The surgery took just under three hours. McCoy had to proceed cautiously as he wasn't sure where the metal ball would be in relation to Jim's pancreas, and he had to avoid causing further damage to the fragile organ at any cost. Because the tricorder was useless in the search for the foreign object, McCoy had to do the surgery the old fashioned way- using his eyes and intuition to guide him.

Jim had awakened briefly as he was being prepped for surgery and had been fairly lucid, although McCoy doubted the captain would remember any of their conversation later. The doctor had been focused on his tricorder, intently analyzing the readings to determine how much and what type of anesthesia would be safest and most effective in Jim's delicate condition. He looked up momentarily and saw his friend's blue eyes focused on him.

"Bones…" the captain mumbled weakly. "You didn't fix me yet."

For the first time since Jim had been brought into sickbay, McCoy smiled. "I'm getting ready to fix you now, Jim. I know what is causing your pain and I'm going to operate to fix it. I promise, the next time you wake up you will feel a lot better."

Jim managed a small smile back. "If it doesn't work, just go ahead and kill me," he said.

McCoy was pretty sure Jim was making a sorry attempt at levity, but before he could respond, the Captain had slipped back into unconsciousness.

If it doesn't work, you won't last long anyway, Bones thought darkly.

Two hours later, McCoy's laser probe found a small metallic sphere nestled snugly against Jim's pancreas. It was much smaller and looked more innocent than an old fashioned bullet, and yet Bones knew it was much more insidious. The secret to its effectiveness was its ability to hide inside the body and masquerade as a multitude of other diseases. At least with a bullet, a doctor knew what he was dealing with.

McCoy set the offending piece of metal down on the surgical tray and began the process of closing up. He used a regenerator on the small part of Jim's pancreas that had come in direct contact with the foreign object, but the rest of the organ was healthy, according to his tricorder.

As soon as the surgery was finished, the doctor ran the same tests he had run a dozen times since Jim had come into sickbay. The results were encouraging. The blood scan showed that nearly all traces of the sepsis had disappeared. The pancreas scan was slightly less remarkable, as his insulin and glucagon levels were still out of whack. However, McCoy knew he could hardly expect everything to go back to normal immediately, and he was already seeing signs of marked improvement. He allowed himself to breathe a well-deserved sigh of relief. All indications were that the surgery had been a success.

"Well, Jim, I think I fixed you," he said softly to his unconscious friend. Almost as if in response, the pain indicator on the monitor above Jim's bed slowly began to drop.

After directing his staff to wake him if there were any negative changes, McCoy went to the intercom to tell Spock the good news, and then went to his quarters for a well-deserved shower and nap.

Up on the bridge, there was almost a party atmosphere. The crew had overheard Dr. McCoy's report to Spock that the captain was now in stable condition, and the sense of relief had made them nearly giddy. The light-hearted banter the bridge crew was enjoying was interrupted by a beep from Uhura's console.

"Mr. Spock, I have an incoming communication from the planet."

"On screen, Lieutenant." The viewscreen filled with the image of Pyloc's bulbous form. The silk robe he was wearing had a large tear in the sleeve, and he had a smudge of dirt across his cheek. He had the air of a man who was barely keeping it together.

"Commander Spock, I hope you don't mind if I dispense with the pleasantries and get right to the point. Your captain has less than a day to live by my calculations, and I may not even have that much time."

"I believe we dispensed with pleasantries the moment we learned that you were using our Captain as a bargaining chip," Spock answered dryly.

"It is regrettable that I had to take that route, but as I explained earlier, I had no choice. Of course I cannot let the mining class take over, and I will stop them by any means necessary." There was a muffled explosion, and the image on the screen shook. Bits of plaster fell from the ceiling onto Pyloc's blob of a head.

"As you can see, I don't have much time," Pyloc said, a slight tremor in his voice. "If you are going to save your captain, you must act now. I will send you the coordinates of the target where you must aim your ship's phasers. When I see you have complied, I will give you the information you need to save your captain." There was another explosion, and this time it sounded closer.

"As I said before, Decider Pyloc, we will not get involved in your planet's dispute. Further, you are now a criminal wanted by the Federation for attempted murder and we do not negotiate with criminals." Spock spoke in an even, controlled tone that gave no indication that he had any personal feelings about the matter.

Pyloc, on the other hand, was becoming unhinged. "You are being a fool! You are signing your captain's death warrant!" Another explosion rocked the building, and light fixture behind Pyloc crashed to the floor. "If I die, your captain dies with me! And for what?" His voice was rising to a shriek. "To save the lives of a bunch of savages you've never met?"

Suddenly a door behind Pyloc burst open, and armed Idausians flooded into the room. "Act now! Act now! You cannot just let them kill me! Transport me to you ship and I will give you the information you need to save your captain's life!"

The Idausians were advancing toward Pyloc with weapons drawn.

"I'm afraid the Prime Directive prohibits me from bringing you aboard the Enterprise, Pyloc." Spock said, "And while we appreciate your concern for the well-being of Captain Kirk, the information you have is not necessary. Our Chief Medical Officer was able to find and remove the metallic object you somehow implanted. The captain is expected to make a full recovery."

Pyloc's eyes grew wide as he realized the implications of what Spock was saying. A moment later, there was a blast of disruptor fire and Pyloc was vaporized, his final scream still echoing on the bridge of the Enterprise.