mention Mister Sulus habit of keeping exotic plants in his quarters, or the gambling pursuits taking place after shifts in the maintenance section, not forgetting the pets of various origins kept against regulation by members of the crew."
"But, Spock, I dont understand!" McCoy countered, "If you knew all about it, why didnt you put a stop to it? I mean, you, the stickler for rules and regulations, forever quoting the book down to the last paragraph."
"Consider, McCoy. If the captain chose to turn a blind eye on these illicit activities, it was not my role to intervene, so long as they did not interfere with the running of the ship, or the efficiency and the safety of the crew."
"Do you think that Jim knew about it?"
"I am convinced that he knew most of it; moreover, he was not adverse to participating in any such activities occasionally."
"You sly little Vulcan!" the doctor declared. "And you never breathed a word about it! Not even to Jim?"
"No, Doctor, but I did not need to. He knew, of course, that I knew."
"Yes, of course, he would," McCoy nodded wisely. "Well," he concluded, "Im glad you let us have our fun, Spock. Heres to you!" He drained his glass, smacked his lips and declared, "I havent tasted a brandy of that quality for a long time. I wonder how your father came by that Armagnac; do you know?"
"I believe it was a present from his colleague, Ambassador Duban de Serignac, who owned a family estate in the Armagnac province in France."
"Fancy that! So thats how this glorious stuff landed here, and through the diplomatic bag, I guess."
"Seems to me there are distinct advantages to belonging to the Diplomatic Corps of the Federation," McCoy dryly remarked.
"You would be surprised, Doctor," the ambassador smugly replied.
The following day, Doctor McCoy was dozing on his easy chair in the patio, recovering from another bad night His fitful sleep had been repeatedly interrupted by severe coughing seizures. But, whenever he awoke choking and gasping for air, a warm hand on his brow had calmed his spasms and eased his pain. In a half-conscious state, he had felt strong arms holding him while the familiar hiss of a hypospray sounded close by, then he must have fallen asleep for he remembered no more.
Now he was glad to relax to the soothing babbling of the fountain flowing gently into the pool.
Feeling a presence, he opened his eyes and found Spock standing beside him and observing him with that intense gaze of his.
"Hi, Spock!" McCoy said faintly and instinctively held out his hand.
Spock took it in his own and sat down beside the couch. "How are you? Better I trust?" he quietly asked.
"Much better...yes," McCoy sighed as he felt the now familiar sensation of warmth and well-being seeping into his tired limbs. "Thanks to you, Spock," and he squeezed the Vulcans hand, adding in a teasing voice, "Do you realize that youre holding my hand?"
"Yes, Doctor. What about it?" Spock calmly replied.
"Well, like all Vulcans, you always kept your distance and avoided contact with us, emotional Humans, but now I see that you dont mind holding me or carrying me around. How come? Has something changed?"
"Nothing has changed, Doctor. I still must avoid touch, but, let us say that, for you, I make an exception."
"Do you, now? I sure appreciate it, especially your healing touch, but how do you cope with my emotions, Spock?"
"Double shielding, McCoy," Spock simply said.
"Whats that?" McCoy looked bemused.
"A blocking technique which reinforces my mental shields and which I had the opportunity to improve and test at close range when I was residing temporarily in your mind."
"What?" McCoys blue eyes stared at Spock in disbelief. "Residing?" he protested. "You call that residing? A damned intrusion, if you ask me!"
"I am inclined to agree with you, given your strong reaction. This co-habitation was inconvenient for both of us, and I apologize for the discomfort it gave you. Had circumstances been different, you would never have been subjected to my unwelcome presence."
"I know, Spock, and although discomfort is a hell of an understatement, it was worth it, after all, considering the outcome," McCoy acknowledged willingly.
"I find that most gratifying, Doctor," Spock said, and both men fell silent for a while as their thoughts reverted to the dramatic events that they had been through around Genesis.
Presently, McCoy remarked, "I heard that you had a visitor, this morning. Someone I know?"
"No, Doctor It was one of my students."
"Spock, I am sorry. Because of me, youre stuck here instead of teaching your class at the Vulcan Science Academy."
"Not at all, Doctor. They are currently engaged in research, a practical work to complement my courses, and one of them came to give me an account of their progress."
"Mmm, youve always been good at teaching, havent you? I see that your position as Ambassador is not incompatible with that of a scientist."
"I would not have accepted that position had it been otherwise. My vocation is that of a scientist, first and foremost."
"Mmm... Once a scientist, always a scientist," the doctor nodded sagely. "Is that what you told your Vulcan High Council when they approached you about succeeding Sarek at the Vulcan embassy?"
"Precisely. As you see, they accepted my terms."
"Well," McCoy remarked, "they would have been damned fools if they hadnt. Why, theyve got a confirmed diplomat who has proven himself time and time again since the Klingon business, and one of the topmost scientists of the Federation, all in one package. I should think that"
A harsh cough interrupted McCoy and raked his body with spasms. Vaguely aware of Spocks arms supporting him and of the sudden presence of the nurse, he just let go and closed his eyes in exhaustion. A hypospray was pressed to his neck, and the oxygen mask applied to his face. After a moment, the pain and anguish receded, and his labored breathing eased off gradually. Presently, the mask was removed, and the doctor looked up at the two Vulcans who were watching him silently, and he essayed a small smile.
"So..." he wheezed. "You two got me through one more time."
"Doctor McCoy, you talk too much; you wear yourself out needlessly," the nurse chided him sternly.
McCoy raised both eyebrows, but wisely kept mum. He did not feel like arguing with the formidable woman just now.
"You must rest now," she declared with authority, "and I make you some tea," and she took herself off.
The doctor rolled his eyes skyward and made a face, but Spock remarked, "She is correct, of course. You are not being logical and neither am I to let you talk to the point of exhaustion."
"I know, I know!" McCoy muttered crossly. "But whats the point of being logical when I am dying anyway?"
The return of TTann with the tea saved Spock from finding a suitable reply, but he could not help but think that there was some logic in McCoys protest. After giving McCoy his tea, TTann had withdrawn and silence reigned in the patio. Spock was engaged in reviewing his students report while keeping an eye on his friend who seemed content to relax and sip his tea.
The doctor was gazing with half-closed eyes into space, a dreamy expression on his face, when presently he asked in a low voice. "Spock...you busy?"
"Not particularly. Why?"
"Theres something Id like to ask you."
Spock put his documents away and folded his hands in his lap. "Proceed, Doctor," he calmly said.
"Well," began McCoy, when we were going home on that Bird of Prey..."
"Which you nicknamed Botany Bay, did you not?" Spock put in.
"Thats right. Well, I asked you to tell me what it was like to die, remember? And all you found to say was that it was impossible without a common frame of reference. In other words, I had to die first before you could share with me your insights about death."
"I remember, Doctor and I apologize for my tactless reply. My sole excuse was that I was not, as you aptly remarked to the Admiral, exactly working on all thrusters."
This exact citation drew a chuckle from the doctor. "I see that those sharp ears of yours did not miss that. I mightve known!" he paused for breath, then went on seriously. "Look, Spock, dont you think that now might a good time to tell me at last? Im not dead yet, but that makes no difference."
The silence which answered him was eloquent enough.
"Ah...I see. You wont," said McCoy with obvious disappointment.
"Doctor, dont misunderstand me," Spock said. "The question is not that I am unwilling, but that I am unable to tell you." He paused, looking troubled, and staring down at his clasped hands. "Words cannot express what I felt and what I saw when I ceased to exist..." His voice trailed off in an eerie silence.
"I understand, Spock," McCoy murmured finally. "I shouldnt have asked, but Id hoped that perhaps your experience could help me when...when the time comes, you know."
The Vulcan, sensing McCoys disappointment, forced himself to overcome a reluctance that he still could not rationally explain. "There is perhaps another way."
"Yes?" Hope shone in the doctors eyes.
"A mindmeld, McCoy. Not the kind of light healing touch which I have been performing lately, but a meld that reaches deep in your consciousness so as to bring our minds together. A meld which cannot be done without your express permission."
"Spock, for Heavens sake! You came into my mind, you squatted in it without so much as a by your leave, and now you become all coy and say you need my permission? Frankly, I dont understand you."
"Doctor," Spock patiently explained, "what I did was unethical, but I was pressed by time, and you were my last resort. This is precisely what I want to avoid now. I will not join our minds without your consent."
"Okay! Youve got it, Spock, and willingly. Come right on in. You know the way, dont you?" McCoys quip covered a certain trepidation.
"As you wish." Spock sat close to the doctor and flexed his long hands in preparation to the meld. First, however, he looked steadily at his friend and warned him. "Are you sure you want to go through with it? There might be at first some...unpleasantness."
"Of course, Im sure. For Petes sake, I was there, Spock; I was with Jim and Scotty just outside the reactor room. I saw you die." McCoys voice cracked.
"Very well," Spock simply said. Positioning his hands with precision on the Humans face, his fingertips pressing the point of contact, he intoned the ritual, "My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts."
McCoy who had instinctively braced himself for the impact, sensed dimly a presence touch the edge of his mind. Then, before he knew it, that presence was gently flowing in with an ease denoting a great familiarity with his mind patterns.
Of course, he thought, youve been here long enough to know your way around.
It is indeed a great asset. The calm and orderly mind drew deeper and deeper to the core of his consciousness.
Presently, McCoy heard the voice of Spock say softly, We are one.
Almost instantly, a strange feeling of oneness, of belonging took possession of the doctor, quite a contrast to the strain and utter confusion he had felt when he was carrying the katra that the Vulcan had entrusted to his mind for safe-keeping. Then, he had undergone some kind of allergic reaction because he had not been prepared. On the contrary, now, he had willingly opened his mind to Spock, and their minds had merged painlessly. They were indeed one.
When Spock told him afterwards that the meld lasted barely six minutes, McCoy could not believe it; it had seemed like an eternity.
Both men had closed their eyes, and the Humans expressive face reflected the flow of emotions that swept his being as he experienced, through Spocks memories, the ordeal of a horrible death and the miracle of a rebirth. Horror, anguish and deep sorrow succeeded one another, to finally give way to an expression of amazement and to tears of joy.
For a long time, it seemed the two who were one shared an inexpressible sensation of peace and serenity. Then Spocks voice said deep in McCoys mind, It is time for us to part. I must withdraw.
A second later, McCoy was hit by an awful impression of void, and he was left shaken and lonely. "Spock...Spock!" he cried like a lost child.
"I am here, Doctor," the familiar voice said at his side.
McCoy opened his eyes and saw the Vulcan, an odd expression on his face, look at him silently. To his surprise and confusion , he found that he had tears in his eyes, and he brushed them hastily away. He had seldom been so moved in his life. Spock, for all his Vulcan cool, looked passably shaken, too.
"I hope that this experience has not been too traumatic for you, Doctor," the latter said. "I think you should have some rest now."
"Traumatic is right, Spock. It is incredible! What I need now is to try and come to terms with your revelation. But first I want to know if I got this right. When you died, you felt your spirit wrenched from your mortal shell, as it were, and you soared up to that dazzling light, that radiance to which you were drawn irresistibly, right, Spock?"
"Well, then, what did you feel? Were you afraid, lost?"
A pause followed, then the reply came slowly, hesitantly. "It is difficult to say. Curiously, I had no fear, no hesitation. Just an intense curiosity and also the certainty that I was within reach of something I had always longed for, like an ultimate dream. I felt that my destiny was about to be accomplished."
"Yes, but you did not reach it, Spock; you had to come back."
"Indeed, because it was not time yet. You see, Doctor, the fate of all Vulcans must be accomplished on Mount Seleya. This is why my spirit, my katra had to turn back and join your mind to wait there until the time came for the transference into the Hall of Ancient Thought."
"Instead of that," McCoy put in wryly, "thanks to the Genesis wave, your body was reborn and your katra was put back where it belonged during that refusion ceremony. Cant say that I miss it, Spock!"
"I know, Doctor. Our minds are not exactly compatible. But, let me say that if I was given another chance to live, it was not only thanks to the Genesis Effect, but mostly thanks to the loyalty and the sacrifice of my friends, and this I shall never forget."
There was gratitude in the voice of Spock, but also, surprisingly, something like regret which aroused the doctors curiosity. "Now, Spock," he said, "you were dead; you had willingly accepted your death to save the Enterprise; then all at once, you were born againyou were alive. Tell me, what was it like?"
"Strange, disconcerting...exhilarating," was the thoughtful answer.
"No wonder. But that vision you had, that dream you almost reached, Spock. No regrets?" McCoy asked.
There was another pause while Spock apparently collected his thoughts and the memories he had of his extraordinary experience. "Yes, perhaps," he finally replied. "I regret having been denied that ultimate fulfillment which was so close, within my reach. Actually, I had but a glimpse of what awaits us beyond death, Doctor, but from what I saw, I believe...I know that when the time comes, for each of us, all the great questions will be answered, all the great mysteries will be resolved. We shall be one with the Universe. Of that, I am sure."
"All of us? Together?"
"Yes, McCoy, all of us, from the past, present and future. Until the end of time," Spock affirmed with solemnity.
"Then its true? Death is not the end but a beginning?"
"Yes, Doctor, I believe it is true."
"But, how does that tally with your Vulcan logic, Mister Spock?" countered the doctor with a show of skepticism. He was favored with the rise of a quelling eyebrow.
"Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end, Doctor, and, as I once told a brilliant Vulcan lieutenant who, unfortunately, did not listen, you must have faith."
"Faith?" McCoy repeated pensively. "I wish I did. Youre right, Spock. Faith is the key word. The faith that raises the mountains, the faith in another life..." He paused, deep in thoughts, then resumed, "Frankly, I would never have thought that you logical Vulcans believe in that."
"Not all Vulcans, Doctor. There are differences of opinions and beliefs as there are anywhere else, but one of the tenets of Vulcan philosophy, based on our oldest traditions, says that, after death, a Vulcans soul is free to join with the Universe."
"Is it? But what about your Hall of Ancient Thought?" McCoy objected. "How can your spirits, your katras be free if theyre trapped in there? Doesnt make a lot of sense to me."
"It does when you know that the Hall contains not the living spirits of the Vulcans, but their mental gifts, their knowledge acquired during a lifetime, their experiences. All of this is too precious to be lost to the Vulcan community. After death, the souls of the Vulcans remain free, that is the traditional belief, but no one has come back from the dead to tell."
"No one but you, Spock, and what you experienced seems to prove its the truth. What do you think?"
"I cannot prove it scientifically," Spock pointed out, "but we can reasonably assume that, in what I was given to see, there are ninety-eight point five percentage of what I believe are, in fact, elements of truth."
"That much? Thats pretty good!" McCoy declared with a grin. "Curious, though, how most cultures share the same belief in a life after death."
"Indeed, it seems to be a universal creed," Spock quietly assented.
"Reminds me of my young days," the doctor recalled with a smile, "when we were taught at Sunday school about eternal life, celestial bliss in Heaven, angelic hosts and the like. It kind of fits with your vision, Spock."
"Mmm," Spock looked skeptical. "There may be similarities, but I can assure you that I saw no angelic entities flying about, no holy man to greet me at the pearly gates of Heaven." A caustic rejoinder which sent his friend chuckling and coughing. "Did I say something funny, Doctor?" he inquired.
"Spock, you devil! I can just imagine Saint Peter and the angels preparing to greet you in Paradise, and their stupor at the sight of your pointed ears!"
"You do have a fertile imagination, McCoy. As I recall it has always been your weak point," Spock mildly commented. "But you look tired. I must let you rest now." He stood up and, noting McCoys pale face, asked with some concern. "Will you be all right? Do you need anything?"
"No, thanks," McCoy wearily replied, and, as Spock was about to leave, he said, "Thank you, Spock. Youve given me a lot to think about; and forgive me for making you relive your death. I shouldnt have asked that of you."
"No need to apologize, Doctor. It was actually a sobering experience, a reminder that I must not take for granted this new life that I was given."
Left alone, McCoy leaned back on his couch and closed his eyes. "Thats right, Spock," he murmured. "One must never take life for granted."
Curiously, he was feeling both exhausted and uplifted by the strange vision that Spock had revealed through the meld. There was indeed much to ponder over Spocks extraordinary experience. All these fantastic images and sensations were revolving in his mind when he finally fell asleep.
Doctor McCoy awoke somewhat refreshed but still very weak. Birds were warbling sweetly in the garden, and the air was beginning to cool down; in spite of the coverlet which had been spread over him, he shivered uncontrollably. Nurse TTann, who was on the watch, appeared at once, armed with his medicine and the inevitable herbal tea. Silently, she made him comfortable with the help of extra pillows, gave him his pills, his tea, and discreetly retired when the Ambassador came into view.
Spock sat down and poured himself some tea. A comfortable silence settled as they both relaxed and drank their tea, each one lost in his own thoughts.
McCoy was trying to decipher the unreadable Vulcan face, an exercise in which Jim Kirk had become an expert but where he, McCoy, was still a novice. He had intercepted the significant glance that Spock and TTann had exchanged when they had passed each other, a glance which had only confirmed his diagnosis. McCoy needed no mediscanner to know that he was declining rapidly; his breathing was painfully labored; he was so weak that he could hardly lift his mug of tea. Considering with professional detachment his physical condition, he figured that he had not long to go, and he suspected that Spock and the nurse were aware of the situation.
He was right. While he was asleep, Spock had called healer TLian to report that, during the mindmeld, he had sensed McCoys life forces fading rapidly. TLian had promised to come as soon as possible. Then, as there was nothing more he could do, Spock had retired a moment for a much needed meditation, then come back to relieve TTann and keep McCoy company.
"Damn!" McCoy's exclamation drew the Vulcan out of his musing. The doctor, trying to set his mugwith a trembling handon the side table had almost missed it.
"Some more tea?" Spock offered.
"No, thanks." The doctor let his head fall back on the pillow and closed his eyes, murmuring wearily, "God, I feel so tired." He missed the look of concern in the dark brown eyes, but he felt his hand enfolded in a warm Vulcan grasp and smiled. "Double shielding, Spock?" he teased.
"Only a single one so as to monitor your condition."
"Oh? Then you can read my thoughts?"
"No, Doctor, not unless you want me to. Otherwise, it is unethical."
"Very proper, Im sure," McCoy wryly commented. A moment later, pressing Spocks hand, he murmured, "Ive been thinking...you know...death, faith...life after death..." He paused breathlessly, then continued, "I wish I could believe...sounds wonderful...together after death...until the end of time, didnt you say, Spock?"
"Yes, Doctor, until the end of time," Spock quietly replied.
"I wish I could..." McCoy whispered wistfully.
At the sound of light footsteps, Spock looked up and saw his cousin and her assistant coming from the house. "We have visitors, Doctor," he said, standing to greet the healers.
McCoy was pleased to see them and tried to get up, but TLian stopped him with gentle authority, and they stood around the patient. Drinks were brought in and, for a moment, it looked as if the ladies had come to pay a courtesy visit rather than a professional call. Presently, however, TLian said that she wished to check on McCoy, and they retired to his room for commodity and privacy.
Spock, left alone, paced slowly about, hands clasped behind his back, and trying to cope with that ineluctable fact: McCoys imminent death. A fact he believed he had logically accepted, because all things come to an end, but which now that it was so close touched him deeply.
Spocks thoughts drifted back to Amanda and Sarek whose loss had affected him profoundly, then to Jim Kirk who had died alone, as he had always said that he would. Spock halted, eyes shut tight, tense with pain, as he was hit again with the agony, the trauma that he had felt when suddenly the subliminal presence of his friend had been severed from his mind, leaving only an unbearable emptiness. He had known then, without doubt, that Jim Kirk was no more, a fact which he heard officially confirmed a few days later.
After all these years, the grief and the anguish were still as vivid as they had been at the time, and so was the guilt which tormented him for having failed Jim, for not having been at his side on that fateful day aboard the Enterprise-B, and later for not having been at his side on Veridian III.
And now McCoy, the emotional, irascible Human who had become a trusted and respected friend, McCoy, the good doctor, was dying, and he, Spock, would be the last one of the trio left, alone with his grief and his regrets.
Spock looked up at the reddish sky; he drew a shuddering breath and pulled himself firmly together. He was beginning to feel sorry for himself and that was unthinkable for a Vulcan. Where was his self-control? Where was his hard-won detachment?
He turned round. TLian was coming up through the shadows cast by the trees against the red sunset.
"Spock! He is asking for you," she said.
"How is he?"
"Slipping away but still fully conscious and lucid enough to make a perfect diagnosis. A remarkable man."
"He is, indeed. Is he still in pain?"
"Much less now. I have seen to it that his last moments be as painless and peaceful as possible."
"Most considerate, cousin. How long do you think...?" Spocks voice faltered.
"The end will come soon. Sometime during the night. I doubt that he will survive until dawn." The healer looked at Spock with genuine sympathy. "It is a difficult time for you, Spock. If you so wish, one of us will stay and assist you."
"No, TLian. I am grateful, but it wont be necessary. TTann is quite competent. I assume there is nothing more we can do for McCoy?"
"Medically, nothing, but he needs a friendly presence, someone to help him through the ordeal."
"Of course. That is my responsibility."
"Indeed. Now we must leave, Spock; I have other patients to attend to, but I shall come back before morning."
After seeing the two healers off, Spock walked, heavy-hearted, back to the house. The doctor was apparently asleep when the Vulcan sat quietly beside his bed. Only the shallow breath of the sick man was heard in the darkened room. The house was quiet and expectant, voices kept low out of respect for the doctor who had won the heart of the household.
Presently, McCoy stirred and whispered, "Spock?"
"Here, Doctor," Spock said softly. "Is there anything I can do?"
"Yes, my bag...over there." McCoy nodded in the direction of a chest on top of which stood a small black case. "I have some tapes," he explained as Spock brought him the case. "Theyre all labeled. These two are my will...one for my lawyer, one for you. Ive appointed you...my executor, Spock. Sorry, should have asked first, but..."
"Dont worry; I shall take care of everything," Spock gently said.
"Bless you, Spock; I knew I could rely on you. My estate isnt worth much, anyway...I leave my fathers house, my flat in San Francisco, everything to Joanna. There must be a tape for her, somewhere..." He fumbled in the case. "Yes, here it is." He paused in exhaustion a few seconds, then, as if pressed by time, resumed, "One more thing, Spock. If its not too much trouble, I want to be buried in the family vault in Atlanta. Think it can be done?"
"Certainly. Whatever you require will be done." Spock was calm and did much to abate the doctors anxiety.
"I appreciate that, Spock," the latter murmured. "Its settled then, all you have to do is to contact my lawyer. Hell make all the arrangements on Earth. Also ...when...when its all over, could you call my daughter personally? Id hate her to hear of my death on the news."
"I shall do so, of course. It is what I meant to do anyway. I think also that our friends from the Enterprise should be told personally. Uhura in particular asked me to let her know."
"Yes, yes, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, theyre all thats left, arent they? Could you tell them, please," McCoy paused, out of breath.
The door opened noiselessly, and TTann appeared bearing a tray with a steaming bowl. "The broth for the doctor," she announced.
Spock looked at McCoy lying limply with his eyes closed and back at the nurse. "I dont think that Doctor McCoy is in a condition to absorb anything, nurse," he said.
She set the tray aside, and touched lightly the hands and brow of the patient. After a moment, she said in a low voice, "The patient is indeed sinking fast. He must be looked after at all times. The night will be long, Ambassador. Shall I take your place while you have some supper?"
"No. I dont want to leave him even for a minute. You go and have some food and rest, Nurse."
"Very well. If I am needed, I shall be next door," she said and quietly withdrew.
The night was indeed long and dreary. Spock sat in the semi-darkness, keeping vigil by McCoys bedside as the good doctor had so often done for him in the sickbay of the Enterprise. He sensed the minutes, the hours slip by, to the slow rhythm of the patients breathing. The doctors coughing spells were fortunately much less frequent, and they ceased altogether when Spock held the doctors hand in a firm grasp.
It seemed that McCoy would have at least a peaceful death, partly thanks to the medications and mindmeld administered by TLian. Spock sometimes felt that his friend was hovering on the edge, at the very limit between the land of the living and the land of the dead. He mumbled broken sentences, called people which only he could see. A name came back constantly which Spock could not hear without a pang: "Jim...Jim..." McCoy repeated as though searching desperately the friend they had lost. That was when Spock wished, for McCoys sake, that the vision he had seen when he died and which he had revealed, be the reality and not a delusion of his ragged senses. The hope, the need to believe that he had seen in the doctors eyes could not be shattered.
Spock was thus caught between doubt and an unshakable conviction, a state of mind eminently uncomfortable for a Vulcan, when he felt the hand of McCoy weakly press his own hand. Leaning forward, he saw the blue eyes regard him with perplexity.
"Yes, Doctor?" he said quietly.
"That you, Spock?" McCoy whispered. "Funny, I must have been dreaming. I thought I was with Jim."
Spocks heart missed a beat. "Perhaps you were," he said in a low voice, more moved that he liked to admit.
"Mmm...probably," the doctor paused and a small smile warmed his wasted face. "Jim is waiting for me, you know," he disclosed.
Spock swallowed the lump in his throat and managed to reply calmly. "Im sure he is, McCoy."
"Yeah...wont be long now," the doctor said dreamily, gazing with half-closed eyes into space, then, as if again conscious of the presence of the Vulcan, he looked at him and said feebly but distinctly, "Sorry, Spock. Youll be the one left behind; Ive got to make this trip alone."
"Someone has to be the last, Doctor. It is logical."
"Sure!...logical," McCoy smiled then whispered, "Dont worry, Spock; well wait for you." And closing his eyes, he sighed deeply and fell again asleep, leaving a distressed Vulcan to cope with his emotions as he could.
It was well into the late hours that McCoy surfaced again, fully conscious. Spock was engaged in meditation while monitoring the patients lifesigns, and he came back at once to total awareness.
"Yes, McCoy, I am here," he said in response to the disquiet that he felt in the doctor.
"How long, Spock?" the latter asked painfully.
Spock searched for a suitable answer but could find none.
"How long...until dawn?"
"Oh...forty-three minutes point six from now," Spock told him with his customary precision. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"Mmm," McCoy nodded, "take me outside... I want to see the stars; I want to see the sun rise...one last time."
This request gave the Vulcan pause, and he frowned uncertainly. To expose a dying man to the cold of a Vulcan night was unwise, to say the least. The desert wind could be heard outside, moaning and rustling trees and bushes.
"Doctor," he said at last, "in your present condition it would be illogical to go out in the cold. I am sure the healers would not approve."
"You and your logic!" McCoy snorted. "My present condition is that Im dyin, Spock. Whos the doctor here, anyway?"
"Agreed. You are the doctor, but also the most stubborn, argumentative, and irrational Human I have ever known. Cant you see that it would be sheer irresponsibility on my part to take such a risk?"
"Then, Ill take full responsibility," McCoy retorted. "This is the last thing Ill ever ask you. Please, Spock!"
Spock kept silent, debating with himself, and well aware of the blue eyes fastened on his face. This was madness, and yet, if McCoys last wish was to die out under the sky, watching the sun rise, how could he refuse him?
Making up his mind, Spock met the doctors gaze and decided, "As you wish, but you must understand that we cannot go to the hills. There is, however, the terrace at the end of the garden where the view is quite adequate. If you agree, I shall take you there."
The pleasure and fondness he read in McCoys eyes were sufficient reasons to justify his decision.
Moments later, the Vulcan Ambassador, having successfully overcome the strong objections of the nurse, was walking swiftly through the shadows of the silent garden, his Human friend securely held in his arms. He climbed the few steps leading up to the terrace which overlooked the desert, and carefully settled his burden on one of the high-backed seats set against the wall. After making sure that the doctor was snugly wrapped in his cloak and blankets, Spock sat down beside him.
"Are you comfortable, Doctor?" he asked with some concern.
A nod and a smile expressed McCoys thanks as he looked in wonder at the Vulcan sky studded with myriads of stars and its huge sister planet. He sighed with contentment. Yes, this was a far better place to die than on his bed, in a closed room. To die under this glorious starfield was far more right and fitting for an old spacefarer like him. A sudden vertigo made him gasp in pain, and he went limp in a faint.
He was caught up at once in warm arms and held by Vulcan strength. "Doctor?" the deep voice said anxiously. McCoy took a deep breath, and feeling himself firmly propped against the Vulcan, let his head rest comfortably on his shoulder. "All right, Spock," he mumbled, "just a bit dizzy."
The two men, then, fell silent and gazed up in quiet companionship at the immensity of space spread above their heads, the space which they had roamed about and explored with their captain for so many years. As he let memoriesstamped with nostalgiapass through his mind, Spock heard his companion repeat again, like a leit motiv, the name of Jim.
Contrary to all logic, he was beginning to wonder if McCoy could somehow perceive the presence of their captain, waiting for him, on the other side. The notion was not so extravagant, after all, since Spock himself had, when he was meditating, sensed sometimes Jims presence, quite near, but just out of reach.
Actually, Spock, after the extraordinary experience of his death and his rebirth, had become more accessible to curious hypotheses which he would have dismissed outright as irrational and unscientific.
"Jim was right," McCoy whispered. "I understand now."
"What do you understand?" the Vulcan quietly asked.
"The course...the course that Jim gave us, on our last mission aboard the Enterprise: Second star to the right...then straight on till morning. Remember?"
"I do, indeed," Spock replied, recalling with some amusement the captains whimsical reply to Chekov who had asked which course he was to plot, upon their departure from Khitomer. "But, McCoy, it was a perfectly illogical order, straight out of a fairy tale, just a joke to lighten the mood on the bridge. If you recall, we had just been ordered by Starfleet Command to go back to Earth so as to be decommissioned."
"Sure, I remember," McCoy gave a faint chuckle. "You told them to go to Hell, or, at least, your Human half did!" He paused to catch his breath then came back on the subject. "I mean what I said, Spock. Jim was right. Look! That star, right there!" He was too weak to point out, but Spock followed his gaze and easily identified one of the planets of the 40 Eridani A system which was shining like a beacon in front of them.
"Yes I see, Doctor. What about it?"
"Cant you see what is staring you in the face, you dumb Vulcan!"
Although weak and struggling for breath, McCoy, obviously, had lost nothing of his quick temper. "Now, look, second star to the right, see?...then, straight on, that line of bright stars..."
Spock looked and realized at once what he meant. At that time of the year, the position of Vulcan in relation to its star system, gave an observer located in the area of ShiKahr the illusion that a trail of lights started on that second star to continue straight toward the horizon. As a matter of fact, the doctor, with his brimming imagination, had spotted in the sky a pattern which Spock had missed because it was to him too obvious and too familiar.
"Yes, I see," he said at last. "That is a particular conjunction of stars, Doctor. It can be observed only at this time of the year. The Ancients had a name for it: the Wanderers Trail. The nomads used to orientate themselves in the desert with the help of this constellation."
"That so?" McCoy was looking spellbound at the stars scintillating over his head. "The Wanderers...thats what we have always been; this is our trail, Spock. Which way does it go?"
"It points to the east, to the direction of the sunrise."
"How about that!" the doctor whispered in awe. "Say what you will, Spock; it cant be a coincidence. Straight on til morning, Jim said. He was damn right! I knew it."
"Really, McCoy, how can you possibly find a relation between the position of the stars in the Vulcan sky and that old tale quoted by the captain several decades ago. It is not logical!" Spock felt bound to object.
"Logical? Who said its logical?" McCoy snorted. "You must have faith, Spock. Isnt it what you told me?"
"Indeed," the Vulcan thoughtfully agreed, wondering, against all logic, whether there might be some truth, some arcane significance in all this. If McCoy saw in that luminous path traced by the stars the figuration of a mythic voyage, was it one of his customary flights of fancy, or some mysterious vision, like that vision that himself had had at the moment of his death? If this...delusion could help the doctor in his last moments, why not let it be? "Maybe you are right," Spock conceded more to humor his companion than by real conviction.
"Sure I am!" There was absolute faith in McCoys reply, then he asked again, "How long... until sunrise?"
Spock looked up and around, then to the east where the blackness of the night was paling to indigo. "Soon," he said, "the starlight is fading; dawn is near."
"At last..." murmured the dying man. In one last effort, he tried to sit up, and failed.
"Easy, Doctor; let me help you." Spock held him firmly with a supporting arm, and, feeling the cold hand of McCoy grope feebly, he took it and warmed it in his own.
They sat in silence and watched the fiery display of stars dim gradually while the sky on the east passed from purple to crimson. Both men knew that the end was near, and Spock wished that he could find the right words, as a Human, as Jim would have done; but his Vulcan reserve and strict upbringing prevented him from expressing openly his feelings. What he could do, however, was to surround McCoy with compassion and understanding, to enfold him in an aura of peace and affection, the greatest gift that a Vulcan could make. So, he deliberately lowered all his mental barriers, anticipating the usual onrush of unbridled emotions.
Instead of which, he found in McCoy a calm expectancy, an inner peace, and a real fondness for him which touched him deeply. He felt the cold fingers move weakly in his hand and gently squeezed the doctors hand in response. For all their pretended antagonism, there had always been a mutual respect between the two, and Spock felt a genuine admiration for this man who, all through the night, had been fighting death and holding on to his life, waiting for the sunrise. Now that the time had come, he was at peace and ready to cross the threshold.
The wind from the desert had calmed down and already the jagged silhouette of the L-Langons stood out against the reddening sky. Some tentative chirrups came from the garden behind them; the birds were about to strike up their morning cantata. This was the magic moment when night slowly makes way for dawn.
The sky grew brighter and brighter. The birds began to trill and carol at the top of their voices.
"Beautiful," McCoy whispered, his breathing barely perceptible now. Spock held him closer. Together, they watched the red sun creep above the horizon and shoot its blazing beams in every direction. Then, as its flaring radiance began to rise up in the sky, Spock heard McCoy whisper, "I love you, Spock."
"I love you, Leonard," he replied, calling him, for the first time in ages, by his given name.
The next instant, McCoy released a long sighing breath, and Spock felt his hand slip from his own, and the frail body become still in his arms.
Spock did not move. Time stretched on as he sat immobile and stared at the sun with eyes blurred with tears, as if searching in the dazzling light for his two friends who, he felt sure, were together now, and waiting for him, as McCoy had promised. A tear ran down his cheek, but, curiously, he felt no shame for this lack of control.
A hand on his shoulder, and a voice in his ear brought him back to reality. "Spock, it is over," TLian was saying gently.
He drew in a deep breath, nodded and straightened up. With TLians help, he carefully laid down the body of his friend on the garden seat. The hood of McCoys cloak slipped back, revealing his face in the red morning light, a face so peaceful, so serene that the two Vulcans held their breaths as they gazed at such a striking transfiguration.
"Do not grieve, Spock," the healer said softly. "He has reached his haven."
"I know," Spock replied in a husky voice. "He has found what he was seeking; he has found the light." He leaned forward, and, very gently, closed the blue eyes which still reflected the wonders they had seen...just beyond.
"Yes, of course," TLian said with a considering gaze at her cousin, "the light which you almost reached when you died but failed to attain."
Spock gave her a sharp look. "You knew?" he asked, disconcerted.
"Spock," she said, mildly reproachful, "have you forgotten that I was one of the healers who attended you after your fal-tor-pan?"
"Ah..." Spock heaved a sigh. "My apologies, TLian. It seems that my mental powers fail me at the moment." He paused, swallowed hard, and added quietly, "And this is the man who kept them secure when I died, and who helped my captain to save my life."
"And now that they are both gone, you are alone," she kindly remarked.
"I have been alone before," was Spocks reply as he gathered McCoys body up in his arms.
"Indeed." TLian pulled the hood back over the dead face, arranged the folds of the cloak, looking steadily at Spock. "But it was different, then, was it not?"
"You are very perceptive, cousin," he acknowledged. "In my youth, I did not know anything of friendship. Today, I am alone, having lost my best friends, but I know that they are there, just on the other side, waiting for me. So, you see, I am not really alone."
"You are fortunate to have had such friends, Spock," the healer said,
"I am, indeed," Spock quietly replied.
Then, followed by Healer TLian, he carried McCoy back to the house, walking slowly amid the fresh scents and the warbles of the garden awakening to a new dawn.
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