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In an instant, he saw how she would die.
As soon as Leonard McCoy pulled open one of the double doors at the front of the mission and stepped out into the cool, damp night, his gaze fell upon the figure of Edith Keeler approaching from across the street. A long dark cloak wrapped her slender frame, and a pale blue cloche crowned her short brunette locks. Street lamps painted the scene with a dim glow, their light reflected here and there in the puddles earlier left behind by an evening rain. McCoy smiled at Keeler, but although her gait carried her directly toward him, she seemed to take no notice of his presence. Her static features betrayed a person lost in her own thoughts.
Movement and a rumble off to the left caught McCoy's attention. He saw a large, squarish ground vehicle barreling down the wet macadam. McCoy jerked his head back toward Keeler and spied the portrait of inner focus still drawn on her face. She clearly didn't see the advancing vehicle, didn't hear the throaty plaint of its engine. In just seconds, she would march into its path.
In that moment, a surge of adrenaline overcame McCoy's grogginess, and his surroundings suddenly became real to him. What he had in his cordrazine-induced madness believed some sort of deception or illusion, what he had later attributed to dementia or hallucination brought on by his accidental overdose, he all at once understood to be none of those things. Somehow, as he watched Edith Keeler walking into jeopardy, all of the explanations and rationalizations for his unusual circumstances dissolved like dreams upon waking.
As McCoy started to move, he called to her -- "Miss Keeler!" -- but even that did not penetrate her concentration. He took one step, then another, but his reactions seemed sluggish, his torpor doubtless a result of the powerful chemical still not entirely purged from his body. Even as he jumped the curb and into the street, his legs felt as though they were pushing through molasses. He knew that he would not reach her in time.
And still he moved.
Three more running strides, and McCoy himself raced into harm's way. He heard the vehicle as it bore down on him, the mechanical growl of its engine now thunderous in his ears. Just before he lunged forward, the sound of brakes keened through the metropolitan night, and he saw Keeler's expression change, the woman at last startled out of her reverie.
McCoy left his feet, his arms outstretched, attempting to reach Keeler even as the vehicle skidded forward, its wheels scraping noisily along the rain-dampened pavement. He struck Keeler solidly at her waist. His momentum stopped her in midstride, and she tumbled backward, her arms flailing as she fell. A yelp emerged from her lips as she crashed down to the middle of the street.
Landing atop her legs, McCoy braced himself for the impact to come, unsure if he'd thrown Keeler and himself completely clear of danger. When after a moment nothing happened, he realized that he no longer heard brakes whining or locked wheels grating along the road surface. Instead, the patter of footfalls rose around him, and he risked a glance over his shoulder. The left front tire of the vehicle, McCoy saw, had come to a stop less than half a meter from his shins. He shuddered once, hard, a reaction driven by the stark reality of the peril he'd only just narrowly escaped.
Gathering himself, McCoy pushed away from Keeler and up onto his knees. He looked at her, and she regarded him in obvious shock, her eyes wide, her mouth agape. Though shaken, she appeared more or less unharmed. Around them, people scampered over from different directions. Several crouched down beside Keeler, while one man clad in a dark gray overcoat and a light brown fedora bent over McCoy.
"You okay, Mister?" the man asked, raising his voice to be heard over the snarl of the ground vehicle's engine. His concern seemed genuine.
"Yeah," McCoy managed to say between deep inhalations of breath. He adjusted the position of his body, moved his arms and legs, examined his hands, attempting to take stock of his physical condition. He felt pains in his knees and elbows, and a patchwork of bloody abrasions covered his palms, but he seemed otherwise uninjured. "A little banged up," he admitted, "but I'm all right."
Behind the man leaning over McCoy, the vehicle quieted, and its near door swung open. Hopping down onto the street, the driver appeared ashen, his wide eyes a mirror of Keeler's own. "She walked right out in front of my truck," he said in a rush. He addressed McCoy, but raised an arm and pointed to where Keeler still sat sprawled on the ground. "Soon as I saw her walkin' across the street and saw she wasn't gonna stop, I hit the brakes." The driver looked to the man in the gray coat as though pleading for corroboration. "There wasn't nothin' else I could've done. I was just -- "
"It's all right," McCoy said, his words coming more easily as he regained his breath. He pushed up from the street and rose, the man in the gray overcoat reaching a hand out to help. When McCoy had stood up fully, he fixed the driver of the truck with his gaze. "It wasn't your fault," he told him. "And anyway, we're fine." The driver stared back at McCoy, evidently trying to gauge the veracity of his statements. Finally, the driver exhaled loudly, and his body seemed to uncoil by degrees, like tension gradually being released from a spring.
McCoy turned toward Keeler just as she began climbing to her feet. A man to either side of her reached down and clasped one of her arms, steadying her as she clambered up from the street. All around, other bystanders pressed in, many chattering about what had just happened and offering their observations and concerns. Keeler still looked staggered, appearing unable to focus on anything. McCoy trod over to her. Her hat had fallen from her head, leaving her hair tousled, with several errant strands fluttering down across her forehead. Her high-collared, navy blue cloak had fallen askew, uncovering her right arm and revealing that the sleeve of her white blouse had been torn open in several places. Where her pale flesh showed through the tattered garment, McCoy saw numerous scrapes and lacerations.
"Are you all right, Miss Keeler?" he asked. She slowly raised her head to look up at him -- he stood nearly a dozen centimeters taller than she did -- but it took a few seconds before her eyes found his. When they did, she nodded slowly, but said nothing. Around them, the small crowd grew quiet, perhaps waiting for her to speak.
McCoy bent and retrieved Keeler's hat before swinging himself around to her side, the two men who'd helped her stand stepping back. He reached up and straightened her cloak about her, then gingerly took hold of her elbow and hand. The gathering of onlookers and samaritans parted before them as McCoy headed Keeler toward the doorway through which he'd exited into the night only a few minutes ago. The memory of that, though fresh, paradoxically seemed to hark back to another lifetime.
"You sure she's gonna be all right, Mister?" the driver asked as they passed him.
"She'll be fine," McCoy replied without interrupting his stride. "I'm a doctor. I'll take care of her."
McCoy walked with Keeler past the front of the truck, its gray metal grillwork like the long fangs of some fearsome beast, the pungent odor of burned rubber and heated oil its foul breath. As they reached the curb, he heard the people congregated behind them begin talking again, their voices agitated as they spoke of the terrible accident that had nearly just occurred. McCoy steered Keeler up onto the sidewalk and then over to the twin doors that led into the 21st Street Mission. He reached to push open one of the doors, but then Keeler turned abruptly toward him, pulling her arm from his grasp. She peered up at him, some low level of awareness seeming to dawn on her face.
"How stupid," she said, her English accent discernible even in just the two words. "I've been back and forth across this street a thousand times. I ought to have been killed." She delivered her statements in a monotone, clearly not yet recovered from her trauma.
"But you weren't killed," McCoy told her, accompanying his words with what he hoped she would perceive as a reassuring smile. "Try not to think about it. It's in the past." He waved the back of his hand toward the street, the gesture intended to dismiss thoughts of how close they'd both just come to being seriously injured, or even to losing their lives. "It's going to be all right," he concluded.
Keeler glanced over at the truck for a second, and then back at McCoy. She offered a half-smile and nodded, as though endeavoring to convince herself of what he'd said.
"Really," McCoy insisted, reaching again for the door. "Everything's going to be all right." But as he ushered Edith Keeler into the mission, he recognized that he stood in a city on Earth, three hundred years before he'd been born -- three hundred years before he would be born. McCoy did not belong in this place or in this time. He had perhaps just saved a woman's life, and had avoided being killed himself, but he realized now that, at least for him, there were no guarantees that anything would ever be all right again.
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