Avellach: the shimmering world on the main viewscreen was like a bright jewel on the dark brow of space. Jim Kirk smiled to himself. It was rare for a planet to move him to poetry, he was too experienced a space traveller for that - and most did not deserve it anyway, but Avellach - well she was different.
The planet obliquely reminded him of Earth - and home. Oh, not in the shape of the continents or ratio of sea to land, it was the world itself, the green, gold, and the blue of it. He felt an inexplicable yearning, tried to rationalize the sensation, and failed. Perhaps he was tired! He sighed deeply and looked up into McCoy's beaming face as the doctor came to stand by the Command chair.
"Hmmm, maybe. Avellach seems to have that effect on me, Bones," he smiled briefly. "Not to mention the rest of the crew. The only one who has remained unaffected is Spock!"
McCoy opened his mouth to say something suitably cutting, saw Kirk's lazy smile, and grinned wryly. "You know my opinions on that. Has he come up with any results yet?"
"Not so far! He's down there now taking sensor readings, but I doubt he'll have much luck where the equipment is concerned. That blanket effect seems to have put gremlins into everything."
"You mean he hasn't figured a way to damp down the magnetic field so that we can use the transporters. He must be slipping, Jim."
Kirk laughed. "Even Spock can't work miracles, Bones."
"Don't be too certain about that, " McCoy said tartly.
"Perhaps you're right," Kirk agreed. "That magnetic field is a problem we could do without. It's the only drawback to the planet so far, and it's no mean feat moving tons of supplies plus equipment by shuttlecraft."
McCoy nodded, and turned to look back up at the viewscreen that dominated the front of the bridge, as Lieutenant Uhura turned from her communications board.
"Captain, the Galileo has just come aboard. Mr. Spock has gone straight to the briefing room as you requested."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Call departmental heads. I want to see them there immediately."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Kirk looked at Spock across the briefing room table. His first officer was immaculately turned out as usual however, beneath the iron expression, he appeared slightly ruffled.
"As you know, sir," Spock said, addressing Kirk. "Our instruments have not been working quite as efficiently as they normally do. However I have established that the reports submitted by the colonists were in fact correct."
He paused, almost as if for dramatic effect. "A major earthquake will take place in approximately twenty-four hours, planet time."
"Twenty-four hours?" McCoy questioned, glancing up quickly at the first officer. "But there's more than twelve thousand people down there, as near as damnit makes no difference to the threatened zone. We can't hope to evacuate them all in that time."
"For once, I would agree with you, Doctor," Spock admitted patiently. He fitted a tape into the tri-screen on the desk and watched as a detailed schematic of the area appeared.
"As you can see," he continued quietly, "the colonists have unfortunately chosen to build here, a fault line in the surface crust, that will receive most of the disturbance. As the Doctor has stated, with transporters effectively out of action, it is highly unlikely we will be able to beam them to a safer area in time. Logically, therefore, the only alternative is - to divert the earthquake."
Kirk, sipping at a cup of lukewarm coffee, almost choked. What had Bones been saying about miracles----? McCoy took it even less stoically.
"And how do you figure on doing that," he asked after a shocked silence, his voice thick with sarcasm. "Do an impression of King Canute, Vulcan-style?"
There was a ripple of amused laughter from the other departmental heads around the table. Spock raised an expressive eyebrow. "King Canute, Doctor McCoy? I do not believe I know the name. Is he associated with seismic disturbances?"
Kirk hid his own amusement as he saw Bones scowl. He knew from experience that Spock's insatiable curiosity with anything human, had led him down many weird and wonderful paths of discovery. He was sure the name of an obscure British king would not have escaped the Vulcan's knowledge. Seeing the inevitable argument beginning to brew, he intervened quickly.
"I think we can safely leave King Canute for later, Mr. Spock. What have you in mind?"
Looking vaguely disappointed, Spock changed tapes and indicated the picture on the screen.
"It will be relatively simple, Captain - although there is an element of risk. Here you see a particularly mountainous area on the southern continent where there have been several tremors of varying intensity, the last one three point four days ago---."
"You're quite certain about that, Mr. Spock?" Kirk asked lightly.
Spock blinked, "As certain as the latest data permits, Captain. Of course there could be a slight error due---"
"Never!" McCoy muttered under his breath, which none-the-less was audible to the rest of them.
Spock glanced at him. "You have some comment to make, Doctor?"
Bones glared like a little boy caught with his fingers in the cookie jar. "I was just making a remark that it would be illogical for you to err, Spock!"
Kirk smiled gently, "As you were saying, Mr. Spock---."
"Indeed, Captain." He turned back to the screen. "This area is riddled with cave structures, many of them leading down hundreds of feet beneath Avellach's surface. It would need only a small, planned explosion, meticulously engineered to coincide with the earthquake itself, to produce a disrupting effect."
"You mean if we release the pressure with a quake of our own, the large one won't take place."
"Uh-huh." Kirk pondered for a moment before looking up at his assembled staff. "What is your opinion, Mr. Mura? You're the geologist."
Mura, originally of Swedish descent with thick prematurely white hair, looked up keenly.
"The theory is sound." He said, his slow smile rivalling Kirk's own for charm factor. "There have been cases on Aleph IV and even on Earth, where this sort of thing was tried - quite successfully."
"Scotty, do you think you could rig up the sort of device, Mr. Spock would require?"
"Aye, Captain, it shouldnae be too difficult. I'll need an hour---mebbe two."
"You've got them, Scotty."
"Hold on, Jim!" McCoy said, butting in, "don't you think we're rushing into things. There are twelve thousand colonists down on that planet. We can't just go ahead with some half-cocked scheme."
"Bones, we have twenty-four hours in which to act. "There are risks as Spock pointed out, both to the colonists and to any landing party that we send, but if you have a better idea---."
"Dammit, Jim, you know I haven't!" Kirk looked at him kindly.
"Then I propose we go ahead. Pick your team, Mr. Spock. I want you down on that planet as soon as possible. That's all, Gentleman."
"Aye, aye, Captain."
Spock brought the Galileo to land on a natural rock shelf, halfway down the curving skirts of a mountain. Ahead, lay a bowl-shaped valley, the steep sides partly forested but mostly sheer cliffs and rock scree. Above, gaped the large, shadowy entrance of a cave mouth, menacing in the darkness as night started to fall.
Standing outside the yawning fissure in the mountainside, Spock surveyed his small command. There were seven in all; Doctor McCoy, senior geologist Kevin Mura with his assistant Lee Temple, a young ensign by the name of Chekov, recently seconded to the Enterprise personnel, and last but not least the two female members of the group, physicist, Doctor Elena Carter and engineering tech third class, Mei-ling Wong. Cautiously they filed into the gloomy interior, loaded down with their various specialized equipment.
"It's so dark in here," Mei-ling commented with a small, apprehensive shiver, her exotic features showing concern.
Chekov's smile flashed reassuringly. "Do not be afraid. I vill take care of you!"
McCoy patted him on the shoulder as he passed by them, "I hope that goes for me too, ensign!"
"Is this the only entrance?" Mura asked Spock, thoughtfully.
"I believe so." Spock dumped his own equipment and supplies on the floor of the cavern. "However, this area has not been fully explored. I suggest we keep together as much as poss---"
He stood with his head tilted to one side, listening attentively.
"What is it, Spock? Mura asked.
Chekov looked up from his tricorder. "Mr. Spock, I am picking up strong wibrations beneath us, adwancing rapidly--"
Then they could all hear it - the deep rumble of shifting rock.
"Quick, outside," Mura shouted. "It's an earth ----"
His voice cut off abruptly as the ground beneath their feet shuddered violently and the vague rumble became a deafening roar. The earth twisted, pitching them all to the ground.
Spock, standing at the entrance with Mura, found himself falling backwards down the rough slope outside the cave. There was the sound of a high-pitched scream behind him as he managed to halt his forward momentum. He hung precariously by his fingertips halfway over the rock shelf.
Teetering on the edge, fifty feet of jagged rock and scree below him, his fingers scrabbled anxiously for a better hold. Above him, jiggling wildly the ponderous shape of the shuttlecraft shifted as the ground continued to convulse. As he watched, horrified, a section of the rock face detached itself from the mountain and with a sound like the end of the world came tumbling down, obliterating the cave mouth and the Galileo beneath it.
For an eternal moment, Spock hung suspended, straining to lift himself back over the ledge. Finally, his blindly seeking foot touched an outcropping and he levered himself up above the shelf. He did not see the boulder until too late. It came hurtling through the air recoiled off the ground and struck him like a fist between the eyes. He jerked back, fingers tearing at the rock before plunging down into the darkness of the valley below.
Someone was sobbing, a dreadful wordless crying, desolate in the total blackness of the cave. McCoy, still dazed from a blow on the head that had left him half-stunned, listened in silence, uncertain where he was or what had happened. After a while, he weakly pushed himself up and the sobbing quieted. Choking in the thick dust that swirled about in the furry darkness, he moved cautiously, feeling loose rock shift under him as he got to his feet.
"Who is there? Pavel is it you?" The young, quivering voice asked, barely under control.
"Mei-ling? No, it's McCoy. Are you hurt? "
"Doctor--- no, I---I thought---" She did not finish the sentence and after a brief pause, her voice steadied. "Doctor McCoy, I think you should try and get to Kevin --- Lieutenant Mura. He's buried under a lot of rock, and I can't get him out. I think he's---dying."
Mei-ling's voice broke on the last word and she had to bite back on the fresh outbreak of sobs. McCoy groaned and after a moment to gather his resources, carefully started towards the sound. Somewhere over on his left there was the rattle of sliding rock and an unmistakable Russian curse.
"Chekov, are you all right?" McCoy's voice was strained as he peered into the darkness.
"I --- think so. Just a little shaken, Doctor!" He laughed unsteadily as he realised the irony of his remark.
Shock, McCoy thought, we're all in shock. He stumbled over some object in his path and fell roughly to his knees. If only there was some light---.
"Ensign, see if you can find some of those hand lights---" He raised his voice, feeling as if he was strangling in the dusty air. "Roll call everybody. Spock, where are you? Elena? Lee, can you hear me. Is any one else hurt?"
Slowly, there came sounds of movement, a low groan of pain. "Leonard ---? Yes, I'm fine --- a bump on the head, some minor cuts and bruises, that's all. Lee's here, too."
It was Elena's voice. That left the first officer. "Spock? Can you hear me? Are you hurt----?"
There was no reply to his anxious call. McCoy tried to clear his confused thoughts, think back. Where had the first officer been when the tremor had occurred? He rubbed his face tiredly, winced as his fingers touched a large gash just above his right eye. He vaguely remembered Spock standing by the entrance, talking to Mura. What if the Vulcan had been buried too?
"Doctor, please hurry." Mei-ling urged softly.
He pushed the worry of Spock aside for the moment. Close by he could hear rustling breath, the tortured sound of someone barely clinging to life. McCoy bent down tentatively feeling around. His hand touched flesh, came away wet and sticky. "Mura?"
There was a strangled gasp, a moan of pain.
"Chekov where's that light?" McCoy shouted, exploring with touch alone the mound of rubble that covered the geologist. "Temple, if you can move, try and find my medikit."
"Doctor McCoy, can you use my help?" The soft voice came warmly out of the darkness.
McCoy sighed in relief. "If you could move some of this rock, Elena, I'd appreciate that. Mei-ling, I need my kit. Temple could do with another pair of hands to find it."
That's right, he thought mechanically, keep them occupied, keep their thoughts off what's happened, they'll get around to that soon enough. A hand brushed his hair and he reached up to take the slim fingers. "Here, Elena. Take it easy, he's hurt bad by the sound of it."
They worked by touch alone until, from the back of the cave, there was a dull snap, and a dim, blue light began to glow, brightening steadily. A ragged cheer went up at the beautiful sight.
"Chekov, you're a genius!"
The young Russian ensign grinned, his dust streaked face lit queerly from beneath by the fluorescent glow of the hand light. "Thank you, Doctor. I hev two more that escaped the fall."
"Good. I could use them."
Chekov scrambled over the debris and gave one to Elena, another to Mei-ling. The cool, bright light flowed over McCoy's kneeling figure and Kevin Mura's half-buried form.
At last, Bones could see what he was doing. He stared down at the torn and bloody thing, which had once been a man he had known and liked.
"My god, --- Leonard!" Elena murmured McCoy's shock mirrored in her gaze. "Can you help him?"
McCoy shook his head numbly, mopping up blood that streamed from Mura's crushed chest. Even without his feinburger, he knew the geologist stood little chance of recovery. The blood loss alone was tremendous and his small supply of plasma surrogate, even if it had survived, would be useless. He felt a touch on his shoulder, turned to find Temple with his medikit. Mura watched him administer the anaesthetic, blue eyes bright in his battered face.
Lee Temple knelt down beside them, unslinging a canteen of water from his shoulder. "Here, Kevin---"
The blue eyes moved from McCoy's face. Lee lifted the geologist gently, holding the flask to Kevin's mouth. "Take it easy, not too much at once. That's it."
Mura laughed shakily, "Never thought ---- it would all end---like this. Always had an idea I'd die---in--- bed."
"Don't try and talk. Save your strength."
The geologist shook his head, "No-now-or-never, Lee. No more time. This-your big---chance."
He reached for Temple's hand, eyes burning in his ruined face, "Don't --- let me ---down."
The harsh laugh turned into a wracking cough, leaving him pale and exhausted when it finally relented. McCoy looked down at the torn face, wondered if Spock was like this, buried somewhere beneath the tons of fallen rock that walled them in.
"Mura---" he hesitated, but the eyes opened to stare at him questioningly. "Spock, was he --- do you know----?"
"Not buried, Doc," The battered head shook from side to side, white hair now stained with red. He strained for the breath to speak. "He escaped --- saw him --- on the --- ridge."
"Escaped? How? He vas standing next to you vhen it happened!" Chekov raised hopeful eyes to McCoy's face.
Mura coughed again, his chest heaving spasmodically as bright, venous blood bubbled into his throat. Mei-ling with a gasp of horror, turned quickly away to bury her face in Chekov's shoulder.
"He - is---alive," Mura, drowning in his own blood, gurgled weakly. "Luan --- spoke with him. There --- is --- there is-----"
The name was new to McCoy. Confused, he asked, "Luan?"
Elena gently touched his hand to gain his attention. "His wife, Leonard. She---died, two years ago, on Rigel. He must be delirious."
"No--- truth, Doc." Mura groaned feebly, clung to McCoy with all his failing strength. "Believe me --- she--- told me. No lie. Try---communicator."
He broke off abruptly, his eyes widening to look at something behind McCoy. The pain melted from his features as he smiled to someone in greeting, "Luan, my love. You --- came back."
Again, he looked at McCoy for an instant. " Time --- to go, Doc. Don't worry --- about Spock. He * is * alive." Then, with one last, violent convulsion, the geologist sank back into McCoy's restraining hold, blue eyes open but unseeing. For a moment, McCoy held him tenderly, discarding the prickle of apprehension between his shoulder blades. He half turned, quickly staring round into the dark interior of the cavern, caught a flicker of --- something --- out of the corner of his eyes, before it was gone again. Just a shadow, he told himself. What else could he have seen; certainly not the ghost of a woman two years dead, on a planet light years from Rigel. He shook his head, letting Mura's body slide gently to the ground, suddenly feeling old and very tired.
"Is he dead?" Lee Temple asked soberly.
McCoy nodded and closed the sightless eyes. "Did you see anything, Temple? Elena? Anything --- unusual."
"Nothing, Leonard. He had lost a lot of blood --- "
"Chekov? What about you and Mei-ling."
The young Russian shook his head, dust motes flying from the mop of thick, brown hair. "He did not know vhat he vas saying, Doctor McCoy."
"Perhaps not --- " McCoy took a deep breath, reached for his communicator, and flicked open the cover. "McCoy to Spock ----"
"Leonard, you can't believe what he told you, surely." Elena asked incredulously. "He was delirious, dying ----"
"I --- don't know what to believe, Elena. I just know I have to try. Spock could have been knocked clear of the fall. He might be out there now, trying to find out if we're alive."
Chekov's teeth flashed white in his grimy, face. "As Mr. Spock would say, Doctor Carter, there are alvays possibilities."
McCoy looked at the boy in silent thanks. He was in command like it or not, and the moves were all up to him, not Jim Kirk or Spock. He felt the burden of that knowledge like an actual weight on his shoulders; so many lives to think about, here and outside, all depending on his leadership skills. "And it is the logical thing to do, Elena, as Spock would also be the first to tell you!"
"What if Mr Spock is buried, Doc?" Temple asked.
"We look for him." McCoy said definitely, "and then we go on with the mission."
McCoy put himself in Spock's shoes. He knew instinctively that would be the Vulcan's choice - if there were a choice. Twelve thousand lives against six. He had to complete the mission one way or another. "Get your equipment together, Lieutenant. Do some exploring. If there is a way out of here, I want to know about it. Elena, go with him."
"Aye, aye, SIR!" She smiled, and squeezed his arm as she passed. "That ol' Georgia charm never fails, does it, Leonard."
He managed a smile. At least they were all on his side. He turned back to the communicator. If Spock was alive and ever found out that he had actually done things 'logically' he would never live it down. How many credits would it take, he wondered lightly, to bribe the rest of the landing party to silence, so that Spock would never get that chance -----!
The first officer, however, had other things on his mind, for he was caught in a nightmare that was proving difficult to sever. Repeatedly he endured the heart stopping experience of the rock smashing into his face, his fingers slipping free of the cliff edge, and that interminable plunge down the mountain, a dive that ended in the same way every time - sudden shocking pain followed by impenetrable darkness.
It was dark now, he realised when he reluctantly opened his eyes to gaze up into an alien sky. He stared at the strange stars for a while in fascinated incomprehension. Only gradually did he become aware of the steady bleep, bleep of a communicator nearby. Yet, when he eventually tried to turn on the narrow ledge where he awkwardly rested a searing flame of agony engulfed him from shoulder to hip.
The communicator continued to chirrup as he clamped his teeth shut on a moan of profound distress and cautiously explored the right side of his body. Waves of pain spiralled down his side at the guarded touch of delicate fingertips. They trembled as he slid a hand under the blood soaked blue shirt and gently probed the raw flesh of his chest and abdomen. He choked back a scream as his side erupted in unbearable torture. He did not need Doctor McCoy's professional opinion to know his ribs were broken.
"No --- I am Vulcan. The mind --- rules. There is --- no --- pain."
Eventually, he managed to bring the anguish under control, channelling the fiery pain until it was sufficiently damped down for him to shift position. Keeping his breathing shallow, he dragged himself onto his knees and forced his sluggish body over to the very lip of the tiny escarpment where his communicator lay. Beyond the edge, a crumbling slope of rock disappeared abruptly into darkness. The ledge had obviously broken his fall - and saved his life.
With clumsy, unresponsive fingers he flicked open the lid, almost dropping the communicator over the crag in the process.
"Yes --- what --- is it?" His usual, precise tone slurred. Slowly, he backed away until his spine rested up against the cliff. "Is --- that you, --- Captain?"
He tried again; finally managed to catch his breath, and decided it might be wise to keep things short. "Spock here."
An abrupt burst of static made him wince. He adjusted the controls until a voice, faint but unmistakable, came through the crackle. "Spock? It's McCoy! Thank God. Are you all right?"
"No doubt --- I shall survive, Doctor." Spock murmured dryly. As McCoy could not aid him he did not elaborate on his physical injuries, for to do so would have been quite illogical. "How is your own situation?"
"Not good! Spock --- got to --- out of here." McCoy's voice faded as a fresh burst of static roared over the speakers.
"---- still here, Spock! Damn this interference. We're --- trapped ---. Mura's dead ---- hopeless ---- hurt --- using phasers --- going on ---- mission." McCoy's voice rose and fell infuriatingly. "Call Enterprise ---- Jim ----"
Another burst of static drowned out the rest of the message.
"Doctor McCoy, can you hear me? Are you still there? Doctor McCoy?" But his only response was the constant surge of static as it ebbed and flowed over the communicator's small but powerful amplifiers. Spock closed his aching eyes, wearied unbelievably by the short interaction. He allowed his head to rest against the sheer rock wall at his back as the communicator slipped from his grasp. If only he could rest for a short time. The pain had dulled to a vague throbbing and he was so tired -----
A grumbling roar followed by the crash of falling rock nearby jerked him back from oblivion's void. It appeared he had drifted into unconsciousness without being aware of the fact. The lunacy of his conduct in such a precarious situation shocked him. Without further hesitation, he reached for the communicator and flipped the case open. Swallowing thickly to wet his dry throat he spoke into the speaker grid, his voice husky with strain. "Spock to Enterprise. Come in Enterprise."
Again, the only comeback was the crash of static. He switched to another frequency only to get the same result. Spock sighed. Though he knew Avellach was cut off by the blanket effect of the magnetic field, he had retained the foolish opinion that he might somehow punch through and reach the ship. The expectation had been completely illogical, of course. He was the landing party's only hope of survival. Somehow, he had to find a way to rescue them. His mind automatically calculated the odds for and against success but he refused to examine the data, resolutely telling himself that he had no time at present.
Once more, he closed his eyes but this time remained aware, summoning rha-tel otherwise known as choi'renh, that hysterical strength borne from the Path of Rha, taught by Hakihr adepts of Tinsha Monastery among several other Spartan and ascetic orders on Vulcan. He had learned as a youth to control his body and reduce the affects of pain. A hard won skill, he had yet to master the ability entirely. Yet he knew enough to focus his will and enhance his fitness even if it were only temporary - aware the price was high and likely to be extracted later. Slowly he began third level rha-tel pan and rha-fak pan, seeking discipline, proceeding through the second and first levels, sifting harmonies, balancing and counter-balancing until eventually came full attunement. The feeling of peace was tangible.
He shifted on the hard stone ledge and again opened his eyes. After a moment, he made the effort to examine his side. The several deep gashes and raw abrasions had stopped bleeding. The pain was still there but he could handle it better now. It took him perhaps three or four minutes to get on his feet where he stood leaning heavily against the cliff waiting until he felt secure enough to stand alone. The vertical slope towered above him but he refused to be intimidated and without further hesitation began to climb.
An hour later, spread-eagled against the slope, Spock halted his slow, torturous ascent. Above and slightly to his left, an old tree-stump clung to the cliff side. The roots, long dead, were held fast between two outcroppings of stone that formed a tight crevice. Spock eyed the place tiredly while cold sweat drenched his aching body and trickled into the open wounds on his abdomen and side. The perspiration was an indication of his physical strain. He had to rest and soon if he were to reach the top of the cliff. He shook the sweat out of his eyes and raised his head. The ridge, twenty feet above him, a dark line against the sky, might well have been the Enterprise for all that he could reach it. Breathing heavily, fingers numb, he shifted his weight in an effort to find a new balance against the mountain's weathered surface.
With slow deliberation, bracing aching muscles and his broken ribs, he strained upwards for another handhold. He lifted a knee, searched with his boot toe for leverage, and used his waning strength to ascend a little further. Without thinking, he performed the same operation repeatedly until at length he managed to lift first a knee then his thigh over the knarled stump until he lay on his stomach supported by the old wood. In grateful thanks, he pillowed his head in the crook of one arm, struggling to quiet his sobbing breath, tremors of relief and fatigue shuddering through him. How pleasant it would be, he thought, if he could remain there for a time. Who could blame him if he just let go, entered shantip, a procedure also learned young, which would place him into a deep healing trance where his focused mind could shut out all external distractions until his injuries improved. While he travelled the Path of Shan, he could forget the landing party and McCoy's dire need, forget everything but his own desire to recover his former strength.
The treacherous thought made him jerk physically upright, wrenching his side, and nearly falling from his rickety perch. Wearily, he realised that he could not stay where he was for long; the temptations were far too great. Again, he studied the ridge so near and yet so desperately far away. If his injuries had not been so severe, he could have reached it in less than thirty minutes, but hurt as he was, he would be extremely fortunate to make his goal within the hour. Reluctantly he pushed himself off the stump and with an obvious effort began to climb once more.
His estimate proved overly optimistic, however, and it was nearer two hours when, finally, panting and exhausted, he hoisted himself back over the ledge and onto the rock shelf. Then he must have blacked out, for when he opened his eyes the first rosy streaks of light were beginning to appear in the east. The sun had fully risen before he successfully managed to get back on his feet and shamble over to the great mound of rubble that covered both the Galileo and the entrance to the cave.
He scrutinized the huge boulders and debris that made up the fall, instantly realising that to move the rock was an almost impossible task for one injured man. He had even lost the means to blast the rubble away - for his phaser had vanished in his calamitous plummet down the cliff-side.
Still unsteady on his feet, Spock sank down on his knees, his scratched and bleeding hands resting on his thighs, head bowed in silent contemplation. The situation was plainly hopeless. Logic dictated that there was no way to rescue the landing party. He worried at his lower lip, the power of the orbiting Enterprise uppermost in his mind, his thoughts centring on his Captain. Such an occurrence as the one he faced would not have deterred Jim Kirk, he realised. The Captain would explore every avenue available to him whatever the odds against success before admitting defeat.
Spock closed his eyes for a moment, deep in thought. Jim would expect nothing less from his first officer - and there were always possibilities. Carefully, he rose to his feet, wavering for a moment. Only then did he become aware that he was no longer alone. Though he was not in the least a fanciful man, the hairs on the back of his neck rose in a primal response as a sudden flicker of movement, vaguely seen from the corner of his eye, caught his attention. All his instincts aroused, he painfully straightened, instantly on the alert.
"Who is there? Show yourself ----."
Technician Mei-ling Wong sat within a circle of fluorescent radiance, an unconventional soothsayer, face lit with blue luminescence, her version of the crystal ball balanced on shapely knees. The tricorder, although working, refused to confer any comprehensive readings and she had begun to explore the intricate transistors, more for something to occupy her time than to actually improve the instruments performance.
The clearing up was long since done and the pile of broken equipment sorted from the smaller one of usable stuff that had escaped the cave-in. She was alone. Doctor McCoy, Elena Carter, and Lee Temple had left with Spock's explosive device almost an hour before in search of a tunnel that would lead them to the lower levels of the cave structure; Chekov was exploring a maze of passages leading from the main chamber in the hope of finding another way out.
Before his departure, McCoy had given Mei-ling the activity of liaison officer between the separate groups, but her main endeavour was to try to regain contact with either Mr Spock or the Enterprise. Repeated attempts at both had failed to achieve any result at all. There was nothing for her to do except sit within the dimly lit circle Pavel had constructed from the salvaged luminous glows, trying to keep her mind off the low cairn of rocks that now covered Kevin Mura's body. As time passed, she found it a mounting challenge to concentrate on her task instead of the memory of Mura's face in those last moments of life. What had he seen, she wondered uneasily. Could it really have been his late wife? How had Kevin known Spock was still alive?
She shifted position against the pile of rocks she leaned against, chewing absently at her bottom lip, eyes darting from shadow to shadow, always coming back to the neatly stacked mound where Mura lay. When a falling pebble clattered in the quietness, she was on her feet instantly. Eyes wide in fright, she stared beyond the blue glow of her protective circle into the gloom. "Pavel, is that you?"
Who else could it be, she thought as the noise came again. You're being ridiculous Mei, jumping at shadows. You're a big girl now not a child frightened of the dark!
More debris rattled, nearer this time. Mei-ling swung round toward the tunnel mouth that led from the cave. "Pavel, this is no time to play games. Pavel, please ---"
Her heart started to race, thumping against the wall of her rib cage. She swallowed hard, and with an effort brought the sudden panic under control. Had not someone once said that the only thing to fear was fear itself? She moved to the periphery of the circle, tricorder clutched in her hands, studying the readout. Something moved just out of her visual range. A trick of the light, she told herself. Or maybe an animal! Yes, that was it, she thought grinning at her own folly, it was an animal trapped by the rock fall as the landing party had been. It must have wandered in during the previous day and was now seeking a way out. She lifted the tricorder and started to scan the area again. The dials spun wildly, shooting off the scale as the delicate instrument picked up some tremendous burst of magnetic energy. The ground lurched, trembled violently, and threw Mei to her knees just as a fierce incandescence filled the cavern with brilliant light.
Chekov, on his return from the third dead-end, was startled then terrified as he heard Mei-ling's frightened scream echoing and re-echoing from wall to wall. He broke into a stumbling run when the earth bucked beneath his feet and a grumbling roar thundered on the quivering air. His phaser was drawn and ready when he burst from the tunnel and into the main cavern. Mei-ling lay on the ground, arms protectively over her head as more rocks crashed down around her. Quickly, the young ensign rushed over to her, dodging the loose rock, and pulled her into his arms.
"Mei? Are you hurt?"
She clung to him, shaking in terror. "Pavel, I was so afraid. Please, do not leave me again. I do not think I could --- bear to be alone."
Some time later they sat entwined in each other's arms within the radius of the lights glow. Mei's head rested lightly on Chekov's chest while he absently stroked her hair. At last, he murmured, "Vhy vere you so afraid? The tremor vas only a wery little one."
Mei tightened her arms around his waist as she remembered her terror before the quake hit, the impression that she was not alone. Now, the feeling seemed absurd.
"It was so quiet here on my own. I kept seeing Kevin's face before --- before he died."
She hesitated for a moment before asking, "Pavel?"
"You didn't find another entrance did you."
He rubbed his jaw against her hair, smelling the flowery scent of her shampoo that always enchanted him. "No, but there is bound to be one. It is probably just vaiting for us to find it."
His slight Russian accent thickened and Mei laughed ruefully at his optimism. "Then-you haven't given up hope? You think we will get out of here?"
"Of course! Mr Spock vill be vorking on it at this wery moment!"
"But if he doesn't reach us before the explosion---?"
Chekov smiled and hoped he sounded more reassuring than he felt. "Hev you ever known Mr Spock to be late? He has a chronometer vired into his brain!"
Mei settled back into his arms, comforted by his self-assurance. "I wonder how the other's are getting on?"
Chekov's eyes roamed over to the back of the cavern where the tunnel was, "I hev been vondering that also."
"Who is there?" Spock called once more, his eyes narrowed against the sunlight as he peered into the shadows behind a low screen of rocks. Again, he caught sight of movement. The ground trembled and he swayed, clutching hurriedly at an outcropping to steady himself.
When he could concentrate once more, she stood a dozen paces away, a small slender child with dark eyes and long brown-black hair braided with flowers.
"Qual se tu, sa-kai Spock?" Is it thou, brother Spock, she asked him in the soft and pleasant accents of a native ShiKahrii, raising her hand in the ta'al, the Vulcan salute. "Peace and long life to thee."
Spock, head tilted, arched a brow, fascinated by her sudden appearance. Could the Vulcan girl child be a hallucination? A real possibility in his weakened condition - or perhaps an illusion! He hesitated fractionally before returning her greeting, but did not reply in the formal mode of kinship as she had. "Live long and prosper, ko'khan. Who are thee and why are thee here?"
For an instant, she seemed puzzled by his question as if he should have recognised her. "I - am from the Colony within the valley. I heard thee calling - and came to offer thee aid. Dost thee not recognise me, my sa-kai?"
Again, she used that same word, claiming kinship with him, "I called no one."
Yet, there was something about her, something disturbingly familiar. Suddenly, recognition came. "T'ashaya?"
She gracefully inclined her head.
"But you --- she --- is dead."
"That is surely an illogical statement. Thee can see I am not."
"It would also be quite illogical to believe that ones senses cannot be deceived."
She gazed at him in wide-eyed enquiry, "To doubt my word suggests that thee suspect me of duplicity."
For a brief time, his thoughts underwent a minor dislocation and he found himself back on Vulcan, a young child of three or four, looking up into the slightly disapproving face of his first tutor as he unsuccessfully dissected a particularly obscure logical sequence. The teacher had been his father's brother, Silek, summoned especially from Dhikune to instil at least a rudimentary knowledge of the skill before he faced the tougher exigencies of school life. He recalled with a slight inner irony, that those early lessons had not been especially pleasant - for either he or his uncle, for he had an alarming idiosyncrasy, in those first years, of using his heart more than his head.
Spock blinked, aware that he had indulged in a daydream while in a potentially dangerous situation. The recklessness of the action pinpointed his fatigue, the battle his mind waged against his body. His fears were groundless, however, for the girl, T'ashaya still held her previous position, regarding him with that same ingenuous look of enquiry.
Spock gazed back, his features impassive. Most certainly, she could not be T'ashaya, and her claim that she came from the colony was an obvious falsehood. He knew, without any doubt, that there were no other settlements on Avellach where Vulcans had a concern. Reports also revealed the planet deficient of any natural higher intelligent life forms or, at least, none that had shown up on their scans. He half turned to look at the mountain of rubble that covered the cave mouth. He needed help and whoever - or whatever - T'ashaya was, she might be able to assist him, yet ---
"Thee is afraid for thy companions?"
He whirled to find her unexpectedly almost at his shoulder. Once again, his thoughts had distracted him. "Thee hast seen them?"
"They are trapped here, are they not? Within the mountain."
"That is correct." His tone was peremptory, harsher than he meant. But time was passing. "If I cannot reach them very soon, they may die."
"Die?" The word appeared to cause her some confusion.
"Indeed. They will perish, cease, discontinue. Dost thee understand? I must know of another entrance to the caverns."
"There is a way," she murmured quietly, "but it is far away - and thee is injured."
"My injuries are of no importance." He stated unequivocally. "Thee will take me to this other entrance."
She studied him with her great, soft eyes, before she inclined her head. "If it is thy wish."
"It is." Spock declared.
"Then, it will be my honour, sa-kai Spock. Come, it is this way." Without a backward glance she walked away, adroitly following a trail only she could see. Spock hesitated for an instant knowing that he had little choice, before slowly and painfully following her lead.
Lee Temple brushed the damp hair back out of his eyes and leaned away from the mouth of a shaft that plunged straight down into the ground. He looked up at McCoy, "Your turn, Doc!"
Bones stepped forward and peered over the edge into darkness. The hole seemed to go on forever. A wave of vertigo swept over him and he hurriedly stepped away from the brink.
"Damnit that's one hellava drop. You're sure this things safe?" He indicated the flimsy looking rope ladder that hung slackly from a metal piton hammered into the rock wall.
"Sure, Doc. It's the best Starfleet could buy."
"Well, that sure makes me feel a whole lot better." McCoy said with feeling.
"It's the only way down," Temple pointed out. "Don't worry, you'll soon get used to it. Just remember not to let go."
"Thanks, I'll try not to forget that " McCoy wryly replied.
"No worries, Doc. Below this there ought to be another cavern with a pitch - that's a vertical descent like this one, which will lead us straight to the main series of caves."
"You mean there are more of these --- pitch --- things." McCoy groaned as Temple nodded. "And I get dizzy just by standing on a chair."
"I'll be right here if something goes wrong, Doc."
"Yeah, " McCoy grumbled acerbically, " you'll be here, and I'll be down there!" But he gingerly lowered himself over the side of the shaft and grasped the rungs of the ladder first checking to see if Spock's device, a small, black innocuous cube, rested securely in the special backpack slung over his shoulder. Three steps down the rope suddenly jerked under him as far below the earth moaned, shifting in its sleep. McCoy tensed, his heart leaping in sudden fear. He glanced up at Temple's strained, pale features just visible in the beam of the hand light he had fastened around his wrist.
"It's okay. It's okay. Just an after shock."
"For all our sakes, I hope you're right." Slowly, McCoy started his descent once more, hanging on desperately while the rungs of the ladder bucked and swung in the narrow space of the shaft. The explosive device scraped rock and he grumbled under his breath, glaring up at Temple's face, pale and moon-like as it peered down at him.
"Hey, Temple, take it easy up there. I'm getting mighty seasick."
"Sorry, Doc," Temple's voice came floating down, "nothing I can do."
"Uh-huh, I feel like a worm on the end of a fishing line."
Elena, who had been first to use the ladder, grinned at McCoy's complaining. "As long as the fish aren't biting, Leonard, you've got nothin' to bitch about."
He arrived beside her a few minutes later, safe but shaking, his legs like gelatine. While Temple made the descent, he recovered enough from his fright to look around.
The cavern was big, almost twice the size as the one before and several dark tunnel mouths branched off from it. When Temple finally touched ground, McCoy asked, "Where do we go from here?"
"There's only one way, Doc." He extended his arm, shone the hand light into one of the shadowy passageways as McCoy looked at him in enquiry.
Elena shrugged matter of factly, "We go down, Leonard."
The second pitch, to McCoy's consternation was even deeper than the first, around a hundred feet, Temple calculated with enormous calm. He hammered another piton into the rock at the top of the shaft and let the ladder drop down into it. Thirty seconds later, the end rung landed with a clatter that sent echoes clamouring through the empty corridors and galleries. Elena was the first to descend once more, with McCoy in second place and Temple bringing up the rear. Like the previous drop, the rough rock walls narrowed claustrophobically, tapering almost to nothing until they had to almost squeeze down the ladder, gripping with hands only, allowing gravity to draw them down. It proved an exhausting process, hampered by the assorted equipment they all carried. McCoy, especially, became increasingly aware of the mass of rock accumulating over his head, until the sensation pressed upon him like an actual weight. He realised that if another tremor should catch them out now, they would stand little chance of coming out alive. He had never been particularly superstitious but the notion oppressed him and he turned his thoughts elsewhere to escape it.
Repeatedly, his mind turned to Spock. Had the Vulcan science officer managed to dig a way through the rock fall? Or maybe found another entrance to the caverns. One thing McCoy was certain about, Spock would do his utmost to find the other members of the landing part and attempt a rescue. Somehow, the first officer always came through with a solution to the problem at hand. McCoy insisted on calling the ability sheer luck but Spock, he knew, would deem the aptitude a result of logical deduction and rational thinking! It was an old argument between them. He recalled the brief interrupted conversation over the communicator link. Strangely, it had not occurred to him before, but he now realised that Spock might have sustained injuries, that the first officer might not be able to come up with a last minute miracle. It would be just like Spock not to mention any hurts he had sustained.
He came out of his thoughts to find Elena regarding him. For some time they had continued their march in silence, awed by their surroundings and when she eventually addressed him, her voice came as a shock. "Care to share the burden, Leonard?"
"Huh? Oh, I was just thinking of Spock!"
"No wonder you're looking grim, Doc!" Temple murmured, mouth quirking in an anxious smile.
McCoy shook his head, "I never thought I'd see the day, but I guess that I miss the pointy-eared son of a ----"
"You mean you miss arguing with him!" Elena interrupted.
"That too." McCoy agreed with a soft chuckle.
When the rocky floor of the cavern started to shelve more steeply downwards, Temple urged them into single file. They strung out behind each other and hugged the walls. After a hundred yards or so, Temple halted and shone the light beam ahead. Beyond the frail radiance, the floor continued in sharp descent, the uneven ground littered with chunks of rock shaken loose by the recent quakes. At the far end of the cavern, the walls narrowed abruptly, terminating in a black fissure that the light beam could not penetrate.
Temple unclipped his backpack, took out some piece of equipment that McCoy did not recognise and examined it closely. "This looks like the end of the road, folks!"
"You mean this is where we plant the device."
" That's the general idea, Doc. Another thirty feet maybe just to be certain." He pointed to the narrow fissure in the rock. "We go that way, plant the device, set the auto-timer and ---"
"Get the hell out of here," McCoy supplied nervously, the sweat suddenly breaking out on his brow and upper lip.
"You bet!" Temple squeezed through the fissure, followed by McCoy and Elena. "Mind how you go, a broken ankle is something we can do without right now."
Twenty feet on the corridor widened out into another antechamber, which itself led into a cavern of tremendous size. All about, stalactite and stalagmite formations a forest of weird, petrified trees glittered frostily in the light beam.
Elena caught her breath in a gusty murmur, clasping McCoy's hand in her delight. "Leonard this is so beautiful."
Her voice was just a whisper but the strange place heard. The sound vibrated in the suddenly charged air, a sigh on the wind an indistinct susurration. Sibilant echoes ghosted through the cathedral-like space as something unknown stirred, abruptly awake, and aware of the three of them.
Spock stood wearily before a small recess in the mountainside hidden from view by a profusion of brilliant white flowers, unaware of the predicament of the landing party, although his thoughts were constantly upon them. He eyed the narrow opening with apprehension. His continued existence from there on would depend on his ability to stay alert. The caves were not the place to be stranded, and in his present condition, he would find it difficult to avoid even the smallest pitfall. The pain he experienced, although a sensory imput and under his bio control, could not be dismissed entirely. Regulation took energy that he no longer possessed.
With fatigue etched into every line of his face, the dark circles under his eyes emphasized by the pallor of his skin, he fought to master his whistling breath. Hands braced on knees, he leaned against a rock outcropping unobtrusively studying the girl. She remained an enigma that he had yet to solve. That she was not who she claimed to be was incontrovertible.
T'ashaya - the genuine T'ashaya - the first child of Sarek and Amanda's marriage, had died of a genetic abnormality a month before her rite of passage ceremony. Spock had been only three seasons old at the time, but his memories of her remained clear. As in the procedure necessary for his birth, T'ashaya's tiny form was removed from Amanda's body after the first month and resided in a test tube for the following two Terran months. Over a hundred subtle changes in genetic engineering were performed in that time, which the skilled Vulcan physicians and healers hoped would sustain the fragile embryo. At the end of the eight weeks, the foetus was replanted in Amanda's womb where it remained until the ninth month. This was premature by Vulcan standards and again tiny T'ashaya spent another four months in a specifically designed incubator. But although she lived, his sister had never been robust, and the Earth-Vulcan mixture that fought within him, finally betrayed T'ashaya and brought about her early death. Her loss had been devastating to both Amanda and Sarek in their different ways, and Spock had often privately wondered whether his own upbringing would have followed the pattern it did, if his sister had lived. Looking at T'ashaya's facsimile, his mother's likeness in her was unquestionable. She even had Amanda's blue eyes and vivacious smile.
As if aware of his continued scrutiny, the girl met his gaze, one of the giant flower blooms held reverently in both of her small hands.
"Is this not beautiful? What is it called," she softly asked him, leaning forward to breathe in the intoxicating scent.
"I dost not know. I am not familiar with the flora on Avellach---" He swayed unsteadily away from his leaning post, and T'ashaya regarded him with concern, her eyes focused on the arm he held about his ribs, the way his fingers trembled.
"Hast thee rested enough, sa-kai Spock? Dost thee wish to continue so soon? Thy injuries cause thee --- discomfort."
"I am ready."
"Then, we must go this way." She squeezed through the fissure ahead of him and inched her way down the narrow cleft, waiting for him when he was forced to stop because of the strain on his chest and back in the constricted space.
"How long --- dost this passage --- continue?" He asked at one such pause. Although he had no option but to follow, he could not forget that she was not what she seemed. Whether she represented a danger to him only time would tell. He was well aware that he would find it difficult to protect himself against her if she turned upon him, once within the caves.
"Not far, sa-kai. This recess opens up soon and then thee will have more room."
And, as far as that was concerned, she told him the truth, for within minutes, the cleft widened into a respectably sized grotto. He stood in the half dark, with only a thin ray of light penetrating the gloom from the horizontal shaft behind him.
T'ashaya indicated a low archway at the far side of the cave. "That passage will take us where we need to go."
Spock inclined his head in acknowledgement, his voice intentionally wry. "In that case, I will continue to follow thy lead."
But only a few yards on the sunlight dwindled away leaving the passage they traversed pitch-black. With his hand held half an inch away from his eyes, Spock still could not see it. In those conditions, without even a modicum of illumination, his renowned Vulcan night sight was useless. For all practical purposes, he was effectively blind. Spock was not in the least surprised that T'ashaya did not seem to share his disability.
For a time, he followed her only by the slight sounds her feet made on the pebbly surface, or the brush of her fingertips against the rock face, listening attentively to the slight echoes that bounced back to him off the walls and low ceiling. The effort took all his concentration and inevitably, the fiery pain of his broken ribs along with the tender wounds on his abdomen escaped his mastery and intruded increasingly on his awareness. Unlike him, T'ashaya did not stumble, falter, nor pause, unimpeded by the darkness or the difficulty of their surroundings and despite the agony, he pushed his tormented body to greater and greater feats of exertion, urging T'ashaya on when she implored him to rest.
Increasingly drained by the pace he had set, he caught his ankle against an unseen boulder and fell to his knees, the pain ripping through him at the sudden jolt. He stifled the moan that worked in his throat but the taste of blood in his mouth was a warning he could not deny. Yet, he stubbornly refused to acknowledge the blatant danger signal, pushing away T'ashaya's restraining hand as, legs wavering beneath him, he attempted to stand. But while his spirit remained strong, his body admitted defeat. Not only his feet but also his mind slipped and he left the Path of Rha to wander for a time in the feverish shadows of delirium.
Aboard the Enterprise, Jim Kirk was getting increasingly anxious. He looked over at Sulu's position at the helm.
"Well, Mr. Sulu, is there any sign of the landing party?"
"Negative, Captain. Even with auxiliary power tied in, the blanket effect is still obstructing our sensors."
Kirk frowned in concentration. The landing party had been gone almost eight hours, long enough to plant the device and return to the Enterprise. Spock's failure to arrive back on board could only have one possible meaning - something had gone badly wrong - they were trapped - or worse. Kirk kneaded the skin above the bridge of his nose, as he glanced up towards the forward viewscreen. Avellach still glowed there, just as stately as before, keeping her secrets to herself.
"Lieutenant Uhura, are you getting anything at all?"
The beautiful Bantu woman turned from her boards, concerned gaze meeting his own.
"All reception is still blocked, sir. Transmissions are the same. Even if they were trying to contact us we wouldn't be able to hear them through the static."
"Uh-huh!" Kirk eased his tense shoulders, sifting the alternatives open to him. He still found it impossible to believe that soon, if the landing party had indeed failed in their objective, an earthquake would rip through the planet, shattering the tranquillity that was such an attractive feature of Avellach. He sighed, rubbing gritty eyes, the beginnings of a headache throbbing through his temples. Coming to a sudden decision, he pushed a toggle on the arm of his chair.
"Hanger deck, this is the Captain. Prepare shuttlecraft Columbus for immediate take-off."
The tinny voice of the hanger deck chief answered immediately. "Aye, aye, sir. What are the crew specifications?"
Kirk contemplated the question. If the Galileo had been damaged, he would have a full crew compliment to transport along with any or all survivors from the original landing party. The shuttlecraft officially only seated seven. It left him without much choice.
"I'll be going alone, Chief." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Uhura turn to look at him. But as he passed her on the way to the turbo lift she murmured, "Good luck, Captain."
Kirk smiled as the doors closed. He had a sudden feeling that he would need all the luck he could get.
He was unconscious for only minutes, but when Spock opened his eyes and stared into the darkness, he knew immediately that T'ashaya had left. He was alone. It should not have come as a surprise to him, for he had been expecting something of the sort ever since the two of them had entered the caves. But the knowledge still did not lessen his momentary sense of loss.
Then, he heard the unmistakeable sound of nimble footsteps returning and seconds later her sweet, cinnamon breath fanned his cheek as she leaned over him. Warm fingers fluttered lightly over his face, his open eyes, and he heard her quick sigh unquestionably of relief. Her delicate touch brought an unexpected welter of conflicting impressions to him. So, even to that detail, was she entirely Vulcan. He masked his fascination, and strengthened his mind shields, as she gently lifted his head and held something cool and smooth to his lips.
The object turned out to be a hollow stone filled with a mouthful of water. He drank thirstily, wondering where she could have found it - and instantly the image came of fast running water. A river. Apprehension stirred fitfully within him.
"Can thee swim, my brother?" She asked him softly.
He considered the implications of that question, his uneasiness peeking abruptly. His home planet was a desert world, Ti-Valka'ain, named after the god of fire, change, and the burning sands, Ayen-Valkathi. Water was scarce in most areas, the people of Vulcan having been tempered by the fires of Ah'hrak, the forge. It was not their way to use the precious commodity in a frivolous way. Of course, he had taken the obligatory instruction while at Starfleet Academy, but he had never excelled at the sport.
According to T'ashaya, the river was not far away and would take them only a short time to reach. On further questioning his initial anxiety increased as she told him the river needed crossing before they could continue on their journey.
"Is there no other way?" He asked at last.
"None that I know of, sa-kai."
She described how the walls of the cavern narrowed until they formed an arch over the swift moving tributary. Beneath was a submerged tunnel that led to another series of caves. They would need to dive beneath the arch and swim the length of the tunnel until they emerged on the other side.
"This will be difficult for thee, hurt as thee is, sa-kai Spock. Perhaps, it would be wiser to return to the surface and forget these others who are not of thy kind ----"
"No," he objected forcefully and felt her withdraw from him. "They are my friends, my companions. I cannot leave them here to die."
"Ah, yes. Cease to exist, discontinue, perish."
Again, Spock felt her fingers flutter over his brow and cheek, and lightly contact with his katra points.
"I would learn more of this. May I join with thy mind, sa-kai? Show me this termination---"
He hesitated but the thoughts he sensed through his shielding, her touch, was only enquiring. She meant him no harm. Spock obligingly lowered his mental barriers and allowed her access.
She reached into him, down to the heart of him, and he showed her what he knew of death, the pain of loss, the end of a precious and unique life, gone forever. At her urging, he revealed his innocent memories of the actual T'ashaya's passing. He recalled the grief of his parents, his father Sarek's agonizing detachment, his mother Amanda's utter despair, and his own simple, childish, anguish. He had missed the companionship of his gentle kokhai for many months. T'ashaya had been his first friend, his only friend, for the first years of his life. The recollection of her tender camaraderie, the way she devised games to entertain him, never wearying of his company, had profoundly impacted on his young mind.
A tremor shivered through the child kneeling beside Spock as she suffered the recollection along with him. He heard her moan softly, a catch in her voice as if she might be weeping. Weeping for him, for his pain, he wondered, or for the spirit of the young girl, whose form she had assumed? Somehow, it did not matter.
Her thought came to him with enormous gentleness. * This is a grievous thing my sa-kai. How can thee bear such sadness? *
He sent back, with distant calm, * Death is part of our lives. We learn to accept its presence. *
*After a fashion --- *
*Indeed, * he acquiesced. * After a fashion, and almost never willingly. *
* Before, I would not have understood, but now --- * T'ashaya's mental voice, speaking in his mind held a fresh clarity, a knowledge that had been absent before, as if she had awakened from a long sleep. Her face appeared before his inner gaze, sapphire eyes glowing, her soft mouth curving with a mysterious smile, reminding him of his mother all over again. Her small fingers tensed on his katra points along brow and cheek. They relaxed once more, as she appeared to come to some decision.
* Thee knows I believe, my sa-kai, that I - we - are not thy kokhai, T'ashaya. We chose this shape only because our true form is very different from thine. Some of us believed this would be a source of fear to such an opaque being. Now we are aware that thee is startlingly receptive--- *
Her image in his mind's eye swirled, reformed, and coalesced into a tall, shimmering column, like twisted strands of transparent crystal.
* Our name is Rukhtharwar'e'tirilandahrar but thee call us Avellach. * Her voice rang like wind chimes in the cool breeze of first light on Vulcan.
* That is our name for this planet, certainly. *
* But we are the planet and the planet is us. There cannot be one without the other. * Her laugh tinkled delicately. * When the ships appeared we rejoiced, but it seemed that our presence distressed thy --- instruments. Thus, we withdrew to where we had first begun, in these caverns beneath the mountains, in order that we might still observe the opaque ones. *
"Of course," Spock murmured aloud. " The reason for the high magnetic field --- "
* Alas, we were too hasty, our return too violent. Rock fell, stresses were produced that we were unable to control. We feared for the ones above. A warning had to be given --- *
* The earth tremors were a warning? *
* Indeed. But in this, we also miscalculated. They failed to understand. And so, thee arrived. Thy memories are clear and strong, so we appeared to thee in the form of T'ashaya. Only one other was able to see us so clearly and he was beyond all our help. *
Spock frowned. "T'ashaya ----"
She spoke again, the same beautiful melodic ringing, like the notes of a song.
* Rukhtharwar'e'tirilandahrar is our true name, sa-kai Spock. Thee may call us Rukhthar, however - if that is more --- to thy taste. *
Spock reproduced it as best he could, then continued, * One of my companions carries a device, an instrument that will stop the stresses from exploding into an earthquake. This may harm thy people. We must try to reach him before it is too late. *
* Indeed, we also see this necessity. But thee is not strong, my brother Spock. *
"Strong enough, I believe ---," He heaved himself to his feet, wavering back and forth until Rukhtharwar'e'tirilandahrar lent him her shoulder to lean on. With linked hands, they moved off into the darkness.
Moments later, the sound of fast moving water grew perceptively louder.
"We are here, sa-kai."
Spock explored on his hands and knees. Directly in front of him, the river began, rushing strongly towards the arch of stone and the submerged tunnel they must swim through.
Rukhtharwar'e's soft voice reached him even above the roar of the underground river. "If we go first, thee will follow?"
"I will follow."
He felt her warmth leave him and then there was silence until she called out again, voice no less soft, yet he heard her still.
"Come, sa-kai Spock. Let the river guide thee. We are here."
The water closed over him in a surge of icy blackness, leaching the heat from his blood in one swift gulp. He gasped in reaction but the river had him in its grasp. There was no need to dive. The water carried him under, careless of him as it smashed him into the arch. He hardly felt the pain through the cold, then the need for self preservation made him react. He dived, struck out clumsily with his arms, the constricted space hemming him in. After the first few strokes, the hissing in his ears became a roar. His heartbeat hammered against his lower ribs and his lungs cried out for air. Pain, like a knife-thrust, pierced his chest. Spock jack-knifed spasmodically, and lost the rest of his air. He lashed out in panic, thrashed wildly for the surface, but could not find it. All about him was rock and water, water and rock.
A small hand grasped him around the wrist with incredible strength. He was yanked physically forward and then up. Abruptly his mouth was gasping air.
Rukhtharwar'e, with an arm around his waist dragged him from the water and onto slick, cold stone. He lay on his side, sobbing for breath, gasping, his body one great agonizing hurt. Only half conscious, he reached for the small hand, found comfort in her touch, in the warmth of her fingers. She raised him gently, cradled his head upon her lap until his breathing steadied.
* How much further? *
* Only a short way, my sa-kai. * She brushed the wet hair tenderly back from his brow, her fingers gentle as they settled upon his katra points. * Do not concern thyself now. There is time for thee to rest. Sleep a little ---- *
Warmth stole over him, his heartbeat slowed, his breathing stabilized, and soon he surrendered to sleep.
After a time, he shifted on the hard ground, his hand blindly seeking, and touched the liquid chill of water.
"T'ashaya ---" But that was not her name, he recalled lethargically. What did she call herself now? Ah, yes, Rukhtharwar'e'tirilandahrar, that was it, he heard her tinkling chimes as she said it. He raised his head, called out weakly, but she had left him once more. Letting his head fall, he closed his eyes, uncontrollable shivers wracking his slim frame as the cold penetrated his wet clothes. He knew he should move away from the water but somehow found it impossible to stir. He wanted to sleep, to forget the bitter chill - and after a while, the shivering stopped and a pleasant warm lassitude crept through his body.
Voices, were those voices? He roused from a confused dream of heat and sand and orange skies. What was happening? Where was he? The voices came again, like the ebb and flow of meaningless static, drawing nearer then fading away, rising and falling. He opened his eyes to a flickering blue glow and dancing shadows that leaped over wet, grey walls. A face, huge and nebulous loomed over him abruptly. Something touched his arm, there was a sharp hiss, and the face solidified into Doctor McCoy.
"Spock, can you hear me?"
"Doctor ---?" He hesitated, searched his memory. He needed to ask a question, something very important but he could not recall what it was. Another face floated into view, distracting him.
"Leonard, will he be alright?"
"I don't know Elena. He's got broken ribs and internal injuries. How he managed to get this far is a mystery - but there must be another way out."
Spock heard the anxiety in their voices but found it inordinately hard to make sense of what they were saying. With an enormous effort, he managed to focus his mind. He grasped at McCoy's restraining hand, levered himself up off the ground.
"Doctor, the explosive, did you ---?"
McCoy steadied him with an arm around his shoulder. "There's no time to explain now, Spock. We have to get out of here. Can you stand?"
"I - no, Doctor. You must leave me. Save yourselves."
McCoy's voice grated harshly. "You big Vulcan lug head. I'm not leaving anybody behind. We need you to get us out of here."
But Spock had no more reserves. He was exhausted, ill, and hurt, taxed beyond endurance. His eyes closed, " Too, tired ---- Doctor. Leave me ----"
The next thing he knew, McCoy struck him hard across the face. The doctor hit him again and a third time.
Appalled, Elena tried to intervene. "Leonard, what are you doing? Stop it. Stop it."
"Elena, please don't interfere. This is the only way. If I administer any more stimulants he'll most likely die." He raised his hand again but the blow never reached its intended target.
Spock's own fist closed over McCoy's fingers. "That --- will not be necessary, Doctor. Your --- treatment --- has had --- the required effect."
"Can you stand?"
"I --- believe --- so." Spock's chest rose and fell under his laboured breathing. He staggered upright and immediately Lee Temple and ensign Chekov moved in to support him, one on each side. After a moment, he asked, "How did you locate me?"
"It was a near thing," McCoy hurriedly explained. "This planet is inhabited Spock! Our sensors were wrong."
"We found a cavern, Mister Spock," Elena continued. "It was so beautiful, like columns of rock crystal shimmering in the light, but they turned out to be alive ---"
"They helped us find each other again," Mei murmured shyly, glancing at Chekov.
"And then they led us this vay. We thought it vas the vay out----" Chekov finished for her.
Spock inclined his head. When he spoke, his voice wavered breathlessly, "It is --- indeed --- the way out, ensign."
"Where?" McCoy asked, looking around. He saw only rock and the inky-black river water flowing at his feet.
"Beyond that arch is a submerged tunnel, a siphon is the correct term, I believe." Spock glanced at Temple, who nodded.
"I suggest --- the strongest swimmer --- goes first, and takes a rope. Technician Wong may need assistance --- as will I."
"There's no other way?" McCoy asked.
Chekov spoke up. "In Russia, if I had not joined Starfleet, I could hev competed in the United Federation Swimming Olympics."
Spock stared at him. Chekov seemed completely serious, although McCoy and Doctor Carter were obviously amused. Chekov shrugged. "I vas told I had a wery good chance of vinning!"
"Very well, ensign." Spock assented.
They unpacked a length of strong nylon rope and tied it around Chekov's waist. He waded cheerfully into the river, shivering as the water soaked through his clothes. As they continued to watch, he struck out strongly towards the formidable looking archway. When he reached it, he waved before disappearing beneath the foaming water. The rope snaked through McCoy's fingers until it became taut. Then it jerked three times; the signal to tell them Chekov had made it safely to the other side. Elena went next. Mei followed, accompanied by Temple. McCoy and Spock went last.
Swimming held no terrors for McCoy. He enjoyed the sport as a child in Georgia and still kept his hand in by using the small pool aboard Enterprise. Spock hampered his vigorous stroke only a little. The Vulcan first officer gave himself wholly into the doctor's hands, resisting not at all when McCoy guided him under the water. They surfaced minutes later without the unpleasantness of Spock's former attempt. The rest of the landing party had made it through the siphon unharmed but McCoy imposed a break for Spock's benefit.
After a few minutes, they swiftly pressed on. Time was running out. Spock, dogged by the knowledge that his condition held them all back, had to rest at increasingly frequent intervals. Even with Chekov and Temple supporting him in turns, the going became increasingly difficult for him. Will power alone kept him on his feet. He pushed himself to the limit, the pain almost beyond his endurance even with McCoy's administrations. Blind and deaf to everything but the fire in his lungs, he staggered like a drunkard, clutching at Chekov with an iron grip until the young ensign gasped aloud. Spock loosened his hold, his arm rigid across the boy's shoulder.
"Forgive me, I --- am hurting you --- ensign." He had to gasp for breath, his lungs straining for air.
Chekov almost wished the agonizing force returned as he gazed into Spock's ashen face, sheened now with moisture. The first officer's jawbone stood out white beneath the darker skin, his teeth clenched tightly against the pain. Afraid of the emotion he revealed Spock turned away from the scrutiny.
McCoy set the fastest pace he dared, unable to do anything else in the circumstances. It was hard not only on Spock but everyone. Occasionally, a low rumble throbbed somewhere far below and the ground trembled in threat as unseen forces worked on the rock.
To take his mind from the pain, Spock's thoughts returned constantly to T'ashaya. That she had led McCoy to him was not in doubt but why had she not returned? He was taken completely off guard when the ground lurched abruptly and threw him to his hands and knees, the impact jolting his broken ribs. He fell forward until he lay prostrate a dry, wracking cough tearing through him.
McCoy, at his side immediately, lifted him with gentle hands. The doctor waved the rest of the landing party away when he saw a thin trickle of blood ooze from the corner of Spock's mouth. It was an ominous sign.
He gently wiped the blood away, "Spock --- I'm sorry, that I can't spare you this but there's nothing I can do right now --- "
"I --- understand --- Doctor," McCoy had to stoop to hear the sibilant whisper, which was all Spock managed to utter. "You --- must leave --- me now. Save --- yourself while --- there is still time."
McCoy's eyes narrowed obstinately. "I'm not listening, Spock. You're going with us even if I have to carry you out of here."
A shadow flickered over Spock's taut lips, the barest hint of a wry smile, gone almost before McCoy had time to register its presence. "Doctor --- I admire your --- efforts on my behalf --- but I --- fail to see the distinction in --- whether I --- die here or on the surface."
"You aren't going to die." McCoy interjected harshly. "When we get to the Enterprise ---"
Spock swallowed with increasing difficulty, breath gurgling in his throat, narrow, tapered eyes glittering feverishly. "I regret to --- tell you, Doctor. There is --- no way to reach --- Enterprise."
He began to cough again, unable to control the spasms that choked him, lips smeared with fresh blood. McCoy glanced over his shoulder at the strained faces of the rest of the landing party. "Lee, I need that canteen of water."
McCoy held the canteen to Spock's lips, held his head while he drank. Spock's breathing eased slightly. "Why can't we reach the Enterprise?"
"The Galileo ---- buried in --- rock fall."
The doctor shrugged, "Jim will send another shuttle. He won't leave us here without investigating - earthquake or no earthquake. You know that, Spock."
"Indeed --- I do." He waved away the water that McCoy offered, hawk-face sculptured into hard planes, like the rock that enclosed them. "Every second you --- delay here ---shortens your chance --- of survival. Logic dictates ----"
"Let's leave logic out of this!" McCoy ground out past the lump in his throat. "Damn you, Spock. I won't let you die here."
"You --- do not have --- that choice. Think --- of your command, Doctor."
"Damn it, you green blooded excuse ---"
Spock reached out, placed his hand over McCoy's clenched fist. "It --- * is * the only logical thing --- to do, Doctor McCoy."
"Spock, I ----" He gripped the first officer's hand, noting the elevated temperature. Spock was burning up.
"Do not --- grieve for me --- Bones," Spock gasped, and once again, a smile flickered fleetingly about his hard lips. "I --- wish you to --- know that I --- hold your friendship in --- the greatest regard ---"
McCoy brushed at the tears threatening to fall. "Don't make me do this, Spock. Jim will never forgive me."
Lee Temple touched him lightly on the shoulder. "Doc, I think we should be moving on. That quake will rip through here any time now."
Eyes closed, Spock leaned back against the wall. "Doctor, I believe --- you underestimate the Captain. He will --- understand. Go now, the time --- is short."
Tears blurring his vision, McCoy pushed himself awkwardly upright and turned away. Elena laid a hand upon his sleeve, "Leonard?"
He stared at her, unable to speak for a moment. His voice betrayed his emotion and he cursed himself for letting it get out of his control. "We'll be returning later for Mr. Spock."
"You vill leave him here?" Chekov asked. "But he vill die. We cannot ---"
"I said we'd come back for him, ensign." McCoy growled. "Now let's move it, people. While we still can. That's an order, Chekov."
Spock listened to them argue behind the safety of his closed eyelids. They would leave him he knew. After all, it was the logical thing to do. Once he had convinced McCoy, the discussion was over. Eventually, the torchlight dimmed and the darkness closed about him. He had only one real regret. He would never be able to tell his mother that he loved her.
Intermittently conscious, he lay propped up against the wall, too weak to move until small fingers brushed lightly over his face, his lips, tenderly wiping the blood from his mouth. *My sa-kai, can thee hear me? *
* Rukhtharwar'e'tirilandahrar, * her name was a song in his mind. He opened his eyes but saw nothing in the pitch black.
* We shall not leave thee again, sa-kai Spock. I/ we shall remain with thee always. Thee will never be alone again. *
The words he heard, he realised were in his mind. Was she there or was he caught in some feverish illusion. The darkness was stygian and he could no longer rely on his senses.
Without warning, there came the sound of booted feet and shadows wavered erratically up and down the walls as a faint blue light became visible.
* Someone comes, * Sibilant echoes ghosted through his mind, whether one voice or many, he could no longer be sure. * Who comes here, my sa-kai? We thought thee alone. *
The shadows fled before the strengthening glow of a hand light and a hesitant voice questioned softly, "Mister Spock?"
"Ensign Chekov?" With a supreme effort, Spock pushed himself away from the wall. Why --- are you here? Do you not realise your danger?"
Chekov hit him just above the shoulder. The blow was not as efficient as the Vulcan neck pinch but it served well enough. As the first officer tumbled forward, the young ensign gathered him up and hoisted him onto his shoulder. Staggering under Spock's weight, he made for the outlet tunnel.
Minutes later, he turned a bend almost running into Lee Temple who had come back to look for him. Chekov straightened slightly, seeming incongruously young and vulnerable with his mop of dusty hair. "His logic made no sense, sir. I - could not leave him there, all alone in the dark. He needs to see the stars ---"
A low rumble underscored Chekov's words.
"Hear that, ensign? If we don't get out of here, the stars will be only one thing we'll never get the chance to see again." Lee took Spock's limp body onto his own broad shoulders. "Come on, the others will be waiting."
McCoy's joy at seeing Spock - though still slumped over Lee's shoulder - was short lived. Mei heard it first, a thick, low-pitched growl, barely audible. She uttered a wailing cry of animal terror. When the mountainside stirred uneasily under their feet, they all felt the sudden movement. The growl quickly turned into a roar, the roar into a bellow.
"The quake ---"
"Move!" McCoy yelled, and grabbed Elena by the arm. Chekov linked hands with Mai, pulled her along behind him.
A wild banshee shriek surged up from the deeps and went on and on. They climbed as fast as they could, stumbling as the ground jiggled. A crack sounded like the report of a cannon and the tunnel they followed convulsed. Solid rock splintered, slipped, and fell, tumbling around their heads. Suddenly a shaft of daylight glimmered up ahead. They reached the cavern Spock had traversed earlier. The tunnel he had squeezed through was gone and only a pile of rubble was left. They scrambled over it and headed for open ground.
Temple tripped abruptly, went sprawling with Spock beneath him. Chekov left Mei and ran back. He hauled Spock unceremoniously over his shoulder and hobbled away from the spot with Temple limping beside him.
The shuttlecraft appeared like some dream vision conjured up by their fear. They sprinted for it just as somebody in a yellow shirt appeared in the hatchway.
The hounds of hell were still baying at McCoy's heels as he raced after Mei for the safety of the Columbus, still clasping Elena around the wrist. Jim Kirk came running to meet them.
McCoy panted with exhaustion. " Jim. We have to --- help the --- others ---"
"Where?" He had to yell over the noise of the quake.
"Behind us --- not far ---"
Kirk glanced back as two shambling figures, came into sight, hardly visible through the choking dust, carrying something between them.
"Get into the shuttle and strap yourselves down. This is going to be a bumpy ride."
As they obeyed, he ran back towards Temple and Chekov. He took Spock from them. "Get moving, both of you."
But they would not leave him. Between the three of them, they carried the first officer to Columbus and heaved him aboard just as the swelling resonance of the quake hit its climax.
Spock groaned thickly as Kirk lowered him into a seat, "Captain ---?"
"Rest easy, Spock. We'll soon have you home."
McCoy scrambled from his seat to check the first officer over while Kirk moved forward to take the controls. The shuttlecraft bucked and shuddered, jerking them roughly about as it lifted slowly from the ground. Spock's face contorted in agony and McCoy reached out to clasp the hand that gripped the chair seat.
"Hang on, Spock, it won't be long now."
Spock did not reply. His gaze was fixed on the tiny, receding figure of a Vulcan girl-child, a hand raised in the ta'al salute while a soft chiming voice echoed through his mind, *Farewell, my sa-kai. May thee live long and prosper. *
Spock came out of the fever six days later, his senses needle sharp, his body so weak it was an effort just to turn his head on the medical couch.
He opened his eyes to find sickbay empty except for his presence. Outside, in McCoy's office there came the low murmur of voices. Spock listened languidly to the rise and fall of conversation unable to catch more than a word here and there, his thoughts concerned with recent events.
He could remember quite clearly the docking of the Columbus, the rush to get him to sickbay, but following proceedings were far less plain. He had given himself up into McCoy's hands; unable to do much else while the nursing staff cut away the soiled uniform and bathed the blood, dirt, and perspiration from his torn body, in preparation for surgery. His own energies were taken up maintaining an iron grip on the pain that threatened his control. The days between were as hazy and insubstantial as a dream.
The sharp click of heels on the tiled floor brought him back from his thoughts. Nurse Chapel appeared in the doorway and crossed to his bedside, intent on a medical padd she held. Her gaze went straight to the readings on the diagnostic panel before she noticed his open eyes. Spock experienced an abrupt discomfort at the look of pure joy that crossed her attractive face. However, he betrayed nothing of his own feelings.
"Mr Spock, you're awake at last!" She raised her voice. "Doctor McCoy! Captain Kirk ---"
Sickbay was suddenly crowded as the Captain and McCoy hurried into the room. McCoy grinned widely as Jim moved to stand beside the medcouch, the worried expression gradually fading as he peered down at his first officer.
"How are you, Spock?" He asked, quietly concerned.
"Better, I believe, Captain." But his voice was still surprisingly weak. He moved uneasily beneath the light coverlet as Nurse Chapel plumped the pillows supporting his head.
"We didn't think you'd make it for a while there. In fact any normal man would be dead by now." McCoy butted in. " I put the improvement down to that green, iced water you have in your veins instead of honest red blood."
Spock considered McCoy as if thinking the comment over. " Au contraire, Doctor. My recovery is due entirely to your medical skills, I am certain."
"Compliments, Spock. You must still be delirious."
" No doubt a consequence of the vast amount of drugs that are predictably circulating in my bloodstream---"
Kirk laughed softly. "Point to Spock, I think, Bones!"
"Captain, " Spock murmured after a moment, "I have been wondering---"
"About the situation on Avellach? Dismiss it from your thoughts, Mr. Spock. All is well on that planet; I'm pleased to report. The Rukhtharwar'e managed to deduce the workings of your little device, with Dr. McCoy's invaluable help, of course. "He grinned widely at Bones' pleased expression. " They produced an explosion that did you proud - and just at the right moment. Those Rukh are a really 'fascinating' species, wouldn't you agree, Spock?"
"Indeed, Captain. Has Starfleet made any moves to study them?"
"Uh-huh, they certainly have. Everything's been taken care of, Mr Spock."
"Including * you *, Spock," McCoy added acerbically.
"Jim has arranged a little R and R for you."
Spock noted the chief surgeon's smug expression with foreboding. He said carefully, "Rest and recuperation, Captain? I --- do not wish to offend you but that is hardly necessary, sir. Once I am sufficiently recovered my quarters will ---"
"No, Mr. Spock," Jim said quite firmly, "you will not spend it in your quarters. Your R and R will take place where you will get the best of all possible attention -
"On Vulcan, Spock!" McCoy was almost jumping up and down with suppressed glee.
It certainly acted like a bombshell on Spock. Yet, as he considered the prospect, it began to appeal to him. However, there was one drawback. He gazed up at Kirk who figured out the look correctly.
"Unfortunately, your father is on a diplomatic tour of Metabelius III and will be unable to supervise your convalescence."
"Disappointed, Spock?" McCoy asked, one eyebrow on the rise.
"My father is a busy man, Doctor McCoy." Spock murmured, deliberately misinterpreting McCoy's remark. "I would not have expected otherwise."
He changed position; a valiant attempt to fight off sleep that dragged on his eyelids. McCoy touched Kirk lightly on the arm and nodded towards the door.
"Visiting hour's over, Jim, time for Spock to get his rest."
"Forgive me, Gentlemen ---"
"No need for apologies, Spock." Kirk smiled affectionately at his first officer. "Sleep well."
"Night, Spock ---" McCoy called as Kirk draped a friendly arm across his chief surgeons shoulder.
"Come to think of it, I'm pretty exhausted myself, Bones, command decisions and all that. I have a bottle of Saurian brandy in my quarters that's just begging to be opened. You up for it?"
And secure in the knowledge that all was right with his universe, Spock slept.