This is a seven point five at least, he thought. Id bet real money on it.
Leonard McCoy had ridden a lot of things in his career as an officer on the Enterprise: Shuttlecrafts, hoverers, horses, land cars, flivvers, braklos, magnetic storms, transporter beams, the wings of fear and hope, and a damned serious quake or two.
But this one was outside the realm of his personal experiences. It was big. Really big. Hed never ridden anything quite like it before. This one threw him painfully to his backside before he even had the chance to form coherent thought. And then Spock was grabbing him and pulling him, tugging at his tunic, scrabbling with him backwards toward the huge table that McCoy had commented on when hed entered the vast reception room. It had looked like a small country to him then, this table, like a continent set hard against the wall; big, sturdy, made of local trees and what looked to be titanium leg braces. Hed joked about it to Spockwho had not seen the humor in itwhispered to him sotto voce, had said something about oil-drilling platforms and space stations. It was ludicrous, the size of it, hed said. And if it was going to be filled with food, theyd have to recalibrate the transporter to be able to accommodate their extra girth when this hoo-haw was over.
But now, as he did a clumsy land-based backstroke, pushing with his feet and arms towards it with Spock at his side, it looked to be about the size of his medical tricorder. The ceiling was screeching and moaning as he inched towards it on the buckling floor, and it was dropping small metal panels on his face. His last vision before the underside of the table (is that gum?) was of big exposed beams. Killers. Widow-makers, seen through a metallic snow. And then they were safe, side-by-side on their backs under the table, chests heaving. There was a long, high scream of stressed alloys, and then a series of rumbles so deep that he felt them in his stomach and bones more than heard them, and then there was a great wwoomphhh, and then there was nothing.
His mother was calling him. It was time for school.
He was suffocating, and he reached down to push off his blanket. But there was no blanket, no bed, and damn little air, and his brain fought to connect vital synapses to make these things comprehensible. A dream? He squeezed his eyes tight and then opened them to blackness. No. Not a dream. A nightmare. His hands ran down his chest, touching, feeling. He was gritty. His foot was killing him. He sat up.
Well, he sat part of the way up, and then his head met with something unyielding.
"Ow!" he said, falling back to rest on his elbows, and the lack of echo made him remember that he was in a small place. A very small place. He sniffed at the stale and chalky air as he reached to his right and his hand met sharp chunks and shards of stuff, of walls. And ceiling. And...
He quickly reached out to his left, remembering Spock, sucking air through his teeth at the pain provided by his movement, and he groped until he hit flesh. A hand. It was reassuringly warm. He squeezed it.
"Spock!" Speaking made him cough harshly. He pulled his right arm across his face, not that it helped much. It transferred grit, but didnt get rid of it.
Hell of an earthquake, he thought, dropping Spocks hand and feeling gingerly down his right leg, twisting to avoid hitting his already aching head. He struggled to remember what planet they were on, to recall what beings they would have been breaking bread with tonight. Or maybe it already was tonight. He had no idea how much time had passed.
His right foot was trapped. He could reach only down to his ankle, and then his hand met with something big and hard. One of the widow-makers, perhaps. He considered himself lucky to have only sacrificed a foot to it. The table had done its job. He just hadnt scooted that right foot all the way under.
Mellak. Thats right. They were on Mellak. It wasnt an earthquake. It had been a damned Mellakquake. He thought Spock might appreciate his precision in that regard. Hed provincially thought "earthquake" as soon as hed felt it, instead of the more appropriate and politically suitable "groundquake," or even worse: "tectonic shift" or "seismic disturbance."
Thoughts of Spock sent his left hand out again, reaching. He found Spocks fingers and gripped them, giving them a good shake. There was no response, and he shifted his own fingers down to the wrist to feel the Vulcans pulse. It was there, and seemed weak, but who could be sure where Spock was concerned? McCoy knew that he could be deep in meditation, or he could have already put himself into a systemic hibernation to save oxygen. In spite of these possibilities, McCoy momentarily fought a little thrill of panic. It was unusual for Spock to be the last to gain consciousness in any situation.
"Doctor." It was more of a wheeze than a word, and McCoy turned and peered futilely into the blackness, his relief overwhelming.
"Spock? You okay?"
"Oh." Though blind as a bat, McCoy still glanced down to the space between them as he released it. "I was feeling your pulse. You had me worried. You"
"Have you your communicator?"
Ah yes, McCoy thought. If he had to be trapped with somebody, he supposed that it was good to be trapped with someone who had a logical propensity for survival, who was going to immediately cut through all the superfluous crap. Superfluous crap like Youre alive. Are you all right? Superfluous crap like Is your foot still attached to you? On the other hand, the first officer and chief medical officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, trapped together in a space the approximate size of an academy dorm room closet, almost guaranteed that somebody wouldnt come out of this alive.
"Doctor? Your communicator?"
"Yeah, yeah," McCoy muttered, reaching to his waist and patting. It was not there, and he felt around the right side of his body, pushing aside pieces of wall and chunks of plaster. "Nope. Yours?"
"I believe..." McCoy heard him grunt and shift. "It is under me. There." McCoy felt a wash of air and then the communicator being clumsily placed in his left hand. He was confused.
"What am I supposed to do with this that you cant do, Spock?" he asked, suspicious. He heard Spock sigh and move, then silence.
"I believe that I might have injured by back, Doctor," he finally admitted. "I would prefer to leave movement to a minimum."
McCoy nodded. He briefly considered giving Spock the physicians third degree and then realized the waste of it. Of everyone he had ever known in the whole of his life, there was no one who knew his own body better than their first officer. Hed take him at his word.
"All right," he said flipping open the communicator, "Ill buy that. McCoy to Enterprise," he said into the approximate area of the grid, trying to sound as steady as possible. "McCoy to... anybody." And as he spoke, he heard his own communicator, trapped in the rubble near his feet, give a plaintive beep.
"Doctor?" It was the voice of Montgomery Scott, crackling and distant, but there nonetheless, coming from the communicator in his hand. McCoy let out a relieved breath. "Are ye all right, Leonard?" Scott asked. "Weve been worried sick about you and Mister Spock."
"Alive, yes," he said. "And Spock, too. The others?" Kirk, Chekov, and Uhura had entered the empty reception hall with them. The Mellakian delegation had yet to arrive, so they had stepped back outside to enjoy the rare double sunset. Spock had been more interested in the decorative ceilings, and had stepped further into the hall, McCoy strolling with him.
"All accounted for. Bumped and bruised for sure, but essentially unharmed."
"And the Mellakians?"
"Weve sent down rescue parties," Scottys sad voice informed him. "They were hit hard, Doctor. Yer help is sorely missed. The captain is near ye there, outside, supervisin the diggin out of Mellakians and waitin for word on you and Mister Spock. Hell be happy ta hear youre all right."
"Well, were ready any time you are, Scotty. Beam us the hell out of here."
His request was met by a wall of static. McCoy, uncomfortable for a whole lot of reasons, shifted in the blackness. "Scotty?"
"Aye?" Scott replied.
"I said beam us"
"Im afraid thatll take a wee bit o time, Doctor. Seems that the Mellakians have a fondness for rodinium ceilings"
McCoy groaned, remembering his vision of falling metal panels. "Just down here on the ground floor? In the reception hall?"
More static, throat-clearing. "Ah...all through the buildin, Doctor, Im afraid, and of a type weve nae seen before."
Shit. How big was this building? He shut his eyesnot that it made any differenceand thought back to standing before it, looking up. Was it ten stories? Fifteen? His head was throbbing. His foot was throbbing. He wanted out, now.
Scott was talking. "...so with the interference...well, Im afraid they might have ta get to ye the old-fashioned way."
Well. Isnt that just dandy? The one time Id really willingly use the damned thing, the one time I actually looked forward to using the damned thing, and we cant use it.
"...so at the same time theyll be peeling layers away down there, up here well be tryin to figure out how ta boost power ta"
"Yeah! You just do that, Scotty," he cried, frustrated. "Boost whatever the hell youve got to boost to get us outta here. Ive a got a beam the size of a California Redwood on my foot, and it hurts like the devil, and I think Spock has strained his back"
"Doctor," Spock said in a voice so low that it forced McCoy to stop and listen. "Mister Scott is not at fault in our predicament."
"At fault? Is that an earthquake joke, Spock?" McCoy spat, and he barked out a short laugh, itching for a fight with someone, anyone.
"We do have a pretty decent bead on ye, thats the good news," Scott continued affably, obviously none the worse for the verbal harangue. "We can keep in contact with ye, and tell the rescue teams where ye are."
"Could you transport medical supplies, or a light?"
McCoy heard Scotty take a resigned breath through the static. "Sorry. Right now we couldnae transport a Denevan flea through that mountain o rubble."
The doctor sighed and rubbed at the ache in his right leg. "All right then, Scotty. Keep in touch." He closed the communicator and placed it between them. "Well," he said conversationally to the black void beside him, "this should be interestin. Know any road trip shuttle games?"
Either Spock had never been on long trips that required entertaining fidgety children, or he knew some and simply wasnt interested in playing.
"Doctor?" He sounded as weary as McCoy felt.
"Shuttle games. You know any shuttle games?"
He sounded confused. "I...I am"
"Never mind," McCoy said, dismissing the idea. "Hows your back?"
McCoy squinted into the blackness. What was with him? Concerned, he struggled to remember Spocks C-Rating. McCoys own Claustrophobic Rating was in the teens. He couldnt imagine that Spocks would even show up on the scale.
"You know, some stretching might be a good idea," McCoy said, reaching his arms up as far as the table would allow. "Keep the blood pumping. Do you think you could do that with your back?" McCoy let his hands run along the bottom of the tablewas that gum?and he reached as far as his trapped foot and the ache in his leg would allow.
They were on a leaner. No doubt about it. Spock was slightly lower than him. He could feel it in the floor, and as he stretched his arms up and away from himself, he could feel it in the tabletop. In fact, the table was on a severe leaner, he realized as he extended his left arm in Spocks direction. It was as if the table legs had given out on the other side of the table. Suspicious, he awkwardly sat up as far as he could and moved his hand along the wood, over towards Spock. In short order, the back of McCoys hand met with Spocks chest, and the palm of his hand wedged tight against the table bottom. He pulled back as if burned.
"Spock?" he whispered, aghast. "Is the table on you?" A lack of response sent McCoys hand darting out to find the Vulcans arm. "Spock!" he said louder, giving him a shake.
"Doctor. I am here and aware."
Leave it to the green-blooded son of a gun to make him feel badly for caring, McCoy thought as he drew away.
"My arm is...trapped," Spock said tonelessly, as if reciting hull temperatures. McCoy winced in sympathy. He knew the kind of pain and helplessness that the Vulcan was experiencing.
"Why didnt you tell me?"
"To what end, Doctor?" he replied. "What aid might you have been able to provide?"
McCoy felt the anger start as a hot ball in his brain and a hot ball in his stomach, and they met at his mouth. "Do you have any idea how hard it is to be a physician in these kinds of circumstances, Spock?" he cried, amazing himself with the rage he heard in his own voice and with the tremor underneath the rage. "Im supposed to fix people, and I cant even fix my damned self! This is my worst nightmare come true."
And it was. He swallowed hard. Physician, heal thyself. Physician, heal anything, anytime, any place. If the pain of his foot and the irritation of being trapped with Mister Facts didnt kill him, his lack of being able to do what he was born to do, what he needed to do, what he was damned well paid to do would finish the task.
"I should be up on the Enterprise putting Mellakians back together," he shot. Thanks a lot for trying to make it easier on me!" He dropped to his back, wiping his face again with his sleeve, and turned away. Spock spoke.
"I would prefer that no one know of my predicament." McCoy kept his face averted. "Do you understand"
"No. I dont."
"Doctor, you cannot help me physically, but I do ask this of you. I would prefer that no"
The communicator beeped and McCoy turned back and stabbed for it. There was a brief, sloppy tug-of-war, Spock versus McCoy. The doctor gave it a good yank, possessed it, and flipped it open. "McCoy."
"Bones? This is Jim."
McCoy felt his tensed muscles relax at the sound of that voice. No matter what, this was the man who would retrieve them, make it right, and save them allMellakians included. "Jim," he said in a sigh. "Its damned good to hear you, Jim-Boy."
"Were working as fast as we can out here," the captain said. Were using tractor beams from the ship to pull off the layers above you, but we can only take so much at a time. Its pretty unstable "
For the first time since coming to, McCoy realized that he could hear something besides their own breathing. It was far away, above them, and muffled: the clank and groan of heavy things being moved.
"I can hear it. Just keep diggin till you hit bottom. Thats where we are."
"Scottys working on the transporter"
"We know, Jim."
"Let me talk to Spock."
McCoy looked through the blackness towards his trapped companion. Spocks request for silence about being pinned was ridiculous, unnecessary, typical of his over-controlling nature, but something made McCoy stop.
Doctor, you cannot help me physically, but
Would it be such a big deal to keep it quiet, he wondered? Could he relax his standards for one Standard minute and give the guy a break, no matter what his reasons? Could he?
Nah. He couldnt.
He took a breath. "Hes pinned, too, Jim. His arm."
He couldnt tell if Spock was surprised or not. There was no shift, no drawn breath, no word from the Vulcans side of their prison. All remained deathly quiet. McCoy, staring hard into that corner as if Spock might manage somehow to rise up and neck-pinch him, now babbled freely. He finished his litany of their physical environs, quaking in a peculiar mixture of fear and relief.
"How is he, Bones? Really. I mean...can you ..."
McCoy finally tore his eyes away from Spocks approximate location and answered in as strong a voice as he could muster. "Hes really fine, Jim. Hell be just fine. Hes okay. Im okay." He would still have hell to pay with Spock, he knew, but at least this little white lie would calm their rescuers nerves. Especially Jim Kirks. The captain knew that it was nearly impossible for McCoy to lie to him. At least not face to face. It was a hell of a lot easier not having to look into his probing hazel eyes as he said it. "Were both just fine," he finished.
"Good. Good." McCoy could practically see Kirk nod emphatically as he said it. Some hope to hang his hat on, he thought, thats all Kirk had been looking for. Thats probably why Spock had asked him to lie, to keep Kirk focused on the task of digging them out. "Take care. Both of you," Kirks disembodied voice admonished. "Get some rest." Like an idiot, McCoy nodded at the communicator and sat it carefully on the floor between them. He grunted as he tried to get comfortable.
His foot was throbbing. Every move, no matter how careful, reminded McCoy that he was hurt and he was trapped. Trapped like a rat. Good thing Chekov had left the building earlier. He had one of the highest C ratings on the ship.
Spock had been trapped like a rat as well, he mused as he shifted, and had known it with his first conscious thought, his first breath upon coming to. And yet hed kept it to himself the whole damned time. McCoy didnt know whether to grudgingly admire him or to allow his hackles to rise again at the thought.
True to form, he opted for the hackles. But only briefly. It took too much energy.
McCoy groaned as he worked his way back down to a prone position, on his side, his head propped up by his left hand, his left elbow hard against fallen plaster. Once settled, he felt exhaustion drag at his bones. He looked over into the blackness towards Spock, prepared to take his medicine.
"I suppose youre pissed at me now," he said in a sigh, weary and resigned.
Spock was silent.
"Im a doctor, Spock! I couldnt not say something."
Nothing from that corner.
"You know, Jims a big boy. Give him some credit. I know you wanted to spare him, but arent you being a little silly?"
It was highly likely that Spock had never been called "silly" in the whole of his life, but still there was no sound from him. And then there was a shifting noise, and McCoy had no doubt that Spock was, with as much dignity as he could muster under the circumstances, turning his back on him, turning away. McCoy briefly considered sticking his finger in his mouth then reaching over there and finding Spocks right ear and giving him a wet willie. Why not? He couldnt screw up with the Vulcan any more than he had already, and he could use the comedic relief.
His own breathing harsh in his ears, he dropped himself carefully back to the floor and shut his eyes.
He dreamed of kudzu.
It was illegal, kudzu, and had been for a hundred years. He never thought hed have a chance to see it in real life, but then he had, that summer when he and his cousin had decided to spend a day poling in a flatboat in the swampy backwaters around his uncles camp. The water had been running abnormally high and it had let them pole into places theyd never been before, and theyd swung around a massive cottonwood draped with moss one day, and there it was: A vast, green wall. A kudzu monster.
He was no more than twelve at the time, and a physically small twelve at that. Hed felt like a dwarf looking at it, but it was oddly comforting. It was science. It was nature. It wasnt some big bully taunting him in the classroom.
He swore he could see the leading tendrils throb and move as they watched.
They knew theyd have to report it to the authorities, but they waited three weeks before they did so, and they visited the place every day that they were able so that they could mark its progress.
His cousin had drowned later that summer. Today, he couldnt think of his cousin without thinking of kudzu.
But his dream did not take place in the swamp. It was in a closet. In his closet in his cabin on the Enterprise. Except it was large enough to accommodate a galley and a pool table, and the whole command crew was in it with him, playing fizzbin. He could feel the kudzu pressing against the walls, could see the green shadows of it playing on everyones faces, and he seemed to be the only one of them aware of it. It would come, he knew. It would come and would overwhelm them. As the rest of them merrily played fizzbin, he tore off his shirt, frantic, and stuffed it into the crack under the door. Scotty laughed at that. So did Harcourt Fenton Mudd. He was there as well.
A tendril broke through a ceiling tile and snaked down into the room, and it was as if it had senses, as if it was sniffing the air, looking for a victim. It languidly twisted and arced and then slowed and stopped. Right above Spock. McCoy tried to cry out, but his voice was sucked away in a wind that came from nowhere. He had to warn him. He had to let him know that the kudzu was coming for him. And then Spock looked at McCoy, and he could see in the Vulcans face that he knew that the kudzu had come especially for him, had selected him, and he was prepared for it. There was no hope, he said to McCoy without words. And that was all right.
McCoy woke up then, drenched in sweat, filled with hopelessness and despair, his throat working as if he were trying to call out. For a moment he thought he was in his bunk on the Enterprise, but when he opened his eyes to unrelieved blackness and gritted his teeth on plaster dust, he remembered his predicament.
Gradually his heartbeat slowed and he fell back into a restless sleep.
He awoke to a new odor, and it disturbed him.
"Spock?" No answer. "Spock?" He reached across the space between them and tugged at his tunic. "Spock!"
"Hmm?" He sounded exhausted, and McCoy couldnt remember ever having heard Spock answer in that perfunctory and relaxed a manner. McCoy allowed himself a moment of abject guilt, and then he remembered his original concern.
"Whats that smell?" He heard Spock move as if discomfited.
"Theres something. Some odor. I cant put my finger on it." McCoy shivered involuntarily as he thought of the possibilities. The odor had a metallic twang, that much he was sure of, and all he could think of were electrical fires, and the wiresmiles and miles of themsnaking back and forth above them between the collapsed floors, wires that were cracked and split and maybe still alive.
If he smelled fire, it was the transporter for him. And if he came up in tiny little pieces, so be it. He had always figured that the transporter would eventually slice him and dice him up anyhow, and he was not going to be burned alive. Being buried alive was enough, thank you.
He sniffed the air and licked at his lips, tasting. As he had a chance to wake up and really think about it, he realized that it smelled a little bit like blood, and he wondered if hed somehow missed that possibility with his crushed foot. Had it been punctured or cut? He sat up and banged his head soundly on the bottom of the table top as he reached for his pant leg. It was dry.
But as he thought further about it, he realized that it didnt smell quite right for blood, really. It was too coppery. Yes. He sniffed again. Too coppery.
"Shit!" he said as he twisted and sat up further and whacked his head again. He reached out to his left until he hit flesh. "What the hells the matter? Are you bleeding?" He grabbed the tunic material and shook it fiercely. "Spock!" Had he passed out or was he being unusually reticent and stoic? There was no way to tell in their black void, but McCoy shuddered as he thought of the number of times since the quake that hed called out to Spock without getting an immediate response.
McCoy pulled himself up, moaning at the pain, and reached as far as he could over Spocks chest. The odor was definitely stronger the closer he got, and he searched with his right hand, running it down the table bottom until it met with Spocks body. He pushed his hand up around Spocks arm.
The shoulder of his tunic felt soaked. McCoy dabbed his fingers around the area and brought them to his nose. No mistake about it. Blood. He looked past his fingers at where he figured Spocks face would be. "Damn you to hell," he whispered sincerely. With their platform on a leaner, Spocks blood had been coursing away from them and down into the basement, probably the whole time theyd been trapped. He eased himself back down to the floor, swearing a blue streak all the while.
"Doctor?" Spocks voice sounded about a galaxy away.
McCoy swallowed the urge to lash out now that Spock was conscious. Instead, he steadied his breathing and cleared his throat. He knew that the Vulcan had physiological self-knowledge capabilities beyond a humans.
"Can you tell how much blood youve lost?" McCoy finally asked, careful to temper the rage he felt.
There was an indrawn breath and a moments silence.
Yeah. Youre trapped, McCoy thought grimly. Lets see you get out of this one, buster.
"I dont think"
The rare use of a contraction registered immediately with McCoy. This was worse than he thought. "Work with me here, Spock, please!" he growled, not waiting to hear whatever Vulcan bull hockey he knew that Spock was going to come up with. "Can you tell how deep the cut is? Where it is? What arteries have been affected? Can you tell me anything?"
Spock sighed. It wasnt one of his patented save-me-from-these-Humans sigh. It wasnt a weary sigh, or a embarrassed one. It was...accepting. Accepting. McCoy was suddenly freezing.
"I am..." Spock finally said with obvious difficulty. McCoy heard him swallow. "I am not sure ..." Again, a painful pause. McCoy knew what was coming then, and was frozen in that certainty. "I cannot tell if my arm is. Attached."
"What? What?" McCoys teeth nearly chattered as he spoke. "Are you telling me that you think your arm has been severed? And youre just telling me that now?"
Spock seemed to gather some reserve and responded strongly. "Doctor, our rescue is dependent upon extreme care. Any errant move could shift the debris above us and bring it down"
"Well, oh, yeah? Tell me something that I dont already know."
As if to illustrate this, a thin waterfall of plaster dust chose that moment to find its way through a crack in the table. McCoy heard it fall somewhere between them. Coughing, he waved the dust away and reached over, wiping the remains from Spocks shoulder, and he took the opportunity to put his fingers at Spocks throat, feeling for his pulse, noting the clamminess of his skin.
"If they speed up the process of rescue, Doctor, it is possible that you will not survive it."
That I will not survive it? McCoy pulled his hand away and looked silently in the direction of the Vulcan. What about him?
Spock hadnt wanted to concern Kirk. Hadnt even wanted him to know that hed been hurt. McCoy, on the other hand, was only too happy to have his rescuers know of his predicament, of his pain, because he knew that once he was out of here, he was going to be all right. Hed have some surgery, some regeneration, some physical therapy, and in a few days, hed be as good as new.
But Spock had not wanted Kirk to know, had not wanted he himself to know. Because, because... McCoy drew in a breath and held it.
Because he didnt think that hed survive this.
The whole of the time theyd been trapped, Spock had been lying there in the darkwithin a meter of McCoyand hed known this truth, and hed made a decision based upon it without McCoys knowledge. McCoy had whined like a baby to Scotty about his own trapped foot, had compared the beam it was pinned under to a California Redwood, and meanwhile their first officer had been silently calculating the number of hours left until there wasnt enough blood left in his body to keep his heart pumping in his side.
McCoy let out his held breath and found his voice. "How dare you?"
It was obviously not what Spock expected. "Doctor?"
"How dare you make that decision? How dare you?" He blindly reached out for the communicator, but Spocks hand shot out and clamped onto his. McCoy thought he heard a bone in his hand crack. "Spock. Let go."
"Please, McCoy," he whispered, his voice as close to a prayer as the doctor had ever heard it. "Do not do this. If they speed up the process, I would calculate that your odds of surviving"
"Shut up!" McCoy smacked Spock hard on the arm with his free hand. Spock must have been so startled that he loosened his grip and McCoy pulled the communicator to his lips. "You arrogant bastard. I swear to God that if I live to be a hundred and twenty-five, Ill never understand you." Spock neither agreed nor disagreed. Their exchange must have sucked away the last of his energy and resolve. "Spock?" McCoy gave him a strong shake. He was out.
"Jim!" he called into the communicator, not even trying to temper the drawl or the panic in his voice. "McCoy to Kirk. McCoy to the Enterprise. To anybody!"
"Jim, you have to get us out of here. Now."
McCoy could practically hear the frown form.
"Spock is whats wrong. He thinks his arm was severed."
"What? Severed? Just now?"
"No. Since the beginning. Dont ask," he added quickly, reaching for Spocks wrist and feeling for the weak pulse. "Long story short, Jim, if you dont get us out of here in the next ten minutes or so, there wont be any rush."
McCoy stared vacantly into the darkness. His worst nightmare come true. Physician, heal nothing. Physician, lie there and watch a friend bleed to death. Physician, you are worthless. He tried to avoid looking in Spocks direction, hard to do when there were few other places he could look. He was afraid if he looked over there hed see some radiance, some shimmer indicating that the essence that was Spock was slipping away. The communicator crackled to life.
"Bones, weve removed about two-thirds of the building above you. Scotty says that hes managed to boost the transporter signal, and the read on you is pretty clear, but hed still like to run some tests"
"No time," McCoy said. "Lets do this thing." He didnt want to give himself a chance to back out.
There was a dark and heavy pause.
"Bones, lets just take Spock on this first one. Lets see what happens with Spock and then we can"
"Forget it, Jim. Whos going to fix him?" It was true. MBenga was on leave. And McCoy had no desire to remain buried, alone.
"No buts!" McCoy shot, trying to sound stronger about the process than he felt. His head pounded. He was stuck in some kind of damned extraterrestrial Greek tragedy. Man versus nature, life versus death, and alwaysin the end man versus machine, in his case specifically, McCoy versus transporter.
"Dont make me think twice about this, Jim! Just do it." He realized that he still had Spocks hand clutched in his own, and he released it, deciding that it was best to not give the transporter circuitry too much to think about. Best that they keep it nice and simple. Not for the first time, he wished he knew more about the infernal molecular scrambler. Not that it would necessarily make him feel any better.
"Okay, Bones," Kirks voice said cautiously from the communicator lying between them, "were ready. Are you sure"
"Do it!" McCoy cried, and could not resist reaching out in spite of his earlier precautions and patting Spocks inert hand as he heard the familiar whine.
Spock actually gasped, and McCoy felt some satisfaction. Doctor Christine Chapel, walking by the diagnostic bed where Spock sat, shot the doctor a black look.
"Did that hurt, Spock?" he asked, all innocence as he manipulated the Vulcans arm. "Not surprising, really, given what it went through."
McCoy had managed to stay blood-red mad at their first officer, and three days later could still barely conceal his rage every time he saw him. Their twice-daily therapy sessions and hed insisted that he himself act as therapistwere proving to be something far more meaningful than they appeared to be on the surface. They were little emotional battlefields, small engagements in the war of righteousness.
He expected that Doctor Chapel would be selling tickets soon.
It was a work of art, Spocks arm, certainly the best job of reattachment hed ever done or ever seen done. It was a testament to his abilities as a physician, and he smiled with satisfaction as he looked down at it.
As theyd sped he and Spock out of the transporter room, hed directed Chapel to encase his aching foot and leg in a plasti-brace and to pump him, knee-down, full of pain blockers. Then hed begun reattachment, shaking and sweating profusely through the whole thing, not sure that the shaking and sweating was attached to his unfortunate confinement or to an imperfect transporter ride. Chapel assisted while a med tech fixed the head wound on the hapless transporter technician who had keeled over and hit the floor when Spocks arm coalesced in a pool of green blood a couple of seconds before the rest of him did. Thank God that there had been some sinew and bone left connecting Spock and his arm, or it might not have made the transport with him at all.
McCoy was himself, as hed believed he would be while he was trapped, as good a new. Spock was not quite as completely healed, and was still on light duty. McCoy kept a surreptitious watch on him during his shifts. He was still favoring the arm in spite of McCoys admonitions during physical therapy.
Small wonder. McCoy still considered the reattachment hell, considered Spocks mere survival a minor miracle.
"Hmm?" McCoy was focused on recalibrating his Feinberger.
"It is obvious that you are chagrined with me."
That stopped McCoy cold and made the blood pound in his ears. My God, were they actually going to have some dialogue about this? Would wonders never cease? Without looking up, he finished his calibrations and casually ran it down the length of Spocks arm.
"Gosh. Do you think?"
"I do not think, Doctor," Spock said solemnly, missing the joke in it. "I know."
"And why do you think I might be angry with you, Spock?" he asked, setting the Feinberger aside and digging at healing arm muscle. "Do you have any idea?"
Spock winced slightly and blinked. "No. I do not."
"Hmm, lets see," McCoy said, enjoying himself immensely. He picked up his tricorder, pulled up the last physical therapy reading, and feigned interest in it. "Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that you oh " he looked up and waved a hand in a futile attempt at lightness, "chose to die," he shot, surprised still at his anger. He continued in an indignant rush: "Without asking me. Without telling me. Your physician. Your friend. Right there, next to you." He heard the sound of a heavy sigh, salted with impatience, from the corner where Chapel was working. Angry at her presence and fairly sure where her sympathies resided, McCoy spun around to face her. She was already striding out the door.
McCoy mumbled under his breath and turned back to his patient. Maybe this wasnt going to be as much fun as hed thought it might be. "What?" he barked, grabbing Spocks hand and testing finger flexibility.
"I have a question. When we were forcibly detained by the Vians and they were evaluating the Empath, you made a decision much like the decision I made on Mellak."
McCoy was barely listening. He was still too mad to listen. Damn it, he knew he was right on this thing, and if he had a lovesick physician on his hands who thought otherwise, well that was her problem, not his. Spock was still speaking earnestly.
" the Vians. Surely you remember. They ordered the captain to make a decision as to who would be the next of us taken for testing. You gave the captain something to help him sleep, and I, being in command, made the decision that the next test subject would be myself. And you"
McCoy dropped Spocks hand and crossed his arms. "Do you have a point here?"
Spock sighed wearily, and McCoy felt his angry resolve weaken. The Vulcan was still not quite himself, not moving at full speed. Hed lost a lot of blood and suffered a good deal of trauma. Limb-reattachment as severe as his was still not an every-day occurrence, and even Vulcans had limits to their endurance. Spock was looking at him now, with a sincere and expectant frown on his face, his eyes dark and deep.
"My point is this, Doctor: What is the difference?"
"What is the difference between the decision I made on Mellak and the one you made with the Vians? The Vians had predicted that you would most likely die if you were the one taken, yet you were willing to sacrifice yourself so that I would not be taken."
Why you cold-hearted green-blooded hair-splitting son-of-a-bitch, McCoy thought, immediately incensed.
"In fact, Doctor, in your case with the Vians, your decision required you to take action, and negative action at that. It was necessary to somehow nullify me, to take me from my decision-making position; whereas on Mellak, my decision was merely my own, one that required no action on my part"
"Other than to quietly bleed to death!"
"Indeed, Doctor. As you say."
Astonished, McCoy threw his hands in the air. "That wasnt a compliment, Spock!"
"Hear me out, Doctor. I feel the need to know the difference, to know what circumstances made your action right and mine wrong. What is the difference?"
Surely, hes toying with me, McCoy thought, feeling confused, his anger fading. Spock was looking at him still, concerned frown in place, his head slightly cocked. There had to be a difference, McCoy mused, furiously trying to mentally split hairs himself. It was different, wasnt it? And as he searched for that determiner, through McCoys brain flew visions of the sacrifices made on the Enterprise every day, extraordinary moments of selflessness from an extraordinary group of people in extraordinary circumstances.
You first. No. You first.
Doc, he got it worse than me. Take him first. I can take it. No, I can take it.
Pick me. No, pick me.
Not you, my friend. They will not take you to leave you insane, your essence trapped in your crumbling brain. That I will not allow, and it is my right to not allow that to happen.
McCoy felt his face flush and saw a quick spark ignite behind the Vulcans eyes. The doctor knew that he could bluff and bluster his way through this he had certainly had the experience at itbut he no longer had the heart for it. He was trapped; trapped just as surely as hed been trapped under the table on Mellak.
"Here, let me help you with your shirt," he said gruffly, readying the arms for him. Spock shrugged into it, and McCoy heard the catch in his breath when he straightened the tunic over his left arm. His head popped through the neck hole, his hair uncharacteristically disheveled. McCoy silently gazed at him and admitted to himself what hed always known: that hed met his match in selflessness and sacrifice. The two of them, he knew in his heart, had far more in common than McCoy liked to admit. All things considered it was amazing that the both of them and James T. Kirkbirds of a feather allhad survived their years together on the Enterprise without being martyr to some catastrophe. He expected that one day one or more of them might make that ultimate sacrifice.
It was the way of their world.
He reached out and squeezed Spocks arm, his good one.
"There is no difference, Spock," he finally admitted, and he swallowed a little catch in his voice. "No difference at all."
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