4: Complexity

Over the next few days, Spock grew increasingly restless as he was forced by Dr. McCoy’s orders to work only one hour out of every two. He filled his downtime with meditation and relaxation, but there were many things to be done to prepare for the construction of the new Enterprise and he was — not frustrated, of course — desirous of getting back to his regular duties. Uhura was seeing the counselor more often and for longer blocks of time as well, so he found himself at loose ends during his non-working hours, although he was sincerely glad that she was seeking help to recover from her trauma.

Every time he asked the computer where McCoy was and what he was doing, the answer came back that he was at the hospital teaching or performing an operation. The realization that the doctor, who had gone through a rather trying ordeal himself, was already back to a full schedule did rankle Spock a bit if he were being honest with himself. He could have simply requested an appointment; however, since McCoy’s orders had been explicit, he felt there was little chance of the irascible physician changing his mind.

One day after he had finished his last hour of duty permitted, Spock asked the computer again (almost by habit) what McCoy was doing.

“Dr. McCoy is at the 8th District Hospital. He will be performing a demonstration surgery of how to manually remove necrotic cysts from a patient with Oyenusi Syndrome, starting in approximately 6 minutes.”

Curious about the disease, Spock looked it up and skimmed the brief, but his thoughts were more on the fact that this was a teaching surgery — and that the hospital would probably allow him, as a Science Officer with Starfleet, to watch from the gallery. He double-checked with the computer and received confirmation in the affirmative, so he swiftly made his way to the hospital, where a receptionist gave him directions to the gallery. He was surprised at how few seats were still empty but managed to find one in the back row. Another doctor had just finished describing the specifics of the patient’s condition and then introduced Dr. McCoy.

“Okay, first things first: this is going to be a barbaric procedure,” McCoy’s distinctive voice rang out over the speakers as he glanced up at the windows surrounding the operating room. “It’s one of the few surgeries we still have to do the old-fashioned way because even our newest and best equipment can’t distinguish between the healthy tissue and infected tissue. The dead tissue, of course, is easy enough to spot; the infected but still living tissue is much trickier, but it has to be completely eradicated or the disease will continue to spread. If any of you have a weak stomach, I would recommend stepping out now.”

From that point the doctor donned magnifying glasses and worked on the patient, cutting open the thoracic region and prying apart the ribs to expose the left lung. His assistant then brought over a large light that shone in the ultraviolet spectrum.

“The key here is to only have one light source,” McCoy instructed. “Although you’ll have to move it around to light the tissue from every angle, if you have multiple light sources they will create shadows and you could miss some spots. So now it just becomes a game of patience — it’s tedious and monotonous, but you have to find every single speck of the infection. You have to hate the disease with every fiber of your being, as if it’s hurting the people you love most, and take every damn cell of it out with a vengeance!”

Spock was shocked when he felt a wave of anger hit him from the direction of the operating room. Although it seemed illogical, he knew he was feeling McCoy’s actual emotions, despite their being separated by a significant distance and soundproof windows. Spock did not think the doctor’s emotions, as powerful as they were, could be that strong; he began to suspect that over the course of their time together, he himself had become attuned to McCoy — like a radio tuned in to a specific frequency — which now allowed him to perceive the Human’s feelings with greater sensitivity.

All through the long operation, Spock could feel surges of aggravation and at times downright aggression emanating from McCoy. The doctor truly hated the disease and was determined not to leave behind a single infected cell in his patient. By the time he moved on to the right lung, many of the onlookers had grown bored and left, but Spock was fascinated by the methodical precision with which McCoy searched for and removed the affected tissue. Almost two hours later, when McCoy was finally satisfied that no spots remained, the assisting surgeon took over and closed the cavity with regenerators. Spock made his way out of the gallery to the hallway where McCoy emerged a short while later.

“Spock! What’re you doing here?”

“Since I had worked the maximum hours allowed for today, I decided to broaden my knowledge by attending your surgery. I must say your concentration was impressive.”

“Well, I don’t mind telling you I’m exhausted. That was the worst case I’ve ever seen! Shift the light a few degrees and a whole ’nuther crop of them showed up! I need a drink. More importantly, I need to change. You wanna come up to my office? It’s small but it’s got a nice view.”

“I would be… delighted.”

“Ha! You, ‘delighted’?” McCoy gibed as he led the way to a turbolift.

“I was merely using a common Human expression… but I am pleased to know they have provided you with adequate facilities.”

“Adequate! This place is a dream. All the latest equipment plus two research facilities that are developing cutting-edge devices and techniques. I couldn’t ask for better.”

They walked out onto one of the higher-level floors and McCoy navigated the maze-like corridors while describing some of the technological advances he had seen since being assigned to this post.

“A lot of this stuff hasn’t been published yet, so I wouldn’t have known about them if I weren’t working here,” he concluded as he opened the door to his office. “Make yourself at home — or better yet, make yourself useful and pour us some drinks. There’s bourbon and tumblers in the lower left desk drawer.”

While McCoy went into the bathroom and activated the shower, Spock retrieved two glasses and poured a finger of bourbon in each. He could not help but notice the two other objects on the desk: a small spherical replica of Yorktown and a holograph panel, currently turned off. He picked up the model to examine its intricate details and was surprised when white bits of what looked to be resin-polymer material swirled in the bottom. They were too undefined to be shuttlecraft and too numerous, anyway, to be an accurate representation of the crafts inside the space station. Mystified, he raised an eyebrow as he set it back down. The view of the actual station from the window was, as McCoy had claimed, aesthetically pleasing.

The doctor came out of the bathroom in street clothes with his hair still slightly damp. “Ah, there’s the stuff!” he said with a sigh and grabbed a glass. He inhaled the aroma before taking a sip. “Nectar of the gods!”

Spock did the same, and although he did not often imbibe alcoholic drinks, he found the fruity note of apricot to be pleasant.

“So how’s Lieutenant Uhura doing?” McCoy asked.

“She is… doing well, I believe. She has increased her sessions with Counselor Hathaway,” Spock answered.

“Oh, she got Hathaway? She’s a good doctor, as far as shrinks go. I’ve heard she tends to take more time than most, but that’s a good thing sometimes.” McCoy pulled open a different drawer and grabbed a PADD. “I’m guessing you stopped by for those courses I promised.”

“That was one of my reasons, yes.”

“I put them all in here — I meant to give this to you yesterday but got stuck in emergency surgeries the whole afternoon. Mudzuri and Kwang’s is the best, in my opinion, since they cover all the bases and have them systematically organized. Sidorova has some good points too; she treats a lot of trauma cases by applying grief counseling techniques, which makes sense when the patient has suffered losses — whether it’s the loss of physical abilities or the loss of… crewmates. And Dollinger has done extensive research on survivor guilt, so his insights should be helpful.”

“Thank you, Doctor,” Spock said as he accepted the PADD. “I appreciate your looking into this.”

“Ah, don’t mention it!” McCoy brushed it off verbally but Spock could sense his pleasure and satisfaction. “Here, if you don’t need to rush off to see your girlfriend, pull up a seat and stay a while — and bring me up to speed on the Enterprise A.”

Spock sat on the couch, noting that it was a daybed, while McCoy took the facing armchair and put his feet up on the coffee table. As Spock described the progress being made on the new ship, the doctor poured himself three more fingers, which steadily disappeared.

“You should have received the schematics for sickbay by now,” Spock added. “If you have any design changes or input, it would be best to submit them before the bulkheads are put in.”

“From what I saw it looked like a better design than our last Enterprise, so I have no complaints. The only changes I’m requesting are for the biobeds — there are more ergonomic ones available, although they are more expensive. We’ll just have to wait and see if they’re approved.”

McCoy was explaining about the new tricorders being tested at a facility on Earth when Spock was hailed.

“Excuse me,” he said politely before opening his communicator. “Spock here.”

“Where are you?” Uhura asked, audibly upset. “You’ve been gone for hours.”

“I am at the 8th District Hospital with Dr. McCoy. Is anything wrong?”

“Oh! No, nothing’s wrong, except I didn’t know where you were… and I don’t have the security clearance to search your location unless a Red Alert has been issued.”

“I am sorry, Nyota — I had not meant to cause you concern. I should be returning shortly.”

“All right. Just… let me know if you’re going to be gone for so long, okay? I know it’s silly to worry, but I do.”

“Understood.” Spock turned off his communicator to find McCoy smirking at him.

“You’d better run along, then,” the doctor teased. “You wouldn’t want to make her worry.”

“No…” Spock replied, but he was feeling an undercurrent of sadness from McCoy that he could not understand. “I suppose that would be… unwise.”

“I’ll walk out with you,” McCoy said as he stood up and set his glass on the desk. “I should heed my own advice and not drink on an empty stomach.”

Spock put his glass next to the other and paused when he saw the Yorktown model.

“Doctor, what do the white movable pieces in this signify?”

“What?” McCoy asked in return, then saw what Spock had indicated. “It’s snow, Spock — that’s a snow globe. Y’know, those kitschy things they sell to tourists?” Noting Spock’s blank look, McCoy picked up the globe and gave it a good shake and a twist, causing the snow bits to swirl around as in a miniature blizzard. “When we first approached the Yorktown, I called it a ‘snow globe in space, just waiting to be broken.’ So what does Jim do as soon as we get back from the Altamid catastrophe? Buy me a snow globe of Yorktown, ‘just to remind me of the fragility of life,’ he said. As if I didn’t have enough things to worry about!”

Spock watched the snow settle with some confusion. “It does seem to be a rather… macabre memento.”

“Well, Jim’s always hassling me about facing my fears… and getting back up on the horse that threw me.” McCoy put the globe back on its stand, sending off a jumble of irritation, anger, and pain that confused Spock even further. “That’s all fine and well for him. But for some of us… it’s just not that simple.”

Before Spock could ask him to elaborate, McCoy was walking out the door of his office.

“C’mon, Spock — no sense getting you in hot water with Uhura.”

Spock followed him but became alarmed at the intensity of sadness he felt when he drew closer to the Human. When they entered the turbolift, Spock was able to distinguish loneliness and despair in the morass of emotions McCoy was exuding. It was almost more than the Vulcan could bear.

“Leonard, you mentioned getting something to eat. Will Jim be joining you?”

“Oh, no — he’s been dating an engineer from one of the hydroponics labs here. I think he’s taking this birthday rather hard… he’s talking about settling down and stuff, which is just crazy talk coming from him.”

“I was not aware of that,” Spock said, then began anew, “I was wondering, if you have no other plans, if you would care to join Nyota and me for dinner.”

“Spock!” McCoy exclaimed, horrified. “Are you mad? Dammit, is there something toxic in the water here? First Jim, now you….”

“I do not understand what could be so… problematic,” Spock asked, trying to concentrate on his thoughts rather than the feelings bombarding him, “about inviting a friend and valued coworker for a meal.”

“My God, man! Just when I think there might be hope for you….” McCoy trailed off, dramatically slapping his forehead. “Look, Uhura just called you, upset because she didn’t know where you’d been for a couple of hours. Isn’t it obvious that she wants — maybe even needs — to spend time with you? Alone? Not with someone else barging in on your private time.”

Spock had to admit the doctor’s logic was sound. “That is a… possibility… although I do not believe she was upset to such a degree.”

McCoy sighed as the turbolift reached the ground floor. Since there were people waiting to get on, he held his tongue until they were out and heading to the nearest transporter station. “Listen, Spock, I may be the least qualified person to give you relationship advice, but the one thing I can tell you is that women — Earth women, anyway — are subtle in their cues. You need to figure out how to read them, although I can’t for the life of me tell you how. But if she’s called to check up on you when you haven’t been gone for more than a few hours, believe me, the last thing she wants is for you to bring someone home with you. And although I appreciate your offer, the last thing I want to be is a third wheel.”

“A… ‘third wheel’?” Spock echoed, indicating his lack of familiarity with the term.

“Yeah, you know, the pathetic single friend tagging along with a couple, trying to make small talk while the two lovebirds are having entire conversations with just their eyes.” McCoy stopped at last, having reached the transporter station, and turned to face Spock. “I don’t care how hungry I am or how good the food is, if she starts whispering sweet nothings into your pointy-ass ears, I’m gonna hurl. And by ‘hurl’ I mean vomit.”

Spock was left openmouthed, not so much by the bluntness of McCoy’s words but by the sheer force and complexity of the feelings battering him: SAD-LONELY-IRRITATED-ANGRY-JEALOUS-SAD-PAIN-HURT-AVOID-ALONE-SAD-ENVY-RAGE-LONELY-HOPELESS-SAD.

“I… I am sorry,” Spock managed, “I did not realize… it would be so… distasteful.”

McCoy took a deep breath and suddenly the assault of emotions lessened. “Don’t apologize, Spock — I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have snapped at you. I know you only meant to be nice, but it’s just… not gonna work out. Especially when your girlfriend’s still recovering from a traumatic experience.” He tapped the PADD in Spock’s hands with one finger. “Work through some of those courses — they’ll help you more than I ever could.”

“Of course. Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it,” McCoy mumbled before leaving Spock standing there, still stunned from the impact of what he had felt.

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