A lone figure sat impatiently in Sedala's only transporter room. How she had found herself on this barely colonised, sleepy little planet, she was no longer sure; it had all been arranged so quickly.
Roger had been gone for more than a year and she hadn't heard a word from him for months. What did he expect her to do - wait months, years, while he completed his research on some far off, unnamed world? She'd argued that she was a fully competent scientist in her own right, a capable assistant; he'd argued that his work was experimental and dangerous. There was more than Federation interest in his project and he wanted her to be safe, should any trouble arise.
Then he'd gone, and left Christine Chapel behind with nothing but a diamond ring and a promise.
Twisting the ring round her finger, Christine idly watched the Sedalan colonists walking calmly down the street outside. Their faces were expressionless, their dispositions neither happy nor morose. When they spoke with one another their conversations were quiet and cordial; if they were ever pleased to see an aquaintance, she had seen no sign of it.
She wondered why they had left Vulcan. Human colonies were founded by those who wanted a better life, a more peaceful life, or sometimes by those who wanted a challenge, to build something of their own. She could think of no reason for Vulcans to search for something 'better'; their planet was peaceful, pollution-free, and not heavily populated. Perhaps these people wanted nothing more than to see something new; maybe their old home was too perfect for them.
Christine sighed. A part of her wanted to fall asleep; what better way to pass the time in which she could do nothing than in unconsciousness? If she stepped out of this room, the heat from this planet's sun would melt her, she was sure, and the material of her new Starfleet uniform would start clinging to her in the few places it wasn't already clinging to. The stockings had itched as soon as she'd put them on, and the boots were rubbing her heels raw, the way all new shoes did until they were worn in.
Her orders had come in three weeks ago, a position that would have been desirable even had she not taken it as a means to look for Roger. The *Enterprise* was a top-of-the-line starship, one of only twelve of its kind in the 'Fleet. She knew little about its crew, other than mention of its captain, supposedly the youngest captain ever assigned to command.
Christine had done a brief refresher course in nursing; she'd long since abandoned that career in favour of research biology, but if being a nurse was what would get her into deep space, then that's what she'd be. Besides, according to the admiral who oversaw her placement, when the chief science officer of the Enterprise saw her scientific qualifications and experience, he had apparently requested that she be offered the chance to work in the science department as well as medical, and be allowed to undertake projects of her own choosing. She'd made a mental note to thank the science officer personally when she met him.
She sighed again. This had been a mistake. Given the choice between joining the Enterprise on its next scheduled trip to Earth - some seven months away, or catching up with it here on Sedala, she had elected to travel via a series of connecting shuttles and get into space sooner rather than later. She had arrived here the previous morning, and had spent almost all of her time in this very room.
What she had at first considered to be an opportunity for one last planetside stroll, turned out to be the longest waiting period of her life. Sedala was a dust-ball of a planet, desert-like and hot. The Sedalan colonists basked, if the term could be applied, in the heat, most of them wearing the sorts of heavy clothes one would wear in late Autumn on Earth.
Christine had admired the stark beauty from the safety of the shuttle as it landed, intending to explore while she waited for the Enterprise to arrive; she had walked perhaps a hundred metres down the main street before deciding she had better wait indoors. The idea of presenting herself to her new captain as a shrivelled, human raisin did not particularly appeal.
She was just considering how the Vulcan colonists would react if she peeled off her sticky uniform, when the transporter technician entered the room and went to stand behind the transporter console. "The Enterprise is nearing Sedala and will be in transporter range in fifteen point two four minutes," he said without inflection in perfect Standard.
He turned to his equipment and Christine frowned at the back of his head. She'd be glad to be among humans again; listening to information given to multiple decimal places gave her a headache.
Precisely fifteen point two four minutes later, the communications panel lit up on the tranporter console and a smooth feminine voice asked the Vulcan for transporter clearance. Christine stood up stiffly, her muscles protesting at the movement after such a long period of inactivity, but the technician waved her back into her seat.
"The Enterprise is transporting supplies and equipment first. They will be ready to receive you in four point six nine minutes."
Several containers appeared on the platform in front of her. Some were marked with what she recognised as Starfleet's medical logo; others appeared to contain tools and equipment. She watched as five colonists came to collect the cargo, organising the entire operation like a robotic production line.
With the last of the shipment came a red-shirted officer from the Enterprise, and Christine felt the first flicker of expectation. He said a few words to the transporter technician, handing the Vulcan a form to sign, then turned and smiled at her. "Miss Chapel?"
She nodded and scrambled to her feet once more.
"If you'll come with me, I'll accompany you to the Enterprise." Grinning at her, he reached for her luggage and then took the signed form back from the technician.
The Vulcan's eyebrows rose sharply at the smiling man and Christine shrugged nonchalantly as she swept past him, following the red-shirted officer and her belongings.
The transport beam deposited the two of them on a similar platform aboard the Enterprise. Two more red-shirted men greeted her with broad smiles and cheery welcomes, one of them distinguished by a thick, Scottish brogue. Christine smiled in return and followed the man who still had her luggage out into the corridor. She almost sighed in relief when the coolness of the ship started to seep through to her skin.
The crewman, now known to her as Ensign Thomas, showed her to her quarters, introducing her to at least twenty crewmates along the way. "You'll love it here, Lieutenant. The Enterprise is the best ship in the 'Fleet." He hadn't stopped grinning since they'd met. At first Christine flattered herself that he was interested in her; on reflection, she considered that he was simply pleased to have someone to brag to about the ship.
"So I've heard," she said noncommittally. The grin was beginning to unnerve her. She groped around for another subject. "Is the ship leaving right away?"
"No, ma'am. The captain said that Mr Spock was beaming down to talk to the locals personally. We're not going 'til he's back on board."
"The first officer. And Captain Kirk's never been one to leave him behind someplace." Thomas chuckled as if at some private joke.
Before Christine could begin to make any sense of that, the ship was buffeted by an explosion, forcing Christine and Ensign Thomas to reach out for something solid to steady them. A red light flashed over the doorway and a siren echoed loudly in the corridor. A voice rang out over the shipwide comm system, "Red alert! All hands to battlestations!"
Thomas reached for Chapel and threw them both to the deck just before a second explosion rocked the ship.
Christine blinked and refocused her eyes on the floor under her face. Surely this wasn't real. She almost began to wish she was still sitting in the hot little room on Sedala, but she realised that if this was an attack, the planet wasn't safe either.
Then, just as quickly as it had begun, it stopped, the lights no longing flashing furiously, the ship now quiet. Ensign Thomas stood and pulled Christine to her feet. "Welcome to the Enterprise," he said with a shrug.
A burst of noise from the desk almost made her leap out of her skin. An angry voice with a distinctly Southern drawl yelled, "If my new nurse is there, I need her here right now!"
Thomas flicked a button on the comm unit. "She's on her way, Doctor," he said shortly, and flicked the unit off before the voice at the other end could answer. Chapel's shock must have expressed itself because he said, "Doctor McCoy's not much fun to talk to when he's in that kind of mood," and then, remembering where it was he was about to take Christine, added, "You'll see for yourself soon enough. Let's go."
Sickbay was full of people with bumps and bruises, no serious injuries that Christine could see, but crewmembers were milling about in droves, creating a scene of mild calamity.
A hand gripped her about the arm and she spun around to a face that was at once both gruff and kind. "You my new head nurse?" She could do nothing but nod. "Good. You're with me." He grabbed a medical kit and headed for the door, Christine staring mutely after him. "Well, don't just stand there!" He disappeared through the door into the corridor.
All too soon, Chapel found herself standing once more on the planet known as Sedala, but it had changed drastically in the short time - was it less than an hour? - since she had last been here. Most of the buildings in the main street had been flattened, some completely obliterated. Sedalan colonists lay wounded where they had fallen; some, she knew, were already dead.
A man approached them, Vulcan-green blood dripping from a gash in his forehead. He spoke calmly. "Our casualties are not as great as they could have been; the explosions have hit only the central part of the colony and many of us were away, helping Selin set up the power generators some distance away at the river. Our healers have -"
McCoy lost patience. "Where do you need me the most?"
The Sedalan pointed to a huddle of people underneath a makeshift awning. "Those people were inside a building that collapsed. The healers are with them now."
The doctor took off at a sprint; Christine was right behind him, her wits with her, this time.
The huddle spread to let them in, the colonists who were not trained in healing arts making way for the two humans. McCoy assessed each of the four patients with a practiced eye, cursing softly when he saw the last one. Speaking to no one in particular, he announced, "We need to get these people to sickbay on the Enterprise."
A Sedalan colonist, obviously a healer, spoke up. "No. We have enough healers to treat our wounded. We need only medical supplies."
McCoy scowled, but was stopped from replying by a raw cry of pain from the patient at the end of the line. He had apparently gained some semblance of consciousness and, with it, an awareness of pain. "Damn!" The doctor took off again, but Christine got there first.
She found herself staring into two tormented eyes, feverishly bright with pain and darkly intense. Suddenly, and with a strength she was unprepared for, he grabbed her by the arms, causing her to lose balance and topple on top of him. When she found her feet again, her uniform was smeared from chest to hip with green blood. He said something to her in what she assumed was Vulcan, his grip on her arms tightening until it hurt.
She became aware of a violent surge of emotions, all of which were clouded by a terrible pain. Her head whirled with snatches of fear and confusion; her heart seemed to want to beat twice as fast as usual. Her vision narrowed to the eyes that held hers, two dark pools of unfathomable intensity.
Finally, McCoy arrived with his hypo and it pressed with a hiss into the man's shoulder. Christine could not tear her gaze away from that hypnotic stare until the drug took effect and the dark eyes closed, the man's arms falling limply at his sides.
As Christine stared at the now-calm features, McCoy flipped his communicator open and called for the three of them to be beamed up to the ship.
Christine looked up at him in alarm. "But the healer said -"
The doctor smiled grimly. "No, this one's ours." He pointed to the man's bloodstained Starfleet uniform. "Miss Chapel, you've just had the honour of meeting our first officer, Mr Spock."
As the transporter beam swallowed them, Christine Chapel's mind was imprinted with the vision of two dark, pained eyes.
Whatever Chapel thought she was getting into, it wasn't this. The man who lay unconscious on the biobed in front of her was unlike any patient she had ever attended before. She was glad McCoy seemed competent, because she was beginning to feel completely out of her depth.
The doctor, immersed in the task of repairing the first officer's body, spared her a glance. "Not what you expected on your first day, was it?"
Christine pursed her lips. "No."
McCoy nodded at her stained uniform, visible through a transparent surgical apron. "That green blood of his sure makes a mess, don't it?"
Christine stared at her superior, realising he was teasing by the crinkles at the edges of his eyes. She relaxed a fraction. "I wasn't expecting... I thought the crew were all human." Her face reddened with embarrassment.
"Hell, you're not the first person to be surprised by our pointy-eared friend here. I can't imagine anyone signs on to a ship expecting to find him for a crewmate."
Christine smiled. She hadn't been sure when she'd met him that she would enjoy working with Doctor McCoy, but his caustic temper had soon given way to a dry humour, and she was finally finding her tense nerves unwinding.
"Have you ever had a Vulcan patient before, Miss Chapel?"
Christine looked up at the crazy bio readings above Spock's head. "No. I'm afraid these readings don't make too much sense to me," she said ruefully.
To her surprise, McCoy laughed. "Don't make much sense to me either most of the time. And I doubt you'd have seen Vulcan readings quite like Mr Spock's, anyhow." He watched the confusion set in her face. "Our first officer is unique. His mother's human."
Chapel's head swung from his face to Spock's, examining the sharp features for any sign that something was amiss. But his ears curved to a delicate point and his eyebrows angled upwards, away from his eyes. And there was nothing remotely human about the green mess on her uniform.
McCoy smiled. "No, it doesn't show - in appearance or nature."
He closed the last wound and handed the protoplaser back to Christine to put away. "Keep an eye on our patient here, will you. I'm just going to freshen up a bit 'cause any moment now, Jim Kirk's gonna come bursting through that door."
He had no sooner disappeared into his office when a man, obviously the captain by his uniform, strode through the door. He was young, vibrant, carrying an obvious air of one in authority, yet his concern was easily discernable in his eyes and, as he got nearer to her, Christine could see the signs of tiredness and strain. He smiled warmly when he saw her and she was immediately aware of his natural charm.
"You must be our new recruit. Miss Chapel, wasn't it?"
He glanced at the front of her uniform and, for a moment, she thought she saw something flicker in his gaze... sadness, perhaps... worry? "I'm sorry your first day has been so eventful. Let me be the first to assure you that Klingon attacks are not a daily occurrence." The humour somehow fell flat and Chapel noticed that his eyes rested on her Vulcan patient.
The captain stepped around her and looked down at the man on the bed, cautiously extending a hand and placing it on Spock's shoulder. He looked worriedly at the still face, but his fondness was obvious, and Christine smiled. The Vulcan was his friend.
It suddenly seemed very important to her to assuage this man's concern. "He's resting comfortably now, Captain." She didn't want to admit that she had guessed that from the set of Spock's face and not the incomprehensible bio readings, but he seemed to accept her statement and turned that luminous grin on her again.
McCoy re-entered the room, sighing when he saw Kirk standing over Spock. "Thought I'd be seeing you pretty soon." When Kirk opened his mouth to reply, the doctor forestalled him. "Spock is fine and, no, you can't stay with him for a while. Jim, you need rest. I'll give you the short version of my report now and then you have a choice of sleep with or without the aid of my hypo."
McCoy looked at Christine. "Miss Chapel here's gonna take good care of Spock," he said smoothly. "Aren't you, Nurse?"
"See, Jim? Nothing for you to worry your head over in here. Now, you go on into my office where I can give you the news on Spock, and you can tell me why Klingons are taking potshots at us and that planet down there. Then you can decide if you want that hypo or not."
Kirk glared at him. He gave Spock's shoulder one last affectionate pat and left for McCoy's office, an aura of defeat hanging from him.
The doctor grinned. "Lesson number one, Miss Chapel: the captain is the second worst patient on this ship. If he gives you a load of nonsense about what he thinks is best for him, you threaten him with a hypo."
"The second worst?"
McCoy's grin turned into a grimace. "The worst patient is lying on that bed right behind you. If he gives you any trouble, you don't threaten him; you just give him the damned hypo!"
Two pairs of determined blue eyes met and McCoy knew he'd been understood. He winked at her and went after the captain, leaving her alone with 'the worst patient'.
It was the first opportunity she'd had to really study Spock; now that they had cleaned him up and mended the broken bones and torn skin, he looked far less frightening than he had when he'd grabbed her on Sedala. The sterilite bathed his features in a red glow, casting deep shadows on the contours of his face, and the dark eyes were closed, straight black lashes resting gently on his cheeks.
His ears were delightful, she thought, the stuff of childhood tales of goblins and leprechauns and elves. She hadn't thought so when she saw the Vulcans on Sedala, but something about this one, Vulcan sternness gone in sleep, reminded her of the fantastical creatures of writers' imaginations.
His cheekbones were prominent, his features sharp, traditionally Vulcan. Christine began to wonder if McCoy had been teasing her. This man didn't look half anything at all.
She reached for the hand nearest to her, intending to take a manual pulse reading; she'd seen McCoy do this, and it was something she had always liked to do herself, anyway. Modern equipment was useful, but there was something to be said for knowing how to take old-fashioned readings, too.
Spock's hand was warm and dry, the skin smooth and unmarked. She knew academically that Vulcans had a higher body temperature than humans, but the hand she held felt like something that had only recently come out of an old-style oven. No wonder the Vulcans inhabited places like Sedala. Remembering her relief when she beamed up to the moderate temperature of the Enterprise, she wondered how Spock dealt with what must be a chilly environment on a daily basis.
His pulse thrummed rapidly under her fingers at well over two hundred beats per minute, making her head spin as she tried to count. Christine supposed she would have to get used to making sense of the first officer's medical anomalies; she'd been here half a day and she'd had him as a patient already. For the umpteenth time that day, she considered that this might have been a mistake.
For a moment, she studied his hand, noting the long slim fingers and the broad palm. It was what her mother would have described as an 'artistic' hand, the kind that belongs to concert pianists and painters rather than soldiers. Briefly, she felt a pang of sympathy for this man; in all likelihood, his Vulcan ethics would make him abhor the kind of violence they saw today, yet he had chosen to serve in space, knowing that all kinds of unknown horrors awaited him. She wondered, as she had earlier with the Sedalan colonists, why he'd left Vulcan.
She placed his hand back under the coverlet, pulling the sheet right up to his shoulders and smoothing out the creases. Her eyes caught the splotches of green on her uniform and she realised with embarrassment that she had never got around to changing it.
She remembered how Spock had grabbed her, gripping her arms tightly enough to bruise. The experience had been frightening, her mind flooded with thoughts and emotions that didn't seem to be hers. Vulcans were telepaths, she'd been told once, able to sense the thoughts and emotions of others, unless they shielded against it. Could they project as well? Those few seconds when his eyes had been locked with hers were filled with the kinds of frantic emotions she would never have expected to find in a Vulcan. Granted, he'd been in agony at the time, but still, it made her ponder the nature of the thoughts behind Vulcan masks.
Hesitantly, she touched the skin at his shoulder, half-wondering if she would feel anything more from him, hidden feelings and thoughts, those things that usually never left the guarded safety of his mind. But, no; there was nothing but his warm, dry skin. And then, cursing herself for a fool, she recalled that he had been semi-conscious on Sedala, and in a state of panic. It didn't seem likely that he could transmit now, while totally unconscious. But could he receive? Christine pulled her hand away... and gasped when it was caught in an iron grip.
"Nurse, your thoughts are... most distracting."
Christine looked down into the same brown eyes she had seen on the planet; only there was a lucidity and clearness that hadn't been there before. Chapel flushed; how long had she been standing there with her hand on his shoulder?
"Seven point two six minutes," the Vulcan answered her silent question and she snatched her hand from his before he could read any more. "I did not mean to startle you, Nurse, nor to intrude upon your thoughts, but you were broadcasting quite clearly and my... shields were somewhat impaired." He started to rise. "Where are my clothes?"
The question was so unexpected, Christine had no answer ready.
Spock seemed to have noticed his own blood adorning the entire front length of the nurse's uniform. "No doubt my uniform is in a similar state to yours; I will call for another one." He swung his legs off the biobed and, with the coverlet tucked around him, hobbled unsteadily towards the comm unit on the desk.
Chapel was aghast. "Mr Spock! Where are you going?"
"I am returning to my quarters, of course," he replied calmly, as if she should find no fault with this.
The worst patient. McCoy's words echoed in her head. She thought of what he'd said about simply giving Spock a hypo, but cursed silently at the uselessness of it; she knew neither what medication to give him, nor what dosage.
"Mr Spock," she began, then reconsidered. She could stand here and argue with him, or she could call for backup. Before he could stagger all the way over there, she reached for the comm. "Doctor McCoy to sickbay at once, please."
The Vulcan gave her an icy glare, but Chapel stood determinedly in front of the comm, hands planted on hips. Her fortitude must have surprised Spock, for his eyebrow lifted up into his hairline - the same gesture Christine had seen the Sedalan transporter technician use when he saw Ensign Thomas's grin. Spock stood wavering in the middle of the room, his only choice now to stay, or to make a getaway in a sickbay sheet. The same thought had obviously occurred to the nurse and he stared sullenly at her.
"Weeeeeeelllll, what do we have here?" came a slow drawl from the doorway.
Spock started to turn around to face McCoy, but his knees buckled and he dropped to the floor. The doctor and nurse caught him as he fell, and guided him back to the bed, McCoy growling at him the whole way.
"So, Mr Spock." McCoy stood over the Vulcan, arms folded. "Taking an evening stroll, were you?"
Spock refused to be intimidated and assumed a wholly Vulcan expression. "I saw no reason for my incarceration in sickbay. I was merely returning to my quarters." He glanced at Christine. "Until your guard decided, unnecessarily and illogically, to intervene."
Christine swallowed uncomfortably, but McCoy caught her eyes with an expression of pride, and she blushed.
"My 'guard', as you call her, just stopped you from falling flat on you face somewhere between here and your cabin. I'd say that Starfleet's done the Enterprise a good turn and sent us someone who won't take any of your 'logic'. She's already won my approval."
"I am certain she has, Doctor," Spock said dryly. His voice sounded weary and McCoy noticed the obvious signs of fatigue.
"Well," he said, "I'll make you the same offer I did with Jim; you can sleep with the hypo, or without it."
The Vulcan eyed the instrument with palpable distaste. "That will not be necessary, Doctor. I am quite capable of sleeping unassisted." He watched Christine as she adjusted his pillow, his face unreadable, then closed his eyes and slept.
McCoy and Chapel walked into the chief surgeon's office, where he offered his new head nurse a drink. As she sat quietly, letting the liquid burn its way down her insides, McCoy watched her over the top of his glass.
"I meant what I said, you know. Any of the junior nurses would've let him go. He'd give 'em that stare of his and they'd just give in." He raised his glass. "You did good, Miss Chapel."
"Christine," she said, clinking her own glass with his.
"Christine," he smiled back. "Welcome to the Enterprise."
Chapel placed her glass down on the desk. "I can't help thinking I've made my first enemy," she said sheepishly.
McCoy snorted. "Who, Spock? No. Oh, he likes to give people the impression he's made of granite, but it's all bluff. You've just got to know how to handle him - and I'd say he was more impressed than angry with you today. There aren't too many people on this ship who'd dare take him on. He might glare and pout and spout logic, but I think he respects people who stand by their convictions."
Chapel wasn't so sure, but she let it pass, suddenly remembering a promise she had made to herself on Earth. "Doctor, could you tell me who the chief science officer is and where I might find him? I'd like to thank him for something."
McCoy blinked. Curious, he asked, "And what would you like to thank our science officer for?" It was obvious Christine knew little about the Enterprise personnel.
"I heard he's agreed to let me work in the science department; I'll be able to continue some of the biological research projects I began at home."
The doctor laughed out loud. "Really? That's awfully generous of him." He leaned across his desk and said in a whisper, "But you'd better hope that you haven't made an enemy in Spock 'cause it's just as likely he'll rescind that offer."
"Spock!" She almost spilled her drink.
Chapel downed the contents of her glass in one gulp.
As if he hadn't noticed it until now, the doctor suddenly took a good look at her uniform. "Good grief, Christine! Are you still wearing that? I bet you haven't had any dinner, either."
"Well... no." She shrugged. "I've been a little busy today."
He shook his head. "Well, our patient should sleep for a while yet, and I'm famished myself. Would you do me the honour of joining me for dinner?"
Christine smiled. "I'd be glad to, Doctor."
It was late when Christine finally made it back to her quarters. She'd changed her uniform quickly and then had an entertaining dinner with both McCoy and Captain Kirk, whom the doctor had berated for not being asleep in his cabin. The captain had told her that other Federation vessels had been sent to help the Sedalan colonists rebuild and set up a defence system for the planet. The Klingons, he'd said, were after Sedala for its mineral sources and saw it as an easy, unprotected target. Not expecting to find the Enterprise there, they had soon been outmanoeuvred and had taken off at high-warp.
The captain had harangued McCoy all through dinner with questions about Spock and, eventually, won himself a visit with his first officer. After he had left with the doctor in tow, Christine had headed for her cabin, all too eager to be free from the uncomfortable, clingy uniform, although, at least this one was clean.
Free at last of the skimpy dress, scratchy stockings and stiff boots, she donned a robe and collected her toiletries for a shower. As she reached for a towel, she felt a tug on her left hand and saw that her engagement ring had caught in a loop of thread. Removing the ring to free it from the towel, she hesitated to put it back on. It was non-regulation, certainly, but it seemed to Christine that it was impractical and somehow out of place here.
She found the small velvet-lined case for it amongst her possessions and placed the ring inside, snapping the box shut.
She didn't know when, or if, she would find Roger; starships weren't commissioned to play hide-and-seek with errant fiancés, and Christine's first day on the Enterprise had already clouded her perception of her reasons for being out here. For the first time since she had decided to search for him, she had found herself thinking beyond Roger, reflecting on what her new job on this ship could mean to her professionally and personally - new friends, new opportunities.
When exhaustion finally claimed her and she succumbed to much-needed sleep, her subconscious mind conjured not her fiancé's blue eyes, but the intense brown gaze that had captured hers that day on a new world.
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