When a beam-down goes sour, Kirk and Spock have differing opinions about "the good of the one".
Image courtesy of TrekCore.
Alternate Original Series Characters:
Kirk, James T. (Pine), McCoy, Leonard (Urban), Scott, Montgomery (Pegg), Spock (Quinto), Uhura, Nyota (Saldana)
Action/Adventure, Drama, FriendshipWarnings:
To Boldly Go
13 Jan 2016 Updated:
19 Jan 2016
This story follows "Oops" in the "To Boldly Go" series.
1. Chapter 1 by M C Pehrson
2. Chapter 2 by M C Pehrson
3. Chapter 3 by M C Pehrson
4. Chapter 4 by M C Pehrson
5. Chapter 5 by M C Pehrson
6. Chapter 6 by M C Pehrson
7. Chapter 7 by M C Pehrson
8. Chapter 8 by M C Pehrson
THE LOGIC OF SURVIVAL By: M. C. Pehrson
Captain Kirk was starting to get a bad feeling. Drawing his phaser, he scanned the tree-studded knolls for any sign of the security detail. Their red uniform tunics should have been easy to spot against the rolling green so typical of the planet, yet he couldn't see them. And neither Klate nor Mitsubi, both seasoned crewmen, were responding by communicator.
The murmur from Kirk's second-in-command drew his attention. Spock was squatting down, peering at the mossy groundcover, obviously intrigued by something. Probably only something that another Vulcan scientist would find interesting, but there were few of those to be found since the destruction of their home world.
"What is it?" Kirk asked.
"Astounding..." Spock replied in the same absorbed tone. "This plant's growth rate is phenomenal. Look here, where our boots have damaged the vegetation. You can actually watch it renew."
Kirk spared the moss a quick glance, but his mind was elsewhere. "I'm more interested in watching our security men reappear. I told them to stay in sight."
As he put one hand to his face and shouted their names, Spock carefully packed a clump of groundcover, roots and all, into a specimen case.
Still no sign of the men. Kirk made no attempt to hide his irritation as he yanked out his communicator. It emitted a sick sound and promptly died in his hand. "Damn!" he swore, twirling the unresponsive knobs disgustedly. "I thought Scotty weeded out all the faulty ones."
Rising, Spock passed along his own communicator and watched Kirk flip open the cover. Its healthy chirp brought a brief glimmer to the dark Vulcan eyes before Spock proceeded to chip mineral samples from a nearby boulder.
With a sigh, Kirk contacted the Enterprise.
"No," Scotty reported from aboard ship, "they're not here, but Klate called in a while ago. It seems they're chasin' some...wee ‘bunnies', Captain. ‘Cute things', Misubi said."
"Well then," Kirk replied with heavy sarcasm, "that explains it. If they should manage to report in again, Mister Scott, have them beam up, will you? And Engineer, there's a wee matter of shoddy equipment we'll be discussing."
Breaking contact, he snapped at Spock, "Are you about finished?" And immediately regretted the tone.
Spock set down a tool and reached into the equipment box for a soil probe. "This is the last sample. Our environmental expert might have performed more efficiently than I, had she not been ill."
Kirk wanted to say, Never mind. I'm just a little jittery. Take your time. But he kept an uneasy silence and his finger on the trigger as his gaze traveled to the horizon. There was nothing in the peaceful countryside to account for his tension, which made it all the more troubling.
On the verge of hurrying the Vulcan along, he turned...and found Spock frozen in a receptive attitude, his lean fingers gripping the soil sampler where it protruded from the ground.
Skin prickling, Kirk stepped toward him. Something rippled faintly beneath his boots. His mind scarcely registered the collapsing earth or heard Spock's startled yelp mingle with his own at they plunged downward. A smothering cascade of dirt ended in blackness.
Spock was not sure how long he had lain there, stunned, before he came to his senses and realized that his legs were pinned. Pulling them free, he reached into the dark void around him, and called, "Captain? Captain!"
There was no reply.
Blindly he dug through the cave-in debris, shoving aside great armfuls of damp earth and rock, until he encountered a human limb. He clawed along its length to a reassuringly warm torso. Then, a head. Quickly he brushed the face clear of dirt, then blew one forceful breath into Kirk's mouth, inflating the empty lungs. The captain abruptly sputtered and came up gasping for air-a move which brought more soil and pebbles raining down on their heads. As Spock threw himself over the half-exhumed body, he felt along Kirk's waist for the communicator. Gone...
Kirk spat a mouthful of grit and wiped his eyes on a dirt-encrusted sleeve. "Spock," he said, "is that you? My legs..."
"Yes, Captain. I'll have you out in a moment."
There was a sound of digging as the Vulcan cautiously worked him loose. Blood tingled through his legs as Spock dragged him from the last of the debris.
"Jim, are you alright?" Spock's concerned voice was quite near, but it was impossible to see him.
Peering into the impenetrable blackness, Kirk fought down a swell of panic. "Looks like we're completely cut off from the surface. I wonder how far we fell."
"Unknown," Spock said. "And Captain, my phaser is missing."
Another shower of dirt descended. As Kirk patted the disheartening emptiness at his own hip, he recalled that he had been holding his phaser when they fell. That meant no communicators and no weapons. Flatly he said, "We're in trouble."
They began searching for any useful piece of equipment that might have followed them into the cavity. Crawling about, they sifted through the debris as rapidly as they dared, without bringing more crashing onto them.
Suddenly Kirk's fingers closed over a delightfully familiar shape. "Spock! I found a-dammit!" He let the dead communicator drop to a decent burial in the loose dirt, and sat wondering if they were next. "Well, Mister Spock, any suggestions?"
It grew very silent in the cavity. Though Spock would not have admitted to claustrophobia, he had always found tightly enclosed areas rather oppressive. He felt the crush of earth hanging over his head, but forcibly turned his mind from it. "Captain. Have you noticed how quickly the air has cleared?"
"Yes," Kirk agreed, brightening. "I wonder if this is part of a tunnel."
Cautiously they attempted to stand, but a low ceiling forced them to hunch over. Arms outstretched, they took several shuffling paces. The cavern abruptly narrowed into a passage that allowed them to walk comfortably upright, single file.
Kirk stopped and said, "Even though this area is unstable, we could remain here and hope for rescue, but your tricorder didn't even register a tunnel."
"And the accelerated growth of the native groundcover may have already obliterated any sign of the cave-in," Spock noted. "It would appear to be a natural indentation in the landscape."
"Then we're on our own." Kirk led the way in a slow, nerve-wracking journey through the dark. Groping along, he said, "What I wouldn't give for a flashlight. Spock, tell me again about that preliminary survey data."
"Taura Beta 2 is a Class M planet in all respects." The Vulcan's reply echoed strangely. "Scattered animal readings. No highly evolved life forms, despite ideal conditions."
"The perfect little colony world," Kirk mused. "But how do you explain this tunnel?" On a mining colony they had encountered rock-burrowing creatures called Hortas-intelligent beings with deadly defense capability. He did not relish meeting whatever giant gopher might have dug this.
"There could be several explanations," Spock began. He never finished the thought. His hand clamped over Kirk's shoulder, bringing them both to a halt.
"Captain...I can see." Vision had come so gradually that Spock was only now aware of it. Up ahead, the rocky passage was bathed in a pale, shivery glow. He faintly saw Kirk turn toward him.
"Really, Spock? I can't make out a thing."
"There is a minute light source, extremely diffused..." Spock moved ahead and brushed his fingers over the rough wall. "A phosphorescent lichen."
With Spock taking the lead, their pace quickened. The light around them gradually increased until the Vulcan could see quite clearly and Kirk found himself walking through an eerie twilight world. Thick luminous patches clung to the damp tunnel stone, and though the footing grew slippery, they made good progress. Secretly Kirk wondered if it was wasted effort. Were they walking in circles?
After a time, Spock paused and said, "There is water somewhere ahead."
"Yes." Kirk caught a vague whiff. "Stagnant water."
"And animal spoor, if I am not mistaken. We must consider the possibility that this tunnel may in fact be a huge burrow...in which case..."
Kirk felt naked without his phaser. He was certainly not eager to face down any giant gopher, perhaps an enraged female gopher defending her young. But on the other hand... "It could indicate a concentration of animal life near some surface access. A way out."
"That is a possibility, however..." Spock found himself at a sudden loss for words. According to his inner time sense, they had been wandering below ground for two-point-seven hours. On four occasions they had encountered branching tunnels and chosen one at random. Though Spock was now experiencing a sense of impending danger, there was no hard evidence to warrant turning back. A Vulcan did not make judgments based on a "feeling".
Meanwhile, Kirk brushed ahead. "Surely, Spock, you've heard the saying ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained'?"
A dozen contradictory expressions came to Spock's mind, and one in particular followed him down the tunnel. Something about "fools rushing in". The tunnel had widened, and he was walking at the captain's side when they approached a spill of light from a connecting passage-natural light from the system's yellow dwarf star. In a moment they stood on the threshold of a tall chamber lined entirely with smooth, symmetrical gray stones. Daylight streamed from four slits set high in the underground walls.
"Fascinating," Spock remarked.
"Yes," Kirk agreed. "Unfortunately those windows are too small for us...and way out of reach. Let's see if it's a dead end." He stepped into the shadowy room to reconnoiter. And promptly cried out.
Spock saw the dark, leaping blurs at floor level. Whirling, he gave one a kick. Something latched onto his boot, slicing through leather and flesh with a furious sting. He made a grab for the ball of fur, missed wildly, and pitched headlong onto the stone floor.
The paralysis was swift and overwhelming. He had only a brief moment to consider if the venom might be deadly, as well. He saw Kirk collapsing nearby, and then his vision failed.
Sometime later Spock emerged from black, dreamless oblivion. Slowly he edged toward awareness, head throbbing, stomach convulsed by nausea. Repressing a groan, he opened his eyes...and remembered. He reared up and clutched his head from the resultant burst of agony, but as he applied a Vulcan technique, the misery became manageable and he was able to focus his attention on the captain.
Kirk lay just out of reach, in a patch of brown slime. His breathing was shallow and raspy. Concerned, Spock made a move toward him, but his legs met solid resistance. Glancing down, he found that his feet were bare and his ankles restrained by metallic rings imbedded in the stone. A quick look showed that Kirk was secured in the same manner.
This was not the work of any animal. Obviously they had encountered an intelligent being, but for now they seemed to be alone.
Softly he called, "Captain...Jim."
There was no response.
Lying flat in the foul-smelling sludge, he stretched toward the quiet form. Mere inches short, but it might as well have been parsecs. Sitting up, he stared helplessly at his captain, wondering what effect the powerful venom would have on a human. Was Jim dying?
There was a steady drip of water, and now and then a faint scuffling sound. Though he could not quite see into the deepest shadows, he suspected that a number of creatures were hiding there-probably the same poisonous species that had attacked them. Now Jim lay totally vulnerable to their return, and Spock's own situation was not much better.
But worrying would accomplish nothing. Setting himself in the Vulcan discipline, he wiped the worst of the slime from his hands, then bent to study his leg irons. The slim bands were hinged on one side and joined by a locking mechanism. A shaft anchored each cuff to sold rock. Spock worked his fingertips under the snug circlets, summoned his strength, and pulled hard. But despite their rather delicate appearance, the bands were quite effective. At last he released his hold. As he dropped to the filthy floor, a bitter rush of bile gagged him. The poison was still having its effect.
"Captain!" he called hoarsely.
Kirk remained deathly still. With each passing minute, the possibility of serious or fatal damage increased. The captain needed medical attention.
Willing himself back up, Spock gripped the bands again. He grit his teeth and yanked hard, ignoring the bite of metal and ooze of blood. The shackles resisted his determined prying, and a vigorous attempt to wrench the shafts from the chamber floor met with equal failure. At last the metal grew so slick with blood that he lost his grip and fell away, landing back in the seepage. Sickness rose in his throat again. The foul, humid air felt heavy in his lungs as he struggled to control his physical symptoms. One breath...two breaths...slowly...deeply...
The moldy stone walls seemed to rumble closer, the shadows twist and lengthen. No. Only the poison working on my mind...a matter of the mind...the mind controls...controls...
A ragged sound shattered Spock's concentration. Coughing? As he turned, the captain rolled onto one elbow, looking groggy and disoriented.
"Take care," Spock advised. "The aftereffect of the venom is quite unpleasant."
But Kirk was already emptying his stomach. After the retching passed, he lay back weakly. "Damn. What hit us?"
"I did not get a clear look at the creatures." Spock sat up and fingered his leg bonds. "However, I have had ample opportunity to examine these."
As Kirk struggled up and studied this latest development, a bleak silence settled over the chamber.
Watching him tug ineffectually at his leg irons, Spock said, "Clearly we have encountered an intelligent species. Energy-inhibiting minerals in this stone must have shielded these ground dwellers from our sensors."
Kirk swung around, wincing as his head protested the abrupt movement. "And our crew is searching for us blind."
Spock gave a solemn nod. "Indeed."
Through a haze of sickness, Kirk looked at the feeble wash of light receding from the window slits. He envisioned his crew frantic with worry on the planet's surface or-in a more optimistic vein-searching their way through the subterranean tunnels. "We might try calling for help...but our captors would likely hear us."
"Yes," Spock agreed, his face a vague smudge in the gathering darkness. "Quite likely."
Kirk was straining against the leg shackles when night abruptly descended. All at once every noise seemed louder-the uneasy rhythm of their breathing, drips of water, and the skittering of creatures on the chamber floor.
"Our venomous friends are back," Kirk whispered.
Spock's reply was equally low. "Judging from their level of activity, they must be primarily nocturnal."
"Hey!" Kirk exclaimed when something soft nudged his bare foot. As he swung out, another animal landed in his lap. He sent them both flying. They landed with dull plops and scurried away, chattering.
Stretching to the very limit of his shackles, he reached out blindly. "Spock...can you reach my hand?"
There were sounds of movement, and then warm fingertips briefly brushed against Kirk's. He did not know what he had hoped to accomplish by the brief contact, but it brought him a sense of comfort. With a touch of wry humor he said, "As you were."
A noisy scuffle was followed by Spock's delayed, very dry response. "Aye, Captain."
In spite of his queasy stomach, Kirk cracked a smile. His lips felt stiff and out of practice. "I have a feeling this night will be unforgettable. By the way, just how long are the nights here?"
It was perhaps the longest night in their lives. All through the dark stretch, animals came at them in a steady, relentless stream. The creatures seemed to approach in pairs, and no matter how roughly repelled, they came back sniffing and pawing.
"Persistent devils," Kirk complained. Every inch of him yearned for a tall drink, a shower, and a comfortable bed. And now that the sickness had eased, just add a thick steak to that list, flame broiled, medium rare.
"Are you feeling any better?" Spock's concerned voice sliced into his reverie.
"Fantastic," he answered sourly. "Remind me to thank our host for these marvelous accommodations. And how is your suite, Spock?"
Yet another siege of animals brought their conversation to an end. This time the creatures kept a respectable distance, swarming about and chattering among themselves.
Spock used the opportunity for a reluctant announcement. "Captain, I think you should know that the bite on my ankle is festering badly. The swelling has already spread as far as my knee."
"Great." Kirk explored the puncture wound on his own calf. A bit sore to the touch, but scabbed over and healing nicely. Almost as fast as that alien moss, growing thick and lush in a matter of minutes, totally hiding the raw site of the cave-in. "The creatures don't seem to be biting now. Try and get some rest."
"That is not necessary, Captain. As you are aware, Vulcans can forego sleep for extended..."
"Try!" The sharp order sent a hoard of creatures scurrying through the darkness.
Hunching over, Spock placed his elbows on his thighs and rested his face in his hands. He was having some difficulty regulating his mental processes. It was more than the grinding throb of his leg. Strange impressions teased at the periphery of his mind, yet when he tried to focus on them, they vanished. He made a concerted effort to think of Nyota. By now, she would be very worried about him. Would he ever see her again? Feel her arms around him and enjoy the sweetness of her thoughts as they kissed? As they made love? Now even her image fractured.
Annoyed by the distractions, he shifted and flexed his cramped muscles. Vulcan lungs meant for a thin, dry atmosphere were beginning to protest against the dank alien air. Rank seepage soaked his uniform, making him shiver. Rest, the captain had ordered. For now he preferred to sit until his strength failed completely.
Glancing to one side, he could barely distinguish Kirk's shadowy form lying flat-out in the muck. Snoring softly, unaware of the small milling shapes, oblivious to every discomfort. At times Spock almost envied the human's easy, uncomplicated responses. Taking refuge in his Vulcan ways, he kept silent watch as the night dragged on.
Kirk was smothering in a sudden avalanche of puffballs. With a strangled cry he reared up, gasping for breath, and felt the furry bodies cascade onto his lap in a docile heap. For one confused instant he thought he was on a space station infested with tribbles. In the next moment, he wished it were true.
"Captain," a voice spoke to him from the darkness.
"I'm fine," Kirk said, batting real-life creatures from his body. "Nightmares, Spock. One after the other, over and over. I couldn't seem to wake up." And suddenly he recalled the worst one of all. "Remember the Horta?"
Spock was not likely to forget the wounded silicon-based being whose mind he had recently joined. "Yes. The pergeum mining operation on Janis IV disturbed her nesting chamber. Before we arrived on the scene, she had killed more than fifty miners."
Kirk described the vivid terror of his dream. "We were back in her tunnels, in the nesting chamber itself...surrounded by shattered eggs. You attempted to meld with the Horta, only this time, at the last moment she turned and attacked. Your hands, Spock...the acid." He shuddered and fell silent.
The murmured remark took Kirk by surprise. "Well, I'd hardly call it that."
"To the contrary, Captain. I find it interesting that you dreamt of the Horta at this particular time. You have given me an idea. In our natural...arrogance...we have been overlooking a viable possibility."
Kirk felt the first stirring of hope in hours. Spock was having a brainstorm. "Overlooked what? What possibility?"
"As in the case of the Horta's eggs, I prefer to test this theory privately before disclosing it."
"Hey, I could use some amusement," Kirk protested. But he was left to wait and wonder.
Whatever the Vulcan was planning, it apparently involved capturing one of their furry cellmates. Kirk heard a maddened screech and desperate scuffle. He heard a soothing Vulcan phrase. Then quiet.
Kirk's eyes widened with sudden comprehension.
Spock found that catching the creature was easy. Subduing the angry blur of teeth and claw without being bitten proved more difficult. His eyesight was no match for the nocturnal prowler. He could barely see well enough to avoid a slashing, yet he had to act quickly, even recklessly, before more creatures came charging to the little captive's defense. Wedging the frantic body between his knees, he fingered the surprisingly broad skull and collected himself.
Tentatively, he probed. Then deeper. ...And the world exploded in a swirl of impossible images. Muted hues...violent emotions...terror...rage...
"No!" Spock's mental protest swept into the turmoil. "I mean you no harm!"
Nearby, Kirk heard the labored breathing of a meld gone bad and yanked desperately at his leg irons. It was dangerous for a Vulcan to join with an animal's mind. "Spock!" he hissed. "Break off! Do you hear me?" The bands sliced into his straining fingers. "Spock!"
The anxious cry fell painfully on Spock's ears, as if they were very small and accustomed only to small sounds. Yet not even such a blast could disturb the tranquil sense of belonging in this dim, friendly place. The air suited his lungs now and breathing came easier. The thick, sheltering rock seemed to nourish the flow of thought...
Reluctantly he gave the creature's velvety fur one last stroke, and lowered her to the floor.
He heard Kirk struggling with his bonds and managed to say aloud, "It's...over now, Captain."
There was a fierce sigh of relief...or annoyance...or perhaps a mixture of the two. "Mister Spock, by what logic do you justify linking minds with a venomous animal? No, wait a minute." Kirk jumped ahead to another question. "You're not going to tell me that these...vermin...are actually intelligent, self-aware beings?"
"My justification," Spock replied, "is the logic of survival. As to your second query, external characteristics have little bearing on intellectual capacity. Science once held that certain physical criteria such as cranial development..."
"Just get to the point."
Sorting through a lingering whirl of impressions, Spock reduced them to the barest of facts. "They call themselves the Dwellers, a sentient species once enslaved by an extinct ‘master race' that constructed these passages."
"Dwellers?" Was Spock's hold on reality slipping? "You mean to tell me that these...these rodents put us in leg irons?"
"Although your use of the terms ‘rodent' and ‘vermin' are technically inaccurate, your general assumption is correct. For their size, the Dwellers are quite strong. Their hands include an opposable thumb and are capable of fine work. Their art is actually..."
Kirk interrupted. "We'll have a discussion on art later. Did you persuade them to let us go?"
"I made an attempt to convince them of our good intentions, but they cannot help but consider us a danger."
Nor could Kirk altogether repress a shiver of revulsion. So their lives might well depend on these scuttling creatures. Peering around the chamber, he strained to see something, anything. And now through the narrow, high apertures came the faint but unmistakable signs of dawn.
"It's almost morning," he said, wondering what the new day would bring. And it was coming on fast. He could already make out Spock's shape.
The Vulcan's voice was grim. "The Dwellers are all but blinded by the light. Let us hope that they reach a favorable decision while it's still dark enough for them to release us. We treated them roughly; several were injured. But perhaps they have forgiving natures despite..." He broke off suddenly.
The entire floor seemed to have come alive. Dark shapes swarmed in from all directions, surrounding their prisoners with more soft, chattering noises.
Spock held himself still as a single Dweller climbed into his lap and lightly touched his hand. Their eyes met, and he sensed a familiar mind reaching cautiously toward him. It was an obvious request for communication. The sleek, tufted ears quivered as his fingertips settled over the furry meld points. And for a second time, he entered the Dweller's mind.
As Kirk waited, he could not help but wonder what a mass assault of furious Dwellers could do to a human...or Vulcan...body. Poised around him, the Dwellers seemed almost...hungry. Did they eat raw meat? Smile, he told himself, look friendly. But in some cultures a show of teeth or even a stray lip movement could be seen as aggressive. Sweat tricked down his forehead and stung his eyes. He squeezed them shut, rather than risk any hand motion that could be interpreted as hostile. And all the while Spock was over there, communing.
Kirk's eyes were still shut when something grazed his bare foot. He jumped and took a peek. Spock was crouched over him, working some sort of key. The ankle rings opened silently.
"Thank God," Kirk groaned, struggling up on stiff legs. He was alone with Spock. Every one of the creatures had retreated into their shadowy daytime haunts.
"And thank the Dwellers as well," Spock said. "They could easily have left us to die."
"Or torn us to shreds," Kirk added, flexing his knees.
Spock looked him in the eye. "A distinct possibility, since their former oppressors were also humanoid in appearance."
It was much lighter now. Kirk took a long look at the Vulcan's dirty face and broke into a grin. "You must have scared the hell out of them."
"Indeed." One angular brow climbed. "I had the distinct impression that they found our appearance exceedingly repulsive."
"They think we're ugly."
"I believe that is what I said, Captain."
Shaking his head, Kirk gestured toward the doorway. "Then let's relieve them of our presence, Mister Spock." But at his first step, his toes sank into the slime and he came to an abrupt halt. "Our boots. Where are they?"
Spock glanced around the chamber. "Unknown. I suggest we return to the Enterprise for replacements."
The tone was so self-assured that Kirk could not resist a flippant, "Right. We'll beam straight up."
"I hardly see how that is possible," Spock said, taking the remark seriously. "But I should be able to lead us from the tunnels on foot. The final meld imprinted a map of sorts upon my mind."
Spock limped into the tunnel with the borrowed instinct of a Dweller. He noted symptoms of fever now; clearly his infection was growing, but there was no time to stop and enter a Vulcan healing trance. It was a relief when the captain finally called for a rest. Shifting his weight off his injured leg, he gratefully leaned against the tunnel wall.
Rasping from thirst, Kirk asked, "How much farther?"
"It should not be long now," Spock replied with uncharacteristic vagueness.
Glad that Kirk seemed satisfied with the imprecise answer, Spock urged him onward through the passage. There was good reason to hurry, for the Dwellers' directional certainty was rapidly fading from his mind.
Then suddenly all knowledge of the tunnel system was gone. Spock stopped so abruptly that Kirk bumped into him. Thrown onto his bad leg, Spock lurched precariously, but hands slid around his waist and checked the fall.
"You're feeling worse," Kirk said.
Spock laid his cheek on the cold rough stone and breathed deeply. "It is more than that. Captain...I regret to report that...we are lost."
Lost. Kirk's heart sank. "But I thought they showed you the way."
"Apparently the directional sense was only temporary," Spock surmised.
Kirk sighed. "Alright. But we must be headed in the right general direction. Can you still walk?"
Wordlessly Spock straightened and limped on.
Hours passed, and Kirk reached the point of fatigue in which every step took conscious effort. The soles of his feet throbbed from scrapes and stone bruises as he matched the Vulcan's determined pace through the gloom. Would they ever again see the light of day? Would these tunnels be their tomb?
They entered a dismally black passageway. Kirk found the Vulcan's shoulder and held tight as Spock slowly groped along the wall. Before long, a sharp inviting scent met his nostrils.
"Water!" Kirk said excitedly.
"Yes." Spock kept moving in a cautious shuffle. "I can hear something ahead."
The course became straight and smooth beneath their sore feet. The surfaces grew damp, the air cool with mist, and the distant burble of water deepened to a steady rush.
"I can taste it," Kirk exclaimed.
Suddenly Spock's shoulder slipped from his hand. There was short cry-one startled note of dismay, and then a wet impact somewhere below.
"Spock!" Kirk dropped to his knees at the edge of a cleft. He probed the chilly mist with one hand, then stretched, reaching deeper. "Spock! Can you hear me?"
The rushing torrent filled the dark space with a desolate sound.
There had been no stopping himself when the rock crumbled from under Spock's feet. His weight plunged him into an awkward fall that ended with a frigid shock of water. In the second after impact, he lay thinking. Incredible! A drop like that, and no injuries! But then the pain connected in his brain. Through a searing flood of agony he heard the captain calling overhead and knew that Jim had not followed him into the crevasse.
Water slapped his face like an icy hand, rousing him. He pushed against slippery rocks. With painful effort he raised his upper body from the streambed and sat in a whirl of swift current. By some fierce scrap of Vulcan objectivity, he appraised his condition.
The two or three injured ribs and the contusions were manageable. But now there was something wrong with his leg besides a rampant infection. The pain was so intense that he knew a bone must be broken.
"Captain..." The feeble call trailed away to nothing. Spock gathered a full, stabbing breath and yelled, "Down here, Jim!"
"Are you hurt?" came the anxious response.
"I'm afraid my right leg is...finished!"
There was a pause, and then, "Can you stand at all?"
There was only one way to test that capability. Shivering hard from the cold, Spock cautiously tucked his healthy leg under him and eased himself into a squat. He held the tenuous balance long enough to gather his strength and thrust upward. His right heel jolted over the rocks. White-hot pain ripped through the leg and he hit the streambed, writhing.
Time passed in a wild tumble of water and shouting.
Then Spock was sitting upright, his back pressed against rock. He tried to remember moving, but drew a blank. The water's bitter chill was numbing his mind as well as his body. He could no longer feel either leg.
Kirk's voice came rasping through the blackness, weary but urgent. "Spock! Answer me!"
Spock permitted himself a faint smile. So Jim was still there-the fool. "Haven't you left yet?"
"Not without you!" Kirk said firmly.
Down in the crevasse, Spock shook his head. "My injuries are too severe for travel! I can wait here while you go for help!"
"No way!" Kirk shouted. "We're leaving together, even if I have to carry you! Now get up and take hold of my hand!"
It was precisely what Spock had expected-emotion overruling reason. Somehow the captain must be made to see logic. "Jim. You haven't enough strength left to carry me through these tunnels! Why reduce both our chances for survival? Go on alone!"
"Yes, survival!" Kirk's voice took on a brittle edge. "Would you have me walk away from here...over your dead body?"
Spock drew another painful breath. "Captain. Think of your ship."
Kirk exploded. "I'm fully aware of my responsibilities, Mister! Now try considering your own! I've given you a direct order, and I expect you to obey it!"
Spock drank a handful of water to ease his thirst. The captain's command was unreasonable. It would be a simple matter to feign compliance; high overhead, Kirk would never know if he actually tried or not. He could spare himself the pain of useless attempts-possibly injurious efforts-that would only delay their inevitable separation. Or he could simply refuse.
Jim might forgive him that...eventually. If Jim survived.
The captain's voice drifted down once more, so low and uncommanding that Spock strained to hear the words. "Spock...you can do it...I know you can."
The blood pounded in Spock's ears. Struggling to control spasms of shivering, he placed his palms against the rock behind him and thrust his body upward. A series of jarring hops brought him onto his good leg, listing dangerously as the chilled limb threatened to buckle under his weight. Gaining a firmer hold, he peered up into the darkness. There was no way of measuring the distance to the top, or of knowing which side of the gorge Kirk was on.
"Alright!" he called out. "I am on my...foot!"
Kirk's relieved sigh was swept away by the churning water. On his belly beside the cleft, he edged forward and extended his arm as deeply as possible. "I'm over here, Spock! Reach up...and keep talking!"
Homing in on the Vulcan's voice, Kirk scooted closer and closer until their fingertips met. With a surge of relief, Kirk reached lower and interlocked their wrists. He had no intention of letting go. "Get ready...and...now!"
Kirk heaved upward with all his might. It was like lifting stone.
Impossible, Spock thought as he fumbled along the slippery cracks for a handhold and foothold. Jim was in no condition to hoist a dense Vulcan body, and yet...inch by agonizing inch he rose, until his fingers closed over the stony rim.
"Hang on," Kirk grunted nearby.
Spock felt a hand grip his waistband and haul him up. Jagged rock slashed his injured ribs; the scream forming in his throat was choked off by a sudden warm gush. Then his bad leg grated over the top and he lay in a haze of pain, coughing blood.
Kirk felt blind as he attempted to appraise Spock's condition in the gloom. It was easy enough to tell which leg was injured; the swelling made that clear enough. But judging by the wet sound of Spock's cough, there might well be an internal injury.
If only Doctor McCoy were here, but it was no use wishing.
Kirk yanked off his outer uniform tunic and wrapped it snugly around the Vulcan's lower leg. Very little protection, but all he could do for now. Feeling chilled in his damp t-shirt, he forced his mind from the tantalizing scent of water.
"We're moving on," he said as much to himself as to Spock. "Here, I'm going to help you stand."
Bringing the Vulcan's arm over his shoulders, he tried to ease him upright-common rescue procedure, a simple enough maneuver, but Kirk had not reckoned with his own weakness.
"Captain...no," Spock protested in pained gasps. "Go on...leave me."
"And what would Uhura say about that?" Gritting his teeth, Kirk slowly straightened under the Vulcan's weight and took a faltering step back down the passage. Spock was not giving him much help.
"Damn it!" Kirk flared. "Come on, try!" His voice cracked and he stood fighting a dangerous sense of panic. "Just a little farther," he urged in a throaty whisper, "one step at a time."
Somehow he managed to move Spock along, backtracking to the last dimly lit tunnel intersection. From there, he headed down a branch that Spock had previously bypassed. They made slow progress.
Talk, Kirk told himself, keep moving, keep talking, say anything. "I never told you about...that leave on Bright's Station." Spock seemed to grow heavier with each step. "Bones and I went into this...little club...and there was a Biotone Synthesizer..." The Vulcan was a vague silhouette, all but lifeless, head hanging low. Kirk paused and gave him an anxious shake. "You with me?"
The head stayed down. Spock managed a ragged whisper. "No...no more. Now you see...the logic..." And he succumbed to another strangled fit of coughing.
Kirk staggered but kept his balance long enough to ease Spock to the ground. He held him until the spell subsided and the Vulcan lay still in his arms, each breath causing an ominous bubbling sound.
Just then he would have given anything for the muscle to pick up his friend and carry him. He would have given everything to be spared this one decision. Torn, he brushed Spock's temple with his fingertips and winced at the heat. Just when the Vulcan needed him most, Kirk saw no choice but to leave. Brushing the pebbles from a patch of ground, he gently lowered Spock's head.
"You win," he conceded, "but I'll be back...even if it kills me."
Rising, he turned from Spock's body and hurried on down the tunnel. Gradually the way brightened and he began to run with reckless strides, committing each twist and turn to memory. Enticing currents of fresh air drew him into a cavernous area where the floor rose toward a glowing green aperture. Pounding ahead, he burst through the leafy barrier.
Kirk stood blinded by a sudden wash of daylight. Footsore and winded, he fell to his knees under the glorious blue sky and shouted for joy.
He was out! But out where? Squinting, Kirk rose and scanned the surrounding terrain. One hillside looked pretty much the same as the next. Though there was no search party in sight, he cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted, "Hello! This is Captain Kirk! Is anyone out there?"
A warm wind sighed around him.
Off in the distance, a lonely animal cried. Disappointed, Kirk looked back at the tunnel. Its opening was completely overgrown with vegetation. If he strayed from the area, he might never locate this portal to the underground again. He would risk losing Spock.
The planet's sun was burning low in the sky-almost day's end. Soon there would be no light coming through the cavern's mouth, and he would never find his way out in the dark.
Hurriedly he ripped away the fast-growing veil of vegetation and re-entered the cave. His eyes took a moment to adjust, then he began the difficult task of retracing his steps. Coming from the opposite direction, everything looked different. Twice he stopped, sure that he had taken a wrong turn and gone too far.
Standing in the darkness, Kirk cursed himself. How could he have left Spock alone? A sick, injured officer under his command. His personal friend.
"Spock!" he called out, heart slamming.
The shout echoed madly through the passage.
"Spock!" He rushed forward a dozen paces, then wavered.
Rounding a corner, he saw a dark shape on the ground. A body? Spock's body, as still as death.
Kirk hurried over and searched out the pulse point beneath the Vulcan's jaw. There was a steady, rapid throb. Relieved, he gently shook Spock's shoulder and said, "Come on, Mister, I've found the way out. Just a few more steps."
Spock stirred and mumbled.
"Questioning my orders again?" Kirk tucked a limp arm around his neck and sucked in a breath. "We'll see about that." With one fierce act of will, he dragged Spock up beside him. Pain momentarily roused the Vulcan, who gasped, stumbled, and attempted to balance against Kirk. After a few halting steps, Spock slumped again and Kirk bore his full weight.
"Not far now," Kirk promised, pressing onward.
Beside him Spock gasped, "Do not endanger...yourself further...on my account..."
Kirk wanted to shout as Doctor McCoy might, "Shut up, Spock! You're being rescued!" But instead he used the anger and frustration to help them keep moving.
And somehow they made it. The native sun was dipping below the hills when Kirk escaped the cave and dropped with his burden to the mossy slope. Numbly he watched the Vulcan cough in lung-ripping spasms, then vomit green blood. As Spock slid into unconsciousness, Kirk could only hope that he was entering a healing trance.
"Rest now," he said quietly.
Every weary muscle protested as Kirk stood and faced the nearest hill. Even its gentle grade seemed insurmountable at this point, but he took the climb slowly, letting his feet sink into the soothing moss. He reached the hilltop only slightly out of breath. Turning in a slow circle, he studied the rolling countryside in the dusk. Green trees on green slopes, under a purple sky. A herd of sheep-like grazers on the farthest plain looked like drifting white dots. And there was something larger, something stationary. A shuttlecraft? More likely a rock pile. Knowing that his voice could not possibly carry so far, he shouted. He screamed for help until his parched throat gave out and the last hint of light was fading. Then it was time to hike down.
He found Spock as he had left him, shivering slightly in his damp clothes. The air temperature was dropping fast. They would need some heat.
From his survival training, he dredged up the rudiments of fire-making. He had never been particularly great at this, but he had passed the Academy course. Silently recalling a prayer from his childhood, he gathered twigs and dried leaves from a patch of shrubbery, then scraped the invasive moss from a patch of ground near Spock. Next he found a dead branch, prepared two sticks for rubbing, and got to work. The oxygen-rich air soon had the wood smoking. A moment later, the tinder exploded in flames. Soon Kirk was warming himself beside a respectable fire, both surprised and grateful that something so important had gone so well. There was enough wood on hand to keep the blaze going for a few hours.
By the light of the fire, he bent over his second-in-command and carefully unwrapped Spock's leg. It had ballooned to such ghastly proportions that he swallowed against a wave of nausea. The suppurating infection was compounded by injury, but at least there was no bone evident. He had seen wounds of this type before. If not cleansed and treated soon, Spock could lose the leg. Shaken, he rewrapped it as best he could, then rigged a splint from two slim branches and bound it by means of a vine. When that was done, he selected a stout length of wood for defense purposes and stretched out near the Vulcan, hopefully scanning the stars for some sign of the Enterprise. Where was she?
"They'll find us," he said aloud, for Vulcans in a trance were said to be aware of conversation. "Now that we're out in the open, the ship's sensors will pick us up. You'll soon be in sickbay, giving Bones a hard time." An ache built in his throat, the likes of which he had not felt for a long time. As the youngest starship captain in the fleet, he always held in his emotions and carried on. But with nothing to do but wait, tears pricked his eyes and filled his chest to bursting. Up in the heavens, stars swam together in a great bright blur. Drugged with sorrow and weariness, he drifted off to sleep.
He was trudging through a storm, feet sinking at each step, deep into the muck. He was a boy and he was lost and he was crying. Trees rose like evil black giants around him, twisting and swaying in the wind. He tried to run, but stumbled. Suddenly a pair of dark branches stretched down and plucked him from the mire.
A scream rose in his throat, but he made no sound, for he saw that the branches were really warm, comforting arms.
A strong, gentle voice said, "Jimmy, it's me."
Kirk abruptly left the dream of his deceased father-the dad he had never known-and reared up. There was a whining sound, and all around him the night was awash with brilliance. A searchlight? Brandishing his club, he stood and shielded his face from the glare. Then the landing beacon curved away and Kirk watched a shuttlecraft gently settle nearby.
The club dropped from his fingers.
Scott and McCoy were first to exit the shuttle. Uhura overtook them, and rushing over, knelt at Spock's side.
As the doctor joined her, Kirk accepted a bottle of water from Scott and gulped half of it before his parched lips strained into a smile. "Thanks, Scotty. What would I do without you?"
"Ach." The Scotsman looked stricken. "Ye're better off with a new engineer-one who can keep a wee communicator functionin' properly." Though Kirk gave his shoulder a reassuring touch, he shrugged miserably. "Mitsubi and Klate beamed up, but nary a word from you or Mister Spock...and not even a hint of a sensor reading. I set up a ground base an' sent crews out searchin' day an' night. ‘Twas as if...as if ye'd disappeared off the face o' the planet!"
Kirk sighed. "And so we did, Scotty. But it's a rather long story..."
"And it will have to wait," McCoy interrupted as he switched off his medical tricorder. "Spock's overdue for surgery. I'm beaming him to the ship, stat. Are you coming, Captain?"
Kirk nodded. "You bet your brass, I'm coming."
By modern standards, it was a lengthy surgery. There was time for Kirk to shower in a sickbay booth and put on a fresh uniform, to be poked and scanned on a diagnostic table, to be re-hydrated and fortified with a decent meal. There was time to linger over coffee with Uhura as they both awaited news of Spock. There was altogether too much time.
The last bit of coffee was cold in Kirk's cup when McCoy found them and slumped into a seat with an air of satisfaction. "Well, he came through it. The rib that punctured his lung also nicked his pericardium." He paused to rub his lower right side disapprovingly. "Damn poor arrangement, if you ask me. Hardly enough protection for a heart way down there. Nevertheless..." A smile spread over his face. "Spock's going to be fine. You'll have a devil of a job keeping up with him, once that leg heals...which shouldn't be long, now that he's officially in one of those Vulcan trances."
Uhura sighed in relief.
"Now," McCoy said, focusing on his captain, "as for you..."
With an effort, Kirk pushed himself from the chair and said, "Scotty has the con and I'll be in my quarters."
Somehow he hobbled out of sickbay, to the turbolift. His sore feet felt crammed into his boots, as stiff and strange as the rest of him. He did not remember giving any voice command, but the lift deposited him on the proper deck. Just a few more steps and his cabin door slid open in welcome. Relying only on the courtesy light, he entered and collapsed on his bunk. Then as if in a dream, someone else was nearby. Strong hands gently pulled off his boots and covered him with a blanket.
"G'night," Kirk mumbled gratefully.
"Goodnight son," came the whispered reply.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.