|Home||Story Index||Stories by
|ScoTpress History||Zine Archive|
The research party beamed down, cheerfully looking forward to a few days of interesting work in a relaxing environment. There was plenty to study in peaceful, beautiful surroundings; a planet known to be without dangerous life forms, still in a state of evolution where the most advanced plants had only just begun to produce tiny green flowers.
This was almost make-work for the scientific staff - a required, but not essential, survey, being undertaken while the Enterprise went on to the nearby Starbase 24 for routine maintenance that Scotty would oversee. Unlike most Starbases, 24 was wholly an artificial structure, not sited on a planet, so although the rest of the crew would get R & R there, Kirk, knowing he would have nothing to do but talk shop with any other captains who might be there, knowing it would inhibit his crew slightly if their commanding officer was always around, and feeling a need for some fresh air, chose to join the research party. When Kirk announced his plans, McCoy decided to assign himself to the medical detail instead of sending one of his subordinates. One of his friends he might risk to the possible attention of one of the junior doctors in the conditions prevailing here, but he was certainly not risking both.
The little village of tents took shape rapidly - the large tent for the test results to be processed formed the nexus, with the sleeping tents clustered round it like chickens round a hen, and a little way apart, the medical tent with McCoy's sleeping tent beside it. On consideration, Kirk and Spock decided to put their tents beside McCoy's. Not only would it give the three of them more freedom, it would let the team of scientists relax more in their off time than if their senior officers were always at their elbows.
The planet was not wholly unexplored, though it was a prime example of how one near civilisation - in this case, the Starbase - could be virtually ignored on the grounds that it was easy to get a ship there any time Starfleet Command thought about it. The initial exploration having ascertained that there were no minerals worth exploiting, the planet had been assigned to the list of 'If you have time, give it a quick check' planets that all Starship Captains were given. This trip in itself was virtually a voluntary one, Spock having suggested it to his department as preferable to the tedium of Starbase 24, and Starfleet agreeing that there was no reason why they shouldn't spend their leave there instead of the Starbase, if they really preferred a working leave. A good part of the ship's scientific personnel had chosen to go.
They spent the first day exploring their surroundings. Even Spock seemed willing to join Kirk and McCoy in an aimless wandering through the sparse bush that lined the course of a dried-up water channel, without complaining about the waste of time - or pointing out that it was illogical to use energy if one was attempting to 'rest'. Almost, it seemed, that for once he had permitted the Human part of his nature to become dominant. On the second day, however, the men proceeded with more detailed investigation, each branching off naturally to those aspects of the planet's flora and geology that most interested them.
McCoy frequently doubled as a biologist; here, there were no animals for him to study. He turned his attention to micro-organisms that lived in shallow, stagnant pools that still persisted here and there in spite of the general aridity of the land.
Spock, as befitted his position as science officer, moved from one group to another, checking what they were doing with the tact and unobtrusiveness that never failed to amaze McCoy, no matter how often he saw it.
Both were careful to see that Kirk had nothing to do but relax. The Captain fell into the way of accompanying McCoy; he sat back watching as the doctor worked, occasionally making a lazy suggestion and even more occasionally wading into a pool to collect a sample of the algaed water. Spock frequently stopped to exchange a few words with both. Kirk gradually unwound, the lines of strain easing from his face.
Twelve days passed uneventfully. The files of information they were gathering gained in mass. They were having to go further afield now, but the extended walk was preferable to trying to shift camp. It meant, however, that they returned to camp at night glad to tumble into bed - shipboard life did not really leave even the most athletic of them able to walk several miles a day with impunity, and Spock decided to insist that every second day should be spent in camp processing data.
Only two of the three seniors remained relatively untired - Kirk did little, having accepted his friends' insistence that he treat this entirely as a leave, and McCoy, because of his primary role as a doctor, dared not go too far from the medical tent; even although he could be called instantly to any emergency, no matter where he was, he needed to be within reach of his medical supplies. Instead, he got the others to bring him water samples that were often little more than mud from other areas, and spent his days bent over a microscope. Spock, however, came back each night near exhaustion despite his greater strength, for he walked further than anyone - not a day passed but several of the scientists wanted his opinion on something, and since they were now so spread out on working days he had to cover a lot of ground. Even on 'rest' days, he moved from man to man, helping, advising...
All slept soundly at night; even Spock, who was normally a light sleeper, remained dead to the world for most of the hours of darkness. Thus it was that the heavy rain that began to fall unexpectedly on the twelfth night disturbed no-one. Kirk half roused, his mind registering the steady drumming sound, then, identifying the sound correctly, switched off and he rolled over, already asleep again.
Deep in the hills behind the camp, water rushed over the dry soil as the first rain of the season failed to soak into the iron hard ground, forming runnels that soon grew into respectable streams, joining together as they poured into the almost-dry bed of a river whose upper reaches had maintained the barest trickle of half stagnant water during the months-long summer drought.
The flash flood that poured down the river bed swept loose branches with it until it struck the mighty fallen tree that completely blocked a narrow canyon. The water ran freely at first through the branches, then, as the water-carried debris was held back by the branches to form a dam, less easily, until the flood was backed up to form a huge reservoir of water. At last the weight of the many thousands of gallons pressing against the dead tree proved too much for it, and with a resounding crack the trunk snapped in two. The water, suddenly released, swirled onwards, carrying with it the pieces of the tree along with the rest of the debris.
As it left the confines of the canyon, the newly-born river widened rapidly but still rushed violently on. Plants, short-lived annuals whose lives had been an ever more difficult search for enough moisture to keep them alive, were flattened even as their seeds were carried away in the swirling water.
No-one in the sleeping camp heard the distant rumble of the rushing water. The one man who should have been alerted by it slept in an exhausted oblivion; but even he, had he been awake, might not have recognised the sound for what it was, for he came from an arid world where floods were unknown. The wall of water bore down on the tents and carried away the main encampment. The scientists in their tents died without even knowing that there was any danger.
The distance separating the two camps was sufficient, however, to let the little camp where Kirk, Spock and McCoy slept escape almost unscathed. The sound of the water as it neared them half aroused all three. Spock raised his head, vainly trying to identify the totally unfamiliar noise of the rushing water coming closer and closer, then jerked into complete awareness at the brief, desperate, wordless yell that he instantly identified as coming from Kirk.
He scrambled out of his tent, eyes straining in the dim light of early dawn. Water ran coldly round his ankles - but no colder than his blood as he realised what had happened; and that Kirk's tent, too, had been carried away. McCoy joined the Vulcan, splashing through the water.
"Spock, what's happened?"
The look Spock gave him was a mixture of exasperation and despair. Why did McCoy always expect him to know everything? The thought rose unbidden to his mind, followed instantly by the realisation that he should be flattered at the surgeon's reliance.
He knew from the look on McCoy's face that an answer wasn't really needed; but he gave it anyway. "The Captain's tent appears to have been carried away in a flood, Doctor, and until there is rather more light, a search would be so hazardous to us that we dare not initiate one. Dead, we will be of no assistance to him."
"And the others?" From the tone of McCoy's voice, Spock realised that the doctor already knew the answer but was simply hoping desperately that it was wrong. Spock shook his head.
"They must have been full in the path of the flood, Doctor; they can have stood no chance. We can search, of course, but..."
Abruptly, McCoy turned and went into the medical tent. He busied himself gathering together everything he might possibly need. Spock continued to stare downstream, his keen eyes strained to painfulness as he struggled to see something - anything - that would help them to find their missing Captain.
The sudden shock of immersion in icy cold water woke Kirk abruptly; but the beginnings of the involuntary yell he gave were lost as the wet tent dropped on top of him, wrapping him in a fond embrace that he fought to escape. He struggled desperately as the flood carried him off, but he was hampered both by his sleeping bag and by the wet canvas of the tent itself. He gasped for breath and swallowed a choking mouthful of water. He tried to cough, and gulped in more water. A sudden impact that he hardly felt slowed his progress almost to a halt, then the water whirled him away again. The pause, however, short thought it had been, let him grab a lungful of air and gave him time to get his arms free of the handicapping binding of his sleeping bag. But the wet material still clung lovingly to his body and, with the added weight of the tent, was dragging him down. The only thing that kept him from being wholly submerged was the shallowness of the water; although bearing him inexorably along, it was little more than a foot to eighteen inches in depth, and several times he felt his body slide over boulders set in the bed of the reborn river. With his arms free, however, he could hold the suffocating material away from his face, and breathe.
The tent caught on something, and his progress was halted. But although he wasn't being carried any further, the water still pressed on him, building up behind the dam of his body, making it harder for him to keep his head above the surface, while his arms ached with the strain of holding the wet, heavy tent off his face as well. He still found it impossible to struggle free of his sleeping bag.
Something hard hit his arm and washed on past. It was the first of many such water-borne missiles, and some of them piled up behind him as well, held back by the material of the tent.
If only it wasn't so cold.... his body was numb with it... and he was beginning to feel sleepy. He retained enough sense to fight the impulse to close his eyes just for a second, a dim memory of a discussion with McCoy months before telling him that this drowsiness, under these conditions, indicated the beginnings of hypothermia. But he knew that it would be only a matter of time before the cold defeated him, and he fell asleep and drowned.
Gradually, the faint light of early dawn brightened. The sun took a long time to rise on this quiet planet - something the scientists, waking still weary from the previous day's exertions, had been glad of. Even Spock had welcomed the slow dawn that gave him time to prepare mentally for the physical effort that each day required. But this morning, the sun seemed to take a fiendish delight in delaying its appearance.
While they waited until there was sufficient light to let them see properly, McCoy thrust some food at Spock from the meagre reserve he carried in the medical tent.
"Thank you, Doctor, but I am not hungry," Spock said evenly.
"Neither am I," McCoy replied bluntly. "But we need to stoke up with something. It may be a very long day."
Spock was not even tempted to make the obvious reply; that the day would be the same length as the ones preceding it. He knew exactly what McCoy meant, and for once was willing to accept the comment without question.
They choked down a little food; neither could have said what it tasted like, other than ashes. As an afterthought, McCoy added some emergency rations to the pile of medical supplies he had made up, and they were ready to move.
As they left the destroyed campsite, McCoy said blankly, "Don't you have a tricorder, Spock?"
The Vulcan shook his head. "They were all in the main storage tent, Doctor. They could be anywhere by now. We will have to do this the hard way."
They headed downstream as fast as they could. The water level was dropping a little now that the rain had stopped, but that, if anything, added to their difficulties, for the debris that the water left behind tangled their feet and hampered them. Occasionally they had to leave the water's edge to get past a clump of thickly matted shrubs intertwined with dead branches. When this happened, they had to backtrack to make sure they were searching all the river. McCoy began to flag a little as the day wore on; Spock, noticing, urged him to rest while he did the backtracking, but the doctor refused.
They had no idea how far they'd travelled. Spock's face grew more and more expressionless; McCoy's was set in a mask of hopeless anguish. And the sun was already beginning to drop down towards the horizon and the ominous bank of black clouds rising from it.
A little way downstream from them lay an orange-yellow heap of cloth, motionless now that the water was no longer tugging at it, more than half hidden by the flotsam the flash flood had left behind.
"How much further can we get tonight, Spock?"
The weary despair in McCoy's voice almost broke Spock's self-control, eroded by many hours of fruitless search. At heart, many hours ago he had given up hope of finding Kirk alive; but he would not abandon the search until he had found Kirk's body.
"Not much further, Doctor." Was that really his voice, still so calm and expressionless? "Once the sun sets, it will rapidly become too dark for us to see. When that happens, we must stop."
They stumbled on. McCoy was now so weary that he could barely set one foot in front of the other, and the Vulcan was in little better state.
They had just passed a heap of debris when they were stopped short by a low moan. As one man, they whirled, staring back.
From this angle they could see the orange-yellow heap, now stirring faintly, weakly. Reaction held both motionless.
"Jim?" Spock still hardly dared to hope. It could so easily be one of the scientists...
"Spock..." It was only a whisper, but to the Vulcan it was as clear as a shout. Tiredness forgotten, he lunged forward, McCoy at his heels.
The wet cloth of the tent, heaped high with twigs and branches, almost defeated them for a moment; then McCoy remembered his medical kit, pulled a scalpel from it and carefully began to slash at the material.
Kirk was pale except where a bruise showed dark on one cheek. They eased him carefully out of the ruined tent, their relief communicating itself clearly to him in the gentle touch of their hands. He gasped with pain as the movement hurt his stiffened muscles; then the agony of returning circulation caused him to grit his teeth. McCoy rubbed his legs briskly, motioning Spock to do the same to Kirk's arms; and Kirk gave an involuntary yelp as the ache in one arm became a sudden stab of pain. McCoy promptly forgot the legs and turned his attention to the arm.
"Broken," he said as he felt it, aware of the tenseness in Kirk's body as he fought to keep from crying out again. "A clean break, no complications... but I can't do much for it except set it. Spock, I'll need a splint. See if you can find a straight bit of branch for me."
While Spock was gone, forcing his eyes to focus in the fast-fading light, McCoy continued to work over Kirk. He suspected that the broken arm was probably the least of his friend's ills; he had lain in icy water for much of the day, and he was shivering spasmodically.
At last Spock returned, groping his way back to them, carrying a short branch. "This is all I could find, Doctor," he said. "However, it might suffice until the morning."
McCoy nodded, and fastened Kirk's arm to it. Then he coaxed Kirk into eating some of the ration pack he had brought. By mutual consent, he and Spock took nothing; they might need it all for Kirk before they could get him back to the camp.
They settled down for the night, lying together with Kirk between them. Spock and McCoy snuggled close to him, warming him with their bodies, and he relaxed and slept peacefully, his sleep undisturbed even by nightmares of his recent ordeal. His friends were with him and he knew that he was safe.
Exhausted, McCoy slept soundly as well but, remembering the ominously banking clouds, Spock lay wakeful, Kirk's head pillowed on his shoulder, recuperating by sheer relaxation, grateful that at least there were no dangerous animals on this planet. His mind turned to the question of the scientists. Although they had been more fully in the path of the flood, could any of them have survived? It was his duty to search for them, try to find out... it was also his duty to help McCoy get Kirk back to the dubious safety of their camp. Alone, McCoy would never manage.
If only he had a tricorder...
The Humans slept well into the morning. Spock made no attempt to waken them, judging that their bodies needed the rest, but inwardly worried at the waste of time. They would never get back to the camp in one day now.
He might have known that Kirk would have his own ideas, and render Spock's plans academic. The Captain stirred slightly, and Spock carefully removed the hand that had been gently holding his friend's head. A moment later, Kirk opened his eyes and lifted his head.
"Spock," he murmured. The Vulcan's eyes softened for a moment. "What exactly happened, Spock?"
Spock told him briefly.
"You and Bones were clear of the flood?"
"Yes, Captain. Just clear. We must now return to camp as rapidly as possible so that Dr McCoy can treat your arm properly."
"is there any chance - any chance at all - that any of the scientists might have survived?"
"It is unlikely, Captain. But then we were quite certain that you... could not have survived."
"And yet you kept looking."
"There was the possibility..."
"And there's the possibility that some of them might have escaped alive, too. We have to find out."
"I thought of that." In the light of Kirk's statement, Spock rapidly revised his plans. "I will continue and search for any survivors. Dr McCoy can take you back to camp - "
"Negative, Spock. If there are any survivors, they will need Bones more then they'll need you. We'll all go."
"Captain, we'll be searching blind - the tricorders were all lost. You're not fit to make such a search - "
"I can manage, Spock. It's my arm that's broken, and I don't walk with my arms - "
"There is much water-borne debris and the ground is so rough that you will find it essential to use your arms, Captain." If only we could find a tricorder, Spock thought. Then it would be easy. We could ascertain if anyone else had survived without leaving this spot.
Kirk smiled confidently and very affectionately. "If I need any help, you'll give me it before I even know myself that I need it," he said, with a quiet certainty. Reluctantly, knowing Kirk's comment to be true, Spock allowed an answering smile to creep into his eyes.
"You'll help me convince Bones, too, won't you," Kirk added.
"If his medical judgement is that you mustn't exert yourself, Captain, I will support him," Spock said quietly. "Your safety is more important than the extremely faint possibility of finding any more survivors." He met Kirk's eyes firmly. It was Kirk's turn to be reluctant; he nodded at last, knowing Spock to be telling the truth.
They lay quietly again, both reluctant to move; Spock because he was still physically very tired from the previous day's exertions on top of the cumulative exhaustion of twelve days' over-exercise, Kirk because the little movement he had so far made had shown him conclusively that he was very, very stiff; and in addition he had become aware of a large number of bruises where he had been bounced off rocks or branches had hit him. Also he found it very peaceful lying here in the reassuring company of his friends. At heart he was convinced that the scientists were all dead; but he had to look. What if no-one had looked for him?
McCoy grunted and rolled onto his back, then sat up. Kirk turned his head cautiously.
"What's wrong, Bones?"
"0of! I'm stiff, that's all. Too much walking when I'm not used to it. Oh, well, I should be 0.K. once we get going." He glanced at the sun as it showed for a moment. "Though I'm afraid we won't make it back to camp before dark."
"We're not going back to camp yet, Bones," Kirk said quietly. "There are eighteen men still missing. We must at least make an attempt to find out if any are still alive."
McCoy looked from Kirk to Spock. The Vulcan nodded.
"The Captain is correct, Doctor. I felt that it would be sufficient for me to search while you and he return to camp, but as he pointed out, you will be of more assistance to any survivors than I could be."
"You're crazy, both of you! Jim, it's a miracle that you survived, and that was probably only because you were right at the edge of the flood and grounded fairly quickly. But the main camp was well in the path of the flood. The men couldn't have stood an earthly except by some really freak chance."
"But you agree that one or more might - by some really freak chance - have survived?"
"Anything's possible, Jim - but I don't think it's likely."
"The odds are extremely long," Spock admitted. "I lack the data to compute them exactly - but even so, while there is any chance - any chance at all - that any of our men might have survived, it is our duty to search."
"Jim's in no fit state - " McCoy began, speaking across the Captain as if he had no part in the discussion.
"Bones, I'm just a bit stiff," Kirk said. "I can manage. And anyway, the exercise'll do me good."
"We've no food."
"We can manage. Spock, your results came up with one or two edible plants, didn't they?"
"Yes - but Captain, we have no tricorder to help us to identify them. Other plants, similar in appearance, are poisonous. We cannot depend on living off the land."
"Oh, well - I could do with losing a bit of weight," Kirk said. "You're always saying that, Bones. A day or two without food should do wonders for the old waistline."
"At the moment, your body needs fuel," McCoy said bluntly. "You're still suffering from shock and exposure. However, you're right - unfortunately. If there's any doubt that the men are dead, we must search for survivors."
They set off almost at once - a still tired and stiffly moving trio. It didn't take Kirk long to discover just now many aches and bruises he had. He set his lips against any murmur of pain and plodded doggedly on, telling himself that the exercise would soon warm him, soon loosen him up. If only the sun would break through the clouds! But it seemed to have decided to vanish for good.
Rain began to fall again; large, heavy drops that fell slowly at first then increasingly faster and heavier. Kirk's partially dried clothes quickly soaked again, the water running down his legs to gather uncomfortably in his boots. He said nothing, knowing that the others were as wet and uncomfortable as he and probably as cold; Spock, coming as he did from a hot dry planet was probably suffering more than the two Humans, though he would show it even less than Bones or himself. He shivered involuntarily.
Ahead of them, they saw a splash of orange. Instinctively they speeded up.
The tent was caught up in the lower branches of a tree, still half submerged. Spock waded out to it, checked it quickly, and waded back, dragging a body.
"Lt. Horan," he said quietly as he pulled it onto the muddy bank. McCoy bent over the body, studying the obvious injury on its head.
"That's what killed him," he said soberly. "Could even have been the tent pole. Quick."
They buried the dead scientist as best they could and went on. Kirk was shivering steadily now, long rippling tremors that shuddered the entire length of his body in continuous waves. There was an acute pain in his chest too, that was getting steadily worse; it hurt to breathe. Grimly he told himself that it was only the pain from the bruises on his ribs that was causing the ache, and continued doggedly on.
The going became increasingly more difficult as the unrelenting rain battered down, turning the recently rock-hard ground into a quagmire. Even the deeply-probing roots of the plants were insufficient to hold many of them still upright, and the difficulty was compounded by the fallen and drooping vegetation. They tripped and slipped and stumbled as they went, and every trip and fall jarred Kirk's arm, his many bruises and strained muscles. But he continued to push himself erect again with his good arm and went on, uncomplaining. His friends had enough to concern themselves about without adding unnecessary worry about him...
Another splash of orange caught his eye. He touched Spock's arm and pointed, suddenly aware of a thickness in his throat that would inevitably make his voice hoarse and wanting to hide it as long as possible.
This one was further out. Spock regarded it doubtfully for a moment, estimating the speed of the river, that was rising again, then waded in. Within moments he was swimming, striking out strongly. Kirk and McCoy watched anxiously.
Spock reached the tent, caught in the branches of an almost submerged tree that by some chance had remained standing. Moments later he turned and began to swim back.
A tree floated down towards him; Kirk gave a hoarse yell. "Spock!"
As the tree struck the Vulcan, Kirk moved instinctively towards the water. McCoy caught him, holding him back as their friend's dark head disappeared under the water, pushed down by the branches.
The anguish in Kirk's voice matched the expression on McCoy's face; but the Doctor's attention was immediately distracted by the tremors he felt running through Kirk's body. "How long have you been shivering like this, Jim?" His voice was accusing despite its gentleness.
"Not sure..." The hoarseness caught Kirk's throat and he coughed harshly, glad of McCoy's supporting arm.
McCoy glanced round. Two instincts warred in him; the desire to look for Spock, the need to help Jim...
Common sense came to his rescue. There was little chance that he could do anything for the Vulcan; Jim, he could help. He supported Kirk to a nearby rock that at least offered a seat more solid then the ground into which their feet were now sinking several inches, and felt for his medical pouch.
Kirk's temperature was dangerously high despite the shivering that still convulsed his fever-racked body. McCoy bit his lip; this constant exposure to cold and wet wasn't doing Jim any good at all, and there was no way he could get Jim under cover out here. He found himself cursing the decision not to leave a shuttlecraft with the scientific party - but then who would have expected such a dry area as this part of the planet appeared to be to have a monsoon season? Although, hindsight told him, the stagnant pools should have been a clue.
Grimly, he decided to recommend that any similar landing party should have a shuttle assigned to them if the Enterprise had to leave. With one here - well, the situation couldn't have been avoided, but with one, he and Spock would have been able to find Jim quickly and check for the others without having to risk their own lives. And Jim wouldn't now be suffering from what he strongly suspected was pleurisy.
He selected a general antibiotic from the bottles in his medical kit and gave Kirk a shot, knowing that at best this would only alleviate the worst of the symptoms. Kirk should be in a bed, warm and dry, getting a nourishing liquid diet instead of having to remain active, cold and wet and hungry. McCoy tried to work out how long it would be before the Enterprise returned, and knew it would probably be at least a week. His shoulders sagged in discouragement. Long before then, Kirk would be dead. Alone, it was unlikely that he could get Kirk back to their campsite, and even if he did, there was no guarantee that the surviving tents would still be there; even if they were, no tent could stand up to this prolonged battering by heavy rain and not leak badly.
Kirk coughed again, a harsh and racking dry cough that McCoy knew would give him no relief. Nor was there anything McCoy could give him to ease it. His medical pouch was not large; he could only carry general drugs in it, not specifics, and it would be some hours before he could give Kirk another antibiotic shot.
"Spock..." Kirk gasped.
"Spock's not here, Jim," McCoy said gently. If Kirk's fevered mind had forgotten that Spock was dead, drowned like the others, it might be kinder not to remind him yet. Not when he also would probably be dead before it became necessary to tell him. "He went to look for the others, remember?"
"Look... others..." Kirk gasped, his delirium-racked mind struggling to comprehend.
"Yes. He went to see if any of them had escaped the flood. We're going back to camp. He'll... follow us."
"Follow..." A flash of lucidity broke through. "He... Don't try to pretend, Bones..." He coughed again. "Spock's... dead, isn't he?"
Sadly, McCoy nodded. A tear joined the rainwater on Kirk's face. "His... body?"
"It'll have been carried away, Jim. Once the Enterprise comes back, we'll find it. I promise. But for the moment, you've to get back to camp - and that's a medical order, Captain."
McCoy helped Kirk to his feet, pulled the uninjured arm round his shoulders to take most of his friend's weight, and they began the long, arduous trek back towards the sad remnants of their camp.
The painkiller in the antibiotic helped a little at first, but before long the continual jolting movement as they struggled through the mud irritated the maltreated tissues in Kirk's chest into an intolerable stabbing pain.
His legs collapsed under him at last and he sank to the ground, pulling McCoy down with him. The surgeon lay still for some moments, glad of the rest. Then Kirk coughed again, and the sound jerked the surgeon back into action.
He pulled Kirk upright, and more than half carried him to a nearby rock.
He let Kirk sink down onto it and the Captain lay back, gasping. His lips firmly set, McCoy gave Kirk another shot, glancing worriedly at the depleted supply as he did so. There was little enough left; this supply was only meant for emergencies, to ease a sick man until he could be got back to the ship; it was never intended to keep a seriously ill man going indefinitely. He glanced back the way they had come, feeling a tightening at his heart as he realised how short a distance they had covered; the orange of the fatal tent was still visible - then even as he watched it tore loose and disappeared, swept inexorably away. He dropped down onto the rock beside Kirk, totally disheartened. What was the point in struggling on?
The hopeless mood lasted for many minutes, but at last his medical instincts overcame it. He had to struggle on, because only by doing so was there any possibility of saving Jim's life. He might give up and allow himself to die, but he could not let another person die while there was something, anything at all, that he could do to preserve that other life.
Wearily, he struggled to his feet. The movement roused Kirk; he raised his head painfully.
"We must go on now, Jim."
Go on? The very thought of moving appalled Kirk. His chest still pained him as he lay, but at least it wasn't the terrible, wrenching pain he suffered as he walked. It took all of his courage to nod.
McCoy slipped his arm round Kirk had helped him to sit up. Kirk coughed again, struggling to draw breath, and McCoy gave him a second or two to recover.
Kirk's head jerked upright at the shout; McCoy whirled, completely unable to disguise his overwhelming joy at sight of the approaching figure.
Kirk reached out a trembling hand towards Spock as the Vulcan joined them. Hesitantly, Spock took it, then gripped it reassuringly as McCoy caught and pressed his arm.
"We thought you were dead," McCoy said hoarsely.
"The tree merely pushed me under water," Spock explained, his own voice a little unsteady, touched, despite himself, by their obvious happiness at seeing him. With an effort, he controlled it. "It might have killed me, but your shout alerted me, Captain. Instead of fighting against it, I allowed it to carry me with it. However, I was carried some distance downstream before I managed to swim clear and return to the bank. When I reached the place where I had left you without seeing any sign of you, I reasoned the you must have thought me dead and that Dr McCoy had therefore insisted that you return to camp. I fully agree. There is no chance now of finding any other survivors, I am sure."
McCoy nodded. "Unfortunately, Jim's very ill," he said bluntly. "Pleurisy. He shouldn't be walking."
"Then he need not." Calmly, Spock slipped his arms under Kirk and, with no apparent effort, lifted him. Kirk put the uninjured arm round Spock's shoulders as the Vulcan turned to face upstream once more. McCoy followed close behind.
McCoy never knew how Spock managed to walk so evenly thereafter. Where earlier he had slipped and stumbled with the others, now he maintained an almost supernatural balance as he waded through the deepening mud.
A newly-formed stream that hadn't been there when they went downstream crossed their path, and they stopped, surveying it with some dismay. Then, with a resigned shrug, McCoy moved forward. He waded in cautiously, feeling his way carefully, testing the depth and footing. The bottom seemed fairly solid, and he realised that it was in fact a well-established watercourse that, like the rest of the area, had been dried up. It was little more than waist-deep at the deepest part, although it was fairly fast-flowing. McCoy waited there, bracing himself against the current, to steady Spock as he edged across, somehow managing to hold Kirk clear of the water - for all the difference it made. All three were so wet that they couldn't possibly get any wetter; but somehow the raindrops didn't seem quite as cold as the icy rush of the river.
The light, that had remained fairly dim all day, began to fade. Kirk, lying back in Spock's arms with his eyes closed, was unaware of it, but Spock and McCoy glanced anxiously at each other. They could go no further that night.
Just off their direct route was a pile of fallen stones. By mutual consent, they headed that way.
There was no real shelter to be had there, but an overhang offered some respite from the battering rain and the rocks gave them something solid to sit on. McCoy gave Kirk another shot, acutely aware that now there was only one dose left, then he and Spock settled down, one on each side of their shivering Captain, pressing close to him in an attempt to keep him warm.
It was a long, cold night. Occasionally Kirk would cough dryly, and he shivered continually. He was more than glad of the close physical proximity of his friends, and at last his head drooped onto Spock's shoulder and he drifted into an uneasy fevered doze.
As soon as it was light, McCoy gave Kirk the last shot. Then, without wakening the Captain, Spock carefully lifted him again and they set off once more. There were no landmarks that either man could identify; only the river. All they could do was follow it until they came to the remaining tents - if indeed any of the three that had been left standing was still above the flood.
The rain was less heavy now, but conditions were no more pleasant than they had been. McCoy began to wonder if he would ever be dry again.
Kirk, coughing, woke to pain in his chest. He moved his head weakly, and focussed his eyes on the face of the man carrying him.
Spock. But Spock had drowned... with an effort, Kirk pulled his mind from the nightmare that had disturbed his sleep. No. Spock hadn't drowned. Spock was here, giving his strength unstintingly, knowing without being told that he was needed. But surely even Spock couldn't keep going indefinitely...
"Spock! Look!" McCoy pointed excitedly. Ahead of them was a gleam of orange. Two of the tents had gone, but one was still standing.
It was McCoy's sleeping tent. Furthest from the river, the lie of the land had also kept it above water level. And although the ground under it had been well-moistened by capillary action, it was still on firmer ground than it would be if they moved it. The sleeping bag inside was slightly damp, but not excessively so, as was the blanket under it.
Quickly and carefully, they stripped Kirk's clothes off, seeing for the first tune just how badly bruised his body was. McCoy rubbed him down as briskly as he dared with a not-quite-dry towel, then together they eased him into the sleeping bag.
"You too, Spock," McCoy said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Jim's frozen, Spock. One of the most effective ways to warm him, and the only one available to us, is to use someone else's body heat. That means you - your basic temperature's higher than mine, and anyway, I'll have to hunt round and see if there are any of my supplies still retrievable. Now hurry up, get those wet clothes off and get into that sleeping bag!"
Spock hesitated a moment longer, even though he recognised the truth of McCoy's comment. "Be careful, Doctor."
"I always am. I need to be, to keep an eye on you and Jim."
McCoy remained long enough to see Spock beginning to undress, then turned away and began to search wearily around. He found one box jammed half under a stone, but it contained only some general drugs, not the particular one he wanted. Still, these were better than nothing, and he slipped them into his pouch thankfully. He searched on. A scrap of orange caught his eye. It was a little way from the main course of the river, but he went over to it. There was nothing it could be, here, except a piece torn from one of the tents. On an impulse, he checked the position of the little encampment, then took a line from it, past the scrap of cloth, and went on.
A few hundred yards farther on, he found the remains of the medical tent, caught up in a tree where it had been carried by a side-streem that no longer flowed. With a struggle, he forced his way into it, and found that some of his supplies were still intact inside it - how, he had no idea, for he could see that the groundsheet was extensively ripped. Mostly general drugs again... Ah. This one was better. Not the one he actually wanted, but a reasonable substitute. He slipped off his shirt to carry the salvaged drugs, and headed back.
He arrived to find Spock already into the sleeping bag beside Kirk. It was a tight fit for two, even though Spock had helped matters by easing an arm round Kirk so that the Captain's head rested on his shoulder. Kirk was asleep, but not peacefully. McCoy prepared a shot of the drug he had just retrieved, then stripped in turn and dried himself roughly with the towel, which was already pretty wet after being used on the other two. Then he wrapped himself in the blanket and lay at Kirk's other side, pressing close.
The tent had never been meant for three, and indeed would have been wholly inadequate but for their need to lie close together for warmth. They were still cold, hungry and far from safe - but now, at least they had some shelter from the elements.
They measured the hours by the shots McCoy gave Kirk. The pain eased gradually and the harsh cough lessened as they continued to lie listening to the drumming of the rain and the swirling rush of nearby water as it continued to rise, Fortunately, the rise was not steady; at times, the water even dropped a little, but the side-stream that had carried away the medical tent had now reappeared and was showing no sign of drying up again. If the Enterprise did not come soon... occasionally they exchanged a few words, but mostly they lay in silence, the easy silence of close friendship, simply content to be together.
Spock's communicator bleeped, abruptly breaking the long, strangely peaceful silence. The Vulcan slipped an arm out of the sleeping bag and flicked the little instrument open. "Spock to Enterprise."
"Are you all right, Mr Spock? We can't raise the Captain..." It was Scotty's voice.
"Lock on to my signal, Mr Scott. Three to beam up. Have a medical detail standing by - and uniforms for Dr McCoy and myself."
"Uni- Aye, sir. Locking on... Energizing."
When he told his colleagues about it afterwards, none of them ever quite believed him when Kyle told them that the ship's three most senior officers had beamed aboard naked, Captain and First Officer wrapped together in one sleeping bag and the Doctor, covered only by a blanket, lying as close to them as he could get.
McCoy packed both Kirk and Spock into bed in sickbay right away, despite Spock's protests that he was quite all right. He tried to fuss around them until M'Benga came in to find his senior officer leaning weakly against Kirk's bed; whereupon M'Benga ordered McCoy into bed as well, quietly ignoring the Chief Medical Officer's insistence that all he needed was a good meal.
They lay quietly in the intensive care unit. Kirk's rest was disturbed still by the odd cough, but he didn't let it worry him. It was good to be dry and completely warm again.
Spock lay listening to the others' steady breathing, content. Little though he ever showed it, he occasionally found it pleasant to be shown that his friends cared for him. The memory of their greeting when he returned to them was warm in his mind.
McCoy thought - I must remember to recommend a shuttle... but at least I got them both safely home...
One by one, they fell asleep.