"In almost every list pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris, is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. It is identified as a desire to be more important or attractive than others, failing to acknowledge the good work of others, and excessive love of self. [...] In perhaps the best-known example, the story of Lucifer, pride (his desire to compete with God) was what caused his fall from Heaven, and his resultant transformation into Satan." (Wikipedia)
Jim Kirk was annoyed with this away mission to put it mildly. The Meriahns did not want any contact with Starfleet - that was clear. They were said to be a polite race, but suspicious of all aliens. They'd had some bad experiences, as their prime minister had explained. In a way, they had quite a lot in common with Vulcans, being touch-telepaths and allegedly unable to lie. That of course, made their being polite somewhat impossible, as Bones had pointed out. For being polite often meant disguising the truth.
Their planet was of strategic value no doubt, and they had promising dilithium deposits, but they'd said they wanted no contact with Starfleet or the Federation and therefore they should let them be.
Kirk wasn't sure if he'd made the situation even more delicate now, beaming down with McCoy and Spock, as ordered, and trying to persuade them to collaborate. However, they had been hospitable enough, although making clear that their politics of splendid isolation would not be changed. This was good enough for Kirk. For even though the Federation seemed to want an alliance with the Meriahns at all costs, he believed it was enough to see that the Klingons didn't. If we stay here for longer, we'll just earn their distrust and push them into the direction of an alliance with the Klingons, Kirk thought bitterly while looking at a statue in front of the Meriahni government's Department for Foregin Affairs. It was a statue of an old man, wearing the traditional headgear that all Meriahns, male and female wore. It looked a bit clunky, Kirk thought.
He grabbed his communicator. "Kirk to McCoy and Spock. We're done here. Meet me at the beam-out point!"
"Acknowledged, captain," came Spock's voice over the communicator. Kirk waited. McCoy was probably somewhere engaged in conversation with a Meriahn.
"Dr. McCoy, please come in!"
Bones and Spock had been looking at some exotic plants in the botanical gardens when he last saw them, going into different directions, of course, because they wouldn't agree on which plants were the most "fascinating". Kirk smiled to himself. Their constant dispute really didn't get old for them.
"Spock, is Dr. McCoy with you?"
"No, captain. He went to observe the succulents in the opposite direction of where I am."
"McCoy, come in! ... Bones, come on, we want to get out of here," Kirk was beginning to become even more annoyed.
"Captain, I will search for him," Spock said calmly into the communicator.
"Yes. The succulents, you say? I'll meet you there."
He pocketed his communicator. It wasn't like Bones to become that carried away, he thought a little worried.
The botanical gardens were only moderately interesting, they were really nothing new either to him or the doctor. However Spock had sensed that it was best to leave the captain alone for a while, this mission had not come to a satisfactory outcome. Therefore, he had taken the opportunity to observe the local flora. The doctor had wandered off into the opposite direction of himself, something that did not really surprise him, since he had been in one of his irrational, irritated moods. But, Spock admitted to himself, it was somewhat irritating to him now that the doctor should not answer his communicator.
When he arrived at the point where he'd last seen Doctor McCoy, this irritation became concern. The gravel on the path was disordered, and some plants on the side had been damaged as if from a struggle.
"Doctor McCoy, are you in need of assistance?" Spock called out and strained to listen for an answer.
He did hear something, it was a muffled sound, a whimper? He quickly turned into its direction, somewhere behind a wall of large cactus-like plants.
"Doctor?" he called again. And again he heard this sound, coming from behind the plants, that made him suddenly leap over them as fast he could.
McCoy was lying on the ground, bleeding from a scratch on his shoulder that he seemed to have suffered from falling into one of the thorned plants. It did not appear to be very serious, although the doctor was in a state that so shocked Spock that for a split second, he was unable to move. The doctor was shaking, his face showed perspiration and bright red spots under and around his left eye and chin. However, it was McCoy's expression of utter horror and desperation that was most unsettling. It could be poison, Spock hypothesised and knelt down beside the doctor, grabbing for one of his wrists to feel the pulse.
The doctor gave a soft cry of pain at the touch. "I apologise, doctor," Spock said, when he observed the torn flesh on both the doctor's wrists. It looked as if someone had tied him up and the ropes had burnt into McCoy's wrists when he had struggled against them.
"What happened? Who did this to you?" Spock asked gently, now holding a hand on the doctor's shoulder wound to stench the moderate, but still disconcerting flow of blood.
McCoy was clearly in great distress, however he was recognising Spock and trying to say something around the now almost uncontrollable sobs coming from him.
"Relax, doctor. You are safe now," Spock said, not knowing, if that was true. But he had to calm the doctor in order to understand what he was trying to say.
"C-can't. ... Please ..."
Spock suddenly wished for Kirk to be here. He was just incapable of spending the comfort the doctor needed. In an almost desperate attempt, he lifted the doctor's upper body from the ground and settled him against his chest to hold him close. It was something he'd seen humans do at such moments. He just hoped it would have a positive effect on the normally so private CMO.
"Please, doctor. You must calm down. Let me help you." He looked at McCoy's face. There was something peculiar about the red marks.
"Spock. S-sorry - I think I told him. Every - everything. He just t-took it." McCoy made a movement with his hand to touch his face and the angry red marks which suddenly represented a very familiar pattern to Spock. Before McCoy could touch them, he caught the doctor's hand with his own as if by that he could make them go away.
He had to bite the inside of his cheek to stop himself from swearing. The Meriahn were touch telepaths like him. It all fell into place. McCoy had been attacked, probably tied at his wrists to keep from struggling and then he was forced to mind-meld with one of the Meriahn, possibly to get to secret Starfleet information. Emotions of rage threatened to overwhelm him once again, then he suddenly saw Kirk standing in front of them, a look of horror on his face.
"Spock! What the hell happened to him?" Kirk exclaimed, kneeling down beside them and putting a hand on Bones' uninjured shoulder.
"N-no!" McCoy almost screamed, and tried to crawl under Spock's skin, twisting his uniform in one fist, while the other hand almost crushed Spock's.
Kirk pulled back his hand as if it had been burnt.
"Doctor, it is just Jim. No one will hurt you, I promise!"
Kirk watched Spock with a mixture of amazement and concern. He knew that Spock could be surprisingly sensitive and caring when it concerned Bones' well-being. But this had always been the case in situations when they had really thought they'd lose him, like when he had been tortured by the Vians, or when they'd thought he would die of xenopolycytemia.
"Spock?" Kirk was growing impatient, he needed to know what was wrong with Bones. And although he was somewhat satisfied that he was calming a little bit, he couldn't help feeling irrationally hurt by McCoy's violent reaction to his meant-to-be comforting touch.
Spock looked at him with his usual impassive expression, but he could see that it cost him a considerable amount of energy to keep it that way. "The doctor was attacked," he said simply.
"How bad is it?" Kirk was on the verge of shaking Spock until he spilled it. He eyed McCoy, whimpering in Spock's arms, but didn't dare touching him again.
"Captain, I believe the doctor was forced to meld with a Meriahn."
Kirk tried to comprehend. He knew from Spock, that a forced meld was considered the worst crime a telepath could commit. Mind rape they called it. It meant theft of a person's most private thoughts, damaging the very soul. Often resulting in ... permanent madness ... or suicide.
"Bones, I - I'm sorry."
It was all he could say at the moment and he knew it sounded lame.
But somehow it was enough. McCoy looked at him for the first time since he had arrived. His eyes were wide open, glowing with unshed tears. Kirk cringed at the sight. He had never seen Bones cry, not when he thought he was going to die of xenopolycytemia, not ... well never.
"Jim, what if I told him? Everything I know about Starfleet? I - I'm sorry. I couldn't help it. God, I just c-couldn't." He looked miserable. As if he had just realized he'd killed a thousand people by gross negligence.
Kirk shook his head. "No, Bones. You did nothing wrong."
He tentatively reached out to touch him again, fearing that he would shy away once more.
He didn't, though he stiffened a bit and coughed. Kirk thought he heard a wheezing sound coming from his lungs. He took a good look at the cut in Bones' shoulder. "What's this, Spock?"
"I think it was caused by a fall into one of the succulents. It does not seem to be too serious, but it should be treated as soon as possible. We need to get him to sickbay, captain."
Kirk nodded and took out his communicator with one hand while trying to unclench Bones' hand from clutching Spock's uniform with the other.
That gained him some attention. "Jim, didn't you hear what I said? I - I'm a traitor. I didn't mean to, I swear, I tried to fight him, but I couldn't. He broke … into me, my head, and …, he's gonna ... I don't know, he c-can ... Jim, I - please you've got to believe me ... I did t-try ...".
Kirk let his communicator fall into the dirt and grabbed Bones' hand with both of his now. As he saw the mutilated flesh on his CMO's wrists he clenched his jaws until he heard a little crack. He needed to keep control of himself and make this convincing. He had to come through to his confused and terrified friend now, or Bones would be plagued with guilt and shame for the rest of his life.
"Now, Bones, look at me!" McCoy had turned his face towards Spock's chest again. He shook his head.
"BONES!" That came out louder than he had intended it, but it had the effect he'd hoped for. Pained blue eyes met his and once more Kirk had to swallow hard after looking into those eyes full of pain, fear and shame.
"Thank you!" He smiled encouragingly. "Now, repeat after me: I ...,"
He stopped and waited for McCoy to do as he was told, but McCoy stayed silent.
"Bones, I said repeat after me!" He tried to make it sound like an order, though it was more a desperate plea.
"What?" McCoy looked confused and coughed again.
"Say it: I am ..."
"I am ..." McCoy looked at him expectantly, breathing hard.
Great, now he just had to choose his words carefully. "... not to blame."
Then quietly McCoy repeated: "... not to blame."
Right, very convincing. "There was nothing I could have done to prevent this."
"There was nothing I could do to prevent this." It was a whisper barely audible. Come on, make him believe it!
"In this kind of situation no one could have reacted differently."
"In this kind of situation no one could have reacted differently." This was becoming a sort of game now.
"Not even Jim."
"Not even …,"
He couldn't bring himself to say it.
"I mean it, Bones. Say it: Not even Jim."
Jim looked at his first officer in gratitude. Then they both looked at their friend struggling to repeat these simple five words.
"Not ... not even Jim, or ... Spock."
"That's the truth, Bones." Kirk watched him, not at all convinced that this had had any effect on his friend at all.
"That's the truth, Bones," McCoy repeated and Kirk felt his heart miss a beat.
Bones grimaced. "Sorry, not ... f-funny. I ... I know."
He closed his eyes as his breathing was becoming more laboured.
Kirk swallowed another lump in his throat and gave his friend's hand a final squeeze, before he let go and picked up his communicator once more to call the Enterprise and have them all beamed aboard. They would find and punish whoever had done this, but right now they needed to get their doctor back to safety and tended to.
"S-Spock," McCoy whispered.
"Yes, doctor?" Spock strained to hear the human, still slumped in his arms.
"I don't th-ink I can stand." It sounded embarrassed. Illogical, especially under these cirumstances, Spock decided.
"I know, doctor. Do not worry." With that he shifted him a bit, so that he could place his arm under the doctor's knees, and in one swift motion stood up to stand beside Kirk who looked at them with worry etched into his face.
"Ready?" he asked them. Spock nodded. Kirk waited patiently. "Bones?"
"No. P-lease don't - I mean -" He coughed. Then more quietly than before: "Well, I guess so ..." McCoy wouldn't look at him.
Kirk took out his communicator again. "Scotty, let the corridors to sickbay and the transporter room be cleared of all unneeded personnel! Then come to the transporter room to beam us up personally."
"Sir, is something wrong?"
"We're all right, just do as I said. Kirk out."
"We understand your concern for your CMO, Jim. But the safety of the Federation is paramount."
Admiral Westervliet had been talking to Captain Kirk for twenty minutes now. When they had arrived in the transporter room with no one there except Scotty, Kirk had instructed Spock to take care of McCoy and wait for him in sickbay.
He had needed to make a few calls. The one to Prime Minister Coltan had been pleasant in a way, for he could yell at him and vent just a little bit of anger. The Meriahn had apologised and promised to look at surveillance tapes in order to identify and arrest the bastard who had violated McCoy.
The other call to Starfleet Command hadn't been nearly as liberating. He had suspected them to be concerned about what the incident meant to the relationship Starfleet was trying to establish with Meriah. He'd even steeled himself for a conversation about a contemporary replacement for his incapacitated chief medical officer. But now this was taking a direction he hadn't expected and did not like.
"Admiral, Dr. McCoy is a physician. He did not have access to any sensitive information. At least nothing that could be a threat to the Federation."
"Really, captain?" Westervliet raised his eyebrows in an arrogant manner that made Kirk want to punch him in the face. "Jim, this is not meant to be criticism on your style of command, but the whole fleet knows that Dr. McCoy has more than once overstepped his - field of responsibility. And you know it, too."
It was true, Bones' frequent presence on the bridge was just one example. But it had never occurred to Kirk that this could mean any danger to Starfleet - or his friend. "He may have picked up an unimportant communication frequency. Maybe he even knows your date of birth, Admiral, but unintentionally. He wouldn't even remember it. And he never asked for any information that was classified." That was a lie. But Kirk hoped Westervliet wouldn't notice.
"I didn't say he snooped around deliberately, Jim. It is just that he might have picked up something involuntarily, or even unconsciously. We cannot take such a risk. Moreover another mind-meld - from an expert - is the only therapy that really promises a cure here. Why do you disapprove?"
"Because you are making it an order. You don't care about what Doctor McCoy has to say to this."
"Jim, this may concern the future of the Federation. We know the Meriahn are in contact with the Klingons. Maybe they're behind the attack. Maybe they required some specific information, something that McCoy could give them. We need to know what information the attacker stole in order to be prepared."
Kirk knew it was true. Moreover, he knew that the recommended therapy for someone who had been violated in that kind of way was another mind-meld, controlled and healing this time. But what he knew most definitely was that Bones was going to refuse. And he couldn't force him. It would be mind rape all over again. He was also sure that Spock would not agree to perform a meld against Bones' will. He really had a problem now.
“Now - you can tell your first officer to meld with McCoy, or - if you think that isn't possible, we'll send another Vulcan telepath. Maybe a therapist from the Vulcan Science Academy who has experience with this sort of thing." Westervliet was final on that.
Kirk faked a smile.
"No, Admiral. That won't be necessary. I will talk to McCoy. He will consent." No he won't, Kirk thought, but he'd rather have Spock than any of these Vulcan Science Academy people mess with his CMO's mind.
"Good. Jim, I know how you feel, but the whole Federation may depend on this."
"Yes, sir. Understood."
"Very well. Westervliet out."
As the screen went black, Kirk put his head in his hands.
It felt as if he was about to betray his best friend.
However, maybe, just maybe, McCoy would consent after all. He had been quite trusting of Spock down on the planet. Maybe he would see a meld as a chance to make him feel better?
No, he'd never liked the concept of a mind-meld even between Kirk and Spock. Now, he had been mind raped. He was hurt, he was embarrassed. Hell, he was scared to death. And he felt guilty about what happened.
Kirk closed his eyes, feeling ashamed of what his own mind was suggesting to him: Maybe I can use Bones' feelings of guilt to trick him into consenting to another meld.
There was nothing Bones feared more than harming innocent people. He'd already told Jim down on the planet that he felt guilty for what had happened. And there was a risk that whatever information that Meriahn got, could be used to harm the Federation and its citizens. He'd only have to tell Bones that he'd be able to prevent a catastrophy by giving his consent to another mind-meld, performed by Spock who would get the information that Starfleet needed to engage in damage control.
Kirk felt nauseated by this thought, however, it seemed to be his best option. At least, it was better than forcing Bones.
Reluctantly he got up and trodded to sickbay, his thoughts on a play he had once seen. Julius Ceasar, standing with a dagger in his side stammering: Et tu Brute?
Spock was sitting on a bio-bed watching McCoy sleep. Kirk knew he had been sitting there ever since he'd brought the doctor to sickbay. His uniform showed dark blotches of McCoy's blood on his chest. Bones' breathing was a little strained, though he was sleeping peacefully. An oxygen mask lay unused in his hand which he held to his chest. His wrists were bandaged, Kirk noticed.
"How is he?" he asked Spock who nodded in acknowledgement to his presence.
"He has been sedated. The thorns of the succulent plant that caused the doctor's injury to the shoulder bore a mild kind of poison. It has caused some breathing difficulty, but it's nothing serious."
"Really?" Kirk could hear the rattling noise accompanying each of McCoy's breaths increase. Spock noticed it too, but didn't move. McCoy started to cough suddenly, dropping the mask.
"Hey, Bones. Take it easy." Jim reached out, and turned him to his side in hope of making it easier for him to breathe. Spock had retrieved the mask from the floor, hesitated and then handed it to Kirk who placed it on the doctor's face, so that it could provide him with a steady flow of oxygen again.
"Captain, I'm not sure if my presence here is beneficial to the doctor's recovery."
"Why?" Kirk was alarmed. Spock had just been ordered by Westervliet to perform a mind-meld. Now if even his presence at Bones' bedside produced a problem ...
"At least, I cannot touch him."
OK. Here it comes. "What did he say to you?"
"Nothing. However, I fear I will hurt him if I do."
"The doctor had quite some difficulty breathing before. When I placed the oxygen mask on his mouth and nose, I briefly touched his face and immediately connected with his mind."
"You mean you melded?" Kirk felt nauseous again.
"Yes, unintentionally. I was so focussed on the events that I lost control. I did not mean any harm of course, but it happened nevertheless."
Kirk froze. "What did you sense?"
"No, I don't believe he realised that I had any access to his thoughts. It was too brief, nevertheless I don't think he would want me to meld with him. I shall not touch him again until I'm sure of my control over my abilities."
Kirk bit his lower lip. Spock wasn't going to like this. "Is it not true that the recommended therapy after a forced meld is yet another meld, performed by a person trained in mental techniques - to heal?"
"Yes, captain. However, it is necessary that this meld will be performed with the greatest possible caution. Right now, I believe that I am not capable of summoning the control necessary to perform such a delicate task. I believe also, that the doctor will not be ready for such kind of therapy in the near future. By the time he is, I think I will be able to perform my duty."
Duty. Spock didn't seem to be too thrilled to be the one to perform the meld. If he didn't know it better, he would say his Vulcan science officer was afraid."Spock, I agree. However, there are other circumstances that might make a meld necessary, as soon as possible."
"What circumstances, captain?"
"Yes, well... Westervliet said there is reason to believe that the Klingons have something to do with this. Starfleet Command wants to know what exact information the Meriahn stole from McCoy. He practically ordered you to perform the meld."
Spock nodded. "Captain, then you have to convince the doctor to allow me to meld with him. I will not do this if he doesn't accept."
Kirk smiled, of course not, he wouldn't hurt Bones in that way, but he would risk insubordination instead. "Spock, the thing is, if you don't do it, they will send someone from the Vulcan Science Academy."
Spock blinked and realized he disliked that thought to the same extent his captain did. "Then, I ask your permission to retreat to my quarters and meditate, in order to prepare myself."
"Bridge to Captain Kirk." It was Uhura's voice. Kirk nodded to Spock who left sickbay, a little too fast for the practiced observer, and answered the call over the intercom.
"Captain, Prime Minister Coltan for you."
"Right. Put him through to Dr. McCoy's office, Lieutenant. Kirk out."
He somehow felt awkward sitting down at his friend's desk, thinking that it looked cleaner and better organized than he would have suspected. Immediately, he felt guilty for having believed that McCoy was a bit of a slob, on the one hand because he knew that he was one of the best doctors in Starfleet, on the other hand because he realized how seldomly he had actually visited Bones in his office.
He turned on the screen and was greeted by Coltan, Prime Minister of Meriah Five who looked a bit embarrassed, something that Kirk didn't intend to smooth out for him.
"What do you want?"
"How is Dr. McCoy, captain?"
"He's been better. I hope you have found the attacker."
"Yes. We have viewed the surveillance tapes. It was Secretary Delihan. You have met him at the meeting."
"You mean your Secretary of Defense?" Kirk didn't even try to hide the accusation in his tone. Not only had one of the members of the Meriahni government assaulted his CMO, but the Secretary of Defense, who had claimed that his government was interested in staying absolutely neutral, had made an attack on Starfleet, possibly with the intention of selling information to the Klingons.
"Captain, I assure you, this happened without our knowledge."
"Where is Delihan now?"
"We don't know. We are searching for him at present."
"Are you? Well, I would like to conduct a little search myself." Kirk mentally bit his lip. He should be careful with what he said. At the moment, Coltan was surprisingly cooperative.
"Captain, I understand your worries. Please be assured that we are doing our best to find Delihan. We apologise for the incident, however we cannot allow you to conduct a search by yourself. Delihan is a Meriahn, he will be put to trial, according to Meriahni law."
"What do you know about your secretary of defense? What are his motives?"
"Delihan is not a man of great passions. He is a rational person, he never makes premature decisions, captain. I am telling you this only, because I believe he has planned this in advance."
"What do you mean, Prime Minister?"
"Captain, as you know, the Klingon Empire has been engaged in diplomatic efforts towards our world."
"You think Delihan sides with them, in spite of your politics of splendid isolation."
"We have observed that Delihan was very - impressed - by their weapons and their ideology, captain. He believed the Klingons posed a considerable threat to our world. He may have decided to do them a favor in order to avert any danger."
This is getting worse by the minute, Kirk thought. "Coltan, are you sure Delihan is still on Meriah Five?"
"Yes. Space traffic control has confirmed that no ships have left Meriah in the last 24 hours."
"Have any arrived?"
Coltan hesitated. "Captain, this is information that would normally be considered none of your business. However, since I understand your concerns - no, no alien spaceships have arrived on Meriah in the last 24 hours. Yours is the only spaceship in orbit."
I don't need your stupid space traffic control to get information like that. Kirk smiled at Coltan. "You will keep me informed?"
The prime minister seemed relieved. "Of course. You are allowed to stay in orbit of Meriah until we have more information."
"You are too kind." Kirk hoped sarcasm was a concept the prime minister wasn't too familiar with. Coltan just bowed his head and the view screen went black.
"Kirk to bridge."
"Scott here, sir."
"Scotty, check our sensor logs, I want to know if any ships or shuttles have left Meriah Five in the last, say 24 hours."
"Aye, captain. Anything else?"
Kirk chewed his lip. Scotty had been in the captain's chair for hours now, since they had beamed down to Meriah Five. He had only come down to the transporter room for a few minutes, at Kirk's request, in order to beam them up personally. When they had materialised on the platform, Spock carrying a bleeding and wheezing Bones in his arms, Scotty had looked shocked. Bones had pressed his face into Spock's shoulder pretending to be unconscious. Scotty hadn't asked any questions, he had just escorted them to the turbo lift, asked if there was anything he could do, and after Kirk had shaken his head, he had gone wordlessly to the bridge. He deserved an explanation. However, other things were more pressing, Kirk decided.
"Yes. Let our long range sensors search for starships in the vicinity."
"What kind of starships?"
"Any ships. Meriahn, Starfleet, Klingon..."
Kirk nodded, although Scotty couldn't see him. "Yes, as I said. Tholian, Romulan, whatever. I just want to know what kind of ships passed through this sector in the last 24 hours. Maybe some still are in the vicinity."
"Thanks, Scotty. Lieutenant Uhura?"
"Is it possible to find out if there was any communication between Meriah and an alien world, or ship? In the last 24 hours?"
"Other than us, captain?"
"It is possible, although it would be a violation of the diplomatic protocol."
"Thank you. I will be coming up shortly. Kirk out."
Right. Now to the nasty part. Kirk knew he had to talk to Bones now. Or maybe M'Benga first. He stood up and looked over to the bio-bed, where McCoy was sleeping.
It was empty. What the …
Kirk rushed out of the office to find Bones suddenly standing in front of him, holding a cup of water in his hands.
"Hey, Jim. I swear, I could have died of dehydration on that bio-bed, and no one would have noticed. Where the hell is everyone?"
Kirk gave him a once over. Bones was still in his torn and bloody uniform, although the cut on his shoulder had been cleaned and bandaged, as had his wrists. Other than that, he looked quite normal. The haunted look on his face was gone, and his breathing was alright.
"How do you feel?" Kirk asked carefully.
"Well, that was no answer to my question, but thank you, Jim. I feel fine, just a little headache."
He touched his temple. Kirk looked alarmed, but immediately schooled his features back to something that he hoped looked reassuring.
"Maybe you should lie down again."
"What? No, I'm okay, really. What happened?"
M'Benga had been standing at the door, quietly observing, and finally he stepped in. "Welcome back, Leonard. What do you remember?"
"Uh. I was looking at some plants in the botanical garden on Meriah Five. There was a sort of cactus I found interesting. It had these strange looking thorns, and I …," He stopped. His eyes went wide and he looked at Jim in embarrassment. Kirk braced himself.
"Sorry, Jim. I didn't touch these thorns and got myself poisoned, did I? I mean, I should know better than to poke an alien plant that looks dangerous."
Kirk didn't know if he should feel alarmed or relieved. "No, Bones, don't worry about that. Relax. It's okay. Really." Yeah right, he had used too many words to be convincing, he realized. And Bones was eyeing him with suspicion now.
"Yes. So, ... why is sickbay so deserted?" McCoy decided to change the subject, for now. It was somehow disconcerting to be all alone in sickbay. No patients, well that was all right. But no nurses? What if there was an emergency? Well, at least M'Benga was here, he had been hiding in the laboratory, and Jim had been in his office ...
"We just wanted to give you a little privacy," M'Benga said and pushed him back towards the bio-bed.
That had been quite thoughtful of them, McCoy thought. He should feel grateful, but on the other hand, it seemed to be a bit exaggerated. Unless, ...
"What did I do? Did I scream nasty, indecent things at everyone?"
"No, you didn't do anything, Bones. We just wanted to do you a favor. We know how much you hate being a patient in your own sickbay."
"What were you doing in my office?"
"What? Is this an interrogation? I was talking to Prime Minister Coltan. He wanted to know how you were."
"Oh. And - how am I?" McCoy looked at Jim, not at M'Benga who would have been able to give him a more qualified answer. There was something Jim wasn't telling him and he wanted to know what it was.
"You …," Kirk was searching for an answer. Bones had forgotten about the forced meld. He was acting like himself again, and Kirk was actually relieved to have is friend back. On the other hand, they still needed to know what Delihan had wanted. How should he tell him? He needed to confide with M'Benga, and Spock.
"Well, you ... smell, Bones."
"What?" McCoy looked down at himself and then up at Jim again. "Well, Jim, you try and get attacked by an evil plant, get poisoned and then almost die of thirst in your own sickbay, and then we'll see what happens to your body odor."
Kirk smiled at him affectionately. "Well, I suggest you take a shower, before the nurses come back, Bones."
"You think this is really funny, don't you? Well, I will go and wash myself, so as not to disturb your olfactory senses anymore, then I will put on a uniform that is more becoming of an officer. And then I want to know what really happened!"
McCoy got up and trodded towards the bathrooms, leaving Kirk and M'Benga alone.
"Do you think it's possible that he forgot everything?" Kirk had waited until he was sure McCoy was out of earshot before he addressed Dr. M'Benga.
"Captain, you know Leonard better than I do. And I know, he is a master of repression. He is used to functioning under great stress, that comes with the job, but whenever something bad happens to him, he refuses to talk about it. He just puts it somewhere to the back of his head and that is that. I believe this is what he is doing right now."
Yes, that was a good description of Bones. Kirk had known him for almost nine years now, and he still didn't know the details of his divorce and his life before he'd joined Starfleet. He never talked about it. Jim had never asked, either. He had been afraid to, actually. Afraid, that Bones would push him away and as a result wouldn't talk to him for over a week. Or that it would just bring up memories that would only hurt his friend.
"I know what you mean, but I think he really has forgotten all about the attack."
"I believe you are right. His subconsciousness is probably doing that for him. It is a common survival mechanism of the human brain and a very reasonable one, in my opinion. If there are memories that are so disturbing that it makes you unable to go on living, it is best to do away with them."
Kirk sighed. "But, you cannot delete memories from the brain completely."
"No, at least not by yourself. And that may be a problem. The memories are still there, they are just stowed away in the bottom most drawer, so to speak."
"And they may surface again."
"Yes. And when that happens, I just hope that Leonard isn't rock climbing or performing surgery on someone."
"Rock climbing?" Kirk raised his eyebrows.
"Well, you know what I mean. I just hope he isn't in a precarious situation somewhere, where losing your balance can mean death."
Although Kirk thought it was unlikely that Bones was going to be rock climbing somewhere, at least not voluntarily, he could name dozens of those precarious situations that M'Benga meant, that had ocurred for Bones only in the past three weeks.
"Doctor, I've talked to Spock. He would be willing to perform a healing mind-meld."
"I think that would be a good idea, captain. If we knew for sure that these memories will never resurface again, then of course, I wouldn't recommend it. Let sleeping dogs lie."
Kirk nodded to himself. "There is another reason why we need this mind-meld. We must know what information the attacker wanted from Bones. Now, if you say he has repressed everything and buried it somewhere to where not even he has access to, what does that mean for Spock? Can he even find that information?"
"I am not sure, sir. As you know, I have some experience with Vulcan physiology and Vulcan telepathy. I know that a mind-meld can be very exhausting for both participants. There is always the risk of overexertion that at least theoretically can result in death. At the moment I would therefore recommend to wait at least another day, until Leonard has recovered from his wounds. And Spock should prepare himself with meditation."
"He is doing that right now. The thing is: When should we tell Bones what really happened on that planet?"
"He is suspicious already, isn't he?"
"You've seen him. He didn't believe me a minute. I think he also has a right to know."
"He will, early enough. Captain, to be honest, if anything like that ever happened to me, I wouldn't want to know."
Kirk nodded again. He was somewhat thankful that M'Benga gave him an excuse to put off telling Bones, that he had been mind raped and had possibly provided the Klingons with information that could result in the destruction of the Federation, and therefore had to immediately undergo another meld in order to search for this information in the depths of his mind - a place where he'd stowed away all other unpleasant memories that he had collected during his life. He balled his hands to fists. Maybe they would be able to find the relevant information without hurting their good doctor.
"I'm on the bridge, doctor. Call me if there's a change." And with that he left sickbay.
"Mr. Scott, there is something strange about the sensor readings." Chekov had scanned the whole sector, finding nothing, really. However he had had a strange gut feeling about something, but until now, he hadn't known what it was.
Or he had, of course. First of all, Kirk had ordered the corridors to sickbay should be cleared, then Scotty had gone down to personally beam up the landing party. Neither Kirk nor Spock had come to the bridge since then, and when Mr. Scott had come back with an expression of deep worry on his face, they had all known that either Spock or Doctor McCoy had been critically injured down on that planet.
Although not the friendliest of people, the Meriahn were considered a peaceful race and the mission had not been thought about as dangerous at all. Their prime minister had invited them as guests to their capital to discuss the diplomatic relationship with the Federation once again.
Doctor McCoy had commented that that had sounded kind of unfriendly, to which Spock had pointed out, that the Meriahn were unable to lie and therefore "their polite invitation should be taken without unjustified suspicion, doctor".
Chekov recalled the whole conversation on the bridge now, it had been the usual:
"Spock, the human concept of politeness is something you don't understand. And maybe the Meriahn don't either, if they're unable to lie, then you can be sure they're unable to be polite as well."
"Are you saying that one must be a liar to be socially accepted within human society?"
Whenever these battles of wit between McCoy and Spock broke out, Chekov tended to side with McCoy, knowing at the same time that Spock had the better arguments. Spock and McCoy were like "Sense and Sensibility", to quote a famous female Russian author. Maybe McCoy's sensibility had been correct this time. Something bad had definitely happened on that planet.
"What is it, Chekov?" Scott walked over to the helm from where Chekov had been scanning the whole sector, not finding anything, which was kind of unusual in itself, and frustrating.
"Our sensors flicker, Mr. Scott!"
"Flicker?" Scotty couldn't help feeling criticized. "Well, they do that every now and then, there's always some interference, you know? They realign themselves immediately. ... Wait, you shouldn't be able to see that." Scotty was impressed. He could see these flickers, but he was the chief engineer, Ensign Chekov, however, ...
"I know, sir. But these flickers appear exactly every 242 seconds."
"What? You sure?" The sensors shouldn't be disturbed so easily, and what was more not so regularly, either.
"Yes, Mr. Scott. They usually only flicker when our impulse engines are powered up, or when we drop out of warp."
"Well, our engines are offline, we're in the stationary orbit of Meriah Five. It must be something else." Scott watched Chekov's console with interest.
"Twenty seconds, sir." Chekov announced, and then they heard the turbo lift doors open and Captain Kirk entered the bridge. He looked tired, Scotty thought and tried to interpret what Kirk's being here indicated regarding Leonard's medical condition. Spock was still missing, so this was a bad sign. However, he would have expected Spock to be here and Kirk to be with the doctor. Something was not right.
"Anything?" Kirk asked gruffly.
"Not at first glance, captain. There are no ships in the vicinity and none have left or arrived on Meriah Five in the last 24 hours. But Chekov may have discovered something."
"What is it?"
"There," Chekov pointed at his console, "in five, four, three, two, one, now!" There was an ever so slight flicker of the indicator lights for the scanners, Kirk thought. But he wasn't sure if it hadn't been his imagination only.
"Aye, that is strange, Chekov. The scanners are affected by something. I believe it does not come from the Enterprise."
"Could it be something from the planet? A power source, communication, a scanner?" Kirk asked.
"No sir, at least there's nothing I have detected," Uhura said from her station. Kirk turned to her, smiling. He had asked her to throw the diplomatic protocol out of the window, and she hadn't objected once. He asked himself if that was good or not. Right now, he needed her skills as a spy and not as a United Federation of Planets communications officer, so he guessed it was good.
However, sometimes the loyalty of his own crew scared him.
"What did you pick up from their communication channels, Lieutenant?"
"There has been no communication between Meriah Five and an alien ship or planet, as far as I can tell."
"Well, you didn't tell me to eavesdrop, captain. Nevertheless, I couldn't help hearing what was said. They are searching for Secretary of Defense Delihan. So far they haven't found him."
Kirk sat down in his chair and started chewing the inside of his cheek, trying to make sense of everything.
"Scotty, we're in a stationary orbit around Meriah Five, right?" Kirk had a suspicion, but he needed to think aloud.
"Aye. We're exactly 35,876.12 km above the planet's surface, where the forces of gravitation and rotation are balanced, so that we don't need any power to stay in orbit."
"If we were a little closer to, or a little farther away from the planet, we'd need to power up our engines to keep us from crashing onto the planet or from drifting off into space, correct?"
"Aye," Scotty followed his captain's thoughts, and he didn't like the conclusions that they had to draw, "we wouldn't have to have our engines online constantly, it would be enough to power up the impulse drive for a few seconds to give us a little boost into the right direction."
"For example every 242 seconds," Chekov concluded.
Kirk nodded. Gotcha. "Lieutenant Uhura, get Mr. Spock up here, we're looking for a cloaked ship. Possibly Klingon."
"Yes, sir." Uhura turned to her console to call Spock over the intercom, but she was thinking about Dr. McCoy. If Spock could come up to the bridge, then the doctor was probably the one who had been hurt.
The doors swooshed open again, and there he was, Dr. McCoy, coming up for probably no reason, but plain curiosity. Uhura almost made a sound of joy, but caught herself. The doctor's wrists were bandaged. So it had been him. He looked okay, though.
"Bones. What are you doing here?"
Kirk seemed ... unsure. Something that did not happen very often, Uhura noticed.
"I am looking for you."
"Come on, Jim. Something is going on, and you're not telling me."
"Not now, Bones. We have a situation here."
"Good. I can wait."
"Go back to sickbay, you're not in any condition to walk around, yet."
McCoy's eyebrows shot up. "You're a starship captain, not a doctor. I'm perfectly alright."
Kirk was not at all happy, seeing Bones standing at his usual place beside his chair, pretending he had a business being here. They just didn't have time for this right now.
"Doctor McCoy, you are on sick leave. And even if you weren't, your place is in sickbay and not on the bridge!" Kirk ordered angrily, almost shouting. Bones' presence on the bridge and his being so damned nosey all the time, would get him killed one of these days, like the proverbial cat.
Everyone on the bridge jumped at that. Kirk hardly ever got loud, and although the captain was right, it seemed unjustified to reprimand the doctor for something that was usually tolerated, even appreciated.
McCoy, however, was totally unimpressed. He just stood his ground, only raising his eyebrows a bit more.
"I MEAN IT, Bones!"
"Captain!" Spock had entered the bridge at some point. His exclamation had held the tone of a warning.
Both, McCoy and Kirk turned to see the Vulcan approaching them.
"Uh, right. Spock, we're looking for a cloaked ship in our immediate vicinity." Kirk composed himself. God, he needed to stay focussed. He decided to ignore Bones for the moment and get back to the task at hand. He explained to Spock what they had found out about the flickers on the scanners and what they suspected. Spock listened, while his eyes briefly scanned the doctor. He raised an eyebrow, then went to his station.
"Now, Jim, although I have no business being up here, as you've just pointed out in such a friendly way, I ask myself this: If there are Klingons in a cloaked ship in the orbit of Meriah Five, why do they choose to park in our immediate vicinity? Wouldn't it be better to stay on the other side of the planet, as far away from us as possible?"