"Calm down, Doctor," James Kirk instructed his chief medical officer, Leonard McCoy. "The best way to fight something like this is to ignore it."
"Ive tried that, Jim," McCoy returned, his pacing making it evident how agitated he was. "One little word from Carter, and were plunged back into the superstitions of the Dark Ages." McCoy jerked a thumb over his shoulder to emphasize his words. "Somebody ought to tell him we have no need for that kind of hogwash in Starfleet. Its bad for morale."
"You tell him, Bones. Hes your med tech," Kirk suggested.
"Ive tried, Jim. He swears hes not talking about it any more. But Im afraid the damage is already done."
"Then theres nothing we can do but ride it out, Bones."
McCoy shook his head. "Ensign Bancroft died of medical causes, Jim, not because some wailing banshee pointed her finger at him and foretold his death."
"I know, Bones. Dont take it as a personal attack on your medical skills."
"It is personal," McCoy retorted. "Anytime its implied that some some bogeyman is in control of my patients recovery, its personal with me. Im in charge of my sickbay, no one else. Just because Carter happened to be on duty when Bancroft died, and the last words he whispered were banshee, this ship has been bordering on paranoia ever since."
"Just what is a banshee, anyway?" Kirk asked, amused by McCoys tirade.
"Scotty tells me its a Celtic spirit. Some old female who supposedly appears, wailing and carrying on, when death is imminent. Bunch of baloney," McCoy snorted. "Or maybe haggis," he added wryly.
"Patience, Bones. This too shall pass," Kirk quoted.
A disturbed shake of his head was the doctors only answer. Kirk gave the doctor a good natured slap on the shoulder. As he moved in his chair, a stab of pain ran up the side of his leg. He tried to cover the corresponding wince of pain, but it was too late.
McCoy caught it from years of eagle-eye practice, watching for the slightest evidence of discomfort. He pounced on Kirk. "Those muscle spasms in your leg are still giving you trouble, arent they, Jim? Why dont you let me have a crack at it? I can have it straightened out with one nights treatment if youd let me."
Kirk grimaced at the thought of spending even one night in Sickbay under McCoys tender care. "Ill think about it," he stalled.
McCoy shrugged. "Suit yourself. Youre putting up with a lot of discomfort for nothing, and maybe it will reoccur itself at the most inconvenient time possible," McCoy added that last part in an appeal.
Kirk rubbed his chin. "You may be right, Bones." But he wasnt going to allow McCoy to distract him for long. "Do what you can to kill this banshee rumor, will you?"
McCoy sighed. "I will, Jim. But you know how these superstitions run rampant."
Several days later, Kirk was busy going over the requisition report when McCoy burst onto the bridge. "Well, the fats in the fire now, Jim."
Kirk glanced up sharply. "What is it, Bones?"
McCoys eyes darted around the bridge. "Not here," he mumbled.
Kirk got up. "Mister Sulu, you have the conn. Mister Spock, come with us." He led the way to a nearby briefing room and waited for the doors to swish shut behind them. "Lets have it, Bones."
"Carters just been found dead in his quarters."
Kirk made an exclamation of surprise. "Dead?" His shoulders slumped. "Of what, Bones?"
"Thats just it, Jim. Ive done a preliminary examination, but I cant find a thing wrong with him. Hes just dead."
"There must be something"
"Ill do a full autopsy immediately, but you should see his face, Jim. He has this look of utter horror frozen on his face. Its like nothing Ive ever seen."
"Any more mention of this banshee thing?"
"Are you kidding? The ships afire with it. Evidently he confided to someone the night before that hed seen it. It came through the bulkhead into his quarters and scared the hell out of him. And now this morning..." McCoy spread his hands helplessly.
Kirk chewed his bottom lip. "All right you get busy on the autopsy, and do whatever you can to keep this thing quiet."
"Okay, Jim. But what if I dont find anything?"
"Let me worry about that, Bones."
McCoy nodded and left the room, already thinking of how he was going to approach the matter.
"What do you make of all this, Spock?" Kirk wanted to know.
"I would need more information, Captain. However, Im certain Doctor McCoy will find some medical reason for the unfortunate crewmans death."
"And if he doesnt?"
"We will have to deal with those consequences as they develop."
"I just hope it doesnt come down that way. This could be a sticky situation," Kirk replied.
"Agreed. Should Doctor McCoy fail to find a medical reason, we have four possible solutions, none of which are agreeable."
"Accidental, medical, murder or suicide."
"Exactly," Spock agreed.
"And if the verdict isnt accidental or medical, the other two possibilities will cause us a lot of trouble." Kirk shifted in his chair, and the wrenching pain that had been his constant companion of late made itself felt again. It showed in his face.
Spocks eyes narrowed. "Perhaps it would be a good idea to take advantage of Doctor McCoys offer of medical treatment," he gently nudged Kirk.
"Maybe after all this banshee business is over, Ill let him take a look." Kirk was stalling again, and he knew it.
Spock was having none of it. "Permit me to point out, Captain, that now would be an excellent time to get the matter taken care of. Our current mission of star charting this sector is being handled admirably by Ensign Chekov. Doctor McCoy is perfectly capable of coordinating the medical findings of the autopsy. Other than that, there are no pending matters needing your attention."
Kirk eyed his first officer with his impassive Vulcan expression. Spock knew he had the captain cornered into something hed been delaying for a long time. Kirk knew it too, and sighed in defeat. "Okay, you win. How much did McCoy pay you?"
"I beg your pardon?" Spock asked with injured dignity.
"Never mind. Ill check in with McCoy. That way, Ill be nearby if he discovers anything during the autopsy."
"Now, Jim, Im going to give you a neural inhibitor as well as a muscle relaxant and a dose of Muscogen. These three drugs will stay in your system for a full twelve hours, and after that, those muscle spasms youre having will be gone."
Kirk waved away the explanation. "Just get on with it, Bones."
McCoy leaned toward Kirk, bracing his hands on the examining table on either side of Kirks legs. "Jim, the reason Im telling you this is that youll be paralyzed from the waist down for the full twelve hours."
"Oh." Kirk made it plain in his tone that he didnt like the sound of that.
"Therell be plenty of people around, Jim. Someone will be right there at the touch of a button," McCoy reassured him.
"Whatever, Bones. Lets get underway. Ive got more important things to do than lie flat on my back in Sickbay for twelve hours."
"Believe me, Jim; itll be worth it. No more muscle spasms, no more pain. Dont be such a bad patient," he scolded, pressing Kirk back flat onto the table, and bent over to begin his treatment.
Kirk stared at the ceiling while McCoy passed a medical tricorder over his legs. "What about Carters autopsy?"
McCoy pressed his lips together, intent on his tricorder. His answer sounded almost absent-minded. "The initial results showed nothing, Jim. His heart stopped beating."
Kirk swore under his breath. If they couldnt determine a cause of death, all the theories in the world were useless, even the three alternatives he and Spock came up with. "Whats the cause, Bones?" he demanded, insistence in his voice. "Why did his heart stop?"
McCoy was filling an air hypo now. "Ill need more time before I can give you an answer. Now roll over toward the wall."
Kirk obliged, still thinking of Bancroft and Carter as the hypo hissed against his hip. "Are you going to keep personnel on this thing until you find it?"
"Yes. Ive got Sanchez running another autopsy," McCoy replied, dialing up another dose. "Other side," he instructed, and Kirk rolled back toward McCoy, already noticing some numbness in his left leg. "As soon as I finish with you, Ill be back on it. Ill get you an answer if we have to spend the night in the lab."
Kirk grunted as McCoy guided him back to lie flat. "All right, are you comfortable, Jim?"
"Im all right," Kirk returned, his head spinning with ifs and maybes. A feeling of pressure across his legs distracted him, and he looked down to see McCoy fastening restraints. He propped himself up to a half sitting position with his hands. "What are you doing that for?"
"Safety precaution," McCoy answered, concentrating on getting the straps snug but not over-tight. "Can have you falling out of bed. You might break an arm or something."
"I dont need those," Kirk protested, trying to move his legs. They were already out of his control. It was a unsettling feeling to know he couldnt move them.
"Im the doctor here, Captain. Now quit giving me a hard time; Ive got work to do." He gave the straps a final tug and pressed the call button into Kirks hand. "Be a big boy, now, Jim. Im busy. Go to sleep or something."
"Yeah, or something," Kirk grumbled as McCoy dimmed the lights and left the room.
Time passed, and Kirk slid into an uneasy doze.
He awoke with a start, aware that it was much later but not sure how much. He tried to shift position, uncomfortable on the less than luxurious sickbay bed. He was amazed to find out how difficult everything was when the lower half of his body wouldnt cooperate. He pressed the call button, and kept trying to wriggle into a better position.
Several minutes went by, and he pressed the button again, irritated. He managed to raise himself on one elbow, but he couldnt grab the extra pillow so near, yet out of his reach. He pressed the button a third time.
Moments later, Chapel entered the room. "Im sorry, Captain. Doctor McCoy has had everyone in the entire department dancing a jig over Carters autopsy. What can I do for you?"
"What time is it?" Kirk asked, his voice still annoyed at the imagined neglect he suffered from.
"Its after 0200 hours," Chapel supplied, rubbing at her eyes. This wasnt her normal shift, and she looked as tired as she no doubt felt.
"Could you help me turn over?" Kirk asked, and Chapel efficiently had him repositioned on his side within a minute, straps readjusted accordingly. "And could I have that extra pillow?"
She expertly fluffed up the pillow and wedged it comfortably against the side of his head. "Better?"
"Yes. Thanks, Christine," Kirk murmured, half asleep already. He barely heard the door as it hissed shut behind her, and he was alone again.
The hours had ticked by, and without quite knowing why, Kirk was awake again. This time was different than before. This time, the fine hair on the back of his neck was prickling. He didnt move. He didnt know why, he just felt he shouldnt move. Not a sound broke the silence, no breath or rustle or creak. Still, something had him uneasy, on alert. And then he knew what it was. An odor, tickling at his nose, one moment there, the next gone, then back again. A sickening, sour, disgusting odor. It crept around him in evil little trickles of decay.
His fingers twitched, subtly searching for the call button. His fingertips moved across the surface of the bed, encountering nothing but smooth, clean linen. The stink grew stronger, and his throat tightened as he forced himself not to cough. Chapel must have set aside the call button when she had turned him, and forgotten to replace it. He excused her neglect with the thought of how tired shed been. But now he was stuck here, strapped down and unable to move, with no way to summon help. And someone... or something... was behind him.
Then, a high, keening wail filled the room. It was a soft sound, and at first Kirk wondered if it were the sound of some lab equipment being used somewhere. The sound increased in intensity, grew louder, then softer. First the sound was high, then it became low and mournful. It sounded more animal-like than any sound a Human could make. It made his skin prickle into gooseflesh.
His head whipped around, and he saw the banshee. It faded into existence through the bulkhead, its arms drifting slowly back and forth as if it wished to embrace him. It was a dark figure, dressed in a shroud-like garment with stringy pieces of cloth hanging from its upraised arms. The wailing increased, covering the gamut of the scales, first high, then low, first loud, then soft, inhuman. The stench was overpowering now, nauseating him. The only color about the thing was its eyesburning red coals in a thin, otherwise featureless face.
Kirk was a brave man, but not foolish. By twisting almost to the point of pain, he could see the call button laying on the table next to the bed, behind him. He thrust out his hand, but his fingers were inches short of it. The apparition drifted closer, and Kirk knew with a sense of dread that it was going to touch him. He didnt think hed like that. He stretched harder. Closer, but not enough. The button remained tantalizingly out of reach.
The thing was closer to the bed now, and his heart was pounding against his ribs. Would they find him like Carter, a frozen look of horror on his face? Adrenaline surged through his blood, and he gave one final lunge toward the call button. His fingers grazed it, almost had it within his grasp, but instead knocked it to the floor. Despair flooded him, along with a healthy dose of fear.
The thing was almost directly behind him now. There wasnt a potential weapon in the room, and even if there had been, Kirk wondered fleetingly if it would be effective. He strained against the leg straps, wondering where he could go. Could he drag himself away from this thing he didnt even believe in? He grabbed the side of the bed and strained upward, trying to pull free of the restraints Chapel had so effectively placed.
Suddenly, he heard muffled voices approaching, and the door hissed open. In a flash, the unearthly visitor drew back with a last shriek and faded away through the bulkhead.
"Captain, are you well?"
Thank God, it was Spock. And McCoy. Kirk released the breath he didnt realize hed been holding in a gust of relief. "Yeah."
"Spock here seemed to think you were in some sort of trouble," McCoy explained, fussing with the restraints, which Kirks escape efforts had dislodged. "Came running down here like the ship was on fire."
McCoy checked the overhead readout. "Pulse and respiration are a little high, but hes fine," he remarked as he released the straps and help Kirk turn over onto his back before securing them. "Looks like he just had a nightmare."
Kirk was grateful not to have his back to the door any more. He could see Spocks sober face now, and knew what had brought the Vulcan running. It was his own terror, communicated across the mental link they had somehow established between them over the years. The Vulcan said nothing, but his eyes spoke volumes. He knows.
"See, Spock? I told you hed be okay. Ive got to get back to my work now. Call if you need anything, you hear?" His eyes sought and found the call button, scooped it up from the floor and pressed it into Kirks hand. "In a few hours, the neural inhibitor will be wearing off, and youll be as good as new." He squeezed Kirks shoulder reassuringly. "Go back to sleep, Jim. Sorry we disturbed you."
The door shut behind McCoy, and Spock remained. "Spock, did you see it?"
Spock was silent a long time, then his answer came almost reluctantly. "Only a glimpse."
Kirk nodded. There was no question of Spock disbelieving him. They knew each other too well for that. "Do you smell anything?" he asked, but even as he asked the question, he realized the stench had faded with the apparition.
Kirk leaned his head back against the pillow. "It was... unbelievable."
Spock didnt reply, and Kirk saw the Vulcans eyes fixed with dread upon the far wall, where the thing had faded away through the wall. Following his friends, gaze, he saw there on the wall words, glowing evil and red. Kirks throat went a little dry. The message was both a promise and a threat: "You will die when youre alone "
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