McCoy found that the strange loss of Spocks brain and its even more bizarre recovery had aged him. While the past incidentto the doctors continuing amazementhad left the first officer completely restored (a fact that McCoy refused to attribute in any way to his own skills as a surgeon), he had only recently noticed on himself an alarming increase in the amount of gray hair. He felt muscle weakness due to stress-induced weight loss, and he was tired. To crown it all, he was sitting here in his office to write that medical report to Starfleet, a duty which would annoy him even if he were not locked up in a tincan that warped through cosmos.
How the blazes was he to make the whole thing sound like a credible report based on scientific facts, when anyone on the receiving end would be more compelled to assume that the Enterprise crew had been suffering from a severe form of space psychosis? Should he state that ignorance was the greatest threat to sentient lifeforms, even more so when it dwelled in bodies considered beautiful? To him, the events on Sigma Draconis VI had confirmed this in a most disturbing way. He almost sighed. It was evident even to McCoy himself that he was experiencing a particularly bad day.
Most unnerving right now was Chapel, however, as she kept hovering around him constantly, pretending to be cleaning the shelves, but doing so only to catch his attention. This caused his neck and shoulders to tense up, but really he hated it because her behavior reminded him of his ex-wife.
In exasperation he pushed himself away from the desk. Leaning back into his chair, he shut his eyes and started massaging his temples. This was some headache approaching. He thought he could need some shore-leave filled with sleep and pleasant boredom. But now, the only good thing about the Sigma Draconis system seemed to be its vicinity to Earth. He would tell Jim to find a reason for making a stopover.
There was a soft, clinking sound to his left.
"What is it, Nurse?" he growled. "Spit it out, for heavens sake!"
Christine Chapel sighed. First, she set a jar back in its place. Then she turned her head to briefly glance at him. "You shouldnt have said it."
"Shouldnt have said what?" he asked, squinting. The illumination in Sickbay definitely was too bright, and that damn headache was already fully unfolding itself.
"Well, you knowthat Spock was much more tolerable when he was on remote control. Len, why do you say such things about him?"
"How the blazes did you know...?" McCoy plucked his glare away from the ceiling and directed it to Chapel, who looked curiously guilty. "Ah, the gossip!" he concluded. He rose up from his chair. "Unfortunately, he couldnt hear it when I said it. Besides, later he pretty much suggested the same thing, just the other way round. Which means that we actually were in agreement, imagine that!"
He stretched his arms in an effort to bring relief to his strained back, all under Chapels everlasting scrutiny.
"I also heard that Mister Spock said he didnt trust you to accomplish the surgery..."
McCoy only grunted in response.
"...but that this wasnt your fault," she forged on. "Spock always means what he says, dont you think so, too?"
McCoy stopped his futile exercise. "Whats all this fuss about that half-Human son of a"
"of a Vulcan! Let me finish, damn it!" He had to take a deep breath to calm himself.
Chapel averted her eyes. "Im sorry."
"No, Im sorry!" McCoy said. Wonderful. The last thing I needed was an outburst that makes me feel guilty. He went back to massaging his temples. "Sometimes I ask myself what everyone is thinking of their CMO," he mused.
"I guess everyone is thinking the same," replied Chapel as she returned to her pursuit of imaginary dust bunnies. "That you are a tough cookie."
"Yeah, and so they are working hard at crumbling me! Sulu and Chekov, for examplehavent they been assigned for routine health checks today? And did they comply?"
Chapel only shook her head, knowing the question was rhetorical.
"We have to arrange new appointments just for those two, huh? I dont even want to know their excuses this time. Anyone else would throttle them, you know!" He grinned. "But even if the CMO cant do much more than remove a splinter, he is not like anyone else is. He does not throttle his patients; he assigns physicals that they will never forget!"
"Thats why they never show up," said Chapel, looking at him with concern. "Its a headache again, isnt it? Shall I get you?"
He waved her off. "No, thanks! I need to stay away from hydrocortilene for a while. Dont know if what I have isnt really a medication headache."
Chapel shrugged. "Suit yourself, Doctor."
"Now dont you get cheeky with me!" McCoy warned. He stretched again, groaning. "I believe the best medicine for me would be some fresh air, not this stuff that passes through four hundred pairs of lungs every twenty-four days."
Half sitting on the edge of his desk, he scowled at some innocent oxygen molecules in front of him. Chapel continued to clean the shelves, but now she was doing it in earnest. "Is there anything important on schedule right now?" he asked.
"Noonly the remainder of the routine physicals."
"Okay..." McCoy closed his eyes. He would have tried an autohypnotic approach to suppress the increasingly nauseating pain that was pounding in his left temple, but with Chapel rattling about in the background success was hard to achieve.
He frowned. "Are all the protoplasers recharged?"
"What about the tissue regenerators? Do we have enough of them in store?"
"Are you positive? Last time we saw action we ran out of them. It almost cost us two fingers of one ensign and eyesight in"
Chapel sighed. "Really, Len, we have enough regenerators to save all the eyes and fingers on the ship."
McCoy grunted. Arriving at a decision, he straightened and reached for his medikit. "I think Ill go for a stroll. Perhaps I can find a window to open."
Chapel turned to him in alarm. "What?"
"Its just a headache, Christine, not insanity," he assured her with a smirk, and in the doorway he added, "Ill bring back coffee."
McCoy aimlessly strode down the corridor. Walking helped in controlling this headache, which he diagnosed to be a migraine. Ensigns hurried along, passing him with nothing more than a respectful expression in their apprehensive faces if they happened to make eye contact with him at all. It was a situation that McCoy had learned to live with on this missioneveryone else but the physician and his team being busy until the ship saw action, and then Sickbay would suddenly fill up with those of the immobilized and injured who had not been blasted away into space.
The doctor paused. His memory pulled him back to the day when he had told his mentor at Starfleet Academy that he had been assigned his first interplanetary position.
"So, you are finally going to become a starships surgeon, eh?" Waterson had remarked with a small smile on his wrinkled face. "Well, dont make close friends in whatever tin can they put you in. Pulling the blanket over them would hit you hardest, but the surgeon cant allow himself to feel emotions."
Waterson, however, had been of no use in giving advice on how to successfully avoid making close friends, and so McCoy had ended up with having people on board whom he considered family. Every alert brought them into danger and forced him to prepare in advance for the worst. He knew that detailed preparation wasnt only a necessary procedure, it also kept him from thinking too much about the possible outcome of any action ahead. He accepted his infamous reputation as a meticulous, nit-picky or cantankerous senior, the perception depending on the person interviewed. All this he was, because he only wished that all of those he cared about would survive this mission in good health, himself included. It was an elementary fear that he would finish his existence in a nameless corner of space, never having had the chance to sit on a Southern porch again with a Mint Julep in his hand and a Georgian sunset in front of him.
The doctor wasnt aware he had entered the turbolift until the sound of the yellow alert hit him. For a moment, he stood disoriented, taking in his location. Casting an angry glare at the offensive speaker in the wall, he thought he should see what the alert was about before going back to Sickbay.
As the lift doors slid open, they gave view to the current bridge shift, to an inconspicuous view on the constellations ahead, and to Jim Kirk, who stood next to a very busy Uhura. The doctor also noted that Chekov and Sulu were both on duty. Sulu, having turned his head to see who had entered, quickly averted his gaze to talk softly to Chekov. Very well, he thought, now Ive got you. You cant get away when I know that you will be off duty in another two hours.
Kirk curtly nodded to greet the doctor. "We are on yellow alert, and you left your station?" he observed.
"Im the outpost," replied McCoy sourly. Behind Kirk he could see Spock bending over the tiny viewer at the science station. The Vulcan used to endure his lectures about correct posture with unnerving stoicism. In the end he would always dismiss the doctor's advice on the grounds that it only applied to species that were endowed with less well developed spine constructions. McCoy decided he was too exhausted to remark on the imminent danger of disc prolapse. He sighed inwardly instead and turned to Kirk. "So, whats up?"
The captain gave him a gleeful smile that the doctor could not interpret. "I can show you!" he said. "Mister Chekov, tactical view, please!"
McCoy watched as the navigators fingers deftly flitted across the console. The constellations were switched off. A reddish grid that the doctor recognized for illustrating time warp anomalies appeared instead. It bulged out in the upper left corner of the screen to form a tube that proceeded towards the middle. A twist at its ending enabled the crew to take a virtual look at the inside of the tubes mouth. A dark red circle glowing in the vicinity of the twist probably indicated the Enterprises current position. With a skeptical frown, Chekov checked back on the captain.
The doctor did not obtain any more useful information from the display. His eyes darted from one crew member to the next. Spock stood upright with one eyebrow raised. Uhura regarded the depiction with cool anticipation. Sulu appeared as though he was lost in reverie. Scott, next to McCoy and sitting at the engineering console, grinned happily. And Kirk looked...proud?
"Ah..." McCoy uttered vaguely. "Care to elaborate?"
"Why, its a wormhole!" explained Kirk brightly.
"A wormhole," echoed McCoy. He noted a tingling sensation in his neck. "Please tell me that this is a simulation, and the alert is only a drill," he said softly.
"Aye, 'tis real, Doctor," Scott said. "Were the first to discover it. If its nae natural, then someone in the fleet must have thoroughly over-revved their engines."
"This is exactly what we want to investigate," announced Kirk.
"Investigate?!" exclaimed McCoy. "If this pathetic little circle" He pointed fiercely in the direction of the prudent symbol. "is supposed to be us, then we should really take to our heels now!"
"You obviously dont appreciate the merit of finding this anomaly, Bones."
"No, I dont!"
Spock had meanwhile concentrated on his tasks again. Now he looked up from his viewer. "Captain, the computer has just calculated that the wormhole is traversable. Its proximal mouth is located 3.26 light years away from Sigma Draconis Six."
"One could pass through?"
"How far is this from Earth, anyway?" grumbled McCoy.
"The distance from your home planet is five point seven seven parsecs to be precise, Doctor."
"Do you also know where the other end of that wormhole is, Mister Spock?" asked Kirk.
"Not yet, Captain. I sent the relevant data to the navigators console. They should suffice for plotting the correct location."
"It is located in Sector three B, Kyptin. Nearest planet is Lactra Seven. It is four parsecs away from the other end of the wormhole."
"What do we know about Lactra Seven?" asked Kirk.
"Nothing conclusive yet," replied Spock. "The survey ship Ariel has been assigned to explore it."
"Interesting. Perhaps if we use the wormhole as a shortcut we might rendezvous with the Ariel and see how they are doing before we move on to our Medusan assignment."
"An efficient work plan," agreed Spock.
"What?" McCoys eyes widened in shock. "You cant be serious!"
"Relax, Bones. Shortcutting is just what wormholes are for. And we have calculated the risks. There is no real reason to be worried, or is there, Mister Spock?"
McCoy stared down at Kirks hand. "So? Then why do you keep drumming your fingers on the armrest?"
"You do, and it is never a good sign."
"You are overanalyzing, Bones. Our mission is to explore phenomena that have never been encountered before. This wormhole is just one of them."
McCoy rolled his eyes. "I only report my observations. You are about to encounter laws of physics that dont behave friendly towards Humans! Instead of throwing ourselves into some blasted space-time twist, wed rather stop over on Earth, even if it were only for a cup of Oolong in Atlanta."
"Atlanta?" replied Kirk surprised. "Why, Bones, you are getting sentimental!"
"This has nothing to do with sentiment!" flared McCoy. In a way he felt caught, though. Privately he admitted that he might perhaps wax too nostalgic about Earth, especially lately. He checked himself. "Take it as medical advice. It would be good for the crew to be allowed shore-leave. Especially considering what we have been through during the last weeks." He paused, before he added, "Its a safe bet that theres only one crewmember left unaffected."
"The computer has calculated a course for central entry in three minutes, Captain."
"Thank you, Mister Spock."
"See what I mean?" McCoy muttered.
Kirk smiled wryly. "Earth would not behave friendly towards some of us, either. Shore-leave there would only give us a terrible hangover."
"Well, I have the means to cure one."
"I know that." Kirks eyes met Scotts as the chief engineer returned from a quietly conducted conversation with Spock.
The Scots face showed an expression of concern. "Captain, we should enter only after the sonic receiver has been checked." This statement earned him bemused stares from the helm and navigation officers.
"The sonic receiver?" echoed Kirk blankly. Then suddenly realization appeared to dawn on him. "Oh, yes Mister Scott. Entry time must factor this in."
"Acknowledged, Captain." Spock pushed a few buttons on his console.
"Thank you, Captain!" The expression on Scotts face changed into pure relief, followed by eagerness.
McCoy was utterly bewildered. "How can you look forward to this, Scotty? Are you not afraid for the ship?"
"No, not at all!" Scott replied politely. "But maybe you should return to Sickbay now. Who knows? Some of the crew might scrape their knees or something."
McCoy scowled at the engineer. "You are lucky that your routine physical is already done."
Had it been under different circumstances, the doctor would have filed away Scotts reply as a harmless tease, but it didnt fit in now. This shift was about to do something absolutely reckless. He wasnt quite sure what to make of it. He scrutinized Kirk. Nothing unusual about the man, he diagnosed, agile and pugnacious as always when there was action ahead, and no disturbing gleam in the eyes that indicated a loss of self-control due to overwork, sleep deprivation or latent hypoglycemia...
Suddenly, McCoy became aware of his headache again. He felt queasy. Perhaps it was his own perception of the whole situation that was affected.
"Point of no return for entry will be reached one minute after sonic receiver has been checked."
"Thank you, Mister Spock. Uhura, send out a buoy containing latest log entries."
"Mister Sulu, commence plotted course."
"Yes, sir!" Sulu said, and then he added, "I wish I could use manual controls for this ride."
"What are you saying? Are you space happy?" asked McCoy.
Lifting an eyebrow, Spock replied, "You will not find sound scientific evidence for the existence of this diagnostically vague disorder, Doctor."
"That settles it," the doctor grumbled. He felt drained. Spock at least seemed to be as sane as ever. "Ill go and get myself a riddle screen to separate the pieces after we go through. If Ill be in position to do so, that is."
As the lift doors closed behind him, he thought hed heard a laugh, but then again maybe his brain was playing tricks on him.
Im really getting too old for this, he thought. He instructed the lift to head toward the proper deck, endured the blinking and humming of the yellow alert, and trudged back to Sickbay.
The moment he entered, McCoy saw Chapel and recalled that he was going to bring coffee. "Now Im starting to forget things!" he said aloud. He was about to contemplate drinking coffee in a wormhole when he spun back in a reflex action; the sickbay doors had shut behind him, but they had done so with a very characteristic sound. It was a sound he normally only heard during routine drills. During his first week aboard the Enterprise, he had heard it during action, and since that time he had come to dread it. It indicated that a section was being sealed because damage to the hull was expected or had already occurred. And as this section was Sickbay, he knew that there was no other exit...which meant that he and everyone else in these rooms stood at the wrong side of the seal.
His heart was pounding as he turned to Chapel. But she didn't seemed to be concerned at all. On the contrary, she was grinning broadly! Behind her stood MBenga, casually leaning against a doorframe. He was smiling, too.
"What the hell" began McCoy, but the intercom interrupted him. At first, he only heard a humming sound. It was not a melody, and he could not identify the person. And then it started. Through the intercom, a group of voices sang,
"Happy birthday to you,
"Happy birthday to you,
"Happy birthday, dear Leonard,
"Happy birthday to you!"
There was a silence after this, during which McCoy stood staring at the intercom, petrified. After what seemed an eternity to himself, he managed to look at Chapel. Her face glowed with excitement. He vaguely noted that she was carrying a neatly decorated cake, with a great number of smoke-free candles burning on top of it. Then MBenga was closing up to her, and people were crowding in the doorway behind MBengahis entire Sickbay staff.
"Bones?" came a voice on the intercom.
Hold this moment, he thought, because this is the most profound expression of family life that a man like you can ever expect.
This wasnt about Captains, First Officers, nurses, patients, or colleagues. This was about people close to each other. McCoy exhaled slowly. His heart was still beating painfully, but this time it was pounding with joy.
"Bones, are you there?"
"Yes, Im here." He was shocked that his voice gave away so much of his inner turmoil.
"Well, happy birthday again!"
"Thanks!" said McCoy. "Actually, I didnt know it was my birthday! I never care to calculate the date any more."
"We calculated it for you!" There was a pause. "Did you like it?"
"Thats a silly question to ask!" replied McCoy. He tried to clear his throat as inconspicuously as possible. "Im greatly moved!" He had clearly identified Kirks and Uhuras voice in the choir, and a deep one that he could associate with none other than... "I think I even heard Spock!"
"Oh, yes! He was afraid that you might not approve of our scheme, but we convinced him in the end."
"I liked it, Spock! Thank you!" The doctors voice became increasingly hoarse. But then he checked himself and smirked. "Though if you tell me that you volunteered for it, then I suspect that some of your connections must still be loose!"
This being said, he felt a tension break and relaxation set in. He could hear people laughing on the bridge. Chapel put the cake on a table. McCoy asked Kirk about the sealed door.
"Scotty did it. You didnt make it easy for us. When Miss Chapel told us that you had left Sickbay, we had to think of something to bring you back..."
Chapel blushed when the doctors eyes darted to her.
"...and then you showed up on the bridge, of all places!"
"The wormhole!" exclaimed McCoy in sudden realization.
"Well, yeswe had to get rid of you!"
"You pulled my leg!" McCoy regarded the intercom unit with uplifted eyebrows. "Spock!" he said, "You lied?"
The answer was cool. "Vulcans do not lie, Doctor. I was referencing the simulation and to the calculated time point at which your birthday should begin on Earth. This was adapted to the timepoint of singing when Mister Scott declared you a sonic receiver. Apparently, you had been under a different impression."
"Anyway, we couldnt have you strolling around, either. Scotty already was afraid about singing in front of you; imagine how he felt about being broadcasted on all decks. So he decided to lock you up."
"You know you nearly gave me a heart attack?"
"Sorry for the inconvenience!" came the Scots brogue-filled voice.
"You owe me one, and I already know what you can do. The illumination in Sickbay"
"Aye, but I have done it already! During my physical you were complaining that it was too dim, so I adjusted it right after. Figured it would be a nice birthday present."
"Really? Well, thanks! But..."
"It was no big deal at all!
"Isnt it right?"
"Its too bright, Scotty!"
"No, I dont think it really is. Youll get used to it in no time!"
"Scotty, I want to use things, not get used to them!" He rolled his eyes. "Engineers!" he growled, but he couldnt help smiling. "Anyway," he continued, "I assure you that a special bottle of medicine will be waiting for you all after I have finished the routine health checks of the crew. I already look forward to treating your hangovers. McCoy out."
He switched off the intercom.
"Well, Happy Birthday!" said MBenga. With a great smile in his face he shook McCoys hand. Others queued up to do the same.
In the end he had been shaking the hands of the entire medical staff. It was at such occasions that one realized how many people really worked in Sickbay. Most of them were invisible during the daily routine.
"Thank you! And thank you all for this great cake!"
"Thank Christine for it; it was her idea!"
Chapel blushed again as McCoy embraced her. The gesture was a bit clumsy, but it was okay. He released her quickly and turned to examine the cake.
"Whats in it? Strawberry?"
He stretched a finger, but Chapel swiftly slapped on it. "Oh, no, thats not the way it goes! First you have to blow out the candles!"
"Okay, okay..." He took a deep breath and started to blow. In the first attempt, he got rid of half of the candles, but it needed three to put out all of them. McCoy felt dizzy when it was done. "Whew!" he said, while supporting himself with one hand at the edge of the table. "Well, my own physical is not yet complete. I think it would look better if we took my blood sample before I deal with this high-calorie transgression! Help yourself, everyone, and Ill be right back. Christine?"
Together with the nurse he went into the examination room to sit down on a chair behind a screen. While slowly rolling up his left sleeve he contemplated the number of routine physicals yet to be done before this mission was over. You are thinking the wrong way, he scolded himself. Be glad for every routine physical. It means that the person in question is alive and probably also quite healthy.
Chapel started to take the sample. "Are you okay?" she asked.
"Your blood pressure is pretty low."
"It happens to men when they are reminded of their age." He noticed an expression of self-conciousness flicker across her face. "Only joking!" he said. "Im happy! Thanks for everything!"
"Really? Oh, thats good! For a moment, I didnt think it was going to work out!"
McCoy smiled. "Lets go back!"
They returned into the other room. Someone had brought coffee.
"Take it!" said MBenga, and handed pieces of cake to both of them.
"It is strawberry, by the way!" said Chapel. "Long-term working relationships have their benefits, dont they?"
"Mmm..." McCoy gulped down the first bite. "Wonderful!"
He accepted a mug of coffee. That would be the right thing now. He was still tired, but fortunately the sick feeling had only been a passing one. He took a look around him and thought again that this was a memory that he had to cherish. Life in this crate appeared so unpredictable to him. There were periods of boredom that seemed to be endless. And then, out of the blue, something might pull the rug from under them, and change their entire world for the worse.
MBenga opined, "Living makes us older, but then again we know many who never lived long enough to realize that."
"We have to consider ourselves lucky!" said Chapel.
McCoy added, "As the captain would say, Ahead, Warp factor one!"
And MBenga and Chapel heard his heart laughing as he clinked his mug with theirs.
Free counters provided by Andale.
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES --
2266-2270 The First Mission
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES On-Line Fiction
Click Here to Return to the Orion Press Website