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"I hate these jobs," Kirk grumbled to Spock as they headed for the transporter room. "Go and investigate the crash of the Argos! The blasted ship came down three years ago and there can't be much left of her or her crew by now, especially on a god-forsaken hole like Tychos 50!"
"The Argos crashed two years, eight months and two days ago," Spock said precisely, following on his Captain's heels as usual.
Kirk waved one hand dismissingly. "So what? Do you think we're likely to find much of any use down there?"
"I do not know, Captain, although I think it unlikely. However, we have undoubtedly located the remains of the ship - " Spock began, getting set for a lecture, but Kirk cut him short.
"All right, all right, I know!"
"Is Dr. McCoy not accompanying us?" Spock inquired when they entered the transporter room and saw young Dr. Spencer, one of McCoy's assistants, waiting for them with two crewmen and an engineer.
"No. He's got a cold in the head and he's staying on board to try to find a cure!" said Kirk with a touch of sarcasm.
"If the good Doctor can accomplish such a miracle he will become a miracle in himself," Spock observed, and Kirk couldn't restrain a smile.
* * * * * * * *
A short while later Kirk, Spock, Dr. Spencer, Engineer Ralston and the two crewmen materialised on the surface of Tychos 50. It was a planet of caves and holes, hills and rocks, with little vegetation apart from a moss-like growth. It was bleak and hot. A few hundred yards from where the party stood lay the wreckage of a small space freighter, a type built to land on planets. It had come in to land here and crashed, for what reason no-one as yet knew.
"There she is!" said Kirk briskly and led the way over to the shattered metal.
The others followed him, but the next instant one of the crewmen let out a startled yell.
"What is it?" Kirk snapped, swinging round.
"Come and look, sir," said the man unsteadily, looking down at the ground by his feet.
The others crossed to where he was standing. Spock's brows soared skywards. "What do you think did - that, sir?" the man asked in a hushed voice.
"I'm sure I don't know," said Kirk. "Any theories, Mr. Spock?"
Spock touched the dry hide with the toe of one boot. "It reminds me of something I have seen on Earth," he said, considering. "What was it? Oh yes, I remember. Insects, Captain."
"Certain species of insect feed by liquefying the interior of their prey," Spock said. "They inject an acid and - "
"Then suck out the insides, leaving a husk like this," Kirk finished. "Yes, I get the point, Mr. Spock."
"But these must be giants," the crewman said, awed.
"Very possibly," said Spock indifferently.
Dr. Spencer began to use his tricorder on the gruesome relic at their feet and Kirk, watching him, said reflectively, "I wonder which member of the crew he was?"
"That, I doubt you will find out," said Spock. "And I expect the others are nearby, in a similar condition."
Investigation proved him correct - they found the rest of the crew, as Spock had anticipated, a collection of dried leathery husks like the first.
"Let's get back to the ship," said Kirk with some distaste after ascertaining there was nothing to be learned from the wreckage.
Spock was, however, looking at the mouth of a large cave nearby, set in a hillside riddled with holes like a giant honeycomb. He said, "With your permission, Captain, I should like to investigate a little. If this planet is indeed dominated by a giant insect race - and sensors have indicated there is life here - I should like to find out something about it. It would be - interesting."
Kirk sighed. "Oh, very well then. You can stay a while longer and I might as well remain with you. Where were you thinking of searching?"
"In that cave there. It looks as if it might hold some information."
"I'll come with you then. The rest of you can beam up to the ship," and Kirk reached for his communicator. He was checked by Dr. Spencer, who requested permission to remain also and carry out some experiments on the bodies. Kirk granted permission and had the rest of the party beamed back aboard. This done, he and Spock walked across to the low entrance of the cave and went inside.
There was barely room for Spock to stand upright, but Kirk, who was shorter, could do so in comfort. They had expected to find it rather dark inside and were at first puzzled to discover that they were able to see quite well, even away from the entrance. Spock immediately began to search for the source of the light and traced it to a kind of algae growing on the walls and roof, that gave off a faint glow. It was hardly more than a twilight, but it enabled them to see around them, although there was little enough to see. The cave appeared unoccupied except for themselves, but Spock, who knew something of botany - as he did of most sciences - started to examine the algae curiously and Kirk amused himself looking for some traces of life. He was just going to tell Spock they must go when they were both jerked upright by a shriek from outside.
"What the - " exclaimed Kirk, rushing to the entrance. Spock followed and grabbed him by the arm just as he was about to run outside.
Kirk stopped and peered cautiously out. Spock's face appeared slightly above his and they stared at the scene that met their eyes. Two enormous insects stood outside the cave, by the wrecked freighter. They were about eighteen feet high and twice as long, a dull greyish green in colour like the moss, and one of them held Dr. Spencer in its long clasping front legs. The other insect was twittering with jealous annoyance and waving its feelers. The unfortunate young doctor hung limply in the insect's hold and was obviously either dead or unconscious. Even as Kirk and Spock watched, the insect's triangular head moved forward and its jaws closed on its victim. Kirk clawed for his phaser, set it on 'kill' and fired. The insect never so much as rocked.
"It is impervious to phaser fire," Spock said, rather unnecessarily. The creature was sucking Dr. Spencer dry, just as it or its fellow had done with the crew of the freighter. Kirk ignored Spock's remark and fired again, desperately. This time, although he had no more effect on his target than at first, the insect without a dinner saw the flash of the phaser and turned its head towards them. Then it began to advance swiftly, its long thin legs covering the ground in giant strides. Spock dragged Kirk bodily back into the depths of the cave, just in time.
"There is nothing to be done for Dr. Spencer, Captain," he said. "He is already dead."
A moment later long clawed forelegs groped into the cave and the creature's chirping filled the place with echoes. The light from the entrance was blotted out, and Kirk stared almost hypnotised at the legs that were reaching for him, noticing the gleaming hooks along the edges of them. Frantically he scrabbled in his belt for his communicator, flipped the top and called the ship. There was no reply. He was still trying to contact her when the legs withdrew and a spray of liquid squirted into the cave, followed by a strange astringent reek. The two men began to cough and retch, their eyes streaming, then Kirk gasped, "Run for it! Gas!" and they headed for the back of the cave, hands over their mouths and noses. They finally stopped far back where the cave branched off into a myriad tunnels leading deep into the hill. They could still smell the gas, but only faintly now, and Kirk tried again to contact the ship.
"It's no good," he said finally in despair, shaking the communicator as it that would somehow do the trick. "Find out why, can you, Spock?"
Spock got to work with his tricorder and in a few minutes announced that the algae was the reason. Its composition was such that it effectively blocked off all radio transmissions and of course would also do the same for the transporter. They were trapped in the cave.
Spock was, as usual, too interested in their predicament to be frightened by it. He observed, "Those insects must be of the order Dictyoptera, suborder Mantodes, of the variety known as Mantis Religiose. I believe you would call them Praying Mantises, Captain."
"I wouldn't call them anything but devils!" Kirk told him tartly. "And have you any idea on how to get us out of this, or do we just stay here and discuss insect life?"
Spock said, "The place is riddled with tunnels. There is probably another entrance somewhere."
"Then let's go and find it!" snapped Kirk.
They set off together into the maze of passages, their boots ringing eerily on the rocky floor.
They walked a long way, stopping to listen at intervals but hearing nothing but themselves. Once or twice they had to get down and crawl when the roof got low, and except that they were marking the walls every few yards they might have been going round in circles for all the good their walking did them.
Kirk led the way when the path was narrow. He took the lead automatically and Spock followed close behind him. Presently they came to a low arch leading into a larger cave. Kirk made to step inside, peering through the twilight and suddenly there was a noise like a whip cracking behind him. He whirled round to see what looked like a length of rope flinging itself at Spock. Without hesitation Kirk drew his phaser and fired, and the creature subsided with a scaley rattle onto the ground. The next instant there was an ominous rumble in the roof of the tunnel and the two men flung themselves aside just in time to avoid an avalanche of rocks that clattered down, blocking off the tunnel completely. Kirk got up and ruefully surveyed the damage, spitting dust out of his mouth. "That's done it!" he said. "Now we can't go back even if we want to!" Then he noticed Spock was holding his shoulder and said sharply, "Are you hurt?"
"I have been bitten, I conjecture..." Spock said with difficulty. Kirk lifted his hand away from his shoulder and saw the sleeve of his shirt was soaked with blood.
"Some kind of snake..." Spock continued, breathing quickly and obviously in pain.
Kirk hesitated and looked at the Vulcan's unmoving face. Then he said, "I'll have to get your shirt off."
Spock said nothing but his jaw muscles hardened as he set his teeth. Kirk carefully helped him to remove his shirt. There were two punctures on the upper arm and they were already swelling and turning black. Kirk wished that Bones hadn't chosen that particular time to get a cold.
"It looks as if it's poisoned," he said dubiously. "I'll try to tie it off with a tourniquet to stop the stuff spreading."
He used Spock's shirt and his belt, and as he worked he could see Spock opening and closing his eyes and setting his teeth, but he made no sound.
"Yell if it hurts too much," Kirk said sympathetically.
"And fetch down the remainder of the roof onto us?" Spock gasped. When Kirk had finished his first aid and made a sling for the wounded arm they sat down a while to rest. Spock seemed a little better after a bit - his Vulcan constitution was stronger than a Human's. Presently he struggled to his feet and stood, a strange wavering shadow against the rock behind him, all legs and arms. Kirk got up to help him but was shrugged off.
"Leave me. I can manage."
"Can you walk?"
"I think so. Give me a minute or two." Spock leaned against the wall, breathing hard. After a moment he cautiously levered himself upright and took a few steps. He looked dangerously shaky to Kirk, but he kept moving.
It was like a nightmare. Kirk felt he would always remember it - if he lived. Again he took the lead, but anxiously glancing back now. Spock wavered after him on long unsteady legs like a newborn foal, looking as if he was going headlong any minute and as if only the momentum of his walking kept him upright. He said nothing and Kirk didn't speak either. There seemed nothing to say.
Their footsteps still rang out, but now there was only one set of firm decisive ones. The other set stumbled and halted like a toddler's.
If I stop he'll go down, Kirk thought. He's only still going because we haven't checked. How am I going to get him out? How long can he keep on?
After about twenty minutes he turned to look again and was shocked. Spock looked unconscious on his feet; his eyes were glazed and his face shone chalk white in the gloom. He looked near complete collapse, but he still struggled on, putting one foot in front of the other somehow, following.
The tunnel they had been following forked now, and Kirk stopped. The minute he had done so Spock nearly fell and only the wall prevented it. He leaned there, gasping for breath.
"You can't go any further right now," Kirk said. "We'll stop here for a rest."
"I can keep going - as long as you can... " Spock said dully.
"Don't be a fool! Sit down!" Kirk said sharply and then added, "Come to that, I need a rest myself."
Pride satisfied, Spock sat - or rather slid - down.
They sat together on the rocky floor in silence for a while and then Spock spoke again.
"There is... no use in taking me further. I will only hinder you."
"I told you not to use that kind of talk!" Kirk snapped.
"It is... only logical," Spock persisted. "I am of... no assistance to you now... Go on without me. I... will follow."
"And for how long?" Kirk retorted.
"Until I die," said Spock simply.
And you would, too, Kirk thought, moved. And if I left you to die alone I'd deserve to die myself! "You'll feel a little stronger after a rest," he said aloud, trying to speak encouragingly.
"Not strong enough," Spock said. "We do... not know... how far there is to go... yet. Go without me. I... brought you here. It is justice that... I should pay the price. Why should you?"
"If you have to pay for it with your life, then the price is too high," said Kirk. "And I didn't think you believed in divine retribution."
"I believe in... justice, though," Spock said.
"What justice leaves me without a First Officer? You come with me, Spock, or we both stay."
"No, Captain. The ship needs you."
"And she needs you too!"
Spock closed his eyes. "Why let a dying man hold... you back?" he asked.
"Would you have left me, Spock?"
"An officer does nor desert his Captain. It is... unethical."
"And a Captain doesn't desert his men. That's unethical too."
"I am only one man... you have a full crew in the ship."
"Sometimes the claim of friendship transcends duty," Kirk said. "Would it just have been your loyalty to your Captain that kept you with me?"
Spock's eyes opened and he looked at Kirk. "You are my friend, Jim," he said, and closed his eyes again.
Kirk was silent a moment. Then he said, "And because you're my friend I'm not going on without you!"
Spock said nothing. Kirk continued. "I'll go along a little way and have a look. It might save us time. I'll try the right fork here."
Spock, his head lolling back against the rock, said, "If you have... any sense... you will not return."
"In that case I haven't an iota!" Kirk retorted briskly and got up. He hesitated, not quite liking to leave the Vulcan and after a moment Spock's eyes opened a slit and looked up at him.
"I'll be back," Kirk promised, nor knowing what else to say, still hesitating.
"If you do not go you never will be," Spock said drily and Kirk gave a half-hearted laugh and went.
He looked back once before the bend of the tunnel cut him off from view. Spock was sitting where he'd left him, propped against the wall, and he was watching him go, his head turned towards him. When he saw Kirk looking back he half raised one hand in a gesture of farewell. Kirk went on, grimly.
What shall I do if I lose you? he thought to himself as he went. You've been so much more to me than a First Officer for years now. What'll I do without your courage and devotion and loyalty?
His mind back with the man he'd left, Kirk trudged on down the tunnel. His mind kept bringing up pictures of the Vulcan in happier times. Spock in his dress uniform, his eyes glinting above the shimmering material of ice blue, half-smiling at his Captain. Spock looking outraged, his eyebrows like a moth's antennae, vertical. Spock on his dignity; "I'm not standing here to be insulted!" rigid and bolt upright as if he'd swallowed a broomstick. Spock formal and precise - "Very well, Captain." "The time is twenty-two hours, five minutes and three-fifths of a second." Spock informal, calling him "Jim", allowing some warmth to creep into his rather deep gruff voice. So many different pictures and all Spock.
"You are my friend, Jim," he'd said a few minutes ago. And Vulcans didn't often make friends - or acknowledge it if they did.
"I'll get you out of this if it's the last thing I do!" Kirk vowed. Suddenly he stopped. Surely it was daylight ahead of him? Could it be? He inched forward cautiously. Yes, it was daylight and it was coming from a crack in the rock face. He crept along the tunnel towards it, unbelieving. He reached it and warily peered out, then bit back a curse.
The opening led outside all right, but it faced directly onto a gathering of the mantis insects, evidently, by the look of it, one of their nests. They had built themselves a kind of fort out of rocks, rather ingeniously, and several of them were rolling boulders about with their forelegs. Some young ones - if size was anything to go by - were romping about, all stilt legs and necks. Scattered around were the husks of what looked like small animals, but at that distance Kirk couldn't identify them very well. Anyway, one thing was certain. There was no escape this way. One of the mantises was sitting right by the crack, turning its head this way and that as if it sensed Kirk's presence. He didn't want another discharge of poisonous gas.
For some minutes he stood there, watching the insects with unseeing eyes, deep in despair. Could they ever hope to find another unguarded exit further on? And how long would it take them? And how much longer could Spock hope to live, with the poison seeping through his system? I could have got him out here, Kirk thought savagely. Just about, even if I had to carry him. But I can't carry him far, and how much further have we got to go now?
He leaned his head against the rock, feeling so bitter he almost gave up. They must have walked for miles, only to march into another trap! Was the whole area riddled with these monsters? Would they ever get out?
He thought then of Spock waiting for him and straightened up. He must go on until the end. There was nothing else to do. Not with any honour.
And if I find him dead? he thought, turning away from the crack in the rock. Wouldn't it be easier just to walk out there and let those things do their worst? How could I go back to the ship without him and tell them I'd left him to die alone underground?
No, he thought then. Think positively, Jim! No more defeatism. You're going to get both of you out of this somehow, and you'll find a way.
He was about to round one of the bends in the tunnel when he heard footsteps coming on the other side of it. He stopped dead, almost frightened for a moment. Then he controlled himself and walked on. Spock was coming towards him, still unsteady and weaving, but walking, following along the way he'd gone. Kirk felt suddenly almost faint with relief.
"It would have... wasted your time coming... all the way back," the Vulcan gasped when they met.
"I was coming, though," Kirk said.
"I know," Spock answered.
Kirk described his find. Spock listened in silence, leaning against the wall. Then he said, "I should like to see them."
"That'd be just a waste of energy on your part!" Kirk told him curtly. "There's no way out there. Come on, we'd better go back and take the other fork."
Spock slowly straightened up, trying not to wince. His arm was throbbing and felt three times its natural size and he was also feeling dizzy as the venom increasingly affected him. He said wearily, "Captain... you must listen... to reason..."
"And what might that be?" Kirk demanded suspiciously.
Spock looked at him levelly. He might have been talking of some absent third party that neither of them knew, or even of the giant mantises themselves.
"Time is... running short. We have neither... food nor water. It is... essential that we escape... as soon as possible... and I am wounded and... and disabled. If one of us... goes outside and... acts as a decoy... the other can perhaps... escape unnoticed."
Kirk's eyes blazed. "And you mean that you're proposing you act as that decoy, so that I can get away," he said. "And what happens to you when they catch you? You can't even run, the way you are right now."
"We know... what will happen to me," said Spock unemotionally.
"And I'm supposed to go off and leave you to be sucked dry, is that it?" Kirk spoke with dangerous calm, holding himself tightly under control.
"Captain, you are... being utterly illogical about... this..." Spock protested. "You are very... necessary to the ship... If it comes to a choice between us... you are the one who must be... saved. Even you must see that."
"So?" said Kirk quietly.
"So if... we both go out together... we will both be captured... If I go out... first and attract... their attention... you can escape while... they are occupied with... me."
"And leave you as a meal for those lousy devils out there?"
"They are... hardly lousy devils, Captain," Spock remonstrated. "They live... according to their... natures. You and... I do no more. And as for me... what difference will it ultimately... make to me whether I am... sucked dry or die here... in the tunnels... of the poison I have been infected with? Death is death, Captain... and there are... no terrors... afterwards."
Kirk thought briefly of the horror of seeing Dr. Spencer die. "No!" he said violently. "I've already told you, I refuse to consider it!"
Spock sighed, like a patient adult explaining some obvious point to a stubborn and wilful child. He closed his eyes and then said, "You Humans are... so impossibly emotional."
"I refuse to save my life at the expense of yours!" Kirk told him. "Stop getting these lunatic ideas! A fine Captain I'd be if I accepted your sacrifice - and an even finer friend!"
The slanting dark eyes opened again and surveyed him calmly. "About friendship I will say nothing," Spock said. "But when it... comes to your Captaincy... your duty lies... with the greater number. I am only one man... in your crew of four hundred... and thirty. Four hundred and twenty nine... now that Dr. Spencer... is dead. My life counts... little against... such a number."
"They're safe," Kirk retorted. "You're not. My duty's to get you back alive."
"It is your... duty to get yourself... back."
"With you, yes. Spock, would you do it if you were in my place and I was in yours? Would you let myself sacrifice myself for you?"
The level gaze never faltered. "Yes, Captain. If it was... the only way... as this is."
"I see. Well, I'm not a Vulcan."
"It would save... a lot of trouble... if you were... but the question is... entirely irrelevant. You are not in my place... nor am I in yours."
"Never mind that," said Kirk. "I'm afraid that, as a Human, I haven't the detachment that your race has. I can't divorce my personal feelings so completely from my duty as you apparently can. And I'm not sorry that I can't. If I left you here, or let you carry out this suicidal plan of yours, I'd remember it for the rest of my days."
"And do you imagine... that I would not also... Captain, in your place?" Spock said quietly.
There was a brief pause.
"Perhaps I... phrased it tactlessly," Spock said after a moment. "You seem to be... under the impression that I... would have let you die... without compunction. Believe me, that... would not have... been so."
"No," said Kirk. "You would have done your duty, as you saw it, no matter what your inclinations. I know that."
"The carrying out... of what is right... can sometimes be... difficult," Spock said, not looking at Kirk but past him, as if at something only he could see.
"But you'd still carry it out, regardless," Kirk said.
"Captain... what does that weigh against... four hundred and twenty nine crew members?" Spock said simply.
Kirk touched his First Officer's unwounded arm. "Thanks for that, and for your offer," he said. "If I was as upright as you are, I don't doubt that I'd have accepted it. But I'm not a Vulcan, I'm only an ordinary fallible Human man, and to do this would be beyond my strength. Believe me, Spock, you're asking the impossible of me now. You can dismiss me as emotional and illogical if you like. I can't help that, it's the hallmark of my race. But I'm not allowing you to go to your death, whether it's to save me or the crew. And that's an order."
"Very well, Captain."
"Then stop talking about it - or even thinking about it! We're both going to get out of here, somehow."
"I wish I could be as optimistic as you are," Spock said.
"Well, optimism is another trait of the Human race!" Kirk said and smiled. "Come on, if you've rested long enough. We've got to find another way out."
"You seem very sure of finding one," Spock observed rather drily.
"I have to be!" Kirk said briskly. "It's no use giving up hope or we might as well lie down here and die."
"It might in the long run... be the most sensible thing... to do," Spock said, levering himself painfully off the wall to follow once more.
"That's right, look on the bright side!" said Kirk as he moved off.
Spock almost smiled. "At any rate you deserve... to find the way out... Jim, after such incredibly... irrational optimism!"
"Shut up and walk!" was his only answer.
It became more and more of a nightmare. They were thirsty now, but there was no sign of water. Kirk led doggedly on, refusing to even consider failure again. The Vulcan followed gamely, but it was only too apparent to his friend that he was suffering a great deal and it was taking all his strength to keep going.
"If I had been an animal... you would probably have... put me out of my pain... before now," he said once when they had halted for a short rest.
"You're not an animal," Kirk retorted.
"We are all animals," Spock said. He was leaning against the wall as he sat, his head tilted back a little, his face gleaming with unhealthy sweat. He nursed his wounded arm like a baby and his breathing was short and fast. "Scientifically speaking," he added.
"I'm not talking about science and you know it!" Kirk said. He felt tired, hot, thirsty and worried. How much longer could they last? And wasn't perhaps dragging Spock all this way, wounded and in pain as he was, more cruel than letting him die?
No, Kirk thought. I won't believe that! Life is precious to everything that lives.
"I'll carry you if I have to!" he vowed between clenched teeth.
"When it comes to that... we will both be finished," said Spock, and Kirk knew he was right.
* * * * * * * *
"You could have escaped," Spock said much later, when they had stopped again. He was looking even more drawn and agonised now, but he had said nothing of what he was suffering. "You could... have been back... in the ship by now."
"And you could have been a sucked-out husk!" snapped Kirk.
Spock said nothing and after a moment Kirk leaned forward to put one hand on his shoulder. "Keep going just a little longer," he said. "We'll make it."
"Will we?" said Spock wearily. "I am afraid I... lack your conviction."
"Never mind. Just trust me,"
The dark eyes were very level and steady. "I have always... trusted you, Jim. With... my life."
I can't fail him now! Kirk thought as they went on. Not after that!
But there was no more sign of daylight.
* * * * * * * *
When they stopped the next time Spock lay down full length, too exhausted to sit. Kirk moved forward and lifted the Vulcan's head onto his lap. From this point, slightly softer than the rocky floor, Spock surveyed him gravely for a moment and then closed his eyes. Kirk, hunched over, sat still, wondering again - how long? Spock drew a deep breath, winced, and turning his head to one side was still. For a moment Kirk was afraid, then the sharp pained breathing recommenced and he relaxed.
A few minutes passed. in silence and then Spock said, "Jim - leave me."
"Never!" said Kirk emphatically.
"On your own... you might succeed in... escaping. With me to hold you back... you never will. Leave me."
"Jim, leave me." The words were hardly above a murmur now. "How can I... die in peace knowing that I... have condemned you to death... with me?"
"Life's not as precious as all that!" Kirk said obstinately, dismissing what he'd thought a short while before.
Spock wasn't deceived. "It is the... most precious thing there is."
"No, you're wrong," Kirk said "There's something more precious, and that's sacrifice."
Spock didn't answer this. A moment later he said again, "Leave me, Jim. Before it is... too late."
And Kirk said, once more, "Never!"
* * * * * * * *
They struggled on. The tunnels seemed endless, but then they were moving so slowly, for Spock couldn't manage more than a hobble now. Even so, he had to keep stopping to rest. At each rest period he reiterated the same words - "Leave me, Jim." And always Kirk made the same reply - "Never!"
The spring, when they found it, saved their lives. Kirk bathed Spock's face as if he was the Vulcan's mother and Spock allowed it, as a child would. They both drank, after ascertaining that the water was safe. Then they lay there for some time, unable to move further. Kirk unbound Spock's wound and bathed that too in the icy water. It was still swollen and discoloured and red-hot to touch. The water refreshed Spock a little, however, and he was able to move on after a rest.
It was the second day, as far as they could judge, since they'd entered the cave. Kirk walked almost blindly and Spock limped as blindly after him. When they rested they lay together and Kirk took his friend's head on his shoulder. Spock lay against him like an oversized child and in the weary despair of those hours the bond between them was forged doubly strong.
"Forgive me... for bringing you to your death, Jim," Spock said once during those hours.
"There's nothing to forgive," Kirk said, and meant it.
"You would not... leave me," Spock murmured.
"No, and I never will!"
They went on.
* * * * * * * *
He's going to die, Kirk thought later on that day, when Spock could hardly stand. Somehow, though, he dragged himself along, almost clinging to the wall. Kirk tried to support him but Spock wouldn't have it.
"No. You have enough to contend with... without me."
By that time Spock only knew one thing clearly, and that was that he must follow. His love for Kirk led him blindly, like a dog, to struggle on while he was racked with pain and weariness, to keep going because he knew Kirk wished it and that if he stopped and lay down to die, then Kirk would die with him. To save Kirk he must keep going. And Kirk kept going for a similar reason, to save Spock, each motivated by the other.
Passing the love of women... thought Kirk fuzzily as he plodded on, Spock staggering behind. We'd both have given up long ago without each other.
Sometimes, watching the Vulcan struggle to get to his feet, Kirk almost wept. Spock refused help. It took him time, but always in the end he managed it and would stand, swaying and exhausted, but upright. Soon he'll go down for good, Kirk thought. He won't get up again. And what do I do then? I carry him - if I can.
They had both long gone past the wish for food. What would kill them first, Kirk wondered gloomily, starvation, thirst or sheer exhaustion? Or, in Spock's case, the spreading poison from his wound?
* * * * * * * *
It was on the third day that Spock didn't get up.
Kirk watched him try, with his heart aching almost more than he could bear. In the end he stepped forward and helped, but it was no good. Even when he got to his feet Spock couldn't remain there. His body had resisted the poison for a long time, but it had given in at last. Not even the flogging of his merciless will could make it obey further. Torn with anguish himself, Kirk watched tears of rage and weakness flooding Spock's eyes and streaming down his face, glistening in the faint light. With one oddly detached part of himself he reflected that Bones would like to have seen that - he'd always wondered if Spock was Human enough to weep. Well, it seemed he was - if he was sufficiently weak.
"Leave me..." Spock gasped finally, on the ground again. "It is no good..."
Kirk hesitated above him. wondering what to do now. Spock hid his face for a second to wipe away the shameful tears and then looked up again and caught Kirk's knees.
"Jim - go on. You have got to go now... I cannot go any further... it is senseless your remaining... here also. Leave me!"
"I can't leave you," Kirk said. "Not until - "
"Until I am dead? That will not... be long. Why waste the time? Jim - " and Spock paused for a moment. "Jim... for the sake of what... we shared... leave me."
It really is the end this time, Kirk thought. Can I deny him his last wish?
Spock looked up at him still, intent, urgent, and Kirk couldn't meet his eyes. "Jim - go without me. It is no use... I tell you. I should know! Leave me!"
I never had to do anything so hard in my life, Kirk thought. He would have given his own life for me, and now I've got to leave him to die.
"Don't ask me to go!" he said harshly.
Spock shook his knees urgently. "You must! Every minute... counts now... Do not waste your time... on a dying man! I told you before... but you would not listen... You have got to listen now!" And as Kirk still hesitated, heartsick, he went on with difficulty. "Jim... I... I... beg you. I have never begged anything in my life... from anyone... until now."
Kirk knew he must go. Unable to speak, he put his hand on his friend's head for a moment.
"Live long and prosper, Jim," Spock said softly.
Kirk swallowed, then forced his voice past the obstacle in his throat. "Goodbye, my dear friend," he said. He turned away and went like a blind man, not looking back.
Spock lay down but turned his head so that he could watch his Captain as he went until a curve of the tunnel hid him from sight. Then he shut his eyes and sighed.
Kirk went on alone, in agony, feeling that what had happened would be branded on his mind for life, no matter how long he lived. He hardly saw where he was going and had in fact half crossed the big cavern before he saw the light streaming in through an opening ahead of him.
There'll be more insects there! he thought dully. And if there are, then I'll go back to him. There are worse ways to die.
But when he got to the opening there was nothing in sight except rocks, hills and moss. Not a sign of an insect. Hardly daring to believe it, Kirk tottered out into the open and reached at once for his communicator.
A few minutes later two orderlies and McCoy, red-nosed and snuffling but determined, had materialised beside him.
"Jim!" McCoy exclaimed. "Where in all hell have you been? We've been trying to trace you - and where's Spock?"
"Never mind that now!" Kirk said, cutting him short. "Come with me at once - and I hope to God we're not too late!"
As they entered the cavern McCoy was busy firing questions, to which Kirk answered wearily, "I'll tell you all about it later on. Just now all that matters is Spock. He's dying - might be dead for all I know. Hurry, Bones!"
"You're in no fit state yourself to be here," McCoy growled.
"To hell with that! I'm getting Spock out first!" Kirk retorted.
They entered the tunnel to find Spock still lying where Kirk had left him, watching them come as silent and unmoving as he'd watched Kirk go.
"Is he alive?" Kirk asked anxiously as McCoy bent over the motionless form sprawled on the ground.
The slanting eyes shifted slightly and a weak but familiar voice; said, "Of course I am alive, Captain. And I see that your optimism... was for once justified."
Kirk tried to smile.
"Nasty," McCoy observed, peeling the covering off the wound and looking at it. "Don't know how you came far like this, Spock. By rights you should be dead."
"By Human rights, no doubt," Spock agreed, frail but indomitable.
"Will he recover?" Kirk asked the doctor.
"Oh, sure," said McCoy, looking up. "Being a Vulcan and having a cast iron constitution. A Human would have been dead long ago, but he'll be all right. A few days should see him back on duty again, unchanged. Still, whatever it was that bit him sure landed him a lulu."
He turned away to give some instructions to the orderlies and Spock looked at Kirk, a look full of meaning.
"It is not only to my Vulcan constitution that I owe my survival," he said. Then his face lightened in his curious half-smile. "Thank you, Jim."
Copyright Audrey Baker