DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Bev Clark and is copyright (c) 1977 by Bev Clark. Rated G. Originally published in Tal-Shaya #5, 1977.
Hippocrates Was a Healer
''I don't believe in miracles," McCoy snorted, placing his coffee cup on the table in front of him a little harder than was necessary. "And I hope you didn't drag me down to this jungle just to tell me your fantasies. I'm a surgeon, not a shrink."
"I could argue that," the woman on the other side of the table said. "Anyway, you had to come; Starfleet regulation..."
McCoy held up his hand. "Don't. I know all about annual physicals and Starfleet regulations. I also know about spontaneous remission, and that has to be what this -- de Leio--"
"--da Leia experienced. I could show you half a file of similar cases, Corinna, anywhere from onset to terminal stages -- stopped. Dead." He considered. "Or maybe I should say alive. But there were no miracles, only natural phenomena we can't explain yet."
From her side of the metal table, Corinna Athanaxis fixed him with a gentle black gaze. "Da Leia was dying, Leonard; he had a couple of weeks at most, and he knew it. One day he took a shuttlecraft up to the near moon, and when he came down, six hours later, he was well. Absolutely, wholly cured -- no trace whatsoever of the cancer. And he knew that, too."
"And he told you that crackpot story about meeting God," McCoy said.
"Not God -- a god, perhaps. He didn't even use the word." She smiled wryly. "He did mention that this being seemed definitely feminine, which seems to rule out my ideas of God, unless I've been wrong all my life."
McCoy shook his head. "Corinna, when we were in medical school, you were the most level-headed and mundane person I knew."
"Thanks a lot."
"That was a compliment. And I can't believe that you've changed so much that you would accept this nonsense."
"I'm not sure I've changed that much, Leonard. I still believe that medi-scanners don't lie, and I believe scientific evidence. Which I have in abundance." She tapped a pile of cassettes at her left elbow. "You've seen it too. I think you're the one who's changed. I remember when you were a starry-eyed young idealist who was going to rid the galaxy of disease. You were the one who believed in miracles then. When did you stop?"
A face formed in McCoy's mind: Tomlinson. Dead before his time, though he should have lived. And the anonymous security guards -- no miracles for them either. And none ffor the young zoologist who had died last week. She should have lived; McCoy had done his best, but somehow his best just didn't seem to be good enough any more. Corinna Athanaxis still pierced him with her gentle gaze, now turned to razors. McCoy averted his eyes. Too late, probably. She was, after all, a shrink of sorts herself, like him of necessity. The dull unadorned alloy of the walls unfortunately provided no point of reference for his eyes -- great place to hypnotize a person, though -- and reluctantly he brought them back to Corinna. Her eyes were now more contemplative than cutting.
"You have changed, Leonard," she said.
"Must be the effects of this godforsaken planet. Look what it's done to you people."
He waved his arm around the utilitarian lounge, virtually devoid of ornamentation or of any other personalizing touch. The only color was provided by Hippocrates itself through a floor-to-ceiling synthe-glass window in one wall. The spectrum outside -- leaning heavily towards a yellow-green, to be sure -- shamed the lifeless human building. Maybe, thought McCoy, the lack of decoration in that building reflected its inhabitants' reaction to the overwhelmingly alive rainforest outside. Compared to that lush and tropical growth -- the nearest clearing from which one could see the sky, McCoy had been told, was nearly thirty kilometers distant -- a human being was no more than an ambulatory rock, as out of place on this word as the synthetic huts in which he dwelt. And as Spock was so fond of pointing out, human beings were prone to graphic displays of feelings.
Corinna had followed his gaze to the riotous life outside the window and for some time didn't answer McCoy. Finally she sighed. "Maybe you're right. But you don't understand Hippocrates."
"I don't know." She put her cup down. "Would you like to see Paulo da Leia now?"
"Here? I thought you wanted him taken to the Enterprise for his exam."
"That too. But I want you to talk to him here first; what he has to say might sound more reasonable down here than it would in your sickbay."
"In other words, his story won't hold water."
"I didn't say that. But you'll see."
The corridors connecting the safesealed huts were as nakedly grey as the lounge had been; the only contrast here, as there, was provided by the frequent windows through which pedestrians could glimpse the real world. And the farther he walked, the more the outside world seemed real, and the world of the huts, though similar to that in which McCoy had spent the last third of his life, unreal. McCoy was fascinated by the phenomenon; this was the first human settlement in his experience in which the inhabitants hadn't somehow tried to make their dwellings more hospitable, and the psychologist in him analyzed and theorized as he walked.
Those windows -- as if the builders had deliberately wanted to remind themselves of what they could not have. The outside, though lush, was inhospitable to humans; in the jungle of Hippocrates (what an ironic name!) unseen as well as visible life flourished, and most of it was inimical to humans. A short exposure could result in a long and painful death, as the first researchers had discovered to their chagrin and decimation. So the safesealed huts had been erected and the humans walled off from the deadly Eden. Maybe the windows had originally been designed to confront the inhabitants of the huts with the challenge facing them. Instead, the competition had proved too much, and the humans had stopped competing. McCoy still wondered, though, why they hadn't shuttered the windows and put up decorations, and he asked Corinna about that.
She shrugged a little. "Human perversity. Fight fertility with sterility. Anything we do looks colorless and shabby next to that." She nodded at a tangle of green undergrowth dotted with multihued blooms that was visible through one of the windows. "We had it decorated, once. It looked pathetic. So we took everything down, gradually. Someone did suggest shuttering the windows, but that idea was vetoed. No one likes claustrophobia that much, even if most of us are claustrophiles of necessity."
Maybe that explained his sense of disquiet, McCoy thought; he never had been a claustophile -- agoraphile was more like it; he had never been claustrophobic either, or he would not have been on a starship. But he felt a touch of claustrophobia now. The psychological invidiousness of the surroundings was starting to have an effect on him; it already had on the station's inhabitants.
The passersby McCoy and Corinna encountered hurried past the doctors, grim and self-enclosed. To McCoy's eyes they exuded something else as well, something that might be called disappointment for lack of a better word; he had seen it often, in people who had lost a dream, who were frustrated idealists not yet become cynics; he had seen it in himself... These people were not even defiant, as he would have expected. He could almost see why the turnover at this station was so high; only Corinna of all the current inhabitants had been here longer than five years.
"Sometimes I hate this place!" Corinna said suddenly.
"Why?" McCoy stopped, startled. He couldn't see any reason for Corinna's sudden outburst; it followed the lines of his thoughts, but that didn't count. "What brought that on?"
She also stopped. "Everything -- this damned planet, these buildings, the people, me. But mostly this planet. Look at it."
McCoy looked. He didn't see anything outside this window that he hadn't seen outside the other windows: maybe the sunset light was more diffuse. He shrugged. "So?"
"It looks like an Eden!"
"If you like jungles.
"You know what I mean. Green, undeveloped, a romantic's dream. And it's a natural medical lab -- just watching natural processes here we've learned more about immunology and the structure of a complicated ecosystem in fifteen years than in the last fifty anywhere else. Every major vaccine and antitoxin in the last five years has been developed here -- the things practically form themselves, what with the high rate of mutations. But dammit, the viruses and bacteria mutate just as fast, and they're always one step ahead of us. This place is so goddamned alive that it's killing us!"
She drew a deep breath and prepared to go on. McCoy regarded her with mild dismay. He had never known Corinna to get so worked up, but it had been a long time, and people change... She seemed to catch his feeling and smiled grimly.
"Sorry. I did get carried away. But you don't know what it's like to live in this place day after day. Did you know that the rate of successful adaptions here is nearly 90%?" Her voice was quite matter-of-fact.
McCoy choked briefly. "That's impossible," he said.
"Supposedly. And not just mutations adapt: we've introduced terrestrial vegetation around the settlement, and it lives. But we can't adapt. We have to wear armor or life support belts whenever we go outside and even so we sometimes import things inside."
He asked, "Corinna, if you hate it so much, why are you still here?"
"We're all still here because there's so much to learn. Me, I wonder sometimes. It's as if the planet doesn't want us. At first, I was determined to fight back, to force the planet to accept us. Now -- I don't know. I still want to prove that we can live here. Maybe I'm crazy."
McCoy kept his own speculations to himself. He and Corinna walked on in silence, until McCoy asked, "A while back you talked about the planet as if it were conscious."
"Personification. Common among humans. Psych one -- surely you had that?" She stopped in front of a door and caught McCoy's arm as he tried to continue. "This is da Leia's room.
McCoy found da Leia's a pleasant surprise: not stark and colorless like the public areas, but warm and homelike. A mural covered one wall of the living area, and on several others McCoy could see woven hangings, all of them done in the brilliant palette of the planet. Hippocrates itself was visible through one of the ubiquitous floor-to-ceiling windows, but here it seemed neither overwhelming or intimidating, only natural -- which of course it was, McCoy reminded himself.
Da Leia himself seemed much more relaxed and happy than anyone McCoy had seen thus far: in fact he seemed happier than anyone McCoy had seen in a long time. He was small, dark, and compact, and not the impressionable youth McCoy had expected. He was at least as old as McCoy and had as many wrinkles around his eyes. But he was dressed in a youthful, almost garish, long robe, in contrast to everyone else's utilitarian coveralls, and the wrinkle-cradled eyes shone when he smiled at his visitors, as though he were genuinely glad to see them. McCoy was drawn to him almost immediately, and thought that it would be hard to disbelieve this man. In fact, he wanted to believe that the man's peace came from reality and not from a hallucination; he could use some peace...
As Corinna introduced him, McCoy snuck a glance at the book da Leia had put down at their arrival: the Koran. Near it on the desk lay the Tibetan Book of the Dead, an old King James Bible, and several other books and tapes whose titles McCoy couldn't read. A mystic, then. McCoy sighed.
Da Leia turned to him. "You don't believe my story, doctor?"
"Quite frankly, no," McCoy replied. "But I'm willing to listen to your side of it."
Da Leia nodded. "Corinna said you were open-minded." He waved at the colorful cushions along the wall opposite his desk. "I hope you don't mind the informal furniture. Where would you like me to begin?"
"At the beginning, I suppose," McCoy said. He couldn't decide if he were impressed by the childlike quality of da Leia, or disturbed by it. He lowered himself onto the cushions; beside him, Corinna also settled herself. Da Leia seated himself on the floor facing the two doctors.
"I was dying of metacancer," he began, "as I'm sure Corinna told you; even living inside as we do, it's a great danger on this world, and usually untreatable by the time it is discovered -- its speed is something like that of leukemia before it was conquered. I had a childish desire to take a shuttle into space one last time, since I've always been drawn to space. Odd for a biologist, I suppose. I made it into orbit around the near moon, but then I began to feel faint and to have trouble breathing. At first I thought it was another attack, but when it didn't pass I checked my dials and discovered that I had an oxygen leak bad enough that I would not have enough air to return to Hippocrates. And for a minute getting back alive seemed more important than anything I've ever done.
"When I calmed down, I realized that it was silly to be afraid. I was dying anyway, and where better than in space, where I could see the stars and the planet and maybe feel a little closer to heaven? I relaxed and began to go over my life in my mind and it didn't seem as precious as it had just a few minutes before. I was letting go. And then I heard a laugh."
McCoy muttered inaudibly, "Oxygen deprivation, no doubt."
If da Leia heard, he gave no sign, but continued, "I looked around to make sure I was alone, although I knew that no one else had come with me. I heard the laugh again. You know how a mother may laugh at a baby, when she is pleased? That's what this was like. And I didn't exactly hear it -- I felt it, almost as a tickle at times. And I started to laugh, too. Soon I felt as if I were surrounded by this presence; it wasn't like returning to the womb -- I heard that comment, Doctor -- but like having the womb come out to me, and I was a child and an adult at the same time.
"But all this laughing had its effect in the thin air, and I found it hard to breathe suddenly. I could feel her" --McCoy noticed that da Leia began to use the feminine pronoun with no explanation or justification-- "become concerned, and after a minute, sad, and I knew that she had discovered the cancer. I tried to tell her that I didn't really mind any more, but she wouldn't let me. I could tell that she thought it was wrong for me to be ill, almost as if she were to blame, and I felt wrapped up in her. In face, when I reached out, I felt something like a plastic film around me, but a very flexible -- I could feel and manipulate the shuttle controls, for instance. And I could breathe easily, and I even thought I could smell the ocean, as I could when I was a boy in Portugal. I began to rock, or to be rocked.
"When I stopped moving, I could feel that she was not sad any longer. She didn't say 'You're all right now,' but I knew that I was, and that I would get home safely, despite the oxygen leak. And I did -- I put the shuttle on automatic, activated the distress signal, and passed out; I was picked up by a rescue craft and brought down. I had Corinna check me out before I told her my story; I thought that if the disease was still there, I had been hallucinating from lack of oxygen. But it was gone. Corinna was skeptical at first, but she had the evidence of her mediscanners. And I went outside, unprotected, and that was over a standard month ago."
Before McCoy asked how that was related to the rest of the story, Corinna put in. "I thought he was crazy, and I didn't want him to go outside."
"But I knew that I could," da Leia answered, "and I finally convinced Corinna that two miracles were as likely as one."
"I monitored him," Corinna said, "and as you can see, nothing happened. He should have been dead twice over, but here he is, alive as ever."
"More alive," da Leia said. "Coming back was like being reborn." Neither he nor Corinna added that da Leia seemed to have accepted the planet as no one else had, though that was not necessarily a result of his experience.
McCoy was silent. He didn't quite know what to make of the story; it sounded extremely unlikely, but the man was sincere (so were madmen, but he didn't seem mad). And there were those medical records; something had undeniably happened. McCoy was not yet willing to ascribe that something to supernatural intervention, however, it was almost certainly a case of spontaneous remission. Da Leia had convinced himself that the miracle -- and it was a miracle, no doubt about it -- had been accomplished by some personified outside agency. He clearly had mystic tendencies anyway.
"Mr. da Leia," McCoy said, his voice sounding harsh after the soft voice of the other man, "you know that Dr. Athanaxis has asked me to examine you on the Enterprise, since some of our equipment is newer than yours. I'll be running several tests."
"Mental or physical?" da Leia asked with a smile.
McCoy fidgeted. "Both."
Da Leia still smiled. "I don't think Corinna quite believes me yet either."
She said nothing. Da Leia's smile became a little sad. "No, you don't. You want to, but you need more evidence. So -- Dr. McCoy, when do we leave?"
"In the morning, when the Enterprise reenters orbit. She's off prospecting or something around Volund."
"Then would you and Corinna care to join me for dinner -- if I don't make you too uncomfortable?"
McCoy blushed; was his disquiet that obvious? "Well, quite frankly, Mr. da Leia, I'd like to talk to you."
"Observing me under natural circumstances?"
"Did your experience make you a telepath too?" McCoy snapped. He immediately apologized.
"No offense taken. Do you mind eating in here?"
Corinna shook her head and McCoy said, "I'd prefer it. I've had enough of metal walls for one day."
"I hope you can put up with them long enough for us to collect our dinners in the cafeteria," Corinna said.
Dinner turned out to be unexpectedly pleasant. Da Leia was an excellent host and endeared himself to McCoy when he produced a bottle of twenty-year-old Saurian brandy. It was much later when Corinna and McCoy left da Leia's rooms for the quarters McCoy had been assigned for the night.
"Come in for a while?" McCoy asked at his door. She hesitated, as if not quite sure what he had on his mind -- hell, he wasn't sure himself yet -- then acquiesced. She appropriated the room's only chair; McCoy sat on the bed. He was suddenly weary and not only from performing physicals all day; Corinna's stocky athletic body also sagged a little when she sat. In the bright overhead light he could see the tiny wrinkles around her eyes and the gray hairs amid the black. She was, after all, as old as he; no doubt he looked his age at the moment also
He asked, "Corinna, why is it so important to you to believe da Leia?"
She leaned back, drawing up her legs guru-style and smiled sadly. "You noticed."
He shrugged. "I watched you during da Leia's story, and he mentioned something..."
"Too perceptive, that man." She signed. "It's the planet again and Paulo himself. I told you this afternoon that I sometimes thought that the planet itself didn't want us, and that at first I was determined to fight it. But lately I'm changing my mind. I think it's us, not the planet. Our plants adapted perfectly, but we couldn't seem to. Until da Leia. You know who I think he met? I think he met the goddess of this planet."
McCoy found the statement the more shocking coming from the confirmed pragmatic than it would have been from da Leia, or even from himself. It was as if Spock had suddenly announced that he believed in Santa Claus.
"You don't believe me, of course," Corinna said.
"Why should I? Even you said that you didn't really believe da Leia."
"I wish you could stay here a little longer, Leonard. There's a thing the plants do sometimes, even our transplanted ones. Sometimes, in the course of a couple of hours, they all turn toward the east, even when the sun is in the west, and they droop a little, as if they were bowing. It's eerie to watch. We've been studying the phenomenon since the station began; we've done every experiment we could think of, measured radiation and magnetic field strength -- and we still don't understand it, any more than we understand how to live unprotected outside."
She looked at McCoy almost beseechingly. "Do you see what I mean?"
He shook his head, reluctantly.
"They're related -- the plants bowing, our plants adapting, our failure to adapt, and da Leia's success. We have to take this planet on its own terms, not ours. I think da Leia found out, or was shown, how to do it. We don't understand that, either -- I can't detect any changes in physical structure or anything; I'm hoping your instruments will be able to. But Paulo's a pariah now. Half the station is waiting for him to curl up and die, and hoping that they don't get whatever he dies from, and the other half is jealous. I'm jealous."
"I thought you said you hated Hippocrates," McCoy said; he was beginning to get confused.
"I do, and I love it too. Maybe it's a racial memory of Mother Africa or the Garden of Eden. But that's why I envy Paulo, and why I want you to confirm his story. I don't really believe him, but I want to."
McCoy said gently, as to a child, "We all want to believe in miracles, Corinna. I do, too." And prompted by some urge to be as honest as she, he added, "Especially lately. I've lost too many patients. I could use a miracle or two."
"And Paulo found one. If it happened once..."
"You couldn't repeat a miracle like a scientific experiment, even if there were such a thing -- which I'm not willing to admit."
"Maybe if you were--" she stopped, and shook her head. "Not fair. Besides, I don't know if you could call what happened to Paulo a real miracle; it wasn't really supernatural. I don't know."
McCoy had one last question. "Corinna, even if you found out that Paulo's story was true, what good would it do you? How would that help any of the rest of you?"
"I don't know," she said with a deep sigh.
"We're tired," McCoy said. God, how tired; he tried to stifle his yawn, but Corinna saw it and stood up.
"It's been a long day, Leonard. I'll see you in the morning."
If he had had any romantic impulses -- old friends and all that -- he was too tired to act on them. "Good night, Corinna."
Less than five minutes after she had left, he was in bed and asleep soon after. He slept deeply and when he awoke, to broad daylight, he felt refreshed and more cheerful than he had since arriving on Hippocrates. He even whistled as he dressed and otherwise prepared himself for the day, and hummed a bawdy song under his breath as he headed toward the shuttle hangar. He felt irrationally pleased that they would be taking a shuttle to rendezvous with the Enterprise, despite the extra time the trip would take. Da Leia had insisted on the shuttle, probably because he wanted to get out into space. McCoy had never been too fond of transporters anyway, and the longer trip would give him a good chance to observe his patient again.
When he arrived at the hangar, he found da Leia and Corinna already aboard the craft, and the pre-flight check completed; as soon as he secured himself, they lifted off. The atmosphere was pleasant: they chattered to pass the time, da Leia and Corinna telling McCoy of their research on Hippocrates and McCoy relating to them some of the adventures of the Enterprise. Corinna, he noticed, was her usual pragmatic self as she spoke of her research and her medical work; da Leia exuded peace whatever the topic, but he too was entirely matter-of-fact about his work.
In the middle of a sentence Corinna stiffened and pointed at the shuttle's controls.
"What was that, Paulo?"
"The third dial from the left -- it fluctuated a moment ago. Look -- it did it again."
Suddenly afraid in the pit of his stomach, McCoy leaned forward to observe the dial at which Corinna had pointed; da Leia too watched it closely. All three saw the third fluctuation. Da Leia frowned and flipped more switches; finally he consulted the onboard computer. His voice, when he spoke, was grave.
"Doctors, I fear we are in trouble."
Corinna and McCoy looked at each other. The fear in McCoy's stomach began to creep upward.
"What is it?" he asked in his best professional voice.
"Somehow a stray piece of matter has penetrated our impulse engines and caused a bubble in the magnetic field holding the plasma. The magnetic field cannot compensate for the distortion, and it is very shortly going to fail."
"How shortly?" Corinna asked in a frozen voice.
"Less than two minutes. You see the increasing fluctuations in the magnetic field indicator already."
How can he be so calm? McCoy wondered. His own fear had reached his brain and his heart. Dammit, he did not want to die, not like this. And he had always hated transporters!
"What about calling the Enterprise?" he asked.
Da Leia shook his head. "I've already tried. The magnetic field instability is preventing communications, but I have set the distress beacon."
Corinna asked, "Could we eject with the life-support belts?"
"Yes, but we couldn't get far enough away from the shuttle; the life-belts don't have power sources, remember -- we'd only have our momentum. We'd still be caught in the shuttle's destruction. I would suggest, doctors, that prayer is the only thing left to us. And I hope your wills are in order."
McCoy felt like belting him in his peaceful mouth, but refrained, recognizing his unjustified anger. Da Leia, it seemed, was really not worried, and was apparently taking his own advice; at least his lips were moving. Corinna, too, seemed to be addressing something or somebody through tight lips. For the first time in many years, McCoy felt the acute need of something to pray to, but even now, he could find nothing and could only watch the traitorous dial and wait for the shuttle to melt down.
It didn't. It blew out and its passengers with it.
McCoy's mind screamed its denial of the sudden awful reality. No, not now, not this way. I don't want to die! Help me save me let me live!
Stars tumbled wildly in his eyes and visions in his head and some detached part of his mind, clinical even now seconds from death reviewed what was to come: boiling blood, evaporation of surface moisture, explosive decompression, the final shapeless blob that would be all that was left of his corporeal self... He shied away from that horror and flailed wildly, swimming through the void, returning in a final instinct of self-preservation to the sea whence he had once come, trying to reach the safety of a shore that didn't exist. Mother, Mother, he cried, though the sound got no further than his own brain.
The seconds dragged on and the universe careened around him as he waited for the final moments. But they didn't come and they didn't come, and he wondered if his time was totally askew and it had only been a second or two. Then he thought, I can't be dying; I haven't seen my life pass before my eyes. As long as it didn't, he was safe. He remembered the dubious comfort from his childhood misbeliefs, and remembered other scenes from his youth, and of course his whole life followed, and he opened his mouth to cry out in denial...
And he drew in a great breath of peach-blossom-scented Georgia air, and where peach trees had come from in the middle of space he didn't know, he was sure.
In fact, he didn't know where the air had come from, and the thought shocked him into stillness. This was impossible. He was breathing, and it was the air of his childhood, though that was no more unlikely than that he was breathing at all. The wild motion that had begun when he was flung from the exploding shuttlecraft -- in one piece, another impossibility -- had stopped and he was now facing the planet "below." In the distance he could see two shining forms, gradually drawing closer to him or he to them. In space, who could say? (Except maybe Spock and he wasn't there.) Somehow he was not surprised to see, when the forms came into clear view, that they were those of Corinna and Paulo, and that they too were alive and intact inside their shining shells. He reached out to them and encountered the yielding fabric of his own shell, soft and smooth like the mother's skin he remembered in his deepest memories. Suddenly he threw back his head and laughed for the sheer joy of being alive in an impossible situation, and tried to cry out to Paulo that he had been right.
His laughter was joined then by the laughter of another, but it was nothing he could hear; it was all around him and through him, and it bore him up like a mother's arms, and pressed him close as to a mother's breast. The laughter stopped, but the support did not. He knew how da Leia had felt and why he and Corinna were laughing. How much they had forgotten, and how much he now remembered.
The others drifted near enough to touch, and McCoy stretched his arm to greet them. His hand touched da Leia's; even through the protective shell he could feel the warmth of that hand. Corinna grasped his other out flung hand. They hung, a living triptych, for an age, watching the world revolve at their feet -- their world, as McCoy knew through some suppressed sense, just as he knew that his place was elsewhere. A fragment of a song that he thought he had forgotten came to his lips, and he sang the line softly: "Will the circle be unbroken..." At the limits of his consciousness he began to hear the strains of a lullaby his grandmother had sung once; the familiar melody and the pendular movement soothed him, and he slept. In his sleep he fell and grew warm, like a meteor from the heavens...
...and he woke in an unfamiliar gray cell with white morning light streaming across his face.
He lay still, not knowing if this were illusion or reality, and uncertain of his sanity. (But it seemed so real!) The room didn't dissolve around him, however, and the hot sun on his face raised a very realistic sweat on his brow. He sat up, reaching to the nightstand for the switch to darken the window; in the suddenly dim room he blinked several times to lighten his vision.
The door opened, unasked; it was Corinna Athanaxis, looking disheveled and bewildered. McCoy grabbed for the sheet.
"Leonard," she whispered, "did you dream?"
He stared at her. It couldn't be... He nodded.
"Yes." The sheet suddenly seemed silly; he had been naked in space in the dream -- fully he hadn't remembered until now -- if it was the same dream. And it wasn't as if Corinna had never seen him naked.
He rose from the bed, picking up and donning last night's discarded clothing. Corinna didn't move or speak, but stared at the window.
"Leonard, lighten the window," she said in a peculiar voice.
He decided not to ask why, and lightened the window. And opened his mouth.
"What the hell?" he muttered. "It looks like it's been blasted."
The ground outside the window was brown and dead to a distance of perhaps fifty meters. What had yesterday been overgrown jungle was today a wilderness of dust; there was no sign that life had ever existed in the dead zone, unless the dull ash that covered the ground was the remains of the plants and trees. The blasted area extended in both directions to the fringes of McCoy's sight and presumably beyond that. He kept looking from one edge to the other, conscious of Corinna beside him doing the same thing. He had never hoped he was insane, but now he did because, if he wasn't, then the situation was.
Corinna said something he didn't hear; it sounded like "death-storm."
"Let's go talk to da Leia," he said. For some reason he had the idea that the biologist might have some answers.
Amazingly no one was in the corridor. Corinna's opinion was that everyone was either still asleep or in the labs studying the phenomenon outside the station. Privately McCoy thought that everyone was hoping the phenomenon would go away.
Corinna stopped abruptly; McCoy bumped into her. She pointed out the window just ahead of her.
"Look," she said. "The plants."
Beyond the perimeter of the dead zone, the plants -- every one that McCoy could see -- were facing the east and the rising sun, even though some of them were separated from the sun by the buildings of the station.
"It must have been going on for a while," Corinna said.
"Nearly an hour " Paulo's voice answered. McCoy wasn't even surprised to hear it, and only glanced at the man long enough to note that he was naked and unembarrassed.
Slowly the tall trees, the bushes, and every plant that could bend lowered their upper portions in the direction of the sun. Not in unison -- the disparity of size was too great -- but in rhythm. To McCoy it seemed that they performed a slow dance in silence, a dance that reminded him strongly of the death-dance for a dragon he had seen once with Spock on Berengaria VII, but there people had been doing the dance and they had been mourning. Here the plants danced and, whatever they were doing, it was not mourning.
He glanced at Corinna and da Leia to see their reaction. They were staring at the scene as if they had never seen the phenomenon before. Da Leia turned, slowly, to face the eastern window, and in rhythm with the plants, bowed slightly. Corinna also turned, more rapidly, and inclined her head. McCoy watched, fascinated and slightly astonished; he felt no inclination whatsoever to join Corinna and da Leia in their homage, and yet he didn't find their actions ludicrous or even amusing. In a dreamlike sort of way, they were solemn and almost moving. Corinna and da Leia didn't seem to be embarrassed either; as the plants began to return to their upright positions, the humans raised their heads and blinked a few times. They looked at each other and then at McCoy, who shook his head slightly.
"I don't think I understand," he said simply.
"I'm not sure I do," da Leia answered matter-of-factly, "but I have some ideas. Why don't we go to my rooms for coffee?"
* * *
Da Leia dressed quickly in his rooms and made coffee; the other two said very little as they waited. Despite a mild confusion, McCoy felt relaxed and stretched out on the cushions.
"You said you had some ideas," he said to da Leia.
Da Leia looked up from pouring the coffee. "I do but I'm not sure they're my ideas. I'll see if I can explain them." He handed steaming mugs to McCoy and Corinna, and settled himself on the floor facing them; McCoy offered him a cushion but he declined.
"Okay," McCoy said, "explain it to me. Did we dream it all, or did it really happen?"
Da Leia sipped his cappuccino. "The shuttle we dreamed -- or the dream was given to us. The dance--" he spoke of it as a dance quite naturally--"was real and so is the death-storm."
"That happened once before," Corinna put in, "on a smaller scale, when you had your first experience, Paulo. The plants turned brown as we watched but they didn't crumble."
"There were three of us this time, and we shared the illusion. It needed more power. I think it draws the power to communicate from the plants in some way," Paulo said, nodding. "Haven't we noticed, too, that the nearby plants have been dying much faster than usual? We thought it was something we were doing, but I think their life-force was being tapped by the planet itself, as it tried to reach us."
"Hold on," McCoy said. "What are you talking about? What do you mean -- it? I thought -- well, I felt something, but it was feminine."
"Not really," da Leia answered. "I've met it twice now, and the second time I think it actually communicated, though it wasn't communication as we know it. I don't know even if the thing is a consciousness, let alone if it's gender-oriented."
He cut off McCoy's and Corinna's protests with a wave of his hand. "I know -- it feels feminine. But that's the way we interpret it: human beings tend to see fertility as feminine -- the mother nature image. A Vulcan might see it as masculine." He shook his head briefly. "I can't really explain it. It's not a goddess or a god; it's not separate from the planet at all, but it operates within the planet's sphere of influence. Maybe it's something like the combined sensitivities of all the plants. None of those is the right answer, but they're all part of it."
McCoy said, "Didn't the Greeks or somebody give personalities to the planets in Earth's solar system?"
"Or that 'Planets' music by what's-his-name," Corinna added.
"Exactly. Perhaps they knew more than we do."
McCoy remembered a feeling he had had in the dream, that he had remembered much that he had forgotten.
"But it wasn't all my knowledge," he said as he explained the feeling.
"No, it wasn't," da Leia said. "I think that -- oh, let's call it Hippocrates -- communicated to some degree with us while we were dreaming. I think it can only get through to our unconscious minds, because its own awareness is on a similar level, except that it can act upon that sort of awareness."
"A conscious unconscious," McCoy mused. "Wait'll I tell Spock."
Da Leia smiled. "If he's a Vulcan, he'll be more willing to believe you than most humans. "
Corinna said, "You know, that explains why the plants we imported adapted immediately; they had the same sort of consciousness and they could get in tune right away. But it took us all these years. I think it would have been easier if we weren't so intelligent and scientific."
"There ain't no such thing as a free lunch," McCoy commented. "When we turned to science, we probably gave up something else. Maybe it was what the plants have. Now, I have to be scientific again. Exactly what did this growth principle or whatever do? Why? And how?"
"Why is easy, if it's a growth principle, and I think that's a good name for it " Paulo said. "it's purpose must be to continue life; it may not be able to separate itself from its purpose. We did not flourish here -- without protection, we died. That directly contradicted Hippocrates' purpose, and what was worse, it was itself responsible. And we perceived it as death, and we did what humans have often done in the face of constant death -- we died spiritually as well as physically. Hippocrates, to fulfill its purpose, had to encourage our growth too. So, what it showed us that it was life, not death, despite what we believed about it. And then it adapted us."
Corinna commented that the mental bias of humans was so strongly scientific and empirical that they hadn't recognized what the planet was, even with the evidence of the plant's dance in front of them. McCoy sat back and let her and da Leia carry the discussion. Much of it was beyond his comprehension, though he recalled a set of books hidden in his, office somewhere; they were rather esoteric, about a branch of medicine that had begun before the Eugenics Wars, but had gotten side-tracked since, though recently there was a renewed interest and even a few people who called themselves psychomedics. He thought that he might take a look at those books when he returned to the Enterprise. For now he sipped his second cup of coffee and watched the world outside the window, enjoying the early morning. It had been a long time since he had experienced a morning as anything but the start of another day that would be no different than all days. Where had his sense of beginnings been these last couple of years? The assurance that the universe was a hospitable place after all?
He sighed and the other two broke off their conversation to look at him. He realized that he had lost the thread of their talk, but decided that it didn't matter.
"Well " he said, "I still don't understand how any of this was done -- the adaption, I mean. Did it change your genetic structure? Beef up your immunologic system? Protect you from contact?"
Da Leia shook his head. "Those are the wrong questions, I think. I don't think that what happened will be anything that we can measure, though being human, we'll try. I suspect that the answer will have something to do with biofeedback mechanisms operating at an unconscious level, maybe not even our own -- sort of a constant and instantaneous adaption to the planet. Maybe the Vulcans can explain it." He grinned. "I predict that we will soon be importing psychobiologists and psychomedics, as well as Vulcans."
"And what about me?" McCoy asked. "I won't be here more than two hours."
"I don't know." Da Leia was quite frank. "We don't know how anyone else will be affected, or if they will be. I suspect that you would also be able to live on the planet's surface."
"And there are more kinds of death than physical," Corinna added softly.
McCoy could think of nothing to say, especially when he recalled some of the things he and Corinna had discussed yesterday. There was nothing he could say to the truth.
"Well," he drawled finally, hauling himself to his feet, "it's getting 'bout time for the Enterprise to be returning. We should get ourselves ready to beam up. Though I don't see any need for you to be examined, Paulo."
"But I want to be," da Leia replied. "I still want proof that I'm all right."
"Thanks," Corinna muttered.
"You know what I mean, Corinna. Human nature is human nature."
"Maybe not for long here," McCoy said. His communicator beeped suddenly. He flipped it open. "McCoy here."
"Doctor," Lt. Uhura's voice said, "I know it's a little early, but we need your services aboard; Ensign Nakamura was severely wounded on Volund. Dr. M'Benga said he'd finish physicals down there if necessary."
"No, I'm about ready to leave," McCoy said. To Corinna and da Leia he added, "I guess you'd better stand by to be beamed up later. I'll leave my equipment with you until then." He spoke into the communicator again. "Okay, Lieutenant, I'm ready to beam up."
"Good." Uhura sounded relieved. "Dr. M'Benga says it'll take a miracle to save the ensign."
McCoy grinned. "I'm ready. Energize."