The Sonic Maneuver
There were few things on this mission that McCoy would miss really badly, and The Sigma Draconis System certainly was not one of them. The past incident had left the first officer completely restored, which was well. However, the doctor thought that the events around and about the strange loss of Spock's brain and its even more bizarre recovery had made an impact on his own health: He had lost pounds, his muscles were weak, he was tired. To crown it all, he had to write that medical report to Starfleet, a duty that would annoy him even if he were not locked up in a tin can which, in his opinion, darted through cosmos like devil-may-care.
And how was he to make the events on Sigma Draconis VI sound like a credible, conclusive report based on scientific facts? Anyone on the receiving end would assume inevitably that the Enterprise crew had been suffering from a severe form of space psychosis. McCoy himself would be convinced of it. Should he state that ignorance was the greatest threat to sentient lifeforms, even more so when it dwelled in bodies considered beautiful? To him, this hypothesis of his had been confirmed in a most disturbing way.
Most unnerving right now was Chapel, however, as she kept hovering around him constantly. Of all possible days, she had to choose this one for cleaning the shelves in his office. Her current behavior reminded him of his ex-wife. His neck and shoulders cramped.
In exasperation, he pushed himself away from the desk. Leaning back into his chair, he shut his eyes: This was some headache approaching. He wished for shore-leave somewhere quaint. Anyway, the only good thing about the Sigma Draconis system seemed to be its vicinity to Earth. Though he had ambivalent feelings about his natural home, he thought he should tell Jim to find a reason for making a stopover.
There was a soft, clinking sound to his left. "Okay", he muttered to himself. "Okay. What is it, Christine?"
"You shouldn't have said it," said Christine.
McCoy squinted. The illumination in Sickbay definitely was too bright. "Shouldn't have said what?"
"Well, you know—that Spock was much more tolerable when he was on remote control. Len, why do you say such things about him?"
"How the blazes do you know about that? Ah, the gossip!" he concluded from Chapel's guilty expression. "Unfortunately, he couldn't hear it when I said it. Besides, later he pretty much suggested the same thing, just the other way round. Which means that we actually were in agreement. Imagine that!"
He stretched his arms in an effort to bring relief to his strained back, all under Chapel's everlasting scrutiny.
"I also heard that Mister Spock said he didn't trust you to accomplish the surgery..." she said.
McCoy only grunted in response.
"...but that this wasn't your fault," she forged on. "Spock always means what he says, don't you think so, too?"
"What's all this fuss about that half-Human son of a—"
"—of a Vulcan! Let me finish, damn it!" He had to take a deep breath to calm himself.
"So, what's this all about, Christine? Am I supposed to contemplate all that everyone else is thinking of this ship's CMO?"
"I guess everyone is thinking the same," replied Chapel as she resumed chasing imaginary dust bunnies. "That you are a tough cookie."
"Yeah, and so they are working hard at crumbling me! Sulu and Chekov, for example—haven't they been assigned for routine health checks today? And did they comply?"
Chapel knew the question was rhetorical.
"We have to arrange new appointments just for those two, huh? I don't even want to know their excuses this time. Anyone else would throttle them. But, even if I weren't capable of more than removing a splinter, I am still capable of ethical conduct. I am not like anyone else is. I do not throttle the crew; I assign physicals that they will never forget!"
"That's why they never show up," said Chapel. She looked at him with concern. "It's a headache again, isn't it? Shall I get you a dose of hydrocortilene?"
"No, thanks! I need to stay away from that for a while. Don't know if it isn't really a medication headache."
Chapel shrugged. "Suit yourself, Doctor."
"I believe the best medicine for me would be some fresh air, not this stuff that's passing through four hundred pairs of lungs within every twenty-four days."
Chapel wiped the surface of the shelves and occasionally cast a brief glimpse at McCoy. He was sitting on the edge of his desk, attempting to scowl at a recycled oxygen molecule floating somewhere in front of him.
"Is there anything important on schedule right now?" he asked.
"No—only the remainder of the routine physicals."
"Alright..." McCoy closed his eyes. He would have tried an autohypnotic approach to suppress the increasingly nauseating pain that was pounding in his left temple, but success was hard to achieve with Chapel rattling about in the background. "Are all the protoplasers recharged?"
"What about the tissue regenerators? Do we have enough of them in store?"
"Are you positive? Last time we saw action we ran out of them. Remember, it almost cost us two fingers and eyesight in—"
"Really, Len, we have enough regenerators to save all the eyes and fingers on the ship."
McCoy grunted. She just wouldn't leave him alone. Arriving at a decision, he reached for his medikit. "I think I'll go for a stroll. Perhaps I can find a window to open."
"Calm down. It's just a headache, Christine, not insanity."
McCoy aimlessly walked down the corridor. Ensigns strode along purposefully, looking brisk. It was a situation that McCoy had learned to live with on this mission—everyone except the sickbay staff so delightfully busy until suddenly something happened somewhere, and their rooms would fill up with the moaning injured who had not been blasted away into space.
His memory pulled him back to the day when he had told his mentor at Starfleet Academy that he had been assigned his first interplanetary position.
"So, you are finally going to become a starship's surgeon, eh?" Waterson had said. "Well, don't make close friends in those tin cans. Pulling the blanket over those people would hit you hardest, but a surgeon can't allow himself to stumble."
Waterson, however, had been of no use in giving advice on how to successfully avoid feelings of friendship, and so McCoy had ended up with having people on board whom he considered family. Every alert brought them into danger and forced him to prepare for the worst. He knew that detailed preparation wasn't only a necessary procedure; it also kept him from thinking too much about the possible outcome of any action ahead. He accepted his infamous reputation as a meticulous, nit-picky or cantankerous superior, specific perception depending on the person interviewed. All this he was, because he only wished that all of those he cared about would survive this mission in good health, himself included: he didn't want his existence to be terminated in a nameless corner of space before he could sit on a Southern porch once more, with a Mint Julep in his hand and a Georgian sunset in front.
Deep in thought, McCoy entered the turbolift and automatically directed it to the bridge, when intercom gave yellow alert. He decided he would see what the alert was about before returning to Sickbay.
As the lift doors slid open, they gave view to the current bridge shift and to an inconspicuous view on the constellations ahead. The doctor immediately noted that Chekov and Sulu were both on duty. Sulu, having realized who had entered, was softly talking to Chekov. Very well, McCoy thought, now I've got you both. You can't get away when I know that you will be off duty in another two hours.
As expected, Kirk was at the con and Spock was bending over the viewer at the science station. Kirk curtly nodded to greet the doctor. "We are on yellow alert, Bones. What made you leave your station?"
"I consider myself an outpost," replied McCoy. "So, what's up?"
The captain gave him a gleeful smile. "I can show you!" he said. "Mister Chekov, tactical view, please!"
McCoy watched as the navigator's fingers deftly flitted across the console. The constellations disappeared from the screen. Instead, the reddish grid for illustrating time warp anomalies became visible. It bulged out like a tube that proceeded from the upper left corner towards the middle of the screen. A tiny red circle was blinking very close to the tube's enormous mouth.
"Tactical view, sir."
The doctor did not obtain useful information from the display. His eyes darted from one crew member to the next. Chekov checked back on the captain with a skeptical frown. Sulu appeared as though he was lost in reverie. Spock stood upright with one eyebrow raised. Uhura regarded the depiction with cool anticipation. Scott, next to McCoy and sitting at the engineering console, grinned happily. And Kirk looked...proud? "Care to elaborate?" said McCoy.
"Why, isn't it obvious? It's a wormhole! And that red spot is us!" explained Kirk brightly.
"A wormhole," echoed McCoy. He noted a tingling sensation in his neck. "Please tell me that this is a simulation, and the alert is only a drill," he said softly.
"It is real, Doctor," Scott said. "We're the first to discover it. It's natural, or else someone in the fleet must have thoroughly over-revved their engines."
"This is exactly what we want to investigate," announced Kirk.
"Investigate?!" exclaimed McCoy. He pointed at the screen. "Are the proportions there accurate?"
"Of course they are, Doctor", affirmed Spock.
"And the tiny red spot that is us is supposed to go and investigate?"
"You don't appreciate the merit of finding this anomaly, Bones?"
"No, indeed. I don't!"
"Captain, the computer has just calculated that the wormhole is traversable," said Spock. "Its proximal mouth is located three point two six light years away from Sigma Draconis Six."
"One could pass through?"
"How far is this from Earth, anyway?" grumbled McCoy.
"The distance from your home planet is five point seven seven parsecs to be precise, Doctor."
"Do you also know where the other end of that wormhole is, Mister Spock?" asked Kirk.
"Not yet, Captain. I sent the relevant data to the navigator's console. They should suffice for plotting the correct location."
"It is located in Sector three B, Captain. Nearest planet is Lactra Seven."
"What do we know about Lactra Seven?" asked Kirk.
"Nothing conclusive yet," replied Spock. "The survey ship Ariel has been assigned to explore it."
"Interesting." Kirk appeared to be very much at ease, too much at ease in fact for McCoy's taste. "Perhaps if we use the wormhole as a shortcut we might rendezvous with the Ariel. We could see how they are doing before we move on to our Medusan assignment," Kirk said.
"An efficient work plan," replied Spock.
"What?" quipped McCoy. "It's folly!"
"Relax, Bones. Shortcutting is just what wormholes are for. And we have calculated the risks. There is no real reason to be worried, or is there, Mister Spock?"
McCoy stared down at Kirk's hand. "And then why do you keep drumming your fingers on the armrest?"
"You do, and it is never a good sign."
"You are overanalyzing, Bones. Our mission is to explore phenomena that have never been encountered before. This wormhole is just one of them." Kirk watched as Scott moved to the science station.
McCoy rolled his eyes. "I only report my observations. You are about to encounter laws of physics that don't behave friendly towards Humans! Instead of throwing ourselves into some blasted space-time twist, we'd rather stop over on Earth, even if it were only for a cup of Oolong in Atlanta."
"Atlanta?" Kirk looked surprised. "Bones, what's this, nostalgia?"
"No, Jim, just a medical advice. It would be good for the crew to be allowed shore-leave. Especially considering what we have been through during the last weeks." McCoy gazed in the direction of the science station. "It's a safe bet that there's only one crewmember left unaffected," he muttered.
"The computer has calculated a course for central entry in three minutes, Captain," Spock announced.
"Thank you, Mister Spock."
"See what I mean?" McCoy muttered.
"Shore leave on Earth would only give us a terrible hangover," said Kirk.
"Well, I have the means to cure one."
"Yeah, well, I know that."
Scott returned from his quietly conducted conversation with Spock at the science station. His face showed an expression of concern. "Captain, we should enter only after the sonic receiver has been checked."
McCoy did not miss Kirk's bemused stare.
"The sonic receiver?" iterated Kirk blankly. Then suddenly realization appeared to dawn on him. "Oh, yes, Mister Scott! Entry time must factor this in."
"Acknowledged, Captain." Spock proceeded to make adjustments at his console.
The expression on Scott's face changed into pure relief, followed by eagerness. McCoy was utterly bewildered. "How can you look forward to this, Scotty? Are you not afraid for the ship?"
"No, not at all!" Scott replied politely. "But maybe you should return to Sickbay now, doctor. Who knows? Some of the crew might graze their knees or something."
"You are lucky that your routine physical is already done," McCoy retorted.
Had it been under different circumstances, the doctor would have filed away Scott's reply as a harmless tease, but it didn't fit in now. In his opinion, this shift was about to do something absolutely reckless. He wasn't quite sure what to make of it. He scrutinized Kirk. Nothing unusual about the man, he diagnosed, agile and pugnacious as always when there was action ahead, and no disturbing gleam in the eyes that indicated a loss of self-control due to overwork, sleep deprivation or hypoglycemia...
"Point of no return for entry will be reached one minute after the sonic receiver has been checked."
"Thank you, Mister Spock. Uhura, send out a buoy containing latest log entries."
"Mister Sulu, commence plotted course."
"Yes, sir!" Sulu confirmed. "I wish I could use manual controls for this ride."
McCoy felt queasy. "What is it with you? Are you space happy?"
No one reacted to that except Spock, who observed that there was "no sound scientific evidence for the existence of this diagnostically vague disorder".
"That settles it," the doctor grumbled. He felt drained. "I'll go and get myself a riddle screen, to separate your scattered molecules afterward. If I'll still be in good enough shape to do so, that is."
As the lift doors closed behind him, he thought he'd heard a laugh, but then again maybe his brain was playing tricks on him.
I'm really getting too old for this, he thought.
He instructed the lift, endured the blinking and humming of the yellow alert, and trudged back to Sickbay.
It was when he arrived there that the section was locked off. It indicated that damage to the hull was expected somewhere near or had already occurred. It also meant that he and everyone else in these rooms now were between lock and hull, on the wrong side of events. For a terrible moment, McCoy's brain summoned up a memory of shouting and of drumming fists, the horrific sound from the other side of a sealed door. It was the rhythm of pointless, mindless panic which would always be followed abruptly by absolute stillness. McCoy doubted he would ever in his life forget this stillness after the noise. Then training was kicking in, forcing him to turn around calmly and face Sickbay.
He gasped at the sight of Chapel: She didn't seem to be concerned at all! On the contrary, she was grinning broadly! The contradiction between his brain's screaming dictate of self-preservation and the apparent lack of concern in her momentarily petrified McCoy. He got so caught up in the absurdity of the scene that he even forgot to breathe. Next to him was the intercom, and a humming sound came from it. It was not a melody, and he could not identify its source. And then, through the intercom, a group of voices sang,
"Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday, dear Leonard-
Happy birthday to you!"
McCoy blinked. Chapel was now carrying a neatly decorated cake in her hands, with a great number of smoke-free candles burning on top of it. Her face was glowing with excitement. Then M'Benga was closing up to her, and people were crowding in the doorway behind M'Benga—his entire Sickbay staff.
"Bones?" came a voice on the intercom.
Hold this moment, he thought, because this is the most profound expression of family life that a man like you can ever expect.
"Bones, are you there?"
"Yes, I'm here." He was shocked by his own voice. It gave away so much of his inner turmoil.
"Well, happy birthday again!" said Kirk.
"Thank you! Actually, I didn't know it was my birthday! I don't care to calculate the date anymore."
"That's why we calculated it for you! It was quite a lot of work, actually, seeing that you were born so long ago."
"Shut up!" McCoy tried to clear his throat as inconspicuously as possible. "Thanks for the singing! I'm greatly moved!" He had clearly identified Kirk's and Uhura's voice in the choir, and a deep one that he could associate with none other than... "I think I even heard Spock!"
"Oh, yes! He was afraid that you might not approve of our scheme, but we convinced him in the end."
"I liked it, Spock! Thank you!" The doctor's voice became increasingly hoarse. "Though if you tell me that you volunteered, then I suspect that some of your connections must still be loose!"
This being said, he felt a tension break and relaxation set in. Chapel put the cake on a table. McCoy asked Kirk about the sealed door.
"Scotty did it. You didn't make it easy for us. When Chapel told us that you had left Sickbay, we had to think of something to direct you back..."
Chapel blushed when the doctor's eyes darted to her.
"...and then you showed up on the bridge, of all places!"
"The wormhole!" exclaimed McCoy in sudden realization.
"Well, yes—we had to get rid of you somehow!"
"Spock!" said McCoy, "You lied?"
"Vulcans do not lie, Doctor. I was referencing the simulation and reported the calculated time point at which your birthday should begin on Earth. This was adjusted to the time point of singing when Mister Scott declared you a sonic receiver. Apparently, you had been under a different impression."
"Anyway, we couldn't have you strolling around, either," continued Kirk. "Scotty already was afraid of singing in front of you; imagine how he would have felt about being broadcasted on all decks. So he decided to lock you up."
"You know you nearly gave me a heart attack?"
"Sorry for the inconvenience!" Scott said.
"You owe me one, Mister Scott, and I already know what you can do. The illumination in Sickbay—"
"Aye, but I have done it already! During my physical you were complaining that it was too dim, so I adjusted it right after. Figured it would be a nice birthday present."
"Really? Well, thanks! But..."
"It was no big deal at all!"
"Isn't it right?"
"It's too bright, Scotty!"
"No, I don't think it really is. You'll get used to it in no time!"
"Scotty, I want to use things, not get used to them!" He rolled his eyes. "Engineers! Anyway, I assure you that a special bottle of medicine will be waiting for you all - after I have finished the routine health checks of the crew. I already look forward to not treating your hangovers. McCoy out."
"Well, Happy Birthday!" said M'Benga. With a great smile in his face, he shook McCoy's hand. Others queued up to do the same.
In the end, he had been congratulated by the entire medical staff. It was at such occasions that one realized just how many people worked in Sickbay.
"Thank you! And thank you all for this great cake!"
"Thank Christine for it; it was her idea!"
Chapel blushed again as McCoy embraced her. The gesture was a bit clumsy, but it was okay. He released her quickly and turned to examine the cake.
"What's in it? Strawberry?"
He stretched a finger, but Chapel swiftly slapped on it. "Oh, no, that's not the way it goes! First you have to blow out the candles!"
"Okay, okay..." He took a deep breath and started to blow. In the first attempt, he got rid of half of the candles, but it needed three to put out all of them. McCoy felt dizzy when it was done. "Well, my own physical is not yet complete. I think it would look better if we took my blood sample before I deal with this high-calorie transgression! Help yourself, everyone, and I'll be right back. Christine?"
The nurse and he went into an examination room, and he sat down on a chair. While slowly rolling up his left sleeve he contemplated the number of routine physicals yet to be done before this mission was over. You are thinking the wrong way, he scolded himself. Be glad for every routine physical. It means that the person in question is alive and probably also quite healthy.
Chapel and he joked about space travel and risky business, and then she finally took the blood sample. "Are you okay?" she asked.
"Your blood pressure is pretty low."
"It happens to men when they are reminded of their age." He noticed an expression of self-conciousness flicker across her face. "I'm happy!" he said. "Thanks for everything!"
"Really? Oh, that's good! For a moment, I didn't think it was going to work out!"
McCoy smiled. "Let's go back!"
They returned into the other room. Someone had brought coffee. M'Benga handed cake to both of them.
"It is strawberry, by the way!" said Chapel. "Long-term working relationships have their benefits, don't they?"
"Mmm..." McCoy swallowed the first bite. "Wonderful!"
He accepted a mug of coffee, took a look around him and thought again that this was a memory that he had to cherish. Life in this crate was so unpredictable. There were periods of boredom that seemed to be endless. And then, out of the blue, something might pull the rug from under them, and change their entire world for the worse.
M'Benga seemed to have read his thoughts. "Living makes us older," he mused, "but then again we know many who never lived long enough to experience and enjoy that."
"We have to consider ourselves lucky!" said Chapel.
McCoy stood to mocked attention. "As the captain would say, 'Ahead, Warp factor one'!"
And M'Benga and Chapel heard his heart laughing.