A/N: Canon purists may notice that I'm playing fast and loose with a few details. Most are minor - the reference to an osteoregenerator, for example, which Memory Alpha indicates didn't appear in the original 'verse until the TNG era. The station where this takes place also bears an uncanny resemblance to Deep Space Nine, though in this fic it is neither of Cardassian design nor in orbit around Bajor or the Bajoran wormhole. I've also borrowed a few technical details (and one line of dialogue) from Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosiganverse - again, minor details, with no real bearing on the plot, only that I found them useful. One detail that is significant to the story concerns Audrid Dax. There's nothing in Memory Alpha or Beta that indicates she was a doctor, though she was head of the Trill Symbiosis Commission. I've simply extrapolated from that for this fic. Yes, it's a contrivance, and I worked damn hard at contriving it. :-) I'm also aware that in the original 'verse, the Trill were still keeping their symbiont relationships a closely-guarded secret at this point in time - that's an issue I'll be exploring in greater depth in later chapters.
Special thanks to BeccaFran for beta-reading this chapter.
The glare reflecting off the nearby gas giant, unimpeded by atmospheric pollution, filled the room with such a bright light that it broke through Uhura's deep but troubled sleep. Squinting, she raised her head and barked for an increase in polarity to the windows that covered one wall, softening the orange-red glow that suffused the room to dull desert tones. She then got up, stiff and sore from having spent all night in an ill-cushioned chair, and crossed to the occupied bed.
Spock lay there in deceptively apparent deep slumber. He was not asleep, but in a meditative trance so deep he'd been classified as comatose, in a borderline vegetative state. His normally handsome, olive-skinned features were dark with the fever that raged beneath the surface, yet devoid of the animation, however subdued, Uhura was accustomed to. He lay stiffly supine, arms extended alongside his body, his breathing alarmingly slow, his heartbeat in what seemed to be a race against time. He'd been like this for almost three Earth-standard days now. Uhura feared he might not survive a fourth. She trailed her fingertips lightly along the length of his arm, skimming across the super-heated surface, and sighed.
Her stirrings must have attracted attention from outside; the door that had safeguarded her privacy snicked open, admitting two familiar people in unmistakable medical attire. The first, a plump woman of indeterminate age with two rows of markings down both sides of her body beginning at her hairline and extending beneath her clothing, lifted the sheet covering the bed's occupant to press her fingers against his side. Her gaze grew distant as she timed his pulse; re-covering him, she then opened his eyelids, revealing the nictitating membranes that dulled the normally warm brown color of his irises. Next she looked at the readouts on a nearby display and recorded all her observations on the adjacent touch-screen. Finally she turned to the man who accompanied her and said, "No change, Len. He's still in a deep coma. His serotonin levels are all over the map."
His brow creased with fatigue and concern, Dr. McCoy addressed himself to Uhura. "Did he show any signs of regaining consciousness during the night?"
Uhura looked down at the man in the bed and shook her head. "Nothing, unless it happened very briefly after I dozed off." She looked anxiously back and forth between the two doctors. "Have you and Dr. Dax made any progress on finding out what's wrong with him?"
"Not a damn thing, I'm afraid. I reached the extent of my knowledge of Vulcan neurophysiology days ago." He indicated his companion, who was engaged in assessing Spock's reflexes. "Audrid's isn't much more advanced, though she has colleagues at the Trill Science Foundation who are contributing as well. We're still convinced he's in a self-induced trance, but I haven't the foggiest idea why he'd do that to himself. There's no apparent external or internal injury that would warrant a healing trance." McCoy rubbed at the back of his neck; Uhura imagined he'd spent the night in a chair as well. "Just that damnable fever and wildly fluctuating hormone levels."
Uhura's shoulders sagged at the lack of news, or even new crazily improbable theories about why Spock seemed to be cooking in his own blood. It was one of the most puzzling factors about Spock's condition. As Dr. Dax, chief medical officer on this outpost that had responded to Enterprise's request for urgent medical assistance, had pointed out, Spock's body temperature should have dropped along with the lower rate of metabolism typically found in meditative trances. That the opposite had happened, that his temperature had reached such dangerously high levels, indicated this was not a typical trance, not even the kind Spock himself had entered into on occasion after having been injured.
The gentle weight of McCoy's hand on her shoulder made her want to lean into the comfort he offered, to turn around and cry her worries out all over the front of his uniform. With effort, she fought it off.
"Nyota, you look like hell. I could give you a hypospray to make you sleep for eighteen hours, but I'd settle for you going someplace to freshen up and getting something to eat. And besides," he added hastily, forestalling her attempted refusal, "Jim's asking for you. He's had my report, now he wants yours."
She swallowed a groan. "Do I have to?"
"Yes, Lieutenant, you do." The use of her rank made the unstated order explicit. Captain Kirk was summoning her on official business – though, no doubt, he'd make it personal too. It was his way. "Don't make me order you to eat and shower too."
This time she let the sigh escape. "Yes, Doctor. You'll let me know if there's any change, right?"
He smiled crookedly. "You'll be the first to know."
Resigned, Uhura bent down to place a gentle kiss on Spock's temple and gave his hand another squeeze before releasing it. "I promise I'll be back as soon as I can," she murmured. "Don't do anything illogical until then." She didn't know if he could hear her voice – a smile tugged at the edge of her mouth as she imagined him making an acerbic comment about the illogic of trying to hold a conversation with someone in a coma – but she knew from the look they exchanged that McCoy and the Trill doctor heard her.
As she rode the turbolift down to the space station's docking level, Uhura mentally reviewed the events of the past few days from her perspective in preparation for her meeting with Kirk. The immediate crisis began three days ago, when she had awoken to find Spock lying stiff and unresponsive beside her, though she had a suspicion that something had not been right with him for several days before then. He'd been acting strangely for a little over a week.
It had begun – or at least she'd first noticed it – when Spock had, for lack of a better way of describing it, lost his temper with an engineer who had apparently not been repairing the forward sensor array quickly enough. He didn't shout or throw things or behave in any manner Uhura normally attributed to losing one's temper, but neither she nor the hapless ensign had any doubt that Spock was very angry. The look on his face was terrifying; had he not turned on his heel and strode away, she would not have been surprised to see him attempt to put his fist through a nearby bulkhead. Given what she knew about Vulcan strength, she was certain he'd have succeeded.
Spock's microbursts of emotion, as she'd come to think of them, seemed to accelerate as the week progressed. By mid-week, others had begun to notice them as well. At one point, after Spock had uncharacteristically snapped at Sulu for a minor infraction, Kirk had said, "Are you on the rag, Mr. Spock? You're rather testy lately." The look Spock gave him would have reduced iron to vapor.
As close to Spock as she was, Uhura noticed that his appetite and sleep were also off. Some meals he pushed around his plate like a picky toddler. Others he practically inhaled, then seemed to want more. His sleep cycles were atypically restless, inhabited, it seemed, by strange dreams that caused him to cry out or jerk his limbs around. Towards the end he'd disturbed her so much she'd taken to sleeping on the floor. He'd not taken it well when he awoke to find her there.
Meditation seemed to help at first. Spock's hybrid genetics made controlling his emotions a more difficult objective than it was for full Vulcans. Consequently, he tended to rely heavily on meditation, especially during times of great stress or emotional upheaval.
It had taken Uhura some time to get used to seeing him don loose clothing and set up his mat and candles almost immediately after sex, but she came to realize his actions had nothing to do with her (it helped that she was eventually able to persuade him to stay in bed long enough for a little post-coital cuddling). Just as she found running or singing to be healthy outlets for channeling her excess energy, so meditation served the same purpose for Spock. She had high hopes it would be equally successful with whatever problem was causing him to behave so strangely. With each passing day, however, it became clear that the comfort meditation normally provided was waning.
Then Spock had broken her arm.
He was always sensitive of his greater strength while among humans. When intimate with her, however, he became hyperaware, never forgetting that at those times instinct and drive could easily overpower logic. Two nights before he slipped into unconsciousness, though, he'd practically attacked her when she entered the cabin they shared after her shift ended. Normally Uhura wouldn't have objected to rough sex – she'd often wished he would cut loose every now and then, let his inner Vulcan out of its logic-gilded confines – but this time he'd caught her unprepared. Frightened, she instinctively tried to defend herself. In the ensuing struggle Spock twisted her forearm with such speed and force that it snapped like a dry twig.
Thankfully, her cry of pain brought Spock back to his senses, and he quickly composed himself and took her immediately to Sickbay.
It had taken all her powers of reason and persuasion to convince McCoy not to have Spock thrown in the brig then and there, nor to report him to the captain. He wouldn't release her from Sickbay until she agreed that, if it happened again, she'd let him have his way. McCoy then turned to Spock, hovering nearby, and growled, "If you weren't my commanding officer, I'd deck you, you green-blooded bastard. I have half a mind to do it anyway, and damn the consequences."
Her freshly-healed arm still tingling from the osteoregenerator, Uhura suggested to Spock that they spend the night apart and deal with the situation the following day. He readily agreed, saying that he would spend some time in the exercise room. She returned to their cabin, where sleep eluded her until shortly before her wake-up call.
The turbolift whirred to a stop and its doors parted, interrupting Uhura's musings and disgorging her on the station's outer ring. She could see Enterprise through the viewports on either side of the docking port, its hull illuminated by the reflective glow of the planet around which the station orbited. A woman with the red uniform and insignia of Starfleet Security scanned Uhura, then stepped aside to admit her into the airlock and keyed the control pad to initiate the process of passing Uhura from the station's environment to Enterprise's.
Ten minutes later, still slightly wobbly due to the change in gravity, Uhura found Kirk engrossed in a discussion with Sulu and Chekov. She waited silently until Sulu, spotting her standing there, coughed to attract Kirk's attention.
"You wished to see me, Captain?" she said, pulling herself to a semblance of attention.
His smile of welcome faded as he looked her up and down. "At ease, Lieutenant. Come with me." He beckoned her to a secluded corner of the bridge. "I just wanted a status report on Spock's condition."
She bit the inside of her cheek to hide her annoyance. "Surely Dr. McCoy was able to tell you everything we know."
He waved this aside as if it were a fly. "Yeah, he did, but you know how Bones is: he buries everything under three meters of medical jargon and fertilizer. I want to hear about Spock from your perspective, Uhura. You're my communications chief, so communicate with me. How is he doing?"
She inhaled deeply through her nose, then let it out. "Not well, sir. The only thing we can safely say we know about what's wrong with him is that we don't know what's wrong with him."
"Bones said he's still in a coma."
"Deeply so. The Trill doctor who's been working with him—"
A grin flashed across Kirk's face. "Dax, right?"
"Yes, sir. Audrid Dax, if I remember correctly. Anyway, she said that if Spock doesn't regain consciousness within the next eighteen to twenty-four hours, the damage to his higher brain functions caused by the fever may become permanent." She swallowed the sob that bubbled at the back of her throat. "He may never wake up."
Kirk's arms twitched as if he were about to try to hug her, but he didn't. Uhura felt oddly grateful. Not because she feared he'd try to cop a feel – he'd grown up a lot since their Academy days – but rather because the last thing she wanted right now was show any weakness by breaking down. With McCoy it wouldn't be such a bad thing: he was a doctor in the first place, and so fatherly in the second, that he was the natural go-to guy for comfort, especially when coping with a medical crisis. On the bridge, with Sulu and Chekov doing a miserable job of clandestine eavesdropping, Uhura knew she had to keep everything together. As Kirk had said, her job was to communicate information, and that's what she would do, by God.
"How are things going with Bones and his old girlfriend?" Kirk asked.
"The station doctor. Are they getting along all right?"
"As far as I can tell." Old girlfriend? she wondered. I think I've missed something here.
"Good. He says she's granted him unrestricted access to the station's resources – I gather they were up most of the night trying to diagnose what's wrong with Spock." His eyes narrowed. "Looks like you were up most of the night too, Lieutenant."
"Sir, just about."
"You know they have monitoring equipment in case there's any change in his condition."
"I know. I wanted to stay with him anyway."
His smile was soft, warm, caring. "Understood. Right. Fine." He lifted his chin, a characteristic sign he was about to issue an order. "You're relieved of duty indefinitely – at least until Spock's back on his feet and getting under Bones' skin, or...." He left the undesirable alternative unspoken. "Ditch the uniform, get a shower, eat something, take a nap, whatever. Just don't forget to take care of yourself. The ship'll still be here when you return."
Weakness be damned, Uhura almost threw her arms around his neck. "Thank you, Captain. I can't tell you how much I appreciate it."
He waved his hand in dismissal. "Keep me posted from time to time, will you? Communicate, dammit."