by K.V. Wylie

At her arrival he courteously shut off the computer terminal, though she had long since ceased to be polite to him.  Forty-four seasons of a marriage consummated for duty's sake had eroded all but the most token of gestures. 

Still, he was her husband.  Complete possession of a property meant something to her, enough to give her dark eyes an unVulcan flash as she regarded the papers on his desk.

"Your plans are unchanged, Husband?"

"This is for the good of many," he replied.

"He is Human.  He does not know our world."

"I will tell him all I know.  The possibility that he can help is not minimal, Sah'Sheer.  He is gifted."   He sensed her disdain through their bond and flinched.

She crossed the room to a window where the wind blew endless sand patterns on the glass.  "Many would say you act in desperation."

"Do many say that?  Thine own mother approves."

She whirled around.  "I will not stay to witness this!"

Several thoughts went through his mind.  Not a threat, for he would not seek her for four seasons.  Not an ultimatum for he had long decided on this.

"You must do as you choose," he sat and averted his eyes, to see no offence, to give none.

She left him alone in his darkening room.  It was not until evening, when he lay down in an empty bed - for not even Vulcans prefer to sleep alone - that he allowed the full consideration of her absence to affect him.  It affected him, oddly, not at all.

Leonard McCoy trudged into his office and fell into his chair.  It had been a long, fruitless day, more useless than  usual.  He'd just finished treating a cadet who had, of all things, burned his lips on an electron wrench.  The patient before that one had discovered a new way of entering a top-hatch shuttle - by plummeting into it from a catwalk overhead.

He leaned his elbows onto his desk, which knocked over a rather tall stack of tapes.

"It never ends," he muttered, unable to find a place to rest his head.

The lab door swished open.  McCoy heard voices, a casual tone and a lower, precise voice.  He stilled in the chair.

"I'm not here," he whispered, trying to send the comment telepathically.  If Vulcans could send mental pages of technical journals through space and time, he should be able to manage three words over six feet.

It didn't work.  His office door opened and Spock entered, followed by James Kirk.

"Look, I'm not -" he started but was interrupted by the Vulcan.

"Medical analyses of specimens 133D through 146A are still pending.  As well, your Quality and Safety Assessments are 43.7 hours overdue.  My evaluations cannot be completed until full information from your Medical Department has been forwarded.  Such inefficiency -"

"I'm not here."

The Vulcan eyed him.  "When will the overdue information be available?"

"I'm not here!" McCoy repeated.  "This is an empty chair.  You don't see me.  I'm anywhere else but I'm not here right now."

Spock glanced at Kirk but the captain was blandly inspecting the floor.

"Get a tricorder," McCoy said, "and if I actually register, I'll discuss the overdue reports with you.   However," the doctor closed his eyes.  "I can't see a thing myself.  I don't even think the lights are on in here."

"They are certainly not on somewhere," Spock said as he deposited more tapes on McCoy's desk.

"He'll get the tricorder," Kirk said after the Vulcan had left.

"If for no other reason than to irritate me," McCoy grumbled.

"I've been waiting on some of your reports too, Bones."

"How do you know they're my reports?  Ever since Starfleet started this diversification process, my job description's gone through a chopping block.  I've got seven `counsellors' suddenly using my desk, ready to argue every detail of everything I do.  I do six page reports only to find they're not part of my job anymore.  Half the stuff I've done lately had been a duplication of someone else's work.  The other half, well, I didn't know I was still supposed to do."

Kirk smiled.  "I thought you always complained that you were overworked."

McCoy scowled.  "You know the old phrase about too many cooks.  Didn't Starfleet toy with the idea of splitting up my job before?"

"It was phasing out just as I received command of the Enterprise," Kirk said.  "I remember that there was an on-board psychiatrist for a couple of months.  Every time we went to alert status, she'd haunt the bridge, observing `crew reactions to elevated stress'."

"Now they call it Personalized Adaptation and Integration in Closed-Ship Environments," McCoy said. "Whatever the hell that means."

"The new crewmembers are getting younger.  Starfleet admissions policy is changing.  I think they're trying to balance individual strengths and abilities right from day one," Kirk said.  "It's not a bad idea, Bones.  I can think of a few problems that could have been avoided over the years with this policy."

"Thanks," McCoy retorted.  "Now I even feel useful in retrospect.  Was that your point in stopping here today?  To cheer me up?"

"Actually, Bones, I've still got that damn headache."

McCoy frowned then picked up a small scanner.

"Bones," Kirk started.

"We've been on a milk run for six weeks.  You have nothing to do.  How can you possibly have a headache?"

"I just got new orders.  We've been diverted to Vulcan."


"It's the only place we'll get any R&R for the next three months."

"I may just get a headache.  Vulcan's about as exciting as an ant farm," McCoy handed Kirk a couple of pills.

"I suppose I should take this opportunity to catch up on my sleep," Kirk sighed tiredly.

"Excuse me, Jim, but isn't that what you have been doing?"

Kirk stood.  "Of course this milk run should also give you a chance to get caught up on all those back reports, RIGHT?"

"They're practically on your desk," McCoy said as he closed his eyes and laid his head down on this arms.  "You know paperwork is my endless joy."

The bridge was boringly quiet.  Kirk sat in the command chair and contemplated the main screen.  He was hard-pressed to find any evidence of movement.  The stars seemed absolutely still.

He wasn't sure he liked training voyages, the green runs, the monotonous drilling, the endlessly-repeated routines, constant inspections of nervous cadets and their departments.   They were allowed light science duties (but if they had to check out one more pulsar, he was going to turn the ship's phasers on it).  Their flight path was locked in and no deviations were allowed.  The ceiling on speed was warp three.  (Warp three point one would require Kirk writing an interminable explanation.)  And those thousand department briefings, all of which Kirk was expected to attend, made him itch for even a Klingon ship to fall out of the sky.

He had to admit, though, he was one of the proponents of hands-on training.  The cadets on board had been hand-picked, only those supposedly capable of extended stress and demands of Starship duty, the highest notation possible on Academy records.  Still, it was stifling.  Kirk wasn't used to sitting on, knowing the high point of his day would be an uninterrupted lunch.

Spock came onto the bridge followed by a string of cadets and one of the new counsellors, a tall women wearing medical blue.

Kirk watched the group gather around the science station, hushed under the tones of the Vulcan's low voice.  None of them even dared fidget.  Kirk could imagine their hearts palpitating even as he watched.  The counsellor stood apart and watched without appearing to watch.

Eyeing them, Kirk sympathized with McCoy's lament of feeling redundant.  The medical section bombardment had ripped McCoy's job description into hamster litter.  On the other hand these training runs usually resulted in one or two cadets showing up in tears in the captain's quarters with a guilty resignation and an apology delivered in a shaky voice.  Kirk had come to expect these scenes.  But this run there had been none.  No tearful ensigns.  No resignations.  No apologies.  These counsellors were doing something right. 

Kirk knew this was no reflection on McCoy, who simply did not have the time to follow all these groups of cadets around ship.  Nor had it ever been expected of him to do so.  Still, it must be disheartening to have these seven counsellors waltz in and just take over.  Kirk made a mental note to spend some time trying to cheer McCoy up.

The Vulcan moved to the weapons console and the group followed him frantically. 

Kirk noticed Uhura and Sulu exchange sympathetic smiles.

"Status, Mr. Sulu," Kirk asked.

"Seventeen hours to Vulcan, Captain."

Kirk nodded his thanks as he rose.  He circled the bridge, trying to look interested at the routine readouts.  Finally, at the turbo-lift, he said,  "Uhura, you have the con.  I'll lunch."

She smiled as he added, "Be sure to interrupt me for any reason."

"I see you brought a tricorder," McCoy said as Spock entered sickbay.

"Your reports are now fifty-one point two six hours overdue, Doctor."

"Everything's all done.  I left them on my desk.  Help yourself."  McCoy strode out of the room, leaving the Vulcan to ponder ten stacks of unlabelled tapes sitting twenty-eight deep in a long row.

"Orbit attained, Captain," said Sulu.

"Vulcan acknowledges our flight path and welcomes our ship," Uhura added.

"Fine.  Shore Leave is now officially declared," Kirk said, noting the trainees' heads all perking up.  "This is wonderful.  Vulcan has no bars, no theatres, no parks, no shopping districts, no shade, no shows, and no single people.  Let the fun begin."  He caught Spock's oddly-chagrined look.

"I must differ with your assessment, Captain," the Vulcan said.  "There is a tourist bar in the capital city."

"Which serves only altair water," Kirk cut in.

"While I admit there are no theatres such as on earth, there are galleries and music halls."

"If you can call one hundred kissars music," Kirk added with a smile.  An eyebrow rose.  Kirk was beginning to understand why McCoy baited Spock so much.

"We do have open spaces which would qualify as park-land since they are protected from development."

"No trees.  All sand and wind."

"There are many market places."

"They sell fruits.  Just fruits."

"However, shade is rather lacking," Spock finished.

"Your planet's two trees do try," came McCoy's voice as he stepped off the turbo-lift.  He looked over at the captain.  "Your announcement of shore leave sent my interns running like hell for the transporter room, poor buggars.  Wait 'til they feel the heat of midday Vulcan."

"It isn't that bad, Bones," Kirk said, catching Spock's dour expression.  "After all, there's a bar in Shi'Kaver."

"Such as it is," McCoy grumbled.

Uhura's board beeped.  She turned to McCoy. "Doctor, I have a surface call for you from the Shi'Kaver Teaching Medical Facility."

McCoy looked surprised.  "I don't know anyone there."

"Coming on visual," Uhura said.

The main screen cleared to show a tall male standing beside a desk.  He had the darkest eyes Kirk had ever seen on a Vulcan.

"Captain Kirk, my acknowledgement," he said coldly.

"Can I help you?" Kirk asked.

"I would speak with your physician, Dr. Leonard McCoy."

"I'm Dr. McCoy," the doctor stepped forward.

"I am V'Rhsal.  I have read your paper on Movement Reactive Disorders, Stardate
8309.2.  It was most interesting."

"Thank you," McCoy said in a puzzled voice.

"Have you continued research in this area since that paper?"

McCoy hesitated.  "Um...why do you wish to know?  Do I know of you?"

"We have never met, Dr. Leonard McCoy, but I have been following your research on movement disorders for six point nine years.  I am a bio-engineer and would set up a convenient time to speak with you."

"Oh," McCoy said.

V'Rhsal waited for a moment, but when the doctor said nothing more, he continued, "I am in my office at this time, Dr. Leonard McCoy.  Will your schedule permit a meeting now?"

"I was just going on leave."

"Perhaps tomorrow?"

McCoy breathed out.  "Give your co-ordinates to our transporter room and I'll be right down."

V'Rhsal nodded and signed off without another word.

McCoy glanced at Spock.  "Do you know who the hell he is?"
"Kór V'Rhsal is a bio-engineer, Doctor.  He designed the neuroscanner which you use in your examination room."

"You mean, that big thing over the table?"  McCoy questioned.  "It says Kabu-Kabu at the back."

"Nevertheless, it is Kór V'Rhsal's design.  His theories form the basis of much of your neuroplasmic equipment."

McCoy sighed tiredly.  "I only use the stuff.  I don't know where it comes from.  As for that paper he mentioned, I'm not sure I remember which one it is."

"I read it," Spock said.  "You wrote it after our experiences with he Kelvan neural field projector."

"Oh, that one," McCoy shrugged.

"I must confess I did not find it to be one of your better papers," Spock said  "Your conclusions were not entirely supported by your evidence and your opening was vague."

McCoy's expression hardened but his voice was quiet.  "Thank you, Mr. Spock."  He disappeared into the turbo-lift.

"Curious," Spock said.  "I would be most honoured to speak with K'or V'Rhsal.  He is a brilliant scientist."

"Maybe you should join Bones down there, to give him a little moral support," Kirk said with a smile.

V'Rhsal's office was at the end of the longest corridor McCoy had ever walked.  "I didn't feel like hiking," he grumbled as he trudged.

He had dug out the said paper and quickly read it before beaming down and he had to agree with Spock.  He'd written it with the barest attention, hoping to get away with his report for Kirk's log and his own medical report at the same time.  He'd still been numb from Natira when they'd met up with the Kelvans.

He came to V'Rhsal's door and had raised his hand to knock when the door snapped open.

"How the hell do they manage to do that every time?" he thought to himself as he entered.

His next thought was that V'Rhsal on the screen was nothing to V'Rhsal in the flesh.  McCoy stepped in and looked up.

However, he had once stood up to T'Pau.  One bio-engineer was not going to faze him.
"Nice to meet you, Mr. V'Rhsal," he said quickly.

The Vulcan indicated a chair.  "You are generous to attend here, Dr. Leonard McCoy," he said in earth English.

The chair had a large cushion but it was still like sitting on a rock.  McCoy tried to get comfortable, then gave up.

V'Rhsal clasped his hands behind his back.  "Is it customary for humans to ingest liquids during a meeting?"

"It's ok.  I've tasted the `liquids' on this planet."

The Vulcan sat as well.  "As I stated seven point three minutes previously, I have read your paper on Movement Reactive Disorders."

"Which is why I'm surprised to be here," McCoy admitted.

V'Rhsal regarded the doctor curiously.

"It wasn't one of my better papers," McCoy added.

"Have you revised your theory?"

"No.  I haven't really um..." McCoy looked into the expressionless eyes and said, "No."

V'Rhsal leaned forward on his desk.  "You specified the working mechanism of the Kelvan device but, unfortunately, I have not been able to duplicate the design."

"I could get the design for you, if that's all you want."

"The design is part of it," V'Rhsal said.  "Your ending conclusion stated that the reverse situation of the neural field was possible."

"I believe that if normally healthy muscle function can be affected by a neural field, then normally paralysed or tetansed muscle should, in theory, respond to a strong neural field," McCoy said.  "However, in theory, the effect would last only as long as the neural field operated.  I doubt there would be any permanent change in the muscle tissue."

V'Rhsal thought for a moment, then said, "Could cortical brain function revision with simultaneous neural field operation sustain permanent change?"

"What do you mean by brain function revision?"

V'Rhsal chose his words carefully.  "If, perhaps, you believed or were led to believe that the neural field's effects were of a healing nature, could there be permanent change in the muscle tissue?"

McCoy eyed the Vulcan.  "Mind over matter?"


"Explain it to me again.  This is an odd theory coming from a Vulcan."

"Doctor Leonard McCoy, it is your theory.  Tell me, please.  If a small neural field was created, one that allowed movement in a paralysed muscle but sporadically, over a lengthened duration of time, is it possible that brain function, as it adjusts to seeing in evidence such prolonged muscle movement, could affect or even complete the healing process?"

"Seeing is believing,"  McCoy said.  "Well, I can't discount it.  I've seen people do things considered medically impossible simply because they believed they could do them.  But I'm afraid it doesn't happen too often."

"It does not...happen at all on this planet," V'Rhsal said.  "We are a logical people.  We do not question accepted reality.  If a muscle has suffered in medical opinion permanent damage, we will not attempt further healing.  I have heard that some humans go beyond what their doctors thought possible.  You wrote papers of seventeen such cases you had been personally involved with.  You suspected that belief in being healed led the way to physical healing.  You also suspected, but could not prove, that adult brain tissue can, unlike medical theory, actually repair itself under proper conditions."

"There could be many factors besides simple belief.  What is this all leading to?"

V'Rhsal was quiet for a moment, his black eyes focused on a point somewhere beyond McCoy's chair.  At length, he continued,  "Do you know of the Vulcan disease Khlabar?"

McCoy thought for a second.  "Um, affects spinal cord, the cerebellum.  Certain nerve endings, mainly those that respond to 6-hydroseron.  A very painful and slow progression of nerve degeneration.  Some personality changes too if I recall."

"You are correct,"  V'Rhsal said.  "Khlabar affects ten percent of Vulcans in their second century and that percentage is increasing.  It can progress very slowly with only symptomatic activity for years, but onset can also be rapid.  Those who suffer become unable to walk or co-ordinate their hands.  Speech can be affected as well as short-term memory.  We have palliative measures, nothing more.  Prognosis is always death."

McCoy eyed V'Rhsal.  "This disease has been around for two centuries."

"And we have searched for a cure for two hundred years in vain."

"Vulcan research has a tendency to be very thorough."

"But logical," V'Rhsal said.  "We cannot go beyond our logic.  Your papers indicate a unique creativity.  You do not seem bound by logic."

McCoy tried to decide whether or not he'd been insulted.  "Mr. V'Rhsal, a neural field would be another palliative measure.  It could only slow down degeneration."

"It should be possible to reverse progression, if I understand your paper correctly."

"Now wait a minute.  I wrote--"

"You wrote about a neural field's effects overcoming central nervous system impulses, an outside stimulation bypassing the body's own internal messages.  Prolonged outside stimulation could, in your theory, permanently affect central nervous system messages."

"The term is could," McCoy emphasized.

"Is there reason to discount the possibility?"

"Logic suggests..." McCoy trailed off at a flash in V'Rhsal's eyes.

"You are correct, Dr. Leonard McCoy.  It is not logical."

McCoy tapped the top of the desk.  "Mr. V'Rhsal, since you already understand this illogical premise, you have the capabilities to carry this through.  I'm confused as to why you've asked me here."

"I have no misconception about my capabilities.  If I attempt to progress this theory alone, or in partnership with another Vulcan, probability is ninety three point seven percent that I will fail.  No other Vulcan of my association can understand the 'logic' of this theory."

"Gee, that's kind of hard to believe," McCoy said with a bland face.

V'Rhsal looked hard at McCoy.  "I am aware of your accomplishments and capabilities.  You understand the Kelvan neural field and have felt it's effects and you are a medical doctor with knowledge of Khlabar.  I can build whatever sort of neural field you would wish.  In partnership, I believe we could accomplish an objective."

"What objective?  Cure?"

V'Rhsal nodded, oblivious to McCoy's scepticism.  "Research facilities here are expansive, Dr. Leonard McCoy.   As well, I have a laboratory in my home that I would adapt or expand in any way you deem necessary.  Vulcan Science Academy will advance funding for a three year duration."

"Take their money.  I think you can do this on your own," McCoy said.

"I was not clear.  The Science Academy will advance the money only to you."

At McCoy's silence, V'Rhsal continued, "You are a physician.  I am an engineer.  Logically, we are research-compatible."

McCoy opened his mouth, then realized he had nothing to say and closed it again.

"I do not know how humans understand time.  Is a three year duration prolonged for you?  If you have other commitments, there is no reason for you not to fulfil them as well.  We can adjust our schedules.  What you will start for me, I can sustain until you return.  Our partnership has a success probability of eighty-nine point nine percent of either concluding in a cure or some positive reversal technique."

"This is important to you personally, isn't it?"  McCoy asked abruptly.  "Going to the Academy with such an entirely human theory and nothing else seems an extreme act."

V'Rhsal's voice and face were toneless.  "He who sired me died from Khlabar three seasons past.  My teacher died last year and my brother-kin shows symptoms.  In Shi'Kaver, many suffer, and they come here to this hospital to die."

McCoy looked down at the carpet.  Three years were, well, three years.

V'Rhsal came around the desk.  "Do you wish time to answer, Dr. Leonard McCoy?"

McCoy said something that surprised him very much.  "No.  I can answer you now.  I would be honoured to work with you on this."

McCoy gingerly picked up a sleek, black silver tube and frankly, admired it.  It was a fine-point sub-laser designed for work in cortical tissue.  A luxury item even for a Starship.  He'd never dreamed of ever seeing one or even holding one so freely.  They were exceedingly fragile and expensive instruments.

He set it down carefully and turned to face V'Rhsal, who had been watching him explore the lab.

"Tell me what you need, Dr. Leonard McCoy. and I will get it for you."

McCoy tried not to laugh.  "I can't think of anything you don't have.  My God, you've got things down I've never imagined."

It still felt unreal.  They had gone to the Academy and signed the papers for the funding.  McCoy had toured the hospital and was now in V'Rhsal's laboratory, a huge underground series of rooms below his house.  The sheer variety of V'Rhsal's equipment astounded McCoy.  He couldn't begin to guess at what half of these things were around him.  Upon closer inspection, McCoy realized that much of the equipment down here were prototypes and that no one, except their builder, had seen them either.  The Vulcan was clearly not one to rest on his previous laurels.

"Tell me, what made you decide to get into this line of work?"

V'Rhsal seemed taken aback.  "I do not know."  He handed McCoy a couple of tapes.  "I have made notes.  Being non-medically trained, I am unable to advance your theory.  Perhaps you would review.  Also, I will obtain a desk here for you, and there is a bedroom upstairs for your living quarters."

"I thought I'd look for an apartment near the hospital," McCoy said, and thought, Good Lord.  I haven't even told Jim yet! You're crazy, Doctor, though this place is a dream come true.  Things in here he'd fantasized about.

"Would it not be more convenient to stay here?" V'Rhsal asked.

"It's your home."

"I live here, as does my wife."

"That settles it.  Women don't like having me underfoot, I know."

"She has vacated for the three year duration."

McCoy frowned.  "Why?"

"For us to work together effectively my wife must vacate the home.  I thought you understood, Dr. Leonard McCoy.  You have had extended contact with Vulcans."

"One dubious Vulcan and I'm afraid you'll still have to explain this to me."

V'Rhsal sat down.  "You have noticed that very few Vulcan-Human teams can sustain long-term partnership."

McCoy shrugged.  "I know of only three such teams.  I thought it was a matter of choice."

"It is not choice as much as biology.  Vulcan and human brains process differently.  There are chemical and electrical incompatibilities between the two thought systems.  For example, Vulcans generally sustain activity over a long period of time, without sleep or food, in order to accomplish a goal.  This is most productive.  Humans need...breaks in the activity in order to maintain efficiency.  Another example would be--"

"What does this have to do with your wife?"  McCoy cut in.

"For us to be able to work compatibly and eliminate the risk of fruitless endeavor and duplication, we will undergo mind-meld."

McCoy felt the ground leave his feet.

"We will then be able to interchange and build upon information easily and quickly.  A meld will enable us to set up a mutual rhythm or cycle of work and rest periods."

McCoy's ears filled with pounding blood.

"Hence our three year project does not have to substantially interfere with your other commitments.  While I intend to devote my time fully to this, you will have the opportunity to leave and return without our losing access to one another.  We will always have some contact.  This has been done successfully before."

McCoy swallowed.  "And your wife?"

"She will be on a Vulcan exploration ship.  She is a geologist."

"But, doesn't she mind?  Doesn't she have a bond with you?"

"We severed it," V'Rhsal said without a trace of emotion.  "It is a temporary separation.  We have been bond for forty-four seasons.  We need not return to each other for four years."  This last came out rather quietly.  "I will not explain to you why that is so."

"I already know," McCoy said.

V'Rhsal looked at him.  "I see.  Then, perhaps, you understand why we had to sever the bond."

"No, sorry, I don't."

"To meld while she was bond to me would affect you, Dr. Leonard McCoy.  It would impair our meld.  You would have contact not only with me but with her as well.  You and I would not be able to adjust to one another as her presence would affect us.  Our communications within each other would be distorted by her thoughts and experiences.  Our separation is temporary and possible benefits certainly outweigh any other variables.  We have no children.  There is no reason against the separation."

McCoy stared back, aghast.

V'Rhsal pulled up a chair and sat in front of the doctor.  "And you would also have to separate from sexual and emotional encounters with your wife as their effects would certainly reach me through you.  The reaction on me would be...disturbing."

"I have no wife."

"Then there should be no problem."

"There IS a problem.  Are you saying that I would have to be celibate for three years?"

V'Rhsal sat back.  "Is three years too long for you to abstain?"

"I don't...I mean...well, sure, it's nothing to you, going seven years but..."  McCoy fumbled.

"Vulcans do not abstain entirely and my cycle is eight years, not seven."

McCoy got up and paced the room.  "Three years!  That's one thousand and sixty-eight days!  Good Lord, I'll be fifty-five!

What about, once in a while, could I even just--"

"No," V'Rhsal said quickly.

A hologram on the table caught McCoy's eye.  The man in the picture was older but the features were V'Rhsal's.

"He who was my father," V'Rhsal said, as if reading McCoy's thoughts.  Of course he would be doing so soon enough, McCoy thought glumly.

"It was taken before we knew he was dying."

McCoy, surprised at the lack of feeling in the remark, looked up and caught a fleeting moment of sadness in the dark eyes.

"I'm sorry," McCoy said.  "My father was very sick too before he died."  He returned to where the Vulcan was.

"Do what is necessary,"  McCoy said softly.

"Art thou prepared?"

McCoy sat, knowing it would be better to stay off his feet.  "What do I do?"

V'Rhsal moved his chair closer.  "Simply answer.  Art thou prepared?"

McCoy met the dark eyes.  "Yes."

He closed his eyes as the long fingers touched his temples.  He could hear the Vulcan's steady breathing and the gusts of wind-blown sand outside.

It felt cold at first.  A tendril probed down through his conscious mind, like a dangling icy thread.  His first impression of the Vulcan had been correct.  His own mind was like water lapping against the edges of the Vulcan's mental glacier.

V'Rhsal's voice thudded through the ice.  "Art thou ready?"


McCoy submerged.  He gulped a chilled, green spasm of sea water as he fell under the surface of his own mind but the surface and waters were also the Vulcan's mind.  There was no longer any ice; all was water.  He felt the sensation of movement, yet his feet were still on the floor.  He heard the heavy throb of the cold water, and still the sand raged outside the window.  McCoy's sensation was akin to having his mouth open underwater, having it all rush down his throat and into his lungs.  He started to gag and, in his mind, came the Vulcan's voice,  "Calm thyself and open to me."

He floated into the green and took a deep breath in.

McCoy had felt the mind meld before with Spock.  Now he realized that Spock had only skimmed the barest surface.  To open to V'Rhsal fully was to see all that he was run and burst to the surface, fully exposed and naked.  The water pulled at him.  He drifted in an endless ebb of tide.

The Vulcan also lay bare and open.  McCoy turned and saw all, saw a young V'Rhsal, growing into a man, then saw his own young self, his life flowing by in the water.  He caught a glimpse of his daughter's birth, then his divorce came and went.  Places, people, Miri, Gem, Eileen, Natira, a walk with a six-foot rabbit in a deep green forest.  And he saw what was not his.  Classrooms, laboratories, dark-swept sand and hot mountains, a young girl growing and the frenzy that drew a young Vulcan male to her.  McCoy tasted the bitter bloodlust, and then he saw one Vulcan so clear he thought he could touch him.  V'Rhsal said "My teacher."  A young Vulcan was the teacher, soon ravaged by the pain of the disease.

"Can thee accept me?"

McCoy laughed acridly.  "Look at all I have done."

He felt the Vulcan again but he was warm now, the water serenity and the Vulcan close. 
"I see.  Thou art Human.  I art Vulcan.  Neither better.  Neither worse.  One to the other."

McCoy felt himself smile.  Felt the Vulcan's reaction to it, to something V'Rhsal could neither do nor understand on his own.

They drew apart.  McCoy sat private in his own thoughts again, listening to the Vulcan breathing, but he also felt a strange tension.  His sense of direction was wrong.  A warm pressure was on his chest and thighs.  He broke the surface of the water and opened his eyes.

V'Rhsal's cheek lay against his own.  The Vulcan's chest rose and fell against his and the heat of the Vulcan's skin burned through his clothes.  Stranger too was the tension he hadn't identified earlier, now clear and unnerving.  He straddled the Vulcan and there were certain areas pressed very closely together.

He said haltingly, "I've experienced the mind meld before.  It was never like this."

The Vulcan pulled slowly away as if a quick movement would snap the fragile thread between them.  When the physical contact was broken, McCoy felt inward and found the Vulcan's presence, changed from a glacier to an ocean.

V'Rhsal met McCoy's eyes. "You understand pain, Leonard.  I was not wrong in this choice.  I promise you.  If you...dream it up, I will build it for you."

Vulcan mornings were hotter than overloaded warp engines.  James Kirk wiped the sweat from the back of his neck as he opened his communicator.  "Enterprise, this is the captain.  Is Mr. Spock on board?"

"Yes, Captain.  Do you wish to speak with him?"

"No, Johnston.  How's the crew recall going?"

"Complement is nearly complete, Captain."

"Are you still sending signals every ten minutes through Dr. McCoy's communicator?"

"Dr. McCoy beamed up an hour ago."

Kirk blinked, then said, "And did he say why he failed to respond to his communicator signal?"

"I didn't speak with him.  I was informed of his beam--up by transporter personnel.  Captain, you have a priority three message here from Vulcan Academy
regarding crew replacement."

Kirk frowned.  "What crew replacement?"

"Medical section, sir.  The rest of the message is coded to your eyes only."

"McCoy never said anything to me."

"Sorry, Captain.  That's all I have.  Do you wish to speak with Dr. McCoy?"

"No, I'll be up soon anyway.  Kirk out."

Leonard McCoy tapped the delete button.  His computer terminal hummed, then said, "Accessing marked files, Dr. McCoy.  Do you wish to delete marked files?"

"Yes," he said.

The computer hummed again.  "Dr. McCoy, are you sure you wish to delete marked files?"

"Yes!" McCoy repeated.

The screen flashed red.  "Warning!  All marked files will be unrecoverable.  Press escape to cancel delete request.  Any verbal command will complete erasure from memory."

"Computer, delete those damned files now or I'll set fire to your motherboard!"

The computer clicked, then said pleasantly, "Deletion complete, Dr. McCoy.  Do wish an activity log printed?"

"No, I think I'll remember that I did this."

His office door opened.  McCoy heard the inner workings of the door mechanism, something he'd never picked up before.  He heard the regular breathing, the deeper fill of a higher lung capacity, and, without turning, said, "Spock, long time no see.  I'm sure I gave you every overdue report."

The Vulcan came around to the front of the desk.  "I will refrain from commenting on that, Doctor.  I need your permission to access Medical data banks for approximately one point three seven eight hours."

"All right.  I'll log it."  McCoy felt the Vulcan's steady gaze on him.  He wondered if the difference he felt inside showed outside.

"Spock, I'll bet you're really here because you've always had a secret desire to meet V'Rhsal and you're curious what the hell someone like that would want with someone like me."

"I admit that I have never met him," Spock said.  "As for the rest, I would not pry."

"Do you want to meet him?  I happen to know that he's free day after tomorrow."

"I have not asked to meet him, Doctor."

"I'm inviting. Say fourteen hundred hours."

Spock's eyebrow rose.  "Doctor, I--..."

"Spock, I'm inviting you to have some of that nasty Vulcan tea with ME.  And if
V'Rhsal just happens to be around, so be it.  Does that satisfy your sense of propriety?"

"I would be honoured to have tea with you, Doctor," Spock said so solemnly that
McCoy had to work hard to keep from laughing.  "Is he due to come aboard ship?"

"No, I'll have to give you an address."  McCoy shut off his computer terminal.  "This is just my way of showing you that I have no hard feelings over that lovely little comment you made yesterday."

"As I have, of course, overlooked your overdue reports being somewhere in the midst of two hundred and eighty unlabelled tapes."

"Spock, it constantly amazes me how much we understand each other."  McCoy rose. 
"Is Jim on the bridge?"

"I believe the captain is in his quarters."

"I guess he's resting up after that date he had with that trainee yesterday," McCoy said, but the joke went flat.  He met the Vulcan's dark eyes and saw that he hadn't kept this secret at all, that Spock had somehow noticed the difference, and figured it out.  "I'm going to be gone for at least a year, right off.  Maybe longer."

"But what a year it will be," Spock said gently.

McCoy started to smile.  "All this Vulcan stuff jumbled up in my head and I can still walk and chew gum at the same time.  Amazing."  He turned towards the door.  "Keep Jim from doing anything stupid, ok?"


McCoy grinned.  "See ya for tea, Spock.  1404 Khat'vere.  Big black house."

McCoy went down the hall to the turbo-lift.  He'd never noticed all the signs on the walls before, the contrasts and the deepness of the reds, the flecks in the blues, the long scratch on an intercom panel that tapered into little ridges.  The engines had a rhythm that he could feel in the very walls, like a human's pulse.  The feel and sound of these hulls were more familiar to him anything else.

Kirk answered his door at the first buzz.  "Bones!  Where in God's name have you been?  Didn't you hear your communicator?"

"When?"  McCoy asked.

"Last night.  This morning.  Didn't they teach you at the Academy?  When you hear Mr. Whistle, you take out Mr. Communicator and flip the grid open."

"Jim...." McCoy frowned and the tone was such that Kirk lost his humour.

"Bones, the point is, we could have had someone sick or whatever."

"I didn't hear anything.  I'm sorry.  And, in case you hadn't noticed, we now have seventeen doctors on board this ship."  McCoy took a breath, and said, "I'm requesting a Leave of Absence, effective immediately.  I can be replaced with a physician from the Vulcan Medical Academy, Starfleet trained."

"Is this what that coded message was about?"  Kirk sat down, puzzled.  There was a subtle difference about the doctor, barely perceptible.  "Is something wrong, Bones?"

"I've been offered a research position.  It's quite lucrative."

"Does it have anything to do with that call you got yesterday from that, uh, engineer, Versal or something?"

"V'Rhsal,"  McCoy said.  "We've decided to partner."  In more ways that I imagined, the doctor added to himself.

"You?  With a Vulcan?  I thought you complained they never ate, never slept, never smiled, didn't know how to have a good time."

"This is something I can't pass up."  McCoy finally sat down himself.  "I've cleared my things and M'Benga's bumped up to Chief Medical Officer.  Maybe he can figure out what the C.M.O.'s allowed to do now."  McCoy looked up.  "I didn't mean to surprise you like this.  It happened quickly from my point of view too."

Kirk caught the determined look in McCoy's eyes, but there was something else, something unfamiliar that he'd never seen before.  "I...don't know what to say, Bones."

"Come down for tea with Spock day after tomorrow.  Wait until you see this lab, Jim.  It's mind-boggling.  And V'Rhsal isn't so bad.  I suppose I could get used to him.  After all, I've had lots of practice with Spock's little ways."

"Are you leaving today?"

"Right now," McCoy rose.  "I've got a lot to do.  It's going to be a busy year.  Well, three years actually."

"Three years?"  Kirk repeated quietly.

"I'll be on Vulcan for one year, then off and on for two more.  Come on, Jim.  Wish me luck."

Kirk took a few minutes before he was able to rise.  He shook McCoy's hand and said, "Well, Leonard...good luck."

Leonard McCoy sat with his chair tilted back against the frame of the nursing station doorway.  The Head Nurse was on a meal break and he took the opportunity to review her charts.  They confirmed what V'Rhsal had told him.  Whether it took six months or six years, those with Khlabar died.  The cruel part was, their minds were aware of this to the end.

After an hour, flashing green cursors seemed to be everywhere.  McCoy leaned back and closed his eyes.

"Ech'tel san e kor?"

He jumped.  A small woman stood behind him, hunched unsteadily over a walking brace.  Her face showed no emotion and no trace of the illness that was clearly wracking her body.  Only her knarled hands over the metal of the brace indicated her state.

"Ech'tel san e kor?" she repeated.

McCoy tried to translate in his mind.  "Um...K'vath."  He pulled out a chair for her.

She sat down awkwardly.  McCoy drew his chair before her so that they were on the same level.

"Yes," he said.  "I am e kor, a physician.  I am Dr. McCoy."

She studied him.  "Th'li meh!"

He smiled.  "That's because my parents were human.  What can I do for you?"

She lowered her eyes and was silent for some moments.  Finally, in a whisper, she said, "Tai sle h khro."

The pain is bad.  For a Vulcan to admit that they could no longer control their pain was, McCoy knew, a desperate statement.

"What is your name?" he asked.


He called up her file on the computer but her medications already included a strong narcotic.

"Your meds aren't due for another two hours," he said.  "Do you wish your doctor called?"

She shook her head, then struggled to rise.

He almost touched her without thinking, a reflex to offer help.  "May I assist you?"

She shook her head firmly, as if offended, and walked back into the hall.  Her file indicated that she had been a musician, an adept and teacher of the thirty-six string kissar.  Now she could not even straighten her fingers. 

Though it was ninety degrees in the hallway, she wore two thick sweaters over her dress.

McCoy watched her go, frail and bent, with slow, deliberate steps.  Her walker brace squealed insultingly as she pushed it along the floor and her legs threatened to topple her.  But she kept her head up as she placed every step.

He suddenly realized that he'd clenched his fists at the scene.  "Damn," he said, then left the nurse's station, criss-crossing the long corridors to V'Rhsal's office.

He paused as he sat at the Vulcan's computer.  It was odd, this feeling of another person hovering at the edge of his mind.  He was slowly becoming aware of perceptions that were new to him, the presence of V'Rhsal not fully connected yet not quite apart.  He had a lingering sense of where the Vulcan was, if V'Rhsal was asleep or awake.  As each hour passed, the mind- link seemed to get stronger.  V'Rhsal had told McCoy that there would be more communication within a few weeks, a mental interchange that would not be hindered by distance, but he felt flashes of it already.  Last night in V'Rhsal's lab, he'd come across a prototype scanner.  He knew what it was; it's design clear in his mind.  He worked the controls and made sense of the readings - which had all been in Vulcan.  The absolute awe had not yet diminished.

McCoy called a file onscreen, knowing how to work V'Rhsal's computer even though he had never worked with this operating system before.  All these years he'd had such a deep distrust of Vulcan mind games for Spock's few mind -melds with him had left him with utter panic and terrible nausea.  The feeling of another person crawling around his mind scared and revolted him.  Yet, here he was, easing into a mental link with a stranger who was no longer a stranger.  What was it T'Pring and Spock had said - never touching and touched?  He understood that now.  Stranger too how warm the touch was.  V'Rhsal's demeanour was hardly that of a peaceful man.  A Vulcan, McCoy felt, who could even intimidate Kirk.

McCoy blinked.  That had been his first thought of Jim since he'd left the ship.  Surprisingly, he'd had a good night's sleep, even though it was in a strange house, with new noises and with the steady drone of the ship gone.  But now the memories rose - Scotty at the doorway,  "Leonard, I've got a wee dram of stuff that will cure you of downing that brandy forever" - Jim's smile across a desk,  "Bones, the women were so..."   Yet he wasn't feeling regret.  This was like a breath of fresh air, even if it was ninety-degrees and smelled of baked sand. 

He didn't feel so tired, no nagging ache in his neck, no young cadets flouncing around him with so much energy and enthusiasm.

Something nudged his mind and he knew V'Rhsal was in the hospital.  A little later the Vulcan entered the office and switched on the light.

"Leonard, you can damage your eyesight by looking at a computer screen in the dark."

McCoy shrugged.  "I was just checking your designs for a neural field projector."

V'Rhsal closed his eyes and McCoy felt a soft touch in his mind, like a flower petal settling on water.  The Vulcan said,  "The current is too strong.  The spectrum of nerves affected is too broad."  He opened his eyes and looked at the doctor for confirmation.   "If I cause you any distress, tell me."

McCoy scowled.  "This is your first real contact with humans, isn't it?"

"You should now know it is so."

"Well, let me tell you.  We're a lot tougher than we look.  Of course you'll tell me if YOU experience any distress."

V'Rhsal studied McCoy, unsure of the doctor's humour. "I can't turn off my emotions," McCoy added.  "I know they feel strange to you."

"You are human, Leonard.  It is expected."

"Anyway," McCoy stood, "I think we should start with rats."

"Rats?"  V'Rhsal stood too.

"You know, like Vulcan namachas.  Small white namachas with tails.  I want to start a family of them, bred to get Khlabar disease."

"I was not aware the disease affected terran rats."

"I can duplicate the symptoms."

"Should you not use Vulcan namachas, Leonard?"

McCoy shook his head.  "Khlabar reminds me of something else I've seen.  By the way, isn't there a geneticist researching the DNA structure for the gene at fault?"

"Yes, her name is T'Shyll."

"Do you think she'd take some time to talk with me?"

"I will arrange it," V'Rhsal said.

McCoy started for the door.  "Well, I'm off to get some rats.  I think I'll start with three and build a little family.  Oh, I have two friends dropping by tomorrow afternoon.  I hope you don't mind but it's the last time I'll see them for a while."

"Is Captain James Kirk one of them?"

"He's not unknown on Vulcan, is he?"  McCoy tried not to smile.  The display, or lack of it, made no difference.  V'Rhsal twitched, affected.

"Are you sure about this?" McCoy queried softly.

The Vulcan shook his head.  "You are concerned about me," he said with a trace of disgust.

"Is that a problem?"

"Your concern should rest solely with yourself and this research.  You have no responsibility to me."

McCoy paused before replying.  "Sorry.  I'll try to...restrain my worrying."

"Such an endeavour would be in our interests."  V'Rhsal sat at his computer and started working.

Kirk had closed his eyes during beam-down, having beamed down to Vulcan enough times to know the wisdom of doing so.  He had barely solidified when a gust of sand hit his face.  Right between the eyes.  Right on schedule.

He rubbed his eyes clear before opening them a crack.  "I've just about had enough of this damn stuff," he grumbled.  "I find it in my hair for days."

Spock lifted an eyebrow.  "I thought that only the good doctor complained about the sand."

"And if he was here, you'd be listening to him too," Kirk retorted.

The Vulcan started walking down the street and, after a moment, Kirk followed. 

They were in an area away from the city core.  Many of the homes here were small, the yards mainly unfenced.  It was very quiet, no sounds, no city noises.  They passed only two other people, a man and a woman walking slowly down the middle of the road.

"Sure dead.  I can't see Bones living here."

"Dead?" Spock asked in some surprise.

"It's just an expression," Kirk replied.  "Don't Vulcans have any social life?  What do you do in your leisure time?"

Spock sounded amused.  "I would assume that Dr. McCoy is wondering the same thing."

Kirk rubbed more sand out of his eyes.  "What about this V'Rhsal?  What is he like?"

"I have never met him," Spock said.  "He is of good family.  His work indicates a dedicated mind.  He has been honoured with fifteen scientific awards and many of his papers are required reading at Starfleet Academy.  I would have been surprised if Dr. McCoy had refused an opportunity to work with him."

Kirk caught sight of a large gate and high walls that cut back from the street like the garrisons of a fortress.  "Whoever lives here looks like they're expecting an attack."

Spock stopped at the gate.  "This is the house."

Kirk sighed.  "Poor Bones."

The gates suddenly opened and the two men exchanged glances before starting slowly down the front path.

The front door opened as they stepped onto the porch and Kirk recognized the tall, black-eyed Vulcan from McCoy's transmission.

Spock held up the Vulcan salute.  "It is an honour to meet you, Kór V'Rhsal.  I know of your work."

V'Rhsal returned the greeting.  "The Physician McCoy is in the laboratory.  This way."

He turned and led them down some dimly-lit stairs and through an underground expanse that reminded Kirk of dark mine shafts.  He caught sight of covered objects, covered furniture, and a large computer network that took an entire room to house.  The last room opened up with sudden brilliant sunlight into a large laboratory that sloped up to massive glass doors. 

McCoy glanced up from a computer terminal at their arrival and smiled.  "Hey, Jim, Spock!  I wasn't sure if you were coming."

"Sorry to be late.  We got our orders.  The Enterprise is pulling out tonight,"  Kirk said.

McCoy nodded.  "Pull up some chairs.  I've got coffee on."

Kirk glanced around as McCoy set out some cups but V'Rhsal had left.

"I found a place in the city this morning that sells real coffee beans, not that Vulcan shit," the doctor said.

Kirk chuckled.  "Now if they only sold bourbon."

"I'll find some.  Got to have your necessities."  McCoy set a tray on the table and the dark odour of coffee wafted into the air.

"Where's the Enterprise off to?"

"Sigma," Kirk said.  "Another civil war."

"Bad?" McCoy asked.

Kirk shrugged as he glanced around the lab.  He noted Spock doing the same.  "What are you doing here?"

McCoy lost his smile.  "Have you ever heard of Khlabar Disease, Jim?"

"No, Bones.  What is it?"

McCoy took a breath.  "'s not pleasant."

Spock took a tentative sip of his coffee.  "Vulcan physicians have been studying Khlabar for two centuries."

"I know," McCoy said, "and they haven't progressed at all.  It's very strange."

"And the Kelvan neural field?" Spock queried.

"I'll be working with the V'Rhsal neural field," McCoy said with a smile.  "As soon as he builds it.  He's designing one that will affect only a certain set of nerves."

"Are you hoping to arrest Khlabar progression?" Spock asked.

"We hope to do more than that."

"What is Khlabar?" Kirk asked.

"It's a disease that causes progressive nerve deterioration.  One in ten Vulcans are now affected by it to some degree.  Onset unknown.  Transmission unknown.  Prognosis...fatal."  McCoy rested his elbows on the table.  "The progression of the disease reminds me of something I've seen before, but I don't know.  I'm just an old country general practitioner."

"Uh huh," Kirk said.  "How many times have I heard that one?"

McCoy suddenly looked up, as if reacting to a sound that Kirk didn't hear.  "V'Rhsal, come and have some coffee."

Kirk looked behind him.  The tall Vulcan was in the doorway to the next room but he came a few steps in at McCoy's request.

"Have some what, Leonard?"

"Coffee," McCoy repeated, pouring another cup. "Real coffee.  You probably won't recognize the taste."

V'Rhsal sat and accepted the cup silently.  There was quiet for a few minutes, then he said, "Captain Spock, notes of your research on Boltzmann entropy as it relates to ion path conservation have reached our libraries here.  Have you explained the Asimov Paradox yet?"

"Our Chief Engineer aboard the Enterprise has worked out a reversing equation that eliminates the former necessity of including the paradox in the calculations of ion path waves."

V'Rhsal finally looked up.  "So you have not been able to explain the Asimov

"No, I have not," Spock admitted.  "However, its absence in the equations does not compromise the integrity of the resultant graph."

"Do you assume the graduation curve is a constant?"

"Yes," Spock replied.  "I do not consider it would be otherwise."

"Dear Lord," McCoy sighed.  "Get two Vulcans in a room and all they do is discuss quantum physics."

"Mechanical physics, doctor," Spock corrected.

V'Rhsal gave McCoy a quick look.  "Actually, Leonard, you are correct.  Boltzmann's Theory of Entropy is part of mechanical physics but Captain Spock's departure into reversing equations and constants of wave speed use quantum theory.  Captain Spock's work in this area has not yet been successfully challenged."

Kirk saw Spock's eyebrows rise as he took the bait.

"Do you have an alternative theory, Kór V'Rhsal?"

"I do not believe the ion path waves are constant, but I would prefer to discuss this at some other time so that we do not bore Leonard."

Spock seemed taken aback.  He eyed McCoy who was intently regarding his coffee.

"Refills, anyone?"  McCoy asked.

"Please, Doctor," Spock passed over his cup.  "I am interested, however, in the way you plan to adapt the Kelvan neural field."

"Adapt, nothing!  I'm getting a new one built from scratch," McCoy said with a chuckle.  "We want to affect only those nerves that use 6-hydroseron as a transmitter."

"How will you manage to make the neural field so selective?" Kirk asked, remembering his own experiences with the Kelvan field.

"Each neural transmitter carries a specific electrical charge," V'Rhsal said.  "We will base the field's range on those values.  Leonard mapped 6-hydroseron's route in a rat's central nervous system and I measured the inherent charge.  We should, in theory, now be able to adapt the field."

"Fascinating," Spock said.

"Logical," V'Rhsal replied.

"Magical," McCoy said with a grin that caused both Vulcans to stare at him. 

"You should see these rats we got, Spock.  There's one that's a real instigator.  He's only been here a few hours and he's escaped twice, pissed on my hand, and mated with the females.  I've named him Kirk.  He's in solitary in a metal box now, for obvious reasons, but I imagine he'll find a way out of there too."

Kirk choked on his coffee.  "You've named him...what?"

"What could I do?  The rat who bit her own tail off was already named Spock."

Spock was quiet however.  "Doctor, is it possible to infect lab rats with Khlabar?"

"I'm going to mimic the symptoms," McCoy said.

"Would it not be more logical to use Vulcan namachas whose blood is copper--based?"

McCoy frowned.  "I'm following another route."

"This is a hunch?"  Spock asked.  "This research is based on a human hunch?"

"Something Vulcan researchers have been unable to do for two centuries," V'Rhsal said softly.

Spock looked between V'Rhsal and McCoy and both eyebrows went up.

Later, back on the Enterprise, Kirk said, "Did you notice that every time you said something to Bones, V'Rhsal jumped in to defend him?"

Spock nodded.  "Yes, I did."

"What do you make of him?"

Spock thought for a moment.  "I do not believe he has had much experience with humans."

"He picked a helluva one to start with," Kirk said with a smile.  "I doubt it will be very long before he finds out the McCoy hardly needs to be protected."

The morning wallowed hot.  McCoy stood in the yard as the red sand blew past him.  The sun had risen barely an hour ago and it was already eighty-nine degrees. He rubbed the back of his neck and his palm came away gritty.  A soft chime sounded through the open kitchen door, a signal that the tea had finished brewing.  He'd finally ventured to the upper part of the house this morning, though he'd felt a tremendous feeling of guilt at doing so.  V'Rhsal had been reduced to utter cajoling to get McCoy up into the kitchen and library and had almost given up with frustration he wouldn't admit to feeling.  McCoy had tiptoed upstairs, feeling that, at any moment, V'Rhsal's wife would return and find him there.  He knew that the invitation had been extended in good faith to him because he'd gone looking for an apartment yesterday evening and had been somewhat berated by V'Rhsal for doing so. 

Logically, he knew it would be more than inconvenient to live elsewhere when their research, lab, computer and rats were here.  He knew that V'Rhsal must have spent a long time on the bedroom prepared for him, for it was full of the most odd but human assortment of things he'd ever seen, decorated by an alien who was trying to make him feel at home. 

But he felt like he was trespassing.  It nagged him to be in someone else's home, walking their floors, drinking from their glasses.

He went inside and poured a cup of tea, wishing he had some good Kentucky whiskey to add to it.  It was starting to nag him also, this constant perception of V'Rhsal in his head.  The first initial high he'd felt from the release of giving his mind freely to the Vulcan had started to ebb for the meld was far more than he'd first imagined.  He began to wonder if this was the way all melds were, or if there was something more going on.  The responsibility of knowing another's secrets, and of giving his own up, was heavy in his thoughts.  The weight of it, the light and dark of the mind pattern, was overwhelming.

"I don't know what the hell he thinks I am," McCoy whispered.  "I can't work miracles.  These people have searched for a cure for two hundred years!"

He felt a rise of emotion in his chest.  It disturbed the Vulcan.  V'Rhsal was coming awake, the effect of McCoy's mental outburst.

He took a deep breath and tried to clear the panic from his mind as he went down to the lab.

It was after lunch before V'Rhsal came downstairs.  The Vulcan was in faded clothes and black oil was smeared to his elbows.

"What have you been up to?" McCoy asked.

V'Rhsal hesitated.  "Are you inquiring as to what I have been doing just now?"

"If it's not impolite."

As he washed up, V'Rhsal said, "You did ask me to check the flyer you purchased.  I also fed your...rats."

"Our rats."

"Your rats," V'Rhsal returned.  "I notice they have only one tail.  They are not defective, are they?"

"One tail is normal for them."

V'Rhsal sat down.  "Leonard, when you say that you want them to breed, I wonder how many rats you eventually expect to have."

McCoy lost his humour.  "V'Rhsal, once they start getting sick, they're going to die.  I know you don't like them.  I'm not personally fond of rats myself.  Those rats in there are tagged and registered with the Academy.  I'll have to register each birth and I'll have to give the Academy a report on every demise.  I know three rats can potentially make a lot of rats but believe me, we'll end up with very few once they start dying."  He changed the subject.  "How is my flyer?"

"The brake system has failed.  One signal light is broken."

"Does that mean I shouldn't drive it?"

V'Rhsal lifted an eyebrow in an action so reminiscent of Spock that McCoy got a start.

"Leonard, the flyer is without a braking system.  Do you honestly think you should use it before I fix it for you?"  The Vulcan sounded impatient, as if he were explaining this to a child.

McCoy was quiet for a moment.  Then he asked softly,  "How far away is your wife now?"

The eyebrow lifted again.  "Do you wish me to calculate distance?"

"I just wondered if, perhaps, you already had."

V'Rhsal looked up.  "What purpose would that information serve?"

"Forget it."  McCoy put down his tea.  "I know you've been waiting on me so I'm happy to tell you that I'm ready to infect some rats.  By copying the mutations from the blood samples I took, I was able to make a synthetic bug that should mimic Khlabar with regard to symptoms and progression.  I'm going to infect two rats first.  Due to their faster metabolism, I should know within a day or two if my synthetic bug is on the mark.  If it is, you'll be able to get going on your end."

"Do you suspect Khlabar is a virus or a bacterium?"

McCoy shrugged.  "I'm not saying that yet.  If it is, it's got a very selective transmission to it.  I'm still inclined to believe there's a gene at fault.  Anyway, we'll have to take the rats to the hospital to infect them.  I didn't want to take any chances.  The bug I made is in a sealed vial in the hospital's containment hot lab and that is where both it and the infected rats will stay."

"That will be inconvenient," V'Rhsal said.

"But safe."

"Leonard, those Vulcans afflicted with Khlabar are admitted to the hospital only when the disease has progressed past where their families can take care of them.  Even in a hospital, the wards are not restricted.  Simple infection control techniques, such as handwashing, are the only requirements."

"I'm not taking any chances, V'Rhsal.  None.  There are viruses with twenty to twenty-five year incubation rates.  I'd rather be inconvenienced than run any risks."  McCoy smiled quickly.  "Since I have no brakes in my flyer, I guess we'll have to take the rats in yours."

"I will change my clothing first," V'Rhsal opened a locker and started undressing.

McCoy hastily averted his eyes.  "I'll get the rats."

"Leonard," V'Rhsal said.  "I sense some...emotion in your mind.  Have I offended you?"

McCoy looked intently at the floor.  "No, V'Rhsal."

"Leonard, there can be no dishonesty between us."

"Truly, I'm not offended but I can't turn off my feelings.  I've been trying."

"I know."  V'Rhsal's tone was gentle.  McCoy glanced up, puzzled, and then quickly looked away again.  The Vulcan was entirely naked now.

"Leonard, would you wish to learn some Vulcan techniques for suppressing emotion?"

"Not really," McCoy replied, staring hard at the walls.  He heard V'Rhsal stop moving behind him.

"Leonard, I sense something again.  Are you sure I am not offending you?"

"V'Rhsal, I'm trying to give you some privacy."

"Our minds are one.  What privacy is there left?"

"Just get dressed."

The Vulcan sounded puzzled.  "Leonard, the body is simply the body.  As a physician, have you never---?"

"Just get dressed, ok?"

V'Rhsal put on his pants and reached for a shirt. "Leonard, if you undress in my presence, do you wish me to avert my eyes?"

McCoy took a deep breath.  "I guarantee I won't do that."

"Explain."  V'Rhsal came around the table but he was fully clothed now.

McCoy took a deep breath. "Well, humans tend to keep their clothes on."

"So do Vulcans."

"V'Rhsal, I can't explain it," McCoy said quickly.  "Let's go to the hospital."

V'Rhsal turned towards the door, hesitated, and turned back.  "Leonard, I sensed...shame?"


The Vulcan interrupted.  "You can shame yourself.  Your body does not shame you."

McCoy mumbled something V'Rhsal couldn't hear as he went past the Vulcan.

T'Shyll was a small but stern Vulcan who did not stop working at her computer terminal simply because McCoy was being introduced to her.  He spent the entire interview talking to the side of her face.

"I am told you are researching Khlabar Disease, Physician Leonard McCoy."


"Why did you wish to speak with me?"

McCoy took a seat, ignoring her lack of courtesy.  "I understand you are looking for the gene at fault."

"I assume you feel it is inherited."

"It's a possibility."

"You should research in one direction, Physician Leonard McCoy.  I am also told you feel Khlabar is a virus."

"Well, I don't discount that possibility either."

"Why should I talk to you about my research?"

McCoy hesitated.  "We're both looking for a cure, aren't we?  I was hoping to pool our resources."

"Explain that term."  Her fingers flew at her keyboard and he signed tiredly.

"I was hoping we could exchange information."

"I have much more information on Khlabar than you do.  It would not be a fair exchange.  Also it is a Vulcan condition, not a human one.  You are human."

McCoy stood and came up to her desk.  "Look.  If I'm going in the wrong direction with my research, could you at least tell me that?"

"I think you 'went in the wrong direction' the moment you came to Vulcan."

McCoy regarded her quietly for a long time before saying, "You know, I think you're bluffing.  I think you haven't got a damn bit of information at all.  Your search has been utterly fruitless and you're just too damn stubborn to admit such a thing to a human."

She did not react to him, but kept working at her computer without pause.

"Would it make a difference if Kór V'Rhsal came in here to talk with you?"

She stopped typing but did not look up.  "This interview is concluded."

"Well, it was nice meeting you."  McCoy left her office and fumed down the hospital corridor, ending up on a ward he hadn't yet encountered.  In a sunroom sat a small Vulcan boy who seemed too young to be left alone.  McCoy glanced up and down the hall but it was empty.  He eyed the child with some concern, then shrugged to himself.  "I guess they know what they're doing," he mumbled as he started back down the hall.  At that moment the child looked up at him and stared.

"Vah nhee?"  He touched his eartips.  "Vah nhee?"

McCoy suddenly found himself smiling.  In Vulcan, he said, "No, child.  They did not fall off.  I was born this way."

The child's eyes widened.  McCoy entered the sunroom and bent his head. 

Tentatively, the boy touched McCoy's ears.

"Es ta lak e'nor!"

"Human," McCoy corrected.  "Es ta human."

A while later, V'Rhsal found McCoy and several children on the floor of the sunroom reading a book.  McCoy felt the Vulcan's presence and decided to ignore him.  The children, however, quieted respectfully.

"Leonard, what are you doing?"

McCoy sighed.  "It wouldn't do any good to explain."

A little girl giggled and shouted, "Yahoo, cowboy!"  V'Rhsal stared at her.

"That's an old earth greeting," McCoy said quickly.

"Do these children's parents know you are here?"

"I haven't seen any adults for..." McCoy glanced at his chronometer in surprise.
"For two hours."

"Perhaps we should leave quickly before an adult returns," V'Rhsal said.

"Why?  Is there a problem?"

V'Rhsal paused.  "The child was laughing.  That is not Vulcan way."

"The child is not an adult."

V'Rhsal eyed McCoy.  "True," he finally admitted.

"Am I really causing any harm?  We were just reading a book.  And besides, these kids can't get over the fact that I don't have pointed ears."  McCoy stood.  "I was in a tea shop while waiting on T'Shyll and I had a very hard time getting anyone to serve me.  They took one look and kind of backed away.  Maybe it would do some good to have early contact with an 'alien species'."

V'Rhsal's expression softened slightly.  "I accept your logic.  However, their parents may not.  Was your meeting with T'Shyll to any profit?"

"I'll tell you in the flyer."  McCoy said goodbye to the children and followed V'Rhsal outside into the strong sunlight.

"Did the children enjoy the book on surgical intervention in the elderly?"  V'Rhsal asked.

"They can't read yet," McCoy said.  "They looked at the pictures and I told them some old fairy tales.  There wasn't a reader terminal in the room to get something more appropriate."

"Vulcan children are not like human children.  I doubt a reader terminal would have supported any children's stories as you understand them," V'Rhsal said.

"Let me tell you about T'Shyll," McCoy started as he got into the flyer but the Vulcan shook his head.

"Tell me without words.  It is easier."

McCoy closed his eyes.  The thread between them flowed gently back and forth.  The memory of the interview took only a few seconds to share with the Vulcan.

In his mind, McCoy apologized.  if i hadn't been human, she probably would have opened up more

why do you say that, leonard

like in the tea shop

i should apologize to you.  t'shyll and i have some family relationship but we do not speak by our own choice


many consider me too emotional

McCoy opened his eyes.  "You?" he asked out loud.

"Yes, me."  V'Rhsal started the flyer.

The sand blew all night against the windows.  McCoy finally gave up trying to sleep and went down to the kitchen to get himself a cup of coffee.  It was pitch black outside, with only starlight over the mountains behind V'Rhsal's house. 

Standing at the window, McCoy could forget that a whole street of houses lay to either side of him.

He had been standing for some time when he heard a slight noise from the lab
down below.  Puzzled, he crept down the stairs and through the rooms until he got to the doorway of the lab.

"V'Rhsal, what are you doing?"

The Vulcan glanced up from a piece of equipment he'd been working on.  "Leonard, is something wrong?"

"It's very late.  Aren't you planning on getting any sleep?"

V'Rhsal returned to the equipment.  "My body is not in need of rest, Leonard."

McCoy suddenly smiled.  "For heaven's sakes, after all these years, I finally understand how it must have galled Spock to have me on his back every time he stayed up late.  Vulcans actually need less sleep than humans."  McCoy got another cup of tea for the Vulcan and brought it down to the lab.  "Here, it's how you like it, strong and no sugar."

V'Rhsal looked at the cup.  "If I am thirsty, Leonard, I am able to get my own drink."

"I don't mind getting this for you."  McCoy sat down and V'Rhsal, after a moment, took a sip from the steaming mug.

"Is it strong enough?  I practically disintegrated the spoon stirring it."

V'Rhsal nodded.  "It is adequate.  You took some time to make this in the fashion I prefer even though your tea was down here cooling."

McCoy frowned.  "It only took a minute."  He tapped the metal object on the table in front of the Vulcan.  "Is that it?"

"It is my first prototype for the neural field," V'Rhsal said.  "I will revise it to make it more compact."  He took another sip of his tea.  "Did you check on...our rats?"

McCoy smiled.  "They're ok.  I think one of the females is pregnant."

"That was prompt."

"Naming the male 'Kirk' was apt."  McCoy stretched tiredly.

"Can you not sleep, Leonard?"

McCoy started to laugh, much to V'Rhsal's confusion.  Finally he said, "Sorry, V'Rhsal.  I'll be in the next room working on those chemical tracings of 6-hydroseron."

McCoy woke to hear V'Rhsal's voice in his mind.  He dressed quickly and ran down to the lab.

"What is it?"

V'Rhsal was standing in front of McCoy's computer terminal.  "What did you leave running here last night?"

"Chemical tracings."  McCoy peered over V'Rhsal's shoulder.  "Holy shit!"

"Interesting."  V'Rhsal sat down at the terminal which was quietly humming.  "It is filling its fourth tape.  What kind of tracing is this?"

"6-Hydroseron.  I tagged the transmitter with an isotope and left the computer to follow any impulse's path that uses it through a namacha's brain."

V'Rhsal glanced up at McCoy.  "The transmitter's route does not appear to retrace itself at all.  Every notation on screen says 'original tracing'."

"You know what this means," McCoy said as he sat down dejectedly.  "That damn transmitter goes through the entire brain stem and cerebellum.  Shit!"

V'Rhsal turned to McCoy.  "What does it mean?"

"It's the reason why your people haven't come up with a cure.  It can't be cured!  It doesn't matter if you increase the central nervous system's sensitivity to 6-hydroseron because 6-hydroseron goes through almost every pathway through the brain stem and so does every other impulse from the brain to the rest of the body.  Everything going from brain to spine goes through the brain stem.  Khlabar affects the brain stem therefore every neural transmitter is affected.  There's no way around it."

"There must be a way."

"V'Rhsal, the computer's on its fourth tape," McCoy said.  "What the hell can we do?  We can't set up the neural field to affect every impulse in the brain stem.  That's where all our involuntary reflexes are, respiration, swallowing, gagging, all of them.  I won't fool around in there."  He tapped the computer screen.  "And if this is just a little namacha's brain, can you imagine the complexity of a Vulcan's brain?"

V'Rhsal stood.  "Leonard, set up an isotope tag in my brain.  I wish to see just how complex it is."

"V'Rhsal, what's the point?"

"Leonard, please."

McCoy looked up in surprise.

"Is that not the proper term?"

"V'Rhsal, you could end up wearing a scanner on your head for a week until the computer finds a previous route."

"Perhaps longer."

McCoy grumbled as he got up.  "Stubborn Vulcans.  Don't know their head from a..." His voice trailed off as he pulled out a hypo.  "V'Rhsal, I really don't think..."

"Leonard, you are wasting time."

McCoy reset the computer, then injected the isotope behind V'Rhsal's ear. 

"V'Rhsal, even if we try to follow the tracings in just the namacha, it would take months."

"Then we will follow the tracings in my brain stem."

McCoy scowled.  "V'Rhsal, have you ever heard of the term obsession?"

"Leonard, if we use a carbon-based molecular chain, I am sure we could 'grow' the tracings directly from computer readout.  That would take an estimated two point seven days."

McCoy blinked.  "You want to grow a brain stem from plant tissue?"

"It would be the easiest, and safest way to continue this line of research."

"Even if we use the smallest molecular chain possible, it would still take up a helluva lot of room."

"You are right.  Please assist me to clear the two furthest rooms.  We can grow it there."

McCoy shrugged.  "My mother always said I should get into farming.  I guess this is as good a time as any."

There finally came a day when the sand didn't blow.  McCoy checked on his rats, seventeen of them now, then decided to take advantage of the weather and walk home from the hospital.  He passed few other people and those he did pass tended to avert their eyes.  He, on the other hand, found it hard not to look around him.  He hadn't seen a human for two months now.  Every voice he heard was flat and inflectless and every face he saw wore the same austere expression.  Not seeing other humans wasn't so bad.  What was truly depressing him was the absolute lack of entertainment.  No fiction section existed in the libraries and nothing with any swing to it ever graced the rooms of the music halls.  News feeds reported very little outside of Vulcan politics and community information.

The worst was he still hadn't found any place that sold liquor.  He'd walked through every tourist spot and every off-world shop and found they were all managed by Vulcans who did not understand the wonderful effects of alcohol on the body.

He stopped in a public square and took a seat on a bench.  A few minutes later a woman and a baby sat down on the bench beside him.

"Good afternoon, ma'am.  Nice day, isn't it?"  McCoy said.

She nodded an acknowledgement of his greeting but did not speak.  Pulling out a journal from her bag, she casually read it while she lifted up her baby and let it nurse.  McCoy hastily rose from the bench and resumed his walk.

There was electronic mail waiting for him at the house.  He picked the tapes out of the feeder and walked around to the back of the house.   V'Rhsal's legs were all McCoy could see of him from underneath a flyer.

"Haven't you got those brakes done yet?"

He was not graced with an answer.  McCoy sat down on a step beside a greasy metallic object and said, "I told you the brakes were fine.  They stopped the flyer, but no, you insisted that they needed fine tuning.  You've been under there all day and I bet that this is probably a main part of my braking system here beside me that you can't get to fit back in."

"Leonard, do not nag me," came the Vulcan's muffled voice.  "And it is not as though you are without transportation since I gave you the code to my flyer which, I find, I did not hear land just now."

"It's at the hospital parking lot.  It was such a nice day that I decided to walk back."

McCoy heard another muffled tone.  "Was that cursing, V'Rhsal?"

"Vulcans do not swear, Leonard."

"Sure they do.  They just don't admit it."  McCoy stretched his legs out before him.  "We've both got some mail here.  Real exciting.  You've got your subscription to Warp Drive Update."

"Leonard, will you be retrieving my flyer at any time soon?"

"You mean, you want me to walk all the way back?"

He was greeted with utter silence.  Even V'Rhsal's tools stopped moving.

"V'Rhsal, I'm going absolutely crazy on this planet.  There is nothing to do.  I swear, this planet is so boring that even boring people don't come here."

"Leonard, perhaps you should vacation for a few days."

McCoy scowled.  "There aren't any ships in spaceport to hitch a ride on."

"I suggest a walk in the desert at night.  It is le'mayta season."

"Probably better company," McCoy muttered.

V'Rhsal slid out from underneath the flyer.  "Leonard..." he started but before he could finish the sentence, McCoy handed him the metallic object from the steps.

McCoy, realizing what he'd done, stood and sighed.  "Good God, this is eerie.  I swear sometimes I can hear your thoughts so clear it's as if you were talking out loud."

V'Rhsal cleaned the piece of brake system.  "Such is the reason for the link between us."

"Are you...picking up anything from me?"

The Vulcan slid back under the flyer.  "Your thoughts are chaotic.  It is difficult is isolate one concept at a time."

"I'll slow down.  What am I thinking now?"

There was a long silence.  Then V'Rhsal, very quietly, said, "I do not have a sister.  Nor, I assure you, would I act in such a way with her if I had such a sibling."

"V'Rhsal, we have to talk seriously.  And I can't do that with you under the flyer."

"Yes, you can, Leonard.  I wish to finish this before the light fails."

"V'Rhsal, it's hard to say what I'm going to say without seeing your face."

"Using your eyes is but a small part of how you can see me now.  Do not fear this, Leonard.  We can speak now.  There will be no deception, nothing hidden."

McCoy sat back down.  "Then I'll tell you.  I'm not upset with the lack on this planet.  It's really not that at all.  But I feel you haven't been honest with me.  There is deception here."

"How have I deceived you?"

"This isn't a mind meld, is it?"

"It is, Leonard."

"V'Rhsal, I'm not stupid.  I've experienced the mind meld before, more than once.  My God, I've never come out of it in such an intimate position."

"How much more intimacy is there than a merging of minds?"

"I was on top of you!" McCoy shot back.  "V'Rhsal, it's nowhere near your time but you"

"Leonard, so were you."

McCoy shifted uncomfortably on the step.  "V'Rhsal, everything you are, ALL that you are, ALL that I am, is open between us.  Why?  Why so deep?"

The Vulcan came out from underneath the flyer, wiping his hands on a cloth.  "You said that James Kirk's name was well known on Vulcan.  But so is yours.  Do you think I would have contacted the first physician from the first starship that visited here?  Do you think that any non-Vulcan doctor would have been sufficient'?"

McCoy frowned.  "I don't know about other doctors but I'm just a general practitioner from Georgia."

"Planet ULAPG42821DB, you were able to stop a bound water poisoning that threatened the lives of everyone aboard the starship; 70 Ophiucus, you found the antitoxoid for the virus created by the life prolongation experiment; Deneva, and the madness--"

"V'Rhsal," McCoy cut in.

"I have reviewed your own starship's logs and spoken with Ambassador Sarek."

"You spoke with Sarek about me?"

"He approved my desire to link my mind with yours for this research.  His opinion was that we would be compatible."  The Vulcan looked into McCoy's eyes.  "Leonard, I know what you have done and what you are capable of doing.  And so I waited for you to return to Vulcan.  I waited for no other but you."

McCoy looked away.  "V'Rhsal, what if I can't find the answers here?"

"Leonard, you have not even tried.  I have received nothing from you but emotional refuse.  You are polluting your brilliance with base regrets and guilt."

McCoy's voice lowered.  "Pardon me?"

V'Rhsal's voice harshened too.  "I will submit examples.  I feel your irrational anger and distrust of doctors who would be your students but who happen to be younger and obviously more enthusiastic.  I sense regrets over women whom you did not desire sufficiently or who did not desire you.  And there is more, petty whining over advancing years, complaints when there is nothing of sufficient cause about which to complain.  And all these endless, useless fears of failing to the point where you do not bother to try.  You may be bored, but I have had to put up with all of that.  You dumped it into my mind."  He paused in order to steady his voice.  "Leonard, I have not deceived you.  You have deceived me.  Not for one minute have you truly and honestly tried to outwit this disease."

McCoy clenched his fists to keep from socking the Vulcan.  "You can't blame me for being human."

"That excuse is no longer valid."

McCoy jumped up and paced back and forth angrily.  "Damnit!  Damnit!  Damnit!"  He kicked at the flyer, then suddenly stilled and leaned against the metal.

"Damnit," McCoy said softly.

"Leonard?"  V'Rhsal asked with some alarm.

"You're right.  Damnit, V'Rhsal.  I've been feeling...sorry for myself and, thanks to our mind link, I guess I've been sharing it all with you."

"Logically, you should acknowledge it but not let it stop you."

"My not being logical was one of the things you originally liked in me."

V'Rhsal came up beside McCoy.  "I told you the ideal way to continue.  Unfortunately, not even logical beings always follow it.  I am somewhat outcast in my family.  I shamed them with my emotions."

"What emotions?" McCoy retorted gruffly.

"I have personal, selfish motives for my wish to end Khlabar on this world -  my father, my teacher, and now my brother.  There have been others, and all who suffered did so in front of my eyes.  I have given you the trust of a bonding because I...cannot watch it happen anymore."

"A bonding?"  McCoy frowned.  "I was right.  There's more here than a mind meld.  So you deceived me."

The Vulcan silenced.

McCoy took a breath.  "I'm not up on Vulcan things but I thought only married people were bond to each other."

"Usually," V'Rhsal admitted.

"What happens if you go into pon farr?"

"That is not for four years, Leonard.  It will not happen with you."

"Thank God for small mercies," McCoy said.  "Damnit, why the hell didn't you stop at a link."

"I originally intended to do so, Leonard, but it was your decision as well."

"I don't recall being asked.  When did I decide?"

V'Rhsal looked puzzled.  "During the initial meld."

"Like hell!"

"Leonard, when I stopped at what I thought was a deep enough level, you went deeper, so I followed.  It is just as well.  Ambassador Sarek mentioned that you had some trouble with mind melds and I do not wish to risk losing touch with you when you eventually return to the Enterprise."

"Don't blame this on me!  I was never given the instruction manual on these things!"

V'Rhsal eyed McCoy and almost, almost smiled.  McCoy felt the amusement in his mind and his jaw dropped.

"Well, poor Vulcan, I'm 'polluting' you with some good old human emotion as well."


McCoy managed a laugh.  "It sure is."  He took a few steps towards the house.  "I'm going down to check on our plant.  Last time I looked it had filled that first room."

"It has grown bigger since then."

"V'Rhsal, you wore that scanner for four days before we got a repeat tracing on that transmitter.  Your brain stem sits in a little spot in the back of your skull.  The brain stem we're growing is over fifteen feet high."

"Do you think we should not try?"

"No," McCoy shook his head as he strode into the house.  "I guess we will try."

McCoy had not seen the house on the hill for forty-five years.  It's dusky red paint and isolation among the trees gave it a rustic, cabin look, though, indeed, it stood three stories and had seventeen rooms.  He was down below, in the river that spanned the valley, skating on the ice that hung heavy over churning water.  He hadn't skated for forty-five years either.  Strange, how these things went.  The feel of the blades scraping was as familiar as if he'd been skating only yesterday.  The winter was strong and crisp in his nose.

He skated past the clump of trees where he'd once had a tire swing and the house came into view again.  The windows were all dark.  Usually the kitchen light was on and his mother, cooking supper, would wave to him.

A wind gust chilled his face and ears.  A few snowflakes came down from the sky, the promise of a storm.  He skated faster, breathing hard in the icy air, but the house seemed no nearer.  There, again, the same clump of trees, and he pushed harder only to move seemingly nowhere.  The trees did not move.  

Suddenly the ice heaved up ahead.  In the dim light a face stared back at him. 

He gasped at himself under the ice, his arms outstretched towards the surface, the skin throttled and blue.

He heard voices and saw children dancing wildly on the shore and their voices rang over the frozen river.

"Fire and ice and the joy of wild birth because we all live with witches."

McCoy jumped up.  He was sitting in bed, the covers wrapped around his legs, and the heat hit his face like a hot towel.  He'd barely caught his breath when a loud bang roared through the house.

He jumped out of bed and ran, crashing into V'Rhsal at the stairs down to the lab.

"What the hell was that?" McCoy started but the Vulcan was taking the steps three at a time.

McCoy followed more slowly, coughing on plaster dust that choked the air.  He came suddenly upon the Vulcan at the entrance to the first cleared room.  McCoy glanced over V'Rhsal's shoulder.

"My God..."

Debris filled the room.  The plant they'd been growing from the computer model lay scattered in brown chunks.  The computer terminal lay on its side, the monitor blinking a dim blue.

V'Rhsal righted the computer and tried the keyboard.  "The terminal has sustained a bad jar but the memory is intact.  Voice mode does not work."

"What could have happened?"  McCoy asked.

"Perhaps the computer can tell us."  V'Rhsal manually punched up a string of codes.  The terminal cleared but the memory responded slowly to the Vulcan's prompting.  Finally a run of numbers crawled along the bottom of the screen.

V'Rhsal frowned.  "According to memory, the molecular chain was the cause of the explosion."

"You're kidding," McCoy said.  "The plant exploded?  It was a simple chemical chain!  How could it blow up?"

The Vulcan paused as he considered the numbers and codes.  "We set up the molecular chain to exactly replicate the computer tracings of my brain stem.  According to memory, there was energy contained in the tracing model."

McCoy kneeled on the floor, careful of the soggy, brown debris.  "Energy?  Where?"

"A moment, Leonard."  V'Rhsal prompted the terminal again.  "Our plant model copied every chemical base and atom structure, on a much larger scale.  Apparently the brain stem stores energy in...pockets, I suppose for its own use.  One of the pockets was weak and its containment was breached.  That breach caused the explosion."

McCoy glanced around.  "But, V'Rhsal, I checked the scan on your brain.  You had no weak blood vessels, no aneurysms."

"Blood vessels are not plant tissues."

McCoy fell into a sitting position.  "Good Lord, if we're all walking around with energy like this stored in our brains, it's a wonder we don't all explode!"

"Leonard, don't be so melodramatic.  The model is four hundred and three times larger than a normal-sized brain stem."

"Well forgive me, V'Rhsal, but we've been down in this lab a lot.  We could have been down here when the pocket went!  Do you realize that?"

"Leonard, calm yourself.  That did not happen.  We will have to be more cautious."

"Cautious of what?  We're working in the complete unknown here!  How do we know what to be cautious of?"

"The energy released indicates that one of the larger pockets exploded.  If there are further explosions, they should not be so substantial."

McCoy scowled.  "So, what are we talking about?  Just the loss of an arm or leg?"

"Leonard, there is no need of sarcasm either."

"V'Rhsal, we were planning on using this thing as a model for disrupting and re-routing neural impulses.  Have you ever heard of osmosis?"

"It is a biological tendency to equalize chemical and electrical concentrations between the interior and exterior of a cell."

"I don't mean to be a killjoy but what do you think could happen if we re-route an electrical impulse away from a 'pocket' of energy?"

"Possible breach of the cell wall as the electrical concentrations attempt to equalize.  However, Leonard, it is a merely a possible consequence.  Many cells are semi-permeable, allowing one way flow only."

"But we don't know and we can't know except by trial and error.  It would be like having a box of candles with a few sticks of T.N.T. mixed in, and then sitting around in the dark and lighting them with your teeth."

The Vulcan keyed in a few more commands.  "Leonard, this is not comparable to trinitrotoluene.  The energy stored is intense but clean.  Its release caused no biologically harmful effects in terms of residue.  There are no toxins in the air beyond the metallic dust from the casings in the walls."

McCoy picked up a bit of the plant.  "Look at this poor thing.  It's been literally ripped open from inside out."

"We will have to grow it again.  Perhaps if we tried a step or two up the molecular chain...."  The Vulcan shut off the computer.

"V'Rhsal, even if I give all these pockets of energy the benefit of the doubt, and we disrupt a neural trail nine times and nothing happens, it only means that we'll get an explosion on our tenth try.  We will breach another pocket wall.  That could cause more damage.  I mean, this is not only your house but your wife's as well.  What's she going to say when she comes home and finds half her walls in orbit?"

"I have measurements of the energy released from this explosion.  I will design a containment field for this level of energy, which should be more than sufficient for the consequences of any other breaches."

The Vulcan started cleaning up the plant debris.  He righted a table, then said softly, "Leonard, what is that you are thinking?"

McCoy scowled.  "I've got a name for them.  'But, oh, beamish nephew, beware of the day.  If your Snark be a Boojum, for then.  You will softly and suddenly vanish away and never be met with again.  For although common Snarks do no manner of harm, yet I feel it my duty to say, some are Boojums......'"

The Vulcan looked puzzled.  "That reference has no meaning for me."

McCoy looked up.  "It will."

McCoy jolted awake with the image of the empty house in his eyes and the feel of the winter cold on his skin.

He sat up and tried to calm his lungs, then felt the twinge in his mind that told him the Vulcan was awake.

He pulled on some pants and padded downstairs.  The lights were dim in the room where the plant tissue was growing.  It groaned under its own weight and pulsed with lightning flashes of nerve impulses that flashed along its tendrils and were gone in a blink.  It shivered where it neared the walls.  The roots rustled underneath like the sounds of a hundred mice.  McCoy could no longer find the floor, or even half of the walls.  Whenever he stepped near it, or shone a light towards it, it cringed back into the darkness and groaned at him.

It frankly scared McCoy to be alone with it.  Oddly enough, it didn't seem to bother V'Rhsal in the least.  He stepped over it, through it, and even on it, without a second look.   He was standing, now, in the middle of two huge roots that led into the bulk growing in the next room.  He was unclothed, as was his sleeping habit, indicating that he had probably just awakened.

"What are you doing up?"  McCoy whispered, looking carefully at anything but V'Rhsal.  "Is something going on?"

The Vulcan shook his head.  "No, Leonard.  I am simply checking on the plant tissue."

McCoy shivered, utterly spooked.  "Let's hope we don't find another weak pocket.  I'd hate to have it explode right now."

"It is within the containment field."

"Yeah, and so are we.  You're down here all the time, lately.  What are you doing?  Communing with it?"

"Hardly.  It is just a plant."

"Modelled on your brain stem.  You must feel some empathy."

"Interesting thought, Leonard.  Perhaps if we did a tracing on my cerebral cortex, I could actually communicate with myself."

McCoy stared at V'Rhsal.  "Was that a joke?"

"I fear you are contaminating me."

McCoy smiled.  "If I am, it can only be to your benefit."  He waded through some plant tissue.  "Can we hurt this thing by being here?"

"I do not think so.  This one is stronger," V'Rhsal gently touched a tendril.

The doctor found a clear spot and sat down.  "I know this is four hundred and three times to scale, but some of these plant 'nerves' are so minute I need a microscope to see them.  It's...awe-inspiring.  We are literally growing part of a brain." An impulse flashed by McCoy, as if reacting to his words.  "Though I have to admit, it gives me the creeps."

"Strange perception, Leonard.  In your surgical career you have had contact with brain tissue."

"But it never outweighed me."  McCoy rubbed his eyes.  "V'Rhsal, I can sense some disturbance.  Why are you up, really?"

"We are bond.  I dream your dreams.  What is the significance of the house?"

McCoy shrugged.  "It's the house in which I grew up.  I don't know why I'm dreaming about it."

"As we are both awake, perhaps we could dress and go to the hospital to check on our rats."

"Good idea.  Poor things," McCoy said.  "They're pretty sick."

"Ironic, Leonard, that as a doctor you find it easier to cause a disease than to cure it."

"Go get dressed," McCoy muttered.  " ass..."

One of the rats had died.  McCoy gently lifted the small animal from the cage and ran a scanner over it.

V'Rhsal looked over the doctor's shoulder.  "Cause of death, Leonard?"

McCoy laid the rat on the table.  "Primary - Congestive Heart Failure.  Secondary - progression of Khlabar-type symptoms."

The Vulcan regarded the rat without touching it.  "I would say that your synthetic bug is a success."

"...whoopie," McCoy mumbled.

"I am curious, Leonard.  Is it possible for iron-based blood types to be infected with Khlabar?"

"I would doubt it."

"Yet the symptoms and progression of Khlabar are apparent in these red-blooded rats."

"Yes, they are," McCoy nodded.

"How is that possible, Leonard?"

McCoy washed his hands.  "It's possible because these rats really have Cere-myelitis, which is a distinctly human condition."

At the Vulcan's uncomprehending look, McCoy added, "Inflammation of the cerebellar cortex, caused by a virus that first enters then inflames the respiratory tract.  Mode of transmission from the lungs to the central nervous system is, to this day, still unknown.  You don't see much of it in humans now because we found a way to prevent it about one hundred and fifty years ago."

"Not a cure?"

McCoy shook his head.  "No, we never did pursue a cure since our prevention methods almost completely eradicated it.  It's part of our wide-spectrum booster shots.  I thought of it after I did a few rounds with some physicians here.  Do you know of a kissar-adept, Mah'Lee?"

V'Rhsal nodded.  "Most Vulcans do.  She is highly-regarded."

"She let me examine her.  I noticed that her eyes had trouble making 'pursuit' movements, which are how the eyes follow moving objects.  Also she had trouble keeping muscles in steady, contracted positions.  The walking brace she uses is a terrible problem because she can't always maintain a hold on it."

"Leonard, Vulcan physicians know that Khlabar affects the cerebellum."

"Right, and it does that by interrupting messages to and from the thalamus, messages that are carried through nerve impulses that use 6-hydroseron as a neurotransmitter.  Now, Cere-myelitis also affects thalamic messages but it does so by inhibiting the enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitters after neuron excitement.  That is the only difference I could find between Cere-myelitis and Khlabar, but I'm not sure if that truly is a difference at all."

"Then, you do not believe that Khlabar is inherited?"

McCoy shrugged.  "I don't have any evidence to support it.  On the other hand, I don't have any evidence against it.  It would help if I could get hold of a few autopsy reports on victims of Khlabar."

"Why have you not done so?" V'Rhsal asked.

"I've tried.  I've made several written requests to T'Pall, the Hospital Administrator, but all have come back with that big red stamp "Permission Denied".  Apparently, she doesn't feel the need to explain why I can't see these reports."

V'Rhsal thought for a moment.  "You may need permission from the family of the deceased to open archived medical files."

McCoy scowled.  "And would I have to go through T'Pall for those names too?  She won't even grant me a meeting with her."

"I will ask her, Leonard."

"Will she speak to you?"

V'Rhsal raised an eyebrow.  "I would think so.  I am her son."

McCoy stared at the Vulcan.  "She's your Mother?"

"Is that not what I just said, Leonard?"

"Then you haven't, by the way, mentioned that I happen to be working with you for the next three years?  Her secretary won't even let me place a call to her."

"Accept my apologies, Leonard, but my family has had little contact with humans and I have little contact with my family."

"Little contact as in none?"


"What's so bad about humans anyway?"

V'Rhsal stood.  "Vulcan has a distrust of aliens.  Our history is one of constant struggle against alien invaders.  Some on Vulcan feel that alien contact of any kind is potentially harmful."

"And does your family feel that way?" McCoy persisted.

V'Rhsal paused.  "I cannot answer for my family.  I do not wish that you should judge Vulcans too harshly, Leonard.  Humans are unpredictable.  Their often irrational, emotional behaviour makes them potentially dangerous to those Vulcans whose logical outlook prefers prediction of reaction.  What cannot be reasonably foreseen may disrupt harmony and calm."

McCoy covered the little rat, and then checked the others in the cage.  "Being Vulcan, V'Rhsal, I'm sure you don't mind a bit of harmony and calm."

"Leonard, I have had no occasion to regret linking to you since you have stopped feeling pity for yourself.  In fact, I find it not unpleasant."

McCoy eyed V'Rhsal uncertainly for a moment.  "The sun's coming up.  I think I'll go down to the wards and check on Mah'Lee.  She claims to be an early riser.  I'll see if she was telling the truth or trying to put one over on me."

Mah'Lee was in a sunroom.  A heavy shawl covered her small body and a blanket lay draped over her feet.  On the floor, sitting quietly, were two small children.

Upon McCoy's arrival, one of the children looked up and said, "Yahoo, cowboy!"

The elderly Vulcan woman glanced at the child, then at McCoy.  "Thee has had contact with my son's issue, Healer?"

McCoy stopped dead in his tracks, wondering if he'd, yet again, inadvertently, somehow insulted another Vulcan.

She waited for an answer.  Finally, McCoy said,  "I uh...may have read them a story or two.  I didn't know they were of your family.  I did not mean offence."

Oh hell, he thought.  Are all these damned Vulcans related or what?

The other child looked between McCoy and Mah'Lee before asking, "Will Dokkar MacKoy complete the story about the tigger and the piglet?"

He sat down across from Mah'Lee. "I don't know if your grandmother would approve."

"I would wish to hear, Healer," Mah'lee said, surprising McCoy.

"Oh...sure.  Where were we?"

"At the forest," said the girl.

"Oh, right, Piglet was walking through the forest when--"

"What is a forest?" asked the girl.

McCoy eyed her, then said, "Try to imagine so many trees that you can't see past them and their leaves block out the sun."

He scratched his cheek, trying to remember the rest of the story.  "Anyway, Piglet was walking through the forest when suddenly Tigger jumped out of a tree and bounced him."
"Define bounce," the boy said.

McCoy squinted.  "Pardon?"

"Bounce is an action, Dokkar?" the girl enquired.

"Like this."  McCoy got up and hopped a few times, feeling rather silly.  "That's bouncing.  Tigger bounced Piglet and Piglet, being a very small animal, was very frightened."

"Frightened?" the boy interrupted.

McCoy blinked.  "It'"  He eyed the three completely impassive faces before him and said,  "Forget I said frightened.  Piglet was not frightened.  Piglet was a girl animal and Tigger was a boy animal and the two of them approached their parents.  Tigger became a diplomat and Piglet earned her degree in astro-physics and their parents approved of their union so they joined minds and were married and had many children and lived a long, prosperous life together.  The end."

The children looked at each other and frowned.  The girl, hesitantly, said, "Dokkar MacKoy, we preferred your other stories."

McCoy couldn't help smiling.  He noticed Mah'Lee studying him.  When he looked up, she said, "I notice thy command of Vulcan tongue has improved greatly."

Another 'wonderful' effect of the mind link with V'Rhsal, McCoy thought glumly, hoping that he wasn't broadcasting the link so freely to her as he apparently did on the Enterprise to Spock.  "I really came here to see how you were doing with that new medication."

"I do not complain, Healer."

"I know you don't complain," McCoy retorted.  "And that's my chief complaint with you, that you never complain!"

She drew herself up with an austere gesture but her eyes were soft.  "If it will please you, I will attempt to complain in the future."

"See that you do," McCoy muttered.  "I'll see you later, madam.  I'll be doing rounds with your doctor again."

Mah'Lee drew the blanket closer around her feet.  "And will I receive a bill for all the visits with which you honour me?"

"Do you think you could afford my fees?"  McCoy chuckled.  "I'm quite pricy."

She considered for a moment, then sent the children from the room.  "I could offer something in return."

McCoy shook his head.  "It was a joke.  I don't charge for house calls."

"I do not wish to pry, Healer, but I wonder how long you will be staying on Vulcan."


She looked him in the eye.  "I could teach you some mental shielding."

McCoy sighed.  "Damn.  No matter how I try, everybody seems to know what's going on in my head.  I hope I haven't offended you."

Mah'Lee's voice quieted.  "I sense your emotions, not your thoughts.  And, though I try to maintain your privacy, I can sense a bonding as well.  Would you learn from me?"

McCoy paused for a moment, then asked, "Can humans learn these things?"

"I do not know about humans.  I would teach you."

"But...are you up to it?"

She drew herself erect but her eyes were warm.  "Healer, now you offend."

McCoy smiled.  "Well, Mah'Lee, I can tell you right now.  You've taken on the challenge of a lifetime.  I'll see you later."

He went down to the cafeteria and got a cup of tea.  It was a horrid, Vulcan blend but he was getting used to it by now.  He took a corner seat and concentrated on keeping his eyes down.  There were only a few others in the cafeteria, but he had come to learn that it was not considered polite to even say hello unless he had something else, of more importance, to say too.  Many Vulcans, he'd noticed, didn't even greet you at all but just walked up and launched into some monologue.

He rubbed his eyes.  Strangely enough, he did not feel tired, despite the interrupted sleep and all the dreams of the last nights.  His previous visits to Vulcan had always left him with a nagging weariness that he'd associated with the higher gravity and the terribly unexciting company.

A shadow fell across the table.  He looked up into the face of a light-haired Vulcan. 

"Pardon if I intrude," he said.

"You're not intruding.  Can I help you with something?" McCoy asked.

"I have noted you in the hospital.  I am Soltar, a physician here."

"Dr. Leonard McCoy.  Nice to meet you."

"I am honoured to greet you, Dr. McCoy."

I bet, McCoy thought grumpily.  Out loud, he asked,  "Would you care to join me?"

Soltar seated himself.  "Since our paths have crossed so often, I wondered if I might be of any assistance to you."

Nosy old goat, McCoy said to himself.  He managed a slight smile and said, "I'm doing some research here.  Are you a general practitioner, sir?"

"I specialize in cardiology, Dr. McCoy," Soltar said.  "I do not often see Humans other than Federation military personnel.  How long will you be staying on Vulcan?"

"I think I'll be here for a while yet."  McCoy took a sip of his tea and found it was worse than horrid when cold. "I'm working with a Vulcan scientist."

"Then you already have assistance.  Forgive me for my intrusion."  Soltar stood and took a step to leave.

McCoy looked up.  "No, you're not intruding.  I could use some company."  He waited until Soltar had re-seated himself before saying, "I've had some surgical experience with a Vulcan cardiovascular system.  Are you a surgeon?"

"I have performed surgery when necessary."

"I find the five chambers of the Vulcan heart interesting.  Human hearts have only four."

"Normal human blood pressure is also higher than Vulcan, is it not?"

"Normally.  I've often wondered how we can have such different cardiovascular systems, yet exist in very similar atmospheres."

Soltar considered this.  "I find that an intriguing thought, Dr. McCoy.  I have never visited earth but I understand Vulcans can acclimate to it with little trouble.  And, obviously, I see you here with no apparent ill effect.  I would think that your heart would require more oxygen than this planet provides."

"As a Vulcan should get heady on the glut of oxygen in earth atmosphere, but they don't."

Soltar nodded.  "I would be most fascinated to pursue this topic with you.  I am due in my office in four point three minutes.  Perhaps, later, you are unoccupied?"

McCoy picked a number out of the air.  "Fourteen hundred?"

"That is acceptable, Dr. McCoy.  My office is on level two, ward seven."  Soltar took his leave.

McCoy watched him go, and then regarded his empty glass.  "Oh, what the hell," he mumbled and got up to refill his cup with more of the terrible tea.

McCoy knew he was a willing but very dense student to Mah'Lee. He grasped only the barest essentials of mind-shielding, probably much less than a child. He could construct a shield of sorts, but maintaining it was akin to the sensation of holding his tongue on a battery. The afternoon visit with Soltar went better. Soltar was a sociable Vulcan, very curious about humans, and McCoy found him pleasant company. He got home late to an empty house and took the opportunity to enjoy a long, sonic shower. When V'Rhsal was too near, the link was a constant reminder. Apart, McCoy felt his thoughts were more his own, his feelings less intrusive to the Vulcan.

He woke barely two hours after falling asleep, and laid there for another hour before it registered that he wasn't tired. V'Rhsal had returned. In his mind, he sensed the Vulcan asleep. After checking the plant, he left the house and returned to the hospital. McCoy didn't know if he was consciously trying to avoid the Vulcan, but he knew he needed a chance to breathe. He'd always been a private man, even with those closest to him. The feeling that he must try to help those who suffered from Khlabar was not always enough to compensate for being a walking, open window.

He fed the rats, then holed up in V'Rhsal's office and worked on the computer. It was well into the afternoon when he heard a slight tap on the door.

"Come in."

At the sight of Mah'Lee, painfully crouched over her walking brace, McCoy jumped up and escorted her to a chair. "Good Lord, woman! What are you doing?"

She eyed him sternly. "When the pupil does not come to his teacher, the teacher must go to him."

McCoy sat down beside her. "I don't want to tire you."

"Do not lie to me, Healer."

He sighed. "Ok. I don't think I can learn these things."

"You give up easily. I wonder that your bondmate does not teach you these things herself."

"Ah, yes, my bondmate," McCoy said. "Now there's a story."

"Another work of fiction?" Mah'Lee queried.

"Just an expression. Mah'Lee, think logically. Could there be any Vulcan-born woman on this planet who would ever remotely consider marrying a crusty, old human like me?"

She thought for a long moment, then replied, "Healer, it is not outside the realm of possibility."

"Mah'Lee, I'm linked with a man, not a woman."

When she didn't say anything, McCoy reiterated, "It's two men."

"A bonding is a bonding. Why does your bondmate not teach you how to shield?"

"It's not...I'm not..." McCoy tried. AI came here with good intentions. I was going to do a little research project and I agreed to a link with a fellow scientist. All of a sudden, I'm bonded. I have no idea how. And he tells me that it's my fault too. Mah'Lee, just what is the difference between a mindlink and a bond?"

"With a link, you open your mind to another. With a bond, you open your heart."

McCoy thought of V'Rhsal's absent wife, Sah'Sheer. "But it can be broken."

"Sometimes a marriage is wrong. Yes, a bonding can be broken."

"How do I turn it into a link?"

"Healer, you are linked."

McCoy took a breath and asked carefully, "How do I turn it into just a link?"

She frowned. "If you are bond or if you are linked, what is the difference? You will still achieve your purpose."

"The difference is that everybody and his mother seems to know what's going on in my head. I've been on Vulcan before. I've never encountered this."

"Healer, your bonding is sensed, but a link would be just as obvious. I would teach you how to shield so that you may walk in peace in public, not so that you may shut away from your partner. Do you not trust him to whom you are joined?"

"If I don't, I've taken a helluva gamble."

"He must trust you."

McCoy looked away in silence.

After some time, Mah'Lee gently touched his arm. "Student, let us begin the lesson once more."

Kirk's face filled the computer screen. "That civil war petered out. A few rebels and they push the panic button to the Federation. And so, Bones, we're still on that damned milk run. I've got trainees coming out of the duct work. You'll be happy to know that we have missed you because no one else has a key to your brandy chest. That Vulcan physician, Stirl, and I have had a few games of chess. Of course, I haven't won any of them. I think he wonders why we have so many shrinks on board. We were going over the duty roster and he kept asking me why it took him and seven psychiatrists to replace you." McCoy smiled upon hearing this.

Kirk yawned. "I don't have any other news for you. I'm looking forward to getting a tape from you though. Uhura says that your teaming up with V'Rhsal is a popular topic on Starfleet channels. Commodore Chow calls V'Rhsal 'The Glaciator'. She threw an award ceremony, in honour of his winning the Galactic Designation of High Scientific Achievement, and she says it was the most dismal party she'd ever been to, thanks to him. Chow says he can out-Vulcan T'Pau. Anyway, she's started a betting pool on how long you'll be able to stand him before you bail. I've got ten credits on this myself." Kirk's voice quieted. "I've had a couple of talks with Stirl. He seemed surprised that you were researching Khlabar. He says it can't be cured. He also mentioned that V'Rhsal's father recently died from Khlabar." Kirk looked directly at the screen. "Bones, I haven't heard much good about this. Remember, you can always come home."

The tape ended. McCoy leaned back from the computer screen and closed his eyes, listening to the sand pound the windows. He stayed quiet until, some time later, he heard the front door and steps in the hall.

The unspoken thought echoed in his mind. leonard, am i disturbing you?


my mother wishes to meet you before she allows you to examine autopsy reports

fair enough

the day after tomorrow

McCoy opened his eyes as the Vulcan continued down the hall and went into his room. It was dark out, and dark in the room except for the blue light from the computer screen. Depressed people live in dark places, he thought. Textbook case.

He got up and flicked on every light in the room. The sand still pounded but he could no longer see it. Damn sand. Damn sand everywhere he went, on the sidewalks, the paths, tracking on his feet down the hospital corridors. Damn sand. Damn hot weather. Damn Vulcans every goddamn place he went.

McCoy lay down on his bed and his eyes caught sight of a book on the bedside table, Fibres of the Auricles. A real book, a loan from Soltar. He had to admit, Soltar was a gracious host. They'd spent another afternoon together and the time had passed rather enjoyably. Two doctors discussing the medical aspects of hearts. Would have bored Jim right up the wall and down the other side. Soltar pouring tea and talking of the ventricles and the aorta...a tall man who reminded McCoy of Sarek. A Vulcan who was not afraid of humans and conversed with a glint of humour in the dark eyes. McCoy had tried some of the shielding techniques with Soltar that Mah'Lee had very patiently drilled into him. He didn't - probably couldn't - know whether or not he'd managed any kind of shield but Soltar hadn't reacted to him with that abrupt withdrawal that every other Vulcan around seemed to employ. Which reminded him...

McCoy gently reached through the link.

am i disturbing you?

V'Rhsal took some time to respond and he seemed hesitant.

you are not disturbing me. leonard, where have you been these past few days?


there is some difference between us

damnit i hope so after all i've been through...why the hell didn't you tell me i was running around like a bloody transmitting antennae? all the time i thought vulcans were avoiding me because i didn't have pointed ears.

there may be that aspect too

children didn't avoid me

children are not adults

children are not mentally mature enough to sense bonds, are they?

Pause, then...

you are correct

but adult vulcans sense them. they sensed you! they were avoiding me in an attempt to give me some privacy.

i concede the point, leonard

then why didn't you teach me how to shield?

humans cannot learn such techniques. i--

McCoy shut him out. So completely, like a hangar door slammed shut, and the Vulcan was gone. Mah'Lee, you're a better teacher than you know, McCoy thought with some satisfaction.

McCoy gave the Vulcan five minutes, then opened the veritable flood gates. But he was greeted with...nothing.


yes, leonard

don't you have anything to say?

you are a remarkable human

say anything, v'rhsal, but don't you dare patronize me!

leonard, i would never dishonour you in such a way

i don't know whether to believe you or not. you don't know what it feels like to be walking around like i have!

is that what you think?

Another wall opened and McCoy found a whole ocean of emotions. Some floated on the top of the water but the deepest ones had been driven far below the surface. And he saw what he hadn't understood before. Vulcans were like rowers in a boat on dangerous waters, spending their time looking down at themselves. Sometimes the water cleared and there was a glimpse but mostly the water was too deep to penetrate and too strong to learn how to swim. They spent their time trying to keep their boat on an even keel.

McCoy felt a strange awe.

v'rhsal...vulcans are as flesh and blood as humans

such are our secrets, leonard

McCoy turned off the lights and closed his eyes.

McCoy, halfway down the stairs to the underground, was hip-deep in plant life.

"Do you think it's finally finished growing?"

V'Rhsal's head popped up from somewhere far below. "Computer tracings read complete."

McCoy stared around. Brown and green plant tendrils formed a lush undergrowth that comprised three rooms, two hallways, and most of the stairwell. The roots branched into a thousand different paths and the stems looped upwards in a four foot mass.

"So this is a brain stem," McCoy whispered. The plant tissue nearest him contracted away from his words.

V'Rhsal scanned it. "Weight is seven hundred point eight five three kilograms. Length...immeasurable by my scanner."

He lowered his equipment and frankly stared around him. "Fascinating."

The neural field generator was complete. It was a sleek, beautiful instrument that V'Rhsal had laboured on far into the night. Now the tissue was ready as well.

"Any weak pockets of energy?" McCoy questioned.

"I have no way of knowing, Leonard."

McCoy sat on a step. "Are there gaps between 'dendrites'? If a nerve impulse starts at one place, are we going to be able to scan for synapse excitement along its path from 'neuron' to 'neuron'?"

"If the computer grew an exact replica, then, in theory, there should be synapses in here."

"I can't see any gaps. It looks like one long vine from end to end."

V'Rhsal waded towards the doctor. "I think the synapses are too small for our eyes to see."

McCoy frowned. "Then, if we start disrupting impulse paths, how are we going to know which ones they really are?"

The Vulcan managed to squeeze onto the step beside McCoy. "We will have to rely on the computer to follow the path of excitement."

McCoy gently touched a green tendril. It shivered at his touch but did not contract. "V'Rhsal, it's...humming. I don't know, there's some sort of vibration."

The Vulcan glanced over. "It believe it is talking to itself. You told me that the brain is never at 'rest'. There is always nervous activity."

"This thing spooks me."

V'Rhsal gave McCoy a sympathetic look but said nothing.

"I guess we're ready to do some serious work, fellow researcher," McCoy commented.

"Is that humour, Leonard? I have been...serious since we started."

"God, don't I know." McCoy tried to touch another tendril but it shied away from him. "If we can disrupt those paths which use 6-hydroseron, and if those paths are not major routes for any other neural transmitter, and if we can build 'bridges' around those specific pathways with the neural field generator, perhaps we can teach the brain to reroute its own neural impulses."

"Simple," V'Rhsal said.

"Now that's humour."

"Sarcasm, Leonard. I learned from you."

McCoy smiled quickly. "Can we disrupt impulses from outside the containment field you built in case of explosion?"


"Really?" McCoy studied V'Rhsal.

"Yes, Leonard. I figured out a way to do so last night."

"Is the containment field strong enough?"

"The use will be the test."

"How comforting."

V'Rhsal stood. "More sarcasm. Leonard, when we meet with my mother, I trust you will be more restrained."

"I thought you told me I wasn't supposed to say anything."

"The expressions on your face are words enough."

McCoy followed the Vulcan up the stairs. "V'Rhsal, why can't I speak directly to her? Why must I go through the meld with you?"

"Because you are an unbonded male and, since my father's death, she is an unbonded female. Old customs restrict private discourse between unbonded Vulcans who are not of the same family. My mother is...old-fashioned."

"I'm not Vulcan and, thanks to you, I'm not exactly unbonded." The last word fell flat. "She may sense that I'm bonded. God knows, every other Vulcan around me sensed it."

"Your shielding techniques have proved effective lately, especially with me. She may not sense the bonding. She does know, however, that we have linked minds. She has agreed to speak to you only if I, in fact, speak for you. She will allow you in the room with her, but that is all."

As they got into the flyer, McCoy said, "V'Rhsal, this isn't easy for you either, is it?"

The Vulcan did not look at McCoy, but it didn't matter if he did or not any more. McCoy could feel every mental nuance when they were physically so close to each other.

"My mother and I have not spoken since my father's death."

"I'm sorry to put you through this."

V'Rhsal lifted a disdainful eyebrow. "Do you or do you not wish access to those autopsy reports?"

"I don't believe the ends are always worth the means, that's all."

"Leonard, you have a right to those reports. Access denied simply because you are human is--"

"Oh, so you admit it! Finally!"

V'Rhsal turned to McCoy and found the human wearing a wide grin.

"V'Rhsal, I told you so. I told you so," McCoy said in a little sing-song voice.

"Leonard, perhaps you should practice being silent so that you will be in good form for my mother."

"Fine. I'll close my mouth. I'll just sit here and think."

T'Pall's chambers were absent of any personal items. Save a desk, a cabinet, and the carpet, her office was bare. T'Pall herself was a thin, black-haired woman with a stark profile.

"Leave us," she said to her secretary as McCoy and V'Rhsal entered the room.

The young male secretary nodded and shut the door behind him.

V'Rhsal kept his eyes down as he took a single step into the room. McCoy noticed that his mother did not greet him.

"May I speak with you, En'T'Pall?" V'Rhsal asked in a formal tone.

"Speak Kór V'Rhsal."

V'Rhsal raised his eyes. "Our request is known to you."

T'Pall studied McCoy coldly. Undaunted, he eyed her back, bracing his mental shields.

After her close scrutiny, she said, "I have already denied permission."

ask her why, McCoy told V'Rhsal.

V'Rhsal's mouth tightened but he said only, "We have come in person to ask you once more."

"By what logic do you feel your presence will alter my answer?"

"I considered that you might not know who this Healer is."

"Should I open private Vulcan family concerns to human inspection?"

"This physician is respected not only on his world but on ours. He wishes such information as he needs for his work here. He understands our code of silence."

"I do not know him."

tell her T'Pau will give me a reference

At the thought, V'Rhsal glanced quickly at McCoy but said, "En'T'Pall does not have the acquaintance of Ambassador Sarek, yet his character is well known on Vulcan."

T'Pall was quiet for a long moment. Finally, she said, "Kór V'Rhsal, is your request on behalf of this human based solely on logic or do this human's thoughts pervade your mind?"

V'Rhsal ignored the question. "His request is logical. Your denial is not."

v'rhsal, don't offend your mother, huh?


don't tell her she's being illogical, please

V'Rhsal's mouth twitched slightly, as if he was going to smile.

tell her that i wish to see ten copies of autopsy reports. tell her that all references to family, age and gender can be removed before I see them. tell her that i wish to see them for two hours, after which time i will return them, uncopied and in full, to hospital records.

V'Rhsal glanced at McCoy with a quick hint of surprise, then relayed the request out loud to T'Pall.

T'Pall weighed the request for some time before saying, "Under such conditions, I will approve the request. The doctor must wait until all reports have been modified for him."

tell her thanks

not in my lifetime, leonard

"May we take our leave of you, En'T'Pall?"

She nodded and the secretary appeared to open the door.

Before either of them took a step, however, she asked, "Kór V'Rhsal, thee are linked with a human, but are thee still Vulcan?"

McCoy felt a twinge of anger from V'Rhsal. Outwardly, there was no sign of it.

"Have I given consent to be so questioned, En'T'Pall?"

T'Pall's eyes grew colder, but she said nothing more as they left.

The neural field generator murmured softly within the confines of an anti-gravity field. It was a very small device. McCoy had glanced at it askance when V'Rhsal had first shown it to him. The Kelvans' projectors had been small enough to affix on their belts, but the range of voluntary nerves they affected had been limited as well. V'Rhsal's generator weighed forty grams and was the size of a small plum, yet he planned to affect over seven hundred kilograms of plant fibre with it. And he claimed it would affect the rats' nervous systems without injuring them.

The generator droned but McCoy found himself holding his breath as he sat in the kitchen upstairs, outside the containment field, watching the output on computer monitor.

"Are you ready, Leonard?"

"I suppose," he said. "I hope Dale's law holds up."

V'Rhsal looked up from the computer terminal. "Who is Dale?"

"He was a human, twentieth-century psychologist. He said that each nerve uses and reacts to one chemical transmitter only. Science has never documented an exception to his law. Hopefully, when we disrupt 6-hydroseron pathways, we won't be affecting any other neurotransmitters."

"It is illogical to hope, Leonard. We must proceed as if we will be disrupting only 6-hydroseron. If new evidence is introduced, we will consider the results of it at that time."

"V'Rhsal, need I remind you that you wanted me here because I am illogical?"

McCoy eyed the monitor. "I'm going to note the readings we're picking up now as the resting state of our brain stem. When you start disrupting, I want you to affect only the first motor neuron pathway in to our plant cerebellum, and do it quickly."

"Generator set for a ten millisecond disruption," V'Rhsal said.

McCoy took a deep breath. ""

The readings barely changed.

"Playback," V'Rhsal stated, but even at reduced speed, there was no real change.

"Go in a little deeper this time," McCoy said, "but stay at ten milliseconds disruption."

Nothing changed much again.

The Vulcan looked over at McCoy. "Leonard, if I am judging these figures correctly, I am exciting the pathway, rather than oppressing it."

"That's right, V'Rhsal."

"Leonard, isn't exciting the 6-hydroseron's route the reverse of what we wish to do?"

"V'Rhsal, nerves react to hundreds of synaptic messages at any time. Some excite, some inhibit. We are exciting the pathway, but we are doing so by hyperpolarizing, meaning we're exposing the nerve to more inhibitatory stimulation than normal. This raises the threshold of the neuron's action potential, so that it will take quite a few more excitatory impulses before 6-hydroseron is released into the synaptic cleft."

"Leonard, I do not understand. Khlabar progresses by limiting the amount of 6-hydroseron in the synapses. Now, we are doing the same."

"You're right."

At the Vulcan's look, McCoy smiled. "Trust me, V'Rhsal. When 6-hydroseron gets into the synapse, how do you think it gets out again?"

"You said that an enzyme broke it down."

"Exactly. By inhibiting the path that uses 6-hydroseron, we're also inhibiting the enzyme's activity. I've set the scanners to measure that particular enzyme level, not the level of the neuro-transmitter. It sounds odd, but we haven't been able to precisely measure the activity of 6-hydroseron because it is always somewhat active. By eliminating 6-hydroseron in the synapse, I should, in theory, be able to trace the pathway by following a complete absence of the enzyme in places where it was before." McCoy tapped the computer monitor. "After the generator has hyperpolarized, we will reverse it and polarize. That lowers the resting potential of the nerve and it will 'fire' more easily. When that happens, the enzyme level should increase and I'll have a check to the route I'm trying to trace now."

V'Rhsal was quiet for a moment, then he said, "Logical."

"Logical...and tedious," McCoy said. "That's a helluva rambling vine we've got down there. We're going to be doing this particular activity for a long, long time. And this is only the first step."

"Vulcans do not recognize tedium."

"Humans do." McCoy yawned and reset his scanner. "Ready for the next ten milliseconds."

Two weeks later, McCoy decided that the chair was going to become a permanent fixture on his back end, that there was nothing more God-awful on this planet than their tea, and that he was glad they'd done tracings on the cerebellum and nothing else. The path they'd finally managed to track had looped around the plant's cerebellar 'cortex', wiggled deep into the 'folds', and branched out, finally, to where McCoy assumed the thalamus would have been had the plant tissue been allowed to progress. Fortunately, they hadn't breached any pockets of energy but they had filled seven tapes with their findings and McCoy had scribbled nearly a hundred pages of notes on top of that.

Run on computer simulation, the neuro-transmitter's route materialized as a long red line that danced around the medulla and spiralled gracefully into several areas of the plant cerebellum before suddenly sprinting into the end of a root. Blue circles indicated the pockets of energy they'd found, which McCoy had named `Snarks'. There were probably hundred of Snarks they hadn't found. And, of course, many Snarks would be Boojums, weak pockets, which could explode upon breakage.

"Incredible!" McCoy whispered, awe-stricken, as he looked at the red path winding on the computer screen. "Fourteen days, twenty hours a day, to follow this path. Two hundred and eighty hours for us to trail it. And look..." He touched his finger to his nose several times. "The impulse just ran the path three times in two seconds."

V'Rhsal nodded wearily. In a flat tone, he said, "Yes, it is incredible, Leonard. Now, can you figure out a way to bridge it?"

"Typical engineer. Wanting to build bridges before knowing what the foundation's like." McCoy scowled. "Can't you just sit here for a moment and consider the impact of what we've done? We've followed a nerve impulse! We've gone end to end with it! My Good Lord, how wondrous!"

V'Rhsal tried to stifle a yawn and failed.

"Tired?" McCoy asked with a grin.

"Leonard, can you bridge this pathway?"

McCoy shrugged. "It's not just one pathway, V'Rhsal. It's many pathways. Path A is a ballistic movement impulse. Path B is a pursuit movement. Path C..."


"It's too damn complex to bridge. It would take years just to work out all the connections. I've thought of a better way." McCoy sat down by the Vulcan. "With the neural field generator, we could take any flicker of an impulse in 6-hydroseron's path and jump it onto another's transmitter's tracks, sort of like the way a train switches at points. Instead of trying to 'bridge' around the problem areas, I think it would be easier to set up points where 6-hydroseron impulses would switch to another pathway. It would still be rather complex work, but less so than our original plan. The simpler we have this, the less mistakes we'll make."

V'Rhsal nodded. "That is prudent."

McCoy stretched. "I need a break."

"I could make a pot of tea."

"No, I mean a real break. I have to get out of this kitchen."

The Vulcan eyed the doctor for a few moments, then said, "I understand you. I wonder, Doctor, during all your visits to this planet, that you never visited any of our national reserves."

"I usually kept to the tourist areas."

"If you desire, I could accompany you to one of these areas. I believe the change would refresh our minds."

"Do Vulcans take leisure for leisure's sake?"


"I don't want to talk about work. I need to step back from it."

V'Rhsal raised an eyebrow but said only, "I can abide by your condition. We will leave in the morning."

La'Val was a protected strip of land that, to McCoy's first look, seemed to be just more desert and sand. V'Rhsal had packed backpacks of the barest items needed for survival - rations, two sleeping bags, some cooking utensils and, oddly, a small penknife. McCoy had judiciously added a medkit, more clothing, and things he would rather eat.

During their first day's hike, they'd trudged up and down sand dunes, stopping frequently in the shade of various red stone cliffs that rose sheer out of nowhere and ended just as abruptly. V'Rhsal said little. Even their link was stretched out fine, which gave McCoy an easy breath. He needed some privacy after the last two weeks.

That night, V'Rhsal cooked a bland, all-vegetable meal, which McCoy ate because he was too weary to bother with anything else. It wasn't until the second day that McCoy realized why V'Rhsal had picked this park. They came upon a stretch of sand so silky and white that McCoy felt as though he were walking on warm powder. He took off his shoes and followed the sand around a ridge of high, black rocks. There he found the shore of a pale blue lake.

"How beautiful," McCoy said, shading his eyes as he looked over the water.

"This is Alzik," V'Rhsal said. "Bodies of water comprise less than twenty percent of this planet's surface. Alzik is one of the smaller lakes and takes in from the larger lake Forr. Forr has abundant fish and wildlife. It was logical that early Vulcans first set up their cities there, and not downstream here. This shore has remained almost untouched in our civilized history."

"Do Vulcans eat fish?"

V'Rhsal almost looked shocked. "Not any more, Leonard. I said early Vulcans."

Large tufts of blue-green grass grew near the water. To his bare feet, they felt like wet wool. His toes felt like they were under a quilt, the water was so warm. Putting the cliffs at his back, McCoy looked around him. The sand arched in a curve around the inlet. Farther across the water, McCoy could see the tops of black rocks. And there was not a soul around but themselves.

"Can I go in?" McCoy asked as he turned back to V'Rhsal, but the Vulcan had already stripped off his clothing and was wading into the water.

McCoy hesitated, then did the same and splashed in. Despite being so warm, the water was invigorating. He walked in until the water was at his waist, then dove in and swam until he found a reef near the mouth of the inlet. Small, black fish darted around his legs and blue plants gently stroked his skin in the currents of the water.

V'Rhsal was near the shoreline, moving awkwardly in the water. McCoy frowned at the sight, until he remembered seeing Spock doing the same thing. Though Spock had learned to swim, he was not generally graceful in water. Vulcans were not swimmers.

McCoy pushed off the reef and floated lazily, letting the current drift him towards the sand.

are you all right? he asked through the link

of course, leonard

why don't you come out for a swim

thank you but i am fine where i am

it might help you to know that, when your lungs are filled with air, it's very hard to sink

McCoy was not graced with a response to that one. As he drifted nearer to the Vulcan, he realized that V'Rhal was keeping his back to him.

v'rhsal, did i offend you with that remark? i didn't mean to

i am not offended, leonard, but you are unclothed. i thought you would wish me to avert my eyes. you remember, we discussed this

McCoy waded onto the sand and pulled on his pants. Oddly, he didn't seem to care what the Vulcan saw of him now. They'd spent two weeks sweating beside each other in that hot kitchen and frankly, he'd thrown modesty out the door. The physical closeness had resulted in a relentless mental closeness. V'Rhsal had access to all the most intimate places of his mind and he'd been privy to a few things rather confidential to the Vulcan. Not that they'd gone poking, but memories had come up, such as those unsummoned dreams of his childhood home. It was odd that he should be thinking about that. He hadn't thought about his mother for years. She'd died soon after that winter, and her face was a foggy, childish memory in his mind.

McCoy put his back against the clammy cliff. The Vulcan had waded around the point of the inlet and was out of sight. Except for the breezes, there was not a sound.

"Wonderful..." McCoy murmured to himself and closed his eyes. It was some time later that he felt a tug in his mind.


uh huh

i have found a suitable location to set up camp. would you transport our backpacks?

McCoy didn't feel like moving.  what's wrong with where i am now?

i have found a place sheltered from the shoreline

sheltered from the where?

the water, leonard

i kind of like the water

i do not mind water myself but i would not wish to sleep beside it

why not? it's cool and pleasant here

There was a long silence.

perhaps, leonard, we should set up separate camps tonight

suits me just fine. i ain't-a movin'. ya'll just come and get yer own stuff

It took V'Rhsal over an hour to return. McCoy opened one eye and asked sardonically, "Just how far inland do you feel you have to be?"

The Vulcan frowned at the lake. "It is not wise to sleep here."

"Why? Is it dangerous?"

"There are no predators, Leonard, but the air is damp."

"It's a relief to be away from all that hot, dry atmosphere you call air back in the city."

"As you wish." The Vulcan collected his backpack and departed. He also tuned down the link, leaving the doctor to wallow in aloneness.

McCoy started a fire when the sun dimmed and Vulcan's two red moons rose over the water. He caught some kind of a fish, hoping that he wasn't breaking one of the reserve's rules by doing so, and scanned it with his tricorder. It was all right for eating but it tasted bland, as if even the fish on the planet felt they had to be boring.

Snuggled in his sleeping bag, he looked up at the moons. They looked so close it seemed they would crash into the planet any second. If it hadn't been for them, McCoy could almost imagine himself back on earth. The smell of the water in the air and the sounds of the breezes blowing through the grass reminded him of the Savannah River. The long summer days with his fishing pole and the heat-drunk black flies that he used to catch to bait his hook. Those were the blessed early days of his life, before the responsibilities of college and before those first stirrings towards girls. Those long days of lazing at river's edge, with the wet mud between his toes. The dragonflies were always a vivid blue and waterbeetles used to skim around his line. If he stayed late he could catch glimpses of couples sneaking down to neck in the tall grass. And if he stayed any later than that, he would catch the hickory switch from his father when he tried to sneak home. It was the smell of the water that was so appealing, and the rush of it around his legs. He would hop on the rocks, slippery and green from algae, until he found the best spot for fly-fishing. He never failed to bring in a granddaddy bass. The smaller ones he always threw back (they were no sport) but the bigger ones he'd take home and his stepmother would clean them and cook them up. She never seemed to mind doing that, though it was a job he hated. He hated getting his hands dirty, even then.

McCoy rolled over on his stomach and looked out over the moons' reflection. The waves beat the shore, then retreated, as if stirred up by the night. They were white-crested now, foaming as they rushed to the sand. He could not see the curve of the inlet in the dark. The absolute isolation that he'd wished for was far deeper than he'd imagined.

He delicately grazed a strand of the link and touched so suddenly the Vulcan's presence that McCoy felt a strange, joyful comfort at it. Forcing it down, he turned over and closed his eyes, but the strand still quivered from the touch.


leonard, are you all right?

McCoy smiled in the darkness.

go to sleep. i was just checking on you.

The morning was bright and hot. McCoy burrowed into his sleeping bag, to escape the sun, until the heat forced him out. He checked his chronometer and found it made no sense as he still had it set to ship's time. Glancing at the sun was no help either as he was sure Vulcan days were perpetual noons.

The little black fish bumped his legs as he swam to the reef. He could almost hear his father's warning - Never swim alone, son -and he smiled at it. He wasn't alone. Such an odd feeling, after all these years. The link hummed quietly on low. There the Vulcan was, awake, though what he was doing McCoy couldn't tell. Doing whatever Vulcans do in the middle of a desert, the doctor supposed.

He went under the water. The plants were such a vivid blue-green they hurt his eyes. The sun burned on his exposed back. Scuttling back to the shade of the red cliff, McCoy packed up his things. Then, donning a visor, he picked up V'Rhsal's trail, reluctantly leaving the water behind.

The Vulcan had camped, indeed, very far away from the water, in a crevice in a sheer, black-rocked cliff that rose out of nowhere like all the others. McCoy wondered if Vulcan had suffered, or perhaps still did suffer, from violent earthquakes that upthrust the rocks so jarringly.

V'Rhsal acknowledged McCoy's presence without looking up, something the doctor had seen Spock do many times (though he'd never figured out how they did it.)

mind if i accompany you, v'rhsal?

as you wish, leonard

They trudged through the hot sand until late evening when they came to a set of tall, lopsided rocks that looked as if they'd been placed there rather than discharged from the ground. They formed a rough semi-circle, their long shadows thrown out in the dying sun. Within their bounds was a large, round rock, swept smooth by the sands. It was the ghastliest hue of blackish-green McCoy had ever seen.

what's this place, v'rhsal?

éhes vegil, the road of the ending, the place where vulcans come to remember and give sacrifice

McCoy felt a sudden sweep of dèjá vu. How many times had he heard the same tone from Spock?

thank heavens i have a medkit

V'Rhsal regarded the doctor curiously.

what kind of a sacrifice are we talking about here, v'rhsal? sheep? goats?

are those animals, leonard?

The Vulcan sounded revolted.

v'rhsal, pretend i know nothing about vulcan customs.

i don't have to pretend, leonard.

are you planning on doing something special here? explain this to me or i'm

liable to get in your way.

this is the place where the seventh march of surak ended, the place of our last execution for war's sake

and who was killed?


*the* surak?

V'Rhsal stood a few paces from the rock.

the road of the ending....where our chosen-sent bled to death.

who killed him?

the woman who loved him, the woman he renounced when he cast off those passions that almost destroyed all life on this planet.

The Vulcan bowed his head.

vulcan regards death as a hunter, its victim as the hunted, and the coming together as a dance between the two. so it was that she hunted and he was the hunted, and they danced the death-dance around these rocks until they came to this spot. he drew off his cloak and laid down on this rock and waited for her.

McCoy's eyes widened.

he just lay down and let her kill him?!

V'Rhsal regarded McCoy gently.

old vulcan tradition demanded it so. he had cast her off without cause. as much as she loved him, she could not return to her family without retribution for her dishonour. she had the right to take from him that which he had taken from her, which was his love and his seed. with his own family's blade, and with her hunter's screams echoing through these rocks, she carved his heart from his chest and severed his penis from his groin. leaving him to die, she took this items back to her family, and thus entered her father's house unshamed.

McCoy clapped a hand to his mouth.

leonard, you look green

of course I look green. what a lovely woman. is this a tradition that can still be invoked?

no, leonard. while it is not a common occurrence, divorce is legal on this planet, with no loss of life or...appendage.

McCoy eyed the greenish rock.

what exactly do vulcans sacrifice here now, and don't tell me if it's something

i don't want to know

V'Rhsal didn't answer. Moving closer to the rock, he unhooked his backpack and laid it on the ground. He withdrew the penknife and, rolling up his sleeve, laid the blade against the inside of his elbow. Aghast, McCoy watched the Vulcan slowly push the blade of the knife deep in his arm until only the handle remained. Blood welled up around the wound. V'Rhsal closed his eyes, his face impassive, then withdrew the knife.

Bright green streamed down his arm. McCoy closed his eyes, but could not close his ears to the sharp hissing of blood striking the sun-blasted surface of the rock.

After a few moments, McCoy cautiously opened his eyes. The Vulcan still stood in the same position, bleeding onto the ground.

damn vulcans...damn rituals every damned place you go...i'll never figure this planet out!

V'Rhsal glanced at McCoy with deep, black eyes.

leonard, the death of surak is something vulcans hold inviolable. i bleed with him.

i just don't understand the violence behind these things. even your weddings are potentially fatal.

McCoy checked the Vulcan's arm.

v'rhsal, you've damaged a nerve, are you sure you did this right?

if i bleed, leonard, then i have done it correctly.

still don't see the damn point of it all

blood carries all the things we fear.

fear is an emotion.

you are correct.

The Vulcan sounded amused. McCoy poured antiseptic into the wound and started bandaging it.

you just admitted that you did this because you feared to. i thought vulcans were supposed to master their emotions, not indulge them.

i have admitted to the obvious only. what is family but blood kinship? what is plak tow but blood lust? in your human culture, are there not legends of those who healed by letting blood, those who preyed by drinking blood, those who travelled to witness the blood sports? what did you inject in the rats to make them ill but tainted blood?

you have been reading up, haven't you? i'm not denying that humans are bloodthirsty, but so, apparently, are Vulcans.

bloodthirsty...what a strange word. i relinquished some of my blood in order to honour surak and what he was, not because i enjoyed it.

i wonder sometimes.

McCoy packed his medkit and straightened his back.

i guess we'd better find ourselves a place to camp.

i must remain here and keep vigil.

vigil over what?

i am honoured to complete the ritual.

V'Rhsal sat, crosslegged on the sand, back straight, and closed his eyes as if in meditation.

"Oh Good Lord," McCoy grumbled out loud. "V'Rhsal, before you drift away on me, where can I sleep that isn't full of predators?"

He was not given an answer.

He stamped to the edge of the rock circle. "Well, if I get eaten, I can tell you, it will end our research together pretty damn quick!"

He set up a sonic screen to ward off any animals and opened some of his rations. The Vulcan remained motionless by the bloodied rock, unacknowledging of any of the doctor's actions. As the night descended and the moons drew close to the planet, McCoy huddled in his sleeping bag. The desert grew alarmingly cold after the sun had set and it both annoyed and worried him that this stupid Vulcan who wouldn't risk getting some sea spray in his lungs would sit on the cold sand all night contemplating some rock. Just as he started to get a handle on this planet, it never failed but the sheer alieness of it came back to him again.

He rolled on his back and looked up at the stars. He wondered vaguely about Jim, still stuck on that training voyage. Funny how those milk runs turned out. The first one he'd ever done during his initiation into Starfleet had been on a science vessel. The CMO was a small, harsh woman who ran her sickbay like an army training station. What was her name now? Cowling? Rowling? Carolyn something or other. An excellent doctor though. He learned far more from her than from any of his professors at medschool. She didn't give an iota about the doctors around her but she would listen quietly to any complaint by any patient at any time. He was newly separated from his wife, and still reeling, and she had absolutely no patience for it. Told him to get himself together and take care of the injured, no excuses. Turned out to be the best thing for him, though, at the time, he found her lack of consideration rather heartless. She'd taught him how to bury himself in work, how to hide the pain, but, unfortunately, not how to make it stop hurting.

Then there was the other CMO, Fergus, a hearty, big man. Casual and friendly. Always smiling. And his daughter, Rachel, small and dark with the softest, longest hair. He could still remember the feel of it on the pillow beside him, waking up with the touch of it on his cheek. Laughing, kneeling over him, her hair hanging down like a curtain to the bed. That weekend on Ceres Six, in the little prefab cabin, with the smell of damp wood and that little heater in bed with them. What happened to her? So many people come and go, losing track doctor, and when was the last time it wasn't you who left? Not since Jacqueline and the sight of little Joanna, hugging a huge suitcase. Bye, daddy. See you soon, daddy. So many echoes of her little voice in his mind, so few actual memories. He'd leave for the hospital before she awoke, come home after her bedtime. For the longest time, his only image of his daughter was the sight of her in her crib, always near the head of it. He would pull her down to the middle, thinking it couldn't be good for her to push her head against the board like that. After his coffee, he'd check once more and there she'd be, at the top of the crib, inched up somehow even at only a few weeks old. Then she was gone and he felt cheated somehow. This little life I helped create and I never knew her. He cheated himself at first, then her mother took her away and it was just the occasional hologram and the childish voice on tape. Got a swimming medal today, daddy. Did she really know who she was talking to?

And that little Vulcan girl at the hospital, her hair so dark that she seemed like Joanna of years back except for the ears. He'd stopped just at the look of her. Tell me the rest of the story, dokkar. Wasn't that a universal request. After all these years, though, he couldn't remember what the hell he'd really told Joanna. Winnie the Pooh, wasn't it? At least that's what he remembered. Of course, Vulcan children didn't have a clue why a stuffed bear would go looking for honey anyway. Funny how he'd sat down with them. He didn't often come across children, not like those on the shore, dancing...something about living with witches. He felt his mind drifting. Asleep, doctor, or awake? The house on the hill, so many rooms, no children to fill them, we never liked going in your house, lenny, there's ghosts, don't cha know? Just trying to scare him, like the dare, chicken, go out on the rope. Fire and ice. They'd had a fire, melted the ice thin. That's why his father took the tire swing down after he swung out and crashed through the ice, went under the water and gulped in until his lungs felt like they had burst. Woke up in a hospital room to see his mother crying beside the bed.

McCoy bolted up, the sweat running down his face, and looked around. V'Rhsal was still sitting ramrod straight, but had turned his head and was regarding McCoy curiously.

leonard, you were dreaming. are you all right now?

was i asleep?

McCoy drew a ragged breath.

you were asleep. you dreamed of nearly drowning in cold water.

why is this going on? i never had so many nightmares.

it is not usual for humans to dream so much? perhaps our link...?

sorry, v'rhsal. i didn't mean to interrupt you.

do not apologize, leonard. do you wish to break the link?

i'm not afraid of the dreams. it's just...

McCoy trailed off.

yes, leonard?

besides, v'rhsal, you said we needed to be linked. perhaps if we toned it down to just a link.

i do not understand.

you said we were bonded. that's deeper than a link, right?

it can be deeper at times.

ok, then, let's tune this down a bit.

leonard, we are `tuned down'. we joined our minds at a deeper level but we did not stay there.

i'm kind of fuzzy about the difference with all these levels, v'rhsal.

leonard, please rest assured that we are simply linked now. should we wish to go deeper, the bonding would allow us to do so. that is the difference.

are you sure we're not going deeper accidentally?

McCoy felt V'Rhsal mentally twitch.

leonard, to feel the full extent of the bonding would require a sexual act between us.

McCoy lay down with his back to the Vulcan.

v'rhsal, please accept my apology. i don't mean to drag you through all my nightmares.

leonard, you have your medkit. perhaps if you gave yourself something to calm your mind, you could sleep.

i don't dose myself. goodnight, v'rhsal.

He lay for some time, listening to the night sounds and looking at the moons.

The Vulcan was hushed, only his breathing giving any indication that he was still there. It was some time later that McCoy heard V'Rhsal rise slowly and come over to where he lay.
leonard, though you are not sleeping, at least you are not dreaming either. that is some rest.

v'rhsal, don't worry about me. i'm ok.

i do not worry. worry is illogical.

so is gouging your arm with an unsterilized knife.

you are a stubborn man.

when i tried to worry about you, you got riled.

leonard, you have been...gentle to me, though i think you would deny it. however, allow me to return the same to you.

McCoy stiffened, not knowing what to expect. The Vulcan paused at this, and then lay down. He moved slowly until he was touching McCoy; then he pulled the doctor against the expanse of his chest. McCoy suddenly heard Spock's voice, telling him that Vulcans don't like to be touched. But the feverish warmth of the Vulcans higher body temperature warmed him through his shirt, and nothing terrible happened, so he slowly relaxed.

leonard, when i first linked with you, i was...astounded to find you had lived so much of your life alone. vulcans do not believe that aloneness is necessarily good, though there are times when it is warranted. most vulcans prefer not to be in solitude, and, even when there is physical distance between, our mental bond with our mates keeps such solitude from us.

v'rhsal, don't psychoanalayze me. i haven't had an unhappy time of it.

i am not commenting on happiness or unhappiness. i have no familiarity with such concepts. i will admit that i have never experienced intimacy of such nature before as i have experienced with you. i now realize that i, too, have spent much of my life alone.

He hesitated again, but the doctor said nothing.

leonard, it is not good to always sleep alone.

McCoy glanced across the desert, the feel of the Vulcan very strong against him.

my bed isn't always empty, v'rhsal.

i was not referring to procreative actions. i was referring to sleep.

i know what you were referring to, smart ass.

forgive me, leonard.

McCoy closed his eyes, his mind lulling in gentle undulations. He felt the tide of sleep at the fringes of his consciousness. Felt, too, the Vulcan's hard nature calmed and quiet.

v'rhsal, can i ask you something? you don't have to answer.


why does your wife never contact you, at least send you a message?

because she is no longer my wife. i am no longer her husband. we dissolved the link.

she'll return in four years, right?

it was our families' wish that she and i be joined. she will not leave me to die. she would be outcast. why do you ask?

no reason. sleep well, v'rhsal.

McCoy woke to the feel of hot sand on his face. He had slept a deep, dreamless sleep, and it took him a moment to realize where he was.

"Right...still in the desert...." he muttered, rubbing his eyes. He tried to turn over but found himself pinned between a rock and a heavy weight. He craned his neck, then remembered.

V'Rhsal lay sleeping alongside him, dark and warm.

"...this sure is bizarre..."

As he shifted onto his side, cold granite scraped his behind. Wincing, he peered into the sleeping bag.

"Didn't I wear pants?"

"Pardon, Leonard?"

V'Rhsal was awake and eyeing him curiously.

"Could you move a bit? I can't breathe."

The Vulcan shifted back. "Is this adequate?"

"I don't remember being this close to the rock when I fell asleep. Look. In the sand. A big hollow where you started out!" The doctor pointed at indentations beyond where the Vulcan lay. "I've been crushed up against this stupid rock, my sleeping bag's full of grit, and I've lost my pants." McCoy poked around in the bottom of the sleeping bag.

but did you sleep well, leonard? V'Rhsal asked through the link.

McCoy scowled.

yes, thanks.

are you ready to return to the house?

sounds good to me.

They returned to the park entrance and took a flyer back to V'Rhsal's home. As the Vulcan was landing the aircraft, McCoy squinted down in the yard at a black object.

"What the hell is that?"

They got out of the flyer. McCoy's stomach fell. "Oh my God..."

Pieces of the kitchen wall lay strewn over the terrace. The door, which had been gently swinging at their approach, fell on the porch. A huge, black-edged hole was all that was left of the kitchen floor. Dust floating in sunbeams could not penetrate the gloom.

"Be careful," V'Rhsal said as he retrieved a portable light from the flyer.

McCoy walked around the edge of the hole but it was black and impenetrable. The Vulcan returned and shone a light beam down. "I see the stairs, the table..." he said quietly.

"There is the cooling unit."

McCoy peered down carefully. "We left the containment field on, didn't we?"

"I do not see anything of our plant but there is a lot of rubble. It must be underneath." He flashed the light around. "There is your computer...smashed."

McCoy sat down and rubbed his forehead. "My God...this kitchen...all our work."

"Hold the light, Leonard."

The Vulcan lowered himself over the edge then dropped down. For a long moment, there was silence.


i believe the stairs are intact

McCoy heard a shuffling of debris, a few quick steps, and then the Vulcan came through the basement doorway. He threw some tapes into McCoy's lap.

these seem all right. the cooling unit appears to have soft-landed, however, i do not believe the computer terminal is repairable.

v'rhsal, we left the containment field on!

McCoy's only answer was an stoical look.

They spent the rest of the day clearing debris. McCoy, in the basement, cleared out the main items. V'Rhsal adjusted the cooling unit and straightened the chair legs but was forced to disassemble the computer terminal. They piled the plastic of the floor in the back yard and McCoy was sweeping plaster when he suddenly stilled and glanced around.

v'rhsal, the plant's not here.

perhaps the explosion rendered it completely

but the last time we found pieces of it. i've found plastic, plaster, and some of that black moulding, but no plant tissue at all.

The Vulcan dropped into the hole and adjusted the portable lights.

wait, v'rhsal, the power's still on.

McCoy turned on the overhead lights.

odd, leonard.

odd indeed. these walls are intact. no explosion burns, no damage, no marks at all except those old ones from the first explosion. look.

McCoy indicated the clear basement walls.

and, v'rhsal, no plant tissue debris. none. it's simply not here.

The Vulcan glanced around the floors, then headed into the next room.


McCoy put down the broom and followed the Vulcan into the locker room. His shoes slid on the floor.

it's wet in here.

They followed the sticky trail through the underground labyrinth. In the last room with the long windows was the plant, stretched over the chairs and tables.

It cringed at their intrusion, it's tendrils rippling as it huddled in on itself.

McCoy scanned it quickly.

it's intact.

it must have come in here by itself.

v'rhsal, plants don't move!

this is plant tissue. it is not a plant-form in the usual sense.

it can't move! how the hell could it move?

V'Rhsal took a step towards it. Immediately a long vine shot out to the window. The plant contracted and the tendrils nearest the Vulcan slid slowly away. McCoy gulped.

that is how, leonard.

V'Rhsal turned to McCoy and raised an eyebrow.

close your mouth, leonard. i am going to take another step towards it.

V'Rhsal neared it again and the plant repeated the process, sending out a feeling vine and contracting in on it.

quite a slow process but it is free-movement. it reacted to my presence. i wonder, if we left the room would it return to it's former position?

It didn't. It didn't seem to care where they were as long as they didn't go near it.

simple reaction. non-directional. it moved away from a stimulus, leonard. i wonder, what was the stimulus that made it come in here at all?

i suppose, whatever happened in the kitchen caused it to move away.

this does not compute, leonard.

damned right it doesn't. that plant is intact! my scanner reads the same mass from it now as before. whatever exploded in the kitchen had nothing to do with this plant.

so...the containment field did not fail.

i guess it didn't, as it was supposed to contain any breaches of weak energy pockets from this thing, and this thing apparently didn't do anything but go on a hike. which brings us back to our first question. v'rhsal, what the hell happened in your kitchen?

The two men exchanged looks before returning to the scene of the damage.

v'rhsal, there's another thing that's odd.

McCoy picked up a piece of moulding.

it looks like it melted a bit. the plastic pieces look the same way. whatever happened upstairs released a lot of heat. if i was still on the enterprise and saw something like this, i'd think that someone took a phaser to the floor.

a phaser?

it's a weapon.

i know that, leonard, but we are not on board your ship. we are in a city suburb on vulcan.

that's what it looks like to me. if someone came in the kitchen door and saw the terminal and tapes and stuff, they wouldn't presume to look any further. who would think of a plant in the basement as being anything connected with what we left upstairs?

leonard, you are suggesting that someone committed a deliberate, irrational act of violence.

well, do you see anything else damaged except for what was left upstairs in the kitchen?

The Vulcan walked through the labs and McCoy trailed after him. At length, V'Rhsal stopped and picked up the neural field generator, which had been sitting in the midst of all his prototypes.

this is still here. if someone wished to destroy our work, surely they would have damaged this as well.

v'rhsal, it's a prototype too. it's sitting here in the middle of all your other inventions. it doesn't stick out at all. who else but us knows that it had anything to do with our research?

this is most disquieting. i find it...difficult to accept your theory.

i know. i'm suggesting that someone blasted in your back door, took a phaser to your kitchen table, then left. it is ludicrous. it's just...that's what it looks like to me.

McCoy took the tapes out of his pocket.

i wonder if these are ok.

V'Rhsal took a tape and inserted it in a terminal. After a moment, he nodded.

it appears fine. we still have our tracings. surely, if someone wished to destroy our work, they would have immolated these tapes as well.

when the tapes went crashing through the floor with my computer, that may have seemed sufficient. if someone did this, chances are they wanted to be quick about it. they wouldn't know that we had gone to that reserve. we never told anyone we were going. and, with my flyer in the yard, it does look like someone's home. to phaser the back door and table would take say fifteen to twenty seconds. in and out, real fast.

The Vulcan shook his head.

it is too illogical, leonard. who would have a motive? very few know what we are doing except that it is general research into khlabar. i told no one except those at the academy who arranged our funding.

McCoy shrugged.

i told kirk and spock.

and soltar?

no, i didn't figure it was any of his business. anyway, he only seems interested in human culture.

there is no motive. we pose no apparent threat to anyone. further, leonard, i have an alarm system and scanning equipment. the alarm was not triggered, which it would have been had anyone entered the yard.

well then, we're back to square one.

The Vulcan's jaw tightened as he started back to the stairs.

McCoy rubbed his eyes, and then noticed the room was dark.

"Good Lord...what time is it?"

He turned on a lamp before shutting off the computer screen. The chronometer was still meaningless to him though he had celebrated his fourth month anniversary on Vulcan today. He found himself relying on his body's internal clock to nudge him to eat and sleep. Of course, how much of that nudging came from him and how much came through the link, was uncertain.

How strange it all was. Four months now, two months since the trip to La'Val. The kitchen floor was fixed and the computer equipment replaced and, now, secured. They'd been successful in using the neural field generator to jump tracks at points in the plant `cerebellum'. McCoy had switched 6-hydroseron's route through nearly every other transmitter's route and had found fewer points to actually switch than he'd first expected. In theory, he was changing the direction of the stimulus, affecting nerves that might not necessarily be excited...or inhibited, then jumping the impulse back onto the 6-hydroseron path just before the end of the circuit. It seemed to work in the plant well enough but the plant was far bigger than usual brain tissue. It was easier to follow the path of the nerve impulse, easier to slow it down, to guide it. In a rat, the pathway was infinitesimal. His only clue that he'd achieved a correct 'switching at points' would be the result. If he correctly jumped at all the points, if he applied a proper knee-jerk impulse to the tiny rodent, if the knee reflexed properly, only then he could only assume that he may possibly, somehow, have done the thing correctly. If...if...if...

McCoy stood and stretched. There'd been one blessing at least. No more explosions. The only pockets of energy they'd encountered had been Snarks. Even though V'Rhsal hadn't understood the Snarks and Boojums reference, he, too, had been referring to them as Snarks, and had breathed much easier in the last little while when it was only Snarks they'd found.

He went upstairs to his bedroom, stepping through the plant. It still spooked him. It was worse at times such as these, when the Vulcan was out and he was the only one in the house. But he was determined to brazen it out. In the past week, he was sure he'd noticed a change in the plant's reaction to him, a kind of acceptance even when he was close to it. It moved away less often, though it still had that tendency. As long as it didn't approach him, he figured he could live with it.

A tape lay on the dresser in his bedroom.

Mail must have come in, he thought, and popped it into the terminal. There was a lot of static, as if the message had been recorded over a magnetic field. Suddenly it cleared, and the image of James Kirk filled the screen.

"Bones, I got your tape. Sorry I haven't gotten back to you sooner but you know how it is. I'm glad to hear your work is going so well there. I didn't think you'd make it this long on that planet, especially working with Mr. Excitement there every day. Thanks to your sticking it out, I'm now fifty credits in the hole. Spock bet against the pool and he claims to be up nearly three hundred credits." Kirk frowned and lowered his voice. "With regard to your inquiry...I have to tell you, Bones, I've come up with nothing. Your teaming with V'Rhsal fluttered through the gossip vines for a while, but there wasn't much interest in your work itself. The talk's pretty well died out. Starfleet isn't interested, except in the matter of when you'll be returning to the ship. I put a trace on V'Rhsal's wife, Sah'Sheer but she's been on a Vulcan science vessel, the Nézni, this whole time. The Nézni's been in the Mutari sector and you know that's a quiet boonie-type place. Do you think it's possible that something just exploded innocently? Anyway, I'll keep my ears open for you. I have to leave now because Spock's waiting on me in the lounge. I'll have to checkmate him tonight, if only to keep him from harping on about that three hundred credits he won.
Keep in touch, Bones, and I'll see you in six months."

The screen darkened. McCoy sat back in his chair, quiet for a few minutes, then sighed. There was no way that anything but a phaser took out that floor. He knew it, despite the untripped alarms, despite V'Rhsal, he knew it.

He waited until he heard the Vulcan come home before turning in. He didn't know why he couldn't sleep alone in the house with that plant. Damned silly, but there it was.

The Vulcan paused outside the door, then entered, the consent to come in passing so silently that it was a mere trace of a thought now. McCoy knew that V'Rhsal had passed an unpleasant evening, having to attend a family function of some sort. Though he did not have much contact with his family, he had not been broken from it. There were some things where duty required his presence, even if his presence consisted entirely of standing silently in a corner for three hours.

does your cousin now have a bondmate, v'rhsal?

the promise of a bondmate, leonard. she is yet seven.

V'Rhsal loosened the neck of his shirt, an oddly-human gesture that amused McCoy.

i stopped by the hospital, leonard. another rat died. i put it in the cooler for your autopsy.

what's the point? I know why the poor thing died. i just finished my last test on the plant tonight. we can start with the rats tomorrow.

V'Rhsal looked up.

tomorrow? that is three weeks earlier than your last projection.

there's no point in waiting any longer. hell, go down to the computer and see how much i got done tonight with you out of the way

V'Rhsal didn't rise to the bait, but, then again, he rarely did. He was no fun to tease.

i will see you in the morning, leonard.

After the Vulcan left, McCoy rolled onto his side and stared at the twin red moons. He had a nagging suspicion that one night those things were going to crash right into the planet and he wanted to have his eyes opened when they did so. Four months, and he still couldn't get used to two moons. Well, maybe that was a good sign. He didn't want to lose his `human-ness'. Sometimes he felt himself drifting into the quiet, Vulcan mode and it worried him. He'd find himself raising his eyebrows next, maybe growing points on his ears.

The wind picked up outside. A gust of sand shivered the pane and the moons dimmed for a moment when a cloud of dust blew across the yard. After a while, despite his earlier statement, the Vulcan returned. Permission silently asked and given, and the feverishly warm body grazed gently against him. Now touching, and touched.

They were often apart now, he one place, the Vulcan another, always working, and they were not apart, their thoughts a single breath away. Most nights he spent alone, dreaming horribly. This, to sleep abreast of the Vulcan was almost a gift, to have true sleep, dreamless and delicate. Curious...peculiar and not peculiar. The perception of the imminent male heaviness beside indecent, so sexless. Whatever the Vulcan's reasons were he kept to himself. Something they did not allude to. Yet the simple acceptance of it all. So be it. A secret that bore no weight. What could it really matter anyway? And still, part of him wondered, and gaped on in distant shock. And part of him didn't really care, and settled down in lovely sleep.

The morning light was soft but the heat was oppressive. V'Rhsal slept unclothed and McCoy had given up wearing anything in bed too. Why dwell on it? The luxury of waking refreshed was too hard to resist.

They woke still hugging. Vulcans downplayed physical sensation between bondmates, claiming it too transitory to be definable. So the Vulcan was physically unaware of McCoy, though they wrapped around each other.

V'Rhsal opened his eyes. It was too hot for a top cover, yet he did not see who was beside him, for physical intimacy was not a concept he bothered with. Mental intimacy was concrete, something of substance. Physicality was nothing. But when the human half of the bed awoke, V'Rhsal, for the first time in his life, felt uncovered. He suddenly understood what the human had been seeing all this time.

Human eyes looked at him, over him, from the dark hair on his chest to the black hair between his legs.

sometimes i think that what i have been taught is wrong.

McCoy shrugged, not willing to respond. He felt something murky here, something coiled and hidden that he did not wish to approach.

sometimes, leonard, i wonder what i have been missing.

McCoy looked away, but the feel of their bodies against one another was strong. It flowed down, uncoiling and twitching. A strong surge of excitement affected them both, and he wanted to recoil. How could such a thing be possible? He felt the tide of agitated arousal and the friction of V'Rhsal's skin on his. The tide surged on until he was at the precipice, on the edge of coming, even though he had not moved in any way. V'Rhsal, almost overwhelmed, confronted the chaos.

i am master! i control!

But they both plunged over the edge. When the shudders stopped, McCoy opened his eyes to find himself covered in sweat and puddles of their combined ejaculate. He turned to V'Rhsal, but the Vulcan was inside himself, eyes tightly closed, fists clenched and twisting up the sheets.

McCoy got out of bed and cleaned up, moving like an automaton. The link rippled on the fringes of his consciousness, but he shut it out and left for the hospital, walking without noticing his surroundings. He somehow swallowed a coffee, accompanied one of the residents for morning rounds, and did the autopsy on the rat, setting his mind numbly at the tasks on hand. But, when the autopsy was done and everything cleaned, the stillness of the lab descended on him. When there was no hum of machinery, no sound of footsteps from the hall outside, nothing at all to distract, he found himself crumpling in a chair and burying his face in trembling hands.

The Vulcan avoided him for a week. McCoy crawled through the days, humiliated and angry. His mind whirled nonstop. He finally resumed an outside contact. In the hospital coffee shop, Soltar, across the table, was droning on about hypoglycaemia and anticoagulants. McCoy could hardly focus on it though Soltar was usually good company.

A sudden shadow across the table startled the doctor. A twitch of the bond alerted him and he looked up into the deep, black eyes of V'Rhsal.

Soltar stood, in the courtesy of Vulcan fashion but, thanks to Mah'Lee's drilling, he did not seem conscious of the link.

"I am V'Rhsal, an acquaintance of Dr. McCoy. May I join your table?"

"We are honoured, Kór V'Rhsal. I am Soltar, a physician."

As the Vulcans took chairs, McCoy dropped his attention to his tea. There was no retreating from V'Rhsal's voice however.

"Dr. McCoy, it has been some time since we last spoke. I thought it best to inform you of recent developments."

"I have been keeping up on things." McCoy noted Soltar looking between them, if not aware of the bond, at least aware of the tension.

"Then you know there has been the discovery of a Boojum."


"Forty-three point seven minutes ago."

McCoy took a breath, still not looking up. "How bad?"

"It was fully contained, Dr. McCoy."

Soltar stood. "Please excuse me. Leonard, perhaps we could continue our conversation at some other time."

McCoy felt a moment of panic. "Soltar, there's really no need. I'm sure Kór V'Rhsal will soon be on his way."

"I am due in my office, Leonard."

After Soltar's departure, McCoy stirred his tea, keeping his eyes down. He could hear the humming of muted conversations around him from the other tables. The coffee shop was busy at this time, with lots of activity, but it was no comfort.

When he finally looked up it was to find V'Rhsal looking idly around the room. damn vulcans! does nothing bother them?

V'Rhsal picked up on the thought and turned back to McCoy. What the doctor saw in his eyes was a far cry from the unfeeling, Vulcan face.

McCoy let the link open.

leonard, i must ask forgiveness. i shamed myself. i meant only to offer comfort and a means for you to rest.

McCoy drew back in surprise.

you ask my forgiveness? we both--

leonard, mind your expression.

McCoy looked back at his tea, heeding the warning.

i shamed you, leonard.

McCoy felt an odd urge to laugh. Stupid self-centred Vulcans. Think everything in the universe is their fault.

v'rhsal, we kind of shamed on each other, though it mostly landed on me.

if by that you mean we performed a sexual act, then...

v'rhsal, for heaven's sakes!

McCoy glanced around the room as if worried that someone could have overheard their thoughts.

i was speaking of dishonour, leonard. in my culture such actions are performed only by mutual consent.

the same with my culture.


McCoy's head jerked up. Red flooded his face as he realized that the Vulcan was teasing him.

you depraved, six-foot green fence post!

arousing your anger still works. leonard, we are being selfish, putting our feelings before our work, our petty suffering before those who suffer truly.

i know. it's just...

V'Rhsal took a sip of McCoy's tea and raised an eyebrow.

this is cold. may i get you another?

McCoy frowned, finding the Vulcan's attitude irritating.

i'm perfectly capable of getting my own.

leonard, i wish you would accept my apology, although...

The doctor waited, something he'd learned how to do very well on this planet.

V'Rhsal twirled the tea cup distractedly.

i also submit that we are truly compatible or such an act would not have been possible between us. though i will endeavour to keep more control, such compatibility is positive with regard to our work.

...yeah...our work...

V'Rhsal waited. Finally, the doctor stood.

come on...i've got something to show you.

The cold storage held two dead rats, tagged and ready for disposal. In the hot lab, three cages held the other forty rats, one cage breeding, one cage as a control group, and one cage of rats clearly affected by Khlabar-symptoms. This group swayed unbalanced through their cage, or lay twitching against the bars. Their food was untouched. It was less painful for them to remain hungry than to try to stand over the feeding cups.

McCoy leaned over the third cage.

i used your modified neural field generator on a couple of rats in here and in the control group.

did it help?

very well, in fact better on this small scale. All symptoms of Khlabar cleared up.


McCoy sighed.

no, it's disappointing.

The Vulcan paused in surprise.

it works, leonard!

oh sure, we've stimulated the nerve impulse, jumped the tracks at the points, switched it back just before the thalamus. but that was it. the poor rat was back to square one immediately after. you take someone up on the ward...well...they can't spend all their time in a neural field.

our original intent was to use the generator sporadically in hopes of affecting higher cortical change.

it's not going to happen, v'rhsal. the brain can't jump the tracks on its own, not to this degree. we've practically rerouted the whole impulse.

what about long term effects, leonard? side effects.

that's why i have the control group. i didn't see any side effects, no permanent changes at all.

that is...unfortunate.

are vulcans all so understated? it ruins the whole purpose of why we're doing this.

McCoy flopped wearily in a chair, rubbing his temples.

on the other hand, v'rhsal, perhaps the lack of side effects is a positive thing.

how do you mean, leonard?

McCoy held up the generator.

how small can you make this?

what size do you need it to be?

The doctor shrugged.
say, no more than an eighth of an ounce, all non-essentials out and i mean all. one to two centimetres at most and self-powered.

v'rhsal took the generator, eyebrows up in his hairline.

no side effects, no toxins. why bother to try reteaching the central nervous system? let's fool it, v'rhsal. make me something i can surgically implant in the base of the cerebellum.

V'Rhsal was staring at the doctor as if he'd never seen him before.

can you do it, v'rhsal? can you make it that small?

i...will certainly try.

i know it's not a cure but if we can jump the whole 6-hydroseron route, then, who cares how much it deteriorates? a drug to boost the immune system. we could slow Khlabar right down to a crawl.


logical. if we can't keep mohammed near the mountain, then make the mountain small enough to fit in mohammed's pocket.

The Vulcan took the chair beside McCoy, still contemplating the generator.

can you do it?

The Vulcan looked at McCoy and almost smiled.

leonard, i did promise that i would build you anything you wanted.

Strangely, things rode easier after that. McCoy found it simpler to work beside the Vulcan, found the merest wisp of a thought enough for communication, the slightest gesture enough to convey a whole world of ideas. It was as if the humiliating incident had given them a mutual base on which to stand. They did not allude to it. McCoy did not wish to think on it at all. Yet it seemed to occupy every second thought. It cut at the very heart of how he saw himself.

Why so wrong? Why so abased? Remember, there, for a while, all those rumours about Kirk and Spock? Pure nonsense but they cut deep anyway. Kirk so very, very quiet. McCoy tried to broach the subject but the captain resisted every breach. When it seemed to be over, the captain had finally spoken. Stirring his coffee, eyes down, he'd suddenly said, "What does it matter, Bones? Really? I know in my own mind what I am. Why should I need to prove anything to anybody? Why care about the rumours, the innuendoes by the dirty-minded?"

McCoy hadn't known how to answer that one. He'd been prepared to offer comfort.
After all, Kirk's prowess with women was well known. And Vulcans were as sexually-charged as a damp zucchini. To imagine anything between those two required more storytelling art than the Grimm brothers possessed.

The doctor had shrugged. "Why care, Jim, except that you have to work around all these idiots? You're their captain. You have to command them, lead them."

Kirk had frowned. "More than that, Bones. Why should it really matter anyway? Why do we still have all this shock, this dirty-minded, peeping-Tom streak? Look how far we've come, how civilized, how tolerant, how advanced we claim to be. Even if it had been true, why should it matter? Whose business would it have been? Who would really have been affected? Why couldn't we hear these things and just shrug and go on?" The hazel eyes had scanned the other tables around them, at all the mixed groups, different genders, different races, faces, species.

"Look at the Argelians who have recognized same-gender marriages for centuries, and the Deltans who can have seven or eight in a single marriage. The Cabanians change sexes at the drop of a hat and the Thasians did away with genders millennium ago. I prefer women but maybe that's a restrictive way to be. I don't care to sample more than that but why should that mean anything either? Maybe it's the person you're attracted to. Maybe the gender is absolutely irrelevant."

McCoy had agreed with Jim at the time. After all, he was agreeing in the abstract. He'd never before applied it to himself.

A cool evening came at last. McCoy stretched out on the back stoop, having received a `care package' from a friend back on earth. Neatly wrapped bottles of jams and a large tin of sardines, peanuts, decent coffee, and, snugly fitted in the bottom, the largest most beautiful bottle of Kentucky whiskey McCoy had seen in a long, long time. Also in there was, oddly enough, a small watermelon.

V'Rhsal found the doctor sitting casually in the deepening dusk, spitting watermelon seeds into the sand.

The Vulcan peered at the fruit.

what are you eating, leonard?

try some.

what is it?

watermelon. it's ok. Vulcans can tolerate it.

V'Rhsal took a tentative taste, then cut himself a wedge.

i have completed the generator.

you don't sound too happy.

ilidium-powered, lifespan of twenty to twenty-five years. it is the size of a tenth-credit coin. but... leonard, the best i could do was a quarter of an ounce.


you did specify an eighth of an ounce. unfortunately i am unable to relieve any more weight from it.

The doctor broke into a wide grin.

you're kidding.

V'Rhsal frowned, unsure of the doctor's humour.

it's amazing! holy shit, v'rhsal, you took something that was originally seven pounds and got it down to a quarter of an ounce!

then, you are pleased?

well, i suppose pleased could cover it. awe-struck would be more like it. aren't you at all proud at what you've accomplished here?

i have achieved a partial objective.

McCoy chuckled, knowing the Vulcan better than that.

a tenth-credit coin is, what, a centimetre or two across?

one point seven eight centimetres from the federation mint.

there will still be quite a lump on the rat's neck after i implant it.

but it would not be noticeable on a vulcan neck.

McCoy lost his humour.

whoa, v'rhsal! you don't just jump from rats to people!

i do not think many vulcans would refuse participation in this aspect of our research.

i refuse! i will not even think of surgery until every test possible has been done on the rats and until i'm absolutely sure that every potential danger has been fully minimized.



V'Rhsal quieted. McCoy finished his watermelon, then leaned back to watch the moons rise. He was well aware of the Vulcan's reasons and of his own temptation in that direction. Despite the new medication, Mah'Lee was deteriorating.

The Vulcan's curiosity got the better of him. Poking through the care package, he picked out the jam and brought the label into the light spilling out from the kitchen.

raspberries, sugar, water, pectin, locust bean gum, citric acid, potassium sorbate. leonard, you actually consume this?

every chance i get.

V'Rhsal lifted the whiskey and frowned.

and the alcohol?

washes down the jam.

The Vulcan replaced the bottle and stood, shaking his head.


McCoy shrugged.

i bid you goodnight, leonard.

The Vulcan went into the house. McCoy tuned down the link, then opened it back up.

v'rhsal, did you check on the plant?

it is fine. i put it back under the containment field.

it moved out of it again?

it is slow movement, leonard. i will just have to check it more often.

why does it keep moving out of the field, i wonder?

despite the fact that it was modeled on part of my brain, i have no idea.

goodnight v'rhsal.

McCoy gathered up his package and went to bed.

Only candles lit the room. McCoy walked into the room, blinking as his eyes tried to adjust. Grown-ups moved out of the way at his approach. Someone reached for him, but was drawn back. He heard muted voices.

"Someone take the child out of here."

"Imagine, his father letting him in to see this."

"But it's his mother!"

From his viewpoint, the coffin stood a mile high. He climbed on a stool, his nose assailed by the smell of cedar and roses. Grasping the edge of the cold wood, he hauled himself up and stood, looking down into the face of a young woman. He was nine and the look of her, lying as if asleep, was not a sight he was prepared for. He remembered falling back and a tablecloth full of candles came crashing down on him.

He jerked awake as he fell over the edge of the bed, gasping raggedly.

"...God...not again..."

Something cool rustled against his leg. McCoy reached down and froze.


His mental scream brought the Vulcan running down the hall. V'Rhsal flicked on the lights then halted, staring around him.

The doctor was backed up against the window ledge, as far away as possible from the huge coil of the plant, Tendrils looped the bed legs and a length of brown vine had run up the wall and twisted in the ceiling light. An ugly, blackened splotch along the underside of a broad curve now lay exposed to the light, evidence of the last explosion. At the light, the plant cringed. It streaked down the wall. Leafs rustled as it slithered, trying to reach the dark under the bed. It stank like rotten potatoes.

McCoy was paler than V'Rhsal had ever seen.

leonard, how did it get up here?

what a dumb-ass question! how am i supposed to know?

fascinating. it navigated two flights of stairs, a hallway, your door jamb.

you said it was slow! you said you had it contained in the basement!

logically, i could not have foreseen this.

it's surprised us from day one! take the damned thing out of here! lock it up! nail it to the floor! just get it away from me!!

i will destroy it.

McCoy took a deep breath.

v'rhsal, i don't mean for you to kill it.

what did you mean, then, by `lock it up. nail it to the floor'?

just tie the damnable thing down somewhere. i nearly had a heart attack and that's no exaggeration.

leonard, we can grow another if we need to. this one is getting beyond control.

McCoy looked down at it in a mixture of revulsion and reluctance as the Vulcan gathered up what he could. He left with an armful, the rest of it uncoiling and trailing behind him. McCoy picked leaves out of the carpet and flushed them down the bathroom disposal unit. When V'Rhsal returned, he made a check of the room as well.

where is it, v'rhsal?

it is locked in the outside garage. i still think it should be destroyed.

let's just hope it doesn't explode outside containment. i wonder why it came up here. why didn't it go to you? it's like a part of you.

the plant is a study all in itself.

V'Rhsal brushed some debris out of the bed, then stopped and contemplated the mess of the room.

leonard, i won't have you sleep here like this.

you don't have to worry. i doubt i could even shut my eyes now.

the dreams, the plant, the link, the isolation of being human in this is too much to ask.

i haven't been complaining...lately

but, leonard, seven months living in such a fashion, and still you have accomplished what two centuries of Vulcan research has not. we have hope with this disease now, but at what price?

McCoy picked some more leaves from the floor.

you're not listening to me. i may have lost a few years growth tonight but i haven't packed my bags.

we must end the link.

McCoy sat on the edge of the bed, strangely feeling no urge to cheer.

"Then I suppose I shall have to get used to speaking out loud with you," he said. His voice sounded odd in this house. And the words came so slow.

"As I with you," V'Rhsal said, clearing his throat. He sat beside the doctor.

"What about our work? We can't accomplish our next goal in five months. When I return to the Enterprise, we'll have to use the subspace channels and we won't have priority for them."

The Vulcan didn't respond immediately. His profile was as severe as ever. His black eyes were walls. Without the link, with only this sight to go on, McCoy knew he would be forever hesitating before opening his mouth.

"I am responsible for you."

"Like hell."


"I'm a grown man! You're not my look-out."

"The fact remains that the plant came up here for you."

"What do you mean for me?" McCoy shifted uneasily on the bed.

The Vulcan, frustrated, opened the link.

leonard, we based the tracings on my brain while we were joined. it is naturally drawn to you. i believe it came up here in order to complete the bonding.

is that all? i thought you were referring to something sinister.

V'Rhsal glanced at McCoy in surprise.

v'rhsal, we'll just keep it tied up somewhere. i'll shut my door.

further than this, leonard, you have not getting sufficient sleep and you have been living in isolation from everyone you know.

it's possible to feel isolated in a room full of people you know.

then, you wish to continue the link?

i don't mind the link. it's the bonding part i could do without.

i am...dubious of achieving that end.


the alternatives are to sever the link completely, or end it and reattempt to mindmeld. we have been joined at this level for some time. we have once...gone deeper. i do not believe we could achieve a simple mindmeld now.

McCoy got up and went to the window. The chronometer on the wall clicked once and the house creaked on its foundation in response.

v'rhsal, what do you want to do about this?

i think we should....

no. tell me what you want.

leonard, i do not understand the difference in the concepts.

that's a vulcan cop-out. i'm sure you do understand after being hooked to me for so long.

vulcans are not taught how to want. we are taught to act and think for common good. personal gain or loss is not part it.

v'rhsal, if you end the link, i will truly be alone here.

and the dreams?

The doctor sobered.

thinking back on my life i'm surprised i don't dream a whole lot more. v'rhsal, teach me to control the way you do. maybe that's what i need to learn.

i am not a teacher. perhaps you should ask the one who taught you to shield so effectively.

McCoy caught the hesitation in the Vulcan's mind. He turned to V'Rhsal but the Vulcan's face was as impassive as ever.

so what are we going to do, v'rhsal?

i will decide in the morning. try to sleep, leonard.

The Vulcan left.

McCoy shut off the computer screen and paced around the room. His head felt fuzzy and his stomach churned, which he knew was a combination of the heat and lack of sleep. It was like being an intern again.

He had felt the Vulcan come awake some time earlier but had kept the link down. Their conversation last night had been unsettling. As well, that plant was out there, somewhere, but, more than that, there was the awful remembrance of his mother and the smell of roses still in his nose.

Someone tapped at the door.


A female nurse poked her head in, surveying McCoy with that severe Vulcan look that he still found so disturbing.

"I heard movement in this room."

"I wanted to get an early start today."

She nodded and withdrew. He heard her steps down the hall, noises that would be indiscernible to him with normal human ears. She stopped and spoke to someone, words indistinguishable. The lower response suddenly startled McCoy. The doctor had learned some shielding techniques but they were nothing to the Vulcan who had mastered walls that hid as they braced. V'Rhsal must have erected his own shields this morning, without alerting McCoy that he was doing so, for now, here he was in the hall and the doctor had not felt him coming.

V'Rhsal entered the office and shut the door softly behind him.

"I have made a decision regarding our mindmeld."

"Our bonding, you mean," McCoy corrected softly.

V'Rhsal did not react. The coldness in his eyes reminded McCoy of the first time they had met, that morning so long ago now.

"For the sake of your health, I see no alternative but to end the link between us."

"Fine. Let's get it over with." McCoy sat down.

V'Rhsal pulled a chair beside the doctor. "This may take some time. I am not sure how deep the joining is."

"Look, my head's pounding. I feel like I'm going to throw up. Stop delaying, damnit."

The Vulcan closed his eyes and, gently, laid his fingers on McCoy's temples.

After a few moments, he withdrew the touch.

"I do not understand, Leonard. You told me to continue."

"I swear, sometimes, you are thoroughly clueless."

The Vulcan drew back, astonished, as the doctor got up and paced.

"V'Rhsal, I don't see how much we'll be able to do without the link once I return to the Enterprise. I'm not even sure that what we're doing will work anyway. We don't know. But there is a chance that we can help. I'm committed to trying. So what that I can't sleep?  Damnit, V'Rhsal, look at what they're suffering upstairs." McCoy pulled a tape out of the computer terminal. "I would appreciate it if you would review the tracings very carefully to make sure that we've mapped 6-hydroseron correctly. I've found a nurse who said he would assist me so I'm going upstairs to surgically implant the generator in a rat. After that I plan to throw up for a while, then read a book. If you want me, just call."

He woke up trying to catch his breath. The ceiling lights blazed at him. Coughing, hanging over the side of the bed, he nearly leaped through the window when a quiet voice said, "Perhaps you should see a healer."

McCoy glared at V'Rhsal. "What the hell are you doing in here?"

"I saw the lights left on were dreaming. If I close my eyes, I will dream your dream too."

The Vulcan put down the book he'd found on the table. "Why are all the lights on?"

"If I wake up to that plant once more in the dark I swear, it will be the end of me."

"The plant is secure in the garage."

"Yeah, outside the containment. Small comfort."

V'Rhsal turned off all the lights but one.

lay back, leonard, and close your eyes.

The moment that McCoy felt the fiery Vulcan warmth, the stiffness in his neck eased. As he drowsed off into sleep, he mumbled, "How are you ever going to explain this to your wife?"

i do not have to explain. this is between me and thee and no other. rest, now.

In the pile of unhealthy rats, one scurried happily, eating from the abundance of food and mating with the feeble females that could no longer offer resistance. McCoy tapped the cage bar and chuckled.

guess which one i operated on.

V'Rhsal picked it up and felt the back of the neck gingerly.

i can feel the generator.

probably so can he but it doesn't appear to be bothering him. he had a little water in his lungs so i've started him on antibiotics, just to be on the safe side. fortunately his body isn't rejecting the generator because he's wide open to infection at this stage of khlabar. i'm going to start a course of drugs to boost the immune system once he's finished the antibiotics.

McCoy gently stroked the rat's head.

leonard, this is incredible.

it is, isn't it?

The Vulcan replaced the rat and closed the cage. His actions seemed subdued, even for him. McCoy frowned at it.

what is next, leonard?

keep my eye on him for a while, then, i guess trying the same thing with another rat. i sure hope this works, v'rhsal, because if it doesn't, well, i'm sure stumped as to any other options with the generator. can you build me another generator, v'rhsal, with the same settings as this one?

i started one last night.

V'Rhsal turned to go, then paused.

i walked through the wards this morning, as per your suggestion. have you been there lately?

two days ago

have you been to see mah'lee?

McCoy felt a sudden cold.

i would suggest you see her soon.

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