Spoilers: Strange New Worlds: A Quality of Mercy
Summary: He'd known this was coming, but not the full extent.
Notes: Title from Superman (It's Not Easy) by Five for Fighting lyrics
The first thing Chris remembers after the accident is waking up and the nurse asking him to blink. But he can't. Then he does, but it's involuntary. He has no control over it. It's the second indication that his body doesn't work right and it scares him.
The first indication is his sight. Both the room and the nurse have no color. It's hard to focus, even on the nurse. Who isn't exactly person-shaped.
After some time a doctor recites his injuries. The summary is: almost none of his body works. And those things that do work, don't work very well. The delta radiation has damaged a lot of his nerves. He has control over his eyes, but they don't see very well. He can hold his neck up, but not move it. He can swallow, but his inability to control his tongue means he can't eat solid food. And that's about it.
They try bringing in a computer that will read out whatever words or letters he focuses his eyes on. He can't see any of it well enough to make a sentence that makes sense. They try changing to pictures, but he can't be sure what they show.
They keep up hope, saying there are other things to try. They may be able to replace his eyes, so he sees better. They may be able to hook a computer up to his brain waves so he can communicate. But they don't have the equipment to do either of those things here, on Starbase 11. And he's not well enough to travel yet.
Chris is despondent. He doesn't even know how long he's been here. He spends all his time in this bed, tiring easily, although he doesn't do anything. He can't count the number of days he's been here because every day is the same. He naps often, he thinks, but he doesn't know if he wakes up on a new day or the same day.
It all changes when they put him in a wheelchair. He has so many machines keeping him alive and the one that breathes for him needs to be connected every second to keep his breaths regular. At least his heart is battery powered and beats on his own. It takes a team of nurses to transfer him from the bed to the chair. He's long since lost any pride he ever had. Besides, it's not as if he can do a thing to help.
But it gives him a routine. He spends nights in the bed and days in the chair. If he wakes up from a nap during the day he has an aching neck. Since it's one of the few things he can feel, he doesn't hate it too much. Plus it means he knows it's the same day. He can count the days and count the number of naps he has.
They position him in front of the window in his room. At first he thinks it's a foggy day, but when the fog doesn't clear he realizes his vision doesn't work well long-distance. He closes his eyes and paints a picture in his mind of what he should be seeing. When he opens his eyes he thinks the buildings are a little clearer.
He gains a morsel of hope when they tell him of the chair's mind-reading capabilities. He's diligent about practicing, which requires more naps. But eventually he thinks a very clear 'yes' or 'no' and there's a corresponding flash of light on the front of the chair. Now, when the medical staff ask him questions he can respond.
The first question they ask is whether he's all right, but he doesn't know the answer.
He'd known this was coming, but not the full extent. When he'd touched the crystal, years ago, it felt like it was him at the accident. He'd known everything about it as if it had happened for real. But after, when he'd met his future self, he'd been an observer. He'd had an idea of what his injuries were, but not a full picture. Nor a prognosis. Although he'd researched the effects of delta radiation afterwards and had been pretty sure he wouldn't live long.
The doctors had been similarly unsure, in the discussion he'd overheard at the end of his bed one day. Usually, anyone subjected to delta radiation either has a small dose and ends up with burns, or a large dose and die. He's the first person to suffer such a large dose and live. And, as far as they can tell, he'll live out his normal lifespan. Maybe longer, since he won't be putting himself in danger any more. But he's going to spend it stuck in his own body.
He still doesn't know how he feels about that. It's getting into that wheelchair that makes him wonder about the future. For the first time he considers that he might have one.
But the medics are still waiting for an answer about whether he's all right. He gives the only response he can: yes. What would be the use in saying no? They'd have to ask a follow-up question and even he doesn't know what the right one is.
After that, the next thing he works on is the ability to control the chair. It's harder and requires more concentration than making the light blink. But it's not as if his days are busy. It gives him the ability to choose his viewpoint at the window. Or to look at another part of the room entirely.
However, he finds it tires him out and some days he doesn't move it, so he can be sure to have enough energy to make the light blink. When he makes it across the room for the first time he almost gets to the door. But not close enough for it to open.
It happens the next time he moves the chair and the next. Until he recognizes that it's not his ability to control the chair that's the trouble, it's his fear of the world outside his hospital room.
In here, anyone seeing him for the first time stares. Chris hates it. He stares back, but it's impossible to be intimidating when he can barely move a muscle. Or see them well enough to be sure who they are until they speak. Outside, everyone will stare. And he can't bear it. He doesn't want to face his feelings, let alone anyone else's. He's being a coward, he knows, but it doesn't fix the problem and he continues to hide in his room.
Before he tires of the view, he has a new visitor. She introduces himself as Sam Alvarez, a scientist, and she has a robotic arm with her. Sam explains the arm works with his brain waves, much the same way the chair does. This too, takes practice and extra naps. Each day he has to choose between moving the chair and trying to move the hand. After a few days, he moves a finger and he's elated. He can't express it, but Sam shouts "Woohoo!" Chris would smile at her if he could.
The trouble is that Chris can't see a use for it. It's hard to imagine a day when he'll be able to move all the fingers and the hand and the arm, and when he does, what will he do with it? At least he's mastered the lights and he often needs to conserve his energy for those.
For once he's invited to a conference about his care. Usually the medics choose for him and tell him, or talk about it over him. It's as if not being able to talk means he can't hear. But he can - it's one of the few things the delta radiation didn't get to and his hearing is as good as it was before the accident.
They're all gathered in a conference room, giving him his first glimpse of another part of the base. Since he's here, he infers he's not so ill he needs the constant monitoring that comes from being in the ICU. Which is a good sign.
There are a variety of specialists around the table, via hologram. He thinks they're on Earth, but no one tells him. He hates the ghostly apparitions at the best of times, but now his vision sometimes overlaps them, sometimes has them combining or hovering around and it's much worse. But no one has asked his opinion, even though that would be a simple question. Although everyone talks of him in reverential tones about all the things he's done, no one seems to know his preference for screens over holograms.
"Given the extent of Captain Pike's injuries, anything we graft onto his body is unlikely to help," Dr Spencer says. A PhD, Chris thinks, probably in robotics. Everyone he sees these days, aside from nurses and Commodore Mendez has some sort of doctorate.
"And there's a high probably of rejection." Lucy Taylor gave no title when introducing herself. Maybe because everyone knew it. Maybe she doesn't have one. He can't be sure and it's not as if he can check her credentials.
"There is perhaps a chance we can implant something into his brain," Spencer goes on.
Chris's eyes go wide - at least a little more than was usual for them these days. His brain is the only part of him that works perfectly. It's given him the only freedoms he has. He doesn't want anyone messing with it. What If something goes wrong due to the implant or the surgery?
Not that anyone has noticed his reaction, or is even looking in his direction, as far as he can tell.
"But it carries a high level of risk," Spencer says, "It's something we'd have to think about very carefully."
"Perhaps as a last resort," Lucy Taylor suggests, and Spencer agrees, much to Chris's relief.
The doctors continue to discuss ideas of things they can do and Chris knows he should listen, since this is about him and improving his quality of life, but none of them ask his opinion. He's thinks they've forgotten he's here.
They decide, in the end, that the best thing to do is to select some specialist facilities where they can help him in various ways. He will be well enough to travel soon, although he doesn't know how many days that means.
No one asks him what he wants.
What he wants is to go home.
He's heard, from a conversation between nurses in his room, that his parents have asked for him to be returned to Mojave. That's where he wants to go.
What he'd really like is to go back to his place in Montana, but it's not as if he can cook or ride horses or be anywhere on his own. Mojave is the second best place. He longs to be somewhere that isn't a hospital.
He knows he can't spend long there. His parents are getting older and it's too much to ask them to look after him. Too much to ask anyone else either. He doesn't want to be a burden.
But to smell and be around the horses would be enough to make him feel better. All of the talk so far has been about his physical health and none about his mental health. What would be the point of bringing in a therapist when he can't speak? But some days he'll wake from a dream and wish he'd died.
What keeps him going most days is Spock. He can still picture, vividly, Spock lying on a biobed while Nurse Chapel tearfully recites his injuries. But now Spock is First Officer on the Enterprise. Soon they'll meet the Romulans, learn the truth about them that Chris has kept quiet (who would have believed him anyway?) and Kirk won't lead them into war.
Spock is going to live out a long and happy life. Chris is glad about that. Spock is more important than he is anyway.