Read an Excerpt
First, Do No Harm
Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore
Blood was everywhere.
Revati Jendra knelt before the young male's motionless form, fighting to bring her breathing back under control after the harried sprint from her clinic to the village's small ironworks. Coughing as she inhaled some of the building's sooty, metallic-tasting air, she pried open the injured adolescent's eyes to see that his large, black pupils remained sensitive even to the dim, orange-hued light within the metal shop. That was a good sign, at least a somewhat better sign than the pale pink blood staining his chalk-white hair and widening into a disturbingly large pool where his head rested on the bare, dirty floor of the shop.
"He just fell, Beloren," said a voice from the crowd, addressing her, as nearly all of the villagers did, by the Grennai term for "healer." It was a name to which she'd grown accustomed during the year or so she had lived and worked among them. "He started shaking and then just let go of the ladder."
A growing crowd of concerned friends and co-workers -- all of them, Jendra thought, appearing too young to be working in such a place -- began to encircle her as she lowered her ear to the injured male's lips, listening and feeling for even the faintest breath.
If only they weren't hovering over me, this could go so much more damned quickly.
Spasms abruptly wracked the young man's body, and Jendra reached down to support his head with one hand while rolling him to one side in case he started to vomit. "I need help to move him," she called out to no one in particular as he continued to tremble. "We have to take him to the white home right away." Though possessing only rudimentary facilities, the Grennai hospital and its staff would probably be able to see this young man through most of his injuries. As his seizure started to fade, however, Jendra began to suspect that the man's fall had been no mere accident.
In a practiced move, she reached into the pocket of her frayed, homespun overcoat and retrieved a small, light-colored cloth. Hoping her actions appeared to the onlookers as trying to staunch the flow of blood from her patient's wound, Jendra activated the small Starfleet medical scanner concealed within the cloth. Pressing it against the dark skin of the man's head and watching as it turned pink with his blood, she manipulated the hidden, silenced device in order to determine the extent of his injuries. While his neck and spine were undamaged, the scan had detected a small tumor within the man's brain, and Jendra recognized it as the likely culprit behind the man's seizures.
"Step aside," said a strong, deep voice, that of Crimar, the ironworks supervisor. Jendra looked up to see the burly Grennai and one of his workers carrying a makeshift stretcher. Sweat matted their stark white hair to their heads and soot stained their rough, woven clothing. "We will carry him, Beloren."
"Just a moment, Crimar," she said as she searched through her worn, leather medicine satchel. While she knew the bag did not contain what she needed to eliminate the tumor, which under Grennai medical standards would be undetectable and eventually fatal, Jendra was sure she could cure the young man given a little time and privacy. Unable to administer a hypospray in the midst of the onlookers, Jendra opted for an oral dose of trianoline. She slipped the small strip into his mouth, where it dissolved instantly on contact with his tongue. Within moments, the medication would begin to relieve some of the trauma the fall had inflicted upon his brain.
After taking an additional few moments to wrap the man's head in a thick bandage, Jendra pointed to one of the workers and had him kneel next to her. She handed him another wad of cloth, instructing him to hold it against the victim's wound.
"Keep pressing here until you get to the beloren at the white home," Jendra ordered as she rose and waved to Crimar. "Take him now. I'll follow after you." She stepped back, allowing the supervisor to direct two workers to load their comrade onto the stretcher.
After directing the rest of the workforce to return to their respective tasks, Crimar turned to Jendra. "Thank you for coming so quickly, Beloren," he said. Though normally she found his accent as he spoke in his native language to be fluid and almost musical, on this occasion his tone was flat and emotionless. "But he has lost much blood. Surely he will die?"
"Not if I can help it," Jendra replied, the resolve in her voice abruptly shattered beneath the force of a ragged cough that hunched her aging, slender form. Seeing the look of concern in Crimar's wide eyes, she offered a weak smile as she wiped her mouth. "I'm fine, my friend. It's merely the soot in here. Maybe you could tidy up for me the next time I pay a visit?"
A wide smile creased Crimar's dark features. "I hope that is not for some time, Beloren."
Jendra patted his shoulder as she suppressed what would have been another coughing fit, then gathered her meager medical bag and headed for her home. As she walked down the village's main thoroughfare with its dual row of one- and two-story wooden frame buildings, she hoped she would not have any patients awaiting her return. Still, she knew that as the villagers became more accustomed to her presence, they would come in a steady stream even for the most minor of ailments. That seemed to be the way of the Grennai as she moved from settlement to settlement, this one her fifth since her return to this planet more than a year earlier.
While her personal mission of medical duty on this decidedly primitive world -- catalogued in Starfleet databases only as NGC 667 -- had not gone precisely as she originally planned, Jendra managed to allow herself some small measure of satisfaction in her accomplishments this afternoon as well as what she would do for her latest patient at the first opportunity. Thanks to her, with an admitted assist from her borrowed Starfleet-issue medical equipment, one young man's life would change for the better.
The least I can do for these kind people, and we should be doing a damn sight more.
Hoping to catch a little rest before following up with her patient, Jendra opened the door to the clinic that doubled as her home. Moving shadows in the hallway leading to her examination room caught her by surprise, though, and she stopped. Hushed voices -- she could not make out any words -- carried from the far room.
Making her way down the hall, minding her steps so as not to clatter her hard-soled shoes against the wooden floor, Jendra peered into the exam room and saw three cloaked figures searching through her belongings. They seemed to know exactly what they were looking for and were gathering specific items atop her worktable: two Starfleet medical tricorders, a communicator, assorted surgical instruments, a hypospray kit, and other equipment that was at extreme odds with the room's comparably primitive trappings.
Her temper flaring at the violation, Jendra burst into the room, hoping to catch the intruders off guard. "Just what the hell do you think you're doing here?" she shouted.
Three Grennai males looked up at her with matching expressions of alarm, though none of them moved from where they stood. Instead, one of the men regarded her, his features changing from shock to what Jendra read as annoyance. In a firm voice, he said, "I've been waiting to ask you exactly the same question, Dr. Jendra."
The words were in Federation Standard, rather than the language native to Grennai in this region. Jendra's jaw dropped as she fumbled for her own response. She remained silent as one of the other men stepped forward, his hand reaching up to move his hood back from his head, and Jendra was startled to realize that she recognized his face.
"Revati, we need to talk."
Despite the darkened skin, white hair, and obviously prosthetic ears, there was no mistaking the voice of Dr. Leonard McCoy.
McCoy watched as Revati Jendra -- cosmetically altered just as he was to resemble the indigenous Grennai -- regarded him with an expression first of shock, then confusion before comprehension dawned and a wide smile creased her aged features.
"Leonard?" Jendra exclaimed, stepping forward to clasp both of his hands in hers. Smiling, she said, "I never thought I'd see you again, least of all here."
"You're not exactly the easiest person to track down," McCoy replied, relief at seeing her seeping into his voice. "I've been worried about you. A lot of people have."
Her smile fading, Jendra cast her head downward. "I can imagine." She cleared her throat before returning her gaze to meet his, and McCoy saw a hint of regret in her eyes. "Not a chance this is happy coincidence, I suppose."
"You suppose correctly, Doctor."
Even with his normal features disguised beneath the darkened skin tone and the artificial hair and ears, there was no hiding or suppressing James Kirk's command presence. McCoy saw the familiar set to his captain's jaw as he stepped forward to confront Jendra. "We're here to take you back with us."
She glanced at McCoy before offering a warm, knowing smile the doctor would have recognized regardless of the situation at hand. "You must be Captain Kirk," she said. Looking at McCoy's other companion, she added, "And Mr. Spock. Leonard has spoken very highly of you both." She held out her hand in greeting.
As if unprepared for Jendra's lack of initial resistance, the captain paused before nodding. "Thank you," he offered, his tone less rigid now. As Kirk and Jendra shook hands, McCoy noticed the slight yet obvious relaxing of his friend's stance and, yes, even the first hints of that now-familiar glint in the man's eye. For Jim Kirk, turning on the charm for a woman -- any woman -- seemed a reflex as natural as breathing.
"I'm sorry we have to meet under these circumstances, Doctor," Kirk said after a moment, his tone all business once again, "but I'm afraid Starfleet can't allow you to remain here."
Pulling herself up as if to meet Kirk eye-to-eye, Jendra replied, "The nature of my work here is humanitarian, Captain. I want us to be clear about that."
"Then clearly," Kirk snapped, biting down on the word, "you must be aware that your presence here is a violation of the Prime Directive and poses a risk to these people and their natural course of development. Your knowledge, your equipment, all of it is centuries ahead of these people and their level of technology."
McCoy saw the anger in Jendra's eyes, but she held her tone in check as she glared at Kirk. "I'm well versed in the Prime Directive." She held her hands out and away from her body. "As you can see, I've taken steps to prevent any cultural contamination. I'm also no stranger to the Grennai and how they live."
"Indeed," Spock said, moving to stand beside Kirk. "Three years ago, you were assigned as a medical officer to the initial Starfleet cultural observation detachment on this planet."
Jendra nodded. "That's right, Mr. Spock. We were tasked with covert study of the Grennai's preindustrial development, which we believed very closely mirrored that of your own people on Vulcan. We were here for nearly a year, during which we spent a great deal of time among the Grennai. So, you see, I've become quite adept at blending into the indigenous population."
"Your mission was terminated prematurely," Kirk said, "due to issues stemming from atmospheric irradiation and planetary conditions deemed potentially harmful to the research team. According to your own report, the planet was deemed unsafe to anyone but the local population."
"It is safe," Jendra corrected. "The rings of radiation encircling the planet constantly bombard the atmosphere, yes, but the indigenous population is immune to the radiation's effects."
Spock nodded. "Enterprise science teams have been studying the phenomenon since our arrival."
"Then you also know that it was part of the reason for our research here," Jendra said. "Trying to learn about the Grennai's natural immunity. Outsiders can only be exposed for short periods without protection. My team and I received regular inoculations of a hyronalin derivative to protect ourselves. I'm able to synthesize a version of that compound with the equipment I have and with raw ingredients I collect as I need them."
McCoy said, "After you returned to Earth, you were involved in some kind of research for a while, but then I get a message from you saying you're leaving Starfleet, and you just disappear." The words came out harsher than he had intended, and he swallowed the sudden lump in his throat. Looking around the crude examination room and its array of equally primitive medical and surgical implements -- for all intents and purposes a medieval torture chamber when compared to his own sickbay aboard the Enterprise -- he shook his head. "It was Starfleet Command that eventually suggested you might have come back here, but why?"
Looking away for a moment as if considering the weight of her response, Jendra finally sighed. "I have my reasons, Leonard."
The answer was vague, but her eyes spoke volumes, McCoy thought, reminding him of what he remembered most about the time they had spent together as colleagues -- her drive to heal, the strength she drew from confidence in her abilities, her sense of doing right by her patients regardless of any personal toll it might exact upon her -- all of that shone through her expression with startling clarity.
What the hell have you gotten yourself into, Revati?
In response to her words, Kirk stepped forward. "I'm sorry, Doctor, but you'll have to explain your reasons to Starfleet Command."
Jendra smiled once more, a tired, resigned smile. "I can imagine they're quite upset with me, but that doesn't change anything. I can't go. Not now."
Casting a glance toward McCoy that the doctor understood as the first hint of true irritation with the current proceedings, Kirk said, "It's not a request. You can come voluntarily, or I can carry you out of here."
"Such a tactic might prove unwise, Captain," Spock said, his tone and demeanor unflappable and -- to McCoy, anyway -- almost comical in its seriousness. "We would almost certainly attract attention during our attempt to return to the shuttlecraft."
At that, Jendra's eyebrows rose. "Shuttlecraft? Oh, that's right. I'd almost forgotten what the radiation bands do to transporters and communications." Shaking her head, she made a tsk-tsk sound through pursed lips. "A shame, that."
McCoy saw Kirk open his mouth to reply, no doubt with the intention of playing some kind of bluff, but Spock beat him to it.
"Our chief engineer has been researching the problem since our arrival," the Vulcan said, "but at last report he had not succeeded in recalibrating the transporter's annular confinement beam to work within this planet's atmosphere. I calculate the odds of his completing that task before we can return to the Columbus at seven thous -- "
"Thank you, Mr. Spock," Kirk snapped.
Sighing, McCoy shook his head. "Spock, one of these days we need to have a long talk about that nasty habit of yours."
Spock's right eyebrow, artificially whitened and thickened in keeping with typical Grennai facial features, arched in the manner that always characterized his curiosity or skepticism. "What habit is that, Doctor?"
"Your mouth runneth over."
"That's enough," Kirk said, his tone and the expression on his face clear indications that he was in no mood for his friends' latest round of verbal jousting. To Jendra, who was still smiling as she observed the exchange, he said, "You seem to think this is funny, Doctor. I assure you it isn't. My orders are to return you to Starfleet Command, in restraints if necessary."
No sooner did the words leave his mouth than McCoy heard the sound of the door at the front of the building being thrown open, followed as quickly by a series of rapid, almost frantic footsteps on the hardwood floor. He felt his pulse quicken as he heard pain-wracked sobs from what could only be a child, all but drowned out by a louder, more adult voice echoing down the passageway.
"Beloren! Beloren, kono nata!"
Whatever enjoyment Jendra might have been feeling at Kirk's expense vanished. "This'll have to wait, Captain." Waving her arms toward the worktable and the array of Starfleet medical equipment lying atop it, she hissed, "Hide that, now!" Without waiting for a response, she grabbed her worn satchel and hurried from the room.
Leaving Kirk and Spock to tend to the sanitizing of the room -- which involved both men stuffing various articles into the pockets of their robes or the large bag Spock wore slung over his shoulder -- McCoy followed after his friend. He found her kneeling beside the body of a young Grennai female, a child, whose clothing was stained with what his gut told him was far too much blood. Standing nearby was a Grennai woman, obviously the girl's mother, whose clothes also sported blood. He reached for her in an attempt to help.
She only waved him away, her expression pained as tears ran down her cheeks. "It is not my blood," she said, his universal translator filtering the native Grennai language into Federation Standard. "Please, help my tundato!"
"I'm trying to do just that," Jendra snapped, also in the local dialect, and McCoy looked down to see her hand clamped around the girl's right arm just above the elbow. To him, she said, "Help me get her to the examination room." It took only seconds to transfer the young patient to an exam table at the rear of the clinic, after which Jendra waved him out of her way as she set to work. Kirk and Spock hung nearby, watching intently.
McCoy could see a large gash in the girl's arm and pale blood running liberally from the wound. Jendra reached for a nearby clay pitcher with her free hand and began to pour water over the blood-covered wound. The girl screamed as the water hit her olive skin.
"Looks like a vein was hit," Jendra said before whispering something McCoy could not hear to the still-squirming child. Looking at the mother, she asked, "What happened?"
"We were working in the fields near our home," the woman replied. "Litari was clearing brush when she slipped in the mud and fell on the blade." Holding a hand to her mouth, she trembled for a moment. "Can you help her?"
Rather than answering the question, Jendra said, "Leonard, bring me the tray on the middle shelf." She nodded toward a set of wooden shelves to her right.
Glancing toward Kirk and Spock before doing as instructed, McCoy moved the tray near Jendra's left hand. "What can I do?" he asked.
"The dish with the green paste," Jendra replied. "Take some and rub it on her upper lip, just under her nose." As she continued to work at cleaning the struggling girl's wound, she added, "Don't inhale it yourself."
"Bones," McCoy heard Kirk say, the captain's tone one of caution, but he ignored it. Instead, he reached for what appeared to be nothing more than an earthen petri dish and -- without thinking or even checking to see that his hands were clean -- dipped his right forefinger into the viscous, emerald-colored substance it contained. Leaning forward, he applied the paste beneath the girl's nostrils even as Jendra kept working.
Almost immediately, the child's movements grew weaker and she began to relax. Less than ten seconds after he had applied the ointment, the girl's breathing slowed and she went limp on the examination table.
"I'll be damned," McCoy breathed.
Reaching for what he saw was a rudimentary version of a hemostat, Jendra looked up from her work. "It would be better if the mother waited outside." Her gaze locked with his for an instant before she glanced in the direction of her ever-present satchel, the meaning behind her words now quite plain.
She needs her equipment, and doesn't want to use it in front of the mother.
"We should all make room for the . . . beloren," Spock said, taking the initiative and stepping toward the girl's mother.
When the woman did not budge from where she stood, Jendra looked to her and offered an encouraging smile. "Don't worry, Walirta. She's going to be fine."
Walirta allowed Spock to escort her from the examination room, with Kirk following after them. McCoy reached for the door, intending to give Jendra and her patient some privacy, and before exiting the room nodded encouragement to his friend.
"I'll be outside if you need me," he offered, and in that instant saw the determination in her eyes. Jendra's calling as a healer of body and spirit had led her to this place and to these people, and no person or regulation was going to hold sway over her.
But what are you trying to prove here? What do you think you can change?
Closing the door, he turned to find Kirk waiting for him, his jaw set in an expression of determination that the doctor knew too well.
"She's committed herself to this place, Jim," he said, "and to these people. I don't think I can convince her to leave, at least not until I know more." Frowning, he added, "Assuming I can get it out of her."
Looking over his shoulder as though to ensure Spock had taken the Grennai woman out of earshot, Kirk said, "Bones, she's appointed herself their caretaker. She's using her advanced medical knowledge and equipment to treat them in clear violation of the Prime Directive. It's not that I don't sympathize with her desire to help, but . . ." He shook his head, his brow furrowing as he pondered the situation. "It's as if she feels responsible for them somehow, as though she can save them, but why? From what?"
McCoy had to admit that the same questions were troubling him, as well.
"What do you mean, classified?"
Feeling his temper flare as he listened to the open communicator channel, Kirk rose from his chair and began to pace the small room at the front of Dr. Jendra's clinic.
From the communicator in his hand, the voice of Ensign Pavel Chekov replied, "I am sorry, Captain, but all attempts to access the mission logs of the NGC-667 survey team are being rejected. Starfleet Command has flagged them off-limits except to authorized personnel." Static eroded the quality of the transmission, despite the signal-enhancing effects of channeling the connection through the larger and more powerful communications system of the shuttlecraft Columbus, which sat concealed in a wooded valley three kilometers distant.
It had taken a bit of digging by the resourceful ensign -- with Spock helping him to create an A7 computer specialist's rating and access key -- just to discover that there was more to Jendra's mission to NGC 667 than was recorded in the official file Kirk had already reviewed prior to the Enterprise's arrival in the system. Still, even the Vulcan's formidable prowess with Starfleet computer technology had proven insufficient to penetrate the security apparently surrounding the information Kirk now sought.
"Captain," came another voice from the communicator, this one belonging to Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, "Lieutenant Uhura has just informed me that she's received a subspace message from Admiral Komack. He wants to talk to you as soon as possible, and Uhura says the admiral doesn't sound very happy."
From where he sat near the window at the front of the room that overlooked the village's main street, McCoy said, "Komack upset? That's a surprise."
"Not now, Bones," Kirk snapped. To his communicator, he said, "Stall the admiral, Mr. Sulu. What's the status on transporters?"
The Enterprise helmsman replied, "Mr. Scott reports he's made some progress, but he's still running safety tests. He thinks he can certify it safe for biomatter within three hours, sir."
It was not the best news, the captain thought, but it would have to do. "Keep me informed, Lieutenant. Kirk out." As he closed the communicator and returned it to an inside pocket of his robe, Kirk shook his head. "I knew something about this wasn't right." He looked to McCoy. "She came back here for a reason, Bones, and it has something to do with whatever Starfleet has classified about her first mission here."
"She's a doctor, Jim," McCoy replied. "It's what she does." He waved through the window. "Can't say I blame her. Lord knows how many primitive cultures we've visited where I wished I could stay longer, help them in some lasting way."
Clasping his hands behind his back, Spock said, "Even with the advanced technology and pharmaceuticals at her disposal, one physician cannot hope to make a lasting impact on any society by treating random incidents of illness and injury. The risk Dr. Jendra poses toward adversely affecting this culture's development should any of her advanced equipment be discovered is exponentially greater than any help she might offer. Logic suggests that -- "
"Logic is probably the last thing on her mind!" McCoy barked. "Can't you drop that damned Vulcan stoicism and just try to connect with someone's feelings for once?"
"Actually, he's right, Leonard."
Kirk whirled toward the voice behind him to see Jendra standing in the doorway, regarding him with an expression mixed of equal parts amusement and resignation.
"I heard you in contact with your ship," Jendra said as she entered the room. "You should take better care to conceal such conversations as well as your equipment. Wouldn't want to disrupt the indigenous culture, after all."
Kirk ignored the gentle verbal jab. "How's the girl?" he asked, hoping to soften the doctor's demeanor.
"She'll be okay," Jendra replied, following that with a small cough. Clearing her throat, she reached up to rub the bridge of her nose. "I had to repair the severed vein, but don't worry, I did so in a manner that's undetectable to the Grennai beloren. I've had her taken to the local hospital." Releasing a sigh, she regarded Kirk with tired eyes. "So, ready to haul me away in irons?"
"Revati," McCoy said, "please. Jim's not the enemy."
A raspy, humorless chuckle pushed past Jendra's lips. "Doesn't look to be my friend, either."
"This isn't personal, Doctor," Kirk said, once again feeling his irritation growing. "I have my orders, and my duty, just as you once did."
He saw the tightening of her jaw line as she regarded him in silence for a moment, and he thought he almost could sense the struggle taking place within her. What secrets did she harbor? What burden did she carry? Why was she so driven?
"Maybe that's the problem," Jendra said after a moment, her gaze hardening. "It's not personal for you."
Kirk shook his head. "I don't understand." Even as he spoke the words, however, something told him that her passion and focus went far beyond even the absolute commitment typically displayed by the most dedicated physicians.
She'll accept help, his instincts told him. Let her ask for it.
"What hasn't Starfleet told us?" he asked. "What happened during your mission that made you come back here?"
Crossing the room to the chair next to McCoy, Jendra coughed again as she sat down and spent a moment fussing with the hem of her woven shirt before drawing a deep breath. "Our primary task was to learn about the Grennai's inherent immunity to the planet's radiation in the hope of learning ways to perfect protection against similar hazards."
She indicated her face and clothing with a wave of her hand. "Our disguises allowed us to interact with the indigenous population, but our actions were in keeping with the Prime Directive. We did not interfere with these people's societal development." Her features clouding into what Kirk recognized as an expression of guilt, she cast a glance toward the floor before sighing and shaking her head. "At first, anyway."
McCoy leaned forward until he could take her left hand in both of his. "Revati, what happened?"
"It was Roberts," Jendra replied.
Kirk knew the name only from the report he had read during the transit to NGC 667, but that was why he had Spock. A single glance was all that the first officer required, and he nodded in reply.
"Prior to his retirement," the Vulcan said, "Dr. Campbell Roberts had a noteworthy career spent almost entirely within the xeno-sociology field. He participated in the concealed observation and study of more than two dozen developing cultures, including a solo endeavor where he spent over a year embedded within a tribe of primitive humanoids who had not yet discovered fire. It was revolutionary research -- something never before attempted by any pre-first contact team."
"That's what I call dedication," McCoy remarked.
Jendra nodded. "He had a reputation as a bit of an eccentric, of course, particularly after that mission, but no one could ever argue with his work or most of his recommendations. When our passive research and observation of the Grennai failed to turn up anything useful about their apparent immunity to the radiation, it was Campbell who made the decision to take additional measures. He began collecting tissue and blood samples, first from the bodies of dead Grennai but later from living specimens."
"I take that to mean he didn't do so within the guise of a local doctor?" Kirk asked after she paused again.
"Correct," Jendra replied. "He and his assistants enacted a program where they would select a promising candidate, tranquilize them while they were sleeping, then move them to one of our secure locations where the patient could be subjected to a full battery of tests, all noninvasive except for the collection of samples. The patients would be returned to their homes unharmed and none the wiser."
Kirk said nothing, but instead watched as McCoy's expression turned to one of horror and disbelief.
"Revati," the doctor said, his voice low and solemn. "He abducted innocent people for medical testing without their knowledge?"
Coughing again, Jendra reached up to wipe her forehead before replying, "Yes, and I helped him." Before McCoy could respond to that she pressed forward. "I didn't accept his reasoning at first, but after a while I became convinced it was the only way to learn about the long-term effects on their physiology, to track how the radiation worked in concert with the Grennai's normal growth and aging cycle. We gathered samples from children as well as adults, even babies, but at no time was anyone in any danger. At least, that's what we thought."
She stopped to clear her throat, and Kirk could see that recalling the mission was evoking what could only be pain the doctor had been only partially successful at suppressing.
Then she collapsed.
McCoy caught her as she fell forward from her chair, with Kirk and Spock both lunging across the room to offer assistance. The captain saw that Jendra was unconscious, her body limp in McCoy's arms as he lowered her to the floor.
"What's wrong with her?" Kirk asked.
"How the hell should I know?" the doctor growled as he reached into his robe for his tricorder. Kirk and Spock watched in silence as their friend conducted a brief, hurried examination, with the captain's attention moving from the door to the window overlooking the street and back again as the whine of McCoy's medical scanner echoed in the room. It lasted only a few seconds, after which the physician looked up and locked eyes with Kirk.
"She's dying, Jim."
After helping to move Jendra to a bed in another room of the doctor's home, Kirk and Spock could only wait while McCoy conducted a more thorough examination of his friend. The captain considered a return to the shuttlecraft Columbus but decided against it as darkness fell over the village, opting instead for a check-in call to Lieutenant Sulu. The status report was not promising, with Scotty still hard at work attempting to recalibrate the transporters while Admiral Komack continued his efforts to strangle Kirk via the subspace connection linking Starfleet Command with the Enterprise.
Another entertaining after-action report for the admiral, Kirk mused. It's a wonder he doesn't bust me down to second officer on a garbage scow.
"She's got three, maybe four months at most," the doctor said thirty minutes later after inviting his friends into the room where Jendra lay in bed, asleep and resting. "If she stays here, that is."
"The radiation?" Kirk asked. "I thought she was inoculating herself to protect against that, like we are."
It was Spock who replied. "I took the liberty of examining her supply of medications, Captain, but I found no quantities of the hyronalin derivative developed for use here."
"Revati told me the synthesizer she brought with her broke down and she wasn't able to fix it," McCoy said. "She'd manufactured a reserve to get her through in case she ran into trouble procuring the raw materials to make more, but she went through the last of that a month or so ago, and once her immunity started to fail . . ." Shaking his head, he let the sentence fade on his lips.
Kirk frowned, turning to regard the still-sleeping Jendra. "The condition can't be reversed?"
"I might be able to do something for her on the Enterprise," the doctor replied, "but her best chance is a Starbase medical facility."
"I'm not going."
Her voice was feeble as Jendra struggled to sit up in her bed, coughing as she did so. McCoy moved to help her and she allowed the assistance, and in a moment was sitting with her back against the headboard, still dressed in her heavy shirt but covered from the waist down by a thick woven blanket.
"Revati," McCoy began.
Shaking her head, Jendra held up a hand. "I can't leave these people, Leonard. Not now, not after what we did to them."
"Did to them," Kirk repeated. "You mean there's more to what you were telling us, don't you?"
Looking to McCoy, Jendra offered a weak smile. "You said he wasn't stupid."
"I also said he wasn't your enemy," McCoy replied. "Tell us, Revati. Tell us everything."
"It was one of our team members, Dr. Quentin Melander," Jendra said. She paused to cough once more before continuing. "He had been exposed to a strain of Ametan rubeola some years ago on another mission. According to his most recent physical, the virus was dormant in his system, held in remission thanks to a regular vaccination schedule. What no one counted on was the virus mutating once he came into contact with the atmosphere here."
"Dear God," McCoy whispered. "No."
Her expression one of sadness, Jendra nodded. "The radiation exposure altered the virus so that he became contagious." Kirk saw her eyes watering, and a single tear fell down her right cheek. "Not to us, though. Just the Grennai."
"Ametan rubeola causes dehydration, pneumonia, encephalitis," Spock said. "Left unchecked, it can decimate populations, particularly those with a level of medical knowledge and technology similar to this one."
"Children are especially susceptible to it," McCoy added. "I've seen it run through thousands of people in a month, Jim."
"The mutation accelerated even that timetable," Jendra said. "Melander died within seventy-two hours, and his exposure to just two members of the village we were observing was enough to wipe out its entire population -- two hundred thirty-eight people -- in less than two weeks."
"What did Starfleet do?" Kirk asked, though he felt his gut already trying to scream the answer at him.
"Starfleet Medical evaluated the situation," Jendra said, "and determined the virus in its mutated form would be immune to available vaccines. Projections for developing a new treatment were poor -- far beyond the projected life expectancy of anyone exposed to the virus. Our team was evacuated from the planet, and all signs of our presence were removed. We left the Grennai to their fate."
Spock said, "According to public news sources, Dr. Roberts retired from Starfleet due to health reasons and withdrew from public life. If memory serves, he still publishes for the Starfleet Medical Journal, though on an infrequent basis."
Releasing a humorless laugh that was all but lost in a renewed coughing fit, Jendra replied, "Campbell was convicted of violating the Prime Directive and sent to a penal colony. The rest of us were given suspended sentences and official reprimands in our files -- all classified, of course, along with pretty much everything pertaining to the mission. It was all buried." She shook her head, turning to look at a spot in the corner of the room as though to avoid making eye contact with her visitors. "In some ways I wish they would have sent us with Campbell. Instead, we were left with our own conscience to act as judge, jury, and deliverer of punishment."
"Well," Kirk said. "At least now it makes sense why Starfleet 'guessed' you might be here." As he digested the new revelations, he nevertheless found himself drifting away from disdain for what Jendra and her colleagues had done. While he could not argue that their actions were in clear, unquestioned violation of regulations -- including the one upon which every Starfleet officer's oath of service was based, General Order One, the Prime Directive -- the captain could see that Jendra's intentions, along with those even of Campbell Roberts, had been noble if misguided.
During his own Starfleet career, Kirk had already violated the letter of the law on occasion while at the same time struggling to uphold its spirit. Had his actions always been successful? Not at all. Several failures continued to loom in his mind, harsh lessons and hard-won wisdom he hoped would guide him toward making better decisions in the future, while at the same time allowing him to retain the humanity that had driven him to make those early choices -- and mistakes -- in the first place.
Because of that, he felt for Revati Jendra.
The question now was, where did he -- and she -- go from here?
"I don't understand," Kirk said. "Obviously there was no planetwide epidemic." He waved toward the window opposite Jendra's bed, beyond which was the darkness of early evening. "You didn't wipe out the entire population."
"Only by luck," Jendra replied. "When I came back with a new vaccine, I discovered that the contamination had spread, but only marginally."
"The Grennai's current level of societal development," Spock said, "including the limited means of travel over great distances, would have done much to offer rudimentary protection against widespread outbreak across the planet."
"Correct," Jendra said. "I was able to track the spread of the contagion from village to village, but by then the cases of infection were very widespread and infrequent. I've not seen any indications of a renewed outbreak in months, but I still move from province to province, working as a local healer -- a beloren -- and as part of my routine examinations of the villagers I very carefully administer a preventive vaccine to them in the form of tablets or powders. I tell them it's vitamins or protections against some local malady." Sighing, she looked down at her hands lying listlessly in her lap. "It's not much, but it's better than doing nothing."
"And that's what you've been doing here all along?" McCoy asked.
Sitting up straighter in her bed, Jendra replied, "That's right. We got very lucky here, Leonard. Despite that good fortune, several hundred Grennai still died who would be alive if not for our meddling."
She looked to Kirk. "It was a violation of the Prime Directive, Captain, to say nothing of my oath as a physician. There's a penance to be paid for that, and so here I am. I'll treat these people and care for them as best I can until the day I die. You can't take me away. Not now."
"For God's sake, Revati," McCoy said, moving to sit beside her on the bed. "We've been friends for twenty years. Why didn't you tell me? I might've been able to help."
"If she had, Doctor," Spock replied, "you would be as culpable in the continued violation of the Prime Directive as Dr. Jendra. Starfleet would almost certainly find you guilty of being an accessory in some manner."
"Guilty of what?" McCoy snapped. "Helping to correct a mistake Starfleet made in the first place? If I have to be guilty of anything, it might as well be that."
"Bones," Kirk started to say, but stopped when his attention was caught by a faint orange glow flickering from somewhere outside the window. An instant later a dull thump reverberated through the room's wooden walls and floorboards, followed by the momentary rattling of the window's panes and a few loose objects scattered on the bureau across from Jendra's bed.
"What the hell was that?" McCoy asked, rising from where he sat next to Jendra.
Having already retrieved his tricorder from beneath the folds of his robe, Spock activated the device, its high-pitched whine echoing within the small room. "There has been an explosion from within a large structure near the village's northern perimeter."
"The ironworks," Jendra said, her eyes widening in concern.
From outside the building, Kirk heard a horn blowing, instinct telling him it was an alert signal for the rest of the village. "Spock?"
Still studying his tricorder, the Vulcan replied, "I'm detecting a fire inside the building, Captain, spreading rapidly."
"We have to go," Jendra cried as she struggled to rise from the bed. "There may be people hurt."
"Revati," McCoy said, holding out a hand to steady her, "you're in no condition to go running down there."
"They'll need me, damn it!" Jendra shouted, appearing to gather strength as she moved from the bed toward the door. Stopping at the threshold, she turned to regard the three Enterprise officers. "And I could use some help, too."
Despite the rules and regulations, Kirk knew there was only one choice to make.
Komack's going to have my hide.
Even before they reached the massive, two-story structure housing the iron smelting factory as well as -- according to Jendra -- the village's trio of blacksmiths and also the dozen or so kilns used for brick-making, Kirk could see flames licking from inside the structure's highest windows. As he, Spock, McCoy, and Jendra drew closer, the captain noted the large gathering of people near the building's main entrance. He counted eight people lying scattered on the ground, two of them coughing and five unmoving as others hovered over them. The eighth was writhing and screaming, both of his legs scorched black. The unmistakable odor of burnt flesh assailed Kirk's nostrils, and it was a physical effort to keep from retching.
Without saying a word, Jendra moved to the burn victim. Several of the villagers saw her approach and stood aside to allow her passage, and Kirk heard a steady chorus of "Beloren!" as she knelt beside her newest patient.
"I'm going to see what I can do," McCoy said. It wasn't a request for permission, Kirk noted, not that he would have expected anything less from the doctor. Though worried about the potential for their exposure as outsiders here among the Grennai, the captain trusted his friend to use sound judgment even while doing everything in his power to heal those in need.
"Captain," Spock said in a low voice, and Kirk turned to see the Vulcan surreptitiously consulting the tricorder he held concealed by his robe. "I count six life-forms inside the structure, surrounded by fire. They appear to be trapped."
Looking around, Kirk took in the scene of Grennai villagers scrambling to maneuver various kinds of crude fire-fighting equipment into position, chief among them a device that he recognized as a form of hand-operated water pump set atop a wagon and drawn by a quartet of sizable, long-haired quadrupedal animals that looked to be a cross between horses and water buffalo. Members of the wagon team were already unloading spools of hose made from either canvas or leather.
There was no way, Kirk decided, that the villagers would be able to get the fire under control in time to save the trapped workers.
"Damn," he hissed through gritted teeth as he retrieved his communicator and flipped it open. "Kirk to Enterprise!"
"Enterprise. Lieutenant Sulu here, sir," came his helmsman's prompt reply.
"Sulu, tell me Scotty's got the transporters working."
"Not yet, sir." Kirk heard the regret in the lieutenant's voice. "They're still not safe for biomatter transport."
There was nothing to be done about that now. "Have sickbay stand by for possible emergency triage to treat burn victims, and start prepping a shuttlecraft with the appropriate equipment and supplies."
Closing the communicator, the captain caught sight of McCoy looking over at him from where he knelt beside Jendra. The hint of an understanding and appreciative smile teased the corners of his mouth.
"Shut up," Kirk said to his friend before turning to Spock. "Where are the trapped people?"
The Vulcan pointed toward his left. "Toward the rear of the structure on the ground floor. Life-signs are weak."
"Let's go, then," Kirk said before taking off at a run down the length of the ironworks. Flames billowed from open windows on the second floor, licking at the structure's exterior wood trim. Kirk spied a dark sliver farther along the wall and was buoyed to see that it was a door, standing open and offering unimpeded access to the building.
"Come on, Spock!" Kirk yelled as he plunged through the doorway, the heat from the fire playing across his exposed skin the instant he was inside. Smoke stung his eyes and he reached up to cover his mouth with part of his hood. Inside the building, the only illumination was that offered by the blaze eating at the flammable materials around him. With Spock indicating the correct direction, the captain moved across the floor of the ironworks, dodging between equipment, tools, and burning debris that had fallen from the ceiling, all while trying to ignore the nagging feeling that the entire building was about to fall down around his ears.
"Help!" a voice called out from somewhere to his left, and Kirk turned to see a male Grennai waving in his direction, the man's frantic plea and the emotion behind it channeled through Kirk's universal translator. As he drew closer, the captain saw the panic in the man's eyes. "We're trapped in here! Help us!"
"Don't worry," Kirk said, hoping to ease the man's fears, "we're going to get you out of here." He placed his hands on the Grennai's shoulders. "Where are the others?"
"This way!" the man replied, leading Kirk and Spock deeper into the building to where a group of five other Grennai were lying beneath a set of stairs in the rear corner of the room. A quick check revealed that all of the workers were unconscious, having succumbed to either the heat or smoke inhalation.
The fire was close, Kirk knew, working its way across the structure's wooden framework. Smoke thickened the air, making it difficult to see and even harder to breathe. As he pressed a fold of his robe over his mouth, the captain was sure he heard dull groans and creaks of protest as the burning building continued to deteriorate around them.
Something cracked and snapped above and behind Kirk an instant before he felt a hand on his back pushing him forward. Struggling to keep his balance, he turned in time to see Spock narrowly avoiding a large, burning timber as it fell from the ceiling and plummeted to the cobblestone floor. Embers and ash swirled around the massive piece of wood as it came to rest less than a meter from the Vulcan's feet.
"You all right?" Kirk called out.
Spock nodded. "We do not have much time."
"We must hurry!" the Grennai cried, his voice cracking under the obvious strain.
Nodding in agreement, Kirk replied, "No time to get them all out the way we came." Reaching inside his robe, he retrieved the compact phaser from his pocket, showing it to Spock while also shielding it from the other man.
Spock exchanged a look of understanding with Kirk before stepping closer to the man. "Sir, a fragment of burning ash has landed on your clothing. Let me help you." His hand clamped down at the junction of the Grennai's neck and shoulder, and the man's eyes opened wide in surprise as his body fell limp.
"What are the odds I'll ever learn to do that?" Kirk asked as Spock lowered the man's unconscious form to the ground.
"They continue to defy my efforts at computation, Captain."
Moving closer to the wall, Kirk checked the power setting on his phaser before taking aim and firing the weapon. Harsh blue-white energy lanced from the phaser and struck the wall, washing over the crude earthen bricks and expanding outward in a near-perfect circle. Masonry dissolved beneath the glare of the phaser blast, revealing open ground outside the building. Kirk ceased firing, and smoke immediately began to filter through the newly created hole.
He set to work assisting Spock to move the stricken victims from their place of fleeting shelter to safety outside the structure. Once outside and safely away from the scene, the Starfleet officers could only stand by, administering preliminary first aid to their unconscious charges and watching as the building was slowly yet inexorably claimed by the intensifying blaze.
"Captain," Spock said after a time, "you do realize that Dr. McCoy will almost certainly find no end of humor and irony in your actions?" There was a subtle yet still wry expression gracing the Vulcan's features.
Kirk offered a stern look to his first officer. "Then we'll have to be sure not to tell him, won't we?"
I think I might actually be getting too old for this.
Jendra's entire body -- her lungs and sides in particular -- ached from the exertion of hiking through the thick forest and uneven terrain in the predawn darkness, and she was appreciative of the moderate pace McCoy had set. Grunting with new effort, she hitched her modest pack a bit higher onto her back, once again feeling its straps digging into her shoulders even through her thick shirt.
"You all right?" McCoy asked, looking over at her with an expression of concern.
She nodded. "I'm fine." He had offered to carry the pack more than once, but she had refused, insisting instead on carrying what remained of her personal belongings. With the Enterprise's engineer having successfully recalibrated the ship's transporters, Captain Kirk had assured her that the bulk of her possessions, including what remained of the Starfleet equipment and supplies she originally had brought with her to NGC 667, would be transferred aboard. All that remained was to get her up to the starship, and she was damned if she was going to have someone else carry the rest of her things -- or carry her, for that matter.
Other than the periodic offers to assist her, McCoy had said almost nothing during their hike from the village. She sensed his discomfort, and though she had said nothing to the effect herself, Jendra was thankful for the silence. Despite the way she had faced off against Captain Kirk, she had felt constantly on guard, required to justify actions that before the Enterprise officers' arrival she was certain were unquestionably the right thing to do, from a moral perspective if not a legal one. She knew that -- on some level, at least -- McCoy agreed with her, but Jendra nevertheless was grateful for a respite from having to defend herself.
"There she is," McCoy said after a moment, pointing to his right. A glint of artificial light flickered through the trees, and as they drew closer Jendra could make out the straight, smooth lines of the shuttlecraft Columbus. Sitting in the center of a small glade barely large enough to accommodate it, the vessel's flat gray-white hull and bright red striping contrasted sharply with the muted browns and greens of the surrounding forest.
She and McCoy emerged from the woods near the shuttle's left side, and as they approached, Kirk stepped through the craft's open hatch and down onto the ground. All traces of his Grennai disguise -- the white hair, prosthetic ears, and artificial skin pigmentation -- were gone, and he was now wearing his standard Starfleet captain's uniform.
"Hello, Doctor," Kirk said, offering a smile that, while guarded, still retained much of the charm Jendra had observed earlier.
If I were thirty years younger . . . I think I'd still be more interested in his first officer.
"Captain," she said, nodding her head in greeting as she slid the pack from her shoulders and set it on the ground at her feet.
"How are your patients faring?" the captain asked.
Pausing to wipe perspiration from her brow, Jendra replied, "We lost five, all told, but three others are still missing. More than a dozen wounded, but they should recover in time." Feeling the resignation creep into her voice, she added, "They've not found the foreman, Crimar. He was the most knowledgeable metalworker among them, and he was a friend to me. It's quite a setback for us . . . that is, for the whole village."
She had been surprised by Kirk's decision to let her remain at the village and oversee the treatment of the fire victims. He could have had her transported to his ship without another word on the subject, of course. That he had not done so spoke volumes about the man's character, so far as she was concerned.
Leonard was right about him, I think.
"You know these people," Kirk said after a moment. "Will they be able to rebuild the ironworks in short order? Get back on their feet?"
Jendra shrugged. "The building's a total loss. Collapsed in on itself during the fire. They'll have to start from scratch, but if I know them, they'll be just fine. I never thanked you for your help, Captain. You saved a lot of lives. It would have been easy just to stand back and let things happen without . . . interfering."
The smile on Kirk's face faded, and he seemed to take on a wistful expression for the briefest of moments before shaking his head. "Easy? Not really, no." When he spoke the words, Jendra saw for the first time that this man had encountered similar dilemmas in the past and been forced to make difficult decisions in the face of such crises. She could not be sure, but she sensed that he might even harbor guilt over the results of at least some of those choices.
More to him than meets the eye, I'll grant that.
She caught movement behind the captain and looked up to see Spock exiting the shuttlecraft. Like Kirk, the Vulcan also was dressed in Starfleet garb, all vestiges of his Grennai persona gone. "I take it the local look didn't agree with you gentlemen?" she asked.
"The need for us to interact with the indigenous population has ended," Spock said. "There was also the matter of my . . . compromised disguise."
"One of his ears melted at the fire," Kirk deadpanned, his expression remaining fixed and neutral.
"Damn shame, too," McCoy said. "I thought it was an improvement. Spock, you were almost likable."
Jendra started to laugh but was interrupted by a coughing fit so severe that it felt as though her lungs were tearing. McCoy moved to her side, maneuvering her so that she could sit on the steps leading into the shuttlecraft. After taking a moment to catch her breath, she looked up to Kirk, sighing. "All right, let's get this over with, Captain. I'm only here because I'm too damned tired to outrun or outfox you. What's done is done, I suppose I'm ready to atone for my actions, and I want to do it while I'm still breathing." She had given her word to Kirk that she would not attempt to flee the village, in return for his allowing her to tend to the victims of the fire. Despite momentary temptation, she had every intention of keeping her promise, no matter how difficult it was to do so.
Kirk regarded her in silence for several heartbeats, and Jendra thought she saw conflict behind the captain's bright, hazel eyes. His jaw line tightened, and he inhaled a deep breath before drawing himself to his full height and squaring his shoulders.
Confused by the abrupt statement, Jendra blinked several times. "No, what?"
"While waiting for you this morning," Kirk said, "I completed my after-action report for Starfleet Command. I haven't yet transmitted it, but it says that you died earlier this morning from complications due to injuries you suffered while rescuing Grennai villagers from the fire."
"Jim?" McCoy said, and Jendra was sure that her friend's expression of uncertainty mirrored her own. She found herself fumbling for something to say.
Finally, she managed to whisper, "I don't understand."
"My report will also state that your body was interred in accordance with local Grennai customs," Kirk continued, "and that your presence didn't introduce any obvious or permanent cultural contamination. Our mission here was concluded without further incident." Looking down at her, he smiled again. "It's not often that someone gets the opportunity to correct a mistake, Doctor. I wasn't sure about this until just a little while ago, but I think you should have that opportunity."
Her eyes darted from Kirk's face to McCoy's, and she saw a knowing smile spreading across her friend's features.
"I'll be damned," McCoy said, shaking his head before looking at Spock. "You're going along with this, too?"
The Vulcan nodded. "While I do not condone violation of the Prime Directive, Doctor, this situation is somewhat unique. Dr. Jendra's efforts, limited though they may be, do serve a noble purpose. It seems logical to allow her to continue."
"And you're okay with lying?" McCoy asked.
His right eyebrow arching, Spock replied, "It is not a lie to protect the truth from those who would act against it without concern for mitigating circumstances, Doctor. In this matter, I believe Starfleet to be wrong, both then and now."
"My God," McCoy said in mock astonishment. "I need a drink."
Now unable to stifle a joyous laugh even as she felt her eyes watering, Jendra reached out until she could grasp Kirk's hands in her own. "Thank you, Captain. I don't know what to say."
"It's my pleasure, Doctor." Casting a quick glance toward the approaching sunrise, he said, "It's almost daybreak, and we need to be going." He offered a look at McCoy. "But we've still got a few minutes, Bones."
The captain and Spock offered their farewells and good luck wishes before climbing into the shuttlecraft, leaving McCoy alone with her even as she wiped tears from her face. Ever the gentleman, he produced a handkerchief for her.
"Leonard," she said, "I don't believe it."
"I probably shouldn't, either," McCoy replied, "but I know better. This isn't the first time I've seen Jim wring a second chance out of a bad situation." He reached into his robe and withdrew a small pouch and offered it to her. "A parting gift, I suppose. It's not much, but you might be able to do some good with it." She saw tears welling up in his eyes as he pulled her close, his voice trembling as he planted a soft kiss on her weathered forehead. "Take care of yourself, Revati."
Jendra stepped back from the shuttlecraft as McCoy climbed aboard, turning to wave once more to her before the hatch was closed. A moment later, she felt the rush of wind whipping her clothes and her hair as the vessel's thrusters lifted it into the air and pushed it into the slowly brightening sky.
As the echo of the departing shuttle's engines faded, Jendra looked down at the pouch in her hand and opened its protective flap, only to find several vials of tablets. The labels on the vials identified the medicine as the hyronalin derivative she had lacked for these many weeks. While the medication would not reverse her condition, it certainly would allow her much more time among the Grennai than she might have hoped for.
Given the extra time, she might even find a substitute remedy, she decided.
Clutching the medication to her chest, Revati Jendra closed her eyes and offered silent thanks for the fortune that had been visited upon her.
Leonard, my friend, your captain is hardly the only giver of second chances.
Copyright © 2006 by CBS Studios Inc.