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.