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For some time there had been speculation in Federation scientific circles about the star 28 Tauri - Pleione in the star cluster known as the Pleiades. Like the rest of the stars in the group, Pleione was a blue-white, very hot star, and was, in addition, an irregular variable. For this reason it was avoided by starships, although it was known to have planets, unfortunate bodies alternately scorched and frozen by their primary's erratic behaviour. Their inhabitants, if any, had to be most unusual life forms to be able to survive the variation, both of temperature and radiation - neither of which could be efficiently forecast - that was thrown at them by their unpredictable sun.
It was, however, obvious to the starship captains that eventually, and sooner rather than later, one of them would be unfortunate enough to be selected to make a survey of the solar system of this unwelcoming star.
The selection fell on the Enterprise.
As they approached Pleione, Captain James Kirk ordered a long-range scan to determine which planet was the one most worth a visit. He also set his First Officer to studying the spectroscopic history of the star in an attempt to try, at least, to forecast what its unpredictable variations might do. It didn't take long to show that the eleventh planet was the one best placed in the ecosphere, and the one showing most signs of useful ores. Spock took rather longer over his task.
Eventually he straightened to say simply, "Captain, I cannot be certain of anything with regard to this star. There is simply no pattern to its fluctuations that I can detect, even checking back over a period of three centuries."
"Speculation?" Kirk asked.
"I am inclined to the opinion that it will remain relatively stable for several days. However, I do not recommend that we use the transporter to visit the surface; a sudden unforeseen change in the sun's radiation could disrupt the beaming process, resulting in the loss of whoever happened to be transporting at the time. I suggest that on this occasion it would be more prudent to utilise the shuttlecraft."
Kirk nodded thoughtfully. "I was thinking much the same, Mr. Spock. I want you in the landing party; Mr. Sulu, would you care to join us? Lt. Uhura, contact Dr. McCoy and tell him to meet us on the hangar deck. Mr. Chekov, hold orbit at twenty thousand miles; but if the sun throws out too much radiation, get the ship out of here, to the minimum distance required for safety. We'll follow you in the shuttle."
The three men headed for the hangar deck to join McCoy, who was far from happy about their going down to Pleione Eleven. He considered the risks too great, and privately thought that Starfleet Command needed its collective head examined for ordering them - or indeed anyone - to visit such a place. If it had to be anyone, he reflected, it would have been better, much more sensible - he refused to use the word 'logical' - to have sent a crew made up of the natives of Altair Six, new though they were to the Federation and very few of whom had, as yet, joined Starfleet; they at least came from a planet of a white sun, and had a much higher radiation tolerance than either Humans or Vulcans, even though their sun was not a variable. But the Enterprise had been selected, so they had to make the best of it. At least they were going down this time in a shuttlecraft... and he admitted to himself that he would have been much unhappier left behind. This way, at least, he could keep an eye on Kirk and Spock. Even if it was unlikely that he could keep them out of trouble, at least it meant that he was on hand if they needed him.
They had not long left the Enterprise when they discovered that they were having communications problems. A routine call to the Enterprise barely made contact; the amount of static caused by the sun's waywardness was considerably greater even than Spock, who had expected some such difficulty, had anticipated. They managed to push one message through to the ship, telling Scott to give them at least ten hours before he started to worry about lack of contact, then they were on their own, descending towards an unwelcoming-looking arid surface through an atmosphere that was becoming increasingly turbulent.
Suddenly they found themselves in the middle of a violent electric storm.
The Columbus was shaken backwards and forwards by the force of the storm. Lightning crackled near; and the shuttlecraft tossed on the rush of air that filled the lightning's path with a great rumble of thunder. More lighting forked near, and they were rocked again.
"The shuttle's structure cannot tolerate much more of this," Spock said calmly. "I suggest we attempt to rise above the storm as rapidly as possible."
Kirk nodded. "Take her up, Mr. Spock."
But the shuttle refused to answer the controls. The very violence of the storm had disrupted the delicate computer system. Tough enough to withstand a great deal of physical violence, it could still be destroyed very quickly by an electrical disturbance as great as the one they were experiencing.
"We have no choice, Captain," Spock said as calmly as before. "We must go down."
"Crash landing?" Kirk asked.
"I believe so, Captain."
They braced themselves against the battering the atmospheric turbulence was giving the Columbus; Spock struggled with the controls, trying to keep the shuttle on an even keel. For some minutes he seemed to be succeeding; then as they got lower they discovered that a gale-force wind was blowing gustily. The shuttle was tossed even more roughly; used to the stillness and even flight of the Enterprise, the men began to feel slightly air-sick. Spock alone remained relatively unaffected; he had too much to think about to have time to feel sick. But the others, with nothing to do, found it increasingly difficult to think of anything but their disturbed sense of balance. Soon they found it impossible to think of anything but their misery, although they did manage to keep from actually being sick.
They were very near the ground now. A gust of wind caught them, and threw them sideways. Spock, wrestling with the controls, managed to level off; then another gust came from another direction. Still compensating for the first one, Spock was caught unaware; and the shuttle crashed into the ground. The capricious wind blew her over and over, her passengers tossed about as she went, and she finally came to rest, a battered wreck, against a huge rock. Small pieces of metal were blown on past her. Rain lashed over her, finding its way in through the many holes the unfriendly ground had torn in her sides. Thunder rumbled overhead; the wind eddied round. Small pebbles, dust and sand, and one or two tiny bits of metal, were blown against her, to rattle unheard against the now-useless hull.
Slowly the storm blew over. There was longer between the flashes of lightning and the rolls of thunder now, though there was no-one conscious to hear. Gradually the thunder sounded from further and further away as the rain stopped and the wind fell. The clouds began to blow away and to dissipate in the heat of the sun. As the sky cleared the sun shone down with an eye-damaging brilliance, sucking up the moisture quickly - yet not quickly enough. The planet, which had seemed so barren, was beginning to blossom as the hardy plants that lived there gorged themselves on the sudden feast of water that the storm had given them. What looked like oddly-shaped rocks now put out pseudo-branches, leaves and flowers, vegetation that would have a brief life but, in that life, would ensure that the plant itself stored enough food to see it through the weeks, perhaps months, until the next storm, and that it produced seeds to ensure the continuance of its species.
Many would never sprout... but some would. One of the planet's rare storms - though strong winds were common. The crew of the Enterprise had been fantastically unlucky.
Spock slowly raised his aching head.
He was lying, wet and uncomfortable, across what had been a seat but was now twisted out of shape to match the damage to the hull to which it was fastened. Something was lying across his legs. He took several deep breaths, concentrating on controlling the pain in his head. When he was satisfied that he had mastered it he turned his attention to his surroundings.
The weight across his legs proved to be McCoy. Spock pulled himself free and glanced round. Sulu lay nearby in what appeared to be a most uncomfortable position, unconscious; he couldn't see Kirk at all. Repressing his immediate instinct to go in search of his captain, he bent over McCoy.
There was some dried blood on the doctor's face, but investigation showed that it came from a slight scalp injury, and in fact looked much worse than it actually was. Other than that, McCoy appeared to be uninjured, merely senseless - Spock spared a moment to consider how best to use that phrase to irritate his sparring partner.
McCoy's medical kit, fastened to his belt, had miraculously escaped damage; Spock pulled out a hypo, checked it, set it, and injected McCoy with it. He had not long to wait. Almost at once McCoy stirred weakly.
McCoy grunted, then opened his eyes reluctantly. "Spock... what happened?"
"We crashed, Doctor. You were rendered senseless - more so than usual, I mean - but you have now revived. Mr. Sulu is over there, in need of your services, and while you attend to him I will go in search of the Captain."
"Jim? Isn't he here?"
"I am unable to see him, Doctor. He may have been thrown clear. "
Spock chose to search the shuttlecraft carefully first, however, but there was no sign of Kirk in the twisted mass of metal that had been a beautiful, fully-operational vessel so short a time before.
Automatically Spock looked for his tricorder before going outside. He found it, caught where its strap had hooked over a shapeless seat; but the delicate circuitry of the instrument was shattered. Broken components fell from it into a tinkling heap as he picked it up.
He dropped it again, accepting what had happened philosophically, and climbed carefully out through one of the larger, jagged holes to look around the miraculously changed landscape. His scientific mind appreciated the changes the rain had caused while his conscious mind concentrated only on finding the yellow-clad figure that must be lying helpless somewhere near.
Kirk was surprisingly easy to find. His body was partly covered by earth and tiny pebbles, but he had fallen - or been thrown - partly into the shelter of a pile of rocks. Kirk's clothes were torn, and every inch of his exposed flesh was raw where the sand had rubbed the skin off as it was blown past him. In addition he had several minor cuts and one very nasty-looking gash on his arm. There was a bad bruise on his head.
Spock inspected him quickly. Although not medically trained he had a fair competence in this field as well as many others - Starfleet training included a basic amount of first aid. As far as he could see, Kirk was not too seriously hurt, although he could not guess at how much blood his Captain might have lost from that one bad gash. He called McCoy.
The doctor looked out of one of the holes, saw Kirk lying there, and clambered out to join Spock.
"Sulu's still out, but he's not badly hurt," McCoy reported as he bent over Kirk. He checked him quickly but comprehensively. "That gash is nasty," he said, echoing what Spock had already surmised. He put a dressing over it, then disinfected the raw sores that covered the unclad parts of Kirk's body.
"Apart from the cut, Doctor, how is he?"
"Not too bad, I'd say. I reckon we got off lucky."
Spock nodded, whether in agreement or simple acceptance of the comment, McCoy couldn't guess.
"I think we'd better get Jim under cover, though, Spock," McCoy went on. "This sun is pretty fierce; we'll all be better off in the shade somewhere."
Spock glanced at the shuttle. "Inside the Columbus?"
"No," McCoy said. "You may not have noticed it, since you come from a planet with an average temperature resembling an oven, but the temperature inside there is definitely too hot for Humans. We'd lose too much sweat. In fact, we'd better get Sulu out of there, fast, before he roasts."
Spock nodded again. He had been too concerned to notice it before, and he wouldn't give McCoy the satisfaction of knowing it, but even he was feeling the heat, now that McCoy brought it to his attention.
"Will the Captain be all right while we fetch Mr. Sulu?" McCoy looked down at Kirk.
"I think so. He's still out cold, and we won't be long."
Before they left Kirk, however, they did move him. Spock lifted him easily and carried him into the shade of one of the newly-flowering 'trees', then he followed McCoy back to the shuttlecraft.
But although they had managed to climb out comparatively easily, it proved much harder to repeat the exercise carrying an unconscious man. None of the holes was large enough for either of them to get out carrying Sulu over a shoulder or in his arms; the wreckage was twisted so awkwardly that it was equally impossible for them to carry Sulu between them; and the holes were so jagged that they couldn't begin to think of dragging him out. Nor did it help that the temperature in the Columbus was now excessively high. Even Spock was sweating profusely - an experience new to him. He hadn't even realised that he had operative sweat glands.
They were forced to pause for a moment to rest. McCoy went to the back of the shuttle, to where the craft's water container should be - and stopped, staring unbelievingly at the uneven hole that gave mute testimony as to the fate of their water.
He returned slowly to Spock, who had moved closer to their exit hole in order to breathe cooler air for a moment.
"The water's gone," he said hopelessly.
"Then we must endeavour to manage without it," Spock said evenly. He looked back towards Sulu. "Doctor, I think we will have to wait until Mr. Sulu recovers consciousness so that he can climb out himself."
McCoy shook his head. "We can't wait that long," he answered. "Much longer and he'll be suffering from dehydration and heatstroke, without ever coming round. We have to get him out."
"Perhaps an injection - " Spock began.
"I've tried that," McCoy interrupted. "Are you trying to tell me my job, Spock?"
They were interrupted by Sulu, who groaned softly. McCoy moved to him.
"Doctor... it's so hot..."
"Yes. We have to get out of here. Can you walk?"
Together they helped Sulu to his feet. "I'll manage him now, Spock," McCoy said. "You go and check Jim. We've been away from him far too long."
Without answering, Spock turned to climb out. McCoy, helping Sulu, was half-way out when Spock called him. "Doctor - Jim's gone!"
Kirk regained consciousness unwillingly. His head ached, and his body felt as if someone had been polishing him with sandpaper. There was a steady pain in his left arm. He tried to look at it, but had trouble focussing at first. Then, after a moment, he realised that there was a dressing on it. That meant McCoy had to be somewhere near. What about Spock? And where were they?
"Bones," he called, but his throat was so dry that only a hoarse croak came from it. He tried to swallow, but even his saliva had dried up in the relentless heat of the capricious sun.
McCoy. Spock. Where were they?
He staggered to his feet, looking round. Everything was blurred. His gaze wandered over the ruins of the shuttlecraft, but in his dazed state he didn't realise that the twisted mass he barely saw was, in fact, the Columbus, or that the men he sought were inside it.
There was nothing to indicate to him which way he should go. But he had to find Spock and McCoy. His confused mind didn't realise that McCoy, having tended him, must be all right and know where he was. He had already forgotten that his arm had been tended - he was only aware that it was extremely painful. He had to find them. They might need help. He staggered and fell. The temptation to lie still was great; with an effort he pushed himself erect and began to stumble forward, his feet dragging in the soil. The dry earth slid back to fill the shallow hollows his feet left.
He staggered on towards a gully that cut deep into the ground. It was becoming increasingly difficult to focus; he was aware only of greenness around him, not seeing clearly the 'trees', lush with new leaves that were already past the pristine freshness of spring that they had shown only an hour or so before. He couldn't see the brighter green of the 'flowers' which were now beginning to wither in the deadly heat. He couldn't see the stones over which he stumbled and nearly fell in his desperate search for his friends - nor did he realise that even if they were near he wouldn't be able to see them.
The gully towards which he was moving curved to form a huge 'S' shape before cutting deep into the rocky hillside, then straightened as it became shallower higher up the hill. It was thick with the strange vegetation; in the shaded gully water did not evaporate quite so quickly, and the leaves on the 'trees' there were still comparatively fresh.
Kirk reached the edge of the gully - and walked straight over. An involuntary cry left his throat as a harsh, voiceless sound. He hit the 'branches' of a 'tree' and slid through them, tearing himself on them as he went, but they broke his fall and he hit the ground with less force than he might otherwise have done. The impact drove consciousness from him again.
McCoy helped Sulu to the shade of the plant where Spock had left Kirk. He and Spock looked at each other silently. McCoy felt guilty - he had been so sure that Kirk would be all right, but they had taken so long to get Sulu out; however, Spock said no word of blame. Then -
"I'll start looking for the Captain while you attend to Mr. Sulu," Spock said quietly.
McCoy opened his mouth to protest at being kept from helping to search, then he realised that Spock was right. He owed his services to Sulu too.
Sulu wasn't badly hurt, however. Out of the enervating heat of the shuttle, he recovered quickly, and in a surprisingly short time was insisting that he was certainly well enough to help look for the Captain. McCoy, worried sick, didn't try to dissuade him, although he knew that had the Enterprise been immediately available he would have insisted on Sulu remaining in bed for the next twenty-four hours. None of them was going to be in very good condition shortly, he reminded himself; they already needed water very badly, and were soon going to be suffering considerably from the lack of it. So the quicker they got on with the search, the better, he thought, then once they found Jim they could begin to think about finding shelter from the killing rays of the sun; and salved his conscience with the thought.
Spock started by circling the area, looking for footprints. At one point he thought he had found some, but the marks petered out within a couple of yards, becoming lost in the general pitting of the ground.
"He can't have got far," said McCoy, joining the Vulcan. "We weren't really long getting Sulu out, and he wasn't in a fit state to move quickly."
"Perhaps not, Doctor, but we may still have considerable difficulty locating him. Not only is the terrain extremely uneven, there are many holes where an unconscious man might lie for days, unseen."
"You think he may be unconscious again?"
"Don't you, Doctor? I think it extremely probable. Although the ground is uneven, we are on the slope of a hill. It should be comparatively easy to pick out a moving yellow shape. Therefore he must be lying down. I do not think he would lie down while he was still conscious, as I imagine he went in search of us."
"But he must have seen the shuttlecraft," McCoy objected.
Spock glanced towards it. Lying against the rock, windblown earth piled up against it, it was difficult to distinguish it as anything but another rock. "Perhaps not, Doctor. Look at it."
McCoy looked over towards it. "Where - " he began. "All right, Spock, I take your point. Let's get started."
They split up. It seemed fairly obvious that Kirk hadn't gone anywhere in the general direction of the shuttle; even almost unrecognisable as it was, if he had gone closer to it, presumably he would have recognised it. McCoy took the area to the right of the shuttle, Spock went to its left, while Sulu took the direction leading away from it.
It wasn't long before Sulu approached the gully. He paused at its edge, looking down at the fading leaves, the withering flowers, noticing as he did that they were less faded than their counterparts on the hillside above. A break in the canopy caught his eye; something heavy crashed through there recently, he thought. But even as he looked, a boulder fell loose from the side of the gully about a hundred yards from him, and fell through the 'branches', leaving a similar break. He half smiled, feeling annoyed with himself for nearly jumping to a conclusion that was obviously wrong. He moved on, along the top of the gully.
Kirk regained consciousness with his head pounding unmercifully. His arm, already sore, felt worse than ever. There were several other aches and pains he hadn't been aware of before, as well. He lay for a few moments, eyes closed, enjoying the relative coolness of his present position, but his anxiety about Spock and McCoy - and to some extent Sulu - forced him to move. He opened his eyes - and was immediately aware of a surge of panic. He could see nothing clearly. He was completely unable to focus on anything, and could see only blurred shapes.
He tried to call out again, but his throat was too dry. He lay still for a minute then, thinking. He remembered his fall, but he had no idea of how far he had fallen; he must, he thought, be lying in a hollow of some kind. And he had to find the others. He could only hope they were all right; if they weren't, he couldn't possibly help them now. But he had to find them...
He scrambled to his feet and moved forward slowly, his hands outstretched, trying to find his way. He stumbled over a root he couldn't see, and fell heavily. He pushed himself upright, and stumbled on, to bump into a 'tree trunk'. It felt rough and unyielding, yet it seemed to move under his hands.
He sprang instinctively backwards, afraid of the unknown, unsure, even, of what it was, trying desperately to see. Was he going blind? Would he ever be able to see clearly again? If not, there was an end to his career. An end to any career he might want to pursue. How could he learn to cope with blindness?
He forced self pity out of his mind and went on, only to bump into another 'tree'. He began to grope his way forward more slowly, feeling carefully in front of himself before he risked moving on, but he couldn't protect himself from all the boulders that were too low for him to feel. He tripped and fell again before he could put out his hands to save himself. This time he lay for a while. It would be so easy to wait here... to sleep... Perhaps when he woke he would find that it had all been a nightmare, find that the shuttle had never crashed...
Kirk woke to feel something gripping his wrist tightly - too tightly to be a friendly grasp. He tried to speak, to call out, forgetting that his throat was too dry to articulate. Only a croak came from him, and the grip remained unaltered. When he tried to pull away, he was held firmly. He felt with his free hand. Something was wrapped round his wrist. There was something sharp pressing, and he realised that it would soon puncture the skin. Something else touched his upper arm where it was gashed, and he put his free hand to that, wondering what it was.
It felt like a plant tendril of some kind; it must be another of them that grasped his wrist. But why? Then with a shudder of revulsion, he realised that the plant must want the liquid of his blood.
He tore at the twining tendril with all his strength, and was barely strong enough to pull it away from him. Aware of a new danger now, he scrambled to his feet. How many of these blood-sucking plants were there? And... where there were blood-sucking plants, there must be animals... at what level of evolution? Were the animals as bloodthirsty - literally - as the plants? Somehow he felt sure that they were. He staggered on. Movement was his only defence against the plants; yet he realised, in fear, that he could easily stumble into the avid tentacles of one... or, as easily, into the teeth - or whatever served as teeth - of some animal.
He fell again, and rolled over several times, coming to rest with a thump that winded him, against a rock... he hoped it was a rock.
He gasped for breath, sure that his whooping attempts to breathe would attract the attention of some creature. After what seemed an eternity, he managed to draw a deep breath. He tried to push himself up again.
Something sticky was holding him down...
He pulled away in panic, and a sharp, tearing pain told him that he had left some skin behind. What was the 'rock' against which he had fallen?
His legs were beginning to ache now from the unaccustomed exertion. Gym exercises didn't keep the walking muscles in trim, no matter how fit they kept you otherwise, he realised. Yet he dared not rest. He might hear the approach of an animal - if animals here in any way resembled those on the many worlds which he knew, which he doubted, but he had no defence against the plants, except movement.
He repeated it over and over, like a litany. Move or die. Move or die...
Spock stared bleakly at the desolate landscape.
The vegetation had all gone now, withered from the 'trees'; the seed pods were splitting explosively, and the seeds bursting from then battered the three men as they searched. McCoy had a nasty bruise where a seed, fired at random at very short range, had hit his face; he was lucky it had missed his eye. The unpleasantness of their surroundings and the discomfort caused by the lack of water and the seeds added to their fear for Kirk; and McCoy was beginning to be uncomfortably aware that they were all, even Spock, getting too sunburned. There was no longer any shelter to be had from the relentless ultra-violet. Had they only known, Kirk, in the gully, was slightly better protected; but for them, there was no shelter, except inside the shuttle, where the heat made it impossible to go. And none of them seriously thought about looking for shelter anyway, with Kirk still missing.
Slowly, Spock rejoined the others, who had met a few minutes previously.
"I do not think we are going to find the Captain until a rescue shuttle arrives," he said, his voice harsh from the dryness of his throat.
"Spock, you're not just giving up until then?" McCoy croaked. "It won't be here for hours yet."
"Not more than three point seven hours, less the time when we were unconscious in the shuttle, Doctor," Spock replied. "But no, we'll continue with the search, even though there are too few of us to search the area thoroughly."
"Mr. Spock," Sulu gasped, "do you think we do have any chance of finding the Captain?"
"There is always a chance, Mr. Sulu... but I must admit, I am not feeling too sanguine about it. The conditions are too inimical, and he is already hurt."
He turned away, and began once more to investigate the ground between the wrecked shuttle and the gully.
When the Galileo arrived less than an hour later, guided to them by readings from the wreckage of the Columbus, Spock immediately initiated an air search, backed up by a sensor search from the Enterprise and a ground search by four of the crew of the Galileo. Spock himself, McCoy and Sulu, all very badly sunburned and dehydrated, went in the shuttle.
It was difficult to drink only a little as the shuttlecraft took off, but Sulu was the only one seriously tempted - both Spock and McCoy knew the dangers of drinking too much too quickly, and resolutely resisted the urge.
The shuttle flew silently over the ground they had searched so laboriously, scanners working and viewscreen operating, but there was nothing. Nothing at all. It seemed that Kirk had vanished from the face of the planet.
Sulu began thinking again, remembering what he had seen in the gully so many hours before.
"Mr. Spock... This may be nothing, but... In the first search, I looked down into that gully over there. Something had fallen through the 'trees'. I didn't think too much about it, because I saw a boulder falling, and I thought it must have been just another boulder - after all, the Captain isn't likely to have walked over the edge of a gully. But there isn't any sign anywhere else. Could he be in the gully?"
Spock glanced at the pilot. "Fly over the gully, Mr. Middleton."
"You should have mentioned that before," McCoy said sharply.
"Mr. Sulu is correct," Spock said imperturbably. "The Captain is unlikely to have walked over the edge of a cliff. But since he is quite obviously nowhere else, we must consider it."
The Galileo flew up the length of the gully, turned and flew back.
"Something!" Middleton exclaimed. The splash of yellow that showed on the viewscreen for a split second was gone again before they could be sure they had seen it.
"Take it as slowly as possible, Mr. Middleton," Spock ordered. The Galileo turned again.
This time they all saw it - a dot of yellow, moving slowly, slowly, through the 'trees' that were getting sparser as the gully climbed higher up the hillside.
"Land as near as you can," Spock said.
The shuttle landed. Spock swung out, McCoy at his heels. "Stay here, Mr. Sulu," McCoy called as he went.
The heat hit them like a furnace after the coolness inside the shuttle. The sun sucked from them the moisture they had obtained in the Galileo - a sun that had hardly changed its position in the sky during the hours they had spent on the planet.
The gully was much shallower here. Spock. paused at the edge of it, and called, "Jim!"
The stumbling figure stopped, looking round. Spock scrambled down, McCoy close behind him. They could see Kirk's lips moving, but the Captain could only croak voicelessly.
Spock caught Kirk, steadying him, and looked at McCoy. "We must risk beaming him up," he said.
McCoy nodded. Kirk was obviously in no condition to try walking further, and it was imperative that they should all get out of the sun as quickly as possible.
"I will go back to the shuttle and send the Enterprise the co-ordinates to pick up the Captain and yourself," Spock said. He lowered Kirk gently to a sitting position. McCoy bent over him as Spock turned to walk away.
There was a medical team standing by in the transporter room when Kirk and McCoy beamed aboard, but McCoy insisted on treating the Captain himself, ignoring his own condition until he had done so. He was barely satisfied that he had done all he could for his semi-conscious senior officer when Spock and Sulu arrived. He turned to tend them, but Nurse Chapel interrupted, her voice adamant.
"You need attention too, Doctor. If you see to yourself, I will attend to Mr. Spock and Mr. Sulu."
"I agree, Doctor," Spock said. "As the Captain is incapacitated, I am in command; and I order you to take remedial action for your own condition."
McCoy glared at him, but he knew Spock was right. The pain from his sunburned skin was becoming almost unbearable. And he was terribly thirsty...
With Spock, Sulu and himself treated for sunburn and dehydration, McCoy turned his attention back to Kirk. The Captain was beginning to stir; he opened his eyes, and looked around. Sudden panic showed in his face.
"Easy, Jim," McCoy said.
"Bones? Where are you?"
"Here, Jim." McCoy bent over him.
"Bones... I can't see... "
Spock moved forward, and caught Kirk's blindly groping hand. "Easy, Captain."
"Spock - are you all right? And Sulu?"
"Yes, Captain." Spock gave no sign that the fierceness of Kirk's grasp on his hand was giving him extreme pain as it pressed the sunburned skin. Kirk himself was less burned because of the slight shelter the gully had afforded him.
"I can't see, Spock," Kirk repeated. "Everything's blurred."
"Doctor?" Spock asked.
McCoy was already busy checking Kirk's eyes. Then he reached for a hypo and injected Kirk. The Captain fought the drug for a moment, then his eyes closed.
"I don't know, Spock. There's no indication of damage, apart from that one bad bruise. It's possibly just the effect of concussion; given rest, his eyes should recover. I'll put a bandage over them for a couple of days, to rest them properly."
It was a long two days, but at last they passed.
"I'll take the bandages off slowly, Jim," McCoy said. He nodded to Nurse Chapel, who dimmed the lights; then he slowly unwound the bandages.
"Open your eyes, Jim. Slowly."
Kirk obeyed. He blinked. The silence seemed to drag on for a long time.
Kirk looked straight at him, and smiled. "What have you been doing to your face, Bones? And you, Spock?"
McCoy chuckled. "Your own isn't much better, Jim, Sunburn."
Kirk grinned. "I wouldn't have thought sunburn was an occupational hazard for a Starfleet officer." He sat up and stretched. "When can I get back on duty, Bones?"