They had amputated his hands. He could not recall why or when, but the fact remained that his hands were gone. Yet his colleagues were yelling at him to come help them. He couldn't see them, though they yelled so loudly that it hurt his ears. All he could see was an endless stretch of the dead and dying. He stared at his missing hands, and wondered what he could possibly do to help.
Veral's eyes snapped open. Disoriented and fighting against a panic reaction, he sat up and looked around. The room was dark, though an ashy sliver of light was coming in through the window. The curtains between the rooms were still open. He could sense T'Lin in her bed, where she had gone to sleep after their earlier activities, but he could not see her.
He was shaking. He swung his feet over the edge of the bed and settled onto the floor. He knew he should meditate, but he found he had not even the power for that. Instead, he curled over and rested his head on his bent knees, his hands laced behind his neck, and he performed one of the most elementary breathing exercises.
When the panic receded, he rose, and dressed quietly so as not to disturb T'Lin, somewhat surprised that she had not sensed his nightmare and woken up. But then, his mental shielding was very good, and his instinct was to shield his mind when he was in pain. He checked the time. He had managed less than two hours of sleep. He was profoundly exhausted, but could not face returning to sleep. He walked the house instead.
He found T'Reya and T'Lyra on the roof, taking tea and playing a game. He began to withdraw, but T'Reya gestured him to the table. They were playing a card game. He did not recognize it, but knew it to be alien. Vulcan had no native games played with cards.
T'Reya poured him a cup of tea. "You do not sleep."
"Not well. Not since I returned."
"Nightmares are a sign of an unsettled mind."
"That is true."
"What troubles you?"
"The past. The things I have seen."
"Why dwell on that which is gone? It is not logical."
"Forgive me, t'sai, I speak with all respect to the one who is my elder, but your efforts to aid me in finding logic will not be of assistance to me. My mind has suffered trauma. Logic is a tool to aid its healing, one that I am using to the full, but it is not a cure."
"What of meditation?" T'Lyra asked.
"It is very helpful, but also a tool, and ultimately limited. It cannot replace REM sleep."
T'Reya considered this. "You must be very tired."
"I am." There was the medication. He availed himself of it when the exhaustion became too great to bear, but most nights he preferred the fatigue to the mental blanks that followed medication-induced sleep.
They went back to their game. Having no knowledge of the game, he could not follow what was happening. The cards moved quickly back and forth between them, and piles of cards built up. Finally, T'Lyra said, "I concede."
T'Reya shuffled the deck. The cards were brightly colored and had gilding on the edges. "You should have him see to your eye."
"It is of no matter," T'Lyra said, at the same moment Veral asked, "What of your eye?"
"Vom-krizhiv," T'Lyra said. It was the local term for a benign growth on the third eyelid. It was not a threat to health or vision, but it did cause pain when the inner eyelid closed.
"I will see to it," Veral said. A month ago he could not have so casually offered to treat a patient, but as his father had predicted, his confidence had returned. "How long have you had it?"
"A year, perhaps."
Veral raised an eyebrow. He kept his voice neutral when he said, "The local clinic, I suppose, is closed."
"Since T'Gi went away to the war," T'Lyra confirmed.
"Will she return?"
"She lived," T'Reya said. "The injury to her brain makes it unlikely that she will practice medicine again."
"Where do you go for treatment?"
"Klan-ne," T'Lyra said.
Klan-ne was neither close nor convenient. A terrible thought occurred to him. "Have many people been delaying medical treatment?"
"Not for anything serious, but small things, yes. It is not worth two train rides and a six hour wait to have something minor seen to."
"I was not aware that the wait time was as bad as that."
"They took the doctors for the war."
He closed his eyes. Vulcan had offered up its children on the altar of the war, and that altar had burned hot. The suffering had not been confined to those sacrificed.
How foolish, how self-centered of him, not to have realized before now how badly the lack of medical personnel would have affected the people left at home. He knew that they had leaned heavily on older doctors, too frail to be sent into a war zone, some of whom were no longer even fit to be practicing medicine at the level that was demanded of them. He knew that they had closed local clinics and rationed non-critical care. But it had not fully dawned on him before, the real cost it would have had in the patient population.
The critically ill, like T'Lin, had been cared for and cared for well, but what of small things that were not so small when they caused someone to live with an aching knee or a painful eye condition or an uncomfortable intestinal disorder for months without relief?
He rose and excused himself with a bow. One of the house computers was down two flights. He logged on and sent a message to the central medical office, asking permission to use the local clinic for a day, to treat T'Lyra's eye, and anyone else who had been delaying care because of the inconvenience and the waits involved in going to the hospital in Klan-ne.
He checked his personal messages and found a note from Selesh. A few minutes later, as he was finishing his response, and long before he had expected it, an answer from the central medical office appeared on his screen.
He was welcome to use the clinic for a day, or for several days, or for many months if he wished it. He was in fact, welcome to take the clinic as his own, and if he did the medical office would supply him with any supplies he might need, and a house if he required one, and anything else that might aid in his comfort if it was in their power to do so. It was a letter that was only this side of begging him to take the clinic. He sat back, considering.
Rural clinics were a struggle to man even at the best of times. The challenging work was in Shi'kahr. If one could not secure a post there, one went to Nal'shin or Han'shir, where one would see a large, diverse population, and that was assuming that one did not simply go off world. A skilled doctor would be welcomed on any one of hundreds of planets or space stations. The work there could prove most challenging of all, and give one the opportunity for new discoveries that could make a career.
Some areas were forced to make due with a medic who had no special aptitude or training in the mental arts. A few very rural towns had been given modified EMH programs which were of course never used. Veral wasn't certain what logic had suggested that a population that viewed a healer's touch as something very nearly sacred would accept a computer for a doctor. He suspected it was less logic than desperation.
Of course a fully equipped medical shuttle could be anywhere on the planet in ten minutes, and dire emergencies could be beamed directly to one of the hospitals, but the lack of rural medical access took a toll. The general health of the population suffered if one was forced to take a day, or even two, to see a doctor.
Still, there was a reason no one wanted to work in a rural clinic. They presented a steady stream of vaccinations, routine exams, and minor procedures. A truly interesting case might present itself once every five years. And often there wasn't enough work to fill the days. He knew a doctor who worked at a rural clinic in Tra'voth who had sufficient free time to also be an accomplished composer. She found it suited her, but Veral was not so certain it would suit him.
He wrote back, saying that he would take the clinic temporarily, for as long as he remained in Xir'tan, but that he would have to consider any more permanent arrangements. He sat at the computer a while longer, considering the fact that he had gone nearly six nights without a proper night's rest, and wondering if it might be time to use medication, when he felt T'Lin crying out in pain.
He raced to their room and found her struggling to hold the hypospray so that she could inject it into her thigh. He took it from her, and said as he was brushing her hair aside, "It works more quickly this way." But of course she knew that, and was only settling for an intramuscular injection because she did not have the ability to inject herself in the spine. Illogical to state what was known.
He waited with her until the worst of the pain passed, then got the heating pad and helped her arrange herself on the bed so that she would be most comfortable. "Should I leave you?"
He settled onto the edge of the bed and waited. Her eyes were closed, though she was not asleep. He took the medical tricorder from the bag and switched it from lay settings to professional. It told him nothing he didn't already know. The nerve pain had calmed, but was not gone entirely. Her blood pressure and heart rate were high, but acceptable. Her breathing was steady and unlabored, her organ function was good. He put the tricorder away and brushed her hair from her face.
"It is worst at night," T'Lin said. "Every time it happens, I think that this will be the time that it does not stop. This time the medication will not work. I know that it is not rational, and during the day when it is light and there are people around, I can put that thought from my mind. But at night, it is dark. I am alone and half-asleep and my logic fails me."
He stayed silent, trusting in the bond between them to communicate all he wished to say, but had no words for. She opened her eyes. "There is a book on the table."
It was a codex-form book. T'Lin raised an eyebrow and said, "I read it when I am troubled. You disapprove."
"The Mastery is not the work that I would choose when seeking solace."
"It is has a great deal to say on suffering."
"It has far too much to say on suffering. It is a fifteen thousand line poem about someone being tortured to death."
"The torture is hardly the point. The work is about accepting one's fate. In the beginning, the narrator knows they will die and that they will suffer, and they think they have come to terms with it, but it is only when their torture begins in earnest that they learn true acceptance. I have read no more powerful words about the freedom that one gains when they come to terms with pain."
Veral raised an eyebrow. "You speak eloquently, but I am afraid I did not find that which you did in the work. Perhaps I lost the thread of it somewhere during the interminable passages of explicit torture."
"It is a very accurate work."
"It is needlessly graphic, and detailed to the point of dullness. It reads like a medical textbook written by someone with an unhealthy obsession with pain."
"It is pre-Surakian. One must make allowances."
"I can and do. I have read many pre-Surakian works. My father read me The Fall of the City before I could walk, which is, in retrospect, a questionable parenting decision, but even that has more to redeem it than The Mastery."
"We disagree. The Fall of the City is about nothing but slaughter until it becomes about cannibalism." T'Lin tried to adjust her blanket and winced at the movement. Her hands always hurt worst.
"The debate will keep. You need rest," Veral said.
He felt her disappointment. It had the potential to be a fascinating argument. Still, she did not object. She let him adjust her blankets and even hold the glass for her while she drank.
"Taluhk nash-veh k'dular, aduna," he said, and then wondered if he should not have. It was one thing for such thoughts to be communicated by the bond. It was another to give them voice.
"I know," T'Lin said.
The medical clinic needed very little to be re-opened. He found the stasis storage unit fully stocked with common medications and the biobed neatly covered with a sterilizing cloth. T'Gi had closed it methodically and carefully, with every intention to come back here and resume her work. It was troubling to think of her being now unable to do so.
T'Lyra came first, and he treated her eye. He had not known what to expect of the rest of the day. The re-opening of the clinic had been announced, but how busy he would be had been an open question. By the time that he was done with T'Lyra, though, he had several patients waiting, and a steady stream of them came. For the next three days, the waiting room was always full.
It was the first time he had practiced his vocation since leaving the Eian. There were no emergencies, no critical patients here. Yet, it was important work. He saw all of the things that people had been ignoring for the last two years because they did not want the inconvenience of going to Klan-ne, or felt that their condition was not important enough to justify taxing an overworked medical system. He saw joint pain and minor hearing loss and headaches. He vaccinated children whose parents were grateful that they did not have to take an infant on two trains and a ground car shuttle. He assuaged concerns from pubescent adolescents and aging adults that, yes, what they were experiencing was within the range of normal experiences for their age.
It took several days for the initial burst of activity die down. When it did, he spent time between patients reviewing the records for the clinic. Shi'aluk was an inconvenient, out of the way place for the rest of Vulcan, but it was central to the string of towns and villages along the along this part of the coast. The clinic took its patients from Shi'sif and Masutra-menal and Alem-masu Klomak and even as far inland as Slor-masu Klomak. If he took the clinic as his own, he would not be busy as he had been on the Eian or even at the hospital in Shi'kahr, but neither would he have to find a second profession to keep himself occupied.
He was reviewing the records still when he heard a noise in the waiting area. He got up from his seat, and found a man about to leave.
"I am still available, if you need me."
There was an uncertainty about the man. Most people--most Vulcans, he reminded himself, because Vulcan ways were not the ways of the galaxy--would not have allowed such profound indecision to be apparent. He was a man deeply conflicted about seeking help.
Veral waited, not speaking or even moving. Finally, the man nodded slightly, as if to himself and said, "I am Tenak and... Healer, I do not sleep."
Veral took him back into the treatment area. He gestured for him to sit, and took a seat across from him. "Tell me."
"I fought. I believe that peace is preferable, but I have never been a strict pacifist. When the call came, I went to fight without reservation. I was at the second Battle of Chin'toka, among others. It was a...deeply troubling experience." He swallowed hard, but otherwise kept his composure. "Since my return I have nightmares every night. I close my eyes and I see it all again. I survived it the first time. I kept my control. I endured the experience. Once. I endured it once, but now I endure it every night over and over again. I do not sleep, Healer, because I am..." He swallowed again. "And now I begin to experience the memories even in the daylight. I can smell burning flesh in an odorless room. I can hear screaming on a silent night. The worst of it, though, is that I am just so very tired."
"Have you sought help before now?
"No." He closed his eyes. "I know that I need help, but I ought not to. I am Vulcan, raised in the disciplines. Can I not master my own mind?"
"I served on a medical ship during the war. They worked the Vulcans harder than most. They were not wrong to do so. We could work harder and longer than many of the other species there, so it was logical that we did. But I do not think that they realized that it took a toll on us. The emotional races, they see us and they think we are impervious. A Trill patient once expressed surprise on learning that Vulcans do indeed feel pain. We master our fears and we control our grief and we do not vocalize our pain, and because we do not scream or cry, they think that we do not feel. And we allow them to think it, because they do not know our ways, and would not respect our silences if they knew. But we cannot see ourselves as the emotional races see us. We do feel, and we do hurt, and sometimes we do need help."
Tenak appeared close to losing his composure. Veral turned away and kept his mind closed to him, unwilling to do him the indignity of bearing witness to his struggle. When the man spoke again, he was in control of his voice, and Veral turned back. "I only want to sleep. I believe I would fare better if I could sleep. But I..."
"I suffer from nightmares as well. Many nights, I also cannot bear to sleep. I am afraid to."
Tenak's eyes widened just fractionally at the admission. He drew a breath and said, "I was in the garden two days ago. I saw the kastik-hohl-vel and I thought, if I only eat the seeds, I will have rest."
"That would be a rest from which you would not wake."
"I would not dream. I would not remember."
"There are other options, less permanent in nature."
Tenak drew a kastik-hohl-vel seed pod from his pocket. "I have been carrying it with me since then. In case the exhaustion grows too great." Veral said nothing, and made no movement to take it from him, though his instinct was to grab it out of the other man's hand. Tenak sighed and held it out to him. "You are going to have me hospitalized."
Veral took the seed pod and put it on the table. "Do you want to be hospitalized?"
"Do you need to be?"
"That is hardly for me to say."
"I would like your opinion."
Tenak was silent, honestly considering. "I do not believe so. I do not want to die. I only do not want to suffer any longer."
"Is there anyone whom you trust to stay with you, to protect you from yourself should the need arise, while we consider your treatment options?"
"You will permit me to call him when we are through, and tell him all that has been said here?"
"Will you allow me to meld with you? What I need to do will be invasive. I will do my best to respect your privacy, but I may glimpse things you would rather I did not."
Tenak nodded again, but it was clear he struggled not to flinch when Veral raised his hand.
A meld as thorough as this, with a mind in great pain, was one of the most difficult of the healer's arts, and it left Veral drained. Tenak, unused to such experiences and by his own admission exhausted and in mental distress, was pale and drawn when Veral finally dropped his hand. The meld had confirmed, though, that Tenak could safely be left in the care of his brother.
Tenak looked ready to faint, so Veral waited until his brother arrived to discuss treatment options. He was almost an hour with the man's brother, and by the time he had finished prescribing a medication regimen and arranging a time to come and aid with meditation and discussing the protections required to keep Tenak safe, he felt ready to faint himself. On the Eian he had pushed himself past this state on a nearly daily basis. Toward the end of his time there, he had often started his day feeling as badly as he did now. Now, though, he knew that he could not safely see another patient. He closed the clinic and returned home.
He had gone too long without proper sleep. He felt tired enough to sleep without medication, but he could not bear the thought of the dreams, not now. T'Lin found him on the edge of the bed, examining the hypospray as though he had never seen one before.
He looked up at her. "This medication will put me into such a deep state of sleep that I will not wake even for a nightmare, or for much of anything else, and it interferes with memory formation, so that if I do dream, I will not remember it. It also leaves me unable to form memories for a few hours after waking. I do not like to use it, yet I know I should."
T'Lin sat down next to him. "Use it. I will stay with you while you sleep so that you will not be vulnerable though you sleep so deeply, and I will stay with you when you wake, so that you may fill in your mental blanks with my own memories."
He stared at her, shocked at her perfect understanding. "Thank you."
"Do not thank logic, aduna. Taluhk nash-veh k'dular." I cherish thee.
Veral lay down and pressed the hypospray to his arm. The last thing he felt before sleep claimed him was her hand against his forehead.
On the twentieth day the clinic was open, T'Lin came to him in the middle of the day. He was rearranging the furniture in the office when she walked in.
Seeing her, Veral opened his mind entirely to the bond, but he sensed nothing amiss. T'Lin's mind was calm and, now, amused.
"I am perfectly well. I came to see if you wanted to eat. The first of the ug'yon-kur harvest was brought in yesterday. Have you ever had it fresh?"
The scarlet colored sea plant was a dietary staple throughout the planet, but he had only ever eaten it dried and ground into a coarse meal. Fresh, it was served in long, fat slices.
They were not the only ones who had come out for the first taste of the harvest. The line to be served was long, and after they had gotten their food, it was difficult to find a place to sit. They could have returned to the clinic to eat, but the day was too fine and clear to stay inside. They found at last an open section of the sea wall. The sea and sky were calm.
T'Lin handed him his bowl of ug'yon-kur and a utensil. It was tart and sweet.
As he watched the people pass, he remembered thinking that T'Lin lived far from civilization, and belatedly corrected himself. This too was civilization. It was said that people from Shi'kahr forgot that Vulcan had more than one way of life. Perhaps he had been guilty of that. The culture of Shi'aluk was vibrant. It was not identical to the one he had grown up in, but no healthy planet with a sizable population had a monolithic culture. This was a place, a people, that he could grow to appreciate. He had already grown to appreciate them.
He looked at T'Lin.
"I am going to stay here, and take the clinic as my own, if you have no objections," Veral said, once they had finished eating.
T'Lin's eyes were bright. He could feel from her something rather more than contentment. "I have no objections," she said, with perfect composure.
"We can cohabitate, or not, as you prefer."
"Of course we will cohabitate," T'Lin said. "As for the rest of the details, they will keep, along with our debate about The Mastery and The Fall of the City, which I have not forgotten. Let us for now simply enjoy this moment."
The wind came gently off the sea. Around him people ate the harvest and talked of mundane things and went about their lives. A student was arguing with her tutor about Y'Nashal's more abstruse philosophical essays. A few children were swimming. Two women wove a net in the way that their ancestors had done for millennia.
Veral closed his eyes and let the peace wash over him.