He had never had occasion to study the old-style photographs on Leonard McCoy's desk. The framed mementos were tucked behind and beneath the stationary monitor, all but out of sight to everyone except the person sitting directly in front of said monitor. As Spock had no reason to sit in Dr. McCoy's seat or to work from his computer, the small items had never drawn his attention. He had noted them from behind, of course, as a matter of familiarity with the room and its contents—he had had abundant reason to sit across the desk from the CMO over the years—but by this time the worn wooden frames had faded into the background for him, as items of little interest or consequence.
It was while he paced the CMO's office, waiting for McCoy to return from a rather lengthy examination of one of his Science Ensigns who had been exposed during a landing party to a particularly virulent form of the local influenza virus, that he completed a turn and found himself face to face with the pictures themselves. It was not logical to pace. Spock was perfectly aware of this. The expenditure of energy in such a useless manner served no foreseeable purpose, yet he was loath at this time to sit calmly in one place. His Science team had taken every precaution against exposure before beaming to the planet's surface. He himself had ensured that the list of safeguards had been fully implemented, and had instituted routine thirty-minute check-ins from the time that the team entered the infected area. Starfleet was insistent that the geological factors of the infected area were of importance in the development of this particular strain, and although Spock's protests that the planet's geology was stable and would not in fact change in the two weeks that it would take for the residual pockets of live virus to die off went unheeded, he was determined that no member of his team would be put in unnecessary danger over such an ill-timed venture.
No one, of course, expected the air filter in one of the bio-suits to malfunction. The suits were checked monthly, and this particular suit had been certified only eight days prior. It had taken him less than half an hour after returning to the Enterprise to track down the error. Suit Eight, it seemed, had been one of the suits damaged during its last use, a survey of a rather inhospitable planet that had ended in a rock-slide and a rescue mission. Rather than discarding it, the Security lieutenant in charge of suit maintenance had patched it—badly—and replaced it in the lockers. Disaster might still have been averted during the routine inspection, if not for a simple missed line on the inspection form. Suit Seven checked, Suit Eight marked.
Exposure of a bright, promising young woman to a potentially deadly virus.
McCoy had already assured Spock that she would not die. Ensign Wilsky had noticed and, in a rare moment of logic for a human, reported her labored breathing almost immediately. The counter-agent had been administered with more than enough time to spare, and the current examination was only to determine the extent of exposure to guide palliative treatment until the virus was finally flushed from her body. Ensign Wilsky's health was not, therefore, the reason for his current predicament.
No. Rather, he was attempting to determine how so many things could have possibly gone wrong with one bio-suit, despite the rigorous procedures in place aboard the Enterprise to ensure against just such an occurrence. This type of incident was unacceptable. Mr. Scott was already supervising a complete detail and inspection of the remaining bio-suits, and Security Chief Giotto the protocols for determining which suits would be patched and which would be discarded. Still, how to guard against sheer error?
Spock's logical mind had been spinning fruitlessly around that question for the better part of three hours, and the lack of acceptable resolution was, he suspected, likely responsible for his current reluctance to remain in his seat while waiting for the results of McCoy's examination.
The flash of color on McCoy's desk caught his eye and he stepped toward it, amenable to a distraction from his rising agitation. His eyes passed over one of the photographs, of Leonard McCoy at a much younger age posing with a large dog against the backdrop of dirt road and wooden fence, and settled on the second. Spock reached out and gently removed it from beneath the monitor, brushing away the light film of dust from the top of the frame.
The picture itself was dark around the edges, lit near the center by the glow of a campfire and near the top by the riot of stars against a night sky. The firelight splashed against a young face—a human child, a girl of perhaps twelve, waving a long stick with a white blob on the end toward the photographer. Despite the orange discoloration from the fire, Spock could see the brown hair and startling blue eyes. This was, no doubt, Joanna McCoy.
He was somewhat surprised to realize that, despite the several years he had served with McCoy, he had not yet viewed an image of the doctor's daughter. She was, Spock decided, very like him.
A grin split the girl's face, and she was waving toward the camera with the hand not occupied by the roasting stick. A light coat indicated a chill in the air, but an absence of real cold. Spock wondered where the picture had been taken—if McCoy and Joanna had been engaging in what humans called 'camping,' or if they had simply built a fire somewhere close to home in order to roast … whatever it was that hung on the end of the girl's stick. The background was dark, full of shadows, and in any case Spock was not familiar enough with Georgian geography to make any sort of determination even if he could see the surroundings.
His eyes returned to Joanna's face, alight and relaxed, and he was still pondering what sort of outing might have brought the doctor's daughter such obvious delight when the door swished open and McCoy himself ambled into the room.
"Well, good news, Spock. Your ensign is very lucky. And very smart, to get herself back up here as fast as she did. She'll only need a couple of days on a nebulizer, a couple more off duty, and she should be good to go. My only question now is what to do with the blockhead who—" McCoy broke off and raised an eyebrow, gaze falling to Spock's hand. Spock looked down, noted that he still held the photograph, and set it quickly back on the desk.
McCoy circled toward his chair, and Spock also circled back to his usual seat—although, he chose to remain on his feet. The doctor picked up the frame and eyed it for a moment, and Spock was rather pleased to note that McCoy did not seem upset. The doctor could be a private man, when he chose, and it had not been his intention to pry.
"The Appalachian Trail." McCoy grinned at the image, setting it back down. "That was the year Joanna was thirteen, I think. It's hard to remember exactly, the years run together sometimes."
"Appalachian Trail?" Spock raised an eyebrow. It was not a Terran attraction with which he was familiar.
McCoy nodded, and flopped into his chair. "A two-thousand-mile-long trail through the Appalachian mountains. Been around since the early twentieth century. Joanna and I decided when she was seven that we planned to walk the whole thing someday."
Spock stared at the frame, remembering the young girl grinning out from it. "Doctor. A two-thousand-mile walk is a significant endeavor for anyone, much less a thirteen-year-old—"
"Oh, good grief, no!" McCoy threw back his head and laughed. "You can't possibly think … Forget Joanna, Spock, can you picture me taking a two thousand mile hike?"
Spock tilted his head, and drifted around to the front of his chair. "I admit, having witnessed your protestations regarding walks of any length, it does not seem in character."
"You got that right." McCoy shook his head, still chuckling. "Little bit at a time, that's the way. Take a week or two here and there, mark bits off the master map as we complete them. We've managed about five hundred miles, so far." He shrugged. "Got a ways to go yet."
"Indeed." Spock lowered himself into the chair. He was, admittedly, intrigued. Such a use of free time seemed utterly out of character for the doctor, and yet the fond, nostalgic smile that stretched across McCoy's face said otherwise. "It does not seem an endeavor to which you would look forward. I did not believe that you enjoyed … sleeping out of doors."
"Well…" McCoy dragged the word out, leaning back in his chair. "I don't, normally. Gotta make your own heat—and yes, I am perfectly capable of building a passable fire, thank you, even if you and Jim insist on just igniting the nearest patch of dead grass with your phasers—gotta make your own food, stay warm, stay dry, stay relatively clean. Gotta sleep on rocks and dirt, pee behind trees. To be honest, it's just all way too much work to be my thing." He stared at the photograph again, his eyes distant. "But, there's something about backpacking through the woods with your little girl … days alone together, watching her chase chipmunks and make s'mores, …" S'mores? Spock was uncertain of the term, but had no desire to interrupt. "… laying there at night with her snuggled into your shoulder while you teach her the constellations. That's not just 'sleeping out of doors,' Spock. That's …" McCoy trailed off, and sighed. "That's a little piece of heaven, right on Earth."
The doctor's voice had taken on a tone that, if not melancholy, held a certain hint of sadness. "Do you intend to continue your quest, Doctor?" Joanna was older now, in medical school, and McCoy himself did not return to Earth for years at a time.
"We do." McCoy shrugged. "It's a bit harder to find the time now, not that it was ever that easy to begin with, but we've got a while yet before I'm too infirm to move." He snorted. "At least, if this ship and you people don't kill me first."
Spock raised his eyebrow at the sudden change of subject. "Us people, Dr. McCoy?"
"Well, some of you, anyway." McCoy swiveled around to face him, slapping a hand on the desk. "What I want to know is, who is the joker who thought he could just slap a patch on a torn air filter? Don't they train these kids to use their brains?"
Spock folded his arms and leaned back. "Indeed. However, it seems that a refresher course might be in order. As well as a course on how to read and fill out inventory paperwork."
"Good luck with that. If you can figure out a way to do it without sending them into a coma, let me know. I'll adapt it here for medical inventory."
"I shall certainly do so. However, I find myself at a loss as to how to proceed with that particular endeavor."
"Hmm." McCoy rubbed at his chin. "I wonder if there isn't something that we can …"
As the doctor spoke, Spock watched him carefully polish the glass in the small wooden frame then tuck the photograph back under his monitor where it belonged. He then focused his attention on McCoy's thoughts regarding two-person inventory systems and manual as well as electronic inventory sheets—but all the while, in the back of his head, was the unexpected picture of a man and his daughter in the Appalachian wilds, stretched out together beneath the brilliant Terran starfield.