Author's note: Daniel Corrigan was created by Jean Lorrah and appears in her published novels The Vulcan Academy Murders and The IDIC Epidemic. I'm sure he'd be appalled by the use to which I've put his research.
* * *
It was a quiet evening, and as such, I had intended to treasure it. I had left the captain in the rec room watching Sulu's latest exploits in the flight simulator tank, and was ensconced in my cabin working my way through an Andorian novel Uhura had recommended. I found it revealing of a culture I had little experience with, and it took a moment for the sound of the door chime to register.
I knew it was not the captain, and not only because he rarely rang the door chime. I was not sure, however, who else but the captain would have come to my cabin without calling on the communicator first. I went to the door to palm it open. Dr. McCoy was standing in the hallway, looking troubled.
It was strange of him to come to my quarters. Normally if he wanted to see me he would issue a peremptory summons to sickbay. And at this hour, he was likely to wait until morning. While I had seen him work three or four shifts without a break or a word of complaint when he had a patient who needed him, he valued his off-duty time when he could get it. He rarely spent it on work that could wait.
I wondered if there was a situation involving one of the science staff, and wondered why he did not want to talk to the captain about it. He handled most personnel matters that were not routine paperwork.
McCoy waited for the door to close.
"I need to talk to you," he said. "You're not going to like it."
"Whether or not I enjoy your conversation is irrelevant," I said dryly. He just looked at me, and I realized that had not been an opening salvo.
"I know you don't want to talk about it," he said. "I don't really want to say this, but I have to. Spock, I'm just an old country doctor, but I can count to seven."
I knew what he meant, of course. I briefly considered pretending I did not and decided it would be undignified. Seven years ago he had stood on the burning sands of the mating grounds. It was clearer than I wished it to be in memory, him standing behind me, a dark presence at my shoulder while I fell deeper and deeper into the fire.
I had not forgotten. There had rarely been a day in the past weeks when I had not thought of what was soon to come again. But I had made my decisions years ago, and would bear the consequences.
"That is a private matter," I said.
"No, it's not," he said flatly. "I'm the chief medical officer and I'm responsible for you, whether either of us likes it. And I don't want a mess like what happened seven years ago. What are you going to do about this?"
His bluntness left me with few avenues for evasion. I tried the truth, hoping it would make him go away.
"Adepts in training for Kolinahr are taught certain techniques of meditation. They are intended to permit . . . celibacy."
"Is that safe?" I hesitated, too long; lying is an art I have developed after long and painful practice, and sometimes it still fails me. I saw from McCoy's face that it was too late to lie and be believed.
"There is no alternative," I said instead.
"Suppose there were," he said cautiously.
It irritated me that he was so ignorant; it alarmed me that I was irritated. I kept my expression as neutral as possible. "You know nothing about this."
He looked suddenly very weary.
"Sometimes I think you really believe that I'm just an old country doctor. Spock, I've been studying this for seven years."
I started to say something and then stopped, unable to think of a good response. He looked satisfied at my discomposure.
"I know there's officially no treatment. But there is a drug which seems to work."
The idea was impossible. No such thing existed. There were things that could not be studied, could not even be spoken of.
"No Vulcan doctor would conduct such research," I said.
"A human doctor practicing on Vulcan could. And did."
"There are a number of human doctors on Vulcan, you know," McCoy said.
I had no doubts. A friend of my father's, Dr. Corrigan was brilliant, determined, and reckless. And he had lived on Vulcan since before my birth. He might have learned of things he should never have known. That no outworlder should know.
"It wasn't exactly a double-blind research study," he said. "There are a handful of case studies with no names on them, not even the doctor's. In one of them the patient died."
He looked me in the eye. "Corrigan was the doctor. I've seen his notes. The patient had preexisting heart problems. That's why he was in the study in the first place. Corrigan doesn't think it was the drug, and neither do I."
"I have heard nothing about such research," I said, starting to believe that he was telling the truth.
"You wouldn't. No one's going to anytime soon. The whole idea is too hot to handle. It's been made pretty clear that if Corrigan tried to publish, he'd be kicked off Vulcan so fast his head would spin."
I was not sure I was entirely absorbing the implications of this.
"Corrigan must have told you this in confidence. Why are you betraying his secrets to me?"
"He took me into his confidence because he thought I might be able to use the knowledge to save a life. Yours."
It took a moment to formulate a response.
"I do not anticipate my life being in danger," I said very carefully.
"Good," he said, and got up. "I'll be happy to forget I ever brought this up." He waited for a minute, and when I said nothing, started to walk to the door.
"Doctor," I said, in surrender.
"If I'm caught prescribing an untested and dangerous drug under the table, I'll probably lose my medical license," he said, turning around. "But I'll do it."
"Thank you," I said. He looked at me, frowning.
"Spock, you've known about this for as long as I have. Why haven't you done anything about it?"
The familiar rationalizations sprang easily to my lips; I had long since prepared them, expecting to have this conversation with my father, or with the captain. But I found that they stuck in my throat. We had often seemed enemies; but he had come to me that night as a friend, and if I could not tell him the truth, I would not lie.
"I have personal reasons," I said. He met my gaze for a long time, and I do not know what he thought. Finally he nodded.
"Your life," he said. "Your call. Try not to make it mine."
It meant a great deal, though I did not say so, that he was willing to risk so much to offer the drug. I did not, at the time, mean to accept it. I trusted my mastery, the training I had learned so painfully at Gol.
I tried to put my apprehension aside. There was work to be done: preparing for an upcoming survey mission, reviewing the results of various engineering projects, alloting computer resources to the various science departments. The department heads seemed less reasonable than usual, and I had to restrain myself from snapping at them. I began making many of the decisions arbitrarily to avoid having to speak to the people involved.
It was true that in my more honest moments-as few and far between as I could make them-I had to admit that there were many reasons for apprehension. I knew the meditative discipline intended to avoid the demands of biology; I had practiced it compulsively at Gol, testing my ability to keep us both alive when the time came. But the discipline was meant for those who were unbonded, unlinked to the outside world.
I tried to tell myself that it would not matter.
The first time, I had not realized what was happening until I was already irrational enough to be desperate. This time the anticipation was almost worse. I began to have disturbing dreams I could never quite remember when I woke. After a few nights, I was waking with my heart racing and rips in the sheets where I had torn at them.
I knew it was a matter of time, but I did not know when it would start in earnest. It was like walking blindly down a black tunnel waiting to fall into a pit.
A week later I sat in my cabin, unable to control the shaking that had started an hour ago, and knew I had started to fall.
When I could make my hands stop shaking enough to use the communicator, I called Jim. It seemed safer for him to come to my cabin than for me to go to him. He arrived in a few minutes, and sat without waiting to be asked.
"What is it, Spock?" he said.
"I need to request personal leave," I said. My voice sounded steady enough. "Immediately. I am sorry for any inconvenience it may cause."
There was a pause.
"Oh," he said. "Yes. I understand." I recognized the sound of his voice; it was a tone I had heard him use when someone was badly frightened. Surely my control was not yet so bad as that. I took a deep breath and made myself continue.
"It will not be necessary to return to Vulcan. Just to have . . . seclusion."
"I'll make sure you aren't bothered." He lifted a hand, as though he were going to touch me, and then stopped. "Is there anything you need?"
So many things sprang to mind. I could not look away from him. This was worse than I had thought it would be. The force driving me to touch him was intense.
I am protecting you, I reminded myself. Protecting myself.
"To get off the ship," I said. "The presence of all these minds . . . at this time, it is unbearable."
It was as close to the truth as I dared. It was his own presence I knew could not long endure without breaking.
"Are you sure you'll be all right alone?"
"Yes!" I was shaking. My hands would not stay still.
"How long do you need?" he said. I clung to the rational question thankfully.
"From this point, a week . . . perhaps ten days."
"All right. Let me think. We'll be coming up on Rigel in about a day. We're supposed to pick up the astronomy team-"
"To make the spectral measurements at Sigma Theta, I know. I meant to supervise their activities . . ."
He smiled faintly. "We'll get along fine, I promise. We can drop you on Rigel, find you a place to stay."
"I can make the arrangements," I said. "It is fortunate that it is not the tourist season."
There was a ghost of humor in my voice, and he rewarded it with a wry smile.
"The spectral measurements shouldn't take more than a week. Will that do?"
"You're relieved of duty until then, of course. Try and get some rest." He stood, and I almost reached to prevent him by force. I realized that I had to leave his presence soon, while I was still responsible for my actions.
"Thank you," I said. It was a whisper. I did not dare move until some time after he had gone. I managed to walk to the door, more or less steadily, and lock it.
Later that night, or perhaps the next morning-time seemed to be distorting oddly-I reserved a small tourist cabin in an isolated area of Rigel IV and packed a few clothes and the firepot in a travel case.
I had just finished when the call came on the communicator.
"Spock, this is McCoy. I want you to report to sickbay. McCoy out."
I thought about ignoring the message, and then thought about the probable consequences of ignoring it.
I straightened my uniform and walked to Sickbay, trying to pretend that the few people I passed did not exist, that nothing was real but the cold metal of the walls and deckplates. I stepped in the door, proud that I had managed this much without incident, and saw McCoy and Kirk in the inner office, obviously caught in mid-argument.
I started to leave, stopped, wasn't sure why I had stopped or how to make my feet start working again. McCoy stepped out first.
"Good, you're here. I want to tell you that I think you leaving the ship is the worst idea I've ever heard of. But that's all I'm going to say about it, because I've been outflanked by the captain here. He says you're officially on leave, and I haven't got any jurisdiction."
"Enough, Bones," Kirk said in a quiet and dangerous voice.
"And when exactly did you order me not to speak my mind?"
"Would it do any good?"
"No," McCoy said. "Now get out of my Sickbay if you're not a patient. I need to talk to Spock, here, for a minute." Kirk looked as though he was going to protest. "I said for a minute. After that, I wash my hands of this entire thing."
"Right," Kirk said, and left. McCoy glanced at me and then turned to unlock one of the storage drawers.
"Well, you look terrible," he said, rummaging through the drawer.
"What do you want?" I said tightly.
"To examine you, to reassure myself that you're not going to drop dead on me; and to give you this," he said, holding out a rack of hypospray ampoules. I could only look at them in his hand. "Let me get your vital signs."
"Do not touch me," I said, my hands clenching reflexively into fists. McCoy looked at me levelly. It soothed my pride to some small degree to realize that he must often have to deal with irrational patients.
"Just a few readings. I won't touch you. I promise. Lie down, now."
I managed to, and concentrated on not knocking his hand away as he ran the tricorder a foot away from me.
"All right," he said. "I think it's safe to start you on the first dose of the drug."
"I do not require it," I said. He looked at me.
"I have a medical scan here that says otherwise."
"I require isolation, to meditate. I will control it."
"I need to check the dosage, and monitor you for a little while."
"Then your help will not be required." I started to get up.
"Where do you think you're going? Wait just a minute, damn it. If you're determined to go off like this, at least take it with you if you need it."
"That is acceptable," I said.
"Oh, good." He was tapping buttons on a medical tricorder as he talked. "I've set this to monitor your vital signs, since you won't stay in Sickbay. If any of the indicators go red, it means something life-threatening is wrong. I'd suggest using the hypospray at that point." He paused, and rubbed his forehead. "I can't believe I'm talking to you like you're in your right mind."
"Watch the indicators," I said. "Use the hypospray if they go red."
"That's right," he said. He finished with the tricorder and began packing it and the vials neatly in a small case.
"Are you entirely finished?" He nodded absently.
"You can get up if you want." I did, and took a few steps back, leaning against the wall to keep from appearing unsteady. He held out the case to me; after a moment I took it.
"Here. Each charge is one dose. The hypospray's programmed not to let you take them less than six hours apart."
I looked at the metal case in my hand. Some kind of response was called for.
"Thank you," I said.
"Will you at least stay in Sickbay until we're in orbit around Rigel IV?" I thought of trying to maintain control in front of him, and of failing to.
"I cannot," I said. He shrugged.
"Well, then, that's that," he said, and walked into his office. I had expected him to say more, although I was not sure what else he could say. After a minute, when he did not come back, I took the case and left.
I checked the tricorder's readings back in my cabin. Not normal, but not yet dangerous. McCoy had set the device to sound an alarm if they became dangerous. I thought about disabling it, and decided it was not worth the effort.
I made my own private arrangements to be beamed directly to the planet from my cabin. I did not think I could face even the transporter officer on duty. It was an irregular request, but not enough so for the ensign to check it with the captain. I waited, watching the chronometer, and then stood still as the transporter beam took me.
The cabin was uncomfortably cool; the air was crisp and smelled of something sharp and green. I found the thermostat and set it as high as it would go. I looked around. The place was roughly furnished, with little decoration; that suited me. Less to break. The bedroom was empty except for a bed and a small table. I latched the cabin door, latched the bedroom door, and lit the meditation flame.
At first it was easier alone than it had been on the ship. At this distance, I could not feel Kirk's presence except as a glowing ember in the back of my mind. My head was clearer without the compulsion to go to him, or to call him. It was a relief to know either was impossible.
I was disturbed by fits of shaking I could not easily end and by a growing need to pace the cabin, which I tried not to indulge. I concentrated on my breathing and recited a meditative chant, carefully pronouncing the nonsense syllables. It occupied the mind.
My body was harder to distract. At first it was a discomfort; by evening of the first day, it had become a pressure that increasingly distracted me from my thoughts. I tried to banish it as I would hunger or thirst or pain. It was neither better nor worse by the time I lay down, exhausted, and tried to sleep.
This time the dream was all too vivid: holding him down as he fought, ripping his shirt from him, pinning him with my body--I woke moaning, caught off-guard by the overwhelming wave of desire. I could not hold back the climax; it left me gasping and unsatisfied. I managed a few breaths before the arousal began to build again, enough for me to pull myself into a sitting position and clasp my hands furiously.
Giving into the desire to seek release again was the fastest way into the abyss; it would bring on the full heat of the blood fever faster, and I had to find control before it began. Every time I gave in made finding control again harder. I managed not to do it; that was all I managed.
The wave built and built and would not break. Eventually, the need ebbed enough for me to move, and breathe. I walked, somewhat unsteadily, to the window, and looked out. Twisted branches tangled up against the glass.
I spread my hands on the glass and wondered what breaking it would feel like. I wondered if there was any way to get back to the Enterprise. They would not be moving at maximum speed. Perhaps in a civilian vessel-
No. I would not give in to ravening, unreasoning instinct; this was a biochemical imbalance, a physical thing, however much it felt like a dark force driving me to mayhem. It could not make me go to Kirk like a predator smelling blood; it could not make me make the dreams real. I would not hurt him; I would die first.
I could imagine all too vividly dying in reach of him, in agony.
I realized I had to control these thoughts. I made myself kneel. I made myself begin the chant again.
By evening I was beginning to feel confident again. The last wave of need had come an hour ago, and had not returned. As long as the desire was kept at bay, I could calm the shaking and banish the cramping pain that had started around midday. I had control of my emotions. I had control of my body.
It hit like a black wall of water, and I realized that everything up until now had only been prelude.
I needed to touch him, to force myself into him; I felt myself convulse, my hands clawing empty air. I curled up under the pounding of it, feeling the floor cold against my face, and realized that the shrill beeping in my ears was the tricorder's alarm going off.
I could not uncurl, could not get my breath. I could not stop. It went on for a very long time, long enough for my vision to blacken from lack of oxygen. Finally it tipped over some edge and became pain driving through my body, as intense but easier to bear. I managed to breathe, to struggle to sit up.
The alarm was still sounding. The sound was a shriek in the quiet room. I got the tricorder into my hands. They moved in a familiar way. The alarm stopped.
I had to achieve control. I had to. It had to be possible. I was afraid to even look at the metal case on the table, afraid to admit that failure was possible.
The waves intensified through the night, harder and more painful each time; each time I fought my way back to some semblance of control. I would not fail. I would not fail. The thought itself had become obsession.
Sometime before morning I found myself lying on the floor, gripped in a spasm that would not end. It was nothing but pain this time, a red-black veil of agony across my vision. I tried to move my hand and watched it jerk across the floor randomly. I managed a shuddering breath, and then began to shake; the fever was climbing higher.
You're going to die if you keep this up, said a voice in the back of my head. I held onto the voice. It was probably hallucination, and I did not care. It was something to cling to. You don't really want to die.
Moving was like pushing through a black wall of pain. I pushed myself up to my feet and stood, leaning heavily on the table.
The hypospray was in a closed box. I picked it up, unsure how to open it. My hands worked on the catch, remembering when I did not. The box came open, and I got the hypospray into my hand and pressed it against my arm, struggling to get it seated firmly. There was a hiss as it discharged. I let it drop from my hand and gave up the struggle to stay on my feet. Gave up struggling at all.
Almost at once, I could feel the pain easing. As it did, desperate, insistent desire took its place. It only took a few minutes for it to drive me to try to find release; it took longer for me to realize nothing I did would bring it about. Desperate, I imagined him, his hands on me, his voice calling my name.
I could not convince my body it was real. I could not escape the knowledge that he was not here, that I was alone. The room tilted and began to spin. I tried to hold on to keep from falling, but there was nothing to hold on to.
Some indefinite period of time passed. I remember coming to myself several times enough to be violently ill and then to administer another dose of the drug. At other times I remember watching myself convulse uselessly on the floor with an odd sense of detachment. It went on for endless days before a welcome blackness, either sleep or unconciousness, came.
Awareness returned. I was lying on the floor. Every muscle ached sharply, and the dull throbbing of desire was still there, but I realized that I was thinking clearly, and that when I tried to move my muscles protested but obeyed.
I was desperately thirsty. I drank, and splashed water on my face, and drank more, and then managed to get onto the bed and pull blankets around me. I managed to slow my heartbeat, and to push the desire away; only a little, but it was enough to let me sink back into sleep.
By the end of the next day, I had managed to eat something and to get a look at the chronometer; the Enterprise would return in less than a day. I set about restoring the cabin to order. I could work at it for a while at a time if I rested between.
I was not sure I was as successful at restoring myself to order. There was a mirror in the bathroom which I looked in once and then did not look in again. I showered, spending a long time under the water, and changed into the clothes I had brought with me and forgotten until that point. I curled up under blankets, and the warmth was soothing to my aches.
The next morning I took the communicator out of my travel case. The call came minutes before I had calculated the Enterprise could be in transporter range.
"Kirk to Spock, come in," he said. "Are you there? Talk to me."
"Commander Spock ready to beam up, sir," I said. It seemed to take a great deal of effort. "I'm all right, Jim."
"I'm beaming you to Sickbay," he said. "Get your things." I did. There was little point in arguing with that tone of voice. I was glad to hear it.
"Ready," I said, and felt the dissolve of the transporter effect.
Sickbay was near-empty and dark; I had not known it was ship's night. McCoy was there. He caught my arm and kept me from falling.
"Steady, now," he said. "Let me see what you've done to yourself." His voice was gruff, but his hands were gentle.
I let him take readings, too tired to even flinch at his touch. Finally he seemed satisfied.
"All right. You'll do. How many doses of the medication did you take?" he asked.
I did not answer. Surely he could not expect me to speak of it.
"Do you remember?"
"No," I managed, surprised that I had said that much.
"Well, at least tell me what happened. What are the side effects, how did it work. It'll help make it safer-" Next time, he had clearly started to say. "In the future."
"Please," I said.
His expression softened.
"All right, Spock," he said. "We'll talk about this later." I knew later I would have to try, although the idea sickened me. "Here," he said, looking over my shoulder as the door opened behind me. "See that he rests, will you?"
I knew who it was as soon as the door opened; it was like feeling the heat of a fire on my back. I stood as quickly and steadily as I could, straightened my jacket, and turned around.
"Spock," he said.
"I think rest is a very good idea. Come along," he said, and I followed him into the corridor. There was no way I could resist that tone in his voice. He stopped at the door to the turbolift and turned, keeping his voice light.
"Want some company?" he said.
It would have been so easy to say yes.
"I'm not sure you should be alone," he said.
"I am all right," I said. He looked at me doubtfully.
I knew then that if he came to my cabin with me, the whole long fight would have been for nothing. And I would not even have the demands of biology to blame. The time of mating was over, the fever had passed, and yet I still needed him. I wanted him to lie down beside me so I would not be alone. I wanted him to touch me and soothe away the memory of pain with his hands.
That, then, was what the last of my strength was for: to stand on my feet and face him and never let him know. It was almost entirely triumph that I felt when I saw from his face that I had won.
"All right, then. Get some rest," he said. "And call me if you need anything."
It was something to know that he would be there if I called. It was something to know that he would be on the other side of the wall as I slept.
I was actually in my cabin before I realized that he was no longer on the other side of the wall. That my cabin had not adjoined his for years. A stab of fear at the thought made my steps falter. The fear worried me.
I found a tricorder, and ran through my vital signs as coldly as a physician. It had ended. It would not return for years. It was just the thought of sleeping alone that was terrible. Such distance between us.
I turned out the lights and collapsed, heavy and drained, on the bed. After a minute I managed to pull a blanket around me, but I was too tired to light the meditation fire.
As I lay in the darkness, the distance across the ship did not seem as far. I could still feel him, farther away but real. He was tired, too; I wondered if he had slept. He was there in my mind, worried, relieved, exasperated in a fond way.
His presence was like the heat of a banked fire in the darkness. I let it lull me into sleep before its warmth could fade.