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Sheila Clark

The system was unique.

Even Spock could not think of another like it, although, as he pointed out, that did not necessarily mean that there were no others. A good proportion of suns are multiple systems, from straightforward binaries through 'double doubles' and six-fold systems like Castor to one known fantastically complicated family of ten. Several of these multiple systems had planets, but none of these held life in any form.

This, however, was a binary system with two planets capable of supporting life. It consisted of a G-type star circled by a dwarf companion M-type about five hundred million miles from it. Three planets orbited the primary between it and its dwarf companion; two more orbited outside the companion, thus circling both. The two planets nearest the secondary - the one inside its orbit, the other outside - showed signs of life in the sensor scan.

"Life on the outer planet is at a very primitive level," Spock reported. "There is extensive plant life of the type common to Arctic regions of standard planets, some animal life, small, insect-like creatures... indications of intelligence developing, but no kind of culture detectable. The inner planet shows sparse humanoid life, though not mammalian. Gravity, atmosphere, standard. Temperature rather high, and will shortly get higher as the planet's orbit takes it directly between the two suns."

"It must have a large temperature range," McCoy suggested.

"During its winter, it will probably have a fairly standard temperature," Spock replied. "There is no axial tilt, therefore its winter will be when it is on the far side of the primary from the dwarf. In its summer, however, it will reach very high temperatures, since it will obtain heat from both suns. The length of year will be approximately one and a twelfth revolutions round the primary."

"How could any species live in these conditions?" Kirk wondered.

"Highly evolved species might have difficulty surviving," Spock admitted. "We would certainly have difficulty; the planet is totally unsuitable for colonisation. But a species evolving over millennia to these variations of temperature, radiation, and so on, would be able to exist without too much trouble."

"Can we risk a landing party?" Kirk asked.

Spock studied the readings for some moments longer. "The heat would make it dangerous," he said at last. "Humans are not adapted to the height of temperature the planet is currently experiencing. However, a short exposure to it would be possible."

* * * * * * * *

The landing party consisted of Spock, McCoy, biologist Rank and security guard Young. Kirk, after consideration, chose not to go; his ankle, twisted on Brent some two weeks previously, was still giving him some slight bother, and the deep cut where McCoy had lanced his foot was taking its time to heal, although the rest of his cuts were no longer bothering him. *

The first impression the landing party received was - unsurprising - of heat. They had, after all, arrived near mid-summer.

McCoy glanced at Spock. "I suppose you find this a comfortable temperature, Mr. Spock?"

"No, Doctor, even I find it rather warm." He swung his tricorder round slowly. "There appears to be a number of intelligent humanoids over there," he said.

They pushed through a tangle of sun-dried vegetation to come in sight of a small group of beings making their way towards a nearby cliff. There appeared to be males, females and children; even the smallest seemed capable of walking unaided.

"A family party?" Rank guessed.

"Possibly." Spock watched thoughtfully, then checked his tricorder again. "I would say these beings are a kind of warm-blooded reptile," he said slowly.

"Is that possible?" McCoy asked.

"I don't see why not," Rank replied. "They do seem to have reptilian characteristics, and reptiles did evolve into mammals; a transition period of warm-blooded reptile or cold-blooded mammal seems likely, and from our knowledge of primitive mammals from various planets, the first does seem more probable. Besides, a cold-blooded species couldn't stand too great a range of temperature without having long spells of at best sluggishness, at worst, hibernation. If they were too inactive during the height of summer or winter, it wouldn't really be a survival characteristic, and they certainly wouldn't be likely to develop intelligence. All the semi-intelligent reptiles we know live on worlds with an equable, reasonably warm climate. In a warm-blooded species, the incentive to intelligent thought caused by the extremes of temperature would be considerable."

"With the next stage in evolution probably mammalian," Spock put in. "This is, as Mr. Rank said, probably a transition stage, possibly lasting only a few thousand years, that we have simply not encountered before but that has happened many times on many planets during evolution."

"Or it's unique, same as the planet," McCoy grunted.

"It is possible," Spock conceded.

"What about other life forms?"

"Sparse," Spock said slowly.

"Some Earth fish in tropical areas die during drought conditions, but their eggs survive in the mud - even if it's dried up," Rank suggested.

Spock nodded. "I think you have found a possible answer to what the lower species do to survive the intense summer heat," he said.

"But what do these creatures do?" McCoy indicated the group of natives, now almost out of sight.

"One way to discover that is to contact them," Spock replied.

* * * * * * * *

The humanoids were friendly. Caution - fear - seemed unknown to them. They seemed quite willing - even anxious - for the strangers to accompany them. They led the way to a nearby cliff; one of the males pushed aside a 'door' of interwoven branches, revealing a cave.

It was cool in the cave. Pleasantly cool.

"This is not a home to them, however," Spock commented. "Merely a shelter."

Glancing round, McCoy had to agree. There were none of the little touches that, even in the most primitive society, said, 'This is where I live.'

The male pulled the door back into place, and the whole group settled down as if to sleep. One of the natives delayed lying down long enough to point out to their guests where they might sleep.

Spock tried to indicate no. The natives became quite excited; Spock tried again to made them realise that they had to go outside again, knowing that they were far enough underground for the Enterprise not to be able to reach them.

The natives rushed them. They hesitated to use their phasers; and hesitated too long. In a few minutes, they found themselves lying where the natives had indicated, tied hand and foot with leather thongs, and the natives were all lying curled up, peacefully asleep.

Spock muttered something in Vulcan.

"Annoyed, Spock?" McCoy asked.

"I think I understand," Spock said, ruefully. "They hibernate - or, rather, estivate - through the hot spell. They've tied us for our own safety, to make sure we stay here where we won't fry. But even I will be dead from thirst and starvation before they waken."

"And Jim won't be able to trace us while we're underground."

Spock nodded. "It appears that I was not very clever," he said. "My apologies, gentlemen."

"You're not just giving up?" McCoy gasped.

"I can't break these thongs," Spock replied. "I therefore doubt that any of you can."

"Roll over this way," McCoy suggested. "I'll try my teeth on them."

* * * * * * * *

On the Enterprise, Kirk was getting desperately worried. The sensors now indicated too high a temperature for anyone to survive without protection, but they had lost all contact with the landing party; there hadn't even been any indication that they were finding it so hot that they were in difficulty.

Abruptly, Kirk made up his mind. Ankle or not, he wasn't leaving his friends without making some attempt to find them!

"Take over, Mr. Sulu."

He headed for the transporter room. Minutes later, his suited figure beamed down to the last known co-ordinates.

* * * * * * * *

Even in the suit, he felt the heat.

The tricorder told him nothing. Around him, plants were shrivelling in the fierce heat that sucked all the sap from them. He swung the tricorder round again.

Reason told him that the landing party must have looked for shelter. A nearby cliff offered possibilities, and he limped towards it.

* * * * * * * *

McCoy made slow progress at chewing through Spock's bonds. Rank meanwhile tried his teeth on Young's, but with even less success. At last, both men had to stop, their jaws exhausted.

"My turn, Doctor," Spock said quietly. They twisted over, and Spock - and Young - chewed for a while. Then McCoy and Rank resumed the struggle. After a short while, Spock tensed his muscles - for the twentieth time - and the fibres binding his wrists snapped.

"Thank you, Doctor," he said. He untied his feet, then released the others.

He moved towards the door. "Stay back," he said. "It must be too hot out there for any of us to survive for more than a minute."

He swung the door open. A blast of hot air hit them. Spock flicked open his communicator, gasping in the heat.

"Spock to Enterprise."

"Enterprise. Scott here."

"Landing party ready to beam up. The others are underground, behind me. Take them first. I have something to do first."

"Spock," Kirk's voice cut in. "I'm suited. What must be done?"

"This door must be closed to protect the planet's natives from the heat."

"I'll do it. I can see you. Go up with the others."

Spock didn't stop to protest. They materialised in a cool that for a moment made them all shiver; then stepped out of the transporter chamber to make way for their Captain.

* See The Slavers of Brent


Copyright Sheila Clark