Intermission 6: Underneath My Lucid Skin
Disclaimer: The Usual. ParaBorg owns 'em. They don't own this story, or its original content. Neener, neener.
Summary: From "Dagger of the Mind," the mind-meld scene.
Rating: PG, TOS
"The ice is thin, come on dive in
Underneath my lucid skin
The cold is lost, forgotten
Hours pass, days pass, time stands still
Light gets dark and darkness fills my secret heart…forbidden"
McCoy pulls me aside as I watch the unconscious form of Van Gelder. "We need to talk. I don't think Van Gelder's mad, at least not in the sense we were led to believe, and if he's not, then Jim could be in real danger."
I think of all of Van Gelder's ravings as I have heard them: the neural neutralizer, allegations of abuse in the penal colony. The ravings seem to focus on Dr Adams, who was Van Gelder's colleague, and whom the captain and Dr Noel have beamed down to investigate. "I concur," I say simply.
"Well, what are you planning to do about it?" McCoy blusters angrily. "Don't agree with me, do something!"
I have known the doctor for long enough to hear the very real concern under his volatility. "What do you suggest?" I ask, ignoring the anger that crashes at my shielding. The concern is, after all, one I share.
The doctor sighs then. "I don't know. We have to have some way of knowing if Van Gelder's telling the truth. In his condition, I don't dare use truth drug; he's got enough chemicals in his bloodstream without me adding to it. And there's some sort of mental block that prevents him from answering questions, so using verifier scan is out." He hesitates then, gaze sharpening in a way that makes me distinctly uneasy for no reason I can identify. "Isn't there some Vulcan technique to tell if someone's lying or delusional?"
The mind-meld. Vehlin-at, the merger of souls. For a Vulcan, one of the most hidden aspects of our telepathic life. I can still hear T'Pau's flinty voice as she instructed me in its use: "This thing is not for the gaze of outworlders. Do not disgrace us."
I return McCoy's gaze evenly. "I assume it is the mind-meld you are referring to, Doctor?"
The growing storm of the doctor's anger brushes against my shielding, strong enough almost to smell. "I don't care what it's called. Will it work?" He does not understand; he misinterprets my reluctance for cowardice, when it is something far other. To save Jim, to find out the truth, I would risk far more than a mind-meld.
It is not that which causes me to hesitate. If Van Gelder is actually mad, the probability is high that I will be drawn into his madness. But mad though he may be, Van Gelder is also human, and what causes me to hesitate is the factor McCoy cannot know about. The vehlin-at, the mind meld, is a telepathic link born of an emotional bond, one mind to another. Van Gelder is a stranger to me, and he is human. The perilous intimacy and the storm of Van Gelder's emotions in the mind-meld could easily overwhelm me. And I have never done this before, not with a human.
There is need. I cannot refuse, when it is my captain and my friend at risk, when there are countless others who might be endangered if any of Van Gelder's allegations are true. I gather myself, seeking the center that I may find the inner resources to initiate the meld.
close my eyes, and slowly lower my shields. And am reminded,
instantly, of why Vulcans maintain shields: the storms of emotion in
this room, McCoy's concern and impatience, Van Gelder's heightened
agitation, crash over and through me.
I know the doctor does not understand; we have never gotten to the point, he and I, where understanding might be possible or likely. "It is a deeply personal thing among Vulcans," I say.
Damn that Vulcan, why is he delaying? If he can find out the truth, why doesn't he just do something? "Will it work?" I ask again; he didn't answer before.
The look he gives me makes me wish I hadn't spoken. I've never seen him look so…alien. That's an odd thing to say, coming from a doctor, but it's true. There's something indefinably different about him now; a shift in body language, perhaps. Or maybe it's the look in his eyes. Whatever it is, there is little human about him now.
Spock moves purposefully towards Van Gelder and I relax slightly. I know, though I can't say how, that Spock would prefer I leave him alone with Van Gelder. I meet his look with my own, wondering if he can read my thoughts. I'm a doctor. I'm not leaving him alone in my Sickbay.
Spock seems to sense this. "It will require I make certain pressure changes. It will not affect you. It is not hypnosis." I nod, though I really don't understand how the mind-meld works. The only Vulcan I knew before Spock, one of my classmates in medical school, had not even told me this much.
Van Gelder consents to the meld. It's one of the many clues I have that he may not be as mad as Dr Adams led us to believe; a man with Van Gelder's illness shouldn't be capable of giving consent to anything or anyone. But his speech is clear, if a little ragged, and he obviously understands what Spock is saying. "You must," Van Gelder says.
When Spock touches Van Gelder, his agitation level begins to subside almost immediately. The words Spock speaks are so low, I almost can't hear them above the steady beeping of the med-panel. "My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts." Spock's long hands touch Van Gelder right above the cranial nerve pathways, and his voice begins to assume some of Van Gelder's cadences.
I have a sudden insight: was it this that caused Spock to hesitate? The thought of being trapped forever within the mind of a madman? I didn't know, but maybe I should have. Me and my big mouth.
"I begin to feel a strange euphoria," Spock says now, and Van Gelder's voice, free of pain for the first time, mutters, "Yes."
A mind-meld between Vulcans can be as simple as an exchange of information, or as complex as the full marriage bond of adults. Our minds are trained almost from birth to accept the presence of another mind, to receive and, one day, to initiate a meld. Though the process is far from simple, there is a certain order to it, the ritual unchanged throughout millennia.
Whatever else may be said about my meld with Van Gelder, "order" is not the term I would use to describe it. His thoughts are chaos itself, dark winds scattered on the paths of his mind. I can sense, a little, that it was not always this way, that his mind was ordered and quite disciplined for a human. But that was before his illness, before Dr Adams and the neural neutralizer.
There are huge blocks around certain areas of his mind, blocks which are artificial. Most of them have to do with his work at the Tantalus Colony. //Could you think of these things before?// I ask him. I need to make sure I am perceiving this accurately. I see patients with sick minds, patients who had been rejected by every other penal facility in the Federation. I see Van Gelder, whole and healthy, cajoling the patients into taking their treatments and treating them with kindness and concern. The healing energy, the fierce determination that none should suffer if it is in his power to correct it, fairly vibrates off of him.
There is a slight mind-laugh, one that is free of madness and dementia. //It was my life, my work on the colony. To heal that which is broken, isn't that what every doctor wants?//
I had not thought of it, but the only doctor I know is McCoy. I see that there are similarities between Van Gelder and McCoy; that fierce compassion in McCoy has expressed itself through his squabbling with me. Perhaps it is time to reevaluate my opinion of the doctor. It is a thought to be considered for later, but now…//May I move through the blocks? It might be painful.//
Van Gelder's assent is clear. //If you don't, I will remain as I am now. Not much of a choice// I do what I can to mitigate the pain caused by the removal of the blockages. The images in his mind are coming more defined now: Dr Adams, the years of working together as colleagues, the promise of the neural neutralizer, to heal minds seemingly broken. And then the discovery of Dr Adams' misuse of that technology. The quiet report that was never sent, the feeling of fear as strong arms strapped him into the chair, the devastating emptiness of not knowing when the mind's betrayal will come.
Van Gelder is not mad. //I apologize for the intrusion, Dr Van Gelder.// And slowly, I withdraw from the link.
My knees buckle when the meld is over. McCoy catches me by the arm and steers me to a chair. "Are you all right?"
It is all I can do to form the response; the mind-meld can be exhausting. "I will recover, Doctor. How is Van Gelder?"
The doctor looks at the med-panel, and back at me. His astonishment is plain to read. "Spock, I don't know how to say this, but he's cured. Whatever you did fixed the damage. He'll need some residual treatment, but he's going to be fine." He looks at my face, seeing, perhaps, an emotion I would have denied. "Jim's in trouble, isn't he?"
I nod. There is not much time to waste.
The captain and Dr Noel returned, free from harm except for one implanted memory. Dr Adams died, and Van Gelder returned to the colony for the last of his treatment. Van Gelder thanked me before he left for what I had done. One does not thank logic, but still…"I wish you peace and long life," I said to him before he left. He will return now, to his work, and to his own destiny.
I returned to my cabin after he left, to meditate on what I had learned. I was just entering the second level of meditation when the door buzzer rang. It was McCoy. "I'm sorry, am I disturbing you?"
"No," I replied. "Come in."
McCoy looked at the floor and then back at me, as if he suddenly lacked words or the breath to speak them. That is an unusual condition in my experience of him; what is it that makes him so nervous? "Spock, I, uh…Oh, hell, I'm just gonna say it. I'm sorry."
I raised one eyebrow; this is the last thing I would have expected. "I do not understand."
The doctor's blue eyes, clear and direct, met my own. "I didn't realize what I was asking of you, what you were risking by melding with Van Gelder. I should have thought about it before I asked it of you."
"The cause was sufficient, Doctor. The captain and Dr Noel have returned safely. There was no other option."
"Maybe, but…I thought you were a coward for not acting quicker. If I'd known what was involved in the vehlin-at, I would have known better." I realized with a start that he has used the Vulcan word for the mind meld. He has researched.
"It is done. There is no need for an apology."
"Look, you green-blooded son of an elf, I'm trying to apologize! Can't you just accept it for once without relying on your damnable logic?"
Once, before the meld with Van Gelder, I would have been offended and confused by such an outburst. But now I understood at least some of what was behind it. Van Gelder was healed by the meld, but the exchange was equal. I understood through the meld what motivated Van Gelder, and McCoy, to heal others: compassion and a hatred for suffering. McCoy was trying to heal the wound between us, and by refusing his apology, I have denied that part of him. Curious, the places where insights come.
I thought of a saying from my planet. "May our understandings be many and our wars be few." This is one war I can stop. "I accept your apology, Doctor. Would you like to learn more about the vehlin-at?"