Category Archives: Vignettes

Western Medicine

DocThe day is May 7, 1878.  The sun is setting on the dusty Kansas road that heads west out of Dodge City toward the newly-settled town of Cimarron.  Miss Hargrave is taking it all in from the rocking-chair on the porch of her inn, as she always does after her boarders are fed and have ambled off to the saloon, leaving her with the dishes.  Miss Hargrave will get to those dishes soon enough, but for now she has the sunset and the sounds of the early cicadas, a short respite from her inn on the outskirts of town.

A ways upstreet, but still a good twenty paces shy of the Long Branch, Jess Pellom steps out of his watchmaker’s shop and shuts the door.  As Jess reaches into his pocket for the key, he turns to get a glimpse of the sky, the first day this year he has closed up before sunset.  This is when he spots the wagon heading toward Miss Hargrave’s place.  Kind of late for anyone to be rolling into town, Jess thinks to himself.

Jess Pellom twists the key in the lock and takes a second glance down the street.  There’s a man on the back of that wagon.  And he’s laying sideways, just limp.  Instinctively, Pellom turns and heads off toward the storefront next to the saloon, the place where Doc Adams sees folks and keeps a sickbed.  Let’s hope Doc is still there, Pellom huffs to himself as he lopes down the mustard-brown street, each of his steps spraying a hawktail of grit.

Now Miss Hargrave also catches sight of the wagon and widens her eyes.  That looks like Mr. Fremont, from Cimarron, laying across the back of the wagon, his legs propped up.  And that must be the Fremont boy up in the seat.  She stands up and calls, “Mr. Fremont!  Are you all right?” but the wagon is already rolling by and her call seems to go unheard above the sound of hoofbeats and rusty axles.

The wagon pulls up in front of Doc Adams’s office, where Jess Pellom is now standing.  The office door is open.  Two full heartbeats after the wagon comes to a stop, Doc puts on his hat and emerges from the doorway.  (Pellom takes note of his timing.)  Doc looks at the boy holding the reins.  “Who do you have there, son?” he hollers over the din of the saloon.

“Will Fremont, Doc.  He’s my pa.”  Doc steps off the boardwalk and joins Jess Pellom at the back of the wagon.  Fremont, short-haired and middle-aged, is wearing an undershirt and muddy overalls.  He turns his head and grimaces at the men, letting forth a moan.  “Can you help me, Doc…  my leg.”

Doc Adams takes a moment to survey the man and the bloody wrapping on his leg.  “Jess,” Doc barks, “go round up Ike at the general store and you two get this man into my office.”  Pellom hurries off and Doc walks around to the front of the wagon where the boy is tying up the horse.  “What happened to your pa?” Doc asks, squinting into the glare beyond the boy’s head.

“We were out in the cornfield getting ready to sow,” the eleven-year old begins.  “We got a late start this spring ’cause we needed rain to soften the ground.  Well, Pa was on the plow when the horse got scared — for no reason at all!  Agnes bucked and made Pa fall on top of the plow.  Pa gashed his leg pretty deep, all the way to the bone.”

Doc peers down at the boy and then up at the horse.  “That’s kind of odd, son.  Draft horses are even-tempered animals.  It’s not like them to buck for no cause.”

“Agnes did,” the Fremont boy insists.  “Pa asked me to help take his shirt off and wrap it around his leg.  Then he asked me to bring up the wagon.  Then he climbed on and asked me to drive us here.”

“All right then.  What’s your name, son?”  Doc asks.

“Anthony.”

“Well, you did real good, Anthony.  I’ll get your pa fixed up right away.”  Doc looks up and sees Jess Pellom has come back with Ike from the general store, and the two have helped Will Fremont slide off the wagon and onto his good leg.  Jess and Ike struggle for a while to hoist the hobbled man onto the boardwalk, with Will Fremont trying his best to elevate his shredded leg.  The three men finally make it to the walkway and they shuffle sideways, disappearing into  Doc’s doorway.  Doc and Anthony follow them inside, then someone closes the door as the last slice of sun gives way to the twilight.

• •

“I need some light,” Doc demands.  Ike retrieves a box of matches from the secretary desk, while Jess lifts the chimneys of the lamps around the bed.  Ike strikes a match and lights the first lamp, and then the second and the third, all on the same match.  Doc looks up and decides he has enough light in the room to operate.  “Jess, go next door and get a bottle of whiskey,” Doc says, and Pellom bolts to the door.  “Doesn’t matter what brand!” Doc yells after Pellom disappears.  “Dang, he’s going to get something I can’t afford,” Doc mutters.  He shakes his head, takes off his hat, tugs his waistcoat and looks down at his patient.

“Mr. Fremont,” Doc Adams addresses the man on the rumpled bed.  “I have to ask you one question before I start.  Do you have my card?”  Will Fremont raises his eyes and scowls, puzzled and distressed.  “Card?  I don’t know…”  A drop of sweat from Will’s forehead rolls into the corner of his left eye and makes him blink uncomfortably as he tries to maintain his focus on the doctor’s face.

“I figured not,” Doc Adams replies.  “I don’t have many patients out Cimarron way.  Most of you folks are out of my area.  But we can take care of that later.  What about the missus, though?  Was she ever a patient of mine?”

“Doc, what are you saying?” Fremont gasps. “Allie died a year ago when we were staying at Miss Hargrave’s.  You couldn’t get there in time.  I don’t…”  Will trails off.  “Consarn, Doc!  Stitch up my leg!”

Jess Pellom scrambles into the room with a whiskey bottle and a shotglass.  “Just in time,” Doc says to Pellom.  “Pour him one.”  As Pellom uncorks the bottle, Doc Adams turns back to Will Fremont.  “I need you to sign this consent form.  It says you agree to be sedated for this operation.”  Doc offers the man laying on his back, whose bloody leg is wrapped in his own sweaty shirt, a sheet of paper and a freshly-inked pen.  Fremont stares at Adams, then over to his son — who returns his look as a wall returns a ball — and finally back to Adams.

“Give it here, I’ll sign it,” Will Fremont says weakly. “Just get going, Doc!  I don’t have a barrel of blood in me.”  The wounded man grabs the paper and scrawls his initials on it.  Anthony peers out the window to see whose dog is barking.  Doc plucks the piece of paper from Fremont’s outstretched hand and tosses it onto his cluttered desk, then takes the shotglass from Pellom’s hand and places it into Fremont’s.  “Get my tray,” he tells Jess.  “Hot water!” he orders Ike.  “Down it,” he directs Will.

The dog stops barking and the doctoring starts.

• • •

The day is November 16.  It is late afternoon and most folks in Dodge City are washing up for supper.  Will Fremont limps into the nearly-empty Long Branch Saloon and takes his usual seat near the end of the bar.  “Top shelf, Sam, ” Will calls to the barman.  “Afternoon, Will,” Sam replies.  Sam starts to reach for the bottle next to the lamp but then pauses and says, “Will, it’s getting a little dark… I think we need some light first.”

Sam puts a match to the lamp, humming a few wavering bars of “The Old Chisholm Trail.”  After replacing the chimney, he takes the half-empty bottle, sets two glasses on a tray and carries them over to Will.  “Same as always?” he asks.  “Yep, thanks, Sam,” Will says.

Sam fills both shotglasses and then takes the bottle away and returns it to the top shelf.  Will downs the first shot, then closes his eyes until the burn fades.  He opens them to see Miss Kitty sitting at his side.  “Hello again, Will.  You’re getting to be a regular here.  I see you here more often than I do Dodge City folks.”

“I have regular business in town, Miss Kitty,” Will says, turning his lips inward to taste the traces of the shot a second time.

“Good harvest?” Kitty asks.

“Good for my first year, Miss Kitty.  Doing my best to keep up, with my leg and all.”

“Will…”  Kitty pauses to collect her thoughts.  “Every time you come to Dodge, I watch you hitch up outside the Long Branch, then you haul three of four sacks of corn next door, and then you walk in here for a drink, always from the top shelf.  Tell me…  what’s this about?”

“Well, Miss Kitty, I don’t rightly know I should be going into this.  But since you asked…”  Will fumbles with the second shotglass but doesn’t down it.  “See, when I tore up my leg this spring, Doc Adams asked me for my card but I didn’t have one.  Didn’t know what a card was — didn’t know I needed one.  So he fixes me up anyway, and I figure he’ll tell me how much I owe him the next time I’m in town.

“Well, he sends me his bill the next day.  He finds someone heading out to Cimarron and he asks them to stop at my place and hand it to me, in person.  Now, that didn’t sit right with me but that ain’t the worst of it.”  Will pauses.  “Sam, some soda please?”

Will turns his attention back to Kitty.  “This bill Doc sends me — it was for a lot more than sewing me up.  There were all sorts of feather-headed things on that piece of paper.”

Kitty knits her painted eyebrows.  “What kind of things, Will?  I’ve known Doc a long time and I wouldn’t call him feather-headed.”  Sam strolls over and slides a small glass of water toward Will.  “Anything for you, Miss Kitty?” Sam asks.  Kitty shakes her head, keeping her eyes on Will Fremont.

“I have Doc’s bill in my pocket,” Will says as he reaches into his jacket.  “I bring it with me when I give Doc his corn, so he can scratch off the things on the list that I’ve paid him for.  Here are the ones I just paid off.”  Will points to two lines crossed-out with red ink.  “This says $25 for anesthesiologist and this one is $15 for anesthesia.  I asked Doc to explain it to me.  He tells me the $25 was for Jess Pellom’s professional services.”  Will looks up.  “Jess is a decent enough man but I thought he just fixed busted watches.”

Kitty shakes her head and looks back at Will.  “And the $15?”

“Top shelf,” Will says, gesturing above Sam’s head.  “That was my anesthesia, Doc said.  One shot before he started and one shot after he was done.”

“Was the second shot for you, or for Doc?” Kitty jokes, but since Will does not smile back, Kitty stops smiling too.  “You can buy a whole bottle of top shelf here for that price, Will.  Guess you know that by now.”

“Doc told me he has to mark up the whiskey to make up for people who can’t afford to pay. Apparently that don’t mean me.”  Will shows Kitty the bill.  “You think I can afford this?”

Kitty scans the ledger paper and points to another crossed-out line.  “What is this, Will?  Did Doc really charge you for kerosene and matches?”

“He called them operating room supplies, Miss Kitty.  Three sacks of corn for that one.”  Will sighs, folds up the bill and puts it back into his jacket.  “Guess I should be grateful that Doc didn’t have me bite on a bullet for anesthesia.  That might have cost me $10.

“Anyway, here’s to you, Miss Kitty,” Will says as he picks up the second glass.  “Say what you will, but Doc did give me a taste for the top shelf.  I can’t afford that either, but it does ease the pain on the ride home.”  With that, Will tosses the second dose down his throat.

“Will Fremont,” Kitty says, touching his arm, “your drinks are on The Long Branch today.  But Will — I don’t want to see you at this bar again.  Not until your leg heals and your pain goes away on its own.  You can stop by for soda here after you make your payments to Doc, but I’m not going to let Sam serve you the top shelf or anything else.”

Will looks down and notices how the boot on his game leg barely reaches the footrail now.  “I hear you, Miss Kitty.  I know.  I also know that doctoring shouldn’t be like this.  A doctor should be caring about folks from start to finish and don’t be asking if we live around here and don’t be charging folks extra for all his blamed this’n’that.

“I may be barking at a knot here, but I hope Anthony has it better than me and someday he gets the help he needs.”  Will pauses as if readying himself to say more but instead decides to dismount from his seat.  “Thanks for your kindness and hospitality, Miss Kitty.  So long, Sam.”  Will touches his hat, limps unsteadily out of the saloon, unhitches the horse and rides his empty wagon into November’s setting sun.

• • • •

We say our own “so long” to Mr. Will Fremont, age thirty-six, dutiful Kansas corn farmer fighting a pain-killer dependency, and the widowed father of Anthony, a disturbingly reticent boy with an ominous future.  We must also give a tug on our wide-brim hat to one Galen Adams, a doctor whose disdain for top-shelf spirits along with a healthy interest in profit inspired a healthcare innovation: the itemized medical bill.  Whether this represented an advance in medical practice would not be for Mr. Fremont to decide.  Mr. Will Fremont: Patient Zero for western medicine… in the Twilight Zone.

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I Had a Dream

KIRK [voice-over]:  Captain’s Log, Stardate 52015.19.  I have asked Ensign Collins to report to my quarters and brief me on his recent mission to the Planet Earth, where he has undertaken an important but necessarily secret assignment.

COLLINS [at cabin door]: Permission to enter, Captain.

KIRK: Permission granted, step inside, Ensign.  [Door shuts behind COLLINS with a squeaky whoosh.]  Damn, that door still needs oil!  I’ve mentioned it to Yeoman Cheney three or four times, and nothing.  Doesn’t he understand who is in command here?

COLLINS: Yes, Captain.  I assume he does.

KIRK:  Anyway, enough of him.  At ease, Ensign.  Have a seat.  [KIRK motions to a chair across the table.]  Collins, do you know why I chose you for this mission?

COLLINS: I can only speculate, Sir.

KIRK: Well then, I’ll explain.  This is the part that I said was “secret” in the Captain’s Log.

COLLINS: I did not overhear your log entry, Sir.  I was outside your door at the time, waiting for the introduction to end.

KIRK: Damn, I keep forgetting — no one ever seems to hear it but me.  But getting back to my point.  You remember your last assignment — the Enterprise left you on that planet in the Tulsar Quadrant so you could destroy the Comfort Device that the people had grown dependent on.

COLLINS:  I do recall that, Sir.  It was just last year.

KIRK: And you are aware, Ensign, that you violated the Prime Directive by interfering in their society.  And that violations of the Prime Directive are dealt with very harshly.

COLLINS: Yes, sir.  And I would do it again.

KIRK:  And that is why I picked you for the Earth assignment, Collins.  You had already been sullied, so to speak.  Another violation or two, well, how much harsher can the punishment be?  You understand what I am saying, Ensign?

COLLINS:  I believe you are telling me I am your “Society Intervention Officer.”

KIRK:  Exactly.  [KIRK rises to his feet.]  All societies need a kick in the ass.  I never understood this idea of waiting around for centuries, watching people all over the galaxy kill each other and make the same stupid mistakes, over and over!  Our standing aside, Ensign, would be a cruelty of much greater magnitude than our simply stepping in and doing something.  But then there’s the Prime Directive.  If people are to be helped along, someone has to violate it.  [KIRK leans down to COLLINS.]  So, why not you and I?

COLLINS [leaning away]: With respect, Captain, I had already come to this conclusion and remain well aware of the implications of my actions.  I am ready to brief you on the Earth mission, if you are ready, Sir.

KIRK [straightens]:  By all means, proceed, Ensign.

COLLINS:  As you warned me, Captain, when I beamed down to Earth, I saw societies that were in disarray.  Almost all of them, actually.  The most disturbing thing I observed was the way that those who were in power, usually the majority, treated the people who were in the minority.  Every region of the planet I visited had one or more minority groups who were being denied the same status and privileges enjoyed by the majority.  In some places, being in the minority was an inconvenience; in other places, it was life-threatening.

KIRK [sitting down]:  Precisely what you needed to see for yourself.  Go on.

COLLINS: What was remarkable, and very sad, is how the people on Earth were sorted into groups based on the most trivial differences among them.  In the United States, for example — they call it a melting pot for some reason — people were assigned to groups based mostly on skin color, nose shape and eyelids.  The majority called themselves white but their skin color ranged from pink to tan and they had a variety of nose shapes.  All the groupings seemed very arbitrary to me.

[COLLINS stands and strolls a few steps.]  In other parts of the planet, minority groups were isolated from the mainstream based on their spiritual beliefs, or heritage, or lack of wealth, or gender, almost any reason you can think of, really.  In every case, the majority used its power to secure its own position and disadvantage the rest.  But here is the odd part, at least to me.  Generally, the majority would not use its numeric superiority as justification for its oppressive acts; instead, it would point to these superficial differences among peoples as their rationale.

KIRK:  Yes, but your assignment, Ensign, was not simply to observe, but to do something.  We are … [KIRK breathes in] … men of action.

COLLINS: And I have acted, Captain.  I was considering ways to resolve this situation, when I came across a crime report from a place called Gulfport, Mississippi.  The report said that the police were “looking for a black man, about 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds, wearing a red hoodie and tan pants.”  I compared this to another crime report, from a town in Canada called Petrolia.  Petrolia has a population of over five thousand, but only ten black people live there.  The Petrolia report said, “Police are looking for a man in his 30s who is about 6 feet tall, wearing sunglasses, gloves, a grey hoodie with a logo on the front, and a white shirt.”  This report didn’t mention the man’s skin color, apparently because the reporter thought it was obvious.

KIRK: Please get to the point, Ensign.  I have a date… I mean, an appointment… with Nurse Chapel at 0800 hours.

COLLINS:  Yes, Captain.  These reports made me aware how easy it is to single out people who have skin of a different color than the majority has.  The problem, as I saw it, was not that there are too many colored people, as some people on the planet claimed, but too few.  So, with the help of Doctor McCoy, I prepared a special biological agent and released it into Earth’s atmosphere.  The agent interacts with human mitochondrial DNA —

KIRK: Please, Ensign Collins, these technical details make my head spin!  Along with that Aeolian brandy last night… but please, wrap this up!

COLLINS: Essentially, the agent makes each person’s skin turn a different random color based partly on their geographic origin and partly on chance.  People who are of Slavic origin, for example, tend to have blue skin but some are orange.  People whose ancestors are from the British Isles are various shades of magenta or green.  There are hundreds of different skin colors.  Everyone on the planet is now a colored person.  There are no more majorities, only minorities.  There is no longer any privilege in having the same skin color as the majority, because the majorities have been divided and subdivided to the point where they no longer exist.

KIRK: Interesting solution, Ensign.  Not one that I would have considered.  Did you have to do any fighting?  [KIRK looks hopefully at COLLINS.]  A good fist fight, perhaps.

COLLINS: I’m afraid not, Captain.  I had to beam up from the planet quickly, since my own lack of color would have caused me to stand out among the population and my intervention would have been more easily detected.

KIRK [chuckling]: Yes, Ensign, you would not want to read a crime report that said, “Police seeking man, early 60s, with no color, last seen wearing a Federation uniform, without a hoodie.”  Good work, Collins.  The Enterprise will visit Earth again in a few years and we will see whether your intervention has made a difference.  You’re dismissed.

COLLINS: Thank you, Captain.  [COLLINS salutes and walks to the cabin door, which whooshes open with an annoying squeak.]

People of Color

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The Comfort

KIRK [voice-over]: Captain’s Log, Stardate 4302.4.  Communications Officer Uhura has picked up a sub-space signal from a planet in the sparsely-populated Tulsar quadrant.  The Enterprise is investigating.

SULU:  We have visual contact, Captain.

KIRK: On screen, Mr. Sulu.

ELDER: Greetings, Federation friends.  We welcome you.

KIRK: We…  also greet you.  I am Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship —

ELDER: We know who you are, Captain.  I am Elder Bob.  We are glad your ship has come to visit our neighborhood.  You have come such a long way, Captain — we would like you and your crew to be our guests and share our comfort.

[KIRK glances at SPOCK.]

SPOCK: Sensors show no unusual energy readings, Captain.

KIRK [to viewscreen]: Thank you, Elder.  Our crew is… [KIRK looks around at the officers on the bridge]… very ready for some… rejuvenation.  We would be… pleased… to visit you.

ELDER:  Then beam your party down right away, Captain.  You have our coordinates.

KIRK [turning to Chekov]: Mr. Chekov, prepare the landing party and schedule rotating leaves on the planet for the rest of the crew.

CHEKOV:  Wes, Captain.

KIRK [to viewscreen]:  Elder, we appreciate and look forward to your hospitality.  We will be ready to transport within the hour.

ELDER: Wonderful, Captain.

KIRK [to himself]: Yes, I am.  [Turns to SULU]  Mr. Sulu, assemble the landing party and notify me when we are ready to beam down.   I will be in my quarters.  [KIRK strides to the lift and the doors open.]  Deck 5.  [KIRK steps inside and the doors close.]

McCOY [on bridge, glancing sideways at SPOCK]:  Here we go again.

[SPOCK raises left eyebrow but stares ahead and says nothing .]

_______________________________

CHEKOV [on the planet surface]: All tricorder readings normal, Captain.

KIRK: Thank you, Mr. Chekov.  Now, let’s find our host.

ELDER [appearing from around a corner]: No need to look far, Captain Kirk.  We are ready to welcome you.  Shall we sing?  [ELDER motions to a young man with a lute.]

KIRK: Sing?

ELDER: We sing to celebrate our fortune.  [ELDER begins to sing along with the lute.] “Praise, praise, praise our comfort, raise, raise–“

KIRK [raising his hand to silence the lute]:  Elder Bob.  We are… very pleased… to be here but we are also tired and ready for… relaxation.  I would like… the rest of my crew… to see your planet and get… acquainted… with your people.  [KIRK glances to the left and right.]  Where are your people, by the way?

ELDER: In the Comfortorium, Captain.  Come meet them.

CHEKOV: Captain, the tricorder shows multiple lifeforms congregating 100 meters away.

KIRK [horny and impatient]: Fine, let’s go meet them.  And then I would like to start transporting our crew members to the planet surface… with your permission, Elder.

SPOCK [leaning toward KIRK]: As your First Officer, I advise caution, Captain.

ELDER: We have no objections, Captain.  Beam them all down, whenever you choose.

KIRK [reaching for communicator]: Kirk to Enterprise.  Initiate transport of all crew to the planet surface.  Get their asses down here.  Kirk out.

SPOCK: Captain…

KIRK [eyeing Spock]:  Yes, Mr. Spock?  You have some… logical… objection?

SPOCK: No, Captain.  But my study of this planet suggests that visitors are obligated to take part in a peculiar ritual of which we have little experience.  It may be risky.

KIRK: Let’s go party, Mr. Spock.  [KIRK lowers his voice.]  Spock, what is it with the lutes? Why do they all play lutes?  Every… where… we… go!

ELDER:  Right this way, Captain.  Welcome to our community.

_______________________________

[The seven-member landing party is led to an indoor atrium.]

KIRK:  What is this?  This isn’t a party.  This looks like… some kind of… funeral.  Why are all these people standing in line?

ELDER:  Oh, the latecomers always look unhappy.  Come — because you are special guests, I will take you to the front of the line.

KIRK [whispering to Spock as they walk past those in line]:  Spock, what’s going on here?

SPOCK: The people of this planet call this ritual comforting. Approximately 84% of them participate in the ritual.  It is practiced regularly.

KIRK:  What about the other 16%?  What do they do?

SPOCK: Those who do not participate are treated as outcasts, Captain.  They are never chosen as leaders.  Their motives and morals are suspect and they are considered threats.

KIRK: Threats!

ELDER [interrupting KIRK and SPOCK]: Here we are, Captain, at the Comfort Pedestal.  It is our privilege to have you join us.  Please, Captain, step up to the Pedestal.

[KIRK approaches the Pedestal and observes the man at the front of the line.  Kirk sees the man reach for a blue button on the Pedestal.  The man presses the button and looks down.  A bluish-purple light shines on the man for five seconds and then fades.  The man walks away from the Pedestal, smiling.]

KIRK [to ELDER]:  What… just happened… here?

ELDER:  That was The Comfort, Captain.  Come!  What good fortune!  You are next.

KIRK [turns to SPOCK]:  Spock!  Your analysis!

SPOCK: Ordinary electromagnetic radiation, Captain, wavelength about 420 nanometers.

KIRK [exasperated]: Plain English, Mr. Spock.

SPOCK: Purple-colored light, Jim.  Nothing more, nothing less.

KIRK [to ELDER]: Elder Jim!

ELDER: Not Jim, Bob.

KIRK:  Bob, Bob, yes.  What does the purple light do?  My First Officer says it is ordinary… [KIRK rubs his forehead]… electromatic… radar… friction.  Well, whatever Spock said.  But surely… you do not believe that this light does… anything… to help your people?

ELDER: On the contrary, Captain.  See for yourself.  Our people step up to the Pedestal, sad and overwhelmed by the events in their lives, but then they press the Button, receive the Comfort and walk away refreshed and ready to engage in the world many more days.  How would you argue with this?

KIRK:  We would… argue… that your so-called comfort is just a purple light.  Elder Jim, or Bob, or Jim Bob, you must have heard of the placebo effect.  It is ancient science.  Pressing a button and lighting a light is a placebo — it only does… what you believe… it does.

ELDER:  You underestimate us, Captain Kirk.  We know about placebos.  And we know the power of belief.  Our people don’t believe because we press the Button, Captain.  We press the Button because we believe.

SPOCK: Is there a difference, Elder?

ELDER: Press the Button, Mr. Spock, and see for yourself.  It is because we believe that we receive the blessing of Comfort that the Light conveys.

McCOY [stepping forward]: Cackleberry comfort if you ask me!  Anyone who is worth a damn deals with life as it is, with all its ups and downs, he doesn’t just press some blasted blue button!  Let me press the damn button and you can see for your own self!

[McCOY pushes SPOCK aside, strides to the Pedestal and slams his palm onto the Button.  He is bathed in a bluish-purple light that fades after several seconds.]

KIRK: McCoy!  Doctor McCoy!

[McCOY stares blankly at KIRK]

KIRK: Bo… Bones.

McCOY [weakly]: Jim.

KIRK: Yes, Bones.

McCOY:  I think you are a wonderful Captain, Jim.  Captain Jim.  Captain Jim’s fish sticks. Ahoy, space sailors!  Captain Jim has some delicious fish sticks for you.  Catch of the day.

KIRK [to his communicator]: Kirk to Enterprise.  Lock onto Doctor McCoy’s signal and beam him directly to Sick Bay.  Keep me posted on his condition.  Kirk out.

[McCOY dissolves into a sparkly cloud]

KIRK [regaining composure]: Elder Bob, your Button and your Comfort are dangerous.  Your people come here to feel better.  But they feel better only because you have convinced them that these… things… do something.  They fool themselves and you fool them too.

ELDER: Captain, no one is being fooled here.  As the Ancients said, “To those who press the Button, no explanation is necessary. To those who refrain, no explanation is possible.”

KIRK [as one person after another presses the Button and walks away]:  And what about Doctor McCoy?  How do you explain that?  Elder, we wish to retire to our quarters now.

ELDER [with pained expression of disapproval]: Very well, Captain.  [ELDER gestures to lute player.]  He will show you to your quarters.  [Lute player smiles to himself.]

_______________________________

KIRK [gesturing to lute player guarding the quarters]: Please… do… play!  Thank you. [Lute player strums loudly as Kirk turns away.]  Wonderful.  I love the lute.

KIRK [to landing crew as the lute masks his words]: Eighty-four percent of the inhabitants of this planet are… enslaved… in this… cult of comfort.  I want that Button broken and that Light shattered.  The people of this planet must be… free… to choose their own paths of personal renewal.  Now… the Prime Directive says I cannot do this because I would be… interfering… with the natural development of another civilization.  But what do you say, Mr. Spock?

SPOCK: I…

COLLINS:  Captain Kirk!

KIRK: Yes, Ensign Collins.

COLLINS:  Captain, if I may speak freely.  We have talked about this, Professor Dawkins and I.  We are willing to stay here on the planet and find an opportunity to destroy the Button and the Light after the Enterprise leaves the quadrant.  The Enterprise can return to the planet at a later time and beam us up to the ship undetected.  No one on the planet — or in Starfleet Command — would be aware of any violation of the Prime Directive.  But most importantly, the Button and the Light and the Comfort would be gone.

KIRK: Professor Dawkins.  I take it you are on board with this plan?

DAWKINS:  It was my idea, Captain.  A delusion is something that people believe in despite a total lack of evidence.  I do not believe in delusions.  They are not healthy.

COLLINS: Captain, for the plan to be successful, you must leave us with a phaser.

KIRK:  Understood.  [Gives his phaser to COLLINS]  And, Ensign…

COLLINS: Yes, Captain.

KIRK: While you’re at it — do something about that lute.

_______________________________

KIRK [voice-over]: Captain’s Log, Stardate 4313.2, Easter Day in the Old Federation.  Doctor McCoy has fully recovered from his latest indiscretion with Acamarian brandy.  For reasons unknown to the Enterprise officers, Ensign Collins and Professor Dawkins chose to abandon their posts and remain on the planet.  It is unlikely that the Enterprise will ever return to this sector.  We commend Collins and Dawkins for their service and wish them, and the rest of the planet, a very Happy Easter.

[The Enterprise turns and flies out of orbit.]

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