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Kirk's door slid open to admit the tall figure of the First Officer.
"Sit down, Spock. I've just opened the sealed orders from Starfleet; we are to proceed to Ainho to collect three Tellarite officers and transport them to Starbase 29."
Spock raised his eyebrows. "Ainho? Surely the mines there are worked out and inoperative now?"
"I believe so," Kirk agreed. "Reading between the lines I gather the deeper levels are well below sensor range and consequently provide a satisfactory hiding place for Commander Dev and his two companions. Apparently they have information for the Federation they are eager should not fall into unfriendly hands. Can you give me a rough E.T.A ?"
"Approximately twenty point two hours away at Warp Five, Captain."
"We're commanded to be there at 3264.8, so we'd better pile it on a bit!"
Since the orders called for a high degree of secrecy the landing party consisted solely of senior ranking officers. They beamed down to level 25, not the deepest level the transporter could safely achieve, but the deepest level communicators could reach; owing to natural interference the levels below that were out of range.
Scott looked around the wide cave, lit only by one dim glowpup. "Aye, the old power controls are over there, I can get the lights working again."
"Good man. Get to it."
A quarter of an hour later they were down to level 26. "Five more levels," McCoy complained. "You'd think they'd have had some quicker way down than all these tunnels."
"They had mechanised transport, Doctor," Spock informed him.
"Aye," Scott said enthusiastically. "With these hundred ton tunnel cleansing machines, the old Typhons, they could keep the sides smooth enough to get up quite a speed down here. I believe they used to hold speed trials over timed distances in those wee powered skimmers."
"Typhons, did you call them? I could use one right now." McCoy wiped his brow. "I'd like to ride."
Scott laughed. "You're way wrong there, Doctor. Typhons weren't the speed craft, they weren't for riding - they were automated and if you met one now you'd have a hell of a run for it. They had massive boridium brushes along both sides and over the top and bottom that swept off the heavy deposits. The miners carried remote control switches in their helmets in case they met one. If you didn't either stop it or find another tunnel you'd had it. Tear you to pieces, those things would."
"Just let me know if you see one coming," Sulu told him.
"Och, they'll all be deactivated before the last miners left," Scott replied.
"Level 27," Sulu said as the tunnel opened to a wider gallery. It stretched endlessly away from them, dark openings gaping along each side.
"It will take us another hour to reach the rendezvous at level 31," Kirk said. "We'd better hurry." As he spoke they were plunged into darkness. "Scotty?" Kirk sounded aggrieved. "It's not like you to do a botched-up job."
"It wasnae a botched job," the Engineer protested. "I can't understand it. Down here the system should be operative for centuries."
"Well, it's let us down!" Kirk thought for a moment. "Spock, how does it affect us? Can we still make our way down to level 31?"
"I believe so, sir. Doubtless the Tellarites will have light down there."
"Yes. Scotty, you and Sulu get back up to 25 and got handlights, then you, Scotty, work on the power while Sulu comes on down, picks up McCoy and rejoins us."
"You're not going on without lights!" protested McCoy.
"Aye, it could be a trap of some sort," Scott added.
"Or we could cause a diplomatic incident by not arriving on time," Kirk said curtly. "Come along, Spock. You wait here, McCoy."
The going was not too difficult, even in the utter blackness around them. Each level was marked by a plate on the wall at the tunnel exits and entrances, easily readable by touch, and an hour later they were almost at level 31 when Spock suddenly paused, holding Kirk's arm. "What is it?"
Beyond them a dull rumbling was growing in intensity. "A Typhon?"
"I believe it may be, Captain."
"How far to the intersection?"
"Too far. We had better go back."
"It will be quite a run," Kirk said ruefully. "Quickly, Spock. Let's get out of here."
They began to move. After a half mile or so it seemed to Kirk that he had been running since time began and that his life held no other purpose. The thudding of the giant machine was closing in now, the walls of the tunnel slid, terrifyingly smooth, beneath his guiding hand, giving no hope of safety. He could barely hear Spock's pounding boots up ahead, hot air knifed into his lungs, legs moved automatically, each stride an eternity of fear that he would fall. Abruptly, a hand caught his arm, steel fingers gripping tightly.
"An alcove, Jim, here."
He pressed against the wall, body as flat as he could hold it, heart pumping frantically. In the second before the huge leviathan thundered past he realised Spock was not beside him, the shallow depression was too small for both of them. He turned to join his friend and the giant boridium brushes caught his back. He knew that he screamed, but the roaring, thudding monster drowned his agony and was gone. He slid down the wall, nails searching uselessly for a grip.
The cry echoed endlessly on in his brain as his body hit the ground. Seconds - hours? - later he stirred, each laceration in his back a separate, fiery source of agony. He forced himself to his hands and knees, staring into the darkness ahead of him. Spock? How far would he have to go before he found his friend's body, torn and broken by the pitiless machine? How would he know in this unending blackness where the Vulcan's body lay? He caught his breath in one harsh sob and rose to his feet, ignoring the weakness of his legs and, steadying himself against the wall with one hand, stumbled forwards. After a pace or two he stopped, berating himself for his stupidity. Was he moving in the right direction or would each step be taking him further away from his friend? He leaned against the wall, fighting the torpidity of his brain, straining his ears to catch the sound of the receding machine. His blood hummed in his ears, roaring and snatching away hope. The silence seemed to hold him physically, binding his muscles and draining his will.
The word was wrenched from his gut. The desperation in his voice shocked and steadied him. Somewhere in these endless tunnels he would find him, somewhere, somehow.
Satisfied of Jim's safety Spock lengthened his stride, drawing a little ahead of the throbbing roar of the motor that inexorably followed its blind course. The dry heat of the tunnel was no more trying to him than the noonday heat of his desert childhood and he ran easily, one hand brushing the wall, searching for a niche in which to squeeze himself out of harm's way. A change in the pressure ahead warned him of a branching of the ways - no time to regret he had not brought Kirk this far, that depression had been deep enough to give him protection - he paused at the intersection, diving aside as the machine swung on its appointed path. As it throbbed and thundered away from him he noticed a wisp of light from behind him and swung round. There it was again, a brief flicker from the far distance. He paused a moment; should he go back and join the Captain or should he seek out the source of the light? Whether it was the Tellarites they had come to collect or McCoy and Sulu, it was imperative he make contact. He began to run.
"Mr. Spock! Am I glad to see you!" Sulu's cheerful smile faded as he realised the Vulcan was alone. "The Captain...?"
"In the tunnel behind me." Spock turned to lead the way back. "We were nearly trapped, but he will be safe."
"Not your fault if he is," McCoy grumbled, falling into step with him. "Of all the crazy ideas - coming down here, just the two of you, after the power had gone. You could have waited until Scotty had fixed the emergency rig."
"Then we would have had no chance at all of being at the rendezvous at the appointed time. The risk had to be taken, Doctor."
"You didn't make it?" Sulu asked, his handlight making their shadows waver on the dark walls.
"No. It was a trap. One of the Typhons was reactivated ahead of us. We found a minor fault in the wall deep enough for the Captain to seek safety in. The tunnel branched out not more than half a mile on and I was able to avoid the machine. We should not encounter it again just yet."
McCoy paled. "I should hope not. Those things move faster than I can go for more than a few minutes. It must have been a hell of a run you made."
"We had to move quickly," the Vulcan conceded.
"How far back did you leave the Captain?" Sulu asked. "I can see the branch in the tunnel up ahead, but there's no sign of Captain Kirk."
"About half a mile down the passage to the left," Spock said. "He should not be far away."
They rounded the bend and peered into the darkness. Sulu ran the powerful light from side to side of the narrow tunnel. They hastened on.
"There's no sign of him, sir."
Spock frowned. "We should be able to see him from here. Look, there is the fault in the wall where I left... "
Abruptly he began to run. His eyes had caught the gleam of gold lying close against the wall, a tiny scrap of metallic material glinting in the beam of light. Puzzled, McCoy and Sulu followed. They joined him as he knelt beside the wall staring at the torn braid in his hand. Sulu ran the light around the floor and caught his breath.
"Mr. Spock, look. Shreds of cloth."
McCoy scooped the tiny pieces up on his fingers. The old gold cloth left tiny smears of red upon his skin. He thought ht of the giant brushes designed to scrape stone and metal -
"He was caught," he said savagely. "You left him to be mangled."
Spock rose to his feet. "It would seem that you are right, Doctor," he agreed, his face blank.
Sulu, with a compassion born of long experience, shook his head. "The fault in the wall is deep enough, Doctor, provided the Captain took care."
"He was exhausted, Lieutenant." The Vulcan's voice was toneless. "I do not doubt that made him... careless."
McCoy nodded, repentant for the umpteenth time. He knew Spock was used to his need to lash out, but it didn't stop him being sorry every time he did it to the Vulcan - over Jim at least. He wasn't too sure it was undeserved at other times.
"Shine your light around, Lieutenant," Spock said quietly.
The helmsman obeyed. The powerful beam gleamed over the dark, smooth walls and floor of the tunnel.
"Around the fault, please, Lieutenant." Spock ran his hand over the wall and looked at it closely, then he stooped and did the same to the floor. His palm was smeared with red. "Strange," he murmured.
"Strange!" McCoy exploded. "Jim gets caught by that thing and you think it strange to find blood around!"
"Only on the floor, Doctor, not on the wall." Sulu looked at him, frowning.
"There is only blood," Spock said softly. "Blood, braid from his sleeve and shreds from his shirt. The brushes caught his upper body, yet the blood is on the floor."
"Are you surprised he fell?" McCoy said sarcastically. "We're not all superhuman... " His voice died. "You mean he fell after it passed, but... then where is he?"
"Precisely, Doctor. Were he completely caught by those brushes they would have torn him apart, but there is barely any blood and it is on the floor. He was caught only lightly and then collapsed. He cannot be far away."
"Which way?" McCoy asked hopelessly. "He didn't follow you or we'd have seen him."
"Down the other passage?" Sulu broke in.
"Come on!" McCoy turned.
Spock did not move. "I think not, Doctor," he said. "He would have seen your light had he gone that way. He must have become disorientated and gone back the way we came."
"That's all right," McCoy said, more cheerfully. "All we have to do is follow the tunnel."
"There are two point six miles with no turning, Doctor," Spock said quietly. "Should that machine not be the only one that has been reactivated we may experience some difficulty. You and Mr. Sulu will return the way you came and collect Mr. Scott at the beam down point. Tell him to return to the Enterprise and wait up to three hours for the Captain. After that time, if neither the Captain nor I have returned, he must report to Starfleet Command and follow their orders."
McCoy swore softly. "Damn these Tellarites and their cloak and dagger methods! This is a worked out mining planet. If they wanted a safe rendezvous they could have made it on the upper levels."
"Doubtless they could, Doctor, but they did not do so. Starfleet had emphasised the need for secrecy and below sensor range the Tellarites remain undetected."
"If they are here at all."
"Someone is here, Doctor. The power failure could well have been the result of disuse, the Typhon had to be reactivated by some means. At this level it cannot have been done by remote control from more than two point eight miles away."
"Then you can't go alone."
"I must, Doctor." He met McCoy's eyes. "I can outrun the Typhon, Doctor, you cannot. You may well place the Captain in more danger."
"Damn your logic," McCoy said, unfairly.
"Three hours, sir?" Sulu asked quietly.
"Yes, Lieutenant. You have a spare handlight?"
"Here." McCoy pulled his from his belt. "I'll wait at the beamdown point with medication."
"Very well, Doctor, but you will beam up on Mr. Scott's orders, whether we have returned or no. Is that understood?"
McCoy resisted an answer. Spock repeated the order. "Understood," McCoy agreed at last.
They watched the tall figure run down the tunnel, and turned to go. "Three hours!" McCoy grumbled. "It could take him that long to find Jim, never mind getting him back to level 25 to beam up."
Sulu grinned broadly. "You weren't listening, Doctor. I heard Mr. Spock's order." McCoy stared at him. "He said... 'Tell Mr. Scott to return to the Enterprise and wait three hours.' It could take us more than that to get to level 25 and give Mr. Scott the message."
McCoy's eyes held an unholy gleam. "Always obey orders, Mr. Sulu, to the letter." He paused and looked back down the tunnel. "That damned Vulcan must be pretty worried about Jim to be issuing ambiguous orders. Let's get out of here, Sulu - slowly!"
* * * * * * * *
Spock ran steadily down the tunnel, the handlight picking out the dull gleam of fresh blood from time to time. It seemed that Kirk was bleeding steadily from the wounds he had received - Spock lengthened his stride. Eventually he could see ahead the intersection they had so nearly reached before. He slowed down as he reached the junction and shone the light down each tunnel; the trail of blood led, unmistakeably, down the right-hand fork. He switched off the light and stood listening. Far, far down the left passage there was a dull gleam of light.
He paused, irresolute. His duty lay in completing the Starfleet orders; he must go left and seek out the light source. Kirk, of all people, would understand what he had to do. He gave one last look down the other way.
"I'll be with you soon, Jim," he breathed, turned to go - and froze in his tracks. From the right-hand way there was the distant throb of machinery. He was several yards down the tunnel before the first arguments against it had formed in his mind. Thankful McCoy was not there to see him he ran at top speed - logic gone.
Eternity passed before he caught the gleam of old gold ahead. Kirk was on his hands and knees, crawling painfully towards him. The sound was much louder now, too loud; he could not hope to carry his friend out of danger.
"Keep going," he shouted to Kirk as he passed, "as fast as you can." Kirk staggered to his feet again, his will driving him upright.
"No, Spock!" he shouted. "Come back, save yourself. There's no need for both of us to get caught."
The Vulcan kept going. The Typhon was in sight now. He slowed his pace to get control and leaped, free hand groping for a hold on the blank front of the machine. His fingers grasped a tiny bolt and he dragged himself aboard, sliding under the brushes that scraped the roof. He swung the handlight, mercifully still in his grasp, found the wires he sought and pulled hard. The motor coughed and died. The upward incline slowed the giant machine and it came to a halt, whirling brushes still. Spock slewed himself round with difficulty - the space was barely big enough to move in - and shone the light out into the tunnel. There was no sign of Kirk. He had not been in time. He gave one cry, instantly checked.
Shaking, he climbed out - to find his ankle held. He allowed his legs to fold under him - they were going to do so whether he would or no - and saw Kirk's face smiling at him from under the grey metal.
"Don't just kneel there," Kirk said weakly. "Get me out."
Spock caught his arm and hauled, as gently as he could. He pulled Kirk to a sitting position and held him lightly, not touching the lacerated back. Kirk leaned against the whipcord body, and felt its trembling.
"Hey," he said softly. "It's good to see you, Spock. I've been looking all over."
"You went the wrong way."
"I wasn't thinking too clearly. I thought it had got you and I wanted to find you."
"Yes." The single word was all that Spock would admit of his own agonised search. He knelt up, still supporting Kirk with one arm. The shirt was shredded into the skin, deeply embedded in the wounds, drying blood caking the area.
"It could be worse," Kirk said drily. "It barely touched me."
"Yes. The wounds are shallow. If they had gone deeper you would have been unable to break free."
Kirk resisted an urge to shudder. "Let's get on with the job, Spock. Has anything been seen of the Tellarites?"
"I saw a light down a turning back there," Spock said. "If you wait here I'll investigate."
"No, we'll go together."
"Jim, you have lost a lot of blood and are in some pain... "
"I said together, Mister!" snapped Kirk.
"Sir," Spock said a little rigidly, "my intention was not to question your decision but to offer my assistance."
"I'll need your arm," Kirk admitted.
"No." Spock's voice was almost a whisper. "Not just my arm."
Relief flooded Kirk. "A mind link? Spock, why do we all say the wrong things to you?"
Spock shook his head but did not answer the question. "You would not object?"
"Object? When have I ever? But it will slow you down too, Spock. Hadn't we better have one of us on his toes?"
"As long as the link is not prolonged, sir, I can manage very well. I am accustomed to a link with you and that makes it easier to control. Besides which, there is little need for any barriers between the two of us."
"That's the biggest compliment I've ever been paid," Kirk said softly.
The warm fingertips pressed his face as Spock began the ritual, the warm tendrils of thought sought out his own thoughts, surrounding, merging.
"We have control." The inner voice was almost stern. "The mind rules. There is no pain."
The stabbing aches in his back eased and died. The pain was still there but under their control, stiff muscles loosened until new energy came flooding. Slowly, Spock removed his fingers, dark eyes locked with hazel. Kirk smiled. "My Vulcan friend."
He allowed Spock to help him to his feet, and found that he could stand comfortably. "Where would I be without you, Mr. Spock? Come on, let's investigate. Our Tellarite friends must be wondering what has happened to us."
"Maybe they believe they know," Spock said soberly.
"There's always that," Kirk agreed. "Let's go see."
The light was dimmer than Spock had thought and considerably closer.
They could see the three Tellarites they were expecting, bound and gagged, closely guarded by two unmistakable figures.
Yes The mind link has its uses, Spock. At least we can't be overheard, but how are to going to avoid being seen? Kirk pondered the problem. They believe us to be dead, Spock, maybe if we crawl in they'll underestimate our abilities
A logical solution
They dropped to hands and knees and crawled down to the light. They were very close before the Klingons were aware of them and rose to their feet.
"Well, well, well. We have visitors, Korak. Look who has come to join our party. Welcome to you, Earther. Our Captain will be pleased to see you when he returns."
"Indeed, Kos, indeed." The two figures stood over them sniggering. Kos aimed his booted foot at Kirk's drooping head.
Kirk and Spock launched themselves upwards simultaneously, catching the Klingons by surprise and toppling them. Two hands went to two necks and applied pressure; two figures went limp.
"How satisfying," Kirk said, looking at his hand. "I've never managed that before, Spock." He looked at the Vulcan's inexpressive face and allowed his shoulders to slump. "I suppose I didn't do it that time, either."
"Not entirely," Spock said.
"0h, well. Maybe it'll come more easily now I know what to do."
Kirk laughed and went to release the prisoners. The three Tellarites scrambled to their foot, unhappily flexing painful muscles.
"You took your time," one grunted.
"But we got here," Kirk said lightly. "Which of you is Commander Dev?"
"I am Dev. You have a ship here?"
"As you requested."
"Then let us go before the Klingon ship returns to find us."
"And these two?" Kirk indicated the two Klingons."
"Let them remain." Dev shrugged. "They know nothing and are no danger to us. Their own race will punish them more suitably than the soft hearts of the Federation will allow. Use the ropes to bind them and get us out of here."
Jim, the link is getting too strong, we must break it soon
Kirk suppressed his regret at the prospect. The presence of the friendly, ordered mind within his own was as comforting as a warm bed on a cold night. Very well, Spock
As their minds slid apart agonising waves of pain flooded Kirk and he felt his knees buckle.
"Weakling Humans," Dev said contemptuously as Spock lifted Kirk in his arms. "Lead us out of here, Vulcan."
* * * * * * * *
By the time they had reached the 25th level more than five hours had elapsed since Spock had left Sulu and McCoy, and he raised an eyebrow to see McCoy impatiently waiting at the beamdown point.
The Doctor got up hurriedly and ran to Kirk, wincing at the wounded back. "Unconscious?"
"Nearly so, Doctor."
"I'll give him a shot till we get back aboard."
"Spock to Enterprise. Six to beam up."
Kyle must have had his fingers on the lever because the sparkle of the beam took them almost before Spock had finished speaking.
"Steady!" McCoy yelled as he materialised. "How can I give anyone a shot if you're throwing my molecules around like confetti?"
"Sorry, Doctor." Kyle came round the console. "Are you all right?"
"Never mind me," McCoy said sourly. "Call a medical team and let's get the Captain to sickbay."
"I'm all right, Bones. What's the hurry, Mr. Kyle?"
"Klingon ship approaching, sir. We needed to get the screens up quickly."
Kirk brushed McCoy aside and went to the intercom. "Sulu! What's happening?"
"Klingon ship approaching slowly, sir. She's seen us and I think she's manoeuvring for a shot."
"No retaliation," Dev said harshly. "You must get us out of here, Kirk. The information I have is vital to the Federation."
"Very well. Lt. Uhura, relay this message to Starfleet. Code II. Yes, II. No contact made with Tellarites, Klingons in attack. Enterprise will engage battle. Request further orders. Enterprise out. Mr. Chekov, set a course 218 mark 4 and engage on my signal. Lt. Sulu, raise orbit to twenty four miles and bring us round to battle heading."
"Course laid in, sir."
"On battle heading now."
"Engage, Mr. Chekov. Warp 8, Mr. Sulu - now!"
As the Enterprise flashed out of the Klingon's sights, Kirk ordered a further pattern of random course changes before setting a course for Starbase 29 and then resigned himself to McCoy's ministrations.
The process of picking the microscopic pieces of metal from Kirk's ploughed field of a back was reasonably simple with the use of a magnetic probe. The deeply embedded pieces of cloth were not such an easy matter and entailed many hours of patient work by McCoy. He refused to hand the task over to any of his subordinates, alleging that the spectacle of the Captain flat on his face, making so much fuss over a process no more complicated than eyebrow plucking, would be bad for crew morale. Listening to his own groans Kirk felt he had a point. Major surgery, he decided, was a lot less painful than such a comparatively minor task. At the end of the third hour he'd had more than enough. "How much longer, McCoy?"
"I've done about half of it," McCoy said cheerfully. "Enough for today."
Kirk groaned again. "I need to get back to the bridge, Bones, can't you speed it up?"
"No." McCoy's tone was definite. "Spock doesn't need you up there, and we shall be off-loading the Tellarites within twenty-four hours. Being in sickbay at least preserves you from their gratitude."
Kirk managed to turn his head. "Gratitude?"
McCoy grinned. "That's what Dev called it. It didn't sound that way," he admitted, "but your second-in-command isn't losing any sleep over the tone in someone's voice. He logged the whole as a commendation for your gallantry."
"He didn't mention his own, of course."
"You'd hardly know he'd been there," McCoy said. "A bare mention of the fact that he managed to join forces with you while you were on your way to release the Tellarites after having been wounded. Wasn't that the way it was?"
Kirk snorted. "You should know him better than that by now, Bones. I'd lost my way searching for him - I thought he'd saved me at his own expense, and was looking for his body. Then I heard the Typhon again and had just about given up hope when he came out of the darkness like an avenging angel."
McCoy muttered something under his breath which Kirk decided to ignore. He described Spock's frantic leap onto the approaching machine.
"I don't know how he made it, Bones. If he had slipped... then he short-circuited the thing and it stopped just before the lower brushes caught me." Kirk paused, remembering that brief unearthly cry of agony from above. "I'll log his commendation all right once you let me out of here."
"I think not, Captain."
McCoy swung round. "It's usual to request permission to enter sickbay when I'm operating, Mr. Spock."
The eyebrow lifted. "I did, Doctor. You were engrossed in your conversation."
Kirk peered uncomfortably over his shoulder. "You'll take a commendation whether you like it or not, Mister," he said.
Spock came to the head of the bed. "It would be unwise to admit to having forgotten the Tellarites, Captain, and could lead to a degeneration in the present cordial atmosphere. Commander Dev has given the Enterprise full credit for her handling of a potentially tricky situation. Starfleet will hardly welcome anything leading to a breakdown in the current diplomatic situation."
"Have they said anything at all about the mission?"
"Nothing save that in allowing time for the Klingons to get to them first the Federation nearly put the entire Galaxy in jeopardy."
"I, too, feel there is some little overstatement of their case," Spock said expressionlessly. "The Tellarite capacity for pugnacity and self-aggrandisement is well-known. However, we were fortunate that the Klingon's greed for the capture of the Enterprise led them to try to set a trap for us. Had they simply taken the Tellarites prisoner we would not have arrived in time to rescue them."
"Dev told them we were on our way?"
"'All's well that ends well'," Kirk quoted grimly, "but you can tell Commander Dev that I don't like the Enterprise being used as bait without my consent."
"Yes, sir," Spock said carefully. "Is it your wish that I inform him immediately, or would you allow the message to wait until he leaves his quarters in the morning?"
"Dammit!" Kirk roared, trying to roll over. "You know I don't want the message passed on."
Spock and McCoy put out restraining arms. "Spock, if you're going to learn to make jokes you're going to have to learn to time them better," McCoy said, grinning. "Jim, lie still, you've started one of the wounds bleeding again."
"Jokes, Doctor?" The face rigid.
"Yes, jokes, Mr. Spock. Now if you've quite finished, go away and let Jim get some rest. I've more work to do on his back tomorrow, and a little plastic surgery to perform; then you can have him back as good as new."
"Yes, get some rest, Spock. It's been quite a day. Thanks - for everything."
Copyright Meg Wright