The stars slid past in a hypnotic pattern as the ship silently cut through the peacefulness of the vacuum-filled void. Kirk sat in his command chair and stared, lost in thought, completely oblivious to the sounds and activity of the bridge. Around him, the bridge crew performed with its usual efficiency, allowing the captain to daydream.
It had been four standard earth days since the Enterprise left Starbase 12. Kirk smiled as he remembered watching Sulu and Checkov nursing hangovers as they left orbit. Scotty, on the other hand, seemed less the worse for wear after the trio’s adventurous shore leave. Bones had offered to give the two officers an anti-alcohol injection, but they had been shamed into rejecting it lest the Scotsman think they couldn’t hold their liquor like “true men.” Kirk recalled many a watch when he, as a young and rambunctious officer, had spent his shifts in much the same condition as his helmsman and navigator.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a yeoman appeared at Kirk’s elbow with pad and stylus in hand, requesting the captain’s signature on the latest progress report. Kirk reluctantly snapped himself out of his daydreaming, signed his name and returned the pad and pen, dismissing the yeoman. He disappeared just as silently as he came.
Kirk surveyed the bridge. Nothing unusual -- or exciting -- appeared to be happening. He returned his gaze to the viewscreen and drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. He loved sailing among the stars, conquering new challenges, but sometimes getting from point A to point B could be ... well ... boring.
Kirk slapped his knee. “Spock, you have the conn.”
Kirk entered the dark auditorium and walked carefully down the dimly lit steps, thoroughly fascinated by the two whirling figures onstage. In the front row, a handful of admirers moved to the music, caught up in the dance. Reaching the center row, he sat down beside another spectator, interrupting his solitude. Together, they watched in mesmerized silence the fluid grace of the Song of Ceti as danced by two craftsmen of the ballet -- a grace made all the more remarkable by the fact that the dancers were full-time craftsmen of a different sort. In their “day jobs,” Lieutenant Commander Anne Baldwin was a first-rate exobiologist and Lieutenant Peter Finch ran the Enterprise’s Xenohistory Department.
“Just look at her, Jim,” McCoy said without turning. “Isn’t she magnificent?”
Kirk turned to his friend, concern in his eyes. He was ignored. “Yes, Bones, she’s magnificent all right,” he said.
As the music ended to the obvious delight of the fans in the front row, the couple waved away the applause and walked to center-stage. There, a friendly contest took place which the woman lost, good-naturedly bowing to her friends’ wishes for an encore performance, a crowd favorite she’d obviously done for them before. Her partner picked up the remote unit and music spilled into the auditorium, a hectic and disonant strain which nonetheless fit perfectly the complicated moves of the dancer.
McCoy shook his head. “I don't know how she does it. She’s got to be in pain.” His eyes filled as he remembered hours of excruciating therapy sessions -- as hard on him as they were on her.
Kirk looked away, momentarily embarrassed, then back at the doctor. McCoy fell silent, staring at the stage. Then he broke himself away and sat back in the seat.
“Well, what the hell are you looking at?” he asked, attempting to sound more like himself.
“I'm looking at a doctor who’s taking the diagnosis harder than the patient,” Kirk said. “Come on, let’s have a brandy.”
“You’re damned right I’m taking it hard.” McCoy said as they left the theater. “Doctor, you said ... healer. One who cures!”
“Bones, throughout history there have always been things we couldn’t cure,” Kirk said. “As a doctor, you’ve got to be used to that.”
“Jim, all my adult life I’ve spent in a constant struggle with death. Much of the time, thank the good Lord, I’ve won. But if I ever get used to losing ... so help me I’ll take down the shingle.”
Kirk stopped in front of his cabin door, surprising McCoy who took a few more steps, realized he was alone, and turned around.
“Your place or mine?” the captain asked.
“Yours, by God. You owe me one for Spock yesterday,” McCoy fumed.
Kirk held up his hands as his longtime friend stormed past him into the cabin. “I swear I didn’t tell him you were in there,” he said innocently.
Two Saurian brandies later found them back on the original subject. “Three years now since I first diagnosed Troller’s Syndrome,” McCoy said. “You know what it does, Jim. It eats away at your vital organs, killing one at a time. Anne Baldwin is mostly machine already. I’ve replaced her heart, her lungs, her kidneys, her stomach. About all she’s got left is her liver and her brain. The only one I can’t replace is the brain.” McCoy stopped, looking away. There was a long moment of silence.
“It’s in her brain, isn’t it?” Jim asked.
The doctor met the captain’s gaze. “Yes, damn it, it’s in her brain.”
“Have you told her?”
“No.” McCoy leaned forward, placing his glass on the table between them. He rubbed his neck with both hands trying to ease some of the tightness. “Not yet, anyway. But I think she knows.”
“She’s a brave woman, Bones.” Kirk said. “You saw her out there tonight. She’s living days for every hour she’s got left.”
“Yeah, well ... she hasn’t got too many hours left,” the doctor said. “Three months at best.” McCoy poured himself another brandy and stood up, contemplating the full glass. “I’d like to rely on a few of these ...” He paused, then downed the brandy in one gulp, “... before I tell her tomorrow. But she deserves better than that from her doctor.”
He set the empty glass back on the table. Then, putting a hand on his friend’s shoulder he smiled sadly. “Thanks for the talk, Jim. I needed it.”
Kirk watched the door close behind his friend.
“Captain.” Spock’s voice came from directly behind Kirk. “We’ll be within viewing distance of the Beta Caliguli Cluster in 1.64 minutes.”
“Thank you, Spock. Have you picked up any more information to help piece together this mystery?”
“At this time, Captain, sensors do not indicate anything unusual.”
“Okay, Spock. As soon as anything comes up ...”
“Of course, Captain.”
“Keptin, Beta Caliguli Cluster in viewing range.” Checkov’s hands flew over his controls, anticipating his boss' next request.
“On screen, Mr. Chekov.”
Kirk studied the pattern of the cluster. He strained his eyes, trying to find something -- anything -- unusual, but all seemed to in order.
“Spock ... anything?”
The science officer was busy over his station, examining the cluster for any shred of information to explain the missing star.
“Sensor readings indicate nothing unusual.” Spock made a few adjustments. “Interesting,” he muttered, more to himself than to Kirk.
Years of travel with his Science Officer had taught Kirk to sit up and take notice whenever Spock found something “interesting” -- especially when he spoke out loud. “What is it, Spock.”
The Vulcan looked up from his screen. “It would seem, Captain, there is no evidence that a star ever existed here.”
“Normally when a star is destroyed, there is inevitably some trace left behind -- gases, dust, ice particles, -- however, our sensors find nothing.”
Kirk stared at the view screen, willing some small shred of evidence that the missing star was indeed missing. “Full magnification,” he said.
The sceen at the front of the bridge appeared to grow larger. Kirk continued to stare at the screen. He blinked, and as he did so, a thought began to form in the back of his mind. His eyes seemed to be playing tricks on him, or so he briefly thought. Something didn’t look right -- as if something had shifted while his eyes were closed for the millisecond it took for him to blink. He blinked again, quickly. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something in the scene was different.
“Keptin ...” Checkov began. He looked from the screen to the navigation panel, adjusting the controls, then back to the screen.
“Keptin ...” He said again, turning to Kirk. “One of the stars ... it just ... disappeared.”
©1989 Stephanie Holcombe and Steve Zachar