He screamed and screamed and screamed into the darkness. But his own echoes were the only replies.
His chest was on fire and his throat was raw.
Yelling wasn’t doing anything for him.
Unable to move, unable to fight, trapped in this inky prison.
Why was he here?
Where was here?
It seemed as if the deepest of nights had descended, snuffing out every flicker of light that dared rise up against it.
He was alone.
And freezing. With a shiver, he realized that it was cold. Impossibly cold. If he was able to see anything around him, he knew he’d see the fog of breath escaping his lips.
The darkness and the temperature were unnerving.
He felt the icy trickle of fear trace up and down his spine, and the heaviness of dread settle in his stomach.
And yet...he had the sneaking suspicion that this wasn’t real. There was an otherworldly quality that gave his surroundings a fantastical feel.
But if this was a dream, why couldn’t he wake up?
Suddenly, a loud buzzing noise began to assault his ears, drowning out even the voice in his mind. Incessant, almost to the point of pain, it pressed in on him from all angles. Pushing and pushing and pushing. The buzzing was unyielding.
It was choking him.
Pouring into his mouth and filling his lungs.
He couldn’t breathe.
He struggled and thrashed under the pressure but it would not cease.
It was dark, he was cold, and he was almost certain that he was dying. This no longer felt like the safety of a dream or the safety of an illusion. His pain and his fear were all too real.
And then, as quickly as it began, the ominous buzzing retreated, drawing out of him like venom sucked from a wound. It left him empty and weak, but the wounded wails of the withdrawing sound brought him a small comfort.
He could almost hear something else.
His throat dry from shouting, his body afire with agony, he strained towards the sound.
They sounded like voices.
He wanted to cry out that he was here, that he needed help. “Save me,” his mind screamed.
The voices faded away.
So, too, did the pain.
His chest filled with the unencumbered relief of oxygen and tears filled his eyes. But he was still trapped in the darkness.
The whispered reminder floated through his mind.
He wasn’t sure what he was fighting against, or what he was fighting for. Still, it seemed like sound advice. Because he sure as hell wasn’t supposed to be here. Wherever here was…
“Captain’s Log, Star Date-” Spock furrowed his brow, and double checked the number on the computer. “Star Date 4799.3, First Officer Spock in temporary command. We are two solar days out from the nearest Starfleet base.” He paused and took a deep breath. Scotty had offered to make the report for him, but Spock had declined. “Events of the last few days are as follows. They are presented with only the information relevant for this report, and are free of any personal emotions, extraneous evidence, and superfluous sentimentality.”
Spock scratched at the healing cut on the back of his head. He shut his eyes, revisiting in his mind all that had transpired, attempting to sift out the facts from the feelings.
“Doctor McCoy and I determined a number of facts surrounding the captain’s…health. First and foremost being the cause of his physical symptoms and subsequent deterioration.”
Spock pushed away from the microscope, the most recent addition to his bare bones lab station he’d set up in isolation. He grabbed the doctor and pulled him towards the viewer, asking him in a rush what he thought that floating organism in Jim’s blood looked like.
The substance was similar in structure and composition to terran parasites. This was the breakthrough they’d been waiting for. The two men, bursting with excitement at their first tangible answer, spent the next countless number of hours studying every parasite and parasitic disease known to Starfleet’s databases.
But to no avail.
Not a single one matched Jim’s symptoms.
“Unfortunately, this initial discovery was followed by a stagnation in our inquiry. The chief medical officer and I had a…minor disagreement about standard operating procedures for the isolation room.”
Bones threw up his hands in the air.
He didn’t know why he thought he’d be able to convince Spock to leave the isolation room since he wasn’t infected. Of course, maybe because it was only logical.
“I don’t know why you can’t get it through that thick skull of yours!”
The taller man sat, with his arms crossed, at his lab station in the corner of the isolation room. He had a skeptical eyebrow raised and didn’t seem to be listening to what the doctor was telling him.
“My skull is no thicker than yours, Doctor. That is entirely irrelevant to our present disagreement. But as I’ve just pointed out, there is no reason I cannot stay since it has been proven that I am not infected.”
Grinding his teeth, Bones tried to calm his frayed nerves. Why did the Vulcan insist on always finding new ways of getting under his skin? It was hard enough trying to keep Jim alive. Now, he had to deal with an impossibly stubborn first officer; a first officer who was refusing further medical treatment for his own injuries and refusing to leave his best friend’s bedside.
An epic shouting match, mostly on the doctor’s part, ensued. Bones stalked from isolation, unsurprisingly vanquished and in quite a sour mood, while Spock resumed his pacing next to Jim’s biobed.
“Though we were running on little rest, the doctor and I put our personal struggles and differences aside to work towards a solution. In addition, my previous injuries were all but healed at this time.”
“And you still haven’t answered my question!” Bones thundered, nostrils flaring and eyes focused intently on Spock.
“Doctor, there are more pressing things to worry about-”
“Like hell there are! You, Mr. Spock, as much as you’d like to deny it, are currently my patient. I’ve been kind enough to leave you mostly to your own devices while we’ve been working, but when I ask a question about your health, I expect an answer!”
Spock sighed, the doctor’s heightening frustration evidence of a return to his normal antics. But not a welcome return.
“Doctor, as I am not presently concerned, I do not believe you should be either. Instead, we should be concerned with confirming our findings and ensuring the captain’s physical health does not continue to decline.”
Both men were squared off in a staring match, more frustrated by their lack of ideas for a cure than they were with each other.
“Come on, Spock! You’re not invincible. You need rest just as much as anybody else. Or at least meditation. Which, according to my count, you haven’t done since the night before you and Jim beamed down! That’s…that’s five and a half days, Spock! Definitely too many to go without meditating, though I’m no expert…”
“You’re correct, Doctor. You are no expert.”
Bones shot daggers in Spock’s direction. The Vulcan had an uncanny talent for pushing his buttons. All he seemed to be doing the last few days was yell; yell at Spock, yell at Jim’s monitor, yell at Spock, yell at his medical staff, yell at Spock...
He gave himself another year before the captain and the first officer succeeded in giving him high blood pressure…probably an ulcer, too.
Maybe six months at this rate.
Spock stared passively back at him, undoubtedly reading every one of his thoughts.
“I’m just saying you need to take care of yourself, you pointy-eared thorn in my side. Excuse me for caring.”
The doctor huffed and crossed his arms. Spock pursed his lips before responding in a much more even tone.
“As I stated previously, I am fine, Doctor. I believe we should return our attention to finding a cure for this parasitic disease.”
Bones knew he was fighting a losing battle. Wasn’t happy about it, but knew it just the same.
“Fine. Fine! I’ll let you keep working, if, and only if, you take a break every few hours, you get your three required meals a day, and I see you nap at least once. Get it? Got it? Good.”
Spock merely rolled his eyes in return and gestured at the seat next to him. Grumpily, the doctor sat down, snatching the PADD from the counter and muttering under his breath.
“It was soon after that Doctor McCoy made an important discovery, determining the next piece of the puzzle.”
“It’s the iron, Spock! That’s the missing link!”
Spock’s eyes lit up.
“Why, Doctor, I do believe you’ve earned your pay for the day. The iron. I did not even consider…”
“It explains the weird elemental analysis of the planet, Jim’s medical readings, and why it didn’t infect you!”
“But…” Spock hesitated, his earlier excitement all but dashed. “While we now know it is a blood-borne parasite that feeds on iron…how precisely do we cure it?”
Bones didn’t have an answer for that.
“This new connection between the parasite, its blood-borne transmission, and why I did not contract it when I came in contact with Jim, was crucial to our eventual determination of a treatment. Unfortunately, the captain’s vitals sharply dropped soon after this new discovery.”
Bones was frantically working to counteract the worsening symptoms, dashing around the isolation room, a hard look in his eyes, while Spock could only watch.
They were powerless to help. To stop it. They may have made two discoveries rather quickly, it didn’t seem fast enough. It was as if the parasite knew the two men were zeroing in on a cure, and so it decided it would inflict as much damage as possible before its eventual end.
“I’ve done all I can for him. I’m a doctor, not a miracle worker,” Bones said as he looked forlornly up at the vitals monitor. Jim was stable, but only just.
Spock stared unblinkingly at the striking pallor of the captain’s skin, the shallow rise and fall of his chest, the unnatural sound of his breathing.
“Once Doctor McCoy was certain the captain was stable, he came up with a rather unique solution to our quandary.”
The silence between them was a charged emptiness you could slice with a scalpel. They had all this data, readings and calculations and analyses, but no solution. No cure. And Jim was only getting worse.
Bones glanced sharply towards Spock as he paced in front of the captain's biobed.
“Any new ideas?”
At the Vulcan’s frustrated scowl, Bones cursed under his breath. They’d hit a wall. Figuratively speaking, although the good doctor had punched his office wall yesterday. His knuckles still smarted.
He watched as Spock once again poured over the information, eyes glued to his screen. What good were their discoveries if they hadn’t yet discovered the cure? That miraculous remedy remained tantalizingly out of reach. Bones scrubbed a tired hand over his face.
“Maybe…maybe we just need a new set of eyes, right? We’ve been staring at these numbers so long I’ve practically memorized them. We need a different perspective. A fresh angle.”
“What did you have in mind, Doctor?”
Dark rings tattooed the flesh beneath Spock’s brown eyes, betraying his exhaustion. They were starkly accompanied by a patchwork of bruises that traced along his high cheek bones and jutting jawline. It was one of those images that Bones didn’t think he could ever get out of his mind, but each time he looked at his friend, the violent visage surprised him and twisted his stomach uncomfortably into knots.
“How about we call in some reinforcements?”
He felt...odd. Like he was floating through space with no tether to reality or time. Thankfully there was no pain.
Nothingness dove within him and shrouded him in an unburdened existence, making him feel light and safe.
Gone was the imperious buzzing, the darkened prison, the unending fear that plagued him before. Now he was walking the shores of an obscured expanse; aimless, free.
He felt stronger, his steps more sure. This newfound rejuvenation convinced him he could run for miles, leap buildings in a single jump, scale mountains without ever tiring. He couldn’t remember the last time he felt this good.
But again…he knew this wasn’t real.
A part of him was urging his mind towards consciousness. The draw towards it was impossibly strong, like there was something he had to do, but he couldn’t quite figure out how to get there.
It was like chasing a balloon rising higher in the air. Every time you reach for it, a slight breeze brings it just out of your grasp.
Your fingertips brush it, time after time after time, but you can’t quite get there. And then finally the balloon is just a retreating spot in the sky, frustratingly unattainable.
He wanted to wake up, to catch that balloon. An unseen force was propelling him towards wakefulness because there was something important happening. He just didn’t know what…
“We had kept the truth from the crew for a number of reasons, the only other person besides myself and Doctor McCoy who knew of Jim’s illness was the chief engineering officer, Mr. Scott. But as the doctor and I had not discovered a solution, we decided to bring in the senior staff for some assistance. Lieutenant Uhura, Mr. Sulu, Mr. Chekov, and Mr. Scott were all requested for a debriefing in Doctor McCoy’s office.”
“So, this is what we’ve got. An alien parasite of some kind, transmitted by touching an infected person’s blood, that feeds on the iron in the host body, and seems to cause violent tendencies. Any questions?”
Spock cleared his throat, attracting the focus of the group.
“You forgot our most recent discovery, Doctor.”
The quiet sadness of his voice sucked the air out of the room.
“Oh. Right. Um. Yes. The past few days, the captain has exhibited a number of symptoms in addition to the increased anger and penchant for hostility. There were bloody noses, bouts of lightheadedness, one instance of fainting, and some difficulty breathing. But other than that, his vitals were relatively normal. Until…well, yesterday.” Bones paused momentarily, collecting his thoughts. It was still hard to think about...let alone brief to the people he was closest to. “The captain…Jim…is getting much weaker. He can’t breathe without assistance, and we can no longer rouse him from his sedated state. I’m doing the best I can but he’s deteriorating and I can’t figure out why. It’s as if this parasite has decided, since it can’t infect anyone else, that it needs to attack its host. And Spock and I…we’ve been unable to find a cure for the damn thing. Which is why we’ve brought the best and brightest together...”
Bones petered out. He glanced around his office expectantly, making eye contact with each member of the group. They all stared back with varying expressions of shock, worry, and uncertainty.
Uhura was the first to break the tense silence.
“The flu explanation then. That wasn’t entirely true?”
Bones shrugged his shoulders and opened his crossed arms as if to say, Well, what’d you expect?
“Right. May I see the readings?”
Spock handed the communications officer his PADD, and she studiously began studying the data.
Scotty didn’t offer any verbal acknowledgement, just got to his feet and began pacing, perturbed by the rapid decline in Jim’s condition. As for the other two new members, Sulu and Chekov, they just shared an indiscernible look.
It was a lot to process.
They both had taken Scotty’s announcement on the bridge about the captain and first officer contracting a strain of the flu without question. That was their job. As one day turned into five, though, the two had shared their whispered worries with each other. It seemed their fears were validated.
When you’ve spent as much time in space together as they all have, lines between professional relationships and friendships become blurred. All of them weren’t just concerned for the welfare of their senior officers; they were concerned for their friends.
Scotty stopped behind Chekov and Sulu’s chairs and placed a hand on each of their shoulders.
“Right-o, we’ll get crackin’ onnit. Mr. Sulu, Mr. Chekov, grab a PADD and getta readin’.”
“I left after Doctor McCoy’s brief to check on the captain. His vitals were still on their steady decline and so I remained in the isolation room to monitor his progress. The necessity for accurate data when determining a solution is imperative. It was approximately 3 hours and 14 minutes later that Mr. Scott retrieved Doctor McCoy and myself.”
Scotty shook Bones out of his uncomfortable nap. Cracking his back and massaging his neck, he got up out of the chair he vaguely remembered falling asleep in and fixed the engineer with a grumpy look.
“This better be good, Scotty. I haven’t slept in a while…”
“Didya think I’d wake ye if we hadn’t come up with somethin’?”
The exhaustion that clung to Bones was immediately replaced by a fervent focus. He scrubbed the rest of the drowsiness from his eyes and stared hopefully at the Scotsman.
“You…you’ve got an idea?”
Scotty broke out in a huge grin.
“It might be stark ravin’ mad, but aye, we’ve had an idea.”
Bones nearly sprinted from the room to grab Spock, while Scotty returned to the doctor’s office. The two men barreled into the room, eyes expectant and out of breath.
“Mr. Scott, Doctor McCoy informs me that you have an idea," Spock failed to keep the strained hope from his voice.
“Well, it wasna really me, laddie. It sorta came to all four of us…”
“Scotty, give us the bottom-line up front. What’s the idea?”
“I would like to note for the record that I am submitting the four senior officers, as well as Doctor McCoy, for meritorious awards for their expertise and professionalism in finding a cure for this new disease.”
Spock checked the time. He hadn’t been to sickbay in what felt like days, although it was really only 6 hours and 41 minutes. Hopefully enough time for there to have been some desirous impact from their solution…Bones would have said something in his message if it hadn’t started working.
Clearing his throat, he continued his report.
“Think of Jim like an engine, laddie. He’s got something evil taintin’ his energy source at the moment-”
Sulu interjected animatedly.
“And so what we need to do is split the bad energy from the good, in a sense remove the parasite from it’s fuel source: the iron.”
“Yes!” Chekov added. “If ve ken find a vay to filter ze pathogen out of ze keptin’s blood, zen ve are okey-dokey!”
Uhura nodded in agreement, a small smile on her face.
“Right, Mr. Chekov. What we’re proposing is building a machine to separate one from the other. Jim’s blood will be filtered to extricate the pathogen from the blood, returning the clean blood to Jim’s body. And if there’s any parasites that aren’t caught with this method, we think Spock’s blood could be the solution.”
Spock and Bones shared a surprised look.
“My blood, Lieutenant Uhura?” The Vulcan sounded tired, but his friend nodded enthusiastically, her confidence reassuring.
“If the copper in your blood is toxic to the parasite, that could be the reason that even if you were infected, the parasite didn’t affect you. Your body was naturally able to fight it off because the parasite found no fuel source to use, so it couldn’t reproduce, couldn’t survive, and couldn’t make you sick. If we begin administering the captain with some doses of copper-”
Bones snapped his fingers.
“That just may work. I mean, copper isn’t the best thing to be introducing into a human body, but in small enough doses it may do more good than harm if it kills the suckers. And the filtering! Well, I’ll be damned. What you’re suggesting is based off the old principal of dialysis from roughly 20th century Earth medicine. I haven’t seen a machine like that since we took a historical class at the academy, but I’m sure we could come up with something.”
The doctor looked over at Spock with real optimism in his eyes.
“The doctor, Mr. Scott, and Mr. Sulu got to work immediately thereafter. Myself, Lieutenant Uhura and Mr. Chekov returned to the bridge where I assumed command. Doctor McCoy contacted me briefly 2 hours and 5 minutes ago to inform me that the three men had constructed the necessary machine. They are already in the implementation phase, and once I visit sick bay, I will be better able to speak about the captain’s prognosis and the efficacy of the proposed remedy. End of log.”
Spock shut down his computer and sat back wearily.
The events logged were just as he’d promised himself they would be; free of any residual emotion or personal opinion. Reflective of the Vulcan side of him. The human half of him…well, Spock wasn’t certain. He still wasn’t completely in control, the events of the last several days had opened deep wounds and revealed terrifyingly strong emotions, and he hadn’t successfully been able to achieve a meditative state.
If this was how humans felt all the time he didn’t know how they functioned.
It reminded him of one of the Enterprise’s early missions, when the entire crew had succumbed to a disease that removed all inhibitions. For many, the effects were slightly comical. Like Mr. Sulu, who hadn’t been able to live down the jokes about fencing shirtless.
But for Spock, it had been a nightmare. Every last one of his defenses was obliterated in an instant, and he was overcome by all he had previously been able to successfully repress. Every feeling was torture, every moment pure agony. He had never wanted to relive that experience ever again. And yet here he was, without the disastrous effects of the disease, but with the same devastating emotions.
He'd visit sick bay in a minute.
Right now, he needed to get in control.
This time he woke up facing a cloudless blue sky. Leaves danced in a slight breeze on branches above his head, the smell of fresh earth and adventure permeating his nose. This was someplace he recognized, and the warmth of remembrance blossomed in his chest.
He didn’t know how, but this was the lake he’d hiked to many times in the forests across the San Francisco bay. It was a popular spot for Starfleet cadets who tired of the cold ocean and crowded beaches. He liked to come here and just think; propped up against a tree, gazing out at the sun bouncing along the murmuring waves, with nothing but himself and nature. It was peaceful, comforting.
But this time he wasn’t alone.
He was surprised at how unsurprised he was at watching a man climb out of the lake and jog over to where he was laying. Plopping down effortlessly, the man crossed his hands behind his head and mimicked watching the rustling leaves.
I t was a comfortable situation, a routine that seemed to be a familiar occurrence between the two of them.
He didn’t want to break the silence because it was like the purest, most vibrant sheet of stained glass. He was afraid that it would inevitably shatter.
It was so perfect.
He didn’t want it to ever end.
The man rose up on an elbow and placed a gentle hand on Jim’s chest. Though the lake was undoubtedly cool, the man exuded a pleasurable warmth from every inch of his pale skin.
Nothing else in the world around them mattered in that moment.
With the warmest brown eyes he’d ever seen, the man looked down at him. The gaze was tender and soft, filled with intimacy and affection.
He was certain he could stay in this moment forever.
It was wondrous and dreamy and magnificent and perfect.
As the man lazily traced a hand up his chest to cup his cheek, he couldn’t help but smile. This was a dream he never wanted to wake up from. Just him, a beautiful sunny day in the most beautiful place on earth, with the man he loved.