A short burst of escaping pressurised air caused his closed eyelids to lighten, lift, fall shut and re-open. Three blurry impressions of the outside came inside: a white ceiling, a monitor emitting a pulsing tone and an hourglass figure dressed in light blue standing nearby. A voice reverberated inside his ears, words initially overlapping each other, gradually becoming clear. He felt the touch of soft fingertips stroke the top of his hand; his head hurt like a hangover.
“Brinkinfield? Brinkinfield, can you hear me Brinkinfield?” A woman’s voice, her blonde hair tied-up, red lips cutting through the out-of-focus. He tried to reply, but the dryness inside his mouth worked resolutely against the formation of words. “Doctor! Doctor McCoy! I believe the patient is regaining consciousness!”
Barely audible padding footsteps approached, a warm palm rested across his forehead. A thumb pulled up an eyelid, Brinkinfield made out a wrinkled face moving from side to side. An eyebrow arching above an examining eye, peered into his own eye.
“50 milligrams hypo Nurse Chapel please.”
“A glass of water too, our patient is dehydrated.”
As the pressurised air hissed against Brinkinfield’s shoulder for a second time, a weight dissolved from his body and the throbbing inside his head faded.
“Well, I hope you don’t have any plans for this evening young man, you’ve had a very lucky escape.” McCoy said. “Even so, I imagine we’ll have you back on your feet given a couple of days.” The doctor began writing up his notes onto a screen-pad, handed to him by the nurse. “You have a remarkable constitution,” he said without looking up, “in all my years, I’ve not seen anything like it before.”
Trying to speak, Brinkinfield lifted his head, but coherence eluded him. He tried again, struggling to form words.
“Now you just take it easy.” McCoy laid a restraining hand onto his patient’s chest, “Rest is the best medicine I can prescribe to you. Right now, I suggest you take my advice and let Nurse Chapel here look after you.”
The rise and fall of an alert tone drew the doctor away from the patient, towards a communication device located on a desk. An illuminated red switch flashed on and off, until his finger pressed it down.
“McCoy,” came back a voice, the busy electronics of an operational control bridge coloured the aural backdrop, “how is our visitor coming along?”
“Well Jim, as you saw when we beamed him aboard, he’s received quite a battering. I can confirm there’s no damage to major internal organs, at least not as far as I can ascertain, and the patient has regained consciousness.” The doctor’s gaze scanned several different readings from a monitor. “His vital signs are beginning to return to normal, I’d say give him a day or two and he’ll be as right as rain.”
A short pause followed the doctor’s prognosis.
“Bones,” said the voice, adopting a familiar tone, “I need to ask your patient some vital questions soon. I’ve got to understand, how has an unidentified, floating tin-can of a spaceship, ended up with its pilot out here, within range of a hitherto unexplored solar system?”
“Doctor! Come quickly,” called out Nurse Chapel, “the patient is stirring again!”
“Jim,” said the doctor resisting the diversion of his attention, “I’m the Chief Medical Officer aboard this ship, not a magician!”
“Doctor! He’s trying to speak!” The urgency in the nurse’s tone won out, snagging McCoy’s concentration.
“Alright Jim, give me a few hours, I’ll see what I can do. McCoy out.”
The doctor returned to his patient, folded his arms across his chest and composed himself. He observed the nurse cleaning-off dried blood from the patient’s forehead. When she turned to look around, he read a sense of wonderment in her eyes.
“It’s truly remarkable Doctor McCoy, I am sure the cuts on his face and around his body are healing before my very eyes.”
“You’re an excellent practitioner Nurse Chapel, but not even you can heal wounds in a matter of minutes.” McCoy moved closer, held the patient’s wrist and registered his pulse. “You said he tried to speak, did he say anything that made any sense?”
“I’m – I’m not com-pletely, sure.” The nurse replied hesitantly.
McCoy’s short fuse began to smoke in frustration. “Nurse Chapel, please try to remember, what in blazes did he say!?”
“Well Doctor,” she said, “this won’t make sense, but it sounded like two letters, ‘T’ and ‘V’, followed by the word ‘show’.”
“T and V, show?” the doctor repeated. “Nurse Chapel, are you quite sure?”
“Why yes Doctor. I said it wouldn’t make any sense, what is a T and V show?”
Before McCoy could gather himself to attempt an answer, he detected the presence of a fourth person in sick bay.
“Spock! What the devil do you think you’re doing creeping up on us like that?”
“A ‘TV show’ existed up until nearly two hundred and fifty years ago. One hundred and forty nine years, 4 months and 16 days, to be exact.” Without acknowledging the doctor’s question, Chief Science Officer Spock continued with his elaboration. “An archaic, relatively short-lived form of entertainment on old earth. Commonly watched on a large, stand-alone monitor screen as a way for 20th and 21st century families to wind down, relax and share food together in the evenings. I believe interest waned dramatically by the first quarter of the 21st century, with the activity all-but dying out.”
“I’m not sure I understand.” Said the nurse.
“Nurse Chapel, it is irrelevant if you understand or not,” came back Spock’s curt reply, “these are the facts. And they lead me to ask if you are able to recall anything else the patient has said, worth of note?”
“Why yes,” replied the nurse showing mild indignation in her tone, “I believe he said ‘original series’ too. But I – I just don’t understand the context, Mr Spock.”
“What’s going on Spock?” the doctor said, “TV show, original series, what does it all mean?”
“At this moment in the investigation Doctor, I have not yet reached a conclusion.” Spock stood with his hands clasped low behind his back, his face impassive. “All I can deduce at this stage is some kind of connection between our guest and a time period over two centuries in the past. May I suggest,” continued Mr Spock, readying himself to leave, “if we are to shed any further light upon the matter, it is of the utmost importance to carefully note down whatever your patient says.”
“Are you crazy Spock?” McCoy’s eyes widened in anger, “It may have passed your notice but I am not a clerical secretary! I’m the Chief Medical Officer aboard this shi-”
“It’s alright Mr Spock and Dr McCoy,” intervened Nurse Chapel, slipping her calming arms simultaneously around her colleague’s waists. “I’ll do it. It was a long time ago, but I did short-hand note-taking in a job I held down during academy.”
* * *
Later in the day, sat in the otherwise empty ward besides her patient, Nurse Chapel busied herself with a tray of surgical instruments. Held-up individually, each one received two short warm breaths and several well-practised gentle strokes of a silken cloth. As she worked, she noted how Brinkinfield appeared to float in and back out of consciousness. He didn’t seem in any particular discomfort, and this pleased her. Sat with one leg crossed over the other, she quietly hummed a tune to herself. The cool white lighting inside the room reflected off her calf-length boots, dancing across the black polyvinyl chloride. Holding McCoy’s medical tricorder, she gave it a gentle twist. The resultant warbling sound awoke her patient.
“Nurse Chapel?” The patient whispered.
“Yes Brinkinfield, what is it?”
“Can you tell me what, what year it is?”
The nurse’s look of concern melted into a compassionate, reassuring expression.
“Why,” she said, “don’t you know? Well, it’s stardate 3468.1”
“Star date 34, 68, point 1?” Brinkinfield repeated back to the nurse.
“That’s right.” Anticipating his next question, the nurse uncrossed her legs and pulled herself nearer to the examination bed. “And you sir, are travelling on the starship U.S.S. Enterprise.”
“Well yes!” The nurse replied, “Now tell me, how did you ever know that?”
“A lucky guess, I guess.” Brinkinfield shifted his body awkwardly on the consultation bed.
“Do you mind if I ask you a question, Brinkinfield?”
“No please,” he replied, “please go right ahead.”
“Are you by any chance, of British heritage?” Elbow perched on the bed, she rested her chin in the palm of one hand, hooking a wayward lock of blonde hair behind her ear with her other hand.
“British heritage? I am British – if that’s what you mean, yes. Born in Luton Bedfordshire – although my parents moved the family away very soon afterwards.”
“Oh I thought so, I love your accent. We only have the Transporter Chief Lt. Kyle who’s of British ancestry. He has – what he refers to as a northern twang. To be honest, I don’t much care for it.” The nurse’s hand hovered above Brinkinfield’s hand, her fingernails picked out a looping, circular pattern skating across his skin.
“Nurse Chapel,” an uncertain smile briefly formed across his lips, “how exactly did I get to be here?”
“Well, my understanding is your vessel appeared on our scanners as we entered the Alpha quadrant of the Beta Geminorum system.”
“My vessel?” Said Brinkinfield.
“Yes, your ship had taken heavy damage and your life-support systems were rapidly failing, our Mr Spock detected vague life-form readings. With no response to our attempts at communication, Mr Kyle locked onto your coordinates and we transported you aboard.”
With the light inside the ward now captured in the widening pupils of her eyes, Nurse Chapel ran her hand lightly back and forth along Brinkinfield’s forearm.
“From my ship?” Brinkinfield resisted reacting to the ticklish sensation urging him to withdraw his arm.
“Yes, I’m afraid it’s gone now.” The Nurse pulled away from her patient, looked down to her lap and began flattening the creases in her uniform out across the tops of her thighs.
“Well, yes I’m sorry.” A hand moved to her forehead as she prepared to give him the uncomfortable truth. “When the Enterprise left your original position, your ship exploded as a result of an unfortunate miscalculation.”
“Oh I see.” Brinkinfield inflated his cheeks, exhaled and scratched his head.
“Yes, we’re all very sorry about that. Long story short, a misunderstanding arose between engineering and navigation, leading to a conflict between the tractor beam towing your ship and the engagement of warp drive.”
“Oh right, I see.” Brinkinfield said. “Although to be honest I have no memory of being aboard any ship.”
“Oh well that’s okay then!” Said the nurse striking a positive tone and rubbing the flats of her fingers briskly over the top of her patient’s hand. “Right! Are you hungry? Let me order you some lunch, we need to keep your strength up.”
“My name is Christine, Brinkinfield. You may call me by my first name.”
“Thank you Christine. You mentioned Beta Geminorum system, Alpha quadrant. What heading is the Enterprise on?”
“Let me think for a moment,” the nurse paused, “I overheard Mr Spock relaying coordinates earlier today.” Christine squeezed Brinkinfield’s hand several times as she recalled the incident. “Pollux IV, an M-class planet, sustainable oxygen – nitrogen atmosphere. We’ll be the first federation starship to have ventured out this way, it’s exciting – don’t you think?”
“Nurse Chapel – Christine!” Brinkinfield reached out and grabbed the nurse’s wrist. “I know this episode! We mustn’t on any account go to Pollux IV – not even get close and definitely not establish an orbit around the planet.”
“You know this episode, whatever do you mean Brinkinfield, what episode?” The nurse looked at Brinkinfield’s hand around her wrist, undecided whether she liked his hold on her or not. “You can see into the future, is that what you are saying?”
“Christine, you have to believe me, I can’t exactly explain, but it’s true strange events have occurred on this spaceship before, haven’t they, yes?” He pulled her closer.
“Well yes, it’s the nature of space travel Brinkinfield, no one week is ever like another. Anyway, how would you know about events happening on the Enterprise in the past? You’ve been aboard ship for approximately 8 solar hours. What do you know of what’s happened here before?
Brinkinfield struggled to sit himself up on the examination bed. Christine assisted, placing a pillow between the back of his head and the wall.
“Thank you Christine. This all feels disturbingly real, me sat here talking to you, the interior of this room, the equipment, McCoy and Spock, the captain’s voice over the intercom, all very familiar.”
“What do you mean, disturbingly real? Are you saying you’ve been a member of the crew previously?”
“No Christine, I’ve not ever been a crew member.” He rubbed the palms of his hands together uncomfortably. “Yet I even know you are secretly in love with Mr Spock.”
The nurse’s mouth dropped open in shock as she drew-in a sharp involuntary breath, the fair complexion of her cheeks reddened.
“You, and your feelings towards Mr–”
“Yes I heard you. Why, you weren’t even properly conscious when Mr Spock joined Dr McCoy and I earlier,” she said, “and even if you had been awake, just how in the Milky Way could you draw such a conclusion? Mr Spock arrived and departed sick bay within less than 5 minutes! And as I recall,” a flustered tone filled the nurse’s voice, “Mr Spock cut me off mid-sentence. To anyone unfamiliar with his Vulcan ways, this would appear as plain rude and not an attractive trait!”
“All this is true,” said Brinkinfield, “but it doesn’t change your feelings towards Mr Spock, despite the fact he rarely reciprocates.”
“Well maybe that’s where you’re wrong,” said the nurse, “I’ve had about as much as I can take from him.” She placed both her hands over her patient’s hand and leaned in closer. “To be completely honest Brinkinfield, I have felt drawn to you in a special way, since soon after your arrival.”
“Drawn to me?” Brinkinfield replied, caught off guard.
“Yes, I guess you already knew that, too?” Nurse Chapel said, adjusting herself into a better position. As she did so, Brinkinfield detected the sweet scent of spearmint on her breath. Tilting her head slowly to one side, the nurse planted a light kiss onto his lips. Pulling back momentarily, she kissed him again. Her lower lip brushed over the tip of his nose as her hands cradled his cheeks. The nurse looked deeply into his eyes, until her quickening breath gave way to a passionate kiss.
“Nurse Chapel, Nurse Chapel!” Came McCoy’s scratchy voice, as he ran from the doorway and across the ward. “Frankly this form of intervention in your patient’s care is excessive and most definitely not in the manual!” The doctor grabbed her by the elbows and using all his strength tried to pull her away. Met with firm resistance, the struggle continued.
“Think what this will do to Spock if he finds out!” He implored, “Think what he might do to the patient in revenge! Nurse Chapel, you’ve got to snap out of this! If not, I will call security!”
Finally, the nurse’s resistance weakened. In response, McCoy’s grip on her loosened as her body fell limp and half-draped over Brinkinfield’s torso, exhausted. Panting to catch her breath, her hands travelled in a circular pattern across the patient’s chest. In a parting gesture she closed her thumbs and index fingers tightly around his nipples, delivering a tweak and mild convulsion in the patient.
“I’m sorry doctor,” the nurse said turning to face McCoy, “this shouldn’t have happened.” Wobbling slightly she straightened out her uniform and returned the same wayward lock of hair as before behind her ear, while looking down to the floor.
“Well that’s alright Nurse Chapel.” McCoy replied, a calm and sympathetic tone to his voice returned. “I understand you have been under a lot of pressure lately, damn-it Christine we all have! What this crew needs more than anything is a prescription for shore leave.”
The doctor placed his hand onto the nurse’s upper arm in a reassuring manner and showed her his best crooked smile. “Now, why don’t you go to the rest room, sort out your make-up and bring back everyone a nice cup of coffee. Spock and the captain are headed over here shortly, with a few questions for our visitor friend.”
“Yes Doctor.” The nurse replied obediently.
“Two sugars,” piped-in Brinkinfield as she turned away, “and plenty of milk please!”
“Al-right mister, we have a few questions we’d like to ask you and you have some explaining to do.”
Upon arrival, the captain had seated himself on the edge of the consultation bed with one leg crossed over the other and both hands resting on his knee. Spock stood stock still to one side of the captain, maintaining a stern expression and arms folded across his chest.
Brinkinfield smiled uneasily, unsure if Spock had got wind of the incident with Christine. Lifting a mug in his hands, he drew a noisy sip from the fresh coffee before speaking.
“Sure, I am here to help, but before we start I must say I am as mystified as you as to how I got here.”
“Mr Spock and I debriefed Nurse Chapel in the kitchen a few moments ago,” said the captain, exchanging a satisfied look with Spock, “during which she shared with us some unusual comments you have made, and also your warning against visiting Pollux IV – or even passing close by the planet.”
“That’s correct captain, do not establish orbit around the planet.” Said Brinkinfield.
“Well, I don’t suppose you’d mind telling us why?” said the captain whimsically.
“W-ell,” Brinkinfield hesitated, “the difficulty is, I am not sure you’ll believe me. If I recall correctly, it’s a fanciful storyline to say the least.”
“A fanciful storyline, to say the least.” The captain repeated, a sense of disbelief now audible in his tone.
“If I may intervene Captain,” said Spock, unfolding his arms, “you may remember Nurse Chapel recounting several key words during her debriefing.” He pressed his hands together to assume a position of thoughtful prayer.
“Go on Mr Spock, make your point please.” Said the captain.
“From what she has divulged, we have ‘T’ and ‘V’, ‘show’, ‘original series’ and ‘episode’. We can now add to this the expression ‘storyline’, in an allusion to what the near future holds for us.”
Brinkinfield slurped at his coffee, taking two sips in quick succession. His attention switched between the captain and first officer and the plate of custard cream biscuits Christine had placed on the bedside unit, several minutes earlier.
“You’re saying there’s a link, Spock?” the captain said.
“What it appears our visitor is suggesting, is that we exist in a different reality to his own.” Spock replied.
“Like some kind of universe parallel to ours?” the captain asked, quizzically.
“Correct captain. What we consider as reality, our guest views as a television entertainment show, dating back approximately 250 years.”
“I want facts not theories, Mr Spock! Can you tell me how this man got here?”
“Sir, I do not know how he got here and furthermore, I am seriously coming to doubt our visitor friend, knows himself.”
Both men turned simultaneously to look in Brinkinfield’s direction.
Brinkinfield looked back at them, shrugged his shoulders and smiled, before dunking a biscuit into his half-drank drink.