First published December 2012 on fanfiction.net. With thanks to Djinn for her ongoing support, suggestions and encouragement.
Errors on the edge of forever
According to the Enterprise blueprints the distance from the mess to sickbay via the turbolift is 347 metres. Under normal circumstances it would take approximately 54 seconds to complete the journey. But these are not normal circumstances and both distance and time appear to have abandoned their fixed relationship with the laws of physics.
When the sickbay doors open, the scene beyond hits your emotional shields with a force that almost overcomes. You clamp down – reduce what you see to facts for analysis.
The Captain is here. He looks at you and says your name.
Doctor McCoy is on the biobed.
His body is arched and his limbs are twisted at unnatural angles. The monitors are showing an erratic heartbeat. Dangerously high blood pressure. Increased respiration.
The doctor is conscious but not aware. He is shouting. His mouth is flecked with foam.
Doctor M’Benga and Nurse Carlotti are standing by the bed talking. He is holding a medical tricorder. There is a tray of hyposprays in the nurse’s hands.
Speculation: M’Benga has administered anti convulsants but they have been ineffective.
Speculation: M’Benga has been unable to diagnose the doctor’s condition
The Captain is in a state you’ve seen before — eyes glittering, every fibre of his body controlled, his authority radiating in waves. He is dangerous in this condition, his words quiet but steely.
“Analysis, doctor. What’s wrong with him?”
M’Benga frowns at the monitors and looks again at the readings on his tricorder. “He’s in shock, abnormal electrical activity in the brain, sodium levels elevated, kidney function impaired. But he has no history of epilepsy or renal failure. This doesn’t make sense.”
You cross to the bed, the opposite side and some distance from the Captain. You tell yourself this is in order to check the data. His eyes meet yours briefly. For a moment you feel the connection, as if your mutual fear for your friend is conductive. The moment is over before there is time for further assessment.
Because McCoy is shouting, something unintelligible, his body spasming off the bed. The Captain leans down and holds his shoulders. It is taking all his considerable strength to prevent the doctor from falling to the floor and belatedly Carlotti attempts to secure the straps.
The Captain speaks through gritted teeth. “Do something, doctor. He can’t go on much longer like this.”
“I’ll try tri-carbamazapine.” M’Benga nods to the nurse who hands him another hypo.
For a moment all motion around the bed ceases. The voice is that of Nurse Chapel. She has, of course, followed you to Sickbay.
“Let me have a look at those readings.”
You think it strange that Doctor M’Benga does not resist, that he hands over the tricorder with some eagerness. But then you remember he has worked with Christine Chapel for many months, that he is well aware of her degrees in biochem and medical research.
McCoy gives one last shout and appears to lapse into unconsciousness. She does not spend long on her analysis.
“Doctor, I’d like to try theta depramine.” You recognise the growth factor. It is used to regenerate tissue.
M’Benga looks puzzled. “But he hasn’t been injured. This can’t be the result of trauma.”
“I think he has.” Her voice is calm. You see the Captain watching her, considering.
“He has been injured — internally. I can’t believe I didn’t make the connection before. I should have…” She stops, gathers her thoughts, then says simply, “The cordrazine.”
There is a sharp intake of breath. He remembers. The empty hypospray. The doctor transformed into a wild man. “But that was weeks ago.”
“Yes, but that stuff has a half life. There’s not much in the medical textbooks about an overdose of this magnitude, but what there is suggests cordrazine can hang around in your system for days after treatment. And Doctor McCoy had a hundred times the recommended dose. I think it’s still in his bloodstream and his body is attempting to flush it out –”
M’Benga interrupts, “Through his kidneys. Of course. That would explain the sodium levels. And the kidney damage.” He turns to Carlotti. “Theta depramine. Now. And we need to set up peritoneal nano-dialysis.”
The doctor’s eyes are rolled back in his head, the whites showing. There is something fundamentally wrong with the image of the doctor strapped to a biobed, a patient in his own sickbay.
You know the Captain feels it too. His concern for his friend reaches you in ripples despite your attempts to shield. You think it is a pity that the doctor is unconscious. If he could see his commanding officer leaning over him now, hand grasping hand, he would realise there was no reason to fear a lasting grudge over words spoke in ignorance more than three hundred years ago.
The minutes pass, but M’Benga is still frowning at the medical tricorder.
“Renal function is improving but it’s going to take some time to get those sodium levels down and to flush the rest of the cordrazine through. And I don’t like the look of those electrical impulses. He’s still having fits — we just can’t see it.”
The Captain and Nurse Chapel have the same idea at the same time. They turn to you but you are a beat ahead and you nod.
“Doctor, if I may offer my assistance.”
“What do you suggest, Mister Spock?”
“I may be able to reduce the… fluctuations — a light mind meld.”
M’Benga looks dubious. “If you think it will help. I don’t like to give him more medication while he’s already clearing toxins from his system.”
Christine murmurs quietly to Nurse Carlotti and they move away, dimming the bright lights.
The Captain is looking at you. It is the old look, the one from before. The effect is as if, deep below decks, someone has reduced the artificial gravity. You will not hold his gaze but you feel a sudden lightness and the inner voice that lists your errors is quiet for a time.
You find the meld points without difficulty. The doctor has always been easy for you to read, but as you drift quietly into his mind you find it even more chaotic than usual, synapses firing random thoughts, thoughts and instincts in a jumbled swirl.
Metal, sharp, stab, hard light, burning
You offer simple calming words — remembering the exercises you used as a child, skirting on the outskirts of his memories, soothing not searching.
Dim, soft, grey dusk, comfort
Just phantoms. Let them go.
There is pain here, old and dull, new and raw. You do not explore it. Just layer the soft words as a poultice to heal and numb.
Peace, still, rest
You can feel his breath in your chest, his pulse in your temple and it is no effort to slow his thoughts, to deepen his exhalation. He sighs and the patterns begin to lose their tension, to stretch and stream in a glowing, fading line of light. You sense his mind relax and retreat towards sleep.
You are beginning to ease back, to withdraw, when it happens.
Like a solar flare his mind leaps outwards and burns through your lowered shields. For a blinding moment your thoughts and his mesh and tangle. You cannot help but make a sound — a moan of pain — and your fingers clench, grip, then fall away.
It is his voice. It is her voice.
“Spock, come back. Are you all right?”
You stagger back against the bed. Lift your tingling hands to your face. For a moment you cannot speak. Then the splinters resolve and reform.
“I… I am quite well, Captain, thank you.”
Doctor M’Benga is at your side, tricorder whining. You blink and look around. The Captain stands some 20 centimetres to your left. You can see he wishes to touch your shoulder but refrains. Nurse Chapel has no such qualms and is touching your face in an attempt to assess your pupil size.
“Sit down, Spock. You got quite a jolt there.”
“I can assure you I do not require assistance.”
But you find yourself swaying and disguise the fact by acquiescing to her request. “The doctor — is he –?
M’Benga nods. “He’s sleeping. A normal sleep. I don’t know what you did, but it’s worked. Looks like he fought it though…”
You do not wish to reveal what happened. Merely nod. “A peculiarly strong electrical impulse. It had no lasting effect. I am glad the meld was effective.”
And you note that Christine Chapel is appraising your response in a way that makes you think she does not believe you.
You saw him smile today.
Just a flash, as if someone had angled a mirror in a corner of the bridge.
Mister Scott had brought him the latest results of the sensor array modifications. He was taking great pleasure in pointing out how Starfleet’s best and brightest back at Command had failed to notice the obvious conflict between lab theory and deployed practice. Mister Scott has, of course, improved on the modifications and is now rewriting the manual.
Anything that adds to the Enterprise’s capabilities and proves once again he has the best crew in Starfleet is a subject guaranteed to absorb the Captain. And, when Mister Scott made some joke at the expense of the “pen pushers” back at Command, the Captain smiled. The entire bridge crew noticed; the wave of relief washed behind your station and warmed your shoulders.
But when you turned to face him the smile had gone. You do not think it is because you turned that he stopped smiling.
Doctor McCoy has called you to Sickbay. You have heard he has made a remarkable recovery and you are pleased to see he is out of bed and in his office when you arrive. On his desk in front of him stands some orange liquid in a tall glass which he raises in mock salute at your entrance.
“Good evening, Mister Spock. Glad you could join me.”
In answer you raise an eyebrow.
He smiles. “Don’t worry, I’m off the hard stuff. This is some revolting concoction of Chapel’s. She claims it’s full of vitamins and healing enzymes. Tastes like it too.”
“You would do well to listen to your head nurse, Doctor.”
“You’ll get no argument from me there. The woman’s a genius.” He takes a gulp and makes a face. “Just as long as she stays on the customer side of my bar. She makes a terrible cocktail.”
You surmise the doctor has not called you to Sickbay to discuss beverages. But you know from long experience that some conversational preamble is expected before McCoy will reveal his objective so you sit at the other side of his desk.
“May I ask how your recovery is progressing?”
“Oh never felt better. I have the kidneys of a newborn babe. Thank god for nurses with degrees in biochem.” He gives a wry grin. “Some physician I am — can’t even diagnose my own symptoms. Put it all down to… well, you know.”
You do know. Unfortunately your own symptoms cannot be attributed to an overdose of cordrazine. You are careful, however, to suppress any signs of fatigue in front of the doctor.
The doctor drains his glass and shudders. “So, Spock, I have a patient I’d like your advice on.”
This is unexpected. The doctor is not in the habit of consulting you on medical matters.
“I am happy to offer my assistance — although, as you know, medical science is not my field.”
“Yeah well, I’m not so sure this is medical. Symptoms are persistent headaches, an inability to sleep, withdrawal from interaction with other members of the crew, and weight loss.”
You lean forward. This sounds like a description of someone you both know well. Someone who just shared a turbolift with you and who, in answer to your invitation to join you for a game of chess, stared at the wall and replied, “Not tonight, Spock. I have a pile of comms from Command to get through.” Someone who has stopped shouting in his sleep because, you suspect, he remains conscious for much of the night.
You decide to go along with the doctor’s game.
“I believe those symptoms may manifest themselves in humans who have undergone some emotional trauma. Have you been able to discuss possible causes with the patient?”
“No, I haven’t. I’d say he’s blaming himself for something beyond his control — he’s got guilt written all over him. But he shows a marked reluctance to discuss anything personal. In fact, I’d say he’s in denial about the whole thing. Won’t admit he has a problem.”
You nod slowly. “And is this affecting the performance of his duties?”
“Not so’s you’d notice. But he’s stretched pretty thin. It’s my job to step in before he reaches breaking point. Any suggestions, Spock.”
You pretend to consider but in truth the answer is easily apparent. This is the conversation you had hoped to have before the doctor fell ill.
“You are the ship’s chief medical officer. That means in certain situations you out-rank anyone on board. I would suggest you use your medical authority. Demand he comes to sickbay for a full psychological profile.”
You know you are allowing your tone to become urgent — your concern for the Captain to show — but the doctor must recognise the importance of this matter. “It would be counter-productive to delay. I believe that after a traumatic experience it can help to talk things through with a third party, someone who is less close to the trauma.” You frown. You seem to have heard these words before. “I mean someone who is trained to counsel and support.”
“Yeah, I think you may be right, Spock.” The doctor scribbles a note on his padd and turns it over on the desk. “Oh, there’s one more thing. This crew-member, he’s not human. Well, not fully human anyway.” He leans forward and watches warily for your reaction.
You have walked into a trap. You stand abruptly and you are suddenly furious to find yourself shaking — with rage or fatigue — you are not sure.
“Doctor McCoy, I fail to understand why you would play these games when the Captain needs…”
“Oh would you just forget the Captain for five minutes, Spock? He’s got his own problems and he’s working through them the way Jim Kirk always works through his stuff — alone. God knows he’s had enough practice. But right now it’s this ship’s first officer I’m worried about.” His voice is weary. “Spock, you can’t go on like this.”
You look down at your fingers on the desk. They are white with the pressure you are exerting downwards. You fear if you do not leave now you will break something. You fear you would like to break something.
“I do not believe you have evidence to support your statement. I am performing my duties to the satisfaction of the Captain. I have not missed a single shift in all my years of service on board the Enterprise and I –”
The doctor stands and faces you with a glare. “That’s enough. I know, Spock. I saw. The mind meld, remember?” His words sap the last of your energy and you find yourself sitting, legs suddenly unable to hold your weight. “Yes, I know why you’re so tied in knots. But it’s no good me explaining. You need to tell someone about it. Put it into words.”
“And who would you suggest I discuss this with, doctor?” Your words are ice, even as you burn. “With you? Forgive me, but I do not believe you qualify as a disinterested party in this matter.”
“No, Spock. I don’t think that would be wise. But I do have someone in mind. She’s qualified and, given what she already knew, I’ve now made sure she’s fully briefed.”
And you know before you look up, before you see the silhouette in the doorway, you know who it is before you hear her voice.
“Hello, Spock. Can I help?”