Title: "Perspectives" (1/6)
Summary: "I'm telling you, Jim, this lovely paradise of yours is a death trap waiting to happen." Doctor Leonard McCoy usually loves to be right. This time, he wasn't prepared when he was. Perspective is everything, and it usually changes when you're not ready for it, but when you need it most.
Canon: ST:XI, strongly influenced by TOS.
Characters: McCoy, Kirk, Spock, with ensemble appearances by Sulu, Uhura, a couple of random Ensigns, and most of the medical staff.
Notes: My immense thanks to my beta reader, classics_geek , and my test-reader, red_rahl . You guys are awesome!
This fic is meant to be a bit like a TOS-style episode, and to read like an episode. It's set in the ST:XI universe, but a couple of years into the Enterprise's mission.
Also, this fic has undergone some serious edits. I wasn't happy with the way it turned out originally, and it felt a bit forced. So, it's not so "shippy" now (sorry), but it feels right.
Disclaimer: Gene Roddenberry is God, Paramount Pictures is Pope, and this is blasphemy. Enjoy!
McCoy cringed as the familiar jolt shot up his spine – the jolt he always got whenever Kirk snuck into his office and hollered at him without so much as a goddamn knock. Sickbay had been peaceful all morning, with the twitters and beeps of equipment weaving the usual chorus of a day going smoothly. Kirk was a master of disruption. Of course, McCoy wouldn’t trade that for the world, but he’d never admit that to Kirk.
Without looking up from his scanner, McCoy grumbled, “Not now, Jim. I’m tracking the mutation rate of this sample of Tellarite intestinal flu, and I can’t –”
“The flu, the plague, flesh-eating bacteria, erectile dysfunction – always some delightful disease keeping you from the fun parts of space exploration.” Kirk stuck his face directly between the scanner and the containment unit holding the virus sample. "We've just arrived at Cassia VI."
"And I've just arrived at a critical juncture in this experiment." He tried to nudge Kirk out of the way so he could get a clear read with his scanner, but Kirk ducked out of reach and then placed himself solidly between McCoy and the containment unit.
“Jim, I’m trying to work here!” He tilted his head up and craned his neck, trying to emphasize that Kirk was physically getting between him and his experiment. “I’m just about to start phase three of this mutation series.”
“I’ll commend you for your dedication to duty in your next performance review.” He took a quick glance over his shoulder at the containment unit. “You can’t tell me there are more interesting things in that glorified petri dish than there are on the planet below.”
McCoy glowered at Kirk as harshly as he could, which only made the Captain grin. Same as always. With a growl that he’d meant as a sigh, McCoy lowered the scanner. “Of course there are more interesting things down there, and I’m sure most of them are deadly. Bacteria that would dissolve your brain stem, viruses that could cause your skeleton to decalcify, protozoan species that would colonize every exposed mucous membrane on your body, turning them into a gelatinous goo –”
“All the more exciting, right? New planet, never been colonized, no known sentient species…” Kirk hopped up and sat on the table. “Which is exactly why you’re coming on this away mission.”
“Damn it Jim, I have work to do!” His fingers clenched just a bit tighter around the scanner probe, itching to get back to work. “I’m here for medical research, and so that when space cowboys like you get exposed to the germs, carnivorous creatures, and murderous aliens that you seem to like so much, someone sane is around to patch you up again.”
“Which is why it’s a great idea to bring you along,” Kirk said with a wink, then leaned closer. “That way, when I get ripped to shreds by whatever carnivorous beast is waiting for us on the surface, you’ll be right there to put me back together.” He slid off the table and stood toe to toe with McCoy, still grinning the carefree smirk that always made McCoy feel a bit twitchy.
“Captain,” he began, feeling the need to try formality and a different approach, “maybe another member of my medical staff should get some away-mission experience. You need more than one mission-trained doctor on-board.”
Either Kirk missed the hint or he ignored it – probably the latter. “You didn’t even read the mission assignment from Starfleet Headquarters, did you?”
Guilt made his ears burn just a bit. Formality be damned. “I’m sorry, Jim, I was busy with this report. I even started my shift three hours early to make some progress before things got busy for the day.”
Kirk gave a sympathetic nod, but not sympathetic enough to concede. “Well, let me summarize it for you. Starfleet has assigned us to survey Cassia VI for habitability. Because it’s so close to the Andorian-Deltan trade corridor and to the new Vulcan homeworld, the Federation wants to establish an outpost here. They require the report of a senior medical officer.” He paused. “They requested you by name.”
"Nice to be popular," he said acerbically. Feeling hope slipping from him, he gave one last try, knowing that it would make no difference anyway. “I’ve been trying to finish this report for months so I can send it back to Starfleet Medical.” It sounded petulant even to his own ears.
Kirk tipped his head casually. “Then another day won’t make a difference.” He turned towards the door, calling back over his shoulder, “Transporter room in ten minutes.”
McCoy felt the back of his neck bristle. “Shuttle bay."
McCoy stared at the doorway for almost half a minute after it slid shut behind the Captain, then looked down at his containment unit, feeling his shoulders slump as his head full of steam deflated. Yes, there was a whole planet below; new dangers, new mysteries. He turned to his computer, and with a few light taps, he’d pulled up a picture of the planet below, showing swirls of clouds over a green, blue, and purple surface. The tiny virus culture in his lab seemed so insignificant. Already two years on this mission, and there was always something new to see.
He hated to admit it, but he was beginning to enjoy space exploration.
McCoy grabbed his emergency kit and began assembling vials of every antibiotic and antiviral treatment he had, as well as testing equipment and sensors. Just because he was looking forward to the away mission didn’t mean he was about to go down into a disease-infested mystery planet unprepared.
And just because he was starting to enjoy space exploration didn’t mean he was about to tell Jim.
Eight minutes later, clutching an overstuffed medical kit like a security blanket, McCoy walked into the transporter room to find Spock briefing the away team with his usual enthusiasm.
“The planet is well within class-M specifications,” Spock recited, as if reading from an invisible datapad. He paced back and forth in front of the transporter pad, hands folded behind his back. “Significant atmospheric components include 71.4% nitrogen, 24.7% oxygen, 2.9% argon, 0.4% helium, and localized concentrations of methane around numerous surface-level vents –”
“Great. Methane," McCoy interrupted as he brushed past Spock on the way to the transporter pad. "Do you people have any idea how deadly methane-metabolizing bacteria can be when present above ground level?” He didn’t have to look up to know that Spock was giving him the One-Eyebrow Glare. He flipped open his kit, found the vial of broad-spectrum antibiotics effective against the most common methanotrophs and loaded it in a hypospray… just in case.
The pacing resumed and Spock’s voice continued. “Temperature at the site is currently 23.8 degrees centigrade, and is expected to climb no more than three degrees during the away mission. Gravitational forces read at 0.93. Minimal seismic activity. Terrain is moderately hilly, and scans show patches of thick vegetation.”
“Are there any animals down there?” asked an Ensign on the back of the transporter pad. She was a young human female in a blue science uniform, and McCoy was slightly annoyed with himself to find that he couldn’t recognize her.
“Sensors have detected small mammal-like creatures, Ensign Ross,” Spock replied neutrally, “but nothing that should be of any significant concern.”
“Cats,” Kirk said cheerfully as he sauntered into the transporter room and clapped Spock on the shoulder.
Spock turned his head. “Captain… cats?”
Kirk shrugged. “Sure. Small, mammal-like creatures, about the size of cats. Maybe we’ll find you a pet while we’re down there, Spock.”
“Bringing a small creature of unknown habits and nutritional requirements on board a starship would be illogical, Captain.”
"I'm with the Vulcan on this one, Jim," McCoy interjected. Spock raised an inquisitive eyebrow, and McCoy muttered sideways, "Don't let it go to your head."
“Fine," Kirk said. "Spock, we’ll get you a hamster next time we visit Earth.”
Spock seemed ready to argue again, but appeared to reconsider at the last second. With a nod, he climbed onto the transporter pad.
Kirk clapped his hands together. “Okay. Just a quick recap - standard mission today. We’ve been assigned to determine whether this place will make a good outpost. Preliminary surveys seem to indicate that this region we've selected for our survey site has good weather, and no signs of hostile life forms, so this should be pleasant. Spock, focus on geological surveys. Ensign Ross, water and atmospheric samples. Bones, the usual. Ensign Horvat, botanical samples. We anticipate two to three hours on the surface. Any questions?”
McCoy narrowly kept himself from offering the sarcastic suggestion of level-3 containment suits as a precaution. Somehow, from the look Kirk gave him, he figured the man already knew what he was thinking.
Kirk climbed onto the transporter pad. “Scotty, if you would?”
"Aye, Captain," Scotty replied, hands moving quickly over the control panel. "Entering coordinates... er, Captain?"
"If yeh do find cats down there, sir, please don't ask me t’ beam them up."
If anything, Kirk looked bemused. "I wasn't planning on it, Scotty, but why not?
"Do yeh remember the Caitians, sir?"
"Well, after we transported the Caitian ambassador, it took me three weeks to get the transporter to stop spitting out fur."
Kirk opened his mouth in a silent, "Ah," then said aloud, "Energize."
McCoy gritted his teeth and tried to shut his eyes, but the beam took him before he could get them closed. The transporter room dissolved in a swirl of light and was replaced by a clearing in the middle of a thick semi-tropical forest. The plants were an odd mix of greens and reds, and the sky was tinted a light shade of purple. McCoy wrinkled up his nose and looked around. The air was thick and moist, and… so was something he'd stepped in. "Jim, I think we've found our first biohazard," he said, lifting his foot.
Kirk turned around, clearly holding back a good laugh. "You're not the type of person who likes animals, are you?"
"I'm allergic," he grumbled, wiping his boot on a tuft of grass-like plants.
"Surely you can fix that."
"Who said I wanted to?" Without another word, he snapped on a pair of lab gloves, activated his tricorder, and flipped open his sampling kit. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the other team members beginning their tasks, wandering off towards the edges of the clearing with their tricorders beeping. He felt a quick twinge of worry, wishing that he could have convinced Kirk to order the use of more protective gear, but he wrote it off as the paranoia of a back-country doctor and refocused on his own work.
The tricorder slowly began producing readouts. Standard forms of bacteria were present, but nothing terribly alarming, although one odd variation on what looked like a gram-negative-type strain would need further testing. As he pulled out some sample vials, he overheard the others members of the away team as they began reporting preliminary results to the Captain. Ross was the closest to him.
"What've you got, Ross?"
"So far, Captain, it looks pretty promising. The air pressure is almost ideal, maybe a little bit low, but the higher oxygen percentage should accommodate that. There are some odd organic compounds in the air, possibly biochemical signals between organisms. I'll do further testing up in the lab."
"Sounds good. And water sources?"
"There's a small stream about 230 meters that way, so I'm going to go collect samples from there."
"Go ahead. Contact us if you decide to explore further."
"Yes sir. It should take less than an hour."
Bones looked up from his sample swabs and watched as Ensign Ross disappeared into the forest. The blue of her science uniform was almost immediately obscured by the thick foliage, and McCoy squashed one last thought of protective gear and the dangers that the forest might be hiding. He looked back down, sealed his last test swipe from this location, and adjusted his tricorder to scan for viruses.
Spock and Horvat were further across the clearing, so he barely heard them as Kirk checked in before sending each of them off for more detailed surveys. Every so often, though, McCoy snuck a sideways glance up at the Captain. James Kirk was in his element in three types of scenarios: anything involving the unknown, danger, or sex. Here, there was only the unknown, but that was enough for the Captain to soak up the excitement that drove him. The man would dive head-first into anything without checking the water’s depth… or even making sure that it was actually water in the pool. It made him spectacular, McCoy knew, but it also meant that someday, his luck would run out.
Sure, McCoy wanted to be back in his lab, but the idea of Jim wandering around on a planet full of unknown dangers without him… well, that just wouldn’t do.
Footsteps rustled in the grass as Kirk walked back across the clearing and crouched down next to McCoy. "So, find anything deadly yet, Bones? Any bacteria that will dissolve my brain stem?"
"Nothing so interesting, Jim, but we'll know more after I run some cultures up in the lab." He held up a vial containing a sample, examining it with mock-seriousness. "Do you have any spare brain tissue to test that hypothesis?"
"Nope. I left it behind on our last shore leave. How many Andorian Ales did we drink?"
McCoy gave a short laugh. "We drank two more than you drank. I lost count of that number at eight."
Kirk nodded, looking vaguely wistful, which struck McCoy as odd.
"Oh. Just thinking it was a good shore leave."
McCoy nodded warily. “It was.”
“Those two women… I don’t even remember what species they were… you need to relax a bit more, Bones.”
“Your definition of ‘relaxing’ is synonymous with xenogynecology.”
“And as you so often remind us, you’re a doctor. What’s wrong with playing doctor when you’re off-duty?”
“I’m too busy playing doctor for you to apply it anywhere else.”
A look of perfectly ripened amusement burst across Jim’s face. “Well, that would explain –”
“JIM.” McCoy felt the hairs on his neck bristle. "I need to set up a surface radiation monitor, and then see if I can find any multicellular organisms to sample directly for bacterial and viral infection."
Kirk shook his head. "A gorgeous new planet, and all you can think of is germs."
"That's because space is nothing but a giant breeding ground for germs. I'm telling you, Jim, this lovely paradise of yours is a death trap waiting to happen."
"And you know you love it." Kirk stood, stretched, and yawned. "The sun is shining, the weather is great. I almost feel like stretching out on the grass and taking a nap."
McCoy snorted. "Until we discover unusually high levels of solar radiation and you fry to a crisp while sunbathing.”
"You're a ray of sunshine, Bones. I'm going to explore the woods. Don't die of boredom while I'm gone."
"Don't die of anything while you're gone. I don't have time to file another report on top of the one for the Tellarite flu." McCoy looked up at Kirk sideways.
"Thanks, Bones." Kirk's tone was light, but his face was hard to read. Then he grinned, turned, and sauntered off.
McCoy shook his head and slid the vial into a storage compartment in his kit before taking another peek at Kirk, who was picking his way through the foliage at the edge of the clearing. A moment’s feeling of absence, that Kirk shouldn’t be walking away just then, was quickly squashed. The Captain was doing what he did best: charging into a new situation high on excitement, curiosity, and adventure. If he didn’t, it wouldn’t be Kirk. McCoy had come to appreciate that about Jim, even if he did his best to pretend otherwise.
Refocusing on his work, McCoy pulled out the radiation monitor, flipped it open, and set it up on its tripod. The unit auto-adjusted for the solar sensors to read maximum radiation from the planet's sun, while the air vents opened and began taking counts of atmospheric isotopes. The read would last an hour, which gave him adequate time to look around for animals. Out of nowhere, a mental image flashed across his thoughts: Spock, emerging from the woods, carrying a tabby cat, and proclaiming that the feline's name was Jim and that nobody would be permitted to run tests on the creature. McCoy shook his head and shuddered. Sometimes, he wondered about himself.
Kirk was right about one thing. The weather was pleasant. Relaxing. Giving in to a moment of enjoyment when nobody was looking, he took a deep breath. A moment later, a yawn. Yes, surprisingly pleasant. Not that he was about to admit that to Jim.
There were many things that he wasn’t about to admit to Jim.
He was almost through labelling his first set of samples when his communicator beeped.
"Horvat to McCoy."
He flipped the device open. "McCoy here."
"Doctor… I've found something… odd."
"Odd?” McCoy rolled his eyes – damn new Ensigns. “How about a bit more detail, Ensign?"
"It's a plant I picked. Smells nice. I… feel a bit odd. My hand's numb. I… uh… wanted your opinion."
Something in Horvat's voice made McCoy's stomach jump. "Where are you?"
"In the woods."
"I… uh… fifty… sixty meters…"
In one swift motion, McCoy slammed his kit shut, jumped to his feet, and began running towards the edge of the clearing where Horvat had entered the forest. To his left, he caught a flash of yellow-gold. "JIM!"
"Bones? What's –"
"It's Horvat! This way!"
"Oh shit." Kirk fell in step behind McCoy, ducking under vines and climbing over fallen logs.
"Enterprise to Kirk." Uhura's voice sounded over the communicator.
"Captain, readings indicate that Ensign Horvat may be injured. His vitals are –"
"We know. Moving to intercept. Stand by."
"Aye, Captain. Enterprise standing by."
"Where is he?" Kirk called to McCoy.
"Said he was fifty or sixty meters into the forest," McCoy called back over his shoulder, already out of breath. "Should be close. Do you see him?"
"No. Maybe we should split up and circle –"
"Good idea. Go left. I'll go right." McCoy started towards the right, then yelled back to Kirk. "And Jim – don't touch anything!"
The Captain waved a brief acknowledgement, intent on finding his crew member. Taking a deep breath, McCoy pushed ahead. As he walked he flipped open his communicator. "McCoy to Spock and Ross. Whatever you do, don't touch any plants. We might have a situation. I'll tell you more when we know more."
Two short affirmative replies came back over the comm, which was good enough. They had to find Horvat. He shouldn't be far… just a few more meters…
"BONES! HE'S HERE!"
McCoy snapped around, just barely able to see Kirk's shirt through the trees. It felt like he crossed the distance instantaneously. He was suddenly crouching down next to Horvat, flipping his kit open, and scanning Horvat's prone form with the medical tricorder. "Ensign Horvat? Horvat! Talk to me."
"Doctor McCoy?" Horvat opened his eyes… and smiled. The smile looked off, almost like the man was drunk, or like his mouth wasn't working right. "Nice ta see ya," he slurred. "You look grumpy."
The tricorder was displaying an alarming set of vitals. "Blood pressure is down, heart rate is slow and irregular, neural response is slow. Paralysis. We need to stabilize his heart rate." McCoy pulled out a hypospray, loaded a dose of vasopressin, and pressed it against Horvat's neck.
"Ow… that wasn't nice. Hmm… kinda nice here. Smells good." Horvat's eyes fluttered and closed.
"What's wrong with him, Bones?" Kirk was clearly trying to keep enough distance to let McCoy work, but his nervous energy was still a distraction.
"I'm working on it, Jim!" He pulled out the cardiac stimulators and positioned them on Horvat's chest, then adjusted the tricorder to scan for poisons and toxins. "There's a neurotoxin in his bloodstream, acting like a sedative and paralytic. Complex organic compound… shit!"
"His heart just stopped!"
The world dissolved around him. Damn the world – it was irrelevant, because there was a man down, and all he had was his goddamned med kit. McCoy's hands flew over the cardiac stimulators and calibrated the hypospray of epinephrine with higher and higher doses as life and time slipped away. Kirk was hovering too close, babbling something about sickbay and Scotty and the Enterprise.
McCoy heard himself snap, “Shut up, Jim!” and Kirk backed off, still radiating nervous energy. McCoy thought of sickbay, miles above in orbit with the best staff and equipment in Starfleet, but it was even more dangerous to let them transport Horvat back to Enterprise in this condition.
Seconds stretched into a blur of hands and tricorders and vital signs until everything finally stopped.
McCoy sat back on his heels, feeling like he’d just lived through a shuttle crash, and now he was sitting in the silence, observing the wreckage as if from a distance. His grip on the tricorder loosened, as if in mimicry of Horvat, whose features were slack and strangely peaceful.
“He’s dead, Jim,” McCoy answered flatly as he went through the automatic motion of snapping the medical probe back in its slot on the side of his tricorder. The action felt like a declaration of finality. “I’m sorry.”
McCoy raised his head slowly – damn he was tired – to see Kirk’s face pinched in anger and pain, even though the Captain was clearly trying to hide it. He’d watched Kirk lose crewmembers before, but it was always the same, and it never got easier. This mission wasn’t even supposed to be dangerous. For a moment, Jim looked like he was going to lash out, but then the Captain’s mask of level-headed leadership fell back into place.
Looking as tired as McCoy felt, Kirk dropped to one knee beside Horvat's body. "He was only assigned to the Enterprise two months ago. Fresh out of the Academy."
McCoy nodded, taking a slow breath, trying to refocus himself. "We need to get back to the ship. Analyze the samples in a lab. Do an autopsy. So much for an outpost paradise." He pulled out his communicator. "McCoy to Enterprise."
"Enterprise here. Go ahead."
"Inform sickbay to prepare an autopsy ward for one victim. We've lost Horvat. We'll be ready to beam up shortly. Stand by."
Uhura's voice was tight. "Understood, sir. Enterprise standing by."
McCoy began repacking equipment and supplies in his kit.
Without looking up from Horvat, Kirk said softly, "Yeah… so much for paradise. We should get out of here as soon as possible." He flipped open his own communicator. "Kirk to Spock. We need assistance. We're approximately sixty-five meters northwest of the clearing."
McCoy called out, "And don't touch anything."
"Understood. I am on my way. Spock out."
"Kirk to Ross."
"Contact the Enterprise and request immediate beam-out from your current location."
"Yes, sir." Ross sounded confused, but they’d fill her in later. Right now, it didn’t matter.
With a heavy sigh, McCoy turned back to Kirk… who was holding something small and pink in his hand and examining it curiously. "Bones… this flower was in Horvat's hand. Do you think –"
"FUCK, JIM! DROP IT!"
Realization dawned on Kirk's face, followed immediately by horror. He jumped to his feet; the crushed flower tumbled to the ground and lay there, looking far too innocent.
A second later, McCoy was on his feet, cursing loudly as he pulled out his canteen. "Damn it, Jim! What part of 'don't touch anything' did you miss? Hold out your hands."
Kirk held out his shaking hands, not saying a word as McCoy dumped his whole canteen of water over them.
"We've got to get you back to the Enterprise," McCoy said flatly, trying to ignore the fear that had already turned his stomach into a knot.
There was the sound of rustling foliage and cracking sticks as Spock broke into the clearing. "Captain, Doctor, I apologize for the delay, but –" Spock stopped cold. "What has happened to Ensign Horvat?"
McCoy glared at him. "He's dead, you heartless, green-blooded –"
McCoy looked from Spock to Kirk and back to Spock again. "Neurotoxin. Paralytic. We think it came from that flower."
"What do you know about the flower?"
"I'm a doctor, not a botanist!" he snarled. "We had a botanist, but he can't really help us now, can he?"
Spock gave a slight frown.
McCoy exhaled sharply. "From the time Horvat contacted me to the time of death, it was less than ten minutes. The flower was in his hand. He probably also smelled it, so exposure might be a combination of inhalation and absorption." He took a deep breath. "And then Jim picked it up."
McCoy thought he actually saw a flash of panic on Spock's face before the Vulcan's expression hardened. "Then we must act quickly." From a small kit, Spock pulled out a set of tweezers, plucked the flower from the ground, and swiftly enclosed it in a sample vial.
"Bones, do you smell that?"
McCoy looked at Kirk; the knot in his stomach turned to ice. "Smell what?"
The Captain had an oddly relaxed look on his face, and was sniffing the air. "It's faint… just a bit sweet…"
"Oh shit! Spock! Grab Horvat's sample kit. We need to go now." McCoy reached down and picked up his own medkit and communicator. "Enterprise, four to beam up, directly to sickbay."
The glow of the transporter beam hadn't even faded away fully when Kirk stumbled. McCoy barely managed to catch him. "Spock, help me get him on the table. Don't touch his hands. NURSE! We've got a toxin exposure. Paralytic effect. Put some gloves on – we don't need another patient. Where are the medics? You there – bring Ensign Horvat to the other ward. Contact Doctor M’Benga and tell him we need an autopsy performed. He’s already here? Then tell him to get on it!"
McCoy ran a tricorder over Kirk while Nurse Chapel activated the biobed sensors. "Decontaminate his hands so that he doesn't absorb more of the toxin. Don't get any of it on yourself."
"Yes, Doctor," she said, and hurried off to get the decon kit.
Lying on the table, Kirk seemed to be stuck somewhere between fear and embarrassment. "I… I didn't mean to touch it. It was just in Horvat's hand… I didn't think."
"Well, that’s what’s so charming about you, Jim. You never think. It’s a wonder you’re still alive.”
“Thanks to you,” Kirk mumbled. “Sorry.”
“You can apologize after I save your life," McCoy bit out. He blinked a couple of times. He must have been out in the sun too long because he felt tired, but there wasn't time for that now. "Keep talking. Symptoms. What are you feeling?"
Kirk looked off to the side, not making eye contact. "Like the first two glasses of Andorian Ale, but not so much fun. There's this smell… a bit like hot sugar, but really faint." His eyes went wide. "My hand is numb."
He held up his hand and slowly pressed his thumb against each of his other fingers. "I can move it… a little… but I can't feel it."
Spock appeared by the side of the table. "I've set the plant sample in one of the analyzers. We should know more about the neurotoxin shortly. How is he?"
McCoy grimaced. "He's got a lot less of the toxin in his bloodstream than Horvat got, but we don't know what the lethal dose is. We need to neutralize it or get it out of his system."
"Guys, I'm right here, ya know."
McCoy looked down. "Sorry, Jim. I'm just… sorry.” He reached under the table and grabbed a pair of medic’s scissors. “Here… don't complain, but if you follow the same course that Horvat did, we've got to be ready." A moment later, Kirk’s shirt was gone. McCoy pretended not to be nervous as he pulled out the set of cardiac stimulators and attached them to Kirk's chest. "They'll kick in if your heart starts to go out of rhythm."
"That’s so reassuring,” Kirk mumbled. “Gee, Bones, the way you like to torture me the rest of the time, I'd think you'd enjoy some of this."
A lump started to form in McCoy's throat, but he swallowed past it and croaked out, "I'm not a sadist."
Kirk's lips pulled into an amused half-smile. "I'd argue that. But I won’t complain."
For a moment, Kirk looked very thoughtful for a man who might be dying, but the moment was interrupted by Nurse Chapel. "I'm ready to decontaminate his hands, Doctor."
"Then get to it," he said, without malice. He was too nervous and too exhausted to think about anything more than necessary.
“Doctor,” Spock interrupted, “perhaps I should begin research on the toxin in my own laboratory. I assume that you would find extra personnel to be a hindrance if the Captain were to –"
"Stop! You insensitive, pointy-eared automaton!" McCoy hissed. "The Captain is right there, and he –"
"Bones," Kirk barked, craning his neck around Nurse Chapel, "shut up. I can't move my hand anymore, and the last thing I need is you two arguing. Besides, I want Spock here, if you can handle that."
A flash of shame burned his cheeks. "I'm sorry, Jim." McCoy turned back to Spock with his jaw clenched. "Here," he snapped, glowering as he picked up a medical tricorder and slapped it into Spock's hand. "Go help M’Benga. Scan for nerve receptor sites vulnerable to that toxin, and biochemical pathways that it disrupts. And see if you can find out if he inhaled any of it. You're not a doctor, but you're the brightest sonofabitch left on this ship after me."
“I assume that was meant to be a compliment,” Spock said with a curt nod, then went to join Doctor M’Benga.
McCoy watched him go and realized that he wanted Spock there, too. There was no time to think on that, however, and he hurried back over to Kirk.
"How's the decon going?"
"Not badly," Nurse Chapel began, "but look at this." She held out a scanner over Kirk's hand, showing a magnified view of the surface. Small hair-like thorns studded the skin.
McCoy grabbed the scanner and punched a few buttons, pulling up a more detailed readout. "Jim, that flower had thorns. They're sticking out all over your hand. You never felt them?"
"No… not at all." He was looking tired, but still awake.
"The toxin probably acted immediately as an anaesthetic." McCoy hit a few more buttons. Frowned. "The toxin was delivered through the thorns, but… they have an unusual cellular structure. This is myosin, not cellulose. Spock! Are you getting this?"
"Indeed," Spock's voice calmly replied. "They have already found them on Ensign Horvat's hand. These fibers are highly complex. Fascinating. I have a hypothesis, but it will require another away mission for verification."
"Not now! What about the toxin? What have they found?"
"Two separate toxins, Doctor," Spock replied as he walked back from the other ward, holding out his tricorder.
"What?!?" McCoy met Spock halfway and grabbed instrument, scanning quickly through the readouts.
"As you can see, one toxin was delivered through the lungs, and the other through the thorns in the flower."
"Two toxins. That's one vicious flower."
"No, Doctor." Spock tilted his head towards the unit analyzing the plant specimen. "The flower only contains the paralytic toxin in the thorns. The other appears to be the sedative, but I do not know the source of… wait." He turned the tricorder towards McCoy.
"Hey! I'm not the patient –"
"Perhaps you should re-evaluate that statement, Doctor. The secondary toxin is present in your lungs."
Spock turned the tricorder on himself. "And in mine as well. It must have been present in the air around the site." He looked up. "We should inform Ensign Ross –"
"Doctor!" The sick bay doors had just opened, and Scotty had come in, half-guiding, half-supporting the weight of Ensign Ross. "I know yer busy, but I think yeh might want to take a look at 'er. She stumbled off the transporter pad, yawning. Almost fell over."
"I'm fine, Mr. Scott. I just need a nap," she protested, but Spock had already scanned her.
"She has the sedative toxin in her lungs, Doctor. More than either of us. No trace of the paralytic."
"Toxin?” Ross’s eyes widened. “What? What's going on – HORVAT! What happened to –"
McCoy could barely keep up with everything going on, and he knew he was racing the clock at this point. He glanced back over at Kirk, who was looking back at him with a steady gaze. Kirk nodded, which was all the go-ahead McCoy needed. “Ross, lie down on that table.”
He was scanning Ross, but thinking about Jim. However this second toxin was functioning, it worked like any other sedative. It didn’t seem worrisome. He gave Ross a quick dose of standard epinephrine and instructions to lie down while the sedative wore off, and then left her with a medic while he raced over to repeat the treatment on Kirk. “How are you feeling, Jim?”
“Like I’m half the man I used to be.”
McCoy was afraid to ask, but he did anyway. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Kirk sighed. “It means about half of my body has gone numb.
“Great. That makes it harder to torment you, ya know.”
“Makes it harder to have sex.”
McCoy tried to smile as he recalibrated the scanner, trying to track the progress of the toxin. “The irrepressible James Tiberius Kirk. We’ll make sure you have sex again.”
“You promise me, Bones.” Even though he was still trying to sound jovial, the facade had slipped. McCoy knew him well enough to understand what he was really asking; Jim's eyes were begging for reassurance.
In a heartbeat, McCoy caught himself. For the first time since he’d known Kirk, he couldn’t make that promise. He pressed his lips together, but didn’t answer. Couldn't answer. After a moment, but without looking away from Kirk, he said, “Spock, have they turned up anything useful yet?”
“Affirmative, Doctor, but I am not certain that you will be pleased.”
“Give it to me straight,” he said, feeling like he was speaking for himself and Jim.
“We have isolated the biochemical pathways being targeted by the toxin,” Spock said as he walked over and handed the tricorder to McCoy. “However, there are no known treatments that will reverse the effects.”
“Then we’ll create a treatment,” McCoy snapped, reading the display quickly. “It’s a basic target-receptor bond between the toxin and the cells. We can reverse that!”
The corner of Spock’s mouth twitched. “Indeed. However, the amount of time required to synthesize such an antidote by chemically engineering a compound backwards from the target is typically over eighteen hours. The blockage is at the individual nerve endings; Doctor M’Benga has already confirmed that we would be unable to override the nervous system and stimulate it through the brain and brain stem. Using direct electrical stimulation on muscle groups would also be ineffective.”
McCoy felt his stomach fall to his feet. Slowly, he looked down at Kirk, who was looking oddly introspective.
“Well Bones, you did say the planet was a death trap. I know you like to be right.” He gave a weak laugh.
“Jim, listen –”
“Alien entities, space battles, suicide rescue missions, and it came down to a flower. A damn pink flower!”
“Jim, would you be quiet for a second!” It wasn’t a question. “I can keep you alive until we synthesize an antidote, but it’s an old-fashioned technique. It was used for life support during transplants, and even then... we haven’t needed to use it in years.”
“Well, you said you were an old country doctor, so it should be right up your alley. I trust you.”
McCoy gritted his teeth. “I haven’t told you what I’m going to do to you yet.”
For a long moment, McCoy looked down at Jim, unwilling to make a move yet. Then, he saw the muscles under Jim’s shirt twitch; the cardiac stimulators had kicked in, and McCoy knew they wouldn’t last long. “Okay.”
In a split second, McCoy forced himself into doctor-mode. Not a colleague, not a friend. Otherwise, he knew he’d never be able to do this. He’d seen Jim through dozens of injuries and emergencies. Patching up phaser blasts, mending broken bones, jabbing him with a hypospray harder than necessary just to hear him yelp… that was easy. This was different. He turned his back to the bed. “Spock, tell M’Benga to continue with the autopsy; we need that information. I’ll need your help here. Nurse Chapel, help me prep for surgery. We’ll need some unusual equipment. We’re going to completely bypass his cardiovascular and respiratory systems.”
A few quick instructions to Spock and Nurse Chapel, and they both hurried off. McCoy took the moment alone and turned back to Kirk.
“Am I going to be awake for this?”
McCoy shook his head. “You wouldn’t want to be, Jim.”
“Well, the bright side is that you wouldn’t need any anaesthetic, even if I was awake.”
“Please, Jim, I know.” He sighed. “I don’t know whether to feel better or to be thoroughly pissed at you for sounding so casual about this.”
“Be pissed at me. You look adorable when you’re angry. I think it’s that brooding, heavy eyebrow thing.” He tried to smile. Then he tried to frown. After pressing his lips together, he closed his eyes. “I’m sure this will make plenty of people happy, but my mouth is going numb.”
McCoy tried to smile at the joke, but he knew it looked more like a pained grimace. He couldn't imagine the Enterprise without Kirk's voice. He couldn't imagine anything without Jim. He didn't want to think that he might be losing the last person he had who felt like family, but that unknown was hanging over them both, and he knew it. He could tell that Jim knew it. For an instant, he wondered if he should… and realized he didn't care anymore. Knowing he had seconds until the others returned, he reached over and gently touched his finger to Jim’s lips, telling him “hush” without saying a word. He expected confusion, but there was none. Just a quiet acceptance.
Cradling one hand against Jim’s cheek, McCoy tilted his head and pressed the hypospray against his neck. Jim blinked a few times, then his eyes fell shut.
Footsteps approached rapidly behind him. “Are we ready to proceed?”
“Yes, Spock.” He activated the sterile field generators, then held out his hand. “Nurse, the laser scalpel, please.”
It wasn’t Jim he was cutting. It couldn’t be. It was a simulation in medical school. It was a faceless crewman he’d never seen before. It was a bad dream. It just wasn’t Jim.
He explained the procedure as he worked, asking for pieces of equipment and updates on vital signs, but he never looked up. Spock never said a word.
Lungs were being mechanically inflated, but they weren’t Jim’s lungs. Blood vessels were clamped off and rerouted, but it wasn’t Jim’s blood. McCoy couldn’t have kept his composure if they were.
It was only when the procedure was over and McCoy stepped back and saw his work that it all sank in. Thick tubes ran out of Kirk’s chest, carrying his entire blood supply through a machine that cleaned it, oxygenated it, and returned it to his arteries with enough pressure to keep it circulating around his entire body, like a grotesque mechanical heart and lungs on the outside. The respiratory equipment that they’d used during the procedure had been removed – it wasn’t needed. His chest was unnaturally still, with no rise and fall that helped McCoy believe he was alive. No pulse in his neck; the machine’s pressure was steady and constant, not like the beat of a real heart. He was stable, and that would have to be enough for now.
“… McCoy. Doctor McCoy!”
McCoy blinked a couple of times before he could make himself see Spock, who was standing next to him, looking at him with what must pass for concern from a Vulcan.
“Spock, you look greener than usual.”
“Doctor, I would suggest that you sit down. The Captain’s vital signs have been stabilized. In contrast, yours are somewhat irregular.”
McCoy tried to think of a snappy jab to throw back, but his brain felt fuzzy. “I’m fine, Spock. I need to monitor Jim. We need to start synthesizing an antidote. We need to... to...” He felt himself stumble, and was barely aware of Spock’s hands supporting him, guiding him to a cot.
“Doctor McCoy, you have been running on adrenaline for the past hour, which has thus far countered the effect of the sedative toxin, but that has clearly run out.”
“But... Jim... I...”
“Fascinating – there is a logical use for adrenaline in humans after all.”
“Pointy… hobgoblin… need to… help Jim…”
He was out cold before he even reached the cot.