Author’s note: The Vulcan and Romulan words can be translated by holding the cursor over the phrase.
The battle alarm blared, intruder alert repeating over and over again from the loudspeakers, the sound of phaser fire getting ever closer down the corridor. Nurse Chapel activated the shields around the intensive care biobeds, Doctor M’Benga swore under his breath as he tried to set the broken arm of a security officer who was squirming with desperation to get out to the fight. Doctor Leonard McCoy stood frozen in the middle of the sickbay floor, blood pounding in his ears, a red smoke of panic burning up his throat. Not again, not again, not again.
In a chaos of yelling and swearing a group of security officers tumbled into the sickbay, in the middle of a firefight with several tall humanoids.
“Get out, you fuckers!” Chapel, caught between the fight and a patient in a biobed, screamed at the Romulans. One swung towards her, weapon in hand. Not again, not again, not again. Leonard jumped in front of her, lunging at the attacker. The disruptor fired. His knees buckled and he hit the deck hard.
The Romulans disappeared down the corridor, security in pursuit.
“You chauvinistic asshole,” yelled Chapel. “I can look after myself, you know. My combat scores are way better than yours. You could’ve been killed. What were you thinking?”
Leonard lay curled on his side on the floor, hot aches searing through his patellae and twisting up his thighs. Chapel’s voice echoed through the pain, with M’Benga somewhere in the distance trying to calm her down. The disruptor fire had missed, the sickly green light burning past his hair, thanks to Chapel kicking his knees out as she’d dropped to the floor.
You could’ve been killed. What were you thinking?
He’d been thinking that being dead would be a relief, but he didn’t say so. He brushed off their offers of help - rather perfunctory offers it seemed to him - and limped into his office. He snapped out orders to blank the windows and lock the door. With an only slightly shaking hand he opened the bottom drawer of his desk to pull out a bottle of Scotty’s moonshine. He poured a generous measure into a shot glass and tossed it back in one swift, eye-watering, throat-burning swallow.
If only the rest of his troubles could be disposed of so easily.
* * *
He was back in the sickbay dealing with the wounded – the surviving intruders having apparently escaped via the emergency shuttles – when Jim and Spock strode in, accompanied by Commander Goss, the chief of security. Jim was in mid-rant, focused on Goss. “--and why weren’t the shuttles better secured? It’s not as if this hasn’t happened before, for fuck’s sake.”
He ignored them for a long moment, staring with laser focus at the shattered shoulder joint he was in the process of stabilizing. He didn’t want to talk to them. He didn’t want to talk at all.
“Bones, in your office. Now.”
He handed the regenerator over to Chapel, who was now refusing to speak to him, and followed the other men into the small room that had once been a sanctuary but now felt more like a trap.
“Bones, what the fuck were you thinking?” snapped Jim. “Don’t endanger our boys by getting mixed up in the fighting. Stick to doctoring, okay? Stick to what you’re good at.”
Leonard glared back, fists clenched at his side, not trusting himself to speak. Not good for much these days, was he? He’d only been trying to help.
He realized he’d lost track of what Jim was saying. “--assessment of injuries to my padd. Spock, finish the damage inspection with Goss. I’ll be back on the bridge.”
Jim marched out. Leonard swallowed hard. He’d failed Jim – yet again. Been rejected by Jim – yet again. Goss turned to follow their captain, hissing at Leonard as he went. “Get out of the way in a battle, doctor. Jump in a cupboard or under a bed or something. Just don’t get any more of my guys killed.”
A tidal wave of anger surged up through Leonard, anger fuelled by the alcohol, the exhaustion, the fear, the pain, and under it all the ever-present guilt. He grabbed Goss with one arm and swung straight at his face with the other.
A hot hand wrapped lightning-fast around his wrist, stopping the punch as his knuckles connected with the nose of the security chief. “Doctor McCoy. Desist. Lieutenant Commander Goss, your remarks were inappropriate. Wait in the corridor.”
Leonard stood, fine shudders running through him with every breath, frozen in place by the first officer’s implacable grip. He knew Vulcans were strong but experiencing it was still remarkable. His vision was blurred, his pulse pounding under the skin. He felt nauseous with arrested adrenaline.
“Doctor McCoy. What were you thinking?”
Honest to god, he was sick of that question. Furiously, agonizingly, terminally sick of it.
What had he been thinking? He’d been thinking that he didn’t have the fucking guts to kill himself but he really wouldn’t mind being taken out by the enemy. Recompense, blood-price, a life for a life. A finish, an end, a final termination – no more wading through the shit in his own head, the guilt in his own heart. No more trying to stumble on, day after awful day.
He let the excess adrenaline flood out through his mouth, a torrent of belligerent bullshit, anything to stop Spock from focusing on his real motives. “You interfering pointy-eared ass… he fucking had it coming… what part of your emotionally-deprived computer-driven alien brain fails to understand...”
The Vulcan’s hand remained in a tight hot clasp on the skin of his wrist, like a brand, like a handcuff.
“Doctor McCoy, please accompany me.” The hand shifted from wrist to shoulder and he was firmly turned and walked towards the door. Leonard bit down on his furious objection. He might have gone a little far – yet again. He needed to get himself under control. He didn’t want Spock dragging Jim into this. He couldn’t bear to see the disappointment in Jim’s eyes – yet again.
He had been expecting to go to the XO’s office, but to his bewilderment Spock escorted him to his cabin. Spock punched in an override code and guided Leonard in, following him in without waiting for permission or invitation. Once the door had closed behind them Spock turned to him. “Doctor, I am concerned about your welfare. You have been unusually withdrawn and cantankerous lately, even by your personally aggressive standards.”
“My aggressive standards….” Leonard spluttered at the XO in disbelief. “What the hell are you on about? My welfare ain’t any of your damn business!”
“As first officer, the welfare of the crew is specifically and explicitly my business.”
“Well, fuck off and find someone who needs your tender care.”
Spock ignored this outburst, his face the same infuriating, impenetrable mask of superior smugness as ever.
“CMO McCoy, in my capacity as first officer of the USS Enterprise, I am temporarily relieving you of duty. You are to remain in your cabin until I return after shift. I will then determine a course of action.”
Spock strode out of the door, leaving Leonard spluttering behind him. “No fucking way.” Leonard punched in his door code but it didn’t work. He punched in the CMO override. That didn’t work either. He typed out a quick rant to M’Benga, but simply got an error message saying outgoing communications were disabled except to the first officer. Shaking with fury, he smashed out a less than coherent message to Spock.
All he got back was: Your cabin or the brig. I will return at the end of alpha shift.
The brig? What the hell? He shot off another furious message.
The reply came through almost instantly. Attempted assault on the chief of security.
Leonard took a deep breath. He had to get a grip on himself. Assault of a fellow officer. Relieved of duty. This wasn’t looking good. Damn, he needed a drink. He pulled a bottle out of his bedside drawer. Just a quick shot, help him to think this through.
So he was a little stressed. It wasn’t as if he didn’t have reason. And yes, he’d probably tell someone else in his position that they needed to talk to someone, that they should get counseling.
But who the hell was he supposed to talk to? There were no counselors on the ship. They were barely up to strength with essential crew. He couldn’t turn to his own junior medical staff, they were all stressed enough as it was. Jim was barely speaking to him, all brusque orders and cancelling their weekly dinners. Spock had never spoken to him, beyond his usual smug sneers. Scotty had nothing more to offer than alcohol. Trapped in a tin can with hundreds of people living only yards away from him, how could he feel so agonizingly alone?
There was no one else. After the debacle with the first Romulan boarding party, Starfleet Command had made it excruciatingly plain how little they thought of him. His hand strayed down to the folded letter in his pocket, a letter he touched a dozen times a day. He didn’t need to read it any more. He knew it by heart.
Another shot to chase down the first, to settle his tattered nerves. Relieved of duty? What did that mean? A transfer off the ship? A dishonorable discharge? In some ways it might be a relief. A way out of this endless nightmare of his own making.
He stared moodily at his monitor, where he left the Romulans: language and culture briefing booklet open at the long list of innovative insults. Hhaes faelirh nnea vagram h'levreinnye . The Romulans did know how to phrase a good insult. That was about the only thing you could say for the nasty fuckers.
The obscenities were the only thing of any value in the stupid booklet. Leonard had filled some of the long hours between shifts teaching himself Romulan invective. It made him feel a little better to curse the bastards in their own language. He downed another shot.
Know your enemy. Did those inept idiots back at Starfleet Command really think a briefing booklet would help win this war? Except that it wasn’t even a damned war, was it? The fat-assed brass were too scared to call it as they saw it. It was just a ‘police action’, patrolling the frontier. Out here at the edges of Federation space, under-manned and poorly supplied, no one cared about the enemy’s ‘culture’. All anyone wanted to do was kill the bastards.
Not that Leonard had exactly contributed to that objective, now had he? Once more he ran his thumb along the folded square of paper in his pocket. Lieutenant Commander Dr Leonard H. McCoy. CMO of the USS Enterprise. Savior of Romulans. Killer of his own Starfleet comrades. Nvimm nhaidh eihwai taortuu indeed.
He poured himself another shot. He should have asked for a transfer after it happened. But how could he bring himself to leave Jim? Of course whether Jim still needed him as much as he had in the Academy was a moot point, but as Captain of the USS Enterprise in the middle of an escalating conflict with the Romulans, he certainly needed a competent CMO.
Presumably Spock was busy finding Jim a new one as he signed off Leonard’s transfer papers. Damn, the shot glass was just too small. More efficient to drink straight from the bottle.
* * *
“Doctor McCoy, what have you done?”
Leonard cracked open an eye and peered at the highly polished boots of the first officer. He seemed to be lying on a heap of Starfleet uniforms. He levered himself up on one elbow and peered around. There were a lot of shards of glass on the floor.
“Bottle was empty,” he offered. “S’glass. Be careful.” His tongue felt thick in his mouth and his voice sounded odd, slurred and graceless. The bottle had emptied itself so he’d found another one, but then that one had been empty too. That had been annoying. Deeply annoying.
So he’d thrown the bottle against the wall. That had felt satisfying. Smashing the second bottle into his monitor had felt even more so. Then it had somehow seemed logical that if he was going to be forcibly removed from the ship, he needed to pack. He’d pulled everything out of the cupboards onto the floor. Somehow the mess he’d made had been too reminiscent of the chaos inside of his head and he’d tried to wreck the cabin to match his mood. With the furniture bolted down that hadn’t worked as well but he’d got all the bedding onto the floor, along with the holos and the glasses that he had stored by the food synthesizer.
Nauseous and dizzy, he’d then lain down on the pile of clothes on the floor, just to rest his pounding head.
“Doctor McCoy, we will repair to my cabin.”
He was manhandled onto his feet and walked out of the mess of his own quarters, down the corridor and into the pristine interior of Spock’s cabin.
Spock sat him down at the small table that stood beside the meditation mat and turned to fiddle with the food synthesizer. Dazed, Leonard gazed around the room. “S’warm,” he slurred stupidly.
“I have the ambient temperature raised to a level approximate with a winter’s day on the erstwhile planet Vulcan. I can lower it if the heat makes you uncomfortable,” said Spock as he placed a glass of Vulcan tea in front of the doctor.
“S’nice,” muttered Leonard. “S’like Georgia in summer. Hotter ‘n goat’s ass inna pepper patch. Miss that. Hate the ship, so cold.”
“The temperature is selected for optimum functioning of the electronic systems on board, and for the majority species, which in this instance is Terran.” Spock regarded him thoughtfully. “It had not occurred to me that humans might differ in their requirements.”
“Colder ‘n a witch’s tit in this tin can,” muttered Leonard, cupping his hands around the glass of hot tea.
Spock raised an eyebrow. “That comment is both illogical and incomprehensible, doctor. If the purpose of verbal utterances is effective communication, that fails comprehensively.”
If Spock had hoped that he would rise to the bait, he was disappointed.
“Failed. Yeah, sums it up.”
“You believe you have failed? How do you justify that conclusion?”
Leonard stared at him in muzzy confusion. Surely Spock had already concluded that he was an irredeemable failure. Wasn’t that why he was here?
“How the fuck d’you think? Twelve dead ‘n my sickbay. Unreplacable, no, irreplaceable with us stranded in ass-end of space. Dozens of others, pushed back to work, walking wounded. Equipment screwed, supplies screwed. Staff hate me. Jim hates me. Brass hate me. What's the point, Spock? No point. Better off dead.” Leonard rested his aching head on the table top. He was vaguely aware that he made a morose drunk and that maybe he should pull himself together but it all seemed too much effort.
“Drink it,” ordered Spock, pushing the glass of tea towards him.
Too discouraged to protest, he drank and discovered that the warm spicy liquid was unusual but surprisingly pleasant, leaving just a trace of warm burn down the back of his throat, the faintest echo of a desert planet far away and now long gone. He continued to stare at the empty glass, confused by his growing haziness.
“S’something in it,” he protested fuzzily. “Y’drugged me!”
“You require rest, doctor,” came the abrupt reply, the carefully clipped words reaching him from ever further away. The world slumped into itself and dissolved into darkness.
* * *
Leonard jerked awake in a disorientated panic, his head pounding. He’d slept far too long. He’d be missing his shift. He had to get to sickbay. He looked around in confusion. The room was too warm, the light was wrong, it wasn’t his cabin… His movement set a padd beeping somewhere nearby. He found it lying by the bed and read the message in bewilderment.
Doctor McCoy, I have put you on three-day R+R. For the moment you are confined to my cabin. There is food by the bed if you require it. I will return after alpha shift.
Next to the padd was a hangover hypo and a glass of tea. He plunged the hypo into his neck and tried to think straight. He was on rest and recovery?
Shore leave was a distant memory since Romulan birds-of-prey had begun making provocative raids on the Earth Outpost Stations that were built on asteroids along the edge of the Romulan neutral zone. The Enterprise was one of a handful of ships sent out in defense. They had repeatedly requested permission to engage in hot pursuit into the neutral zone but had been refused every time.
The raids were technically acts of war as per the Treat of Cheron, which had marked the end of the devastating Earth-Romulan war. The fear among the higher-ups was that the Romulan Empire was beginning a policy of destabilization, just as they had in the years before the first war. It fitted with what was known of Romulan battle tactics, attempting to manipulate an adversary into breaking – or appearing to break – an agreement in order to give the Romulans justification for striking.
The Federation was in no position to go to war with the Romulan Star Empire. Yet the lives of their citizens were at stake and with the public angry and frightened since the Vulcan genocide, tolerating the raids was not an option. Awkward attempts at diplomacy were being made over sub-space radio but the Romulans showed little interest in engaging. So it was left to the likes of the Enterprise to form a thin silver line of defense desperately stretched along the vastness of the neutral zone border.
If the crew wasn’t engaged in combat or pursuit, they were engaged in never ending cycles of repairs. Even days off were becoming increasingly rare as the slowly diminishing crew numbers struggled to fight on with ever more damaged equipment. The most dangerous – and disconcerting – element of it was the Romulans’ ability to appear out of the black right next to the Enterprise. They had some kind of cloaking technology but as yet no one could work out what it was.
And that had been before the Romulans had begun an almost suicidal set of on-board incursions. In most instances all the invaders had been killed, or had killed themselves on capture, although a few had managed to escape back to their vessels. The exact purpose of the invasions was not clear but it certainly sent stress-levels among the crew sky high. Even the Federation flagship no longer felt safe.
To try to compensate for the escalating anxiety, crew members were rotated through R+R, three consecutive days off shift. Even some members of the senior bridge crew had taken it, although of course neither Jim nor Spock had. Neither had Leonard.
And why the hell was he confined to Spock’s cabin? Still puzzling at the message, he absently drank the glass of tea set by the bed. As the hazy blackness enveloped him again, he realized he’d fallen for it a second time. Fucking tricky Vulcans… never trust an alien….
* * *
Leonard woke to an awareness of another presence in the cabin. Looking around through slitted eyes, he saw Spock’s still form kneeling elegantly on the meditation mat. He’d slept right through alpha shift? That was nearly 24 hours of sleep. No wonder he needed to piss. He got up awkwardly, horribly conscious of his rumpled uniform and scruffy cheeks, at a lost as to how to address the first officer.
“While you use the washroom, I will prepare food,” said Spock simply. Leonard found a clean uniform laid out by the sink. The sonic shower cleared away some of his woolly-headedness and using a depilator made him feel a little more respectable. Warily he joined Spock at the small table, wondering how on earth to begin excusing his behavior from the day before, let alone trying to salvage his Starfleet career. He was surprised when Spock briefly touched his wrist, just where the skin lay exposed below the sleeve. He was even more surprised when Spock fussed with the table settings and then laid a plate of food in front of him.
“Fried chicken! And gravy! How the hell did you get the damned food synthesizer to cough this up?”
“With careful programming the machines can be made to produce more than the essentials.”
The appearance of food that he had loved from back home made him realize that he really was hungry. Leonard had wolfed down most of it before he took breath long enough to say: “But isn’t this illogical? Aren’t the synthesizers programmed to produce optimally nutritious tasteless crap given the dwindling supply of raw ingredients available?”
“The current standard diet is indeed optimized to maximize nutritional content while emphasizing sustainability over time given the likely lack of imminent resupply. However, that does not negate the fact that at times the positive psychological impact of ‘comfort food’ outweighs other considerations.”
“Fucking Vulcans,” muttered Leonard as he wiped the plate clean with something that was a fair approximation of cornbread, given that the nearest genuine cornbread was many sectors away. “Why use one word when fifty will do?”
“Precision in communication is to be desired,” retorted Spock. “With regard to precision, I wish to return to our conversation yesterday evening.”
“We had a conversation?” mumbled Leonard. “What was I thinking?” While he recalled with painful clarity the events in the sickbay and immediately after his incarceration in his cabin, his memories of what had followed were muddled.
“You enumerated various reasons why you believe that you are failing as CMO,” said Spock, handing Leonard the inevitable glass of tea. Leonard stared at it suspiciously. “I have not added a sedative. I believe that tonight you are less in need of it.”
Leonard sipped at it cautiously and waited. Being lectured by Spock was not high on his list of preferred activities, but given the events of yesterday he suspected that he deserved it. It was better than being ordered to transfer.
“Doctor McCoy,” started Spock. “I am aware that human over-emotionalism frequently leads to facts being misinterpreted. I am not qualified to comment on ways in which human emotional states may go awry. But I am qualified to offer an impartial analysis of the statistics pertinent to the case.”
“What the fuck are you on about?”
“The USS Enterprise is designed to be fully manned by a crew of 1100. Due to the impact of the Battle of Vulcan, we launched with only 902, undermanned by 18%. Before the commencement of on-going hostilities with the Romulan Empire our numbers had been reduced to 894, three lives lost on away missions, one fatal accident on-board and four who transferred due to personal issues.”
“In the six months of hostilities, a further nineteen crew members have been killed. As you pointed out, twelve died despite the attentions of the medical staff. The others were dead before your team could reach them.”
“I know all this, Spock,” Leonard ground out between clenched teeth. “D’you really think I don’t?”
“I am concerned that you have the numbers out of perspective. To lose two percent of the crew in six months of active warfare is well within Starfleet parameters.”
Leonard jumped to his feet before he could think, his heart thumping viciously in his chest. “They aren’t fucking numbers, you cold-blooded bastard, they aren’t fucking percentages. They’re people! With friends on board and family back home, with dreams and plans that extend beyond this fucking filthy war. Y’all assholes in command are always forgetting that!”
“Doctor McCoy, I know. They are all beings who fall under my specific care as first officer and head of personnel. But they are also soldiers, giving their lives to protect friends and families in the Federation. Giving protection that is needed.”
Six billion dead Vulcans hovered in the air between them.
Feeling chastened and stupid, Leonard sat back down.
“As the CMO you can only hold yourself responsible for those deaths that happened within the sickbay. By my calculations, 147 critically injured crew have been treated by yourself or your staff in the last six months. Twelve have died. All the survivors have been able to resume their duties, only eight with any diminution of capacity, another remarkable statistic. To lose only eight percent in a war scenario is well below Starfleet average of 17.3 percent.”
Spock fell silent. Leonard stared at him.
“Is this your idea of boosting morale? Quoting strings of damned numbers at me?”
Spock carefully smoothed down the front of his already pristine uniform. “Doctor, to summarize, you are running your sickbay with remarkable efficiency, despite being under-staffed with denuded resources and damaged equipment.”
Leonard buried his face in his hands, suddenly feeling terribly tired. “Even if it is currently acceptable, I can’t keep it up. We both know I’m spiraling down into burn-out. I think my behavior yesterday proves that. Quoting percentages at me isn’t going to change anything. And once I’ve been thrown out of Starfleet, who the hell is ever going to want to employ me? If I can’t be a doctor, what’s the point?”
Spock regarded him. “I will consider those questions,” he said eventually.
“Spock, it was just rhetorical, you’ve better things to do.”
“I believe we have discussed enough for one evening. Go to sleep, Leonard. We will talk again tomorrow.”
“I should go back to my cabin…” started Leonard, oddly reluctant to leave the comforting warmth of Spock’s quarters.
“Order has not yet been restored in your cabin,” replied Spock, steering him firmly back towards the sleeping quarters. “Your presence here is not intrusive, nor is it unwelcome. I will mediate and then continue my duties. Go to bed.”
Leonard drifted to sleep wondering whether Spock was keeping him like some kind of house cat, a living being to come home to rather than facing an empty cabin. Leonard wouldn’t mind having someone to come home to himself.
* * *
Leonard woke the next morning to find that he’d slept for another solid 12 hours and was once again alone in Spock’s cabin. The padd blinked with its morning message.
Doctor McCoy, I must ask you to remain in my cabin but you are free to make use of it as you wish. I have taken the liberty of procuring you some reading material. Some titles I believe you are familiar with. Others might interest you, extrapolating from the source material. We will talk further tonight.
Leonard sighed. He wasn’t at all sure he was up to another morale building numerical lecture, but then it wasn’t as if he had anything else to look forward to. He peered curiously at the electronic book titles listed below the note, and was startled into laughter. Spock had found him all eleven of the Wade Pennington books, the semi-alcoholic, hard-assed, soft-hearted red-neck detective so popular in the early 22nd century. Leonard had loved those books, had used them as an escape all through the exhausting challenge of accelerated medical training. He hadn’t thought to read them in years.
Listed below were a selection of more modern books in the same genre, most of which Leonard had never heard of. What on earth was Spock doing, sourcing 100-year-old books for the CMO? Didn’t he have a ship to run, a war to win? Leonard was too captivated by the books to give it much thought. He showered quickly, extracted breakfast and Vulcan tea – no other beverages apparently being available – from the food synthesizer and went back to bed with the padd. He wasn’t going to admit it any time soon but he was enjoying this odd opportunity to spend time somewhere other than his cold cabin or the sickbay. He liked the warmth of Spock’s cabin. He liked the exotic scent.
By the time Spock returned from alpha shift, Leonard had re-read his favorite two Pennington books and was deeply engrossed in a novel by a late 22nd century Alabama author who’d set the Pennington clichés on their heads with a redneck detective working off-planet who had made first contact with several of the races that would eventually found the Federation. It was both scathingly funny and surprisingly insightful. Leonard was entranced. In the tough years of his medical training, he had regularly used popular literature as an escape mechanism. How had he lost sight of that particular coping strategy?
“How did you know?” demanded Leonard as they sat down to dinner once more, this time back to eating the standard depressing ship’s cuisine. Spock had again taken care with the meal’s presentation and he had again taken a moment to touch Leonard on the wrist with his fingertips. The heat lingered on the doctor’s skin like the warmth of a log fire.
“Soon after we launched, you were profiled in Full Thrusters,” replied Spock. “You gave the Pennington books as your favorite literature.”
Leonard boggled. He didn’t even remember the interview. The ship’s recreational magazine had fallen by the wayside once the ‘police action’ had begun. “Spock, what is this?” He waved his hand between the two of them. “I thought you were going to kick me out. What are you doing tracking down my favorite detective novels? Don’t you have a war to fight?”
“Doctor, it takes considerably less time to find detective novels than it takes to find a new CMO, especially a CMO with your level of competence. Keeping our personnel functioning as effectively as possible is our best weapon in this war.”
Leonard looked at him in surprise. Was that a compliment? From the ice-for-blood, positive-reinforcement-is-an-emotionally-wasteful-activity Vulcan XO?
“Further to that point, I would like to return to your concern about your future employment opportunities. I have come--”
“So you do want to get rid of me,” Leonard interrupted, his anxiety spiking again. For all his growing anxiety over his ability to do his job properly, he didn’t want to be forced out.
“I have come to realize that humans can be encouraged to stay by being made to feel that they have the option to leave. You may be aware that at the end of every five-year mission there is competition among other organizations to recruit the best of the crew?”
Actually, Leonard had never thought about it. He’d always assumed that he’d worry about career choices once he’d managed to finish the Starfleet training. Then the Narada appeared and next thing he knew he was CMO of the Enterprise and had been booted straight back into space. Making choices hadn’t really come into it.
“Influential institutions put in speculative bids while the mission is ongoing, so that they will be at the top of the list when the mission terminates. I used my personnel clearance to access your file.” He called up a page on the holographic monitor embedded in the wall by the table.
Leonard stared in confusion at the list that appeared. Apparently he had pre-emptive invitations from Starfleet Medical in San Francisco, from the FHO - the Federation Health Organization - and from Doctors Without Borders, the now multi-system voluntary organization that provided urgent medical care to victims of war and disaster regardless of species, race, or politics. Names of a dozen less prestigious institutions followed.
“Your future employability would not seem to be in doubt,” said Spock dryly.
“But they don’t yet know how badly I’m fucked up,” protested Leonard.
“Starfleet recognizes that both doctors and soldiers burn out. If it had been known that we were going into a war zone, we would not be on a five year rotation. We would be rotated out every 12 months. However, Starfleet does not have the personnel to do that at the moment. If you resigned your commission, Doctors Without Borders would not hold that rejection of war service against you. Neither would the FHO.
“Leonard, I took the further liberty of updating your résumé, something I notice that you have not done since entering Starfleet.” The Vulcan seemed subtly disapproving of such a neglect of personal organization. “May I suggest that you read it through as if you were reading a résumé with a view to hiring?” He pulled up the document on the monitor.
Leonard wasn’t entirely sure why he was letting the Vulcan boss him around like this, but then it wasn’t as if anyone else had cared to spend any time with him recently. He settled in to read as Spock worked through some matters on his padd.
He was familiar enough with his time in Atlanta, although in hindsight it was impressive how much he had packed in to his accelerated medical training. Again, he knew his research for grafting neural tissue to the cerebral cortex but he hadn’t realized how many new procedures it had initiated in the years that followed. He was now being heralded as the father of a whole new branch of cerebral surgery. Spock had helpfully linked to all the progeny that his research had spawned.
The hectic blur that had been his three years at the Academy turned out to have produced a number of research papers. Then there was the Starfleet Academy Excellence Award for Surgery, given to him for his operation on Captain Pike in the chaos of the Narada incident. In the madness that had followed he’d forgotten about that. Pike’s name gave him a painful tug and he moved swiftly on.
He knew his years in space had produced a few publications. He’d certainly encountered enough interesting material in the bizarre adventures of the Enterprise. He was astonished to see how long the list was when all collected in one place – Journal of the Terran Medical Association, The Lancet, Proceedings of the Federation Surgical Association, The Tricorder – the list went on.
“Doctor McCoy, can you explain the advisory notes that accompany many of these publications?”
At Leonard’s look of puzzlement Spock clicked through to an example. The doctor laughed as he read.
“I shot off papers to all sorts of publications.” Writing up research papers had been the primary way he’d filled the long hours between shifts. “But I’d get these bullshit replies claiming that I’d not done a review of the current literature, or I’d not addressed the conflicting opinions of Dr. Pompous Ass Never Left His Planet, or could I please expand on this point or remove that one or rework it to fit the journal house style.”
“And then?” asked Spock, offering the one raised eyebrow that Leonard had occasionally suspected meant that the Vulcan was actually laughing at him.
“I’d fly off the handle and send back a scathing reply telling them that I’m the CMO of the Federation flagship, and in the middle of a fucking war zone keeping their fat asses safe back home, and I don’t have time for their bureaucratic bullshit. Amazingly most of them still published.”
The example Spock had pulled up had his scathing letter printed verbatim next to his article. What Leonard hadn’t kept track of were the wealth of comments that his articles had attracted. Many were critical of the content or style but far more were fascinated by the subject matter and in agreement that the uniqueness of McCoy’s material and the originality of his findings warranted certain concessions to convention.
Leonard was soon wading happily through the comments, muttering under his breath about imbeciles and feeble-minded idiots and people who’d found their medical degrees in cereal boxes. When had he stopped reading more than just the essential digest of research supplied by Starfleet Medical to all ships’ sickbays? At some point in the last year he’d started to believe that the medical literature simply highlighted his own isolation and inadequacy, left swabbing snotty noses in the ass-end of space. Which was clearly nonsense. Someone needed to hold these asinine simpletons to account.
“You seem to be enjoying yourself, doctor.”
“Dammit, Spock. This is a labor of love! Why would you do all this for me?”
“For someone of organized mind and disciplined habits, it is rapid and simple work,” stated Spock dryly.
Leonard narrowed his eyes. Was he being teased? “But hold on one damned minute--I thought you wanted me to stay. Why’re you updating my résumé?”
“It is a tool that I learnt from Nyota,” Spock replied. “You may recall the incident with the denizens of Keyigbayiri?”
That had been back in the early days of the mission, back when they were still expecting to focus on deep-space exploration. Uhura had struggled to translate the language of a newly discovered species. A minor miscalculation had led to Jim causing unpardonable offence, the away team having to fight their way out of the capital, Jim being critically injured and the first Enterprise crew member being killed. It seemed a lifetime ago now.
“I found Nyota updating her résumé and feared that she intended to leave the Enterprise. She blamed herself for the death of Ensign Lu. She reassured me that she would not be giving up so easily but knowing that she had the option and the capability to leave made it easier for her to stay. In the strictest terms, the logic seems flawed but it appears to work for humans. I have since used this strategy successfully with other crew members in distress.”
Leonard leant back in his chair and regarded the first officer. “Good lord, Spock, you’re actually learning to manipulate humans by applying order to our tangled emotions. I’m impressed.” He found himself actually smiling at the Vulcan who showed the faintest green flush on his high cheekbones. Leonard realized that he’d been taken out of himself in the last two hours in a way that he hadn’t been in months.
Which of course, given the unforgivable sin that he had committed, was far more than he deserved.
Leonard returned to the monitor. He’d employ a man with a résumé like that in a heartbeat – but the résumé hid the brutal truth of what kind of doctor he really was.
“Look, Spock, this is all very well and I do appreciate it, but it’s all just avoiding the elephant in the room!”
Spock regarded him, his eyebrows drawn minutely towards each other. “Humans may be blind to many things, Doctor McCoy, but I would have noticed were there indeed a pachyderm in my cabin.”
“Oh, fuck you too. You know exactly what I mean.” Leonard had never actually spoken to anyone about this, not since the set of scathing reprimands that he had received in the immediate aftermath. But he seemed to be doing many things with Spock that he had never done before.
“Three of our people died because I gave medical aid to the enemy. There can be no forgiveness for that!”
He glared belligerently at Spock who looked steadily back.
“You did it because you believed it to be the right thing to do, did you not?”
“I broke Starfleet regulations to do it!”
“You did. As a doctor, do you believe that the regulations are correct?”
“No, I damn well don’t.” Leonard was up on his feet, pacing back and forth in the tiny cabin. Spock stood watching him impassively.
“Starfleet military policy,” spat Leonard. “Regardless of nature of their injuries Starfleet soldiers and allied personnel get treated first, and the enemy last. Enemy soldiers who need life-saving surgery may die while my staff are putting bandaids on barely-injured Starfleet crew. I’m a fucking doctor, trained to triage, trained to treat the worst injured with the best chance of survival first, regardless of who they are.”
“Which is what you did.”
“Yeah, patched him up so he could go on killing us. Which is what he did.”
“So there is a point to the Starfleet policy.”
“Dammit Spock, you can’t solve the dilemma with logic. Leaving a man to bleed out at my feet is the wrong thing to do!”
“Yet the concept of triage can require you to leave a dying patient because a likely hopeless attempt to treat them will take time which might be used to prevent other deaths among less severely injured personnel.”
“I can do it in a medical context. I can prioritize injuries. But I can’t prioritize different lives, not when they are dying at my feet.”
“For a long time I had not believed you capable of even that kind of logical prioritizing of injury. You are so vocal in support of emotion-driven decision-making. I realized that you are more complex that I had allowed during the incident on Kalandraka.”
Leonard grimaced. He wasn’t about to forget that in a hurry. It had been another early away mission, back before the Romulan threat manifested. Kalandraka had looked like an innocuous planet, and an attractive one, a possible candidate for colonization, and a chance for the crew to stretch their legs. Leonard had transported down with Jim and Spock and a detachment of scientists. Then an ion storm had cut them off from the transporter, followed by the earthquake that set off the landslide that trapped most of the scientists.
“What about it?”
“The captain, you and I arrived at the site of the accident to find six members of the science team with varying degrees of injury. You had only a small medical kit with you, but we could not evacuate by transporter. Given your lack of emotional control I expected you to panic or throw all your resources into trying to save the life of Merixtell Nasarre. By my calculations, given the severity of her injuries, she had only a 7.4 percent chance of survival. Instead you ignored her completely, ordered Jim and I to attend to the two with the minor damage, and set to work on the other three who had life-threatening injuries but where there was the time to make a difference.”
“I saved her, though.”
“Indeed you did. After 97 minutes of intense and meticulous work on the other three, by which time you were beginning to shake with exhaustion, you returned to Ensign Nasarre. By then her chances of survival were down to 2.4 percent. Your efforts on her behalf seemed futile, especially as we as yet had no way off the planet and we might have need of your abilities in the future.”
“I remember that bit. You told me to leave her be and I just about bit your head off.”
“Your reaction was strong. You memorably told me to stuff my percentages ‘where the sun don’t shine’. An incomprehensible metaphor which--”
“Moving right along,” interrupted Leonard, who had no wish to have to explain that particular idiom.
Spock gave him a raised eyebrow, leaving Leonard suspecting that the Vulcan in fact knew exactly what the phrase meant.
“You labored over her for the next 4.62 hours, performed heart massage on her twice in that time, and kept her alive until Commander Scott could get the transporter to work. She is now one of the most productive members of my scientific staff. It was a powerful example of how an emotional refusal to face up to the logical outcome can change the outcome.”
Leonard gave him a crooked smile. He had stopped pacing and now sat astride his chair, leaning on the backrest, sipping a fresh cup of tea. A small corner in the back of his mind boggled at how comfortable he felt in Spock’s cabin.
“But we do train to overcome our instinctive emotional reactions. That’s why we have protocols to follow. We humans need all the help we can get to view a situation logically.”
“So perhaps there is merit in the meeting of minds between our races.”
“Maybe there is, but you’ll never get me to admit that!” Leonard clinked his glass of tea against Spock’s and drank again.
“You need to sleep, Doctor McCoy.”
“Oh good lord, man, you might as well call me Leonard. I’ve spent the last two nights in your bed. Speaking of which, I really should go back to my cabin.”
“I would be more at ease knowing you are here. Now go to bed, Leonard.”
“Dammit Spock,” Leonard grumbled, “you sound just like my momma.” He offered no further protest. The whole surreal experience – being trapped in the warm cabin, being organized by Spock – was a bit like a regression to childhood. It was a relief for a little while to revert to the happy illusion of youth, the illusion that the adults knew what they were doing. They would sort it all out, make it all better.
* * *