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Sheila Clark (TGZC)

The Enterprise was making her way back to Starbase Four after a routine but very exhausting mission, so that the crew could have a short but well-earned rest. Captain Kirk sat back in his command chair, relaxing while his crew carried out their duties with the efficiency that had made the Enterprise the best ship in the Fleet.

Suddenly, Commander Spock looked more intently into the scanner, and then raised his head as he turned towards Kirk. "Captain, sensors indicate the approach of an ion storm."

"How serious is it, Mr. Spock?"

"It will be upon us inside fifteen minutes, sir," Spock replied evenly, as if the proximity of an ion storm was an every-day event.

Kirk nodded acknowledgement, reflecting how easy it was to appear imperturbable when his First Officer always remained so calm, whatever the danger. "Standard procedure," he ordered. He wondered who was on top of the duty roster, to draw the dangerous task of manning the observation pod, his mind involuntarily going back to the day when it had fallen to Ben Finney.

The alert light was flashing yellow now, warning the crew of the impending danger. For a few minutes things continued as normal, while only Spock's alert stance as he bent over the scanner showed, along with the flashing light, that anything was wrong. Then the Enterprise shuddered as the leading edge of the storm hit her.

The buffeting, slight at first, gradually increased in severity.

"Charge building up to intolerance level in the pod," Spock warned.

"Evacuate pod," Kirk ordered, his finger poised over the button to jettison the pod the moment it was empty.

Several seconds passed, then Uhura reported, "Ensign Walsh reports pod empty, sir."

With an inner sigh of relief, Kirk pressed the button, feeling rather as bomb experts might have done centuries before after successfully defusing a bomb.

"Pod has failed to detach, Captain!" There was the faintest trace of strain in Spock's voice.

"What?!!!" Kirk pressed the jettison button again.

"Still attached, Captain."

Kirk agitated the button frantically, aware that there was nothing else he could do. If the electric charge in the pod reached a certain critical level, the Enterprise herself would be in great danger.

"Released, Captain." Spock's voice was cut off sharply as the ship jerked to a violent shock. Standing, as he was, he had no opportunity to save himself but went flying. Other crew members were flung violently from their seats.

Kirk lay still for a moment gathering his thoughts. The pod had broken free just in time, he realised. The charge building up inside it had reached the critical point and it had exploded, too near the Enterprise for comfort. However, it could have been worse.

He began to push himself up, and bit back an involuntary yelp of pain at the sharp stabbing agony in his side. The sensation was one he had experienced before - he knew that he had at least one broken rib and that unless he was very careful the broken end could very easily penetrate a lung. Someone came to help him. He glanced up, expecting to it to be Spock, only to discover that it was Chekov. The ensign helped him into the command chair.

"Report, Mr. Spock." It was an automatic request. Only when it failed to produce an answer did anyone realise that Spock still lay where he had fallen, out cold. Kirk made an automatic movement to go to him, but the renewed stab of pain convinced him that it would be unwise. "Lieutenant, call Dr. McCoy," he ordered. "Then get me a damage report."

"Aye, sir." Uhura turned her attention to her console. After a minute, she looked back. "Mr. Scott reports serious damage to the warp engines, sir. He recommends cutting warp drive and operating on impulse power only while he effects repairs."

Warp drive damaged - operate on impulse power only in this storm? Kirk only half registered that the rest of the ship had escaped with relatively little damage while he considered the implications and the problems that would arise. The ship would be unable to make any headway against the storm, she might even be carried along with it, only able to maintain the minimum of stability. Kirk's every instinct rebelled at leaving himself so helpless, but he realised that he had no choice. If Mr. Scott felt it had to be done under these circumstances, it had to be done. Wearily, he punched the intercom button.

"Cut warp drive, Scotty."

"Aye, Captain."

The ship was flung sideways by the force of the storm before Sulu managed to steady her. Strain showed clearly on the helmsman's face as he fought the controls.

The elevator doors slid open and McCoy entered, two orderlies close behind him. He was rubbing his head.

"Next time you decide to shake the ship up, you might give the crew a word of warning," he growled.

He went to the prone Vulcan and ran a scanner over him. Kirk watched anxiously, torn between concern for his ship and concern for his friend. The slight tightening of McCoy's lips was warning enough that something was seriously wrong.

"What's wrong with him, Bones?" Kirk asked as the surgeon straightened up.

McCoy directed the orderlies to take Spock to sickbay. Then he turned to Kirk.

"He has a fractured skull. There is some depression - I'll have to operate to relieve the pressure. Unfortunately, Vulcan healing abilities won't work on this particular injury, because the fracture is right over the spot that controls that ability. This time, he'll have to depend on me. What about you, Jim? Uhura said you were hurt too."

"Think I've cracked a rib," Kirk said off-handedly. McCoy wasn't fooled. He checked the Captain's rib cage.

"Two ribs broken, and severe bruising," he said seriously.

"They'll have to wait, Hones," Kirk said quietly. "There's no-one to take over. Spock's unconscious and Scotty's needed in Engineering. I can't hand over to a junior in these conditions. I'll take it easy, but I must stay on the bridge."

McCoy looked at Kirk unhappily, knowing that the Captain was right. "I'll send someone up to strap your ribs," he said, resignedly.

* * * * * * * *

The strapping brought some relief, but it was undoubtedly simplest to sit as still as possible in order to minimise the pain. Unfortunately, that was not easy to do, as the continued turbulence of the ion storm shook the ship, often violently, and its occupants had to tense their muscles and strain their bodies as they fought, sometimes vainly, to remain in their seats. Without warp power, the ship could make no headway, no attempt to fight her way out of the path of the storm. And as Kirk had feared, she was in fact being carried steadily backwards by the increasing force of the storm.

A slow hour passed. Kirk became increasingly worried,- surely McCoy had finished with Spock by now! Surely he knew how anxiously Kirk would be waiting for news of his First Officer's condition!

Chekov, from the position he had assumed at the library computer, said tensely, "Captain, we're being drawn backwards faster. It's as if we've been caught in the gravity field of a giant star - but Captain, there's nothing there."

Kirk felt the blood draining from his face even as a sudden rush of adrenalin made his heart beat faster. He had heard of this phenomenon, so rare that he had never thought to encounter it. And it had to be now, of all times, with a disabled ship caught helplessly in the grip of an ion storm, and his Science Officer injured, that he should do so. A gravity well!

"Lieutenant - " he began.

"I'm sorry, sir," Uhura said, before he had time to continue. "There's no way I could push a signal through the static."

No, Kirk thought fiercely. The Enterprise isn't going to become just a statistic, one of the ships that vanish without trace! There must be a way out of this.

Although he knew that Scotty would be working at top speed and would tell him as soon as the engines were ready, he punched the intercom button.

"Kirk to Engineering."

There was a brief pause before an answer came.

"Scott here." The engineer sounded strangely weary.

"How's it going, Scotty?"

"We'll be almost an hour yet, Captain. There were a lot of wee components damaged, and it's a slow job replacing them."

In an hour, the Enterprise would be inextricably caught and trapped in the gravity well. He had to think of a means of escape long before that. If only he could call on Spock for advice!

The Enterprise shook violently once more as she was flung sideways by a sudden eddy. Kirk was thrown hard against the arm of his chair, and gasped at the pain from his broken ribs. Every breath he drew thereafter was agonising.

There had to be some means of escape from this trap. Had to be. Kirk racked his brains while the overworked impulse engine strained to hold the Enterprise in position against the ever-increasing pull of the gravity well.

* * * * * * * *

In sickbay, McCoy fought for Spock's life, hampered by the frequent, irregular jolting. This wasn't just a simple operation to deal with a fracture; part of the skull had shattered, leaving slivers of bone that had to be removed carefully, one by one. The sweat of extreme tension beaded his face, and he was forced to call one of the junior nurses to stand by with a swab to dry his face every few minutes. This was even worse than a previous occasion in which he had performed a vital operation on a Vulcan, for the storm had already lasted much longer than the Orion attack had done. Besides, the heart is a surprisingly resilient organ, far more so than the brain. A slip in a heart operation might be repairable, but in a brain operation - if such a slip didn't kill Spock, it could well do worse, damaging his brain and leaving him at best insane, at worst an idiot, able to remember that he had been brilliant but completely unable to remember his previous knowledge - or relearn it. With an effort, McCoy forced his mind away from the discouragement of this thought, and concentrated on his hands.

* * * * * * * *

A very similar thought had entered his Captain's head. Suppose, it said, that Spock has died? That Bones was thrown off-balance at the wrong moment and Spock's brain injured so severely that it killed him? If that happened, Bones might decide to wait until the storm was past to report it.

Resolutely, Kirk refused to consider the possibility, and concentrated on the problem of escaping from the trap the ship was in.

Speed was the only thing that might help - and speed was the one thing they didn't have. Unless -

"Mr. Sulu - one hundred and eighty degrees about. Head straight for the centre of the gravitational pull. On my order, sharp port ninety degrees."

"Aye, sir."

The starship swung round, far less gracefully than normally due to the steady buffeting of the storm, and began to move closer to the invisible gravity source, slowly at first them with ever-increasing speed as the pull intensified. Faster and faster - she reached the speed of light, then passed it, and still Kirk waited. Faster, faster, until -

"Now, Mr. Sulu! Port ninety degrees!"

The ship's bodywork groaned in protest as she turned on to the new course. The gravity well pulled at her. Sheer impetus drove her on, however, for a good distance before the force of gravity slowed her sufficiently to overcome her attempted escape and draw her steadily backwards again.

"Position, Mr. Chekov."

"We have gained nearly five thousand kilometers, Captain," Chekov replied.

"Not enough to break free, though," Kirk commented. However, he was reasonably satisfied with the result of his maneuver. He could repeat it as necessary until the warp drive was repaired, then use the extra speed of the warp engines to break free altogether.


Kirk eased himself back in his chair, trying vainly to find a comfortable position. Now that the engines were repaired and the ship out of danger, he was free to seek attention for his own injury - but the thought of the interminably long trip to sickbay was off-putting. At least here he could sit still, where it only hurt when he breathed.

The elevator door slid open, and McCoy entered. The surgeon looked tired but cheerful, and Kirk felt the last of the tension drain from his body.

"Spock?" Although he knew the question was not needed, he was unable to refrain from asking it.

"He'll be O.K. The operation took a lot out of him, though, it took much longer than it should have done, and he'll have to stay in sickbay for a bit, of course. Now, what about you?"

"Pretty sore," Kirk admitted.

"Hmm." McCoy checked the injury. "What have you been doing, Jim? This is much worse than it was."

"Hit it off the chair," Kirk said.

McCoy nodded. "Uhura, get sickbay to send a trolley up. You're relieved of duty, Captain, on medical grounds. You're going to spend the next two days in bed."

"It's not that bad, Bones - "

"If you think I want a patient as restless as you cluttering up my sickbay, you can think again," McCoy told him. "I'll throw you out just as soon as I think it advisable. For the moment - you're confined to bed - in sickbay."

Kirk grinned. "Yes, sir!"

McCoy was not fooled. "And you'll be good. Or else - !"

"You like having us both in sickbay," Kirk accused.

"No, I don't - but at least when you're there I know you're not doing anything silly."

The elevator door slid open again to reveal the medical trolley. McCoy supported Kirk on to it.

"Take the con, Mr. Sulu," Kirk said as he was wheeled out. He lay back and relaxed. He would never admit it, of course, but it would be pleasant to lie back and rest for a couple of days, especially with Spock to keep him company.

As the door slid shut behind the Captain, Sulu grinned over at Chekov. "Come on, Chekov - let's get back to Starbase Four as soon as possible."

"Course laid in, Mr. Sulu."

And the Enterprise headed for home.


Copyright Sheila Clark