TWO WORLDS IN WHICH WE DWELL

 

 Chapter Two

  Outer Space

 

 Jim Kirk shifted uneasily in his command chair and then wondered why.  He had no reason to feel uneasy.  The assignment they had been given – to deliver supplies and a civilian survey party to a nearby star system less than one week’s travel from Earth –

was routine enough.  So routine, in fact, that he had ordered additional rest periods for the crew, intending to give them plenty of time to relax and just play.  They wouldn’t have time for shore leave and, this close to what was home for a major portion of the crew, that was a sore disappointment and sure to take its toll on morale.  They had only had time to launch the shuttle Columbus along with its three man crew, before swinging around the moon and heading off into space.  Once they returned – five point three five days from now, as his missing Vulcan first officer would no doubt have informed him – they would be off on their next assignment, which would take them back to the edge of the  Neutral Zone.  After their earlier encounter with a Romulan warbird and its first-rate crew and commander, the Federation had been forced to acknowledge this ancient foe was far more sophisticated and rather more formidable than they had hoped.  If the Romulans were like Vulcans unleashed….

Jim actually shuddered.

“I see you’ve taken a chill, Captain.  And here I was, just coming up to prescribe some old-fashioned medicine in a bottle for what ailed you.  Seems Spock’s not the only one with a high ESP quotient,” Leonard McCoy remarked in his long, languid way as he arrived at the side of the command chair. 

Kirk shot him a look.  “Bones, as tempting as it sounds, I don’t have time for a drink.”

The crusty surgeon scowled and fixed him with his professional eye.  “Hmmm.  Even worse.  Delusions of grandeur.”

“Bones….”

The Georgia doctor raised a hand and pointed toward the screen, which showed nothing but an empty field of stars.  Then he stepped forward and touched Lt. Sulu softly on the shoulder.  The Asian helmsman jumped. 

Sulu pivoted in his chair, chagrinned.  “Sorry, Doc.  I guess I was daydreaming.  A man can only look at so many stars before he gets lost in them.”  The helmsman nodded toward the viewscreen and the endless starfield.  “Not much action this close to home.”

“You see, Bones,” Jim said quietly, with a wry smile.  “I need to be on the bridge, if only to keep my bridge crew awake.”

Sulu blushed a deep bronze and turned back, his spine straight and his eyes trained on the screen.

Beneath the knuckles he pressed to his lips, the captain of the Enterprise smiled.  Then he said softly, “At ease, Mr. Sulu.”

The Asian shot him a look of gratitude.  “Thank you, sir.”

For a moment, no one said anything.  Kirk shifted again, uncomfortably aware of the absent members of his crew.  He missed Uhura’s lyrical voice, giving regular updates on interplanetary chatter.  And Spock.  The Vulcan was always there when he needed him to distract McCoy and put the doctor off his mother hen act.  Still, he shouldn’t grouse.  Uhura had managed to persuade his logical, ever-efficient and self-denying Vulcan first officer to take a vacation.

Miracles, indeed could happen.

“So you suppose the folks in Uhura’s town will appreciate that caterwauling Spock calls music?” Leonard McCoy asked, as if reading his thoughts.

They’d been together too long, him and Bones, Kirk mused.

“I imagine Mr. Spock will have taken that into consideration when making his selections.  He and Uhura make quite a team from what I hear.”  At the surgeon’s look, he added quickly, “When performing.”  As Bones’ grizzled brows shot up, Kirk cleared his throat.  “Music.  I’ve never attended one of their impromptu concerts, but the reports have been…good.”

Bones pursed his lips in characteristic fashion.  “You know, I think Uhura is one of the few females on this ship who doesn’t feel a desire to…perform with Mr. Spock.”

Kirk shifted again.  The conversation was not going the way he had intended.  “Well, they are fellow officers and – ”

“Being ‘fellow officers’ hasn’t stopped the other two hundred or so women on board this ship from some pretty lively…daydreams.”  Bones’ eyes shot to Sulu briefly.  The Asian helmsman was doing his best to appear not to be listening.  “I know, I’ve treated enough of them for depression, Jim.”

Oh well, Kirk mused, at least Sulu was awake now.  “I thought you came here to examine me, Bones, not Spock or Uhura.  Or am I mistaken?  Is this purely a social call?”

“A bit of both,” McCoy admitted with a shrug.  “I wanted a brandy and, well, you know what they say about a person who drinks alone.…”

Kirk peered at the viewscreen.  It remained as it had been for the last twelve hours – a big rectangle of black shot with about a million dots of white.  This close to Earth there was little chance of danger – or anything for him, as captain, to do.  In truth he hated this sort of run.  Other, smaller ships could have been used.  But since they had been so close and he had owed Admiral Chase a favor….

“You have the conn, Mr. Sulu,” Jim Kirk said as he slapped a hand against the console of the command chair and rose from its black depths.  “Any sign of trouble you will alert me.  I’ll be in the doctor’s quarters, finishing up the…examination.”

“Finishing it off, you mean,” McCoy murmured with a smile.

“Aye, aye, sir.”  Sulu was silent a moment.  Then he pivoted in his chair.  “I’ll be sure to let you know the moment one of those stars gets lost.”

 

Leonard McCoy smiled as James T. Kirk, captain of the Starship Enterprise, settled into a chair in his office and accepted a glass of Saurian Brandy.  He had ordered the stuff specifically for the occasion.  As the captain’s surgeon he knew that times of inaction – such as they were experiencing now – were harder on this particular man’s psyche than any full-blown crisis.  Jim needed to be needed.  It was as simple as that.  Settling into his own chair, McCoy took a sip of the strong liquor.  Then he waited and watched while Kirk did the same.  It only took two seconds for a look of pure amazement to settle on the captain’s boyishly handsome features.

“Bones, this is real!”

“Well, I didn’t think it was a figment of my imagination,” the surgeon drawled as he sampled the brew again.

“No, I mean, this isn’t synthesized.  This is the real thing!”  Kirk took another appreciative sip. 

Bones raised his glass.  “Just what the doctor ordered,” he replied with a laugh.  “I had a vendor beam it up before we left the moon’s orbit.”

“It made it through regulation channels?”

“Two boxes marked ‘for medicinal purposes only’.”  Bones took another deep drink and then winked.  “The crate’s one bottle shy.  And the Federation is down one customs agent with a hangover.”

Kirk smiled that smile that had not only launched the Enterprise, but broken a thousand intergalactic hearts.  He lifted his glass.  “Here’s to you, Bones.”

Leonard McCoy inclined his head.  “The best remedy any southern doctor could prescribe.”

Jim laughed and downed the remainder in one gulp.  McCoy did the same, relishing the liquid fire that coursed through his system, and allowed himself to relax.  There was no emergency.  No impending disaster.  The ship was on a mission so routine the most he had to fear was treating the crew for boredom.  And, most blessed of all, that pointy-eared Vulcan was not around to give him hell.

But then again, there went the evening’s entertainment.

“Seriously, Jim, I do wonder what makes Uhura immune to Spock’s charms.”

Kirk was pouring another glass.  He halted and looked over at him.  “Where did that come from?”

  “I don’t know.  Medical need?”  At Jim’s look, he added with a grin.  “Whatever she’s got, I’d like to bottle it and sell it.  Think of the possibilities.  It’s not only Spock, you know?  There’s about 6 billion Vulcans.  I’d make a fortune.”

Kirk shook his head.  “Uhura is a more than competent officer.  She wouldn’t be in line for command if she wasn’t.  I think her first love is more in the order of science than any science officer.”

“She’s good at daily recreation – that voice of hers gives her plenty of reason – but I worry about her.”

“Why?” Jim asked as he settled back.

“The nature of her work carries with it, its own risks.”

Kirk leaned forward.  “Explain.”

“Well, you know Spock can read that gibberish the computer spits out without having it processed or changed into words.  Have you seen Uhura?  She does the same thing.”

“So?”

“Think of the mental gymnastics that takes.  The concentration.  And the way the woman monitors that board, watching every blinking light, listening for every whisper in that great eternity we call space.”

“It’s her job.  Others do it too.”

“But not as well.  How often do you find her on the bridge instead of someone else from her department?”

Kirk seemed to consider it.  “About as much as Spock,” he said with a grin.

“Right.  She’s just as driven as he is.  But she’s human.  Uhura needs to allow herself time to rest, time for a relationship, or maybe even something more permanent.  From what I’ve seen, it’s not that she’s not interested in Spock – she’s not interested in anyone.”  McCoy drew a breath and gave the captain his best ‘doctorly’ look.  “It’s not good to be alone.”

Jim took another sip and then said, “Surgeon heal thyself.”

Touché.

“Ah, Jim, I’ve been alone so long I wouldn’t know what to do with a woman,” McCoy replied with a shrug of his blue uniform tunic.

“Don’t you have manuals for that sort of thing?”

This time McCoy blew brandy out his nose.  He leaned back and said, “It’s been too long since we’ve done this.  I guess we can thank Starfleet for handing us a dull assignment.  Pour another one, Jim, it’s time to get plastered.  Doctor’s orders.”

“Bones, I don’t – ”

Fifteen minutes later – and about as many drinks – both men came instantly alert as a piercing shriek sounded through the sickbay office, and the crimson rectangle of light on the wall suddenly came to life.

“Red Alert!  Red Alert!” Lt. Sulu’s voice rang out.  “Captain to the bridge.”

Jim was on his feet – if somewhat shakily – in an instant.  “What is it, Sulu?  Has one of the stars gone missing?”

“No, sir.  Emergency in engineering.  Mr. Scott got word through that there has been an explosion resulting in the release of dangerous gases.  I told him to get out, but he refused and returned to aid his men.”

“Damn it, Jim!  Any fume released by the equipment in that area could be deadly!”  McCoy paused.  He could tell by the captain’s face that the thought had already occurred to him.

“Any words since then, Mr. Sulu?”

“No, sir.  Nothing.”

Leonard McCoy watched Jim Kirk slump for a moment and then, almost before his eyes, transform into the man of decision and action he knew.  “Maintain the con, Mr. Sulu.  Dr. McCoy and I are headed for engineering.”

“Aye, sir.  And, uh, sir….”

“Yes.”

“What should I tell our passengers?  They’re lighting up the board with questions.”

“Tell them….”  Kirk’s hazel eyes flicked to the surgeon’s face.  “Tell them there’s a glitch in the system and there’s nothing to worry about.  Kirk out.”

“A glitch in the system?” Bones inquired.  “They’re bound to find out sooner or later.”

“Let them.  Once I know what has happened, I don’t care what they learn,” his friend replied.  “Until then, I intend to keep them happy – and in the dark.”

 

In less than two minutes the ship’s elevator deposited them in the corridor outside engineering.  The area was thick with a noxious smoke.  Jim Kirk glanced at McCoy as they strode forward through it.  His old friend was cursing himself for a fool as the surgeon  realized he had not thought to bring masks for them to wear.  Bone’s self-condemnation eased somewhat as Christine Chapel appeared from out of nowhere with two in hand.  By the time he had donned one, Kirk’s throat was raw.  He damned himself for his moment of indulgence.  Though the call to action had sobered him quickly enough, the liquor was still in his veins – his reaction time was slowed, his perceptions off. 

Even as the thought crossed his mind, Kirk felt the sting of hypo spray against his shoulder.  Whirling, he demanded, his voice slightly muffled by the mask, “Bones, what was that?”

“Instant sobriety,” the doctor replied, sounding like he was a mile away.  “Though I warn you, the alcohol you consumed will pack quite a wallop in about six hours when the medication wears off.”

“Thanks.”  It was now he needed his wits about him.  He’d worry about the aftereffects later.  Nodding toward the crewman who stood by the door that led into engineering, he indicated McCoy should follow him.  The man was using a phaser to cut through the wall beside the door.

“Davies, isn’t it?” the captain asked.

The man nodded, “Aye, sir.”

Kirk watched his progress for a moment and then asked, “Did the explosion damage the door circuits?”

The man continued to work for a moment.  Then he paused and looked at him.  “No, sir.  They appear to have been deliberately cut.  That’s why I am working to free the internal mechanism.”

“Deliberately?”  Kirk did his best to hide his astonishment.  “Then it’s sabotage?”

“Seems likely, sir.”

“How long?” he asked as Davies returned to the task at hand.

“Seconds, sir.  I’d advise you stand back.  We have no idea how much pressure has built up, or how extreme the escaping gases will be.”

Kirk nodded, but still he hesitated.  It was not in him to leave his men in harm’s way while he sought shelter for himself.  He didn’t move until Leonard McCoy caught his arm and indicated the safety of the connecting hallway.

“Come on, Jim.”

“I should be here, Bones,” he snarled.

“And if you are scalded by the air or knocked unconscious, what good will that do the men trapped inside?  It’s not weakness, Jim, it’s common sense.”  The surgeon paused and then added with a slightly elevated eyebrow.  “It is also imminently logical.”

Jim laughed.  The tension broken, he nodded.  “I bow to your superior wisdom.”  With a glance at the crewman, he added, “Take no unnecessary risks.  Get yourself out of harm’s way as quickly as possible.”

The young man who was, perhaps, twenty-two, nodded.  “Aye, Captain.”

Kirk clapped his hand on the security man’s shoulder, and then allowed his friend to lead him around the corner to safety.  He had barely counted five when he heard the door slide open.  It was immediately followed by a loud whoosh and then the most terrible sound of all.

Silence.

Kirk broke free.  He rounded the corner at a pace and was the first one into engineering.  For a moment, between the tears that stung his eyes and the smoke and gases, he couldn’t see anything.  Then, as one of the technicians behind him began to use an instrument to vacuum the noxious air out of the room, he saw to his horror that there were at least a half-dozen men laying on the floor.

One of them was Montgomery Scott.

 

“Bones?  Well?  Bones?”

Leonard McCoy looked up at his captain and friend.  He and Nurse Chapel were busy running diagnostics on Mr. Scott and assessing his condition.  Of the eight crewmen from engineering that had been brought in, only Scotty and Ensign Clark remained alive.  When Kirk had asked him why, the captain hadn’t liked his reply.

Luck of the draw.

“Bones!”

McCoy held up a hand as he looked at the diagnostic board above Scot’s head.  He took another hypo from Chapel and checked it, and then applied it to the engineer’s reddened skin.  After a moment Scotty’s vitals settled down to something near normal.  The surgeon accepted a cloth from his nurse and wiped his brow.  “He’s out of danger, Jim.  But it was close.”

“Clark?”

“More damage to his lungs, but I think he’ll make it.  I’m…I’m sorry, Jim, about the other men.  There was nothing I could do.”

Kirk’s hazel eyes reflected the fact that he already knew that.  He said nothing, but nodded.  As hard as it was for him to lose a patient, McCoy knew that it was harder still for the captain to lose one of his crew.  Jim Kirk took personal responsibility for each and every one of the over four hundred lives on the Enterprise.

“Any word yet on who did this, or why?” McCoy asked, the tone of his voice indicating what he would like to do to them.

“No.  If it weren’t for the sabotaged door, I’d be tempted to think it was an accident.”

“Nae in my department,” a feeble voice protested.

“Scotty!  You shouldn’t be talking,” the surgeon chastised as he glanced at the indicators of the engineer’s vitals again, which were now dancing dangerously high.  “Nurse, I want this man unconscious.  Now!”

“Nae, Doctor,” Scotty countered, “I needs moost talk tae the captain.”  The engineer’s voice was a rasp; his breathing, labored.

“As your surgeon – ”

“Bones.”  He felt Jim Kirk’s hand on his arm.  “I need to hear what he has to say.”

“It goes against my best judgment, Jim.”

“That’s an order, Bones,” his captain said softly.

McCoy knew he could challenge that, but decided not to.  “Two minutes, Jim, no more.”

As the surgeon stepped back, Jim Kirk leaned in over the engineer’s supine form. “What happened, Scotty?  Was it sabotage?”

“Aye.  I’d noticed the wee bairns were working a bit slow.  I had one of the lad’s pull a panel.”  Scott paused to draw a shallow, difficult breath.  “There was something there, attached to the lines.  Some alien thing.”

“Alien?  How alien?

“Like nothin’ I’d ever seen, Captain.  It was bio-electronic.  Mechanical…and organic at one and the same time.  It seemed to be reading the engines.  I was aboot…to put a call into ye when it suddenly seemed to become aware of me.” 

“Aware of you?” McCoy asked, incredulous.

“Aye.  There was a smell – like some kind of acid – and then the…whole thing exploded in our faces.”  Scotty paused, breathing hard.  “How many…of the lads did I lose?”

Bones exchanged a look with the captain.  Kirk shook his head imperceptibly.  Moving in, the surgeon said quietly, “They’re all here in sickbay, Scotty.  We’ll do what we can for them.”  As he nodded to Christine to administer a sedative, McCoy turned wearily to look into the stasis room that served as a temporary morgue until the bodies could be moved. 

Well, it wasn’t a lie. 

He felt Jim’s hand on his shoulder again.  “Bones, you did all you could.”

For a moment he was silent, then he replied.  “I know.  But it’s never enough.  Sometimes I feel like I haven’t come very far from my southern ancestors who prescribed brandy for everything from a bad tooth to gunshot wounds.”

His captain nodded, and then suddenly stumbled.  For a moment he looked confused, and then Jim Kirk’s skin started to turn the shade of green of his Vulcan first officer’s.  “What?  Bones’ I don’t feel so good….”

McCoy glanced at the chronometer.  Five hours and fifty-two minutes.  “I told you there was a payment for instant sobriety.  Time’s up.”

“What’s happening to me?”

“When that new sobriety drug wears off, the effects of the alcohol hit your system ten-fold.  I think you better take a bed, Jim, and sleep it off.”

The captain’s eyes flashed with crisp anger.  “Bones!  There’s a mass murderer loose on my ship!”

“Well, you won’t find him by stumbling down the corridors like a drunken sailor.”

Kirk shook his head, regretted it, and then swallowed hard.  “Give me another shot.”

“No way, Jim.  Another and you’ll end up catatonic.  Just take an hour’s nap.  Maybe two.  After that, you’ll be up and running at top efficiency.”

Jim was frowning at him.  “Why aren’t you effected?”

“Never use the stuff.”

“You drank more than me!”

McCoy pursed his lips as his friend lurched forward and then collapsed into his arms.  He nodded to Chapel, who helped him to place the blond man in one of the sickbay beds.  As the doctor glanced at the monitor beeping out his captain’s vitals, he permitted himself a grin. “Iowa farm boys don’t hold a candle to southern gentlemen when it comes to holding their liquor.”

As McCoy turned back to other his patients, the sickbay’s intercom bleeped, demanding his attention.

“Do you want me to answer it, Doctor?” Chapel asked.

“No, I’ll get it.”  McCoy walked wearily over to the unit and keyed it on.  “What is it?”

“Sulu, here, Doc.  I need to talk to the captain.”

McCoy glanced at the diagnostic bed.  Jim Kirk was snoring.

“Not possible.  The captain is…out of action for an hour or two.”

“Was he injured?”

”No.  But his surgeon prescribed an enforced rest.  Now what’s wrong?”

“It’s the Columbus, Dr. McCoy.  An emergency beacon from Starfleet command was just received.  Mr. Spock and Lt. Uhura’s shuttlecraft never arrived.”