Dedication III: The Search for Bones
Spock contacted the Delos II Tourist Association, which was comparable in importance to the Delos system as the Federation Council was on Earth. He requested, and received, permission to beam down the remainder of his crew for shoreleave. He then announced that the rest of the ship would be going down to take their leaves. The situation was unusual, but Delos II was full of every possible amenity and pleasure that a vacationer could want, and the officers didn't complain about being allowed to go down early.
Once the rest of the crew had been beamed down, Scotty and Keenser shut down power to most of the lower decks, leaving the bridge and upper decks functioning. Scotty also tied engine control directly to the bridge. He'd be able to give them warp eight consistently, but Spock suggested they still take a somewhat round-about route. Instead of taking another twenty days, though, their trip would take seven. It had taken nearly a full day to beam down the four hundred or so members of the crew that were still aboard the ship. Then there had been a sensor sweep to be sure no one was remaining except for their tight group, and the time it had taken to re-route controls completely to the Bridge. Two days passed before they were ready to leave orbit.
Jim ached to leave. Now that Spock had mentioned the possibility that Bones could die before they reached him, he felt an even greater sense of urgency. The possibility had always been there, at the back of his mind, but now it seemed that it was constantly on his mind. He had the strong desire to receive another uncanny visit from Bones again - to be reassured that he was still alive - that he wasn't too late.
Jim looked up from where he'd been brooding over a cup of strong coffee, and smiled at the sight of Spock. "Yes, Captain?" he asked.
"Captain Scott reports that we are ready to break orbit. Would you care to join me on the Bridge?"
"I'd love to," Jim said. He'd avoided the bridge while there were still other officers manning it, but he was eager to see the heart and mind of his beautiful vessel again.
Jim followed Spock out of the deserted recreation room. "Jim," Spock said. Kirk thought he heard a note of hesitation in Spock's tone. "I am aware that this is, technically, your mission. As ranking officer aboard the Enterprise, I am willing to relinquish command to you."
Jim sucked in a hissing breath. Command of the Enterprise. It was as if Spock had wrapped up the thing he wanted most in all the world besides his husband's safe return, and handed it to him on a silver platter. Jim swallowed hard and looked at his friend. Spock's face was completely impassive. Jim gritted his teeth and shook his head. "No, Spock. I can't do that. First of all, I'm a fugitive, so my status as ranking officer is somewhat academic at this point."
"We are all fugitives now, Jim," Spock said.
Jim smiled. "Be that as it may, I won't take your command. I was retired from command because of my health, and I've come to terms with that." That wasn't strictly true, but it was immaterial at the moment. "This is your ship, Spock. I'm a guest here. I'm just here to get Bones back."
Spock nodded slowly. "As you wish, Admiral."
They continued to the Bridge in silence. When the turbolift door swished open, the sight threatened to take his breath away. He felt almost the same way he'd felt when he'd first seen the Enterprise come around the curve of Delos II. He smiled and stepped onto the bridge, noting that everyone's eyes were on him. They seemed almost surprised when he didn't sit down in the captain's chair. "Could you use a hand at the Science station, Spock?" he asked.
"Certainly, Jim. Regular scans for possible pursuit would be beneficial." Spock took his place in the Chair, and Jim sat a few feet from Uhura at the science station. "Mr. Chekov," Spock said. "Plot zig-zag course to Veris III."
"Course laid in, Captain."
"Warp factor eight, Mr. Sulu."
"Aye, sir, warp eight."
Spock glanced around the Bridge briefly, then looked back at the viewscreen. "Proceed."
Jim watched the Enterprise's disc warp forward as the ship shifted into warp. Moments later, the viewscreen changed to show the blue and white light-show that came along with warp travel. He smiled, and heaved a sigh of relief. On their way at last.
For the most part, the trip was uneventful. They didn't run into any other ships, and Jim never saw any sign that they were being pursued. During the night, most of their tiny crew slept, while Spock and Keenser took turns staying up twenty-four hours to man the bridge. Both men could stay awake for days without suffering ill effects, but Spock deemed it logical to conserve energy while they were still able to do so.
On their fourth day of travel, they received a communication from Starfleet command. "On screen, Commander," Spock said.
The screen resolved into the stern face of Admiral Christopher Pike. "Captain Spock. We've received word from Delos II that you dropped off almost your entire crew for shoreleave, then left orbit shortly after. Is this true? Where are you?"
"The report you received is accurate, sir," Spock said. "However, I am not at liberty to divulge our location."
"Not at liberty to..." Pike scowled. "Spock, this is highly unusual, especially for you. It doesn't look very good when you're the only ship in the fleet that hasn't acknowledged our message about Admiral Kirk."
"Starfleet is aware that we have received no message regarding the Admiral," Spock replied calmly. "We received two indecipherable messages, and our third request for clarification has not been answered."
"Then you're telling me that Kirk hasn't been in contact with you at all?"
Spock shook his head. "I did not say that, sir."
Pike's brow furrowed. "If he's been in touch with you, then it doesn't take a genius to know where you're going. Spock, you're making a mistake."
"The only mistake that has been made, Admiral, is the unsatisfactory investigation of the loss of an entire crew due to purely political motivations."
Admiral Pike sighed heavily. "Spock, the Osler was destroyed completely. If any of the crew had survived and been captured, what reason would the attackers have to keep them without ransom?"
"Unknown, sir," Spock said. "But it is our duty to find out."
"It is your duty to do what's best for the safety of your crew, and for the Federation," he snapped. "Going to Veris III is dangerous. You were there, why do you think we quarantined the planet?"
"I am aware of the dangers, sir, as are the rest of the crew who remain with me. That is why I left most of the crew in a safe location."
"Spock, please. Reconsider," Pike said. "If you're basing this on something that Jim has told you, you should know that there's doubt about whether his reason is intact. Social Services has informed us that he's lost custody of his children pending psychiatric evaluation."
Nyota gasped and looked at Jim with a horrified expression. The others looked at him, too - all except Spock - and he felt his fists clenching involuntarily under their sympathetic gazes. Spock's own hands were pressed tightly to the command console. Jim stood suddenly, needing to escape the sudden onslaught of pity. He moved slowly forward and stepped down to the command platform beside Spock. "Hi Chris," he said softly.
"Jim!" Pike was clearly stunned, but he recovered quickly. "Jim, turn yourself in. You aren't doing Spock any favors by involving him in this wild goose chase."
Jim shook his head. "You know I can't do that, sir," he said.
"Think about your career, your children! You-"
"I'm doing this for my children, Chris," he snapped. "And what the hell is a career to me without Bones? You're his friend. How can you not see that if there's any chance he may be alive, we need to-"
"But there isn't a chance! All of the evidence suggests-"
"Not all of it."
"Jim, I sent him on that mission. Don't you think I feel the shadow of that guilt every day? If I thought there was any possibility he was alive, I'd welcome the opportunity to find him, but there isn't. He's gone, but you won't accept that. You're letting an obsession ruin what you can have."
Jim bit back the obscenities that threatened to come to his lips. He gritted his teeth and fumed. "Admiral Pike," Spock said, his voice razor-sharp. "What the Starfleet Command and the Social Services Agency do not understand is not my concern. I have no doubts about Admiral Kirk's mental stability. We are on a rescue mission, and I will not turn back."
Pike sighed. "Spock, you're right about one thing. What we believe or don't believe is not important. What matters is that you are in violation of Starfleet regulations, and you are headed toward an area that has been quarantined by the Federation. As the Fleet Admiral, I am giving you a direct order, Captain Spock. Return to Delos II, pick up your crew, and move on to your next mission. If you defy that order..." His eyes suddenly lost some of the flint-hard gleam. "I'm sorry, Spock, but I won't be able to help you."
"Understood, Admiral. Spock out."
The channel closed, and there was silence except for the twittering of the various console monitors. Jim glanced at Spock. The Vulcan was watching him with every semblance of impassivity, except for the emotion Jim could read in his eyes. Jim placed a hand on Spock's arm and squeezed once. Then, he turned, swallowing hard at the sight of the others, still staring at him with open sorrow. Keenser's lip was trembling, and there were tears shining in Nyota's eyes. Jim gripped his cane and walked toward the turbolift. "I'll... be in my quarters."
Jim felt better the next morning. He'd been left alone for the rest of the day after their communication from Admiral Pike, and he'd spent the time resting, and convincing himself that he wasn't bothered by pity, or shame, or the humiliation of having his personal family trauma revealed to his crewmates, or the fact that Starfleet was aware of the situation in the first place. The morning after, though, he felt great. The morning after was a Wednesday.
Nyota came to his quarters to invite him to breakfast. He went, and sat down to breakfast with Nyota, Spock, Sulu and Chekov. Scotty and Keenser had eaten at the first shift of their tightly knit little crew. No one mentioned yesterday's scene, but Jim could tell that there was tension - a sense of nervousness from everyone but Spock. It was his favorite day of the week, and he decided he didn't want them to feel uncomfortable.
"I know you're all worried about me," he said, when the table fell into another uncomfortable silence. "And you're being very graceful and trying not to pry, but it's alright. We can talk about it."
The men around the table were silent, and looked even more uncomfortable (except Spock, of course), but Uhura was unabashed. "What happened? Was he telling the truth, I mean how can they do that?"
"They can if they think the kids are in an unhealthy environment," Jim answered. "One too many people heard the little ones talking about Bones, but don't worry. I managed to convince the caseworker to put them in Lenora's custody until we get this straightened out."
"Oh, that's a relief," Nyota said, smiling. "How'd you manage that?"
Jim smiled and winked at her. "Oh, I just used my special brand of charm." They didn't need to know that his "charm" consisted of raging and crying and pleading on his proverbial hands and knees. "I'm not too worried. First of all, I'm not insane, and by the end of this mission, I'll be able to prove it to all of them. But most of all, you guys know Lenora. She'll never let anyone come between me and the kids."
There was a smattering of laughter around the table - all of them had met Leonard's mother, and there was no doubt he was right. Mrs. David McCoy was not a woman to be trifled with - especially when it came to her family. The rest of the meal went smoothly - all awkwardness was gone, and they talked as they used to do when Jim was still their captain.
On the bridge, Jim spoke quietly to Scotty and Keenser, letting them know the status of the kids, too. He received a clap on the back from Scotty, and an assurance that "those devils'll be eatin' their words with salt and pepper when we bring the doctor back".
Jim focused on monitoring for any ships that might be in pursuit, but it didn't seem like Starfleet intended to send anyone. Uhura never picked up any transmissions ordering a pursuit, and Jim noted that the Federation ships that were closest to them would still take at least three days to get to Veris III. They would arrive in under thirty-six hours.
When the time for Bones' visit drew near, Jim asked for the attention of the crew. They turned to face him, and he said, "Bones will appear in about thirty minutes from now." Their eyes widened - even Spock's. "He'll stay for fifteen minutes, and then he'll vanish. I just... thought I should warn you. It's bound to be upsetting even with forewarning, but I didn't want it to come as a complete shock."
"Thank you, Admiral," Spock said, before the resulting silence could quite reach "uncomfortable" status. "I was not aware that Doctor McCoy could visit you away from your home."
"I didn't know either," said Jim. "Not until he scared me half to death when he showed up on the shuttlecraft." There was a smattering of nervous laughter.
"Is... is there anything we should know about him, sir," Chekov asked. "Will he... look..."
"He usually looks perfectly normal, Pavel," Jim answered, electing not to tell them about the change in Bones when he realized the children weren't home. "He'll probably behave as if everything is normal, too. He gets a little confused sometimes, but don't worry. Just follow my lead."
"Aye, sir." Chekov was clearly nervous, and Jim thought the others might be edgy as well. As the appointed hour drew near, he noticed that the few quiet conversations that had started suddenly stilled, and the crew began stealing surreptitious glances at Jim - possibly wondering if they would see a sign that it was about to start.
Jim just looked at his sensor scans, pretending not to notice the extra attention. A few moments later, Nyota let out a startled shriek, and Jim looked up. He smiled broadly. "Hi, sweetheart."
Bones smiled back at him, and they embraced. It was difficult for Jim to let go, but Leonard laughed. "You're mussin' my uniform, sugar," he said. Jim let him go, and Leonard straightened his blue tunic and smiled at Nyota. "And you," he said, wagging a finger. "I know it's been a while, but you'd think you've never seen me on the Bridge before."
Nyota smiled, but tears were streaming down her cheeks. "My God," she whispered. Seconds later, the others were out of their seats, all approaching Bones.
"Hey, wow! The gang's all here," he said with a smile. "What's the matter with all of you? Y'all look like you've seen a ghost." There was a laugh, probably from Chekov.
Scotty hesitantly reached out and patted the doctor on the back, eyes widening when his hand didn't pass through. "What in the name of all that's holy," he whispered.
Leonard laughed. "Spock, what are you doing to these people?" he asked. "Seems to me like they could use a good bout of shore leave."
"I do not doubt that is true, Doctor," Spock said. "But we are on a rescue mission."
Leonard nodded slowly, glancing at Jim before turning to Spock. "You're helping Jim," he said slowly. "That's good of you, Spock."
Spock stepped toward Leonard slowly. "Doctor, may... may I touch you?"
"Doesn't bother me, Spock, you're the non-touchy-feely one." Len laughed, but a second later, his face became serious, much like it had been on the shuttle when Jim asked if he was alive. "It wouldn't be good for you to meld with me, though," he said. "A little is okay, but... too much might be confusing. It might hurt you, and we don't want you to get hurt. We need you." Spock stiffened, but a moment later, Leonard was smiling again. "Your wife needs you, and those cute little kids of yours do, too," he said brightly. "It's been too long since we've had a nice get-together. We'll have to get together after the mission and have a nice big barbeque. I've been cookin' for T'Paola all this time, so I've got the vegetarian grillin' choices all lined up!"
Spock nodded. "I agree, this would be acceptable." He extended his hand. "Shall we... shake on it?"
Leonard laughed again. "You're using a colloquialism, Spock! Wonders never cease! Sure, let's shake."
Jim edged closer, and he could see Nyota moving closer to them, too, looking nervously between them. Spock shook Leonard's hand. His eyes widened slightly. He broke contact, and nodded at Leonard. "I believe this action now solidifies our commitment to visiting one another upon completion of this mission."
"Yup, sure does."
Spock gave him a Vulcan smile. "I shall hold you to it, sir."
He laughed, and turned to converse with the others. Jim stayed close to him, but allowed the others to hug him and tell him how much they'd missed him. Too soon for Jim, Leonard announced that he wanted to go down and see how much Medical Bay had changed since he'd been there. There was general dismay from the crew, but Jim just smiled and patted Leonard on the arm. "It's okay, Bones, go ahead. Kiss me first?"
Leonard gave him a warm smile, and gave him a not-so-chaste kiss on the lips. "I'll be back in a little while," he said. He trotted to the turbolift, which opened for him without any problems. He gave them a final wave just before the turbolift doors shut.
There was a collective exhale, as the Bridge crew looked at one another in awe. Suddenly, Keenser hurried to a console and made a search. His shoulders sagged, and he shook his head. "No life-form readings on the ship except ours," he said.
"That's how it is," Jim said. "It... it's never easy when he goes, but we... we're on the right track. We'll get him back."
"Jim," Scotty asked. "Have ya... has he been coming 'round ever since..."
"Ever since the funeral? Almost. He didn't come that first week, but the second Wednesday after the service, and every Wednesday ever since, without fail." While they digested this information, Jim turned to Spock. "What did you find out?" he asked.
Spock took a deep breath, and glanced briefly at the others before focusing on Jim. "I discovered..." He frowned slightly. "It is Leonard, Jim. Not an apparition, nor a creature in Leonard's form. After his warning, I did not wish to delve too deeply, but I strongly suspected that it must be some other being, or form of energy appearing as Doctor McCoy. However, the shallow probing that I was able to make showed me that it was Leonard. He felt, to me, as people feel when they are in a trance state, but there could be no doubt. The warning about the meld seemed to have come from a source other than the doctor, but Leonard was definitely here."
Jim found himself smiling. "Thank you, Spock. I felt it was him, but it's good to get irrefutable confirmation."
"How is it possible, though?" Sulu asked. "How could he physically be here, but still in... wherever he's being held?"
"Unknown," Spock said. "If the transference is being made by beings who wish Jim to see the true Leonard McCoy, then it may be that an illusion is being used as a placeholder of some kind with his captors."
"But... would it not be easier to present us with the illusion, sir?" Chekov asked. "The energy required to transfer a human... we don't even know where he is, but something like that would take tremendous power."
"It would," Jim said. "But they knew I'd team up with Spock eventually, and they knew that Spock would be able to pick out an illusion."
"Of course," Nyota said. "If Spock found out Bones was an illusion, we might not trust it. We might turn back."
Spock turned suddenly and returned to his command chair. "Mr. Chekov, abandon evasive course, and plot a course directly to Veris III. Mr. Sulu, increase speed to warp factor nine. Mr. Scott, please attempt to increase our engine yield if possible, and feed relevant updates to Mr. Sulu as they become available."
There was a chorus of "aye, sirs", and Spock's orders were carried out with alacrity. Jim stood beside his friend, looking at the viewscreen. "He's alive, Jim," Spock said softly.
"I know." Jim shuddered. "I'd hoped before, but... there was always a small shadow of doubt. A feeling that maybe he was only being shown to be to manipulate me into doing what some outside forces wanted. It might still be true, but it's also true that Bones is alive. I'm so glad you were able to touch him and tell me for sure."
"As am I, Jim. I only hope that we reach him in time."
Jim clenched his fists, but forced himself to relax. "We will, Spock. We will."