For The World Is Hollow...

by Tiffany May Harrsch


I'm the Chief Medical Officer on the Enterprise, and I wasn't even the first to know!

We were nearly finished with the routine physicals. There were a handful of people who had been off ship left to do, and the one or two who avoided sickbay with a diligence that would put Jim to shame. And, of course, the dreaded paperwork. I finished signing and logging the last batch of results I had and went off in search of the next padd full.

I found Christine in the next room, sniffling over a data padd. The results had ceased to be routine for someone. I was puzzled by the slip in her professional demeanor, even while we were alone in the empty sickbay. There wasn't any cause for it for the people I had already finished signing off. Jim, Spock, Christine herself - anyone I was aware of that she was particularly familiar or friendly with - all were as healthy as could be.

She refused to answer my questions about what was wrong. She didn't meet my eyes as she handed me the padd she was working with.

I was as reluctant to take it as she was to give it.

I suddenly knew who that reaction was for. I hadn't seen the results of my own physical yet. I always leave my files for last. It felt strange to look at my own charts, as if I were privy to information I shouldn't know about. My file was the one opened on the padd.

I sat abruptly, dry mouthed, and scanned through the results.

Good Lord. I was dying.

Seeing your impending doom written out in clinical terms does little for your thinking processes. I closed my file. Then went through the results of everyone else on the padd. Nothing untoward caught my eye, so I returned to mine. I was ridiculously disappointed to find the damning prognosis still there, as if I'd hoped the words would just magically disappear if I ignored them long enough.

I refused to believe them.

The first stage is always denial. Christine seized on my slim hope some mistake had been made. We ran the tests again. And once more after that just to be certain.


Christine was as patient with me as she could be. She asked me more than once when I was going to tell the captain. I put her off or skirted around the subject. I didn't have the answer.

I was going to tell Jim, of course. I had to. He's the captain, he needed to know when a member of his crew could no longer perform his duties. And if there's a medical reason, it's my job to inform him.

More importantly, I had to tell him because he's my friend.

I wanted to put it off as long as possible. I didn't want anyone to know until they had to. I wasn't ashamed. I wasn't contagious, so I could continue to work until the condition became too acute. And I wanted to work. But I'd hardly be a good doctor if people avoided seeing me because of some misguided notion that they would be a 'burden'.

Had it been possible, I would have put it off until I was no longer fit for duty. But Jim had only to look at the reports and see.

Unfortunately, I couldn't put off giving them to him. It would be a dereliction of duty. Never mind look suspicious as hell, what with all the trouble I have getting him down to take one in the first place.

I finished logging the last of the exam results right about the time we were hit by the red alert. Sickbay was pleasantly empty, and we hoped it remained that way. We were ready should the alert turn into something more unpleasant.

Christine went into another room; I assumed to double check that everything was properly prepped and in working order. I wanted to know more about the cause of the red alert. Always a good policy to see if there would be specific types of injuries we should be prepared for.

Missiles! Now who's good idea was it to go throwing missiles at us? Being the worry wart I am, I mentally catalogued the damage they could cause. If they only hit the shields and threw us around a little, nothing more than a few scraps and bruises. If they got through I might have to tend with radiation sickness, decompression, shrapnel...

My morbid thoughts were interrupted by the colored lights quietly changing from red to yellow. Imminent danger had passed. Beware, potential danger ahead.

I should have been paying more attention to the warning signal.

Christine returned with a look of pained determination. She had used the red alert distraction to inform the bridge there was an urgent matter for the captain down here.

I had never been so angry at a member of my staff before. Nor ever felt so betrayed. She didn't trust me to do my job. "I'm a nurse, first," she told me, "and a crew member second."

Of course she was, that was why she was so good at her job. But, dammit, I'm the doctor. First and foremost. It was my call to make.

It really hurt she felt she had to baby-sit me through it.

Jim walked in on us arguing. Never a heartening sight, seeing your doctor and nurse hollering at each other.

"Please, Christine. I promise you I'll give the captain the full report." Just not with an audience. This was me we were going to be talking about. And my friend I had to tell it to. I had to be the one to tell him, Captain or not.

Jim was going to just love this report.

I waited for the door to close behind her to even look at him. I tried to compose myself, to put the mask on, a sort of neutral zone between the emotions and the knowledge. I'd never been so nervous to give the news to anyone before. I took a deep breath and faced him, clenching the padd to hide my shaking hands.

"That was quite a scene," he commented. His way of asking if the 'scene' had anything to do with why Christine had called him down, or if we were just having a really bad day.

I answered as if the 'scene' never happened. "I just completed the standard physical examinations for the entire crew."

Jim, being Jim, had none of it. "Thanks, Bones. What's the emergency?"

First rule of good bedside manners, always give the good news first. "The crew is fit. I've found nothing unusual. With one exception." My throat seized.

"Serious?" Jim prompted.

"Terminal," I forced out. I hate the taste of that word.

Quietly, he asked, "What is it?"

"Xenopolycythemia," I said, wishing I hadn't sent Christine away. I would have gladly traded jobs with her just then. "It has no cure."

"Who?" Jim braced himself for the answer. I didn't want to give it, wasn't ready to give it. Why didn't Christine give more time to prepare? Ah, hell, I wasn't fooling anyone. If I had had a year, I wouldn't have been ready.

"He has a year to live, at the most." I winced at the third person reference to myself.

"Who is it?" Jim demanded, getting scared now.

He thought I was talking about him. Or he knew I was about to name someone close to him. Why else would I be drawing it out?

I gulped. Still in third person mode, told him, "The ship's Chief Medical Officer."

"You?" he whispered.

A snatch of a childhood song sprang to mind.   Who, me? Yes, you. Couldn't be. Then who?   I couldn't remember the circumstances the words were referring to, but the sentiment fit.

Jim left me alone with the news of my impending demise ringing in my ears. I had never given my death much thought before. Of course I knew I would die someday. There was no avoiding it. But I never wanted to know when. I never wanted the opportunity to dwell on regrets. To wade in self pity with all the might-have-beens. To play the what-if game. And I never wanted to see the inevitable reflected in the eyes of my friends.

I've faced death before. But I never had much time to contemplate it. I had always had the opportunity to fight the damn thing. Finding a cure, fleeing from those who would be the cause, arguing my way out of the situation. Even when the Vian's had me, I was too preoccupied by another's safety to give much thought to my own.

There I sat, the only doctor and patient in sickbay. Dying for no better reason than a disease. There was nothing the doctor could do to heal himself. Resistance was futile. And I had little left to do but think about it.

Death's such a mind-numbing concept.

I wandered to my office and stared at the bottle I had locked away in the cabinet. I seriously contemplated a glass of brandy, finally decided against it. It's not safe to drink when I don't even know how I feel. And I was still on duty. Unable to bury myself in drink, I piddled around in sickbay. I made sure it was clean, a force of habit that never quite carried on into the rest of my life. Little to do there. I had finished all the reports that were due earlier in the day. I shied away from the unfinished research projects. I wasn't ready to face the thought of packing up and leaving.

So, I went right on pretending that nothing had changed. I poked my nose into what was happening on the bridge without actually going up there. I learned the missiles had come from a very interesting asteroid. It had an atmosphere and engines, and was destined for an unpleasant meeting with an inhabited planet.

We were on an intercept course, which meant we would be going down to investigate. Even if we are able to get all we needed to know about it from the Enterprise's sensors, Jim wouldn't leave it alone. An asteroid ship was too much of an oddity for him to pass up checking it out personally. He liked exploring. He just didn't care much for mysteries. Spock, on the other hand, loved mysteries, every good scientist does. He would not pass up the opportunity to explore the riddle first hand in order to better explain it. Me? I would go along for the ride just as I always have. I enjoyed being on landing parties; it was exciting, when I wasn't afflicted with the occupational hazards of being scared out of my wits or bored silly.

Besides, someone had to act the adult when those two got the urge to play...

I don't know if I was more angry or hurt that Jim didn't call me to the transporter room. I buried them both equally well under righteous indignation. I was still a Starfleet officer and that wasn't going to change until my replacement came on board and I was forced out!   Until then, darnit, I was going to continue acting like a member of this crew.

I ignored Christine's disapproving look as I located a medical tricorder and slipped it over my shoulder. She would rather have me safe and sound on the ship, too. Only nothing was safe for me anymore. I half expected her to try to argue me out of going down. But Christine remained silent, choosing instead to follow me first to the armory then the transporter room.

For a bad a moment I thought she would follow me right down to the asteroid itself.

I didn't have any problems checking out a phaser. I've been a part of landing parties so often now I didn't even warrant a second look. I quelled the familiar misgivings as I attached the phaser to my belt. Jim preferred his people armed when he wasn't familiar with the terrain. And insisted on it when landing on potentially hostile territory. An asteroid that fired on us definitely qualified as hostile.

The transporter room was empty. At first I thought Jim and Spock and whoever he decided should come along had left while I was waiting for the page. But the technician manning the console assured me I was early, for a change.

"A lot could happen in a year," Christine said, handing me the medical pouch. Oh, Lord, proof my mind was not where it should have been. I was in such a hurry I had forgotten it. "Please, give yourself every minute."

What did she expect me to do, jump in front of a phaser beam? Give up? She should have given that pep talk to Jim. He was the one who didn't call me down.

The door slid open to reveal Jim and Spock. I shot them a quick, guilty look, and practically ran for the transporter pad. You'd have thought I actually looked forward to using the molecule scrambler.

Jim slowed down and gave me a quizzical look. Had he really expected me not to be there?

"Dr. McCoy," he said, going professional on me. In a walking-on-egg-shells tone, he added, "Mr. Spock and I will handle this."

"Without me, Jim?" I tried to sound like my normal, flippant self, to hide just how hurt I felt. "You'd never find your way back."

Jim exchanged looks with Spock at the insult. Did he know, I wondered, hoping I had misread the look. Spock's the last person I'd wanted to find out.   I didn't really want anyone to see me ill, to pity me, Spock least of all. Oh, that sounds corny. But can you imagine if he started to actually let me win some of our arguments?

His puzzled expression reassured me. Good ol' Spock probably expected me there all along. Maybe he'd thought Jim had me paged when he wasn't looking. I'm sure he would have inquired about my absence, otherwise. I wonder how Jim would have explained...

But Spock's a smart Vulcan. He could tell something was wrong. After all, how often did Christine come to see us off? And since when was I the first on the transporter platform? Never mind the scene between Jim and me.

"I think it would be wiser if..."

"I'd like to go," I cut in, my tone serious. Playing the title game, I insisted, "I'm fine, Captain."

I waited in a most uncomfortable pause, mentally crossing my fingers. I feared he would say no, and turn me away right there in front of Spock and Christine and the transporter tech.

"All right, Doctor," he said slowly. I was too relieved to care that he was humoring me. "If that's what you want..."

They joined me on the transporter pad. Spock gave us a look promising questions later. Well, that would be later. I was too busy pretending nothing had changed to care. Too determined to enjoy this one last mission to worry about when it was over. It wasn't likely I'd be able to finagle another before I was forced to leave.


"You'd swear you were on the surface of a planet," I said wonderingly. I was confused about how an asteroid could keep an atmosphere out in the middle of cold space. Spock could probably have explained it to me had I felt like a lecture. I'd bet he was having a field day with the place.

"One fails to see the logic in making a ship look like a planet."

For once, I had to agree with Spock. No sense at all.

The surface looked barren enough. I didn't even see any plants. The only sign that life had ever been here were the cylinders dotting the ground like giant fingers reaching for space.

"You found no intelligent life forms, Mr. Spock, but surely..."

"The asteroid ship is over 10 thousand years old, Doctor," Spock commented.

Not for the first time, I wondered where he got his figures. Some Vulcan magic, maybe. No, magic's probably illogical. He could have pulled them out of empty space, for all I knew. I stifled a grin at the thought. If Spock knew I even teased him in the privacy of my mind, it would really confound him. Hmm, maybe I should tell him...

"Still no sign of life forms, Captain," Spock said.

No life forms, hah!

One minute we were trying to figure out an asteroid that wasn't acting like an asteroid, the next we were being overrun by a bunch of guys in colorful clothing. What was it about us that invoked violence as a greeting in aliens? I can only guess we weren't dressed flamboyantly enough. Solid shades of blue, gold and black must have been a fashion crime.

It wasn't much as far as fights go. They were over us too quickly to reach the phasers, and fought too close for them to be much use anyway. I held my own against the fists. I had a close encounter with a sword when it sliced the strap of my tricorder. I lost it when I rolled away from a punch. Then I let myself get distracted.

Oh, I ought to have had my head examined. We were in the middle of a fight and I froze at the sight of a beautiful woman. She just stood there, back straight, almost regal looking, and watched. Our eyes met for a moment. Then there was a pain at the back of my head and I blacked out.

The next thing I was aware of was the ground. Never a good place to wake up with a headache and not entirely certain where you were. Jim pulled me to my feet, steadied me as I shook my head to clear it. The melee had ended while I was out. We lost. Well, it could have been worse. The swords could have been in us rather than pointed at us. Whatever happened to the uninhabited asteroid?

The woman introduced herself as Natira, a priestess of this place she called Yonada.

"I can't say I think much of your welcome," Jim said darkly, speaking for all of us.

Natira was not pleased with the comment. She frowned and ordered, "Take them."

The guards approached us in a threatening manner. We went without resistance into the tubes. We didn't have much choice in the matter.

They had the communicators.

The corridors and rooms reminded me of buildings, while the stairs and number of people were more reminiscent of a busy section of a ship. We were watched by a crowd of colorfully dressed people as Natira led us along. You would never meet a group of humans as silent at the sight of strangers.

Natira stopped at a door and made a show of opening it. Only the guards followed us in. Not a one of the onlookers even tried to enter.

It was one of the emptiest places I had ever seen on a spaceship. The walls were decorated with squigglies which might have been writing and looked vaguely familiar. A few monoliths were scattered about, with a particularly large one against the far wall. A stylized sun was etched or painted upon the giant, with a little orb in the middle.

We stopped a few steps in. Natira commanded us to kneel. The guards didn't give us the opportunity to think about it. They pushed us down almost as soon as Natira gave the order.

Natira knelt on the platform in the middle of the room, her head bowed as if in prayer, and proceeded to ignore us.

"She called this 'the world'," I said to Jim. "These people don't know they're on a spaceship." How could a people not know they were on a constructed thing?

"They've been in flight for ten thousand years," Jim answered. The guards weren't ignoring us. One of them nudged Jim warningly. He finished his thought in a whisper. "Maybe they don't realize it."

I tried to wrap my mind around the idea. Two hundred years ago humans had just started to act on the dream of space travel. Two thousand years before that, the dream had yet to exist.

Civilizations had risen and fallen, inventions made and lost and found again. So much that could change. They never discovered their world didn't act like a world?

Ten thousand years may be an eye blink as far as the universe is concerned, but it seemed like a very, very long time to me. How many changes happened to their civilization while they traversed the galaxy? Surely their society wasn't static. How many times had they made war and discovered peace inside their little asteroid ship? How many times had they climbed the ladders of technology, maybe even exceeded the wildest dreams of their ancestors, only to loose it again and forget the technological marvels of even a generational ship?

On a more practical note, without knowing they were on one, how did they keep the ship up? Who repaired the engines? Kept the life support going? Fixed the food replicators when they went out? Did they have food replicators?

"Oh Oracle of the People, most perfect and wise." Natira's words startled me back to more immediate concerns. "Strangers have come to our world. They bear instruments we do not understand." She held one the phasers up toward the obelisk. Did that slab of rock have scanners? Oh, wonderful, she couldn't have chosen something less threatening to show her gods. Like the communicators, maybe?

If she received an answer, we didn't hear it.

She did her little short bow and turned to us. "Who are you?"

Jim took the question as permission to stand. Spock and I followed his lead as he introduced us.

"For what reason do you visit this world?"

Natira drew her words out, enunciating each carefully. I wondered if they all spoke that way, or was it part of some ritual. Maybe so the 'oracle' could understand her better?

"We come in friendship," Jim answered.

Whatever I'd expected to happen, it wasn't to be assaulted by the sound of thunder. Or to hear the monolith speak to us.

"Then learn what it means to be our enemy," it intoned menacingly, "before you learn what it means to be our friends."

It didn't give us a chance to wonder what it meant. Before I knew what was happening, I went rigid with shock as pain coursed through my body. I didn't even have the chance to cry out before oblivion mercifully took over.


I woke up with a headache.

"Bones, how is it?" Jim leaned over me, concerned.

"I'm all right," I said. Jim looked fine. I noticed Spock standing over me. "Are you all right, Mr. Spock?"

"Very well, Doctor. The Captain and I seemed to have suffered no ill effects."

And I felt woozy. "Oh, that oracle really got to me." I started to prop myself on my elbows,

Spock gave me an extra push up. "I must be especially susceptible to it's magic spells." I said this more to Jim, willing, or warning, him not to make an issue of it.

Then I noticed Spock's hand still on my shoulder. Jim noticed that I noticed. He didn't...

"Spock knows."

He did. So much for Jim keeping my illness under his hat. I was angry, though I understood why he broke my confidence. I was incapacitated longer then either of them on a mission. For all we knew, we were being held captive on an alien ship. They needed to know any potential sources of weakness. A tactical decision. I hoped.

I winced at the concern in Spock's eyes, and quickly glanced away. I couldn't even keep eye contact with him.

"Well, we better get to the control room." I stood up, telling myself this was no time to dwell on things. If I was going to be mad at Jim, I'd do it later when we were back on the Enterprise, and I could rail at him without an audience. For now we had a mission to complete, a ship's course to change, our communicators to find, and... Damn! but my head hurt.

"Are you in any condition to get up?" Jim offered worriedly. He acted if I were about to die at his feet right then and there.

"Don't worry, I can make it Jim," I assured him, trying not to let my irritation show.

"Captain, informing these people they are on a ship may be a violation of the Prime Directive of Starfleet Command." I don't know if he had intended it as such, but Spock had my gratitude for changing the subject. It gave Jim something more immediate and pressing to think about while I willed the pain in my head to go away.

"No," Jim answered.

No? Of course it was. Even I could see that. Not that I agreed with it, mind you. "The people of Yonada may be changed by the knowledge," he went on, "but it's better than exterminating them."

"Logical, Captain."

Logical yes, but it would still be interfering with the culture's natural progress. That progress just happened to mean death.

When did I get to be so argumentative, even in my head?

"And the three billion of Darren V."

"Also logical, Captain."

Yes, it wouldn't be much progress if both cultures died, would it? And one of those people happened to belong to the Federation.

I wondered how Starfleet Command would react to our consensus? If we managed to save both, probably pat us on the back even while they slapped our hands.

We were interrupted by a visitor before we could get any further in our strategy planning and ethics debate. He was a short, aging fellow dressed in red and white. He looked furtively around, too obvious about it to have often snuck in where he was not supposed to be. When the man was certain there was no one here but us chickens, he gave us the Yonadan nodded bow. He took a pouch from his shirt, and handed me a tablet.

"For strength," he said as he gave some to Jim and Spock. "Many of us have felt the power of our Oracle," the old man explained. The tablet tasted like herbs. "This has been of benefit." I would have preferred something stronger, for medicinal purposes, of course. But I wasn't going to be picky.

The man stepped back to regard us. "You are not of Yonada?"

"No, we're from outside your world."

"Where.. is outside?" He hesitated, as if afraid the answer would contradict - or confirm - what he knew.

Jim motioned up with his. "Up there. Outside, up there, everywhere."

Sometimes Jim can be singularly ineloquent. I was surprised Spock didn't attempt a further explanation.

"So they say, also," the man said with a wince. "Many years ago," he confided, "I climbed the mountains, even though it is forbidden." Again that curious wince. It looked as if he needed to take more of the herb derivative himself.

"Why is it forbidden?" Jim asked.

"I'm not sure." The pain, what ever the cause, was increasing. I could hear it in his voice now. "But things are not.." a hand went to his head, "..not as they teach us." He cried as he forced out his last words. "For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky."

With that, he screamed and fell. And died in my arms even as I lowered him to the floor.

"What is it, Bones?"

"There's something under the skin." I touched the point on the man's temple where he had been holding it. Something small and circular glowed, went out. What was that? Was it what had killed him?

"For the world is hollow," Jim said softly. As if by repeating them he could understand the import of the words the man had died for and commit them to memory. "And I have touched the sky."

"He said it was forbidden to climb the mountains." Spock sounded puzzled.

"Yes, of course it is." Jim understood. "Because if you did, you'd touch the sky and find out you were living on a big.." he paused to find an appropriate word, settled for, "ball. Not a planet but a spaceship. And that knowledge seems to be forbidden."

In order to forbid it, someone had to know it. Who? The Oracle? And why?

Natira chose that moment to enter, along with some servants bearing trays of food and drink.

"What happened?"

"We don't know," Jim said. "He just suddenly screamed in pain and died."

There I was, kneeling over him. We must have looked suspicious as hell. I doubted getting to my feet as hastily as I did helped matters.

"Fetch the guard," Natira instructed one of the women.

Uh oh.

But instead of blaming us, she knelt by his head. "Forgive him, for he was an old man," she intoned. "And old men are sometimes foolish. But it is written that those of the People who sin or speak evil shall be punished."

I had the feeling her words were a warning to us as much as a prayer to the Oracle she revered so much.

"He served well, for many years." She almost sounded fond of him. Natira instructed the guards to, "Take him away. Gently."

At least they cared for the dead. I wondered just where they took their dead 'away' to. Did they bury them, cremate them? Not knowing they were on a ship would make it kind of hard to 'return them to the stars' as we do when we don't take a body back to a planet. This was an independent spaceship, after all, and they only had so many resources. Did they use the dead as a resource, somehow?

The line of thought made me nauseous. And hit a little too close to home. Soon I would have to make some decisions on the disposition of my own body... I sat on the nearest bed, the pain in my head thrumming with the roiling in my stomach.

"You do not seem well," Natira noticed. "It is distressing to me."

Not another one.

"Oh, no, I'm quite all right," I assured her. "Thank you."

Natira looked up at Jim and Spock. "It is the will of the Oracle that you now be treated as honored guests."

Though she spoke to all of us, the last few words were directed more toward me. I wasn't the only one to notice.

"You seem to be the special favorite," Jim said softly when she left us to speak with the servants.

"Indeed, Doctor." Spock had a teasing glint in his eyes. "The young lady did show a marked preference for your company."

"Well, now," I said, a little embarrassed but pleased all the same. "Nobody can blame her for that, can they?"

"Personally, I find the lady's taste questionable," Jim said straight faced. His eyes smiled. "But she obviously prefers you, and you obviously don't seem to mind." A grin softened the words to come. "If you could arrange to be alone with the young lady, Spock and I would be left alone to find the power controls for this... world."

Use my natural magnetism to distract her? If our positions had been reversed, Jim certainly wouldn't have had any qualms. I didn't really like the idea, more because he suggested it than any thought I had put into it. Charm the lady and stay out of harm's way while he and Spock went traipsing around the ship trying to figure out how it ticked. And, presumably, it would also leave me feeling like I was doing something useful. How did he learned to do that? Some days it could be damn frustrating.

"It is time to refresh yourselves." Natira and the servants approached us. Jim ignored the food - did he have the same thought I had earlier? - and took one of the drinks. I followed suit, handing a cup to Natira. She seemed surprised by the courtesy.

"We are very interested in your world," Spock said. He declined the drink, as well. Had he thought of something I didn't?

"That pleases us."

"Good. Then you wouldn't mind if we looked around?"

If Natira heard the challenge in Jim's voice, she gave no indication of it. "Not at all. The people know of you now."

I swallowed wrong and turned away to cough.

"Are you well enough to go about?"

I bristled, ready to claim I was all right, yet again. I was already tired of those variations on a theme. What was I going to do when the disease progressed?

"Perhaps not," I said after rethinking my reply. I hated the words, hated admitting even marginally to weakness. I shot Jim a look, warning him not to believe it. He nodded, barely, letting me know he understood it for the distraction he had requested.

Natira took the bait. "Then why not remain here? Rest, we will talk."

"You are very kind."

Well, that was easy enough. I still didn't like it. Jim might not mind having a woman at every starbase, but I don't like playing with people's feelings like that. It makes me uneasy. And we were never going to have a chance to get serious. But lives...

"You are free to go about and meet our people," Natira said to the others.

"Thank you. And thank you for taking care of Dr. McCoy."

I glared at Jim. He would get in a parting shot. He'd been taking lessons from Spock.

"Not at all. We shall make him well." Like a school boy with his first crush, I didn't know whether to be flattered or scared.

"I'm curious," I started when we were left alone. "How did the oracle punish the old man?"

"I... cannot tell you now," she said uncomfortably. This wasn't precisely what she had in mind by 'talk', I'm sure.

"There is some way the Oracle knows what you say, isn't there?"

"What we say.. what we think. The Oracle knows the minds and the hearts of all people." She came around to sit on the bed with me. I rubbed at the damn lingering headache. "I did not know you would be hurt so badly," she said, leaning in close.

"It's all right," I muttered, wishing everyone would just leave it alone for a little while. I hoped she didn't hear the bitterness I was beginning to feel at the whole situation.

"McCoy? There's something I must say. Since the moment I..." She stopped mid-rush and pulled back, looking suddenly bashful. "It is not in the manner of the People to hide their feelings."

"Well, honesty is usually wise," was all I could find to say to that.

"Is there a woman for you?" Oh, talk about saying what's on your mind. Here I thought that line had gone out with the dark ages.

I debated how to answer her. I didn't want to lead her on any further than necessary. I had also walked myself into a trap with that honesty is usually wise reply. So I actually gave it some thought. The first person to come to mind was Joanna. A daughter was hardly what Natira meant, and I knew it. And for a moment, just for a moment, I thought of the Enterprise. The ship had never meant the same thing to me as it did for Jim or Spock, though it was something special. Not that it mattered, she wasn't going to be in my life much longer. Jim saw to that by asking for my replacement.

"No." I was surprised by the surprise I heard in my voice. "There isn't."

"Does McCoy find me attractive?"

"Oh, yes," I said before I could check myself. I was embarrassed about the enthusiasm in my tone and didn't know why. Slower, "Yes I do."

"I..hope you men of space, of other worlds, hold truth as dear as we do."

"We do." That it sounded like we had just said our vows was not lost on me.

"I wish you to stay here, on Yonada," she said. "As my mate."


I felt my smile slip. Had I just been proposed to? She couldn't be serious. She looked at me, waiting. I backed away, then got up to put space between us, to distance myself from the question, to think.

"But we're strangers to each other." The protest slipped out of my mouth even as I thought it. I've heard of whirlwind romances but this was ridiculous. But in a whirlwind I'd feel alive before I was dashed, wouldn't I?

Natira smiled. "But is not that the nature of men and women, that the pleasure is in the learning of each other?"

I blinked. What a lovely way to put it. Like a poet, or dreamer. And she had a point.

"Yes," I said despite myself.

"The People, in the fullness of time," she said with enthusiasm, "will reach a new world. Rich, green, lovely to the eyes, and with a goodness that will fill the hearts of the People with tears of joy." Her eyes return from that dream place to regard me. "You can share that world with me. Rule it by my side."

I'm a doctor, not a power monger. I had no interest in that kind of position.

I didn't tell her that. Instead I thought, if things had been just a little bit different, I might have been able to see this place she spoke of. But things weren't different. And...

"How long will it take you to reach this new world?" The question hurt. I was afraid to ask, to hear the answer. Afraid she might have meant Darren V, already inhabited, and in imminent danger of dying with the Yonadans. Scared she'd give me a time frame that made no sense. I didn't want to tell her her lovely dream could not be because there was no such place so close. Worse, I was afraid she would tell me the remaining journey would take longer than I had left.

It dawned on me with shocking suddenness. I had taken for granted being a part of the future. I had intended to give Joanna away to the man of her dreams. I had hoped to see what kind of High Teer our name sake, Leonard James, would grow up to be. I had fully intended to spoil my grandchildren rotten. The plans meant nothing now. Fleeting dreams gone in the light of this new reality. Now I knew what it meant to have no more tomorrows.

Natira could only give me an uncertain smile with an uncertain answer. "Soon. The Oracle will only say soon."

I was so tempted.

"Oh, if you only knew how I needed some kind of future, Natira," I said with feeling.

Even the solidity of everyday was falling around me. Soon I'd no longer have the routine of Starfleet, the Enterprise, space travel. All the familiar faces - Jim, Spock, Christine - were about to disappear. Before long, all I'd have would be the imposed rigors of some hospital somewhere, with the faces of strangers for hollow company. I couldn't expect Jim or Spock or the others - Starfleet doesn't stop for dying friends. And I certainly wasn't going to put myself in Joanna's lap. She shouldn't have to care for me like that. Sick and in pain and a burden - that wasn't how I wanted to be remembered.

I found myself desperate for an anchor against the impending change. And just as terrified to reach for it.

I hated the feeling. The being afraid of being afraid. I wanted to push it all away. To hide the whirling thoughts and tangled emotions somewhere where I couldn't find them. But they insisted on being known, on making themselves heard and felt. It was as if being there with Natira had somehow broken all the barriers I had so studiously put up since I first saw the word 'xenoploycythemia' in my chart.

"You have lived a lonely life," Natira said. Not a question, also not a statement.

"Yes." I admitted to this insightful stranger something I rarely even acknowledged to myself. "Very lonely."

I thought about Jim having requested my replacement and felt even lonelier.

"No more, McCoy." She stood and approached me. "There will be no more loneliness for you."

If I stayed.

I couldn't in good conscience consider staying. Could I? I couldn't let her consider this without all the hard, hard facts.

"There's something I need to tell you." It certainly was a day for difficult words.

"There is nothing you need to say." Her tone said, except 'yes'. Would she be so willing to accept when I found the courage to say what needed to be said?

"But there is." She needed to know. I needed to know. She should have the opportunity to turn away, to reject the pain that would ultimately come.

Decide for me.

She looked at me in bemusement. "Then tell me, if the telling is such a need."

"I have an illness for which there is no cure," I blurted. Interesting, I actually referred to myself in the first person this time.

Natira looked at me searchingly. Hurt crept into her eyes.

"I have one year to live," I added. And watched, not certain what I hoped to find.

I found no pity in her eyes. Perhaps because she did not know what I was before. The pain lingered, joined by... acceptance?

She didn't understand. There should be something... less looking back at me. I had just mortally wounded her dreams with the news of my mortality. There would be no fairy-tale ending. Not for us.

Maybe I had it backwards. Maybe it was me who couldn't quite grasp the concept.

"Until I saw you there was nothing in my heart," Natira explained. "It sustained my life, but nothing more. Now it... sings." Such a poet. Such a smile. "I could be happy to have that feeling for a day, a week, a month... a year." I heard the hesitation. Had she just realized how little time a year really is? Or was she just making a point? "Whatever the Creators hold in store for us."

I was awed by her strength. Still pensive, still unsure, I kissed her.

Natira left me to contemplate matters on my own. I didn't have much time to think things through. Soon Jim and Spock would find a way to steer the asteroid. Or not. Either way, we wouldn't be here indefinitely. I only had until Jim was ready to leave to make up my mind.

I couldn't believe I was considering all this. I half convinced myself it was the almost forgotten headache getting to me. I wouldn't even have given it a first thought, much less a second, had some stranger off the street asked me to marry her. That's what Natira was, a stranger.

A beautiful stranger, yes. Striking, even. It would have been easy to loose myself just looking at her. That hardly meant anything. Just physical attraction. There was her manner, so captain like, a leader. A leader who cared. One could easily like that. Beyond those, I knew nothing of her.

Would I find more to like about Natira in time? What would happen if we decided we hated each other? I haven't had the best of luck with relationships, that's for sure. The only saving grace with the last one was Joanna. I don't know if I could bear another such heartache.

What if Natira changed her mind? When the novelty wears off, if she found me and my ways too different from her own, what then? If she left me to some strangers, it would be like dying in a hospital, I suppose. The only difference would be the technology, or lack of it.

And what of Natira? Did I have the right to inflict myself on her? To hope she might actually want to care for me when my illness progressed and I could no longer do for myself?

I barely knew her and already I saw that she deserved more. She should have someone to grow old with her. Not just a passing breath in her life. Could I stay, and knowingly give her the pain of widowhood?


A guard saved me from wearing a hole in my stomach with indecision. He thought Jim and Spock might need their healer. That damned oracle had caught them.

I was relieved to find they were all right. They would have headaches when they woke up, nothing that wouldn't pass with time. Satisfied they would live, I hunted down Natira, wishing fervently for our communicators. I remembered the Enterprise's sensors couldn't penetrate the core of the asteroid ship. Even if we had them, we'd likely have to get to the surface before beaming out of there. I had the bad feeling we would have to leave in a hurry.

"What are you going to do to my friends?" I asked as soon as I found her.

"They entered the oracle room," she said, keeping her back to me.

"And the punishment is death." Natira would face me if it were anything less severe.

"Yes. I can make no other decision." She finally looked at me. Her eyes, filled with regret, pleaded with me to understand. "We gave them our trust, they betrayed us."

"They acted out of ignorance, Natira."

"They said they came in friendship."

They did. We did.

"Please, let them return to the ship."

Banishment was a good, timeworn punishment. She had that option now. They'd be out of her way on the Enterprise. And if she didn't accept that, she could still let them leave. No one would have to know they weren't dead.

The pain of leadership filled her eyes. I had seen the same reflected in Jim's; the pain which made such leaders good leaders. The ones who didn't take their decisions lightly, and stuck by them no matter how much they hurt. Because they had to. Lord grant I never be in such a situation.

"I cannot."

"For me?" I pleaded shamelessly. I took her shoulders. "I've made my decision. I'm staying here, on Yonada."

I had made my decision but hadn't known until I spoke. And I didn't even know why I made that choice. For me? For her? Had I hoped to exchange an already forfeit life for two that still had a chance?

Natira leaned into me, relief plain on her face. And agony at the pain she would be causing me. I stood stiffly, unable to hold her. Not yet. I couldn't bring myself to comfort her for the deaths of my friends.

"Natira." I pushed her away so she could see my face. "What they did, they did because they felt they had to," I tried to explain. Certainly she could understand that. "Please let them return to the ship. You won't regret it."

There was still indecision in her eyes. So I went for broke, knowingly used her feelings against her. Possibly against us. "How do you think I'd feel, if I stayed here with the chance to be happy for the first time in my life, but knowing my friends had died?"

"Yes," she said with a sigh. "So be it." I breathed a sigh of relief. "This I will do for McCoy. For our happiness, and future."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Natira let me say goodbye alone. The guards escorted Jim and Spock to the surface and left when I arrived. Certainly Natira knew I could have left with them. I don't know if I'd have had such trust had our positions been reversed.

Natira gave me only the communicators before I went up. Just two. As I handed one to each of them, Jim noticed the missing one.

"You're returning with us?" I didn't know if it was a question or a statement of fact. But I knew the answer.

"No, I'm not."

"Bones, this isn't a planet." Jim looked hurt, confused. Or maybe he only thought I was confused, telling me things I already knew. "It's a spaceship on a collision course with Darren V."

"I'm on a kind of a collision course myself, Jim." There would be no avoiding this heading, though.

"Dr. McCoy, I order you to return with us."

I stiffened at the rank pulling, and held the urge to holler in check. "And I refuse."

Even Spock lifted a brow in surprise. Refusing a direct order was hardly an everyday occurrence in Starfleet. Nor was giving an order in desperation, to prolong a friend's life.

"Bones." There was some small bit of relief. He called me by the nickname he had given me; Jim wasn't offended. "If we can't correct the course of this.. ship, we'll have to blast it out of space."

I knew that. If it had to be done, at least it would be quicker than my alternative. Starfleet would be sure to do the deed as painlessly as possible.

"I intend to stay on this ship with these people," I said. I wouldn't be alone. I hoped. "Whatever happens."

"Your decision is most illogical, Doctor." Et tu, Spock? Had he hoped to distract me by drawing me into another of our fights?

"Is it, Mr. Spock?" Life isn't logical. Nor is death. It's how we choose to do both that matters. And it was a better choice than any of the other options I could think of. "Is it really?"

I paused to gather myself before I turned to Jim. "Natira has asked me to stay, and I'm staying."

"As her husband?" Did he have to sound so accusing?

"Yes." How did he know? "Is that too much to ask, Jim?"

In answer, he flipped open the communicator and hailed the ship. Scotty, probably worried sick about us, answered.

"We're beaming over. Lock in on our signal." Jim paused for a moment. "And transport Mr. Spock and myself immediately."

"But Captain," Scotty protested. I was touched by his concern. "What about Dr. McCoy?"

Jim and I locked gazes.

Yes, what about me?

I read the debate in his eyes. The terrible thought of leaving someone behind. Worse, behind on a doomed ship. Judging if my decision was made of my own free will or under duress. Noting I've made no signals or any halfway subtle signs that something was up. Deciding if I had agreed to Natira's offer for their benefit. Even I wasn't certain on that count. He could beam me up against my will, force me off Yonada. With that contemplation came the consideration of whether he would loose a friendship before he lost the friend.

I took a slow step back. Please grant me this last wish, Jim.

Another step. Give me this chance at happiness. One more. Let me keep a little dignity.

Jim stepped closer. I held my breath.

"He's staying, Scotty."

They both kept their eyes on me as the transporter beam swallowed them up. I didn't turn away till there was nothing left to see.

They were gone.

I never imagined I'd feel quite so... so empty. Lonely in a way I had never been before. Irrationally, illogically, I was angry they had left me. As if a part of me had hoped Jim would stay, or take me back with him. Hell of a time for second thoughts.

They didn't even say good bye.

Neither did I.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

If Natira always kept such a rapid pace, my life would be full. She wasted time on nothing. As soon as I got back, she wanted to finalize the marriage. First she had to implant the instrument of obedience.

She held it up near my head and gave me the opportunity to change my mind.

"Say now, because once done, it is done."

'And cannot be undone' hung in the air, unsaid. Just like everything else in life. Like Jim and Spock leaving. Like this disease. What did I have to loose? Except for the uniform I still wore, I had nothing left of my former life.

"Let it be done," I said wearily. It had been a very, very long day.

She touched my temple, and just like that, I was 'of the People'.

For the marriage, there was just the three of us; Natira, me and that oracle. I didn't feel right kneeling before it. I certainly didn't like the way she turned toward the monolith after our vows. But she was the High Priestess, and the oracle was her god. Already jealous I had share, I guess.

Ceremonies finished, Natira showed me one of the secrets only the High Priestess - and her mate, apparently - may know. Hidden within a slight monolith in the oracle room was a well preserved book.

"This is the Book of the People, to be opened and read when we reach the new world of the promise." The promised land, eh? "It was given by the Creators."

"Do the people know the contents of their book?" Did it contain the workings of the asteroid ship, or list it's destination?

"Only that it tells of our world here," Natira said. "And why soon, one day, we must leave it for the new world."

"Has the reason the People must leave here been revealed to you?" Did Natira know Yonada was a spaceship, a thing constructed millennia ago, presumably to save her race?

"No, it has not."

I gazed at the book, wondering how to make the request without making the request. I didn't want to cross anymore taboo's. "Don't you long to know it's secrets?" And I was curious.

Natira, however, was not. "No. It is enough for me to know that we shall understand all when we reach our home."

We. Well, maybe not everyone.

I had started trespassing on private ground and she gave me a look that warned against further pursuit of the subject. I didn't push any harder. Instead, I tried not to look as excited as I felt. The book might have been the very thing Jim and Spock were looking for. The answer to the asteroid ship's course problem. There might still be a chance for the Yonadan's if I could talk to the Enterprise.

I excused myself to be alone, claiming fatigue. It wasn't entirely an untruth. As soon as I wasn't being watched, I went to the place I had seen Natira hide our things when she had given me the communicators earlier.

Luckily, the Enterprise was still in range.

"Jim!" "Yes, Bones?"

Good news first. "We may be able to get these people back on course."

"You've located the controls?"

"No." Bad or indifferent news second. "But I've seen the book that contains all the knowledge of the 'creators'." That damn headache was back.

"And if you..." No, not headache. The instrument of obedience. The oracle knew what I was saying.

If the oracle knew what was in my heart and mind, it should have also known I was doing this for it's own good.

I pushed against the pain, tried to speak coherently. "If you..can get to it..Spock..can dig out..the information.."

"Where is it?"

I couldn't answer him. The pain got to be more than I could stand, figuratively and literally. I cried out, my head on fire, and fell flat on my face.

I heard Jim calling. His voice was tiny, so far away, as if he was in another sector of space all together. The pain flared, and I wondered why it didn't kill me as quickly as the old man. Just before I passed out, I thought, I had a chance to give my death meaning and I may have failed.


For the third time that day, I regained consciousness, this time to the sound of a tricorder. The whine would have given me a headache if I hadn't already had one. Someone really needed to invent a muffler for them, or find a way to adjust the pitch so it was beyond human hearing. And what was a tricorder doing in sickbay, anyway? Patients didn't need that kind of abuse.

I heard Jim and Natira arguing. Natira was on the ship? I couldn't quite make out their words. My head hurt too much. Hell, my whole body ached.

"Bones?" I felt Jim's hands on the back of my neck, supporting my head.

Natira cried over me. Was I dying already?

"You said something about a book." A book? my mind echoed muzzily. "Where is it?" I wasn't entirely sure where I was.

"They must not know," Natira said, both pleading and demanding.


It was a struggle to get my throat to work. " room."

"You will never see the book!" Natira hissed. "It is sacrilege."

Natira ran off before I could manage to apologize. I wanted to explain it all to her. To let her know I really wasn't betraying Yonada, the Oracle, or her. I wanted her to see the world the Creators had promised.

I drifted with the tricorder's hum and hot fingers against my face. Only Spock's touch could be that warm without aid of a fever. When did he get here? And what was he doing?

Whatever it was, it helped. The pain ebbed somewhere below mind numbing, allowing me to think again. With a little effort I could move, though not with much coordination.

"She evidently understood something," Spock said, loud but no longer near me. I was grateful they'd tried to explain to Natira for me. Did they make it clear to her? I hoped they made the situation clear to her. Would she help us help her?

"There are no guards to detain us," Spock informed us.

Good. If nothing else, it meant Natira was unsure. She hadn't dismissed our story out of hand. She was considering what she'd been told, debating, questioning. I knew precisely where she'd go to ask the questions.

Fear spurred me to my unsteady feet. If the oracle would kill an old man for telling us something we already knew, and try to get me for helping it survive, what would it do to Natira for wondering about the veracity of her truths?

I cursed the oracle's magic and how hard it had hit me. Because of my slow recovery, we were too late to spare Natira the pain of mental disobedience. We found her laying near the dais.

She'd started to come around as I pulled her up to support her head on my lap.

"You're friends have told me of your world," she said by way of explanation.

"They spoke the truth." I didn't know exactly what was said, but I had faith.

"I.. I believe you. I believe." I don't know who was she trying to convince, me or herself. "The Creators kept us in darkness. There's nothing I can do. I believe with you.. husband."

I snapped my fingers at Spock. He knew what I wanted. I was going to take that damned device from her head whether she wanted me to or not. She could always have another inserted if she really wanted it.

I showed her the device. There, gone, no more pain for thinking. I don't know if she understood what she saw before she passed out.

"Is she all right?" Jim asked.

"She will be. I'll stay here with her. The book is in the monolith." I willed him to hurry before something else went wrong.

Too late.

The oracle spoke. "It is sacrilege to the temple."

"We do this for the survival of the people of Yonada," Jim explained, uselessly.

"You are not believers. You are forbidden to gaze at the book."

"We mean no desecration to the faith of Yonada," Jim assured the machine. "We must consult the book to help you."

Just like a machine, it refused to listen to reason. "It is blasphemy. You are forbidden."

Did everyone on Yonada repeat themselves? "The punishment is death."

I was very tired of hearing that phrase.

Thunder pounded the room again. We were assaulted by an indoor wind. The lights changed color and the room suddenly became stuffily hot.

"Temperature, 111 degrees and rising."

I'm a doctor, not a potato, I thought ludicrously as I wiped sweat from my head. I wasn't meant to be baked.

"McCoy, how do you open this thing?"

"Temperature, 115 degrees." Spock sounded like a talking thermometer.

"Press the three lower planets on the left hand side."

"120 degrees."

Jim handed the book to Spock, mercifully shutting him up. Spock flipped the pages, searching with greater speed than either Jim or I would have been capable of. It helped that he had an idea what to look for.

"Hurry Spock," Jim urged.

I silently seconded Jim's motion. It felt like Spock was taking forever while we waited in the oracle induced oven. It wouldn't be long before we were afflicted with heat stroke. Spock, being part Vulcan, could tolerate the heat better, but even he was going to start melting if this kept up.

Spock finally found what he needed. I was surprised the oracle didn't try to shock them when Jim and Spock worked the giant monolith to get to the control room behind it.

Soon, the wind died down and lights returned to normal. Bless that pointy eared Vulcan, he did it again. The room cooled at a phenomenal rate.

That must have been just what Natira needed. She came awake in my arms.

"The oracle can no longer punish us," I told her.

"Your friends have prevented it?"


"And will they send this.. this.. ship," How hard it was for her to say the word. I admired her even more for accepting it. "Again to the land that the Creators intended?"


"That is good."

Natira, still getting used to the idea that her world was not a planet, wondered aloud about other worlds and the people on them. I told her a little of Earth, where I was born and raised, and Centaurus, my adopted home. I was already nostalgic for the Federation and Starfleet and the way they spiced up life with sheer variety.

She said she'd like to see what other ships - she still hesitated over the word - looked like. I jumped at the chance to show off the Enterprise to her. There was so much out there I could show her.

I must have missed something in my enthusiasm.

"No," Natira said softly.

"Don't be afraid." Yonada was safe now. The oracle couldn't hurt her.

"I do not fear the punishment of disobedience."

"Well, then come. We must hurry to join the.."

"No," Natira interrupted me. "I cannot go with you. It's not fear," she added quickly. "I understand the great purpose of the Creators. I shall honor it."

"You intend to stay here, on Yonada." The tables were turned. Now it was her breaking my fairytale dreams.

"I shall stay willingly. And because that is what I must do."

"Then I won't leave you." I said the words almost unwillingly. I didn't want to fail at being a husband again.

"Will McCoy stay here to die?" Natira asked. Then answered her own question with a gentle smile. "No. McCoy will not let go of life in the fullness of years."

How did she know me so well, to know what I was thinking, to understand?

All the bucking and heaving of my emotions and equally storm tossed thoughts had left me confused. First there was the fear and depression induced justifications to stay. Then the fierce missing of something I had just barely left. Now I was struck by an overwhelming desire to fight this thing, to not let it break me.

"Now more than ever," I told Natira, "I wish to search through the universe," - and God forbid Jim ever heard me admit I wanted to go gallivanting across the cosmos; he'd never let me live it down - "to find a cure for myself and all others like me."

I wanted to be as adventurous as Jim and as curious as Spock. I wanted to make every moment count, to live even if only for a little while. And I wasn't so sure I could do that on Yonada. Only leaving one thing behind would make me feel emptier.

"And I want you to be with me."

"This is my universe," Natira said with a sad smile. "You came here with a great mission, to save my people. Shall I abandon them?"

I looked away, hurt but understanding. She could no more leave her world than I could mine. Is this what they meant by 'star crossed'?

She lifted my chin up. "Perhaps, one day, if it is permitted, you will find Yonada again."

There were tears in both our eyes as I held her close.

There are many hard things a person must do in life. Saying goodbye must be the most difficult. Here I've done it twice in one day.

I wasn't ready to face the rest of the universe when we got back to the ship. I was exhausted emotionally and physically. I wanted to hide in my quarters to rest and get a handle on myself.

Spock left the transporter room in a hurry, claiming he had to do some 'urgent research'. I didn't even have the heart to make a snide remark. Jim patted my shoulder and walked me to my quarters. He left me with the promise to be there when I was ready to talk. Maybe. I'm a good complainer, and a decent listener, but talking's harder, it took more effort and time. I was going to miss the way Natira reached in and knew, and put ideas into words so I didn't have to.

I slept for an entire shift. Though I did not feel rested, I was also restless when I awoke. I checked in at sickbay and got another nasty surprise. My condition had worsened. If the trend kept up, I'd have considerably less than the expected year. I shouldn't have been surprised. Stress has a way of accelerating any illness. Lord knows I've had plenty of it, and more kinds than one.

I sent messages to Joanna, a few friends, and an acquaintance or two I would have liked to call friends. They were mostly meaningless words to just get in touch. I wasn't ready for anymore good-bye's. I'd had too many too recently. And I felt that would be too much like letting go.

I planned out my strategy for the next few months. There were so many sights I had always intended to see but kept putting off, so many planets I've only heard of that might be fun to explore. I put Yonada on the bottom of the top ten list. Wistful thinking, but it belonged there. I had seen only a few rooms; Natira never had the chance to show me an asteroid ship's day, to point out the forbidden mountains, to see their version of a sunrise.

I instructed the computer to search for everything it had on my disease and flag the names of the researchers. It would give me a start at becoming an expert on my condition before I met the real experts.

Before I saw anyone or anyplace new, I would visit Joanna. I couldn't see any good reason to tell her I was sick, it would only worry her and disrupt her studies. But maybe I could leave us both with some good memories first.

All the while I tried to ignore that Spock was avoiding me. We had an admittedly odd relationship, any stranger could easily think we hated each other as often as we argued and exchanged insults. Jim insisted Spock was busy with research that was very important though he refused to tell me what it was about. I'd thought he was just trying to protect my feelings while sticking up for Spock.

Until they came to me with the good news.

Jim looked like the cat who ate the tribble, and Spock was equally smug in his quiet way. I don't think I'd ever seen them look so pleased with themselves. If they had looked so ridiculous for any other reason, I would have been sure to deflate their egos with a good measure of teasing.

The treatment was not as easy as I would have liked. There was a bit of pain involved, though at that stage it was hard to say how much of was due to the cure and how much to the disease.

Either way, it worked!

Christine administered according to Spock's instructions while Jim stayed for moral support. Spock monitored everything with a tricorder. I couldn't decide whether to be annoyed for Christine's sake or gratified that he felt he needed to give it his personal attention. I decided to overlook that he was practicing medicine with out a license again. After all, he was the one who found and gave the good news.

"Your hemoglobin count is back to normal, Doctor," Spock announced finally. Then proceeded to remind of that which I already knew. "Which indicates that the flow of oxygen to each cell of your body is back to its abundantly.. energetic level." A smartass remark aimed at my human blood. Just because his Vulcan green blood consumed less oxygen... I refrained from returning the jibe.

"Thank you, Mr. Spock, for bringing back the knowledge of the Fabrini."

Spock accepted with a nod. He must have been feeling ill, he didn't even try to argue that thank you's were illogical.

"Dr. McCoy," Jim started with great deliberation. "The Fabrini descendants are scheduled to debark on their promised planet in approximately 390 days. I think that we could manage to be in that vicinity, at that time, if you wanted to thank the Fabrini personally."

I felt a silly a grin spread across my face. Did I ever. I wanted to tell a certain Fabrini descendant in particular how grateful I was to her. I had never met anyone before who was so accepting of me. Or who loved me enough to let me go, even when she knew she'd likely never see me again.

I was already nervous about returning. I didn't know if what we felt, what I felt, was real. Now that I had time back again, without the impetus of circumstance and doom hanging over our heads, and after the novelty of we 'men of space' had worn off, would we still care about each other? Would we, could we, built up a relationship, a future? I suppose I'd learn all that when we've met again.

Later. I savored the thought. I had been presented with a new lease on life, and I intended to make it a very, very long contract.

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