China Cat Sunflower
based on scenes from "Operation, Annihilate!"greywolf @ finestplanet.com
James T. Kirk sat in his command chair, on the bridge of the finest ship in StarFleet, and pondered just how powerless he really was, when it mattered.
Habit made him glance over at the Science station, and he was jolted all over again by the sight of Chekov's gold-clad form, crouched over the monitor where Spock usually stood.
Spock -- god, what would become of him now? And Bones -- would Fleet Medical insist on a court-martial? Spock would not press charges, Kirk knew. It was not his way -- but what would the bureaucrats decide?
Helplessly, he found himself reviewing the memory one more time, as though maybe this time he could make it all come out all right. He remembered watching Spock walk into the test cubicle, his face pale and drawn from the effort of fighting off the savage pain that the creature was inflicting in its efforts to control him, to break him to its will. Only his Vulcan strength and discipline had let him keep going this long, but the strain was definitely starting to show.
Kirk's brother, Sam, and sister-in-law Aurelan, had already died from the effects of the parasite. His only surviving nephew, Peter, lay even then in Sickbay, comatose, near death.
Spock moved like an old old man, whose bones were as brittle as glass. The Vulcan's hands trembled slightly, as he lowered himself carefully into the chair, inside. Their eyes met, briefly, just before McCoy dogged the hatch shut. So much that neither had words for; questions asked, and answered, in that silent moment of communion. As the door swung to, the Vulcan flinched, a slight moan escaping him, as the creature made one last desperate attempt to break that iron Vulcan control. Then it was closed, and McCoy and Chapel were snapping down the latches.
How *bright* it was when McCoy turned on that light. Bright as the Denevan sun, at close range, the range at which that one doomed Denevan pilot had declared himself free, an instant before he burned to ash and gone. Even outside, in the lab, even with welder's glasses on, how very, painfully bright it was...
Kirk felt it, somehow, when the creatured died. Felt the surge of relief, and even of joy, as the searing waves of pain just *vanished*. Felt Spock hesitate, then reach once more for that cool Vulcan blanket of control. And then he was shielded, and Jim was in his own head once more, his heart almost weightless with giddy relief. It had *worked*. Spock wasn't going to die. Peter wasn't going to die. And *he* wasn't going to have to sterilize an entire inhabited world, to prevent the damned thing from spreading any further...
God... Just the thought of that had turned his blood to ice in his veins; knowing now that it would not be necessary was -- he couldn't find words for it. But it was *fine*.
And then McCoy was unlocking the cubicle. Spock's face, as he reclined in the chair, was calm again; already the colour was returning to his cheeks, and the lines of pain were gone as if they'd never been. He blinked once or twice, swung his feet around, and stood, his motions once more as fluid and graceful as they'd ever been. He tugged on his tunic to straighten it, as he always did. All of the humans were grinning like idiots, as he announced, in that deep voice, "The creature within me is gone. I am free of it, and of the pain."
He came striding out of the cubicle, his steps light and easy, as they hadn't been since he was attacked -- and then he walked right into the edge of the table, hard.
"And... I am also -- quite blind..." Shock showed openly on that austere face, then; the black eyes opened wide in an instinctive but useless attempt to see. They helped him to a chair, his face still full of shock, and loss. He sat back, clasped his hands on the table, and in an odd tight voice said, "An equitable trade, Doctor -- thank you..."
And that was when Nurse Chapel brought in the test results on the first creature's remains -- and McCoy had gone dead white, and whispered, "Oh... *no*..."
Kirk hadn't been able to take any more; he'd had to leave, to do something, *anything*, to escape those looks on the faces of his friends. To erase the knowledge he couldn't bear to have; the image of Spock sitting there, blind, with his control in tatters. He'd grated, "Bones -- take care of him!" and run, off to the bridge, to oversee the satellite seeding. Of course, Scotty could have handled that in his sleep. The real reason Jim had left was his awareness that just then his own control was precarious at best. Be damned if he was going to add that to the burdens Spock and McCoy were already bearing. Captains just -- don't. It isn't *done*.
Sulu's voice was a welcome interruption to his useless thoughts. "Seeding orbit completed, Captain."
Grateful for something to do, he ordered the satellites activated, and the wait began.
Within minims, Uhura began receiving the first ground transmissions from Deneva since Aurelan's terrified plea for help -- god, was it only 36 hours ago? It seemed more like a century...
"Thank you, Captain -- I'll be sure and tell him. He'll be happy to hear that..." McCoy snapped off the intercom while Jim was still talking. The captain no doubt meant well, but the plain fact of the matter was, *his* carelessness had cost Spock his sight. Needlessly. He was the CMO -- it was *his* responsibility.
He sighed, glancing longingly at the bottle of bourbon on the shelf above his desk. He didn't understand it. There didn't seem to be any visible damage, under the scope -- but Spock was stone blind. Brainstem evoked potentials showed nothing was getting through at all. And it sure as hell wasn't pyschosomatic. Not in *Spock*. It just didn't make sense.
The bourbon was tempting -- but not now. He had patients to care for. Lt. Masters, of Engineering, had just finished rerigging the cubicle so they could put young Peter Kirk into it, on an antigrav stretcher. M'Benga was going to be there with him, eyes shielded against the UV that was all they needed to kill that damned obscene *thing*. He really ought to go out there and supervise -- but Geoff was a very good doctor. Somehow, Bones' heart just wasn't in it.
He was so absorbed in his thoughts that he almost missed the deep, quiet voice from the next room.
Leonard McCoy swallowed convulsively, and walked in to face the friend whose career he had just destroyed. "Spock -- that was Jim. The satellites worked. We're getting comm traffic now from the ground. The damned things are all dying..."
Spock inclined his head. "I am... gratified, to hear that. But that is not what I wished to speak to you about. Will you sit?"
The doctor gritted his teeth and made himself say, "Sure, Spock." and sit down. By god, he owed him that much, after what he'd done today. He clasped his hands together and cleared his throat. "Spock -- I... I'm *sorry*. It was my fault. I could have waited, for the test results..."
As he had done before, in the lab, the Vulcan cocked his head, the black eyes looking in almost the right direction. But not quite... "It was my choice as well," he reminded the doctor. "We had no way of knowing the tests would be finished so soon. Do not forget, Doctor -- they were building a ship. They had been working on it for several months, according to Aurelan Kirk. Time was of the essence. We could not permit that parasite to spread into the core worlds.
"As it is, it was fortunate that we were carrying satellites equipped with selective output filters, once we realized how little was needed to kill the creatures. It is possible that the extra time required to design and install such devices would have been enough for the possessed Denevans to launch.
"We might have been able to pursue and destroy them, but there is a distinct possibility they would have escaped. We have no idea what sort of ship they were building. The Enterprise is a ship of the line, not a fighter/interceptor like Captain Hunter's Aerfen.
"I insisted on being the subject because we had no other option. Attempts to capture possessed Denevans would simply have placed more crewmen at risk, whereas I was already infected. The captain's nephew was far too weak to move, much less use in any tests. It has taken all this time simply to adapt the chamber so that he can be treated and freed, as I have been. You know that this is true." The lean face was intently focused now; Spock's head was tilted just a little, so he might hear the reaction that he could not see.
Grudgingly McCoy admitted, "Yes. That's true, he was too weak..." He was going to say more, but Spock began to speak again.
"There is one final factor to consider, Doctor. Sooner or later, my control would have failed, and I would have become a danger to us all. Surely your own sensor logs will confirm what I knew only too well -- I was running out of time. Leonard -- you did nothing wrong." Even now, he looked, and sounded, exhausted. Once the euphoria of freedom had worn off, the impact of what he had gone through had hit him, hard.
McCoy shook his head -- then realized, all over again, that Spock couldn't possibly see it. "That's as may be -- you might be right, Spock. But dammit, man -- your *eyes*? Surely duty doesn't require *that* of you..."
"Ah, but that is where you are mistaken, Doctor. Duty does require such things, upon occasion -- and on this occasion, it did." He fell silent, and only then did McCoy notice his face...
Spock had developed a pretty nasty sunburn. Well, that was to be expected -- though the doctor had never seen the Vulcan get burned before, even on worlds where humans required fieldsuits. But that light had been *bright*.
McCoy stood, again. "Spock, listen -- I'd like to treat that burn on your face. There's no point in leaving it like that -- it might get infected. I doubt you've ever had one before, have you?"
He could see Spock thinking it over. Finally, he nodded, once. "Very well, Doctor. It is a logical precaution, I admit. And no, I have not experienced such a thing before." He fell silent again, and McCoy went out to get his medkit.
In many ways Spock still seemed to be in shock -- and he wasn't the only one. Bones was moving through a numbing haze of regret and remorse. Hell, maybe it was time he headed back to Georgia, before he screwed up again, and maybe got someone killed the next time. He sighed, collected what he needed, and returned to where Spock still sat.
The Vulcan's uniform had protected most of his skin, but his face, neck, and hands were beginning to turn an angry shade of green. The doctor busied himself applying a topical anti-inflammatory, and added a local anaesthetic to the mix. He knew that Spock was capable of somehow channeling the pain away -- dear god, he'd seen a chilling demonstration of it, these last two days. But in his opinion, Spock had already had to do far too much of that.
As he worked, he could see his friend begin to relax, though he knew damn well Spock would never admit that he felt better. He wouldn't admit he was hurting in the first place, which was why Bones hadn't bothered to ask. None of that mattered. Bones didn't expect that from him. That would have been against the unspoken rules the two of them always played by...
There was something odd about his eyes now, though -- what the devil was *that*? He reached into his kit for an opthalmoscope. "Spock -- I'm going to shine a light into your eyes for a moment -- I need to check something."
A nod, though he did not speak.
Yes, there it was again -- an odd, almost opalescent shimmer to the surface of the eye. He upped the magnification, and saw a delicate flush of green growing as he watched. Dammit -- where had he seen something like this before? He could *almost* remember... He peered at it again, under yet higher magnification.
Huh. Whatever it was, it was burned, just like Spock's face. Must have gotten burned right through his eyelids -- which made some sense, given the thinness of that skin. Whatever it was, it looked sore as hell. It just hadn't showed up, at first. Made sense; the sunburn on his skin hadn't either. Well, hell. He could do something about *that*. He picked up his sprayer, and switched cartridges.
"Spock, tell me something -- are your eyes sore, now? I know they weren't at first -- but how do they feel, now?"
Spock thought it over. "There seems to be some irritation, Doctor," he admitted, which was probably as close as Spock would ever come to admitting that something actually hurt.
Except under the influence of the creature. He had not been able to hide the pain then, or even handle it, at first. The doctor's blood ran cold, just remembering. He'd seen Aurelan Kirk die screaming, and nothing he could do had helped her. He shivered, and pushed the memories away. He had work to do.
"Irritation, huh. Yeah, that's what I thought. Hang on; I'm going to take care of that. This'll feel a little cold..." Afterwards he gave the Vulcan a cold wet cloth. "Hold that over your eyes for about 10 minims, Spock -- it'll help the spray work faster."
He managed to kill a little time, then, putting things away. M'Benga stuck his head in the door, and Bones told him to go ahead with Peter's treatment, he was going to be busy in here for a while. The dark face smiled, and popped back out of the room again.
Something was tickling, in Bones' head. He *knew* he'd seen something like that before... Hmm... Yes! That one had been much thicker, and completely opaque. But he was willing to bet this was a similar structure... Despite his determination not to get ahead of himself, a bubble of hope was rising inside him. He jittered and fidgeted until Spock finally put the compress down.
McCoy leaned over, and looked through the scope again. Yup. By god, he was right. That's what it was, all right. Most of the inflammation had subsided now, and it was almost completely transparent, to his eyes -- but if he was right, in light this dim, it was as good a shield as battlesteel. The transparency only worked one way...
He dug a small emergency beacon out of his kit. It gave off a bright blue-white light; there was no UV component, but it could be seen a long way off at night. "Spock, hang on a second. This might sting a bit -- but I need to know if you see anything when I do it."
The Vulcan raised an eyebrow, but made no comment. McCoy covered the beacon with his hand and turned it on. Then he held it in front of Spock's face, and slowly let his fingers part, so a narrow strip of light shone directly in the Vulcan's eyes.
And Spock actually flinched! Not much, and he covered it pretty fast -- but he had obviously seen *something*, a fact he confirmed when McCoy inquired. "Fascinating..." he murmured, almost inaudibly.
"Uh-huh... *thought* so," the doctor muttered, as he rummaged in his kit for his smallest, most delicate protoplaser. He brought over a reading lamp, the better to see what he was doing. "Spock -- it looks as if you have a second eyelid. And it was burned, like your skin, and it's fused itself shut. Now, just a sec -- I want you to hold real still, now -- this is going to tingle a bit..." And very very carefully, on its lowest setting, he traced the protoplaser along where the edge of it should be. He had to retract the outer eyelid a bit, to get to it, but after that it wasn't hard. He could see the line, where it had fused shut...
Finally he sat back. "OK. Close your eyes for a moment, Spock. Now -- blink a couple of times." His hand rested, unnoticed by either of them, on that thin, warm shoulder. Spock blinked, shook his head -- and started to smile like a Cheshire cat, before he caught himself. But McCoy had seen, and felt it, a quick, bright touch of joy. Very quickly shielded -- but it was real. He was grinning like a damned fool, himself, as he held one hand in front of Spock's eyes. "How many fingers are extended?"
"All five, Doctor..." Spock closed his eyes once more; when he opened them again, his face was once more Vulcan-smooth, Vulcan-calm. But his voice was light indeed, as he said, "Thank you, Doctor McCoy -- I had not realized what had happened. I knew only that I could not see..." Despite his control, a certain amount of wonder shone brightly, in the dark eyes.
McCoy grinned again. "Hell -- if not for the sunburn, I don't think I'd've noticed it. I expect the doctors on Vulcan would've figured it out, quick enough -- but now you don't have to leave the ship in the first place. Let me just check your retinas again, now that the way is clear. If they're okay, I'll go ahead and discharge you from Sickbay, on one condition. If you promise to get some rest, in the very near future. Even you need a rest, after that."
A tiny almost-smile flickered across the lean face. "I agree. I shall do so, Doctor -- after a trip to the bridge. I wish to be certain that the satellites were placed correctly."
*Yeah, sure*, McCoy thought to himself, still smiling. *Hasn't got nothin' to do with reassuring a certain captain, has it?* But he didn't say it. After all that he'd been through in the last two days, the Vulcan had earned a truce.
Strictly a temporary one, of course. But, a truce. For now.
"You got yourself a deal, Mr. Spock. Now go on, git outta my Sickbay. Go get changed. I got sick people to look after. Don't need you hangin' around here pestering me..."
Once the doors swished shut behind Spock, he reached for the bottle of bourbon. *Now*, he could have a little snort. And he laughed, as he poured, drank, and headed for the bridge. "Cat's eyes. Hot damn. Who would have thunk it?" He shook his head. "Vulcans!"