Two hours later, Lieutenant Porter gracefully steered the Runabout Cumberland, which had been safely stowed in the M*A*S*H's shuttlebay, into position directly above the medical ship's port warp nacelle.
"It is now safe to exit the ride," he said into the comm panel.
In the rear of the runabout, Commander Beck and Dr. Pierce were just finishing climbing into their EVA suits so they could climb out onto the nacelle.
"Thanks, Craig," Beck said. "We'll be heading out in a minute."
"No rush," Porter's voice replied over the comm system. "I don't think anybody's waiting for this particular parking space."
Beck turned her attention back to Hawkeye. "You going to put that helmet on or what?"
Hawkeye uneasily flipped the helmet around in his hands a couple of times. "I'm getting there."
"How do you survive on a ship?"
"It's big enough for me."
"Well, don't worry," Beck said, putting a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "You're heading into the biggest concentration of open space in the universe: open space."
"Yeah, but I have to go locked into this thing," Hawkeye replied ruefully.
"It's better than going outside without a suit."
"Can't argue with that." Hawkeye took a deep breath, let it out slowly, then put the helmet on and latched it to the rest of the suit. "You ready?"
Beck picked up the main section of Porter's "subspace forceps," as Pierce had dubbed them. The device was fairly large and had to be worn as a backpack with a cable leading out to the actual tool end. Since Hawkeye would have enough to deal with trying to perform a tricky procedure inside an EVA suit, it was decided that someone else would actually carry the backpack. Radar and Beck had both volunteered, but Beck's greater EVA experience had won her the job. Besides, she was the one providing transportation out to the nacelle.
Beck pressed the panel by the hatch and watched the hatch slowly open revealing the nacelle below them and space beyond. "Just a quick hop down," she said, making the small leap out onto the nacelle.
"You promise to catch me?" Hawkeye said weakly as he watched her go. With no other choice but to follow her lead, Hawkeye jumped down beside her.
Safely on the nacelle with their magnetic boots engaged, Beck and Hawkeye engaged the heads-up displays in their helmets that would allow them to see subspace fluctuations and filaments. Just ahead of them, a tangled, translucent gold mass stood out against the gray of the nacelle.
"I think we found our patient," Hawkeye said, easing forward a step at a time. Beck adjusted the backpack and followed him to the site. They knelt down beside the mass and prepared to get to work.
"Is it pulsating, or am I seeing things?" Beck asked.
"I think it's pulsating," Hawkeye replied. "I hope that's a good thing. Now where's an end?" He took the subspace forceps in his hand and peered closely at the mass. Beck could see the sudden seriousness transform his features from jester to doctor. Without a word, he started the long process of untangling the tendrils walking around and around the nacelle as if it were nothing more than an operating table. His focus was solely on his patient.
More than half an hour passed before Hawkeye finally spoke.
"So, are you going to keep me company out here or what?"
"I didn't want to break your concentration."
"I don't think you can help that."
"You don't give up, do you?" Beck laughed.
"Me? Who was so desperate to be alone with me that she agreed to take a walk in deep space?"
Before Beck could come up with a snappy retort, Hawkeye quickly moved off around the nacelle, forcing Beck to practically run to catch up so the cable connecting the parts of the subspace forceps would not rip.
"Almost there," Hawkeye said, leaning down over another, much smaller tangle of subspace filament. "I think I've got the other end here!" he added triumphantly. Working methodically, Hawkeye loosen and shifted bits of the filament, freeing the end, which snaked through the other bits of the knot, untying the entire mass.
Beck and Hawkeye watched the entire string loosen, unravel from around the nacelle, and float off into space. Gradually, of its own accord, the string began to twist, slowly forming a spiral.
"Are you seeing this, too?" Hawkeye said in disbelief.
"It's incredible," Beck replied softly.
After completing its formation of a spiral, the string started to spin around and around, gradually lengthening itself out to look more like a spring. Then, with a sudden flare-up in energy, it zipped away.
"Nice work, Doctor," Beck said.
"I guess it was pretty good," Hawkeye replied.
"Some might even say great," Beck said smiling. She wrapped her arm around Hawkeye's and led him back to the runabout.
"Nearest we can figure, we picked up that little hitchhiker when we hit that plasma storm last week," Captain Potter said as he, the other M*A*S*H officers, and their Waystation visitors sat in the mess hall having dinner.
"The storm must just be the manifestation in our universe of those life-forms' pocket of subspace," Porter added.
Potter turned to his operations officer. "Radar..."
"I'll contact Starfleet first thing tomorrow and have warning buoys dispatched around the area," Radar said, finishing Potter's thought. "Yes, sir."
"Good. So, Doctors, I think the last day has given me the answer to this, but how are our patients?"
"Right as rain," Hunnicutt said.
"Afraid so," Hawkeye added, giving Beck a smile.
"Glad to hear it, but we are going to miss you folks," Potter said. "You've given us a big hand out here."
"Anytime, sir," Beck replied. "Thank you again for helping us. We'd love to stay, but we really need to get back to Waystation."
"I understand," Potter replied. "But before you go, we've got a little something we'd like to share with you. Everybody done stuffing their faces?"
"Yes, sir," came the reply from the gathered officers. Beck and Porter exchanged a confused look as the M*A*S*H crew got up from their seats and headed out into the corridor. Houlihan took Porter's arm to show him the way, drawing an angry glare from Burns. Meanwhile, Hawkeye hung back from the group to wait for Beck.
"I never even got to give you the complete Pierce experience," Hawkeye said, walking side by side with Beck through the corridors.
"There's always next time," Beck said. "Waystation may be out of the way, but you can get there if you want to."
"I'd love to take you up on that."
"Then do it."
Potter stopped the group in front of a set of holodeck doors. "Computer, run program Home One." The computer blipped its compliance, and Potter took a step forward through the opening doors.
Inside was an outdoor camp set up. Several green tents and a long metal building were gathered around a small area at the base of a series of low mountains. Dirt roads stretched away from the camp in different directions as people in green uniforms rushed back and forth.
"What is this place?" Porter asked.
"It's a real M*A*S*H," Potter replied, heading deep into the simulation followed by Radar, Klinger, Burns, and Hunnicutt.
Porter suddenly felt a wave of nausea wash over him. He fell back against the door frame as Houlihan stepped up to him. "It doesn't look like much, but some people called it home."
"Help," Porter gasped as he slid to floor.
"I guess this is goodbye," Hawkeye said as Beck slumped into his arms, her body also overcome by whatever had hit Porter.
"Wh..what's happening?" Beck asked weakly as Hawkeye set her down next to Porter.
"It's time to leave," Hawkeye said. "Goodbye, Lisa." He kissed her lips gently, then walked off into the program with the others.
The last thing Beck saw through her blurring vision was the holodeck doors close. Then all was darkness.