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The darkness came down like the crack of doom and it was absolute. Kirk let out one yell as the earth opened under him and he was gone. Spock flung himself flat and his outstretched hands hooked over the lip of a chasm. "Captain!" he called. "Captain!"
There was no answer.
Cautiously Spock rubbed his eyes. They were open and certainly seemed to be functioning normally. Where had the stygian blackness come from, then? One moment there had been plenty of light and no sign of any chasm. And then...
He inched closer to the gash in front of him, trying to feel how wide it was. He could not reach across it. Nor could he feel the bottom of it. He lay there on the edge, his heart jolting, trying to get his bearings, listening with his keen ears. But he could hear nothing. Kirk had completely vanished.
He called him again, and only the echoes of his own voice came up out of the chasm to mock him. He thought for a second and then reached for his communicator. He tried to call up the ship. No response there either.
The blackness was impregnable. He was far too experienced to attempt to move around in it. He could only stay where he was and await developments. He put the useless communicator back into his belt and waited, the fingers of one hand still holding on to the chasm lip. He knew it had not been there before and he wanted to know when - and if - it would disappear again.
It was some time before anything happened but, when it did, it happened as suddenly as the first incident. The ground under Spock's hand was firm once more and simultaneously the light returned with almost blinding vigour. Blinking, he sat up carefully. Barda 92 looked exactly as it had before the darkness came - a stark world with little to recommend it.
For some time he tried to trace the mysterious chasm but without success. There was no sign of it on his tricorder readings. He knew though that it had been there and he was fairly sure that Kirk had fallen into it. Once again he tried to contact the ship, but with no result. He was completely cut off on this planet and he had no idea how to find Kirk.
He started to search the area, and he was still looking about when the darkness descended again. He dropped flat and crawled forward until he found the chasm. This time he didn't wait. He slithered over the edge, hanging on grimly, and began to climb down.
It was not easy in the dark but he was managing well enough. The side was not sheer and he found plenty of foot and hand holds. The chasm seemed bottomless and he went on and on, down and down in the pitchy blackness. It was like climbing into black wool. He was sure he must have descended nearly half a mile - how much further was there to go?
Suddenly a voice rang out, a strange sharp voice, possibly a woman's but with alien overtones. He halted and froze to the rock face but he could not see anything and he could not locate the speaker.
"So - you've come down of your own accord! How very obliging of you!"
"Where is Captain Kirk?" Spock asked.
"Yes..." said the voice consideringly. "I banked on that. On your Vulcan loyalty bringing you down after him - or at least keeping you here until you found him." The voice was sneering now.
"What have you done with him?" Spock demanded.
"You really want to know, don't you?" the voice said. "Tell me, are you attached to him as a person?"
"He is my Captain," said Spock stiffly.
There was a strange eerie quality of laughter in the voice now, but it was not nice laughter. "A truly Vulcan reply! And you've come to find him of course. Very well, you shall find him!"
"I do not know who you are," Spock said, "but if you can see in the dark, I cannot. I would be grateful if you would give me a little light."
"All in good time," the voice said gloatingly. It sounded like a nasty child preparing to torment some flies. "You don't like me, do you, Vulcan?"
"I do not dislike anyone," Spock said patiently, still clinging unmoving to the wall. "If you know anything about my race you should know that. However, I must confess to being curious. Exactly what are your intentions?"
"You'll find out!" the voice promised.
"If you keep me in this darkness I am not likely to find anything out," Spock said. "If you could provide some light I might be able to move."
"You won't need light for that," the voice said and a second later a force of iron caught him round the body and lifted him off the wall as if he had weighed only an ounce. He let out a smothered yelp of astonishment and then something hit his head and he knew no more.
* * * * * * * *
He came to feeling vilely uncomfortable, with his head throbbing. He seemed to be standing up against something with his arms nearly pulling out of their sockets. He lifted his head painfully and blinked in the light. Then he saw he was chained to a wall with wrist shackles. He shifted his weight onto his feet, thankfully feeling the pull on his arms lessened, but he was still very uncomfortable and his hands, from being above his head, were numb. He straightened up as much as he could and looked about him.
He looked first for Kirk but there was no sign of him. He was in a small rock-hewn cell, and then suddenly he realised he was not alone after all. Watching him from some feet away was a snake-like woman, or a woman like a snake. He knew this was the owner of the voice.
She stood there in front of him, dressed from neck to feet in a very tight shimmery scaley garment like a snake's skin. It glowed greenish in the light. Her body inside it was snake-like too, thin and tubular and flexible. It was hard to tell where her waist ended and her hips began, or indeed any other part of her, for it all flowed into one sinuous boneless whole. He could not even tell if she had legs, but she certainly had arms. Her face was small and triangular, with glittering eyes and a lipless mouth and her dead black hair hung straight down onto her narrow shoulders with neither wave nor shine.
"Well?" she said.
"I should like to know where I am and who you are," Spock said.
"You're in my world," she said. "And as for who I am, that's not important. I have many names."
"Where is my Captain?" Spock persisted.
"Patience, all in good time," she said. "You'll see him again, I promise you - just once more."
"Are you going to kill us, then?" Spock asked.
She smiled freezingly. She looked like a smiling snake. "I really haven't any use for you. Isn't that a pity?"
"Why should you want to kill us?" Spock wanted to know.
"I have my reasons, Vulcan, rest assured. And I intend the deaths not to be easy, particularly yours," and she smiled again, complacently.
"Where is my Captain? What have you done with him?" Spock demanded.
"You'll find him."
"How can I, tied like this?"
"I think you'll find him, even so," she said and turned to go, moving with a slithery glide and still he could not see if she had either legs or feet. She might have been walking on her tail.
"Are you just leaving me here?" he asked her as she went.
She looked at him over one shoulder. "Why shouldn't I, Vulcan? I don't fancy you as a household pet. For the present, then, goodbye."
She left him.
He tested the chains but they were firm. He looked round him, but could see nothing but rocky walls and the opening the snake woman had used. He listened. No sound. He called Kirk. Still no sound.
Presently he heard something moving near the door. It was a small creature resembling a large scorpion, with no tail, six legs and powerful pincers. Its beady eyes glinted red in the light as it looked at him. It crouched with the joints of its legs bent above its body and he saw it had spiny teeth. For an instant he thought it was going to spring on him and braced himself, but it changed its mind and retreated out of the door again. There had been something uniquely evil about it and he, who found very few alien forms disgusting or frightening, was shaking all over. He hoped he had seen the last of it.
He tried to trace the source of the light, but could not find it. It came from above, but there did not seem to be anything it could have originated from, not even a crack in the roof. He spent some time puzzling over this, glad to find something to occupy his mind. His arms were numb, his head still ached and he was thirsty. He was also worried about Kirk. He wondered if the snake woman intended to keep him shackled until he died of starvation.
* * * * * * * *
The time went by and still nothing happened.
He was half dozing in his shackles, exhausted, when suddenly the darkness came down again. He stood tense, listening, and somewhere in the inky blackness he heard small rustling noises and faint clicks. He could not see, but at once he knew what was making those noises. The scorpion creature had come back, with reinforcements. His skin crawled with horror and revulsion. The noises were coming closer, across the floor towards him.
He waited as long as he could, then lashed out with his feet. One boot made contact with something hard and he heard an explosive hiss and the snap of teeth as the creature was flung away. Then something spiny gripped him by the other ankle right through his boot.
He fought like a maniac, pinioned as he was and unable to either move away or to use his hands. He wriggled and squirmed and tossed and kicked. The small sharp teeth stabbed into him all over, and he could feel his blood running down. He could not tell how many of the creatures were swarming all over him, but they seemed determined to tear him apart. Suddenly the light returned, and with it the snake woman. She was carrying a whip with which she set about the scorpions with vigour. There were eight of them, Spock noticed, not including the one lying squirming on the floor, evidently the victim of that first lucky kick. The snake woman drove them out of the door like sheep, then came back and calmly trod on the head of the injured one, crushing it.
"They're a little out of hand at times," she said. "I don't want you killed - yet."
He looked down at himself, at the torn uniform and the blood. He felt ashamed at being seen like this by her. She looked at him in her flickering way and coiled up her whip.
"I see you can still defend yourself," she observed. "Even when you're tied up." She glanced at the dead scorpion.
"Your intervention was still timely," Spock said drily. "Do those creatures make a habit of devouring your prisoners?"
She smiled a little. "Sometimes. They're rather pets of mine, good scavengers."
"That I can believe," he said.
She looked him over. "You don't seem badly hurt."
"I am not," he answered. "And where is my Captain?"
"You'll find out, in time," she said and went.
Spock watched her go in silence. The bites were stinging. He shifted uncomfortably, then suddenly listened hard. Kirk was calling him. There was no mistaking it. He seemed quite a distance away but the rocky passages funnelled the sound like an echo chamber.
Spock answered at once. "Captain! Where are you?"
"I'm shut up in some kind of a cage," Kirk answered.
"Are you injured?"
"No, not anything to speak of. Where are you?"
"I am shackled to a wall."
"Have you seen that woman?"
"Yes. Who is she, do you know?" Spock inquired.
"No," Kirk said flatly.
There was a pause and then Kirk called, "How did you get here?"
Spock told him and added that he could not get in touch with the ship.
"So no one knows where we are," Kirk said. "Come to that, I don't know myself. Have you any theories?"
"No, Captain," said Spock gloomily.
A silence fell, and then just as Spock was about to speak again, Kirk screamed. The sound was agonising and it galvanised Spock into madness. He fought his shackles even more savagely than when he had been attacked by the scorpions. With eyes that saw but did not register he noticed indifferently that the shackles had rubbed the skin off his wrists and the blood was soaking down into his cuffs. As he struggled he called to find out what was wrong, but Kirk did not answer, just went on screaming, the screams seeming to come from every direction at once until the cell rang with the noise, maddening Spock still further.
The shackle pins pulled loose suddenly with a jerk. Spock, reeling and panting, raced for the door. He emerged onto what looked like a staircase landing. In front of him were two large flights of stairs, one going up, the other down. Both vanished into infinity. Both were lit by the same mysterious light. There was nothing else in sight.
The screams were still coming from every direction at once. He stood there uncertain, broken chains swinging from his wrists, trying to trace the source of the noise but in that place of so many echoes not even his ears could track down where Kirk was. He poised there, ready to take off either up or down, unable to decide which way. The feeling was returning to his numbed arms and hands now and the sensation was agony, but he ignored it. Then, warned by some sixth sense, he turned and saw the snake woman behind him, in the doorway of the cell he had just left. She smiled.
"I told you you'd find him," she said. "Shackled or not."
"I have not found him," Spock retorted. "Where is he and what are you doing to him?"
"As I'm here, the answer is 'nothing'," the snake woman said smoothly. "As for where he is, I should try that direction if I were you."
She pointed up the stairs with her whip. Spock flashed her one look and was off - down the stairs.
The next instant the stairs gave way under him, turning into a smooth icy slide like a frozen waterfall. The steps melted into one another and vanished. He slipped and floundered on the glassy surface, skidding and sliding, snatching frantically at the sides. Finally he lost his footing and fell, rolling down the incline, trying to dig his heels in. He did not slow down, but even as he fell the slide beneath him turned into a bed of spikes that tore at his body. He grabbed at them and halted himself then, bleeding and shaking, he got to his feet. Kirk was still screaming, but less often now, and something told Spock that it would soon be too late. He had guessed correctly, though, he was definitely closer. Ahead of him the stairs went on descending, spikeless, perfect. He rubbed his bruised and bleeding wrists and went on cautiously.
It was as well that he was cautious. A second later the step he was about to tread on sank down and vanished, leaving a gaping hole. He jumped over it. Immediately every step he put his foot on lifted up, so that he stayed exactly where he was. Becoming desperate he gathered himself together and threw himself over the next flight. He bounced and rolled and knocked nearly all the breath out of his body, but he had progressed. In front of him now was a low door in the rock face, like the entrance to his own cell. He stumbled through it and came up against the bars of a cage. At last he had found Kirk, and for one moment of Human weakness he wished he had not.
The scorpions had also found Kirk and the snake woman had made sure that he could not escape by binding him hand and foot inside the cage. His body was covered in them, fighting and hissing and feeding. For a moment Spock thought his Captain was dead but then the bloodied head on the floor slowly turned towards him and he saw recognition in Kirk's eyes.
"Spock? I knew you'd come... but you're too late... "
He reached out one hand towards the bars and Spock, dropping down, strained both his own towards it. It was all he could do to reach it, but he did reach it and clutched it. He tried to drag Kirk towards him but failed. He appeared to be tied to the wall on the far side of him. There was nothing Spock could do but watch Kirk die.
When it was over he waited for the scorpions to attack him, but when they had finished with Kirk they scampered away without even looking at him. He stayed where he was long after the rattle of their claws had faded into the silence, hunched against the bars. The snake woman found him there when she reappeared some time later.
She stood looking down at him for a moment. He did not move but he knew she was there and after a while he said tonelessly, "Are you going to kill me now?"
She said, "Get up!"
He ignored her.
She crossed to him and caught him by the back of the neck in a grip of iron. Her strength was astonishing. She hauled him to his feet as if he was a puppy. He did not look at her, still leaning against the bars with his face turned away.
"Come with me," she ordered. He shook his head.
"Come with me or you'll regret it," she threatened.
"Do what you please," he said indifferently. Then he turned his head slowly and looked at her. He said, "Why did you do it?"
"I don't have to account for my actions to you, Vulcan!" she retorted.
She then reached out and twisted one of the bars of the cage. A gap opened in them and she said, "You can go in to him now."
Spock said, "I have no wish to."
"Surely you want to check that he's dead?" she asked.
"I do not have to," he answered. "No man can live eaten down to his bones."
"Go into the cage," she said ominously.
"No," he said.
She took a step towards him. "Don't try me too far. I shall force you in there."
"You can try," he said and then suddenly hurled himself at her. His hands pressed round her throat, the fingers digging in, seeking her windpipe. It was a killing hold, one he rarely used. He had hands like steel, but she was stronger than he was. She flung him off as if he had been made of paper, crashing him back into the bars so violently that he was half stunned and slid down to the floor. He knew of no humanoid, particularly a female, who could have shrugged him off so disdainfully. She stood over him now, not even ruffled.
"You see," she said. "Now, are you going?"
He looked up at her. "What are you? You are not Human, that is for sure."
She smiled. "No, I'm not Human, I'm glad to say. Puny creatures! I have merely adopted this shape for the moment. Now get into that cage before I throw you there!"
He got up slowly. He knew now she was quite capable of carrying out her threat. She had the strength of a giant for all her smallness. He turned reluctantly to the gap in the bars, not wishing to be hurled through them like a doll. She chivvied him in.
"I thought you'd see sense in the end," she said. "Now I shall leave you here for a while."
"Are you going to send your creatures to finish me off, as they did my Captain?" Spock queried as the bars closed again to cut off his escape.
"Wait and see," she said, smiling enigmatically. She walked off, looking back to say, "You wanted to go to him. Now you're with him, so go."
Spock stood and watched her leave. Then he slowly lifted his arms and looked at his bleeding wrists. Absently he moved the shackles on them, trying to get the metal off the wounds. Then he leaned his head on the bars and sighed.
He tried to work out why they were there at all, what they could have done to have brought such dreadful punishment onto themselves. The universe was full of strange creatures, he knew, and not all of them friendly, but this was out of all his experience. How had they incurred such enmity? And having incurred it, how could he escape now? What was the snake woman going to do with him?
The darkness came down again like a blanket and he heard the rattle of claws. He knew at once what she had in mind now. He was not tied up, so he could run about in the cage. It was her intention to have him rushing here and there, trying to escape, flying like a hunted animal, terrified, blind, never knowing when he was going to be set upon. He remembered only too well Kirk's screams. He knew the beasts killed slowly and painfully. And, no doubt of it, somewhere away in the darkness she would be watching it all, savouring it. His terror and his agony would feed her malice and she had set the stage for this.
Well, there was only one answer. He was going to disappoint her. He would die all right, but his death would have dignity and seemliness; it was not going to be the blind panic she expected. What pain he felt he would keep to himself. He would not give her the satisfaction of hearing one groan.
The claws were nearer now. He turned with his back to the bars, sat down, crosslegged with his hands in his lap, and waited. He concentrated fiercely on other things, stilling the racing of his heart. He would die like a Vulcan.
As the claws rattled closer still he briefly reached out in the dark, unerringly, to lay one hand on Kirk's boot.
"Goodbye, Jim," he murmured. Then like a buddha he sat and stared in front of him, his head high.
He felt her presence then, her chagrin and disappointment at his refusal to panic. She was trying to make him panic, thrusting needles of fear into his mind, showing him visions of what was about to happen when the scorpions attacked. He sensed that he was in mental contact with her at last, the first time she had permitted it. Instantly he threw all his power into the link, and the sense of dismay and astonishment he picked up encouraged him. She had not realised his strength in this field, and now it was too late. He held her mind relentlessly, refusing to let it go. She might be physically stronger than he but she certainly was not mentally so. He seized his advantage.
First of all, who was she? Why did she hate him so much? The answer came back, confused and reluctant. She - it - was not of any species he had encountered before. It was impossible in fact to deduce exactly what she was. She seemed to belong to another dimension entirely. Her hatred and malice sizzled across to him, unstinted. She hated him and all creatures that could move freely outside her own world, envying them the mobility she could never have. Here, on this world, she lived alone and trapped, her only amusement and pleasure the torturing and killing of those she could catch. There was some vague hint that she had once been marooned here deliberately as a punishment, but he could not be sure of this. He did not pursue the matter, for his mind was concentrating on something else. She belonged to another dimension - the shape he saw was only one she adopted to be visible to his eyes. If this is so, he thought suddenly, then perhaps all that has happened here has been a hallucination. If she is not in our dimension then she can only reach us through our minds. And if that is so, then the scorpions could also be hallucinations.
Furiously he began to channel all his mental powers towards the oncoming claws.
"I do not believe in you. You are unreal. You do not exist!"
The sweat broke out on his face with the effort. He shut out the flood of frustrated rage from the woman, he concentrated, harder, harder. Then the claws were silent and the darkness had gone. He was sitting in the cage as he had been before, and outside the bars stood the snake woman, her eyes burning with venomous fury. He got up slowly and turned to face her.
"And I do not believe in you either," he told her. "You are a hallucination. Go back to where you came from. You have no more power over me."
For a second she looked at him with almost demented hatred. Then she dwindled away and was gone and with her went the cage and the whole surroundings. Spock was lying full length on the ground and above him the planet's sun shone peacefully. Next to him lay Kirk, unmarked. Spock reached out to touch him. "Captain, are you all right?"
Kirk suddenly raised his head. "What? What the hell - ?" He blinked and then said, "That dream... Spock - " A look of horror crossed his face.
Spock wondered if Kirk's dream had been identical to his own, but he did not wish to find out. Getting to his feet he suggested that they beamed back up to the ship as soon as possible. Kirk reached for his communicator but before he spoke to the ship he put one hand for a moment on Spock's shoulder.
"You're always there, aren't you?" he said quietly. "Somehow, you always manage to get there."
"I trust so," said Spock.
They looked at one another for a moment and then Kirk smiled and flipped the top of his communicator.
"Kirk to Enterprise. Two to beam up."
Copyright Audrey Baker