Orderlies took Saavik away to her room, but her expression on seeing Spock lingered over everyone after she was gone. McCoy felt like a traitor for no one giving her some word of comfort while they clustered around Spock, keeping their balance on the eggshells around him. So taken aback by his blundering step to her and what had caused it, forgetting in that one second how their silence must have looked to her.
McCoy cleared his throat. “Sorel, if you can spare a minute to brief me, I’d like to start right away.”
The healer nodded. “If you will come with me, I will take you to the ward where we keep the Phase III patients.” He looked at Spock. “Do you wish to see them? Sarek thought you might.”
When he spoke, Spock’s voice was hoarse, or at least McCoy thought so. That expression from Saavik had hit hard. “Of course. Your briefing will help those of us dealing with the non-medical details of the disease.”
That meant Kirk was coming too, which was a relief to McCoy. He saw how the secrecy was killing Jim.
Amanda walked briskly to keep up with everyone else’s longer legs. It said something that even the Vulcans marched with rapid steps. “Sorel, Saavik has a friend, Rrelthiz, on her emergency contact list. She’s a Carreon doctor, a biologist. I thought of contacting her and asking for her help. With your permission.”
Spock’s face tightened and only McCoy knew why. That mission, where they had first met Rrelthiz.
But he gave the Vulcan credit for putting it aside to give his opinion on the important matter at hand. “I know her – or rather, I did. Dr. Rrelthiz knows a great deal about biological agents mutated into viruses -- what the Carreons call virbac organisms. She may give us a new insight.”
Sorel’s steps hesitated and then regain their briskness. But the hesitation in so controlled a Vulcan spoke volumes. “The background on the hybrids is still confidential. You know this as well as I do. I understand Leonard’s knowledge--”
McCoy saw Kirk shoot him a look and held the urge back to kick his former captain. Jim was his best friend and a good man, but he was capable of a petulance and bad temper rivaling a teething toddler.
“— but as for anyone else....”
“Rrelthiz already knows some of the background,” Amanda explained. “Saavik spoke of a few details to her. Surely Rrelthiz can work on the project without being told anything else? We can tell her its classified beyond her security access.”
Tu’ong leaned into Sorel and they held an intense, whispered conversation even as they kept sweeping the others through the hospital corridors. The number of patient rooms they passed dwindled as they seemed to head for a more isolated area. Sorel finally nodded while Tu’ong emphatically shook her head. He held up a hand and spoke to Amanda. “Agreed. As we are quite possibly dealing with a biological agent, and as the Carreon healer knows certain facts already, by all means contact her. However, she must not be given any further details regarding the hybrids’ past.”
“I’m sure she’ll agree. I’ll contact her now.” Amanda stopped, touched Sarek’s hand briefly, and disappeared down a different corridor.
Sorel escorted everyone else to the Vulcan/Romulans’ ward. McCoy observed a separate nurses station just for this area, with one corridor leading to labs and another for patient rooms currently empty. His party took a third corridor where double doors led to the ward. Other rooms spread out after it. The hospital was giving the medical team a great deal of resources to combat the disease, he was glad to see.
The ward was a very large room with two columns of beds forming row after row. Privacy walls, to surround the patient’s bed giving them a solitary room, could jut forth from the wards' main walls, but were currently retracted as healers and nurses worked on the patients. So it was a startling scene that greeted McCoy and the others.
The worst of the twenty-three hybrids were gaunt, cheeks starting to cave in, and their eyes sinking into their faces. Those early in the phase sat up; the more advanced cases weakly lay in their beds and turned their heads to the strangers in the doorway; the rest could not manage even this. But the ones who turned recognized Spock, and McCoy saw their eyes brighten. Their savior was here.
Controlling his reaction to the horrific sight, Spock moved down the rows of beds with McCoy at his back, and Kirk and Sarek at his shoulders. He stopped to murmur a few words to them. McCoy grabbed medical charts each time, but darted his glance up at the reticent or weak words aimed at Spock.
“You will not remember me, sir,” the first hybrid said. “It has been years. I am Vi’hai.”
Spock nodded. “I remember you, Vi’hai.”
“You honor me, sir. We were all gratified when we heard of your arrival. You are staying for fourteen days, correct?”
McCoy quailed at the reminder that Starfleet only spared he and Spock for two weeks. How could he find a cure in two weeks when people like Sorel hadn’t?
“If you could, sir, that is my wife, Pekhi.” Vi’hai sat forward to gesture to the patient in the next bed. His bondmate appeared to be sleeping, but McCoy expertly judged the increased signs of starvation and dehydration. “She entered Phase III earlier than I did. If you could speak with her, she will hear you. It would mean a great deal to her.”
Like an explosion of image and sound, McCoy saw a much younger face, just cleaned, scabbed and scarred, and hair freshly cut, staring into a computer camera. He heard Spock’s voice in his head listing the details for the child’s record. Vi’hai: approximately 8 years of age, male. Broken arm incorrectly healed. Infection of the calcaneus of the right foot, beginning as a deep laceration which has infected the bone. Shows signs of rape.
Pekhi: approximately 13 years of age, female. Laceration to the scalp around to the forehead. Shows signs of rape.
He hated having these memories, because it was unfair that he did when he was never given permission for it. Would he ever recover from having Spock’s katra banging between his ears?
And what was this doing to Spock who must be reliving the same memories?
Spock’s hands folded behind his back and they clasped together hard. “Of course, and my congratulations on your marriage, Vi’hai.”
The other nodded in thanks, but said nothing as he took in the two humans. That’s when it hit McCoy that Vi’hai had spoke in English for their sakes.
“Allow me to introduce my companions, Captain James T. Kirk and Dr. Leonard McCoy of Earth. They have come to assist myself and Sorel. You already know my father, Sarek.”
Kirk murmured a hello and McCoy stumbled out something. What to say? No standard Vulcan greeting worked. How could he possibly wish peace, prosperity, or a long life when Vi’hai knew his future held none of these things?
Spock stepped over to Pekhi’s bedside and spoke quietly to her. The sleeping woman didn’t rouse or show any reaction. Her husband leaned over and rattled off something in Vulcan, but Spock stopped him.
“It is not necessary. Do not disturb her.”
“Nonsense!” another voice spoke from behind them. “Pekhi prefers to be disturbed.”
A gray haired Vulcan male moved to the foot of Vi’hai’s bed with eyes that contained more humor than McCoy ever saw before in any Vulcan. He slid in next to Spock and addressed the sleeping woman. “Attend me, Pekhi. You are too stubborn to allow sleep to control you. The paint fumes alone must drive you to awaken.”
McCoy turned with Kirk to finally notice one of the hybrids, a male in a patient’s tunic and pants, painting the beginnings of a mural over the last bed on the right hand side of the room. Another male sat on the next bed watching.
“Micar,” Sarek identified.
Micar, McCoy’s memory repeated, approximately fourteen, male. Missing the middle finger on the left hand…
And, the doctor remembered with a sickened rush, a rapist. An adolescent with a maturing sexual drive that had preyed on the other hybrids on Hellguard, not knowing why he did it or that it was wrong. And here he was with his former victims. How did these people live with each other?
But the elder Vulcan said, “As if I did not recognize him. I see we are to have a fresco decorating the ward. Interesting. I look forward to its completion.” He spoke to McCoy and Kirk. “My apologies, gentlemen, for not introducing myself. My name is--”
“Salok,” Pekhi’s weak voice called from her bed. Her short hair pressed close to her finely boned head, and her large doe eyes quivered open.
“Ah yes,” he answered, and returned to her side. “There you are. You remember Spock.”
She carefully dipped her head, reaching only a millimeter, in a bow. He spoke to her in Vulcan, and she answered with a word or two. She then asked Salok something, and he replied in his same light, even tones.
Sarek whispered to Kirk and McCoy. “She remembers he was a pediatrician, and asks if he now treats adults as well.”
“Does he?” Kirk asked.
Sarek shook his head. “However, he was the doctor on the rescue team. Sorel asked him for his assistance. He will check his records, comparing their tests as adults to the ones made when they were children. Perhaps he will find the new element triggering the disease.”
An alarm sounded down the aisle, and McCoy viewed a cluster of people at the far end. Vulcans, some in medical dress and some not, hovered over a patient as Sorel and Tu’ong hurried to join them. He got a brief glimpse of the patient, a breathing skeleton seizing for air and life, and then a nurse hit the controls for the privacy walls.
Salok spoke in a hushed tone. “Cavan.”
Automatically, the thought came to McCoy just as it had with the others: Cavan, approximately six years of age, male. He shut it off with a silent curse.
Micar left his painting to stand midway in the aisle. Like all the others, he stared at that enclosed bed; but unlike the others, he twisted around and addressed the patients in quiet authority. “We can do nothing for Cavan. His family is with him as are the healers. Go back to your business.” And setting an example, he returned to his mural.
His family. A sudden reminder that these were the hybrids that took the genetic scan to find their Vulcan families.
Unlike Saavik who was lying in her room alone.
Goddammit, I should’ve said something to her!
“Micar has become quite the leader,” Salok noted.
Spock raised an eyebrow. “He has also become quite self-possessed. Interesting.”
“In one with such a deprived childhood or in one with less years of training?”
A sound from the end of the aisle signaled people were leaving Cavan’s bed, and even though it was done discreetly through the far door, McCoy saw a gurney exit with the young man’s body. The family and medical staff provided a shield, so hopefully none of the other hybrids observed it, but one woman happened to bow her head, rubbing at her brow, giving McCoy his peek.
“Oh god,” Kirk said quietly.
McCoy bet Jim didn’t even know he spoke out loud. As for himself, he was watching that Vulcan woman steady herself and realized what had happened.
She has Cavan’s katra.
He bet she was better off than he and Spock had been. At least Cavan’s family had time to prepare.
Sorel made his way to them, his face carefully guarded, and they met him halfway, dropping their voices.
“Now we have lost seven,” he said.
And he blames himself for every one of them, McCoy thought, speaking from experience.
“The families,” Spock asked, “are they all so supportive?”
Sarek’s voice was grim. “Not all.”
So some still blame these kids for being born. For every hybrid, one Vulcan was raped, forced to watch the child born, and then died either by Romulan hands or by Hellguard’s harsh life. Each Vulcan had a family back home, and not everybody could forgive the living symbol for what had happened.
Sorel gestured to a few other Vulcans coming up the aisle. “The rest of our team. The head nurse, T'Ahiyya.”
A woman McCoy’s height with short hair of dark ringlets, caramel colored skin, and large almond shaped eyes of amber greeted them, but her thoughts were clearly with the departed Cavan.
“Healer Sa’d....” a tall, slim built Vulcan male with black skin, “and Healer Srre, one of our most gifted medical students.”
“You have a helluva assignment, Srre,” McCoy said.
Shorter than him, Srre responded solemnly, his slate gray eyes almost mournful. “I requested it. My brother, Mal'Shik, was a patient. He was the first to die from Phase III.”
McCoy mentally kicked himself out to the spaceport while echoing Kirk’s, “I’m sorry for your loss.” He struggled to say something without sticking his foot in his mouth again. “Sorel, why don’t I make the rounds with someone else in the staff, then I can meet with you about any questions I still have.”
“The entire team meets at the end of every afternoon to keep each other abreast on all information. In the meantime, take T’Ahiyya with you and Salok. You will find her a significant resource.”
“My pleasure, ma’am,” he said courteously, and like all other Vulcans he ever addressed with such an emotional statement, she gave him a look of bemusement.
“I believe I am better suited elsewhere,” Sarek said. “I will compile the current theories on a third party responsible for creating this disease, in the event it is not naturally caused by the environment. Captain Kirk, if you would assist?”
Kirk smiled slightly, and McCoy knew only he and Spock saw the sadness there. “Jim, please. Calling me captain is a bit improper now. And I’d be happy to help. The sooner the better, just in case.”
His son gazed over the ward at all the hybrids he hadn’t spoke with and who gave him expectant glances. “I will stay with Salok and Dr. McCoy.”
They began their rounds, missing no one. A couple of times, one hybrid told Spock to stop at the next bed explaining the person in it was not sleeping, but could not move to let him know. These people, it was left unsaid, would be the next to die.
These Salok touched lightly on the forehead, and Spock murmured what message he could manage, while McCoy tried to shut those voices out of his head.
Zytka, approximately thirteen, female.
Sohan, approximately ten, male.
Some asked that they repeat his or her name, waiting intently and then relaxing back on their pillows after they had. These, Salok told them privately, were the ones whose families did not come.
And they want someone to remember them, to know their names after they’re gone, a recall whispered to McCoy.
Jalon, approximately five, female.
Nizar, approximately fifteen, male.
A doctor was meant to maintain a distance from his or her patients. A fact McCoy always had a problem with. How the hell could he do it now when he looked at the dying adult and saw the rescued child?
At last, they finished the rounds, and he carried a full padd of notes from T’Ahiyya. Even she looked drained from the experience. He grabbed what records he could at a nearby computer station, and asked Salok if he could look in while the pediatrician did his comparison. The nurse informed them the afternoon meeting started in one hour, and Spock said he would join his father and Kirk in Sarek’s office.
McCoy’s mind already reeled with the idea of finding a needle in the haystack of data. “Salok, humans and a few other species I know have diseases where the body stops processing nutrients. Is this new for Vulcans?”
“No. Unfortunately, this disease does not respond to our treatments.”
McCoy grimaced. “Figured it was like that.”
“It makes our purpose twofold: to find a cure for Phase III so we may save the immediately threatened lives, and cure the whole disease before Saavik, and possibly the offworld hybrids, reach the final stage.”
They began the painstaking work of comparing each test – blood, tissue, bone scans, neural scans, on and on – per individual, first as a child and then as an adult. The hour sped by with only a minuscule fraction of the work done.
Salok looked up from the station. “Leonard, go to the meeting. Once I am complete with this analysis, I am no longer a member of the team. You are. I will carry on here.”
“All right, but I’ll be back afterwards to help you get through this. Is there any pair of hands we can steal?”
“The reference is interesting, and if I understand it as an idiom, I have called a few associates. They will arrive after they completed their appointments.”
“Then maybe we can get through this stuff by tomorrow.”
He literally ran down the hallways, pounding through the medical complex half by memory, half by Salok’s directions. He skidded to a stop near Sorel’s door, ignored the stares around him, and entered the meeting in a normal pace.
If it were anyone but Vulcans in the room, he’d sum up their mood with one word: glum.
“Seven deaths,” Sorel was saying. “And we face more immediately if we cannot halt the disease’s progress. Saavik entering Phase I is a setback. We all thought her spared. However, our theories regarding an element in our environment as a cause may still hold true since she is exposed, albeit in a more limited capacity. If so, the three hybrids coming to the orbital station may be uninfected, and we know three at least will live.” The somber thought hung in the air. “What are our current strategies?”
McCoy reported on his and Salok’s process, what little of it was made, and the help coming tonight.
Tu’ong also created a team for the genetic scans and reported their focus was on the Phase III patients first, working back towards Phase I.
“Is Saavik getting treatment?” McCoy asked.
Srre answered that her injuries from the Aerfen were being treated, but no cure was ever found for Phase I. “However, she will pass through it normally even without therapy.”
“And I have a note from Sarek,” Sorel added, “that James Kirk and he arranged for Healer Rrelthiz to arrive in approximately three days.”
McCoy saw a few sideways glances aimed surreptitiously his way. Best deal with it up front. “Listen, I’m sure it’s crossed a few minds that this is a Vulcan matter best left up to Vulcans. Especially under the circumstances surrounding the families involved. Maybe it’s true that offworlders should stay out of this. But one of my Vulcans is infected -- if you’ll excuse the expression and my sentamental nature -- and because of Spock’s death, I have his memories, which means I know every patient involved. And like everyone else in this room, I’m a physician. This is what we do. So does Rrelthiz. I met her, and the Carreons have as strong a sense of honor as all of you. She doesn’t know as much background as I do, but what we know, we keep to ourselves.”
“In addition, their experience,” Sorel said, “and the fact they are offworlders give Leonard and the forthcoming Carreon doctor fresh perspectives. We are honored to have them.”
McCoy was embarrassed by his speech, but happy to see approving nods around the room.
The rest of the meeting dealt with immediate treatment plans, no matter how far flung. Taking the patients offworld, removing the environmental cause if it existed… Investigating flushing the system with IVs in the hope some nutrients seeped through, or would it be too much…?
“What about the system you and Daniel created, Sorel? Can it help at all?” McCoy asked.
“The system was designed for extensive neural regeneration. We do not know if we are dealing with a neural cause.”
…Transfusions from the patient families in the case of the Phase III ward and from a compatible donor for Saavik…
That lead to the idea of Saavik being forced into a genetic scan to find her relations. “After all,” Sa’d proposed, “if treatment depends on a familial match, her health must take precedent.”
McCoy imagined what Saavik’s reaction to that would be and opened his mouth to answer. Tu’ong beat him to it.
“Saavik is on record for refusing the scan more than once. I suggest we wait to see if such a match is necessary, and propose it to her later, after we see if a non-familial donor will not do.”
McCoy took a deep breath. He hated thinking about the explosion Saavik would set off, but if her life was on the line, he’d volunteer to be one of the ten people it’d take to sit on her and force the scan.
“Regarding this point, I believe we are discounting the legalities,” Srre said. “As a child, Saavik was a ward of the planet even while living offworld. The authority to make this decision was ours. However, as she is now an adult, do we still have the authority to disregard her decision against the genetic scan?”
“You raise an interesting point,” Sorel answered. “However, Tu’ong is correct. We will not focus on this issue until the need arises.”
Plans for attacking the huge amount of research as fast as possible filled the rest of the meeting, and armed with treatment actions, the mood was better. At least, McCoy counted his mood as better. The Vulcans, of course, had no mood. He waited for the majority to leave, wanting to speak briefly with Sorel.
He didn’t get a chance. A short, round human man burst through the door robust with energy: Daniel Corrigan, Sorel’s partner for decades, making up the team responsible for the first healthy birth of a Vulcan/Human hybrid: Spock. “There you are, Sorel! I am under strict orders from your wife to get you home before you collapse.”
“A number of facts are in error with your statement, Daniel. First, T’Kar never would suggest such a thing. Second, I do not collapse.”
“Okay, my wife -- your daughter -- insists I drag you away. Oh, all right, no one said anything, but they gave me those looks. Do not get me in trouble with them. How long have you been at this? The past two hundred and sixteen hours with no break? You’re going home, you’re going to eat a decent meal, and you’re going to get some rest for a few hours.”
“And how,” Sorel asked, “do you suggest I do this with a clear mind when I have patients dying of malnutrition?”
“Because it’s the logical thing to do. Bow to it, and – Leonard! Damn, I heard you got in!”
McCoy’s hand was pumped enthusiastically to say the least, and the other man’s attitude lightened his own more. “Good to see you, Daniel. How’ve you been?”
“Good. And as a human in this bunch, I can say selfishly that I’m glad this disease doesn’t affect my kids. Don’t think Amanda and Sarek aren’t thinking the same thing.”
McCoy grinned. “I know better.”
“Look, let me haul Sorel out of here, and I’ll come back to give a hand wherever I can. I think I know a few things about hybrid genetics. Now, what do you say, Sorel? I’m your brother, your partner, and – for that matter – your son-in-law. You know me too well to think you can blow me off.”
Quite true. Sorel stood up from his desk, following Daniel to the door.
“Uh, one thing.” McCoy stopped them. “I’d like to see Saavik.”
“Return to the ward,” Sorel instructed. “Her room is down the hall, three doors on the left, but she is in healing sleep.”
“I won’t stay long. I just want to check on her.”
There was a time when Sorel thought such actions were illogical. That was until his first wife, T’Zan, was struck ill and he had visited her whenever he could.
McCoy found the proper room and walked in quietly. He should have guessed it, but he was still surprised to see Amanda already there, standing by Saavik and just watching her. She looked up as he entered and gave him a small smile in greeting.
He crossed to the bed and checked the readouts on the board. He once memorized enough of the Vulcan alphabet to do this much. He glanced down at Saavik who was serenely still.
“She can hear you, Leonard.”
He knew that, but he wasn’t sure what to say except that he wanted to say something, anything.
Amanda brushed the hair away from Saavik’s eyes and rescued him. “Dr. McCoy’s here to see you, Saavik. He’s joined the team to find a cure.”
“And we’re going to find one,” he said emphatically. “We’re starting treatments for Phase III that we feel positive about. They’ll at least slow down the disease’s progress.”
And then he got tongue tied again. He forcefully pressed down Spock’s memories of Saavik; he wouldn’t violate those, he refused. Not the first one where she killed a hybrid boy about to murder Spock, and then held him at bay by knifepoint from entering the mountains while she lay claim to the stars themselves. Not the barely civilized Saavik that he left behind for Enterprise. Not all the questions in all the letters or the very rare face to face meetings until Saavik was grown and in the Academy, leading the ship back to her hellish homeworld because of a memory. Not the moment when she stood brave, strong, and in fear for Rrelthiz’s life where Spock clasped her shoulder and was hit by her presence like a thunder clap, the reverberating explosion at his core with its eddying waves spreading out, intoxicating him with the thought that Saavik was a woman.
McCoy just as resolutely repressed his own memory of Spock, after years of struggling to regain his memories of her, getting that letter supposedly from Saavik, and the destruction it wrought.
The doctor stood there for a minute longer before Amanda patted the still hand near her. “We’ll leave you to rest.”
They left quietly, and Amanda spoke in the corridor without looking at him. “Leonard, please. Don’t tell Spock I was here. He wouldn’t....”
He squeezed her hand. “I know. But maybe we’re getting near to fixing that.”
She sighed deeply. “I hope so.”
“Amanda, do you think Valeris sent those letters?”
“Do I think she’s capable of it? Yes. And Spock said she could find out the details for his. I don’t suppose....”
He shook his head. “I never read it, so I don’t know what was in it. But I think I can guess.”
“Hmm.... I don’t know what was in either of them. But Valeris was one of Saavik’s strays--”
He smiled at her word for a person in need that she aided. But apparently Saavik was the one to take in Valeris.
“—and they were friends for awhile. I suppose Valeris learned something.” She paused sadly. “I never trusted her, but I eventually thought it just a personality clash between us, or a matter of preference for me. I wish....”
“We all do.”
She looked back at Saavik’s door. “This disease – it’s going to be a long battle, isn’t it, Leonard?”
Elsewhere, a dark figure sat in a still darker room, no illumination breaking the shadows except for the computer displays surrounding the chair. The communications between Vulcan and other places revealed the details of another healer’s coming arrival. And twenty-six half-breeds still alive. Too many, far too many. Not good.
But Saavik was finally downed, a difficult challenge getting that one, but completed. And here another communiqué: the three breeds living off the Vulcan path were scheduled for arrival at the orbital station. Once those three were in hand, the final countdown began.