If I had realised in time what was happening, would it have made any difference? I don't see what I could have done, and yet... and yet...
To watch a patient suffering, and to be unable to help, is - oh hell, who am I trying to fool? I'm fond of that stubborn, crazy Vulcan. To see him like that, and to know that I could do nothing, gave me the worst few months of my life.
It was a simple first-contact mission to the planet Cyros. The Cyrosians had agreed to a meeting, and Jim took me along when he and Spock beamed down to confer with the planet's leaders. We walked straight into hell.
I learned later that the Cyrosians had intended only to test us, to find out what we were really like; they didn't realise that our brain patterns were so different from theirs that what to them was a simple test nearly destroyed our sanity.
Those hallucinations! Even now I wake up sometimes, my skin crawling at the memory, knowing that the nightmares are the palest reflection of the terrible experience, for Spock took the worst of it when he reached out to shield Jim and me from the full impact. It was indescribable, as though everything I had always cherished, believed in, turned round to mock me with its utter worthlessness. Then the wonderful calm as that cool, sane mind of his stepped between me and complete madness. It was the same for Jim, I learned later, but Spock paid a terrible price. I think he would have preferred death, but by then he was beyond choice.
As soon as the Cyrosians realised what was happening to us they dissolved the illusions, but it was too late - Spock's mind had gone. Whether it had been utterly destroyed, or had retreated to a level I could not reach, I could not determine. Oh, the physical reflexes were still there. He responded to touch, reacted to light or sound, could obey the simplest of commands, but that was all. If food was placed before him he ate, but he could not so much as ask for a glass of water.
We took him to the nearest Starbase; the doctors there were as helpless as I. Then on to Vulcan; it was beyond even their skill. Jim grew frantic with worry as hope faded, and I - I blamed myself bitterly. I should have realised that the strain of shielding three minds under such pressure was more than he could take; if I had been more alert, made more of an effort to protect myself, perhaps he could have coped. But as we all tended to do, I had taken his endurance too much for granted, and now he was paying for my carelessness. I could not even discuss my feelings of guilt with Jim -- he had enough of his own to cope with. I'll never forget his eyes, as the three of us beamed back from Vulcan the day the Healers told us there was nothing they could do.
We saw Spock settled in Sickbay, then Jim and I retired to his quarters, intending to get thoroughly drunk. That's when the plan came to us - we'd never have thought of it had we been fully sober.
Starfleet orders were very clear, very precise. Spock was unfit for duty, and must be discharged from the service, returned to the care of his family or confined in a Starfleet hospital. We obeyed those orders - officially. How Jim persuaded Sarek to agree I'll never know, but when the Enterprise left Vulcan, Spock came with us.
We had fitted out quarters for him next to Sickbay, where he spent all his time. The crew rallied round magnificently - one of us was always with him. Jim and I spent most of our free time there, talking to him, trying to rouse some spark of memory. It was useless; the dark eyes, once so full of life and intelligence, were the eyes of a dead man, totally unresponsive. It was worse for Jim than for the rest of us. He was so much closer to Spock than anyone else; they had always seemed to have an almost uncanny awareness of each others feelings, even without the mind link.
So the months crawled by. That quiet room and its unheeding occupant had somehow become the ship's very heart. Chekov would sit with him by the hour, chattering away about everything and nothing. Sulu too could be found there, trying to win some sort of response by enthusing over his latest hobby. Scotty formed the habit of dropping in to think aloud over his engineering problems in case the familiar terms should strike a chord in his memory. Uhura came too, singing the music he had loved, her haunting voice floating softly through the room. She reached him somehow, for he would sit with closed eyes, listening; but even she could win no response. And Christine? She was wonderful. Though it must have distressed her immeasurably to see him like that she cared for him with all the devotion I had come to expect from her; indeed, I had to restrict the hours she spent with him, for in her anxiety she would have overtaxed her strength if I had allowed it.
Despite all the failures, all the disappointments, we clung to a frail hope. On the Enterprise we encountered so many cultures, so many civilisations, that there was always the chance that some time, somewhere, we would find help for Spock. It may have been pure sentiment, I don't know, but he was so much a part of the Enterprise that none of us could bear the thought of going on without him.
But wherever we travelled, the answer was always the same - there was nothing that could be done. We still did not know if Spock's mind had been destroyed, or whether that magnificent intelligence merely slept. All we did know was a fierce determination that as long as the Enterprise flew Spock would go with us.
By common consent the late evenings were reserved for Jim. He would sit with Spock, talking quietly, while I made my final rounds. When I returned we would have a drink together before I settled Spock for the night.
One evening I entered Spock's quarters feeling more than usually dispirited. I was becoming concerned about Jim - his frantic worry for the Vulcan was depressing him more and more as time passed. To tell the truth, I was on the brink of giving up hope, of insisting that Spock return to Vulcan. It would be hard to abandon him now, but I had the well-being of the others to consider.
As I came in Jim was talking to Spock, recalling the details of a leave they had spent together. I pantomimed the offer of a drink and he nodded acceptance, going on with his story while I fetched the glasses.
After a moment he fell silent, then, "Bones!"
He spoke quietly, but the urgency in his tone brought me round at once. I froze in position, afraid to say or do anything that might interrupt the scene that confronted me.
Blindly, gropingly, Spock's hands were reaching for Jim's face in the familiar way, as though he sought to establish a mind link. He held the pose for a moment, and I could swear there was a hint of puzzlement in his eyes before he dropped his hands and lay back in his chair, remote as ever.
"Did you... Was there any contact?" I asked hopefully.
Despondently, Jim shook his head. "Nothing. Bones, was he trying to meld, or was it just an instinctive action?"
"I don't know, Jim. It could mean anything... or nothing. It certainly looked deliberate, and it's the first spontaneous gesture he's made since we left Cyros, but don't build up too much hope."
I hated to be discouraging, but it was up to me to keep things on an even keel - by then, Jim would have clutched at even the faintest hope.
As he rose to go Jim touched Spock's shoulder, and sighed. "You know the worst thing, Bones? I sometimes get the idea that beneath this shell Spock - the real Spock - knows what's happened to him. Mindlessness - the one thing he dreaded. If his mind was... really destroyed, I could learn to accept it, I think; but when I start to imagine that he's locked in there somewhere, suffering, waiting for me to help him... Bones, it tears me apart."
He left then, and I watched him go in silence. There was no comfort I could offer, for he had finally put into words the fear that had haunted me from the beginning.
The following day I learned that Spock's action was not an isolated incident. Something seemed to have upset him, and Christine reported that he was refusing food. I was sitting across from him, trying to persuade him to swallow some soup at least, when his hands began to reach for my face, very slowly and uncertainly.
I remained very still, trying not to distract him, but instead of the firm, confident touch I had been used to his fingers travelled lingeringly over my face for a moment, then his hands dropped into his lap. Again I saw that fleeting shadow of confusion in the dark eyes before they were veiled again behind that unheeding mask.
I knew a sudden surge of excitement. Once might have been chance, but now I was sure that somewhere Spock's mind still lived. In response to that certainty the pattern of my treatment began to change. Until now I had concentrated on complete rest and relaxation, proceeding very gently to the stimulus of familiar faces and voices. Now I began to demand more of him, to phrase my orders to him in a more complicated fashion. It hurt me to see his frown of bewilderment as he struggled to comprehend the commands I shouted at him, but I persevered.
Jim protested at first, tried to shield the Vulcan from my insistence, but when I explained my purpose he bowed reluctantly to my judgement. I did not allow Jim to use this method, believing it would be best if Spock could always turn to him for comfort if my demands on his intelligence became too great. I could not afford to be concerned that Spock might come to fear or even hate me, as long as I could win some response from him, but strangely he did not. If I had ever needed proof of the basic gentleness of his nature, I had it in full measure now. However irascible I forced myself to seem, he still struggled to please me, to win my approval. And my tactics seemed to work; gradually his comprehension improved, and although he still had not spoken his eyes turned now to Jim and to me with awareness, and almost with recognition.
It was the hardest thing I had ever had to do, and my rewards were meagre - a hesitant, shy smile when I praised him for completing some simple task I had assigned him, a sudden glow in those dark eyes when very occasionally I touched a buried thread of memory.
I watched him closely for the next few weeks, and the improvement was definite. It was especially obvious when he was with Jim; instead of merely sitting while Jim talked to him it was clear now that he was concentrating, his eyes fixed steadily on Jim's face. Occasionally his hands would reach out in that hesitant, groping way, and each time I held my breath, praying that this time the link would form; but each time Jim would shake his head despondently in answer to my enquiring glance. Less frequently he would touch my face, and I tried to reach out to him, but I was much less familiar with the meld than Jim, so my failure did not discourage me.
At last I decided that he was ready for the next step. Since we left Vulcan Spock had not been out of his new quarters. Now I decided that the sight of the once-familiar science labs might stimulate his mind. The labs were cleared, and I arranged with Security that the corridors we must pass through would be empty. I was familiar with the Vulcan's almost pathological pride; if - when - he returned to us he would be shamed by the knowledge that any of the crew had seen his weakness; it would be hard enough for him to accept that even his friends had seen him so helpless.
Jim, Scotty and I escorted him to the lab. He walked quietly, displaying no curiosity as we passed along the corridors. It was hard to judge the extent of his reaction to the lab itself. We stood back as he walked slowly around the room, occasionally pausing to peer at some piece of equipment, but he would touch nothing, and did not show any special interest in the research he had been engaged on when we beamed down to Cyros. On the whole, though, I was not displeased; I hadn't been looking for miracles, and we could repeat the experiment later.
It was on the way back to his quarters that the incident occurred that would eventually provide the key. As we passed the turbolift the doors opened and a young ensign from Engineering ran out, colliding with Jim and causing him to stumble heavily into the wall.
Scotty was just about to demand to know what his junior was doing there in defiance of orders when we were all startled by a low, menacing growl from Spock. I turned to look at him. His eyes had narrowed to slits, and were fixed coldly on the unfortunate ensign; his fingers curled in a way I recognised, and as he moved forward I grew alarmed. Spock's phenomenal strength was usually well under control, but all restraints were now gone. If he should attack, I doubted if even the four of us could easily restrain him.
Luckily Jim recognised the danger. "He thinks you attacked me, Ensign. Get out of here - fast!"
The boy shot one look at the Vulcan and fled; I can't say I blame him. Jim walked over to Spock, and laid a hand on his arm. "I'm all right, Spock. It was an accident. Relax, now."
He spoke calmly, soothingly. Gradually the rigidity went out of Spock's stance, the disturbing glitter in his eyes faded. He shook his head several times, as if trying to clear his thoughts.
"Jim?" he said hesitantly, his voice very unsure.
"Yes, Spock, it's Jim. You are safe. Come with me."
We just managed to reach his quarters before he fainted. With his lack of control, and his weakness, the emotional shock had been too much for him; I could only hope it hadn't sent him back to the beginning.
Fortunately, when he came round he seemed none the worse. The dark eyes searched the room anxiously, finally coming to rest on Jim's face. He relaxed visibly as Jim spoke to him, and at last he slept.
No, there was no miracle, but there was a steady improvement from then on. If Jim or I spoke to him he would answer now, but he still would not respond to anyone else. We repeated the visit to the lab; later we took him to his old quarters, even to the bridge. He reacted to the once-familiar sights, but his comprehension was still very limited. I was convinced now that his former intelligence could be restored, but the key still eluded me.
One evening I sat in his quarters, watching as he and Jim faced each other over a chessboard - not the hideously complicated three-dimensional chess at which he had once excelled, but the ancient game played on a square board. Even this simplified form of the game stretched his mind now; he had to be taught even the basic moves.
As I watched he lifted a piece, hesitated, and glanced at Jim enquiringly. Jim reached over, took his hand, and demonstrated the move again. Spock positioned the piece carefully, looked up at Jim, and smiled.
At that moment the half-formed plan in my brain began to crystalise. There were grave risks, but I judged them worth the taking; nothing could be worse than having to witness that proud intelligence so humbled. If I failed I would blame myself bitterly to the end of my days, but I knew that if he was capable of understanding, Spock would want me to try.
Many people have the wrong idea about my relationship with Spock. We're both stubborn men, as Jim has pointed out on more than one occasion, and find it difficult to express our feelings; but we don't really need to. I know that in his strange Vulcan way Spock is fond of me, and he knows that at times I would trust him even before Jim. We don't need to talk about it; we looked into each other's minds once, and... But that's another story.
So on that evening, when Jim had gone at last, I sat alone for a long time, working out the details. At last I rose and went to Jim's quarters. He was preparing for bed, but admitted me at once.
I looked at him carefully - so much depended on him. "Sit down, Jim. I've got to talk to you."
Three weeks later I was sitting with Spock in his quarters. I had devised a series of tests which I conducted at regular intervals to check the rate of his progress. He had improved under my treatment, but I knew that something more was needed if he was to recover fully.
Suddenly the Enterprise shuddered violently, and I was almost thrown from my seat; at the same moment the red alert sounded. In automatic response Spock leapt to his feet, then stood gazing round in confusion, wondering what to do next.
I ignored him for the moment, went to the intercom, and called the bridge. Jim's worried face appeared on the screen and Spock crossed to join me as I asked, "What's wrong?"
"Klingons. We've been ambushed, Bones. There are three ships out there - it's going to be pretty rough for a while."
"Shall I report to Sickbay?"
"No, M'Benga can handle things there - he'll call you if he needs you. You stay with Spock, try and keep him calm. I must go, Bones. Kirk out."
I snapped off the intercom and turned to Spock, who was gazing at me anxiously. "Don't worry, Jim will deal with it," I told him, trying to sound more cheerful than I felt. "Come on, Spock, let's finish those tests."
The next few hours dragged slowly by. From the frequent violent manoeuvres of the ship I could tell Jim was putting up a good fight, but against three Klingon vessels I knew we would stand little chance. Spock sensed my nervousness, and grew more and more tense as time passed. At last the ship steadied, and for a long time there was stillness, until the intercom summoned me.
It was Jim, speaking from the bridge, but this time a Klingon officer stood beside him.
"Bones, I've had to... surrender the Enterprise." His eyes met mine with an unreadable expression. "This is Commander Karten. He assures me that the crew will be released on the nearest neutral planet - they only want the ship. I had no choice but to agree. Please remain where you are until further orders. Kirk out."
As the screen faded I turned again to Spock; he was looking very troubled. "Do you understand what's happened?" I asked him.
He frowned uncertainly, a hand raised to his forehead. "Klingons? I... seem to remember... they cannot be trusted. There is danger... for Jim... for us all."
"You're right, Spock, there is grave danger. I don't trust Karten. Think. Try to remember. Jim's going to need all the help we can give him."
He shook his head dispiritedly. "I try, but... it will not come. It's so close, but each time I think I remember, it slips away again."
From the corridor came the heavy tramp of feet; gruff orders were barked in the guttural Klingon tongue. The door slid back and Karten strode into the room. I looked back at him with all the defiance I could muster; Spock only stared blankly.
"Well, I see that Captain Kirk spoke the truth for once," Karten said, a hint of amusement in his voice. "A pity - Commander Spock would have appreciated the exquisite subtlety of our plan. I had intended to confine you with the rest of the crew under guard, but I hardly think that will be necessary now - a doctor and an idiot are scarcely a threat to me. You may as well remain here until... shall we say, until you are needed?" He grinned unpleasantly and swept out; the marching feet faded and were gone.
Spock gazed at me with troubled eyes. "I think... he lied to Jim," he said. "He does not mean to let us go. What can we do?"
"We can't stay here," I told him. "Perhaps if we could get to the science labs, we might be able to come up with something."
Cautiously I opened the door. The corridor was deserted. Apparently Karten thought us so little of a threat that he hadn't bothered to post a guard on us. The route to the labs was clear; presumably the Klingons were concentrating on the rest of the crew. As the door slid shut behind us I breathed a sigh of relief. So far so good. I turned to Spock.
"Take a look round," I urged him. "And for pity's sake, try to remember."
As he wandered around the room I crossed to the viewscreen and began to scan the ship. I glanced at Spock; he was paying no attention to me. When I located the scene I wanted I called to him. "Come here, Spock."
"What is it?"
I pointed silently to the screen. In the briefing room Jim was strapped securely to a chair. Karten stood beside him. As Spock joined me, Jim was speaking in a bitter, angry voice.
"You promised me my crew would be safe."
"Naturally, Captain Kirk. By doing so, we avoided any further resistance on your part, and consequently any damage to the Enterprise. I told you we needed only the ship - why burden ourselves with four hundred useless prisoners? When we reach our destination they will be killed."
"Ah yes, I did not tell you why we want the Enterprise. The plan is very simple, Captain. With you as hostage your crew will take the ship to Starbase 10; it will seem a normal approach, there will be no reason to suspect a trick. It is amusing, is it not? A Starbase destroyed by one of Starfleet's own ships. Once that is accomplished the Enterprise and its crew will have served their purpose; they can be... removed.
"However, have no fears for yourself. You will return with us. You have caused considerable inconvenience to the Empire in the past, Captain; certain of my colleagues have... plans... for you. I think I can safely say that your death will be spectacular - and prolonged."
A sudden movement at my side brought my attention back to Spock. I switched off the screen and faced him. That disturbing glitter was back in his eyes, and he growled softly in his throat. I must do something - Spock in a killing frenzy would be as useless as he was in his present state. Somehow, I had to gain his attention.
Taking a calculated risk I slapped him hard across the face. Slowly his head turned, and he surveyed me through narrowed eyes. I slapped him again.
"Come on, Spock! Wake up!" I screamed at him, knowing this was my last chance to reach him. "We need you. You heard Karten. So many lives at stake - four hundred on this ship, the staff of Starbase 10. And Jim - you know what they'll do to him, don't you? You're our only hope - you must think of something!"
Silence. I had failed. Tears stung my eyes. My hand, raised to strike him again, began to fall limply to my side. My wrist was caught and held firmly.
"There is no need to shout, Doctor. I assure you, my hearing has not been impaired. "
I looked up, unbelieving, to meet cool, sane eyes that stared into mine, alive with all their former intelligence.
He nodded slowly. "We will... talk later. We have work to do." He stood for a moment in thought, then moved briskly to the bench.
"You have an idea?"
"Yes. There is no time for subtlety - we must work quickly, produce a sufficient quantity of anaesthetic gas, and introduce it into the ship's ventilation system. Unfortunately, our own crew will also be affected, so it will be up to us to disarm and secure the Klingons before they regain consciousness. I am afraid that we shall be very busy for a time, Doctor."
He bent over his equipment, already absorbed in his task. Behind his back I smiled quietly to myself, and made certain preparations of my own. Spock was back, and I didn't make the mistake of underestimating him.
Sure enough, after a few moments he raised his head. "Doctor McCoy, there are several aspects of this affair that puzzle me."
"Uh, can't we discuss it later, Spock?" I asked, moving closer.
He bent to his task. "As you are fully aware, I can concentrate on two subjects at the same time," he said severely, "and I should like clarification on several points before I proceed any further. For example..."
His voice broke off as my hypo hissed against his shoulder. For a moment he stared at me, dawning comprehension in his eyes, before he slumped forward over the bench.
I passed a shaking hand over my forehead, and found it wet with perspiration - it had been very close. Wearily I pushed the intercom button.
"You can come in now," I said.
Only the muffled sound of the indicators broke the silence of Sickbay as Jim and I stared into each other's eyes across Spock's silent figure. I could gauge the intensity of his anxiety by my own, but he could not begin to understand the special, private fear that haunted me. The crazy plan had worked; Spock's frantic concern for Jim had been the key to release his mind, but when he woke how would he react to the knowledge that he had been tricked?
The responsibility was mine. I had deliberately used my knowledge of him, a knowledge neither of us would have admitted that I possessed. My first concern must always be the welfare of my patients, but would he see it like that? Or would he feel that by using my awareness of his carefully hidden feelings, I had betrayed him? I would soon know.
Jim stirred restlessly, and I looked up. "It won't be long now," I said quietly.
Only a few moments later Spock's eyes opened. They were clear and aware as they surveyed me calmly. Whatever happened now, at least I had brought him back - it had not been, as I had secretly feared it might, a temporary improvement.
"Spock, how are you?" Jim's voice was not quite steady.
"I am... fully recovered, thank you, Captain. I am gratified to see that you are, after all, in no danger. May I enquire how you induced a Klingon officer to assist with your plan?"
"I didn't. The whole thing was Bones' idea."
"I might have known." The dark eyes lingered on my face for a moment, then returned to Jim. "Go on, please."
"When we realised that your mind hadn't been destroyed, we thought that - perhaps - a shock might awaken you, but we knew it would have to be convincing. You remember Carter Winston, the Vendorian? Bones thought of him. He agreed to help, to play the part of Karten, but we had a job to convince Starfleet - I don't know how Bones managed it. We knew it was a risk, but we felt we had to take every chance, that you'd prefer..." His voice trailed off.
"You were correct, Captain. I am... grateful." He turned to me again. "You were most convincing, Doctor. It was only when my mind began to function again that I began to see the illogic of the situation, and to realise that the Captain would never agree to surrender the Enterprise."
"I was afraid you'd spot that," I confessed, "but I gambled that when you began to reason out the truth I'd be fast enough to sedate you until you were fully recovered."
"I see. I must congratulate you on your powers of invention. However, it does seem that your methods have been... highly unethical; is it standard medical practice to indulge in confidence tricks at the expense of your patients?"
I snorted. "Of all the ungrateful...! If it comes to tricks, here's one for you - you're going to stay right here until I'm satisfied that you're fit for duty. And if you make any more cracks like that, I'll double the time!"
I stalked off, leaving Jim and Spock alone; they would have much to say.
Fifteen minutes later I returned, sent Jim packing, and settled Spock for the night. He made no protest for once - the emotional shock had tired him. As I turned to go a hand on my wrist detained me. The dark eyes met mine with a long, searching stare. I returned his gaze, smiling.
"Welcome back, Spock," I said quietly.
"Thank you, Doctor McCoy."
We understood each other perfectly. I felt the gratitude he could not express, and he could sense the fear for him that had haunted me, but we would never speak of it. We didn't need to. Those few words expressed all that was necessary.
I remained for a few moments after he had fallen asleep, looking down at the quiet face, then I left him. Walking back to my office I had the curious feeling that somehow the very atmosphere of the ship had changed, as though her heart had been restored.
We would go on together, Jim and Spock and I - until the next time.