Captain's Log, Stardate 2795.5
We have been unable to complete our mission to deliver medical supplies and equipment to Ariesan Four. All our attempts to contact Professor Stevens and his colleagues at their research base have been unsuccessful. A landing party consisting of myself, Science Officer Spock, and Chief Medical Officer McCoy is transporting to the planet's surface to investigate...
The Enterprise landing party materialized in shimmering tunnels of light near a small life module. They looked around with interest at what remained of the lost Ariesan civilization that had perished centuries before. Only stone ruins and a solitary ancient pyramid had survived the passage of time and now marked the desolate landscape. Nicknamed "Little Egypt" by the research team, the planet's terrain was much like its namesake: hot, arid, and sand-covered as far as the eye could see.
As the officers made their way toward the module, the hot sand swirled around them and shifted under their feet. They found the door wide open and cautiously entered. Inside, Spock and McCoy proceeded to take tricorder readings around the perimeter of the room.
"It appears that the shelter is unoccupied," remarked Spock as he brushed a layer of gritty sand from the top of a computer terminal and sat down behind it.
From across the room, McCoy called out, "Not entirely unoccupied, Mister Spock. There seems to be an abundance of sand crabs." The doctor shook grains of sand along with several of the tiny creatures off a blanket and then sat down on a small cot.
The captain took out his hand communicator and flipped back its cover. "Enterprise, Kirk here. Have ship's sensors picked up any additional life readings?"
"Scott here, Captain. Sensors are receiving heavy interference." He paused. "Sir, we're getting some high radiation levels on our instruments. There's an ion storm approaching the area."
Kirk frowned. "Are the ship and crew in danger, Mister Scott?"
The chief engineer rechecked the readings. "Aye, Captain, we'll have to beam ye and the others up and leave orbit immediately. Damage to the ship could be extensive."
"Are we in danger on the planet?"
"No, sir, you're safe in the planet's atmosphere. The radiation levels are not life-threatening there."
"Very well, Mister Scott. Get the ship and crew to safety and then return for us when the storm has passed. We will continue our search here. Kirk out."
Kirk put his communicator away and then looked at his two officers. Spock sat at a computer terminal scanning research reports, and McCoy sat quietly on a cot across the room. The captain was worried about the doctor. It had been nearly three months since McCoy's ordeal at the hands of the Vians, but the doctor was still not fully recovered mentally. Kirk had hoped that this mission would act as a brief diversion to break the medical officer out of his depression.
McCoy had been half-listening as the captain received Scott's transmission. He had removed a tongue depressor from his medikit and was playing idly with a sand crab.
Kirk walked over and then sat down next to him. "This isn't Minara, Doctor. There are no Vians here."
Continuing to poke the stick at the tiny creature, McCoy sighed, "I know Jim--just a coincidence." He paused and then looked up. "Deserted life module, missing research team, stranded on a planet--"
Kirk gently took hold of the doctor's shoulders. "Just coincidences, Bones." He smiled reassuringly. "You'll see. Professor Stevens and the others are probably in the tomb working."
McCoy managed a small, lopsided grin. He tossed the tongue depressor down and stood up brushing sand from his pants. "You're right, Jim. Let's get Spock, and go find them."
They walked across the room and then looked over the Vulcan's shoulder as he sat scrutinizing the terminal screen before him.
"Report, Mister Spock?" Kirk asked.
"It would appear that Professor Stevens and the other scientists have made excellent progress in their study of the area. The last report is dated yesterday." He shut off the terminal and got up.
The captain nodded. "Gentlemen, I suggest we find the scientists."
The ancient structure loomed mysteriously before the trio. At the entrance was a heavy, stone door with a tarnished ring handle. The door had been left partially open, and the drifting sand had begun to fill the space.
The heat in the interior of the tomb was stifling, and the air was stale. The light from their lanterns threw eerie shadows on the walls around them. A short distance from the entrance, they found a small chamber with Egyptian-like hieroglyphics chiseled on its walls.
McCoy rubbed dust away from the wall before him. "These drawings are unusual. Look at this one, Spock."
The science officer walked over and held up his lantern to examine the wall more closely. "Fascinating. It seems to be a creature of great size and quite ferocious."
The doctor squinted in the semi-darkness. "A huge head and fangs...can't make out the body though--"
While the other two continued to study the drawings, Kirk slowly walked around the room using his lantern to light his way. "Bones! Spock!" He motioned downward and moved his lantern closer to the floor. "I've found two of the missing scientists." He looked at McCoy for his reaction.
The doctor was pale, but he came over and then bent down to run his mediscanner across the bodies. He straightened, and spoke tersely, "They haven't been dead long, Jim; rigor mortis hasn't set in yet. There are traces of a toxin in their blood streams--that was the cause of death." He paused and then continued. "I can't identify the exact poison. I would need blood and tissue samples to test. There are some puncture wounds on the bodies. I can't be positive about what caused them."
The captain nodded and drew McCoy aside. "Are you all right, Bones?"
The doctor avoided Kirk's eyes as he carefully replaced the mediscanner in his medikit. "I knew we'd find them dead. I don't know how I knew, but I knew."
Kirk sighed. "They weren't tortured, Bones. It isn't the same as before."
McCoy looked up at the captain, the doctor's eyes betraying the anxiety he was feeling, but said nothing.
Spock joined them. "May I suggest that we continue down the adjacent passageway? Perhaps we can discover how these men died, and what happened to the remaining scientist."
The captain nodded and then turned to McCoy. "Bones, I'll understand if you want to return to the research shelter and wait."
As a physician, McCoy knew that his duty was to remain with the landing party. Mustering up his courage, he spoke with false bravado, "If I don't go along, who'll keep an eye on you two?" The doctor managed a weak smile.
Kirk nodded with a look of relief on his face. The Vulcan simply raised a questioning eyebrow as they left the chamber to continue further into the pyramid. There were more hieroglyphics on the walls as the officers proceeded down the passageway. The captain was a short distance ahead of the others when it happened.
Spock was behind McCoy and off to the right. The doctor heard the sharp splintering of wood and the Vulcan cry out in surprise and pain. Then there was silence. McCoy ran back, holding his lantern before him, and found that the science officer had fallen through the floor landing on a narrow ledge below. He anxiously peered down at the Vulcan.
"Spock?!" Kirk called out in alarm as he joined the doctor to look into the semi-darkness.
The Vulcan tried to stand, but he was unable to put any weight on his left leg. He sat back down, his face betraying the pain.
"Don't move, Spock!" McCoy exclaimed.
"It would be impossible for me to do so unaided, Doctor, although I don't believe my leg is broken."
"I'll be the judge of that when we get you back up here," the doctor said as he watched Kirk crawl down into the dark opening.
The captain helped Spock to his feet. The Vulcan tried to hide the pain, but grimaced as he leaned heavily for support on Kirk's shoulder. As the captain gave Spock a push up, McCoy reached down and pulled the science officer out.
As Spock sat grasping his leg, the medical officer examined the injury. "It's not broken. You have some torn ligaments and pulled muscles though. I'll need to put a support splint on it." He shook his head. "If we were on the ship, I could have it repaired in ten minutes."
"A healing trance would correct the damage, Doctor," replied the Vulcan.
McCoy shrugged, stood up, and closed his medikit with a loud snap. "Suit yourself," he said with an edge of irritation.
Kirk watched as the doctor moodily moved away. The captain helped Spock up and led him over to the wall. The first officer weakly sat down, leaning his back against it for support.
"How long will it take, Spock?" Kirk asked.
"Although I cannot precisely predict, Captain, a close estimate would be one point three hours."
The captain looked over at McCoy. "You wait here with him, Bones. I'll check out the other passageways."
The look of irritation on the medical officer's face soon changed to one of anxiety. "You can't go alone, Jim! You don't know what's in here! There have already been two deaths!" the doctor argued.
"I must agree with McCoy, Captain--" Spock began.
"Forget it, Spock. You'd never make it on that leg. I have a phaser and won't be gone long." With those final words, Kirk turned and left.
The doctor sighed in deep resignation and sat down next to Spock to wait. The Vulcan was entering the healing trance. McCoy took out his phaser and held onto it tightly. Somehow he knew that whatever had happened to the research team was going to happen to them as well.
McCoy tensely waited by Spock's side hoping the captain would hurry and return. He looked down to see that he was holding his phaser so tightly that his knuckles had turned white. Then he heard the noise. At first, he couldn't decide where it was coming from. A rustling noise, it seemed to be coming from the opening in the floor across the passageway.
As the doctor watched fearfully, he saw a large, shadowy figure slowly emerge from its depths. Hesitantly, McCoy rose, clutching his phaser even more tightly. His heart began to pound. Whatever it was, it was coming directly toward him and Spock. He reached down and shook the first officer's shoulder, but the Vulcan was too deep in the healing trance to awaken. The captain was probably some distance away by now, but McCoy called out to him anyway.
The doctor moved sideways away from Spock, and then stood waiting as a cold knot of fear began to form in the pit of his stomach. He would try to draw the creature away from the Vulcan. As it came closer, McCoy saw it take shape in the light of their lanterns. A reptile, it was long, nearly five meters in length. Its head was huge, and it opened its jaws to hiss and show long fangs.
"Dear God," the doctor breathed. He desperately called out again, "Jim!"
The medical officer was mesmerized by the creature's rainbow-hued skin. As it slithered toward him, McCoy dropped his phaser. Numb with terror, the doctor tried to call out again, but his throat was paralyzed with fear. The snake began to coil its powerful body around him.
Finally, he managed a weak, hoarse call, "Jim--" but he knew that the captain must be too far away, or Kirk would have been back by now.
The reptile raised its head and struck. Its fangs dug into the doctor's arm, and McCoy screamed out in agony. He felt his body go limp in the snake's tight embrace. It released him, and McCoy fell semiconscious to the floor. He watched as the creature returned to the pit; only then did he weakly crawl back across the passageway to Spock's side and his medikit.
The captain was returning to the passageway to rejoin Spock and McCoy when he heard the scream. Filled with pain and terror, the cry belonged to McCoy. Visions of the horror-filled hours on Minara crossed Kirk's mind. He couldn't shake the image of the tortured doctor from his memory. As fear for his friend gripped him, he ran back to the others.
When the captain reached McCoy, the doctor was sitting dazed, holding his medikit. Kirk quickly dropped to his knees in front of him. "Bones?! Are you hurt?" He quickly looked the medical officer over for any signs of injury. There were blood smears on McCoy's tunic sleeve.
The doctor looked up, a look of confusion on his face. "It was beautiful--but horrible--it hurt--"
Kirk was afraid that McCoy was becoming hysterical. "Let me help you, Bones." He took the medikit away from the doctor and then opened it. "What should I do?"
"Cut the sleeve away, then make cuts crosswise at the fang marks and poison deposit point."
"Fangs?!" exclaimed the captain. "What was it?"
"It was the biggest damn snake I've ever seen, Jim--all the colors of the rainbow."
Kirk looked around the passageway in alarm. "Are you sure? Where is it?"
The doctor nodded weakly and shut his eyes. "Back down the pit."
The captain looked warily behind him and then back at McCoy. He ripped the doctor's sleeve and examined the injured arm. The flesh was already swollen and discolored. There were puncture wounds.
"These marks are huge, Bones. Are you positive it was a snake?"
McCoy nodded again as the captain made the cuts. "There's a suction pump in my medikit. Use it to...to draw out the venom," the medical officer gasped.
Kirk did as the doctor instructed and then awkwardly wrapped a bandage around the injury.
McCoy glanced down at his arm and then at Kirk. "Better wake Spock before it comes back."
The captain knew it would require several hard slaps to bring the Vulcan back to consciousness and out of the healing trance. After doing so, Spock opened his eyes and looked around.
"How's your leg, Spock? Can you walk on it?" the captain quickly asked.
"Yes, Captain, though it's not fully healed." The science officer looked at McCoy. "Are you all right, Doctor?"
The medical officer looked up, his blue eyes dull with pain. "No, a five-meter long snake attacked me," he said nonchalantly, surprising the other two men.
"A snake five meters long? Really, Doctor--"
"He has the marks to prove it," Kirk said as he pulled the first officer to his feet.
The Vulcan wobbled unsteadily. "It is unusual that the reptile did not attack me as well. Perhaps it sensed the difference in my metabolism, or the healing trance may have made my presence unknown to it."
McCoy slowly stood up, clutching his arm. "Damned Vulcan luck," the doctor grumbled.
Kirk bent down to pick up the medical officer's tricorder and medikit. "Can you make it, Bones?"
"I'll be all right, Jim. Help Spock. Let's just get out of here before it comes back."
The captain put an arm around Spock's shoulders to support him and started back toward the pyramid's entrance. McCoy followed closely behind them. They had just passed the chamber containing the remains of the two research scientists when Kirk and Spock heard the doctor sigh and then a soft thud. Turning, they found him lying on the passageway floor.
Kirk bent down over his friend. Tiny beads of perspiration were forming on McCoy's forehead. "Oh God, I feel terrible--"
Spock bent down a bit unsteadily to run a tricorder reading over the medical officer. "The pulse is weak and rapid. There is poison in the blood stream that is identical to the toxin found in the scientists. Evidently some of the snake's venom entered the doctor's blood stream before it could be suctioned out."
The captain reached out to smooth back wet hair from McCoy's forehead. "We'll get you back to the research cabin and contact the ship, Bones."
The doctor's eyelids fluttered and slowly closed. Kirk gently picked him up and started back down the passageway toward the safety of the life module outside the tomb. Spock gathered up the medical tricorder and medikit and then slowly followed his friends.
Inside the research shelter, the captain carefully laid McCoy's limp form on a cot and then took out his communicator. Quickly flipping back its cover, he tried to remain calm as he spoke into it, "Kirk to Enterprise." When only static came back across the device, he slowly closed its lid and looked helplessly down at his friend.
Spock limped over and sat down on the edge of the cot to recheck the doctor's vital signs. "His temperature is rising, Jim, and to a dangerous level. We must try to break the fever. I will require much cold water."
The captain brought a bowl of water along with a clean cloth. The science officer dipped the cloth into the cold water and began to apply cold compresses to McCoy's feverish face and neck.
The doctor fitfully tossed and turned on the cot. "Not this time, Spock," McCoy slurred.
The Vulcan looked down at McCoy and raised a single questioning eyebrow. Kirk came closer.
"Jim? Spock? Are you there?" he groaned.
"We're here, Bones," Kirk said.
Spock looked at the captain. "He is delirious, Jim."
The doctor tried to raise up, but Kirk gently pushed him back down against the cot. "Don't let her touch me--she'll die..." McCoy moaned.
Now the captain knew where his friend's tortured mind was; with Gem in the Vians' laboratory on Minara.
Spock looked at Kirk. "Even if his fever breaks, it will not be enough to save his life. We will need an antitoxin." He paused. "We need a supply of the reptile's venom to test."
Kirk nodded. "The scientists?"
"No, the sample must come from the reptile itself. There will be sacs of the venom behind its fangs. They must be drained and the poison analyzed. I will go. You should remain here with McCoy."
The doctor stirred again. "I can't destroy life--not even if it's to save my own..."
The captain took hold of McCoy's hand and put it under the blanket. "No, I'll go. You can just barely walk on that leg. Take care of Bones. I'll be back as soon as I can." Spock started to object, but Kirk quickly added, "My decision stands, Mister Spock."
The Vulcan nodded solemnly, stood up and crossed the room to the small laboratory. He selected a covered test tube and handed it to the captain. "You must hurry."
Kirk nodded, took a last look at the doctor, and hurried out.
When the captain arrived back at the pyramid, he hesitated momentarily at the ominous opening. He cautiously entered carrying a lantern in one hand and his phaser in the other. If, he thought, I can catch the creature asleep or stun it long enough to get a sample of its venom, this won't take long.
Silently, he proceeded down the empty passageway. When he reached the spot where Spock had fallen, he lowered the lantern down into the darkness. Satisfied that the creature was asleep or elsewhere in the structure, he climbed downward holding his lantern up to light his way.
He landed lightly on his feet and quickly looked around the chamber. It was the largest room he had seen in the tomb. The lantern threw shadows on the walls and floor around him. He looked up at the wall in front of him. There were hieroglyphics of a large creature attacking and devouring a victim. McCoy's snake, decided Kirk.
The room was either an ancient sacrificial or execution chamber. On the floor he discovered the bones and skulls of previous victims and the fresh remains of the missing scientist. His chest began to tighten with tension. He raised his light higher and tightened his grip on the phaser. The snake was coming near; he could hear the heavy body slithering toward him.
Then he saw it. In the light of his lantern, he saw its head raise up and heard it hiss. Kirk automatically backed away. It came nearer, and he could see the body now. The reptile was just as the doctor had described--rainbow-hued and beautiful.
Mesmerized as McCoy had been, the captain let his phaser drop into the darkness. It clattered as it hit the stone floor of the chamber. The snake came closer and began to coil its body around him.
In the shelter, McCoy writhed on the small cot. His feverish face was contorted in pain, and he moaned softly in his delirium. As Spock continued to put cold compresses on the doctor's forehead, thoughts of Minara crossed his mind. The medical officer had nearly sacrificed his own life to save the Vulcan's.
This Human was very complex. At times the doctor could be quite caustic and bothersome, but he could also be gentle and kind. The Vulcan decided that he might never understand the Human, but considered him a friend and did not wish to lose McCoy now.
"Jim? Make her leave me..." The doctor's unfocused eyes opened.
"Everything will be all right, McCoy," Spock said reassuringly.
As the first officer watched, McCoy's eyes closed. His body stiffened and then went limp. Spock grabbed a tricorder, ran another scan, and then got up. The doctor had lapsed into a coma. There was nothing more that he could do for him.
Logic dictated that the Vulcan must now leave McCoy and return to the tomb. The captain had not yet returned. From this delay, Spock concluded that Kirk was, most likely, in trouble. He reached down and pulled the blanket tighter around the doctor's still form, and then left to find the captain.
Kirk stood paralyzed with fear as the reptile continued to coil its body around him. The creature's head came closer, and the captain could see its fangs. Kirk closed his eyes tightly and drew in his breath sharply as he anticipated the snake's strike.
Dizzy with fear, he heard a high-pitched whine. The creature released him, and the captain fell exhausted to the floor. He opened his eyes and saw Spock standing before him with a lantern and phaser. The snake lay limp at the first officer's feet.
"Thank God you got here when you did, Spock," Kirk said as the Vulcan helped him up. "Bones?! Is he--"
"No, Jim, he's alive," Spock said quickly. "But his condition has worsened."
As Kirk handed the test tube to the science officer, Spock bent down and lightly touched the snake's skin. "Fascinating. A most unusual specimen, its behavioral pattern included those traits of both the venomous and non-venomous reptiles that I have encountered. It is dead, Captain."
The captain watched as the Vulcan began to drain the venom sacs. "It must have been hundreds of years old, Spock. Did you see the hieroglyphics? The Ariesans must have been snake worshipers. This room looks like it was used for executions or sacrifices."
"This area had been deserted for such a long time, I wonder how the creature had been able to exist without sustenance?" The science officer paused in thought and then continued, "some type of self-induced extended hibernation, perhaps."
"I guess the research team disturbed it, and the reptile killed them. I found what's left of one of the scientists down here," Kirk said as he continued to stare at the snake.
Spock covered the test tube and stood up. "We must hurry back to McCoy."
With a last look at the dead creature, the two officers left the chamber.
When Kirk and Spock arrived back at the shelter, the doctor's condition was rapidly deteriorating. Spock took another tricorder reading. "The doctor is in a deep coma, Jim. His life readings are weaker."
Kirk nodded and then took out his communicator. "Enterprise, Kirk here." He hoped the ion storm had passed.
The device crackled. "Scott here, Captain. The storm has passed, but the transporters can't penetrate the ionized layer of the atmosphere. The shuttlebay has also received damage. We'll be unable to bring ye aboard for several hours."
What little hope that the captain had was now dying. "Mister Scott, we have an emergency down here." He paused looking over at the doctor's still form. "Doctor McCoy was bitten by a snake." He paused again, swallowing hard. "He's in a coma." He gripped the communicator tighter. "We found the research team--they're all dead. They were evidently killed by the same creature."
There was a long pause and then Scott spoke steadily, "Aye Captain. I've notified Doctor M'Benga. He'll relay medical instructions to ye."
Kirk and Spock exchanged uneasy looks as they waited for M'Benga's transmission. His voice soon came over the communicator, "Captain, if you can get a sample of the reptile's venom and then transmit a breakdown of its composition, we will try to get an antitoxin formula for you."
"We have a sample of the venom, Doctor." The captain watched as the science officer spread a bit of the toxin on a slide and then went to the laboratory's bio-computer to process it.
"Captain, you may tell Doctor M'Benga that I am now ready to transmit the required data."
"M'Benga, Mister Spock is transmitting the information now."
"Scott again, sir, the information is being analyzed. Doctor M'Benga is putting the data into our medical computer now. He says ye should have an answer shortly. I'll keep ye informed. Scott out."
"Acknowledged. Kirk out." He put his communicator away.
The first officer stood silently across the room in deep thought, his hands locked behind his back. He watched as the captain stood vigil by McCoy's side. He limped over to join him. "Jim, the Enterprise has one of the most sophisticated and advanced medical banks in the fleet."
Kirk nodded. "But what if the poison can't be identified? This is the only chance that Bones has."
Spock looked grim. "It is, of course, possible that the medical computer will not be able to readily identify the toxin. It may take some time. However, I believe that we will ultimately be successful."
They waited together in silence, the minutes passing like hours. The only sound was the raspy, labored breathing of McCoy. As the captain looked down at his dying friend, the memory of Minara flashed across his mind again. He had almost lost the doctor that day, and now it was happening again. This time, there would be no Gem to help McCoy.
When his communicator finally beeped, the captain nearly jumped. "Kirk here."
"Scott, sir. The venom has been identified, and the medical staff is working on the antitoxin formula now." He paused. "Doctor M'Benga wants to know how McCoy is doing."
Spock reached down and gently felt McCoy's throat for a pulse. "He's weaker." He looked up at Kirk, his face betraying his deep concern.
"Tell M'Benga that his condition is worse. He's hardly...hardly breathing." Kirk swallowed hard, trying to keep his voice steady.
"Captain!" Scott exclaimed. "We've got it! Transferring the formula now."
Spock patiently watched as the formula transmitted across the bio-computer screen. "I will be able to process the antitoxin with the chemicals available here in the laboratory."
"Good. Hurry, Spock." The captain held up his communicator. "Mister Scott, we have received the transmission, and Mister Spock is processing the formula now."
"Aye, we're all keeping our fingers crossed for the poor doctor. Scott out."
Kirk silently watched as Spock carefully measured and mixed the required chemicals. He finally held up a half-filled test tube of liquid. Quickly filling a hypospray with some of the antitoxin, the science officer brought it to the cot where McCoy lay. He put the hypospray against the doctor's neck. There was a soft hiss as the antidote was administered.
The captain sat on the cot watching the medical officer for a reaction. Spock stood nearby, his eyes also intent on McCoy. Again the minutes passed slowly as they waited in silence. As they continued to watch, the doctor's eyelids fluttered, and his glazed blue eyes slowly opened.
"Jim? Spock?" McCoy started to sit up and then sank wearily back onto the cot. "What happened?"
Kirk smiled. "A miracle, Bones, I'll tell you all about it when you're stronger."
Spock nodded. "Indeed, Doctor. Welcome back."
McCoy looked puzzled and then nodded. "Thank you, Mister Spock." He looked down at the Vulcan's leg. "Better let me take a look at that leg," the doctor said groggily.
The first officer looked at him a bit amused. "I will welcome that...when you have recovered."
The captain again got out his communicator. "Enterprise, three to beam up." Kirk heard excited voices in the background aboard the starship.
"Aye, Captain, understood. We're happy to hear it. We'll beam ye up shortly."
"Acknowledged, Mister Scott." The captain looked at his two friends and smiled. "We're very anxious to get home. Kirk out."
McCoy restlessly shifted his weight on the diagnostic bed aboard the Enterprise. After McCoy had beamed back aboard the starship with Spock and the captain, Doctor M'Benga had insisted the doctor be confined in Sickbay for observation. It was morning now, and McCoy was anxious to be up and working in the laboratory.
The bodies of the research team had been recovered, and M'Benga would be in charge of their autopsies. The dead reptile had also been brought aboard for research purposes.
McCoy looked around. With M'Benga and Chapel busy with the autopsies, the sickbay was deserted. This was, the doctor decided, a good time to go to the laboratory to examine the body of the creature. He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He sat there judging if his strength had returned sufficiently to get up. He stepped down to the floor and leaned against the bed for support. Satisfied that he was well enough, the medical officer left the patient ward.
The zoology laboratory doors swished open before McCoy. As he walked inside, the doctor saw a large open crate in the center of the room. He slowly walked toward it, anticipating its contents. Inside, the snake lay silently. Its rainbow-hued skin nearly glowed in the harsh laboratory lights. The medical officer reached out to touch the reptile's skin and then quickly drew back his hand.
Don't be ridiculous, he chided himself. It can't hurt me now. Ever since Minara, he thought, I've been obsessed with my death. I'm living in a self-inflicted hell, afraid of my own shadow. McCoy reached out again, and this time he stroked the creature's skin. He removed his hand from the snake and frowned. The reptile's skin was warm.
He walked over to the laboratory table to get a tricorder and then came back to run a scan over the snake. It was alive and in a form of suspended animation. The medical officer carefully examined the phaser wound that Spock had inflicted. The injury was nearly healed. Somehow, he reasoned, the creature is able to regenerate itself at will.
Excitedly, McCoy rushed to the intercom. "McCoy to bridge."
"Scott here, Doctor McCoy."
"Is Mister Spock up there?"
"No, Doctor, both he and the captain went off duty several hours ago. Shouldn't ye be resting?"
"I'm feeling better, Scotty. I'm working in the zoology lab," McCoy said guiltily feeling like a school boy caught playing hooky. "There's no hurry. I'll get a hold of Spock later. McCoy out."
The doctor walked back to the crate and looked down at the reptile. At its current rate of progress, the snake would soon revive. It would have to be sedated before that happened. McCoy went to the supply cabinet to get a tranquilizer applicator.
Mister Spock had been preparing for meditation when his room intercom buzzed. He reached out to push the required button. "Spock here."
"Mister Spock," began the chief engineer, "I'm sorry to be bothering ye, but--"
"Mister Scott, is there a problem on the bridge?"
"Oh, no, sir. It's about Doctor McCoy. It's probably not my place to be interfering, but he's called the bridge from the zoology laboratory looking for ye just now."
"McCoy? I was informed that the doctor was being confined to bed."
"Aye, sir, maybe I should be calling Doctor M'Benga."
"No, Mister Scott, that will not be necessary. I'll check on McCoy. Spock out."
The Vulcan raised a questioning eyebrow and pressed down on the intercom button again. "Spock to Zoology."
McCoy was just about to tranquilize the creature when he received the call from Spock. Hesitantly the doctor pushed the intercom button. "McCoy."
"Doctor McCoy, am I to understand that you are no longer resting in Sickbay?"
McCoy sighed. He didn't have to see the Vulcan to know that Spock had a look of disapproval on his face. "I got bored, Spock, and I couldn't sleep."
"Nevertheless, Doctor, until M'Benga officially discharges you, I strongly suggest that you return to Sickbay at once. Perhaps a sleep inducer is in order."
The doctor was ready to protest, but suddenly he felt very tired. Damn it, he thought, why is everybody always trying to protect me? "Spock, the reason I was trying to find you was to tell you about the snake." He paused, a grin spreading across his face. "If you're planning a career as a doctor, you'd better forget it."
"Excuse me, Doctor, please elaborate."
McCoy could visualize the frown on the Vulcan's face. Catching Spock in an error of judgment was the best therapy in the galaxy for the doctor. "Your report of the creature's demise was premature," the medical officer replied.
"Indeed, Doctor. Please continue."
"It's alive, Spock! I've never seen anything like it. The reptile's recuperative powers are amazing!"
"Fascinating. I will be there shortly. Spock out."
McCoy turned away from the intercom suddenly overcome with exhaustion. He would sedate the creature and then return to the patient ward. The doctor walked back to the crate and stopped short. The snake was gone! Out of the corner of his eye, McCoy saw a sudden movement. Before he could move, the reptile began its attack.
Quickly coiling its body around the medical officer's legs, the snake yanked backward pulling McCoy off his feet. He fell, his head hitting sharply on the floor. The applicator fell from his grasp and rolled away out of the doctor's reach. Dazed, he shook his head to clear it, and then he panicked as he realized what was happening.
Desperately, he tried to free his legs by pulling frantically at the strong body that imprisoned him. Exhausted, McCoy lay on the floor as the creature continued to coil around him, its hold excruciatingly tight. The doctor felt his ribs crack from the pressure, and he blacked out.
Spock was just entering the turbolift on his way to the zoology laboratory when he heard the captain call out his name. The first officer turned stiffly and then nodded. "Captain."
"I thought you were going to your quarters to meditate, Mister Spock."
"Doctor McCoy has requested my presence in the zoology laboratory."
"Bones? He's not supposed to be working."
"I'm sure he is aware of that, Jim. He seems to be obsessed with the creature brought aboard. He claims that it is alive."
"Alive?! But it can't be...can it?"
"I'm going to the laboratory now to examine the reptile myself."
The captain frowned. "I'm coming along. I'll see that McCoy gets back to bed."
When the two officers arrived at the ship's medical section, Doctor M'Benga and Nurse Chapel had just completed the autopsies on the research scientists.
"Captain, Mister Spock, the autopsies have confirmed Doctor McCoy's preliminary report on Ariesan Four. Death was caused by the toxin introduced into their blood streams by the reptile," reported M'Benga. "I assume you have come to see Doctor McCoy. He should be awake--"
"He's awake all right and working in the zoology lab," Kirk interrupted. "I'm going there to see that he gets back to bed. He's called Mister Spock with some story about the creature being alive."
"Really? Alive? I haven't had an opportunity to see it myself. Let's see for ourselves, and then I'll personally get Doctor McCoy back to bed."
The laboratory doors swished open to reveal an alarming scene. The room was in complete disarray. The floor was scattered with lab equipment, and, in the midst of it, McCoy lay with a thin trickle of blood at the corner of his mouth.
Kirk and Spock stood aside while M'Benga and Chapel bent down over the unconscious doctor. "Leonard?" the black doctor called out urgently. He felt McCoy's throat for a pulse, noting the swollen flesh on the doctor's neck and shoulder.
Chapel grabbed a tricorder and handed it to M'Benga. The doctor ran a scan over McCoy. "He's been bitten several times by the snake. There is, however, no evidence of poison in his blood stream. Evidently, the reptile has not yet accumulated enough venom in its sacs to inflict a fatal strike."
Spock had stood silently looking down at McCoy's still form, and now he bent down to pick up the unused tranquilizer applicator. "Unfortunately, the doctor never had the opportunity to use this."
The captain nodded. "We must have scared the creature off. Thank God McCoy's still alive." Kirk looked up at the wall air duct. "Spock, look!"
The grating had been torn away from the duct. The first officer walked over to examine the open vent. "It would appear that the reptile has forced open the ventilation duct as an avenue of escape," Spock remarked.
"Spock, call Security," Kirk said as he moved back to McCoy's side. He bent down and started to pick the doctor up. "I'll carry him to the examination room for you, M'Benga."
"No! Captain, don't touch him." M'Benga turned to Chapel. "Nurse, get an orderly and a stretcher," he ordered.
The captain looked at the doctor in alarm. "What is it?!"
"His injuries are extensive. Most of the bones in his arms and legs are broken, as well as his ribs. McCoy has some internal bleeding. I'll need to get him into surgery as soon as possible."
Kirk stood up and moved away as the orderly arrived with the stretcher. The captain watched gravely as McCoy was carefully laid on the stretcher and hurried off to surgery.
While security teams scoured the starship searching for the missing creature, Doctor M'Benga was in surgery attending to his colleague's injuries. After lengthy surgery, McCoy was again back in the patient ward being monitored on a diagnostic bed.
The broken bones had been repaired, but it would be nearly two days before McCoy's torn lung tissue would be completely mended. The doctor drifted somewhere near consciousness as he dealt with the aftereffects of the anesthetic. Although the surgery had been successful, he was still in extreme pain.
Slowly, he opened his eyes and patiently waited for them to focus.
Nurse Chapel was hovering nearby clutching a hypospray in her hand. Her eyes were full of concern. She came closer to the bed with a smile on her face. "It's about time you woke up, Doctor," she affectionately scolded him. She held up the hypospray. "I have a pain killer that Doctor M'Benga has prescribed for you."
McCoy nodded in compliance. He watched as she put the hypospray against his arm and administered the drug. She reached down to smooth his blanket and readjust his pillow.
"My arms and legs feel so weak. How badly was I injured?" the doctor groggily asked.
"They were broken, as well as your ribs, and you had some damage to your right lung. Doctor M'Benga says you'll be fine in a couple of days. If you're able, we'll get you up for a while tomorrow."
"The snake--where is it?"
The nurse smiled serenely. "Really, Doctor McCoy, you shouldn't be worrying. Captain Kirk and Mister Spock will take care of it. You must rest now." She turned to leave, but he reached out and grabbed her arm.
"Please, Christine, I have to know. It's my fault that it's loose aboard the ship. I should have called Security--"
"Very well. The creature has escaped into the air ducts. There are security teams searching for it now."
McCoy closed his eyes feeling the effects of the drug. "I'm sorry. It's all my fault."
"No, Doctor, I didn't mean to imply..." But it was too late. McCoy was already asleep.
On the bridge, the captain and first officer were back on duty. Kirk sat impatiently drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair, and Spock was working at his science station.
All day, the security teams had tried unsuccessfully to trap the snake in the air ducts, hoping to block off a section and use an anesthetic gas to render it unconscious. The captain was in deep thought, worrying about both the creature loose aboard the ship and his friend's condition.
Lieutenant Uhura broke the silence. "Captain, Security is reporting in again. There have been more reports of hearing the reptile in the duct system, but it's continuing to elude the teams."
Mister Spock looked up from his science station. "Fascinating. Evidently the creature's multi-hued skin is acting as a shield, preventing the ship's sensors from detecting its location."
Kirk nodded glumly. "The reptile is full of surprises." He turned back to Uhura. "Any news from Sickbay, Lieutenant?"
Before she could reply, the voice of the assistant chief medical officer came over the captain's console. "Sickbay to Bridge."
The captain quickly pushed down one of the buttons to reply, "Kirk."
"This is Doctor M'Benga. I have completed surgery on Doctor McCoy. He's regained consciousness and is resting." He paused. "He'll be all right in a few days, Captain."
A sense of relief flooded over Kirk. "Thank you, Doctor. Kirk out." He glanced around the bridge at the happy expressions on the faces of the crew. Spock looked up and met the captain's eyes in an unspoken sign of his regard for the doctor.
Early the next morning, McCoy awoke, and sleepily rubbed at his eyes. He lay there thinking about the creature and his responsibility. If I had only tranquilized it or gotten Security, he thought groggily, none of this would have happened. He hazily decided he would try to find the snake and sedate it.
He carefully got up. He stood silently as he tried to shake the effects of the pain killers. The doctor leaned against the bed for support and then with sheer determination, McCoy made his way to the supply cabinet to prepare a tranquilizer for the reptile.
His body ached, but he managed to limp back across the room to leave Sickbay. A subconscious urge was drawing him. He headed down the passageway toward the turbolift. The cargo bay, for some unexplained reason, was where he should go.
The walk to the turbolift doors was the longest McCoy had ever made. After every few steps, he had to stop and lean against the wall. The doctor was wringing wet with sweat by the time he entered the turbolift. He had been lucky that he had managed to get there unobserved. He wearily leaned against the wall and weakly called out, "Cargo Bay."
On the bridge, Spock left his station to come and stand beside the captain's chair. "Captain, I have been analyzing the creature's situation. I believe that I may have uncovered its ultimate destination."
"Explain, Mister Spock."
"The cargo hold, Captain. The dark, catacomb-like environment of the hold is much like its natural habitat on Ariesan Four. I suggest that is where the reptile will hide."
Before Kirk could reply, Uhura spoke up, "Captain, Sickbay is reporting that Doctor McCoy is missing."
"Captain," Spock interrupted, "it is quite possible that McCoy is trying to make his way to the creature's destination. He seems to be drawn to the snake."
"But Bones has only been out of surgery for a day. He'll never be able to make it that far."
"McCoy is one of the most determined Humans I have ever encountered. I believe he will try to follow the reptile," the science officer stated.
"He's trying to get himself killed!" Kirk exclaimed as he slammed his fist down on his console. "Security! I want a team at the cargo bay immediately!"
The captain looked back at the first officer, "Come on, Spock, let's get down there." He turned to the helmsman. "Mister Sulu, you have the conn."
With a great deal of effort, McCoy made his way down the cargo bay access corridor to the cargo hold. He leaned against the wall, trying to catch his breath. He was tired, and the ache in his body had worsened. Maybe, he thought, I should call Jim or Security. The doctor looked down at his trembling hands. Ever since his torture by the Vians, he'd been afraid. He needed to put his fears behind him and get on with his life.
The medical officer walked through the doors with a silent prayer that the creature would be sleeping. The doors softly swished closed behind him. He strained to see in the semi-darkness.
McCoy glanced up and saw the open air duct. The grating had been knocked off. His heart skipped a beat. He gripped the tranquilizer applicator tightly. There was a rustling noise across the room. The doctor apprehensively walked toward the sound, the applicator poised ready in his hand.
Circling around behind some crates, he saw it. The snake lay quietly curled up. Drawing in his breath, the doctor reached down and put the applicator against the reptile's body. The drug was administered with a hiss that echoed across the room.
McCoy backed away, wiping sweat from his forehead. He looked down at the creature. It had worked; the snake was immobilized. Exhausted, the doctor leaned against a crate, breathing heavily. He had finally faced fear, and it felt good. He would rest, he decided, and then go back to Sickbay. It was at that moment that the cargo hold doors opened, and Kirk, Spock, and the security men rushed in with their phasers drawn.
"McCoy!" Kirk shouted. He grabbed the doctor's arm. "Do I have to have you put in restraints to keep you in Sickbay?"
The doctor smiled sheepishly. "No, sir, I'm ready to go back."
The security team moved in to surround the creature.
Spock took the empty applicator from McCoy's hand. "The reptile, Doctor, you used this on it?"
"Right. Guess you didn't think I could handle it. Well, I guess I can take care of myself no matter what some people may think!" The doctor looked accusingly at Kirk and then back at Spock.
The captain and first officer exchanged guilty looks. "I guess we have been a bit over-protective lately..." Kirk began.
McCoy nodded. "I came here to prove something to myself and to you. What happened on Minara was my decision, and I've never regretted it. I want you two to understand that. I think it's time that I stood on my own two feet and--" He took a step forward and stumbled. Spock caught him before he fell.
"Indeed, Doctor. You are, of course, speaking figuratively. Perhaps you will 'allow' me to help you back to Sickbay."
McCoy nodded again. "Yes, Spock, sometimes it's good to have some pampering."
Kirk shook his head and smiled as he followed his friends out into the corridor. McCoy, he knew, would be all right now. They all would be.
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