By Lorraine Anderson
fFunny. The planet smelled of magnolias.
The plain was rocky and barren. McCoy had checked for life forms, but there were none. He looked over at Kirk. "You smell that, Jim?"
Kirk was standing by Spock. They were both looking at a tricorder and it was pointed at him. "What, Bones?"
"That smell. Like magnolias." It was urgent that Jim and Spock understand. "Something's going to happen."
"What, Doctor?" Spock raised an eyebrow at him. Damn Spock, always bent over his tricorder.
"There's nothing here, Bones." They disappeared. McCoy scrambled forward. Kirk and Spock were dangling over a chasm. McCoy reached out his hand. "I can't reach!"
"Doctor." That calm, cheerful voice.
McCoy shook his head. "No." He could still see them. They wouldn't fall, if he could help —
"Leonard." That voice was way too cheerful.
Somebody was shaking his shoulders. He groaned, then opened his eyes.
"Leonard, honey. Time for breakfast."
He looked around and saw a plain, utilitarian room, medical readout over his head.
"What, honey?" the perky blonde said.
"I'm still here." His voice sounded creaky, even to himself.
"Yes, you're still here, honey."
"And I am not your honey," he mutter at the aide.
She ignored this. "Need to use the bathroom before you go to breakfast?"
"Yeah." He looked out the door. Some elderly people were shuffling down the hall, others were being pushed. At least he wasn't like most people in this godforsaken place. All this advanced technology, and they still couldn't eliminate the stale, sharp smell of urine. Or worse. The aide helped him into his wheelchair, then onto the toilet.
"I'll be back," the aide chirped.
"Yeah, but in what century," he groused after she left. He waited a while, then pressed the call button. He wished he had some sort of stopwatch. Some days, the aide took hours to get back.
He heard a chime on the door. "Well, come in," he yelled. "I want some breakfast this morning. A man appeared at the door. He looked up, his eyes widened, then closed in resignation. "You're dead."
"I've been getting that a lot lately," Montgomery Scott said.
"My mind is finally gone." McCoy glanced at Scott again, then down. "With my pants around my ankles."
"No, doctor," Scott said. "I am very much alive."
Scott helped him to his feet, got his pants up, then helped him to his chair. Just then, the aide came in.
"Samantha, can you see him?"
"Of course, Doctor. Are you all right?"
"Yes, I suppose." He pointed at Scott. "Join me for breakfast?"
Scott grinned and the moved down the hall, side by side. McCoy was glad he had a powered chair; he wanted to look Scott over. Graying hair, paunch, mustache, a sober look on his face when he wasn't smiling. Didn't look much different than the last time he saw him, yet Scott seemed — off. McCoy couldn't quite put his finger on it.
He looked up. "So why aren't you dead? That ship you were on was lost a long time ago."
Scott barked a laugh. "The Enterprise found me. I had the transporter set up so that we were cycled through a transporter buffer."
"For that many years?"
Scott shrugged. "I dinna expect it would take this long."
"The Enterprise, Enterprise... Picard?"
"Aye. He's a good man." His face sobered.
McCoy sighed. He knew that look. "It wasn't enough that you came to see me, now you're going to give me some bad news. Well, it can wait until after breakfast, right?"
"I suppose." Scott looked doubtful.
They arrived at the dining room. McCoy hated the dining room decor, all bright colors and odd shapes. The latest theory was that sensory stimulation helped the brain stay active, but McCoy still preferred simplicity. Although simplicity could be boring, like the hospital Captain Pike was in, a depressing gray. But everything was gray back then. Could there be something in the middle? — He pulled himself back to the present with an effort. "Well, come on, sit down. They'll serve you want you want. That's one improvement over the good old days." He muttered the last to himself.
They ate breakfast in silence. Finally, McCoy spoke up. "All right, it's obvious you won't talk until you've told me your bad news. You're alive, and I'm glad to see you. Who died?"
"You don't keep up with the news?"
"I don't. It depresses me."
"I'm surprised someone hasn't told you."
"Have you seen the age of the staff around here? They barely know what happened yesterday, much less that I served on the Enterprise."
"It's the Enterprise I want to talk about."
No, not Picard! Couldn't be. He would've heard. "Well — out with it!"
"Kirk is dead."
McCoy gaped at him. "I think you need to be sitting over here, Scotty. Jim died a long time ago. You should know; you were there."
"No, Jim disappeared a long time ago. He died last week." Scott sighed and looked across the dining room. He winced when one of the residents started screaming, then looked back at McCoy.
McCoy spared a glance to the screaming man. "You get used to it — what do you mean, he died last week?"
"Picard saw it happen. Kirk was caught up in a Nexus, which kept him the same age. Picard persuaded him to leave this Nexus and help stop a madman and save a world."
McCoy grinned at this synopsis. "Well, it sounds like Jim. But a Nexus? Come on — Scott, you're not making any sense." McCoy waved his hands as Scott started to explain further. "No, don't explain. I believe you. I've never underestimated Kirk. If he did save the universe, then I'm happy for him. And he probably had fun."
"You're taking this rather calmly, Doctor."
McCoy patted his hand. "I've spent eighty years without Kirk. Besides, I see him almost every night in my dreams."
"But. . ."
"Look around you."
Scott did. Some residents were looking calmly around, eating their breakfasts, but the majority were being fed, or staring into space, or babbling mindlessly. The man was continuing to scream, and he threw his food across the table.
"Kirk was lucky. He won't end up here, or like these poor folks," McCoy said lowly. "And I always knew he wouldn't make it to old age." He grinned ruefully. "Hell, I'm lucky. Oh, my body is slowly fading, but I still have my wits and my research."
"Where better to study disorders of the brain in the elderly? We lick Alzheimers, but then other things go wrong." McCoy spared him the technical details, but he could identify the disorders around the room.
He watched Scott out of the corner of his eye. He saw the younger man's face shift suddenly, and knew Scott knew McCoy was right. Kirk did what he was born to do.
Pasting a smile on his face, he patted Scott's hand again. "Let's talk about other things. Better yet, let's hold a wake for our departed comrades." A wake, now, because Scotty needed help now. He needed to keep living while the old Enterprise crew faded into the past. He still had living to do.
As McCoy had to keep living.
Problem was, eighty years was just yesterday to McCoy. He could still see Jim smiling at him.
But McCoy would cry later.