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Admiral Leonard H. McCoy, M.D., was too stubborn to die. He was 149 years old.
The total mass of implants in his body, including ceramic-composite hips, heart-boosters, and synthetic muscles, easily outweighed his original parts, and he wasn't complaining. He hadn't submitted to these admittedly experimental procedures because he was afraid of death. He'd lost that fear in his first five-year mission on the Enterprise. A few landing parties with Jim Kirk and death was something you came to know on a first-name basis. You also learned how to ignore it.
But after almost a century and a half of fighting the good fight, McCoy could no longer ignore the fatigue of battle. He was just plain tired. Because no matter how many skirmishes he had won, for himself and uncounted others, there was always that knowledge that in the end the war would be decided in the adversary's favor.
Here and now, in one of the most secure medical facilities on the entire Klingon homeworld of Qo'noS, he faced defeat once again. This time, the confrontation and its likely outcome asked more than he could bear.
The woman in the harshly angled stasis tube before him was dying, and with her, her unborn child. And like a black hole reaching out to engulf and destroy all that it touched, her death and the child's would inevitably sweep so many others down into the ultimate darkness.
The woman was Teilani of Chal. A deliberate mixture of Romulan and Klingon heritage, created with the genetic capacity to save her people in the event of the unthinkable -- total war between the empires and the Federation.
In time, the threat of that war had vanished, but Teilani did not squander her gift. A by-product of a war that never took place, she brought peace to her own troubled world and led it to full membership in the Federation. Then she brought peace to the Federation by risking her own life to help defeat the Vulcan Symmetrists.
But, most important, Teilani of Chal had brought peace to the tumultuous life of James T. Kirk.
She had been his equal in all that fueled Kirk's life. McCoy himself had seen them race their champion ordovers along the tropical beaches of Chal as if the universe existed for no other purpose than as an arena for their competition. The doctor had watched visual sensor records that showed Teilani sneakily edging past Kirk in the airlock of their shuttle to be the first to jump headlong into space in an insanely difficult orbital skydive.
And McCoy had seen fire of a different sort between the two.
Kirk and Teilani walking those same beaches they had raced across by day. But slowly, quietly, hand in hand, wordlessly sharing the moment of the ocean and the setting suns of the world that was their home.
Kirk and Teilani at one another's side in work as well. In the forest clearing where Kirk had labored to cut and fell the trees that made the walls and roof of their house, Teilani a vibrant force beside him, quick to pull a rope, shove a timber into place, or steal a kiss, tease a laugh.
That clearing on Chal, that hand-built house, that was where McCoy had last seen Kirk and Teilani together as they were meant to be. Embraced by their friends. Embracing each other. Celebrating their marriage and their future. Anticipating the greater blessing to come, in the promise of their unborn child alive in Teilani's swollen belly.
On that day, McCoy had seen in his friend's eyes a fulfillment he had never expected to see there. A peace McCoy had glimpsed only rarely before, whenever Jim Kirk took the center chair of his starship and gave the command to move on, to explore, to discover all that the universe had to offer. Yet command of a starship is a gift given only to a few, and never for long. And when the day had finally come for Kirk to stand down, McCoy had grieved for his old friend, fearing Kirk's life without command would be without purpose, nothing more than a hazy existence of idle distraction.
But that had been before Teilani.
More than a partner, a lover, a wife, or a mother to his child, Teilani caused Kirk's rebirth.
McCoy felt the sting of tears and did not wipe them away, not questioning how after a lifetime of loss, one more death could affect him so.
In all the years McCoy had known Kirk, he had never seen him more alive than he had the night that Kirk and Teilani joined in marriage.
And only hours later, McCoy had never seen Kirk so devastated than when he learned that the reason for his bride's collapse was that she had been deliberately poisoned.
"How much longer?" M'Benga asked.
McCoy wore a small, transparent lens over his left eye. It was an offshoot of the Universal Translator, providing visual translations of the Klingon readouts on the medical equipment. Klingon anatomy McCoy had finally mastered. But the Klingon language was another matter.
"Can't be sure," McCoy said. He knew he sounded as tired as he felt. "No more than twenty hours. Maybe as few as two."
"Can we save the child?" M'Benga asked.
Dr. Andrea M'Benga, great-granddaughter of McCoy's old colleague on the first Enterprise, placed her hand on the faceted observation port of the stasis tube. The gesture pleased McCoy. He thought too many doctors today saw themselves as engineers. Dealt with their patients through machines and computers and manipulative forcefields. But touch was important. Feeling. Understanding. McCoy liked M'Benga. Even if she was crazy.
Now he struggled with the only answer he could give her question. He couldn't save Teilani. The proof of that diagnosis was twisted across her face -- a virogen scar that marred her beauty, though truth be told, Jim never seemed to notice it.
In any other person, any other being, McCoy knew, that scar could be healed, made to disappear without a trace. But because of who Teilani was and the uniqueness of her genetically engineered heritage, that scar was beyond the power of current medicine to remove. That same fierce genetic resistance made her resistant to the medical stasis field, as well.
Immediate treatment had only slowed the deadly action Of the toxin that had poisoned her. Even total stasis could not arrest its spread.
"Doctor?" M'Benga said. Her hand remained on the stasis tube. Through the faceted port, Teilani's image was repeated as if reflected through a broken prism. "Can the child be saved?"
McCoy licked his dry lips. They tasted like some foul combination of cinnamon, lemon, and burnt meat. It came from the scent of Klingon antiseptic, he knew. The Klingons were just as advanced as Starfleet when it came to medical isolation and sterilization fields, but their old battlefield traditions died hard. Klingon physicians, their staff, and their equipment were ritually and regularly bathed in the cloying fermented liquid that killed virtually all bacteria on contact. Just a suggestion of that scent was enough to bring back vivid memories of all of McCoy's earlier visits to this world. He hadn't enjoyed any of them.
"Maybe," he said in answer to M'Benga's question. It was the best he could do. "But we'll have to drop the stasis field and..." He couldn't finish. He didn't have to. M'Benga understood. She lifted her hand from the tube.
Within minutes of the field shutting down, Teilani would die.
"What would he want?" M'Benga asked simply.
McCoy knew precisely whom she meant. Knew what Kirk would want.
Kirk would want to return from his dangerous mission into the mirror universe with the antitoxin that would save Teilani and his child.
He would want to beam in unexpectedly at the very last second and --
"Admiral McCoy!" a Klingon voice barked. "There is an emergency Starfleet communication for you!"
McCoy turned to see Dr. Kron striding toward him, holding a small communicator, heavy boots clanking on the metal floor. Klingon medical facilities tended to be well armored, with low ceilings and thick, metal-clad walls. Tradition again, McCoy knew. Recapturing the feel of the deep-underground military medical facilities built during the Age of Heroes, when worldwide wars had engulfed Qo'noS for generations.
Like that of most Klingon physicians, Kron's armor also spoke of centuries of tradition. Its most prominent feature was a slash of blood-pink gemstones across his heart. And into his belt was thrust a d'ktahg dagger of surgical steel, perfect for performing field phlebotomies. At least on Klingons, McCoy knew phlebotomies did some good -- sometimes.
McCoy took the communicator from Kron's massive hand. He touched his own Starfleet combadge. "Why aren't they using this?"
"We are in a secured facility," Kron rumbled. Even his breath smelled like the antiseptic. "Regular communications channels are jammed ."
McCoy nodded. Klingons were happy only when they expected the worst. He spoke into the communicator. "McCoy here."
"Admiral," a familiar voice replied from the device. "Commander Riker here."
McCoy's pulse quickened with new hope. The Enterprise had returned. Could that mean --
A transporter harmonic grew in the medical lab, drowning out whatever else Riker had to say.
McCoy turned to see a shaft of light take shape, and resolve into --
The wrong captain.
"Admiral McCoy," Jean-Luc Picard said. His eyes studied McCoy's companion as if her presence surprised him. "Dr. M'Benga."
"Where's Jim?" McCoy asked, even though Picard's frown told him the whole story.
"We waited as long as we could," Picard said somberlyHe walked over to the stasis tube, stared down at Teilani. "Until the portal began to close. But he didn't make it back."
"Not even a signal?" McCoy asked.
"Nothing. I'm sorry."
"What portal?" M'Benga asked.
Picard looked up. "That's classified, Doctor."
Starfleet bureaucracy. McCoy had no patience for it. "She knows everything anyway," he told Picard. "Probably more than you do."
M'Benga folded her arms. "Teilani was poisoned by Starfleet operatives."
"That's impossible," the captain said. McCoy enjoyed the way the man almost sputtered.
"They didn't mean to kill her," M'Benga went on. "But they wanted to 'encourage' Kirk to work for them, so they needed something to hold over him."
By now Picard had his reactions under control. He remained silent.
"So Kirk would track down his mirror-universe counterpart," M'Benga continued. "Tiberius." She paused, then added, "And before you ask me what makes me think any of this is true, I should tell you I worked for diem, too. For Project Sign."
McCoy could see from Picard's reaction that he understood the significance of that, but had no intention of discussing it. Instead, the captain looked back at Teilani
"Can anything be done for her?" he asked.
McCoy's eyes held his answer. M'Benga's response spelled it out. "There's a chance we might be able to save the child."
With that, McCoy knew the moment had come. After more lifetimes than any one man could reasonably hope for, James Kirk could not defeat death for his life's partner. There would be no last-minute beam-ins, no brilliant new strategies to turn defeat into victory. Time, the odds, the gods themselves would finally claim the victory that Kirk had always denied them.
Kirk would lose.
Teilani would die.
And Kirk's friend McCoy would try his utmost to pick up whatever pieces he could.
Ignoring Picard, McCoy addressed the Klingon physician who had listened without comment to the grim exchange. "Dr. Kron, prepare to shut down the stasis field."
The Klingon nodded, his heavy brows knit together in the sadness of the moment.
McCoy directed his next words to M'Benga. "We'll have two minutes at most. The Klingon surgical pallets aren't programmed for Chal anatomy, so -- "
"We can beam her to the Enterprise," Picard interjected. "The sickbay is -- "
McCoy cut him off. "I helped design that sickbay. It can't handle Chal physiology any better than this facility can." He turned back to M'Benga. "On Earth, it's called a cesarean section."
"I'm familiar with it," M'Benga said. "I performed two on Chal during the virogen crisis."
"Then get ready to perform your third."
One of Dr. Kron's nurses -- two and a half meters of solid muscle in black leather armor -- slapped a surgical kit down on the equipment tray beside the stasis tube. The metal blades of its various cutting implements clanged.
McCoy frowned. "Can't use protoplasers on Chal flesh."
But his warning was unnecessary for M'Benga. "I know the historical methods, too. Including physical scalpels." She cringed as she said those last words though, as any civilized physician would.
That established, McCoy took a breath to steady his nerves, preparing himself to fight the battle again. "Dr. Kron," he said, forcing himself to keep his voice clear and steady, "shut it -- "
The hum of a transporter harmonic cut off his final word.
M'Benga stared past McCoy, her mouth dropping open with amazement.
Picard's broad grin was one of recognition.
McCoy turned to the figure resolving from the light. But he already knew whom he would see. You'd think I'd know by now, he thought.
McCoy was not disappointed.
James T. Kirk had done it again.
Copyright © 2000 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.