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The U.S.S. Enterprise entered orbit around Auriga 3; Kirk sat in his command chair studying the planet's surface on the main viewing screen. He turned to Mr. Spock, who was at his console analysing data on the planet.
"Analysis, Mr. Spock."
"The planet is class M," Spock said. "I get humanoid life form readings. They seem to be in fairly small groups, no indications of large cities. Civilisation rates about G, similar to that in the United States of America, Earth, in the mid-eighteen hundreds."
Kirk considered the information for a moment. "Spock, do you think we can conduct our survey without coming into contact with the planet's inhabitants?"
"It should be possible to do so, Captain. The planet's surface is not very densely populated."
Kirk nodded and turned to Uhura.
"Lt. Uhura, contact Dr. McCoy and that new man - Ensign Freeman. Tell them both to report to the Transporter Room in ten minutes for landing party duty. Tell Mr. Scott to report to the bridge immediately."
"Aye, aye, sir." Uhura acknowledged the order and set about obeying it. Kirk got up and made his way over to Spock.
"Spock, do we have any information on this planet?"
"No, sir, we are the first ship to enter this solar system. There are no records of any other ship having been in this area."
"As I thought. In that case the Prime Directive is in full force." Kirk stopped speaking and turned, having heard the elevator doors. Scott entered the bridge and joined Kirk and Spock.
"Ah, Scotty," Kirk said, smiling at his engineer. "Spock and I are taking a landing party down to the planet's surface. While we're away I want you to take the Enterprise and survey this planet's two moons. We're due at Starbase 11 in two weeks and I'd rather not be late. This will save us a couple of days." Seeing a query on Spock's face he asked, "What is it, Spock?"
"It will mean that we will be beyond communicator range of the ship, sir."
"We'll take an emergency beacon with us. Scotty, if you pick up a signal from it head straight back and contact us. If you don't hear from us, we'll contact you in forty-eight hours - be back by then. You have the con, Scotty."
"Aye, aye, sir."
"C'mon, Mr. Chekov. You can join the landing party."
"Yes, sir." Chekov was elated at the thought of a change from routine duties. He left his station and entered the turbo-lift with Kirk and Spock. Scott signalled another crewman to take over the navigation console.
* * * * * * * *
Kirk entered the transporter room to find the rest of the landing party waiting for him, already equipped. Spock and Chekov had tricorders, McCoy had his medical tricorder and emergency medical kit, Ensign Freeman carried a couple of packs of food rations. Knowing that Spock would have made sure they had everything necessary, Kirk picked up the emergency beacon that was sitting by the console and spoke to the transporter chief.
"Prepare to beam us down, Mr. Kyle."
"Aye, sir," Kyle replied and set the controls. The landing party entered the transporter chamber and when everyone was in position, Kirk gave the order.
The transporter chief operated the controls and the landing party shimmered and dematerialised.
* * * * * * * *
The group materialised near the bank of a fast-flowing river. It was hilly, barren country and some of the hills sloped right down to the edge of the river. The sides of the hills were strewn with rocks of all sizes.
After having a quick look round, Kirk took out his communicator and flipped it open. "Kirk to Enterprise. Kirk to Enterprise."
"Enterprise. Scott here, sir."
"We've beamed down safely, Scotty. We'll rendezvous with you in forty-eight hours. Contact us as soon as you return."
"Aye, sir. Good luck. Scott out."
Kirk put away his tricorder and went over to Spock, who was taking tricorder readings. "Are you picking up anything, Spock?" he asked.
"There is a village about three miles away, across the river, but I do not pick up any signs of humanoids closer to us than that."
"Good, with any luck they won't come to the river. Keep a check on readings, though, just in case."
Kirk crossed to Chekov and Freeman and told them to go up the hillside and see what they could find. He cautioned them, saying, "Be careful where you are walking. Some of those rocks look loose."
They acknowledged and set off up the hill. Kirk walked along the river bank to where McCoy was standing, his medical kit and all their supplies sitting on a rock next to him. The hill sloped steeply up behind him. McCoy smiled at Kirk.
"This place isn't bad, is it, Jim. It's nice to see the blue sky and hear the sound of the river."
"Are you feeling homesick, Bones?"
"Not exactly, but it's nice to be off the ship for a while. It's a shame we couldn't send the whole crew down; we've had a rough time of it lately and they could do with a rest."
"We'll be at Starbase 11 in a couple of weeks. The crew will get shore leave there. They certainly deserve it."
"Well, I suggest you try to relax while we're here, Jim. You're looking all in."
"Don't worry so much, Bones. I'll relax with the crew on Starbase 11," Kirk replied cheerfully, but he thought that McCoy was more right than he knew. They had had a hard time lately and he was feeling all in. He was looking forward to that shore leave very much.
* * * * * * * *
While Kirk and McCoy were talking, Chekov and Freeman were climbing the hillside behind them. Freeman was being a bit reckless and Chekov spoke to him about it.
"You'd better be careful, Freeman. You'll trip over some of those rocks."
"Don't worry about me. I used to play on hills like these as a kid. Just watch me!"
With that he ran across the hillside. He was passing directly behind Kirk and McCoy when his foot turned on a stone and he fell flat. The stone rolled down the hillside, taking more and more with it, starting a landslide.
Down below, his senior officers heard the rumble above their conversation; they looked round but were too late to run to safety. They were both knocked from their feet by rocks; the supplies and McCoy's medical kit were knocked into the river and carried away downstream.
McCoy struggled to his feet, feeling the pain from several bruises. Automatically he began to check the gear and found, to his dismay, that the supplies and his kit were gone, and his medical tricorder smashed. He turned angrily to Kirk.
"Jim, what the devil... Jim!"
Kirk was lying still, face down on the ground. McCoy ran to him.
"Jim!" he called anxiously, but Kirk didn't stir. McCoy quickly bent down beside him and felt for his pulse. To his relief he found it, weak but steady. He gently turned Kirk over and found that he was bleeding from a nasty cut on the side of his head.
Just then Spock appeared and hurried over to them. "I heard rocks falling, Doctor. What happened?"
"Something started a landslide. We were caught in its path."
Spock looked at Kirk and saw the cut. "How is he, Doctor?"
"He seems to be just knocked out. I can't check him properly because my tricorder is smashed, my medical kit - and the supplies - have gone. I think they must have been swept away by the river. To be on the safe side, I think you'd better activate that beacon and bring the Enterprise back."
"I can't, Doctor. It was with the supplies. Look after the Captain as best you can - I'll send Chekov and Freeman to see if they can find any food and shelter."
McCoy nodded worriedly and Spock went off. McCoy took off his undergarment and tore a strip off it. He wet the strip in the river and then, making it into a pad, bathed Kirk's head.
* * * * * * * *
Kirk came to slowly. His head was aching viciously and for a moment he didn't know where he was. He struggled to sit up and felt himself being gently pushed back.
"Easy, Jim. Just lie quiet for a few minutes." It was McCoy's voice.
Kirk obeyed - he hadn't the strength to do otherwise. Recollection flooded back to him and he remembered the landslide. He tried to open his eyes, then shut them quickly as the glare of light sent a searing pain through his head.
McCoy, seeing the grimace of pain on Kirk's face, wished he had his medical kit so that he could do something to help. Still, he hadn't, so he would have to do the best he could with what he had. He took hold of Kirk's wrist, feeling for his pulse. It was still rather weak and McCoy wasn't happy. How he wished that he had his medical tricorder so that he could examine Kirk properly. That was the disadvantage of using machines for everything, you began to rely on them.
Kirk tried opening his eyes again, being careful to do it very slowly this time. It was quite a fight and he screwed up his face against the pain. Eventually he managed it and after a few seconds his vision cleared and he looked up into the concerned face of Dr. McCoy. Kirk tried to speak.
"Just keep still, Jim."
"I'm all right, Bones, I..."
Kirk tried to sit up. Suddenly his stomach turned and he rolled over and was violently sick. When the spasm passed he sank back to the ground exhausted, his head pounding. McCoy went to the river and wet the cloth; he then went back to Kirk and wiped his face.
Feeling the damp cloth on his face, Kirk opened his eyes. McCoy smiled down at him. "Now maybe you'll do as you're told and lie still."
"What happened, Bones?"
McCoy told him about the landslide and how the supplies were all lost. Kirk frowned. Just then Spock came running up. He was pleased to see Kirk conscious, but hid it.
"Captain, there is a group of humanoids heading this way. If we are going to remain out of their sight we will have to move inland."
"Where are Chekov and Freeman?" Kirk asked.
"They are scouting around to see if they can find some food."
"Get them back here, quick."
"Yes, sir." Spock took out his communicator and flipped it open. "Chekov, this is Spock. Come in."
"Chekov here, sir."
"Have you found anything?"
"Not yet, sir."
"Then report back here immediately, with Mr. Freeman."
"On our way, sir."
Spock put the communicator away and looked at McCoy. "Is the Captain fit to travel, Doctor?"
"No, he isn't, Spock. Can we hang on here for another couple of hours to give him a chance to recover?"
"Sorry, Doctor, the aliens will be here within half an hour..."
"We've got to get out of here, Bones," Kirk interrupted. "Don't worry, I'll be O.K. Give me a hand up."
Both Spock and McCoy helped Kirk to his feet, where he stood swaying. If they had let go he would have fallen down. They helped him over to a rock and made him sit on it. The exertion had increased the pounding in Kirk's head and his stomach was churning. He gritted his teeth, fighting it down and trying to hide his discomfort, but he was not fooling them. They stood beside him, supporting him, till he began to recover. McCoy frowned at Spock.
"It's no use, Spock, this isn't going to work. Jim just can't walk."
The pounding in Kirk's head was beginning to ease and his stomach was settling. "I'll be all right, Bones," he whispered. It was a lie, of course, but he wasn't going to risk the others getting caught just because of his weakness.
"Sure you will. Just getting to your feet was almost too much for you. You might as well face the fact that you're as weak as a kitten and in no condition to go anywhere."
"Bones, we've got to move inland. We can't take the chance of those humanoids seeing us. Starfleet orders are quite specific on that point. We would be in direct violation of the Prime Directive."
"The Captain is quite right, Doctor," agreed Spock. "We cannot stay here. These are primitive people and primitive people tend to fear strangers. It is quite possible that they would attack us and we cannot use the phasers to defend ourselves. We must got out of sight. Here are Chekov and Freeman."
The junior officers came running up to them, slightly out of breath. Freeman saw Kirk sitting on the rock looking very pale and ill. He noticed the long gash on the side of Kirk's head and felt uneasy, guilty. He knew that all this was his fault but he didn't know what to say. He hung back and let Chekov do the talking.
"Sir, we've just seen a party of aliens heading this way. We were careful that they didn't see us, but they'll be here in about ten minutes."
"That settles it, Bones," Kirk said as firmly as he could manage. "We've got to leave."
He stood up and took a step forward. Spock was there to catch him as he fell. He gently laid his Captain on the ground. McCoy bent down and took Kirk's pulse; he frowned and pulled back Kirk's eyelid than turned to Spock.
"It's no use, he's out cold again."
Spock stood deep in thought for a moment, then he bent down and picked Kirk up in his arms. "Let's get out of here," he said.
Carrying Kirk's limp body, Spock started walking away from the river; the others followed. Chekov took continuous tricorder readings to make sure that they were not being followed or heading towards any more aliens.
* * * * * * * *
As they headed away from the river they were surrounded by barren, rocky hills with no sign of greenery. The going underfoot was very rough. After they'd walked for about an hour, Spock came to a halt and carefully laid Kirk on the ground. The Captain was beginning to stir and to moan. McCoy was quickly at his side. He took Kirk's wrist and felt his pulse; he found it still weak and rather rapid. Standing up, he indicated to Spock that he wanted to speak with him. Spock acknowledged with a nod and turned to Chekov.
"Mr. Chekov, take Freeman and have a scout round. Don't go too far."
As Chekov and Freeman left, Spock went over to McCoy. "How is he, Doctor?"
"He's beginning to come round. Can we stay here a while to give him a chance to rest? That was a bad blow he had and he's suffering from concussion and slight shock. He needs rest."
"We will stay here till nightfall and then head back to the river. We require water and have nothing to carry it in. The humanoids are unlikely to be abroad at night."
"Isn't there a chance that there might be water nearer here?"
"An unlikely probability in view of the barrenness of the landscape."
Consciousness was returning to Kirk and he gradually became aware of the voices of Spock and McCoy. He turned his head towards the sound and slowly opened his eyes, trying to focus on the men standing near him. The movement forced an involuntary groan out of him, and his head resumed its pounding. McCoy, hearing the sound, came quickly to him and knelt at his side.
"I know, I must lie still," Kirk cut in, managing a small smile.
"Yes, you must, and be sure you do. How do you feel?"
"Better, Bones. I just wish my head would stop beating like a drum. For once I wish you had some of those green pills on you."
"I'll remind you of that next time you complain about them. Try and get some sleep and the pain should ease off."
"Easier said than done."
"Well, just lie there. Close your eyes and try to relax."
Kirk did as he was told and he soon drifted off to sleep. McCoy, who had been watching him, saw his even breathing and was satisfied.
* * * * * * * *
Kirk woke up a few hours later feeling slightly better; at least the pounding in his head had receded to a dull ache. He looked round at the barren landscape and saw McCoy and Spock in the distance, standing with their backs to him. He decided to join them. He eased himself into a sitting position, wincing in pain. Raising his hand to the source, he gently felt the long gash on the side of his head. It was decidedly tender. He sat still for a minute until the pain eased off and then pulled himself to his feet with the aid of a large boulder.
Once on his feet he was overcome by an attack of dizziness and leaned on the rock, shaking. Kirk was beginning to wonder if this was a good idea, but he didn't want to be a handicap to the others. He must prove to them that he was all right now.
After a few moments the dizziness eased and he was able to stand unsupported. He made his way slowly and unsteadily to where McCoy and Spock were standing. He felt weak and dizzy but he was determined to make it.
McCoy heard the footsteps and turned, horrified to see Kirk on his feet. He took the Captain's arm and guided him to a rock, where Kirk sat down, thankful for the rest.
McCoy was angry. "What the devil do you think you're doing?"
"I felt better, Bones."
"Well, if you don't take it easy, you won't be feeling better much longer. How's the head?"
"Not too bad, it just aches a bit," Kirk said, deciding to change the subject. "Spock, what is the situation at the moment?"
"My tricorder readings indicate that the aliens have left the river and returned to the village. Since we have no water I suggest we make our way back to the river when darkness falls."
"Have you found any food?"
"Negative, sir. There seems to be no vegetation or animal life on this side of the river. The natives seem to get their food from the other side of the river where the land is more fertile."
"How long have we got till the Enterprise is due back?"
"Thirty six point nine hours, sir."
"Well, I guess we'll have to do without food till then. I don't want to risk crossing the river and running into any of the aliens. That shouldn't be any problem, should it, Bones?"
"No, we can go for quite a while without food, so long as we've got a good supply of water."
Kirk nodded, regretted the motion, then turned to Spock. "Contact Chekov and Freeman and tell them to report back here, Spock. As soon as it is dark we'll head for the river."
Spock took out his communicator, flipped it open and contacted Chekov. Meanwhile, McCoy took charge of Kirk.
"Come on and sit under the shade of this rock, you'll be more comfortable. Get some more rest till it's time to go."
Kirk allowed McCoy to lead him to the rock; he hadn't the strength to argue. He sat in the shade and leaned back against the rock, thankful for somewhere to rest his aching head. Eventually he closed his eyes and was soon asleep.
* * * * * * * *
When Kirk woke again it was getting dark. He felt very thirsty. He sat up and winced as his head resumed its aching - would it never stop?
McCoy had seen him move and came over to him. "How do you feel now, Jim?"
"I'm fine, Bones. Where's Spock?"
"He's just checking with his tricorder to make sure there's no-one close. Are you sure you feel fit enough to walk back to the river? It's pretty rough going."
"Don't worry so much, Bones. I'm fine."
Spock arrived with Chekov and Freeman. He came straight to Kirk. "There is no-one within a three mile radius, sir."
"All right, Spock. It's time we got on our way."
Kirk got to his feet carefully, aware that all eyes were on him. He had to stand still for a moment, fighting down waves of dizziness and nausea. He kept a straight face, determined not to let the others see how weak he was. This time, with the help of the darkness, he was successful, although McCoy wasn't completely convinced. After a few moments Kirk felt slightly better and called to Spock.
"Which way, Spock?"
"This way, Captain. If you prefer, I'll lead the way."
Spock led the way slowly back towards the river. He deliberately walked slowly for Kirk's sake, but even at this pace the Captain was finding the going rather rough. He was getting used to the continuous ache in his head but the dizziness was hard to cope with. He couldn't understand why it was getting so warm. On most planets the temperature dropped at night, but here it seemed to be getting warmer. He began to feel the sweat running down his back. He forced himself to concentrate on just putting one foot in front of the other.
After what seemed an interminable time to Kirk, Spock stopped. "The river is just ahead of us, Captain."
Kirk's throat was too dry for him to answer; he just felt his way to the river bank, knelt down and took a long drink of the ice cold water. After he had drunk his fill he could not resist ducking his head into the river; the cold water felt so cooling on his hot, sweaty face and it eased his aching head. He held his head under as long as he could and then took another long drink. After this he felt a little fresher and climbed unsteadily to his fact. He could just make out McCoy's form approaching him out of the darkness.
"What do we do now, Jim?" McCoy asked.
Although Kirk felt slightly better he didn't think he could walk any further. It was all he could do now to stand on his feet.
"We'll stay close to the river and try to get some sleep. We can take turns at keeping watch. If the natives decide to come back we'll move inland tomorrow, if not we'll stay here. We want to be here when the Enterprise returns. We'd better work out a watch rota, Spock."
"You're not to stand a watch, Jim," McCoy intervened. "You need all the sleep you can get."
"Agreed, Doctor," said Spock before Kirk could get a word in. "Four of us will be enough to stand watches, you can take the last one."
"That's fine with me, Spock. I think there's a place close to these rocks where we might be comfortable enough to get some sleep. Are you coming, Jim?"
Kirk went with McCoy over to the rocks, leaving Spock to arrange the night watches. He found a clear space on the ground were he was able to lie down and at least be partially comfortable. By the time McCoy came over to him he was asleep, so McCoy left him in peace.
Kirk woke up some time later shivering with the cold and with his head aching intolerably. He rolled himself into a ball trying to get warm, but it was no use. He couldn't stop shaking. He tried to get back to sleep but his head throbbed and he ached all over. The right passed slowly and he began to wonder if morning would ever come. He was vaguely aware of Spock's voice as the Vulcan woke McCoy to stand his watch.
McCoy woke as soon as he was called. It was still dark and wouldn't be light for a couple of hours yet. Spock lay down after telling McCoy to waken everyone as soon as it began to get light.
McCoy sat on a rock for a while, trying to make out detail in the blackness. He felt uneasy; something was wrong. Suddenly he heard a moan and quickly going to the source of the sound he found Kirk, shivering and huddled on the ground, McCoy knelt beside him and laid a hand on Kirk's brow. It was burning hot.
Kirk, feeling the Doctor's touch, opened his eyes, trying to make out the form. in the inky blackness.
"Bon-es..." he croaked.
"Take it easy, Jim," McCoy said gently. "Don't try to speak." McCoy felt for his pulse.
"So ... so ... cold," Kirk stuttered and then broke into a spasm of coughing. It passed quickly but left him gasping with pain and holding his chest. He shivered uncontrollably.
Spock, wakened by the sound of Kirk's coughing, joined McCoy. He didn't need to ask what was wrong, he could see for himself.
"Spock, we've got to find a way to keep Jim warm. But we've got nothing to cover him with," McCoy said, trying to think of an answer. He suddenly had an idea. "Give me a hand to get those wet clothes off him."
Together they took off Kirk's clothes, which had been soaked by his sweat. McCoy then took off his own clothes and they put them on Kirk. He called Chekov and told him to lie down beside the Captain and hold him close; he then lay down on the other side and they tried to keep Kirk warm with the heat of their bodies.
Meanwhile, Spock and Freeman crossed the river at a narrow spot and made their way to the village that Spock had picked up on his tricorder. They sneaked in and managed to grab some blankets. They took as many as they could carry and hurried back to the river. They just made it as the sun came up.
McCoy heard them coming and got to his feet. Seeing the blankets, he and Chekov again stripped off the Captain's clothing, once more soaked with his sweat. The warmth of their bodies had helped, but Kirk was in a bad way. The coughing spells had become frequent, and he was finding breathing painful and difficult. He was still shivering and the sweat poured off him; he was burning with fever.
They quickly wrapped him in blankets and made him as comfortable as possible. Freeman had found a crude cup so McCoy filled it with water and gave Kirk a drink. Kirk took a couple of mouthfuls but then gagged on it and broke into a spasm of coughing. It was a severe one and he was in great pain. McCoy put an arm under his shoulders and lifted him slightly, trying to help.
"Easy, Jim." Meaningless words, the Doctor knew even as he spoke them. But he was helpless to do anything but try and calm his friend.
Gradually the spasm passed; exhausted by it, and wracked with pain, Kirk lay back on McCoy's arm, his face white against the rough homespun blanket. Gently the Doctor eased him to the ground again, tucking the blanket around him, then straightened up.
A chilly wind had sprung up and ominous dark clouds were hurrying across the sky. McCoy felt a sudden spot of rain on his cheek and glanced anxiously at his patient. Despite the blankets, Kirk was shuddering as if with cold; and from time to time a faint moan escaped him. He was clearly only semi-conscious now.
"Spock," the Doctor said in an undertone, as if afraid that Kirk might overhear him. "It won't do. We've got to find a shelter for him somehow - you can see that for yourself."
"Agreed, Doctor." Spock's expression was as near concern as was possible for him. "But this empty hillside does not look promising. There is insufficient vegetation even to cover the Captain adequately."
Chekov, discreetly not listening, was busy drawing the blankets closer around the Captain; they had been disturbed by Kirk's feverish movements and the light drizzle was beginning to sprinkle his head and shoulders. But Freeman, aware of his own partial responsibility for the Captain's condition, had been listening anxiously and now broke in.
"Mr. Spock! Sir! That ruined hut we passed at the edge of the village, couldn't we take the Captain there? It looked as if nobody ever uses it now."
"Thank you, Ensign." Spock's tone was a dismissal and Freeman retreated to help Chekov. The rain was coming down heavily now and a wind had sprung up; it was blowing the rain across the landscape in sheets. Chekov and Freeman sat with their backs to the wind, trying to shelter Kirk as best they could from the driving rain.
The First Officer moved away, going towards the river, tricorder swinging thoughtfully. McCoy followed him urgently.
"Well, Spock, what about it?"
"The village is three miles from here and the risk of encountering the natives is very great; the non-interference directive, as you know... "
McCoy opened his mouth to say, "Blast the non-interference directive!" but changed his mind. They were all bound by their oaths to uphold it, and cursing it wouldn't help. Instead he said, with as much calmness as he could, "It's Jim's life we're talking about, Spock. Another day out here, without food, warmth or shelter from this rain will kill him. He won't stand a chance."
Spock had been staring at his tricorder screen as if the answers were written there, but at this unaccustomed quietness in the Doctor's tone he lifted his head and glanced back towards the others. Kirk was lying huddled in blankets on the wet ground; Chekov and Freeman were sitting anxiously beside him, trying to shelter him a bit. Spock moved back towards them, with McCoy at his heels.
"Mr. Freeman - take your tricorder and scout ahead of us to the point where we crossed the river this morning. Mr. Chekov, give me a hand with the Captain."
McCoy let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding and hurried forward to help.
The rain was coming down even harder now and the going underfoot was treacherous. Spock was handicapped, carrying the unconscious Captain in his arms; it took them a while to reach the crossing place.
Freeman was waiting for them when they arrived, a worried look on his face. The river had risen since they'd last crossed, and it was flowing very fast. Crossing it wasn't going to be easy.
"Well, Spock, what do we do?" McCoy asked rather dejectedly.
Spock thought for a moment and then answered. "You say that the Captain will die if we don't get him to a shelter. It will not be easy getting across this river - but there is shelter on the other side. Logically, then, if we are not going to let Jim die, we must get across the river."
McCoy glanced sharply at the Vulcan. Spock's use of the Captain's first name indicated his worry and concern far more than his impassive face ever could. McCoy understood how close Kirk and Spock were, that very special relationship that they had between them - he probably understood it even better than they did. It wasn't a relationship you could describe with mere words, there was an empathy between them; they were like two twins, but even closer.
Spock decided that the safest way to get Kirk across the river was for him to carry the Captain across on his shoulders. They wrapped Kirk tightly in a blanket to try and keep him dry and Chekov helped Spock to hoist him onto his shoulders.
They started to wade across the raging river, Freeman taking the lead followed by Spock with Kirk, McCoy and Chekov bringing up the rear. They were nearing the other side when McCoy looked upstream and was horrified to see a tree being swept down straight towards Spock. He yelled a warning, but it was too late. Spock was knocked from his feet and he and Kirk were carried off down the river. Spock managed to grab hold of Kirk and started swimming strongly towards the shore. Eventually he got close to the bank and managed to grab an overhanging branch.
The sudden immersion into the cold water brought Kirk back to consciousness. He found himself choking and struggling, trying to get his head above water, but he couldn't get his arms free. They seemed to be tied to his sides. Not understanding what was happening he panicked, swallowing even more water. Suddenly he felt himself grabbed and pulled up till his head was clear of the water. He couldn't make out who had grabbed him but he dimly realised they were in a river and making for the bank. After a while they stopped moving and Kirk realised that they must have reached the bank. He felt the water sweeping past him, trying to drag him out of the grip of his rescuer. Kirk started to struggle again, trying to free his arms, but all he succeeded in doing was to swallow more water. He choked on it and broke into a fit of coughing, fighting for breath. The pain across his chest was like a band of fire. Suddenly he heard a familiar voice speaking to him.
"Don't struggle, Jim. Help will be here soon."
Realising that it was Spock who held him, Kirk tried to relax. The fit of coughing passed and he lay in the water as still as he could, trusting in Spock completely.
McCoy had watched terrified as Spock and Kirk were swept down the river and out of sight round a bend. He got ashore as quickly as he could and with Chekov and Freeman he headed along the bank of the river, fearing the worst. They had almost given up hope when, ahead of them, they saw Spock holding onto a branch with one hand and hanging onto Kirk with the other. They ran to the edge of the river bank, McCoy shouting to Spock to let him know they were coming.
Kirk had lost track of time. The cold was creeping over him like a thick blanket and he was letting it do so. He knew that he should try to fight it but he hadn't the strength left. The warm darkness was enveloping him, a welcome release from the pain. Just before he lost consciousness, Kirk thought he heard McCoy's voice. Freeman and Chekov managed to reach Spock and pull him nearer the shore, then they got hold of Kirk and dragged him up onto the bank. They then helped Spock out of the water and Freeman handed him a blanket. Spock was grateful for it as he was shivering from the cold and wet.
McCoy quickly checked Kirk and realised that the Captain was barely breathing. He immediately started to give him artificial respiration. For a while there was no reaction, then Kirk started choking and coughed up a fair amount of water. McCoy picked up a blanket and began to rub Kirk down and to massage him, trying to restore his circulation. Eventually Kirk began to stir. He slowly opened his eyes and looked up at McCoy, trying to get him in focus.
McCoy smiled down at him. "Welcome back to the land of the living, Jim." McCoy hoped he sounded more cheerful than he felt.
Kirk struggled to speak but broke into another spasm of coughing, the pain slicing like a knife through his chest. When the bout of coughing passed he was totally exhausted by it and slipped back into the welcome escape of unconsciousness.
McCoy frowned and wrapped Kirk in the blankets, which were rather wet now. Then he went over to Spock. "How are you feeling, Spock?"
"I've felt warmer, Doctor. I suggest we start making our way to the hut and get the Captain in out of this rain."
McCoy agreed with this completely, so they started out towards the village. Chekov and Freeman carried Kirk between them this time, and Spock led the way, a blanket round his shoulders. McCoy brought up the rear. They had a good way to go as they had to make their way back up the river first, and it was mid-afternoon by the time they reached the hut. It was still raining hard and the wind was very strong.
Making sure that the hut was still empty, Chekov and Freeman carried Kirk into it and laid him gently on the floor. The trampled straw underfoot and the smell suggested that it had served as some sort of byre, but it was at least fairly wind and water proof inside. Their greatest worry, that of being overheard, was quieted to some extent; the nearest house was some distance away, and the strong wind was blowing towards them, drowning the sound of the Captain's fevered mutterings even inside the hut.
McCoy, assisted by Chekov, again stripped off the Captain's shirt and the rest of his clothes as they were all soaking wet. McCoy had managed to keep a couple of the blankets dry by wrapping them in another one, so he wrapped these around Kirk.
Despite the protection of the blankets and the woven hut walls, Kirk was shivering with cold and fever. His breathing came in racking gasps interspersed with painfully dry coughing, his face flushed with the effort.
The Doctor, checking his pulse once more, was concerned to find it very weak and irregular. Looking up, his eyes met Spock's in the gloom, and he shook his head slightly.
"He needs warmth, liquids, drugs - everything we can't give him here. There's nothing more I can do for him without proper medical facilities."
"We can get water from the river again," suggested Spock.
"That's not - " McCoy began, but broke off, startled, as the grey light from the doorway was suddenly blocked off. He and Freeman just had time to drag Kirk clear before the hut was invaded by two huge shaggy beasts, built something on the lines of Highland cattle, but standing almost six feet at the shoulder. Heads swinging, eyes rolling in mild astonishment at finding the shelter already occupied, they advanced into the centre of the open space and stood, their breath warming the chilly air. Evidently satisfied, they subsided with heavy grunts to the ground, their damp, shaggy black coats flapping around them.
"That's great," muttered McCoy, though not so loudly as to alarm them - he just didn't know their temper and wasn't wanting to take chances. "And just where are we supposed to sit?" For much of the floor-space was now filled by the sprawling creatures, and most of the rest by Kirk.
"What... what are they?" asked Chekov stupidly; he still hadn't recovered from the shock of their sudden appearance
"Domestic animals, almost certainly..." Spock began, but he was interrupted by a small voice.
"Simba and Bonni," the small voice cut in.
Startled, their heads whipped round towards the doorway. Framed in it against the grey light was a humanoid - a child, judging by Earth standards. A little girl, perhaps three years old, with long black hair.
"Who are you? Why are you here? Are you bad men?" It was a child, evidently - but how unafraid she was! McCoy took it upon himself to answer.
"We're strangers. From a distant place. We're just sheltering here from the rain. We mean no harm to your people."
Did she understand? Above all, she mustn't be frightened into calling for help. Curiosity and suspicion were in her face as she stood poised for flight. McCoy went on desperately. "We're good people, not bad men! And our Captain is hurt..."
Spock glanced at him; if the child reported this information there could be trouble ahead.
"Captain?" she asked in a puzzled voice. The word was clearly unfamiliar to her.
"Our - leader, Chieftain," supplied Chekov helpfully.
"Him," said the girl excitedly, pointing to Spock.
"No," replied Spock gravely. "This is our Leader." He drew aside to show her Kirk, huddled in his blankets on the floor.
The girl came closer, picking her way among the feet of the beasts, obviously unconcerned by their presence.
"He is - sick? My mother was sick last Spring. We gave her lana' cala. She is well now."
"Lana' cala?" queried Spock.
"You know," she said, with an impatient stamp. "From the garanas." The faces around her were still puzzled. "Like these. Simba and Bonni. Bonni has lana' cala still, because she has a baby, but Simba does not have any."
"Milk!" exclaimed McCoy, the light suddenly breaking. Then, with growing excitement, "Can you... er... how do you get lana' cala? May we have some?" But the child had lost interest and was looking at Kirk now.
"He does not have the right ears, but his hair is a funny colour - like gold. Is that why he is your King?"
"Never mind that now," said McCoy impatiently. "The lana' cala. Have you seen anyone getting it from the garanas? How is it done?"
The child merely looked bewildered and a little frightened at the Doctor's abrupt tone.
"I don't understand," she said, backing away slightly.
"Maybe I could try," volunteered Freeman diffidently. "If it's anything like milking a cow - I was raised on a farm and I used to be a good hand at it."
At Spock's nod he cautiously approached the nearest beast, clutching the cup in one hand. With a snuffle it rose to its feet and stood blowing gently, eyeing his advances dubiously. Freeman ran his empty hand along its side, but it started nervously from his touch.
"Watch out for its feet," warned Chekov. "The Captain's not far away from it."
"What are you doing?" asked the child, puzzled.
"We need lana' cala - for the King," explained Spock.
"Oh, that. Give me the cup and I will show you. My father taught me," said the child proudly, and took the cup from Freeman's eager hand. As she ducked down beside the huge beast for a few moments her voice was muffled.
"Haven't you got any garanas?" she asked. Then straightening, she held out the cup. "Here you are." It was brimming with lana' cala - warm, new milk.
Carefully, McCoy took it from her, fearful of spilling any, and carried it across to Kirk. With Chekov's help, he propped the Captain up, steadying him against one arm and holding the cup close to his lips.
Kirk opened glazed eyes, looking vaguely at the cup.
"Wha...?" he croaked. "Lana' cala. Try it - Doctor's orders."
Wearily, Kirk closed his eyes again. Understanding was too much effort.
"Jim!" The voice persisted. A smell, vaguely familiar, was coming to him now, and the rim of a cup was pressing against his lips, tilting - not water again, this was warm. Reluctantly he sipped, then sipped again as the soothing warm milk reached his parched mouth and dry throat. He tried to gulp it and choked, coughing violently. McCoy drew the cup back and waited, concerned, till the fit of coughing passed. Then he brought the cup to Kirk's lips again.
"Take it slowly, Jim. Slowly - that's the way."
The cup was emptied, filled again by the wondering child, then drained once more. Satisfied, Kirk sank back against McCoy's arm.
"Wish all your remedies were more like that, Bones," he whispered, hoarsely, managing a glimmer of a smile. "That was... " The sentence finished in a sigh. The Captain was asleep.
McCoy lowered him gently to the ground, made him comfortable, and then stood up. "Thank you, Miss...?"
"My name is Ara."
"Thank you, Ara. You have helped him get well. We are very grateful."
"Yes, he will be well soon. Like my mother." As if this was a reminder, Ara wandered towards the door. "It has stopped raining. I shall go home and tell her... "
"Why don't you stay here a while and talk to us?" intervened McCoy hastily. "We'd like to hear about your family."
Freeman approached the little girl. "Could you show me how to get the lana' cala from Bonni?"
"Yes," said Ara proudly. "Watch how I do it."
Freeman watched carefully and then had a go himself. Since he was used to milking a cow he soon got the knack. He tried a cup and found it very pleasant and warming, so he offered it around to the others. They were all feeling the cold and the milk warmed them up.
The afternoon wore away. Ara, alternately chattering about herself, her family and her pets, and listening to the stories spun by her new friends, seemed happy enough, but for the Enterprise party it seemed to last an eternity. Every sound outside seemed to be the approach of one of the humanoids from the village and imminent discovery. And there was the problem of Ara - how long before she was missed? Dared they let her go back and lead others to them? Even if she promised to say nothing, there was little hope they could depend on her, she was so young. But what alternative was there?
McCoy chewed these ideas over as he sat beside Kirk, holding a damp cloth on Kirk's hot forehead. Kirk was delirious and muttering unintelligibly. Sweat was dripping off him. McCoy asked Freeman to get another cup of milk and he then tried to get Kirk to drink some of it. Supporting the Captain he held the cup to his lips.
"Jim, try some more milk."
Kirk was only semi-conscious but when he smelt the warm milk he instinctively sipped it. McCoy made sure he didn't take it too fast. When the cup was empty McCoy gently laid Kirk down and pulled the blankets up closer round him. He frowned as he looked down at his friend, wishing there was more he could do. Then he resumed his seat beside the Captain, and placed the damp cloth on his forehead; he looked over at Ara.
Spock had her on his knee at the moment, telling her some tale of Vulcan's legendary past, carefully adapted for his present audience. Ara sat rapt, asking questions, darting from idea to idea, trying to guess how the story would end. In spite of his worry, McCoy couldn't help smiling at the sight of Spock in this unusual role, almost relaxed for once, evidently living his own childhood again. The words couldn't be heard over here on the other side of the hut, for the wind was still blowing strongly, but McCoy's smile spread to a grin as he saw Chekov leaning closer, anxious not to miss anything. The story wound to its conclusion and Spock sat silent, Ara's head against his shoulder. In the sudden hush, Chekov's voice came clearly.
"But what happened to... ?"
With a wave, Spock quietened him, indicating the child in his lap. Ara was asleep.
Carefully, so as not to waken her, Spock passed her across to Freeman and rose, stretching himself, then joined McCoy.
McCoy looked sideways at him, and said banteringly, "Vulcan lost a good nursemaid when you joined Starfleet, Spock." But Spock chose to ignore this one.
"How is the Captain, Doctor?"
McCoy's face lost its grin and he became suddenly serious. "His fever's coming to a peak. We'll know one way or the other soon, Spock."
Spock looked down at Kirk's fever flushed face. Only he knew what thoughts were going through his mind; McCoy could read nothing on that poker straight face.
Suddenly, they were both startled by a distant voice shouting.
"Ara! Ara! "
Ara woke abruptly, looked round in sleepy bewilderment, smiled up at Freeman, then padded across to Spock and the others.
"I must go. Thank you for the story, sir," she said politely, as if making her goodbyes at a party. She looked down at the unconscious Captain. "Your King will soon be well. The lana' cala will cure him, as it did my mother."
"Thank you, Ara," said McCoy. "Would you do something else for us?"
"Would you not tell about us being here for a while? Of course," he added hastily, seeing her eyes widening, "you shouldn't tell lies if they ask you, but if they don't ask you..."
"Oh, they won't," said the child confidently. "They never do."
"Thank you, Ara. Good night."
"Goodnight, sir." A pause, then as she looked down at Kirk again, "His ears aren't like his," she said, indicating Spock. "Like in the stories. But his hair is gold, isn't it?" Then she was gone, ducking out into the darkness.
Outside, a scolding voice said, "Ara, where have you been? It's long past your bedtime."
The men held their breath for a moment.
"Only inside the old hut with Bonni and Simba." The footsteps died away and McCoy let out a sigh of relief.
"Bon-es," a voice suddenly croaked and McCoy looked down at Kirk in surprise. Kirk's eyes were open and his face had lost the flushed look. He was pale and drawn. McCoy quickly knelt beside him.
"Easy, Jim. Don't try to talk." McCoy put his arm under Kirk's shoulders and eased him into a sitting position. He took the cup of warm milk that Freeman handed him and let Kirk sip it slowly. Kirk drained the cup, then his eyes closed and he became a dead weight on McCoy's arm. McCoy took a quick check of his pulse, then, reasonably satisfied, wrapped the blankets closely round the Captain, making him as comfortable as possible. He looked up as Spock came across to him.
"How is he, Doctor?"
"Well, the fever's broken, his pulse is stronger, and he's breathing easier. He's sleeping now and that's the best thing for him."
Spock nodded, then said, "We had all better try and get some sleep. The Enterprise will not be back until morning. We will stand the same watches as last night."
"No, Spock " McCoy interrupted. "I'd rather stay awake and keep an eye on Jim. You three can get some sleep."
Spock did not argue - he felt it would indeed be better if McCoy sat up with Kirk, so he, Chekov and Freeman lay down when they could and were soon asleep.
The night passed slowly and McCoy kept his lonely vigil beside Kirk. The Captain slept peacefully, however, and as the hours passed McCoy's spirits rose.
Dawn was just breaking when McCoy was startled by the bleeping of one of the communicators. He took it out and flipped it open, to hear -
"Enterprise to Captain Kirk." It was Scotty's voice.
Spock joined McCoy and took the communicator from him. "Enterprise, this is Spock. Lock on to my signal and prepare to beam up five. Have a medical team in the transporter room - we have a casualty."
"Affirmative, Mr. Spock. Standing by."
McCoy and Spock lifted Kirk and held him supported between them. They were joined by Chekov and Freeman. Spock spoke into the communicator.
The landing party dematerialised and the garanas looked slightly startled as the men vanished. Then the but was empty, except for the two animals, the blankets, and the crude cup.
* * * * * * * *
Later that morning, at breakfast, Ara's mother was complaining. "I don't know where those blankets have got to. I'm sure I left them in the back room."
"I know where they are," Ara said importantly. "The Good People took them. One of them had pointed ears - just like in the stories. They were for the King - he was sick. But he didn't have pointed ears."
"What on earth are you talking about?" exclaimed her mother.
"In the old hut, yesterday, there were five of them. But I expect they've gone now."
Ara's father smiled indulgently, but her mother looked a little alarmed.
"Kenor, you don't suppose... There have been bad men around recently."
"If it makes you happy, we'll go and look."
The hut was quite empty, of course - although the blankets were there. Kenor smiled at Ara. "'Fraid they've flown away, eh, Ara?"
"Yes. But he did have gold hair," said Ara thoughtfully.
* * * * * * * *
Unbeknown to Ara, her golden-haired King was, at that precise moment, regaining consciousness in the sickbay of a Starship, which was already a couple of light years from her planet and speeding further away every second.
Kirk gradually became aware of his surroundings and of McCoy's voice.
"He's going to be very weak for a while and it'll be two or three weeks before he's fit for duty, but we've a lot to thank Ara for, that milk saved his life. Without it he would never have survived long enough for us to get him back on board."
"She was an interesting child," agreed Spock.
"Ara?" asked Kirk hoarsely.
Both Spock and McCoy spun round at the sound of Kirk's voice and went to him. "How are you feeling, Jim?" asked McCoy.
"A bit like someone's been using me for a punch bag. Who is Ara?"
"A very nice little girl who saved your life. Don't you remember anything?"
"Everything's rather hazy ... like a dream." Kirk's voice began to sound strained. "I can't..."
"Easy, Jim. Don't try to force it." McCoy laid a hand gently on Kirk's arm and smiled down at him. "You were pretty sick, it's not surprising that you don't remember."
"Ara was one of the natives, Captain," supplied Spock. "I made an error in thinking we would remain undisturbed in the hut."
"Look, if anyone's to blame, I am..." cut in McCoy.
"Gentlemen," interrupted Kirk with an effort, "there's no point in arguing about it now. The question is, how much damage was done? Does anyone else know about us?"
"I think it unlikely, Captain. The girl was very young and she had no idea who we really were."
"Fine. What's happening now?"
"We are on course for Starbase 11, sir. We will be there in eleven point five six days."
Kirk was becoming drowsy again. His eyes wore getting heavy and he was having a job to keep them open. McCoy saw this.
"That's enough talking for now, Jim. You need to get some rest. If you behave and do as you're told, I might even let you up in time to go on shore leave.""
Kirk felt that he ought to answer that but he just didn't have the energy. His eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep.
McCoy looked down at the sleeping figure and smiled. "He'll be fine, Spock."
Spock nodded and left silently, to get on with the business of running the ship.
Copyright Janet Quarton