Captain James T Kirk switched off his console recorder and stared intently at the bridges main viewing screen. The purple and green swirled planet below had been logged tentatively as Kappa Pegasi IV. Coded as Class M, with an atmosphere similar to Earths, it was a likely candidate to establish future Federation colonies.
"Mister Chekov, transmit coordinates for the signals source to the transporter room," instructed the captain.
"Aye, Kyptin. Transmitting the data now."
"Lieutenant Uhura, have Doctor McCoy, Lieutenant Malone, and two security men report there for immediate beam down."
"Yes, sir," responded the chief communications officer as her hands moved gracefully over the console buttons.
Kirk rose from his chair and motioned to the helmsman. "Lieutenant Sulu, you have the conn." He paused, then turned to face his first officer. "Mister Spock, lets get down there and see whos sending that distress call."
As the senior officers stepped into the turbolift, Sulu took his place in the command chair and gazed intriguingly at the mysterious world below.
The bright violet sky provided a stark contrasting backdrop for the shimmering particles of the transport as the starships six member landing party materialized on the surface of Kappa Pegasi IV. They found themselves standing in a meadow surrounded by hills. The area was lush with blue-green grass and dotted with small orange and blue tinged flowers. While Kirk notified the Enterprise of their safe arrival, the others looked around with interest at the alien landscape.
Botanist Jennifer Malone bent down and picked one of the blooms. "A perfect specimen. I wish I could take them all back aboard," she said wistfully, looking at the majestic landscape. Holding the flower close, she inhaled its fragrance. "Hmmm. Its beautiful here, so peaceful."
McCoy walked over to join her. "Youre right. It appears to be a virtual paradise," he agreed, smiling broadly.
"On the contrary, Doctor. Looks can be quite deceiving," Spock said as he began to run a tricorder scan of the area, "although the fauna appears to be harmless."
"Then what could possibly be wrong with this Eden?" demanded the doctor.
"Precisely my point. I believe we should proceed carefully. Even the Eden, which you have compared this planet to, was tainted with a serpent."
McCoy frowned. "Damn it, Spock, cant you just enjoy a pretty day and stop analyzing it? I think the lieutenant is right. It is beautiful here, plain and simple."
The captain snapped the lid shut on his communicator and rejoined the others. "Im afraid Ill have to side with Mister Spock on this. We need to exercise extreme caution. Well separate into two groups and do an extensive search."
Shading his eyes from the planets sun, Kirk pointed to the horizon. "According to Chekovs calculations, the signal is being transmitted from an area in those hills. Spock, Jenkins, you come with me, and well check it out."
Turning back to the rest of the group, he motioned to the surrounding meadow. "The rest of you explore this valley. Dont wander too far from where we beamed down and keep those phasers handy."
McCoy, Malone, and Ensign Valdez watched the captain and his team begin their ascent into the nearby foothills, then looked around to reappraise the immediate area.
Jennifer Malone pouted as she looked back down at the small flower in her hand. "I still think its lovely here."
The doctor sighed and motioned to Valdez to take the lead as they followed a downward path. Looking back at the attractive young woman, he grinned, then whispered, "Not half as lovely as you, my dear."
"Really, Doctor?" she asked, blushing.
Blue eyes twinkling, he looked deeply into her dark eyes. "Yes, I mean it, and its more than just my professional observation."
Smiling shyly, she looked away at the flower. "You certainly know how to charm a lady."
McCoy bowed gallantly. "An inherent trait, maam," he said with a soft Southern drawl.
Malone smiled to herself. Although she had only known Leonard McCoy since her assignment aboard the starship two months ago, they had formed a close personal relationship, spending much of their off duty time together.
"Doctor McCoy! Lieutenant!" called Valdez. "Ive found something."
Hurrying down the pathway, the two officers joined the ensign. He was bending down, pointing to the soft clay earth. "It looks like the tracks of a large animal."
The lieutenant frowned. "Those look like claw marks. The ships sensors didnt report any large animal life," she added nervously, glancing around.
"Should I contact the captain, Doctor McCoy?" asked Valdez.
"No. He said we could use our discretion in exploring, and all we have here is some possible animal tracks." McCoy scanned the area with his tricorder. "Im still just picking up the landing partys life readings. We have our phasers; lets follow the prints and see where they lead."
Having made the decision to continue, the trio moved deeper into the valley, closely following the tracks into the gathering shadows.
Kirk and his companions continued to hike into the hills above the meadow as they followed the coordinates the starships navigator had provided. So far they had been unsuccessful in finding either the transmitter or the person responsible for sending the message into space.
Security officer Jenkins had been searching off to the far right and now called out to the others. "Ive found what weve been looking for." Pulling back a tangling of vines and weeds, he revealed the tarnished hull of an escape pod.
Kirk and the first officer bent down to examine the vessel more closely. "It would appear that the pod has suffered some structural damage, but the transmitting device is still intact," remarked the Vulcan.
The captain reached out and ran his hand against the badly scarred metal surface. "Im more concerned about the fate of its occupant. This doesnt look like ordinary atmospheric entry damage. Something ripped this hatch open."
Jenkins nodded grimly. "Looks like an animals claw marks, sir."
Kirk got up slowly and frowned. "Whatever the cause, the pod was opened with savage force. Spock, disconnect the distress signal, and lets look around."
As the rescue team continued their search, they now waded through waist-high brush and thorn-covered vines that made their progress slow and tedious.
Several meters away from the others, Spock called out, "I have found what may well be the remains of the escape pods occupant."
Kirk and the lieutenant hurried over, then looked down at the scattered bones of what appeared to be a humanoid skeleton.
Moving several of the controls on his tricorder, Spock studied the readings carefully. "Doctor McCoy, of course, will be able to give a more detailed report, Captain, but the bones are cracked and mutilated which indicate the victim died a most violent death. I believe he was killed, then devoured by several animals. Note the sets of prints surrounding the remains."
The captain swallowed hard. "McCoy spoke of Eden earlier and now this. Damn. Whats happened here?"
Deep in the valley, McCoy and his team had followed the tracks a short distance where they discovered the ruins of what resembled an ancient temple. Most of the structure had been grown over with stickered brush and thick vines covered with thorns and berries.
"This place is unbelievable," Malone said, looking around in awe. "Take care, though, These red berries are poisonous," the botanist added as she examined the vegetation.
Equally mesmerized, McCoy traced his forefinger carefully along one of the carved effigies that stood like guards in front of the building. He whistled softly to himself.
"Fierce looking, arent they, Doctor?"
The doctor drew his hand back quickly from the sculpture and whirled around to face Ensign Valdez. "My God, you nearly gave me a heart attack! Guess I was day dreaming."
Jennifer Malone stepped forward to take a tricorder reading of the stone carving and shook her head. "Ancient gargoyles. The workmanship is magnificent and thousands of years old."
"Ugly creatures," remarked McCoy. "Lucky for us theyre only made of stone."
"Yes," the lieutenant agreed. "You know, they were once used to ward off evil spirits, but they look pretty evil themselves."
McCoy nodded. "Spock would be fascinated. Which reminds me, its time we checked in," he added as he removed the communicator from his belt, then held it up. "McCoy to Captain Kirk."
"Kirk here. I was just getting ready to contact you."
"Well, youd never guess what weve found, Jim. Is Spock with you?"
"Affirmative, Doctor," came the Vulcans reply. "And it would be far better for you to tell us than to waste our time guessing what you have discovered."
"Spock, you take the fun out of everything! Weve found Gothic temple ruins thatll curl your hair!" informed the doctor with unsuppressed excitement.
"Doctor McCoy, I do not understand how a structure, such as you describe, could cause a physical change."
"Damn it, you pointy-eared Vulcan! Its just a figure of speech."
Jennifer Malone turned away, finding it difficult to restrain from laughing.
There was a pause, then the captains voice came over the transmitter. "Weve found the origin of the distress call. It was an escape pod, and its occupant is dead. I want the landing party to meet back in the meadow now."
"Any idea what happened to the owner of that pod?" asked McCoy.
"Spock has a theory." A pause, then, "Im receiving a lot of static on your end, Bones. Whats your position?"
"Were approximately three kilometers from the spot where we beamed down, and that noise is the wind coming up," replied the doctor as he gazed into the sky. "Its getting dark."
On a nearby hillside, Spock shaded his eyes from the harsh sunlight. "On the contrary, its quite bright overhead."
There was a pause over the communicator, then McCoys excited voice. "The skys full of a flock of large birds or bats. Something...cant tell for sure, but theyre making it dark down here."
"McCoy?" called Kirk in alarm.
The doctors voice came back across, trembling with terror. "Theyre coming right at us! My God, it cant be..."
"Bones? McCoy, whats happening?" An alarmed Kirk looked at his companions as the signal was lost.
Leonard McCoy had never been as afraid as he was at that very moment. Numb with terror, he let his communicator fall from his hand. The device hit the stone floor with a clatter.
When a barrage of rocks showered down from the sky, Valdez had his phaser out in an instant. "Doctor McCoy! Lieutenant! Take cover!" he yelled as he ran to take shelter behind one of the temples crumbling walls. The officers joined him, and the security man opened fire on the winged creatures that were circling overhead.
Even as one of the attackers fell dead from the sky, McCoy couldnt believe his eyes. "Gargoyles," he breathed in total disbelief. "Im a doctor, not a warrior," he mumbled in disgust as he also drew out a phaser.
With their heavy wings still flapping wildly, the remaining gargoyles swept down on the landing party. While Valdez and McCoy continued to fire their weapons at the creatures, Malone fumbled desperately for her communicator.
"Were outnumbered!" shouted McCoy as he continued to fire.
The doctor and the botanist watched in horror as Valdez was attacked savagely, his cries of anguish ringing in their ears. McCoys phaser was knocked from his hand and out of reach as he was pushed to his knees by several of the aliens. He tried to fend off the attack with his bare hands when the creatures turned on him and Malone.
The last thing that he saw clearly was a battle axe one of the gargoyles swung with precision to strike. McCoy crossed his arms over his face to deflect the blow, but the blade still fell with enough force to rip apart the skin on his forehead and gouge his forearms. Dazed, he grimaced in agony, then reached out blindly as blood ran into his eyes. "Jennifer?"
Behind him, the lieutenant was trying desperately to reach McCoy and pull him away from the attackers. "Theyre going to kill us, Leonard," she cried in despair.
"Run, Jennifer. Find Jim and Spock..." He choked as blood ran into his mouth and down his throat.
"No. Im not leaving you," she said, trying to keep her voice steady. Wiping blood away from his forehead with trembling fingers, she looked up fearfully. The attack had ended, and the ensign lay dead.
As the aliens lumbered closer to surround the Enterprise officers, Malone drew in her breath. Garbed in leather tunics and trousers, the creatures were slightly stooped with large, powerful wings on their backs. Their facial features were grotesquely twisted as they stared down at their captives.
One of the gargoyles nodded in satisfaction, then turned to the rest of the alien warriors. "The males will provide food for us." He snarled widely and showed his sharp yellowed fangs as he leered at the lieutenant. "I am Zrll, master of this world."
Blood flowed freely from his wound as McCoy weakly tried to force the creature away. "Keep your hands off of her," he growled.
The alien laughed, looking evilly at the wounded officer. "Take them below," he ordered his men. "The males will be stored, and the female is to be gtaken to my chamber."
Somewhere nearby, Jennifer Malone was screaming, but the doctor could no longer see her. Blood ran into his eyes, and he was hoisted to his feet onto legs that could no longer support him. She was sobbing softly now, and he was powerless to help her as he was jerked away.
On the hillside, Kirk tried to reestablish contact with McCoy. "Bones! Can you respond?" Putting his communicator back onto his waistband, he turned to Spock and Jenkins. "Lets get back down to the meadow. If the others are able, theyll head back there."
Kirks heart pounded with both dread and foreboding as they raced back to the valley. When they reached the meadow, it was deserted.
"McCoy said they were three kilometers away, but he didnt say in what direction," the captain said tensely.
"Im picking up humanoid life readings southeast from our present location, Captain," remarked the Vulcan, glancing down at his tricorder.
"Hurry, Spock; lead the way," Kirk urged.
They ran deeper into the shadows of the valley, trying desperately to cover the distance and reach their fellow officers. When they reached the temple ruins, they found them just as McCoy had described.
Cautiously drawing their phasers, they crept silently into the stone structure. The sound of their boots echoed on the stone surface as they searched the decaying ruins.
Spock held up an object and called out to the others, "I found the doctors medikit." He paused, then added solemnly, "And there is a great deal of blood over here."
Kirk felt as though he might be sick. "No bodies?"
"No, Captain. But given the volume of blood spilled here, there has been at least one fatality. Possibly more."
A stunned Doctor McCoy felt himself being pulled along. Wherever he was, it was damp and cold. He had been lowered downward by the gargoyles into what he believed to be a secret tunnel beneath the temple ruins. Valdez was slaughtered without mercy, he thought. Why have they kept me alive?
They were stopping now, and the doctor was allowed to slump to the frigid wetness below. His hands shook as he put them to his forehead to clear the blood from his vision. When he glanced up, he saw Jennifer Malone looking at him with a mixture of compassion and dread. Her tunic was torn and tears stained her pretty face.
A wave of dizziness passed over him, and he turned away. Two of the aliens were struggling to pull open a stone-chiseled door. McCoy gazed at the underground room. The cavern was lit with iron torches mounted on the walls around its perimeter. Stalagmites stood as silent sentinels, jutting across the floor.
Valdezs body was brought to the doors opening, then wound tightly with a thin gauze-like material until he resembled an Egyptian mummy. The doctor shivered from both cold and fear.
The wrapped corpse was carried through the doorway into an adjacent chamber, and then the two gargoyles returned to the passageway. One of the creatures held a hemp rope in its clawed fist as it approached McCoy.
Zrll stared down at the injured doctor, his dark eyes gleaming in the torch light. "I sense your fear, Outworlder," he snarled, saliva dripping from the corners of his mouth.
"If you are intelligent beings, then let us go," pleaded the lieutenant.
The gargoyle ruler studied her, then spoke hoarsely, "Soon we will be joined." He turned back to McCoy. "You, on the other claw, will die when the sky darkens."
The doctor couldnt believe what was happening. If Jim and Spock dont find us soon, Jennifer will be at the mercy of this demon. Feebly, he tried to get to his feet, but his guards shoved him roughly against the cavern wall.
He cried out as his cut struck the cold stone. Arms yanked behind his back, they bound first his wrists, then his ankles. Malone watched in horror as McCoys captors began to wrap gauze tightly around him.
"Stop it! Youll smother him!" she protested.
"He will stay in the chamber of the dead, then be slaughtered after our joining rite," rasped Zrll.
Malone kneeled down by the doctor. "I wont let them kill you," she promised tearfully. She kissed him, and he tasted the salt of her tears. "I love you, Leonard."
"Itll be all right. Jim and Spock will come," he whispered.
The alien pulled Malone away, then bent down next to his helpless victim. Grabbing up a wad of the gauze, he forced the officers mouth open with a clawed hand and shoved the material inside. "With the dead, you will be silent."
The doctor groaned as the creatures finished wrapping the cloth around him. They left a small area uncovered for him to breathe through, then gathered up his body and carried him into the chamber of the dead. The grotesque aliens threw him among the corpses.
As the heavy door slammed shut, McCoy heard Jennifers tearful plea, "Dont leave him in there. Please, hell go mad." Then there was silence, deadly silence.
Lieutenant Malone was led through a maze of winding passageways into the depths of the cavern to a small, ornately decorated room. Purple-hued cloth draped its walls and sleeping alcove. This, she thought, is Zrlls private chamber.
Two small gargoyles waited patiently and bowed down before her captor. "These females will prepare you," he said, releasing her from his clawed grasp.
Malone watched him leave and resisted her first impulse to flee. She knew that the alien would be waiting close by. One of the females stepped forward and held out a garment of thin material similar to the gauze cloth used to wrap the dead. The officer automatically backed away.
"Do not fear, honored one. We are here to serve you."
"But I dont want this. I want to leave. My friend needs me."
The alien females exchanged puzzled looks. "You do not wish to join with the master?"
"No. I love another. Your master has made him a prisoner in your death chamber."
"He is doomed." The gargoyle again held out the garment. "Obey the master. Put on your joining robe before Zrll is angered."
Disheartened, Malone slowly removed her uniform, then slipped the thin material over her head. Nude beneath it, the outfit left nothing to the imagination. Satisfied that their mission was complete, the attendants left the chamber.
As Malone watched them leave, thoughts of escape reentered her mind. She stopped halfway to the doorway when Zrll reappeared, holding a band of flowers and berries.
He came near her, and she saw just how inhumanly ugly he was. His eyes were deep, hollow pools of evil, and his mouth twisted cruelly as he leered at her. Saliva dripped from his protruding fangs.
"Both death and life joined as one," he chanted, placing the tight band around her auburn locks.
Her heart skipped a beat when she felt his hot, searing breath on her neck. "Keep away from me," came her hollow threat.
The creature grabbed her wrists in one huge clawed fist, then spread his wings out encompassing her slim body to pull her close to his massive chest. His other hand cupped her chin, tilting it back to force her gaze to his. She shuddered as she looked into the dark eyes hungry with lust.
"Your will to mine," he commanded, then growled.
She swallowed hard as the alien released her chin, then let his gnarled hand glide down her neck. His claws pricked her flesh and slipped beneath the flimsy cloth of her garment. Gasping, she tried to pull away.
The male snarled, his fangs dripping with saliva. "Your body is strange, but it pleases me."
"You monster! Take your filthy hands off me."
The creature shoved her roughly backward onto his bed. The heavy body pressed against her, and Malone fought back. Kicking out desperately, she squirmed from his grasp, managing to free one hand. She pounded her fist against his hairy chest.
He leaned closer with his breath coming in short, hot pants. As she struggled to push him back, her hand felt the thick belt at his waist. Groping along the leather, she retrieved his knife and drew the weapon triumphantly.
Without a moments hesitation, she plunged the knife into the aliens back. On top of her, his eyes widened in surprise as a low-throated growl emitted from his throat. He fell backward off the bed, claws grabbing at the weapon embedded deeply in his back.
Bruised and shaken, Malone crawled off the bed and stared down at the gargoyle as he thrashed in agony. She seized a bowl from the bedside and stuck him over the head. He moaned, then lay still.
Gathering the thin garment tightly around her quaking body, she went to the door to look out. The passageway was empty, and for the first time in her life, she believed in miracles.
As Lieutenant Jenkins and Commander Spock continued to search the ancient ruins, Captain Kirk examined the gargoyle artifacts more closely. When he pushed against one of the creatures wings there was a grating noise behind him. The officers turned simultaneously and looked toward the center of the temple floor. A large portion of stone was opening up. Moving cautiously to the edge of the dark pit, they peered downward.
"It could be a trap, but I want it checked out," the captain said. "Were not leaving until we find out what happened to the others."
"There is a stairwell, Captain, and more blood stains," reported Spock.
Kirk nodded grimly. "Lets get down there."
Leonard McCoy shivered against the cold. He was afraid, not only for himself, but for Jennifer Malone. Even if the landing party found them, it might be too late. I must not give up. Jim and Spock will find us, he told himself.
He struggled vainly to free himself. The gauze wrappings were thin, but as strong as steel. The hemp bindings cut deep into his wrists as he continued to twist hopelessly. Relinquishing defeat, he settled back against the cold, dankness of the chamber.
I dont belong here. Im alive. Dear God, alive!
While he lay there, imprisoned with the dead, his tortured mind began to imagine sounds and movement around him. Tears of frustration and despair welled up in his eyes and soaked through the gauze.
Im going mad.
Kirk led his officers down into the dark pit. The cold dampness chilled them as they descended deep into the underground cavern. He raised his hand to bring the others to a silent halt at the bottom of the stone carved stairs.
"The blood trail leads to that door, sir," whispered Jenkins, pointing across the chamber.
The captain nodded wordlessly, then proceeded in the direction the lieutenant had indicated. They stopped in front of an ornately carved door.
"The symbols are Gothic in style, Captain. Both the temple above and this cavern register as several thousand years old. Fascinating."
"No time for a history lesson, Spock. Lets get this door open and see whats on the other side."
It took the combined strength of both men to force the heavy barrier open. Spock stepped forward to run a tricorder scan over the rooms contents. Kirk grabbed a lit torch from the outer wall and handed it to Jenkins as the security officer stepped into the frigid chamber.
"Whats in there?" Kirk called from the passageway.
"It appears to be a unique storage system, Captain. There are several wrapped carcasses. Two register as Human, and one is still alive."
Kirk came forward to peer into the semi-darkness. "Where, Spock?" he asked as his eyes darted from one wrapped figure to the next.
The Vulcan walked carefully between the still forms, scanning each. Finally he stopped, then bent down next to one of them. "Erratic vital signs but alive. Lieutenant," he called. "Help me remove this body."
The captain stepped back and watched as the shrouded figure was carried out into the passageway. He could see the traces of blue tunic through the wrappings. Science blue. McCoy or Malone.
Spock unwound the blood-encrusted wrappings slowly, then opened the injured officers mouth gently to pull out the saliva-soaked gag. "It is Doctor McCoy, Jim." The Vulcan noted the doctors pale skin as he checked the vital signs. "His pulse is weak and fast. He has lost a great deal of blood."
Kirk helped remove the bindings, then gently touched McCoys shoulder. "Bones? Can you hear me? Malone and Valdez, what happened to them?"
The doctors eyes opened into small slits. "Gargoyles attacked us...they were real...couldnt believe it." His eyes were dull as he stared up at them. "Valdez? Dear God," he said, letting out a choked sob. "Hes dead."
"And Lieutenant Malone, Doctor?" Spock asked.
McCoy thought for a moment, then tried to sit up but fell back weakly. "That...that monster has her. Have to...to save her."
"Take it easy, Bones. If shes down here, well find her."
"More Outworlders," a voice growled from behind the officers.
"Stay with McCoy, Jenkins," instructed the captain as he and Spock rose quickly to face a number of gargoyles armed with spears and battle axes. "Where is my other officer?" Kirk demanded.
Ignoring him, the lead gargoyle turned to his warriors. "Take their weapons."
While the gargoyles snatched the weapons and communicators from Spock and Kirk, Jenkins silently removed the phaser from his belt and placed it behind the doctor. One of the aliens reached down and grabbed his communicator. "This one has no weapon, Lord."
"Summon Zrll." The gargoyle spread his wings out and snarled evilly at the officers. "We will eat well for some time."
Lieutenant Malone brushed a lock of damp hair from her eyes and stopped to catch her breath. The labyrinth of passages was confusing, and time was running out for McCoy. Which way? Right or left?
Finally making a decision, she headed down the left tunnel. Hold on, Leonard. Im coming. She had only gone a short distance from the opening when she heard voices. Captain Kirk.
Holding up the hem of her robe, she broke into a run. But at the end of the passage the stopped short. Not only were Kirk and the rescue party there, but so were Zrll and his henchmen. She stepped back into the shadows and watched. A diversion. I need a way to distract the gargoyles.
Malone reached behind her and retrieved a torch from one of the holders, then hurried back to the end of the tunnel. With all of her strength, she hurled the flaming light at the aliens. It landed sharply, and the noise reverberated through the cavern.
Jenkins grabbed up his phaser and fired at the grotesque aliens. The beam ricocheted around the room shattering the stalagmites in its path. The startled gargoyles scattered and fled into the maze of passageways.
Malone left the safety of her hiding place to join the starship officers. "Thank God," she breathed, falling to her knees by the doctor. "Leonard?"
McCoy looked up. "Jennifer, you okay?" he said, stroking her cheek gently.
"Sure, silly. You didnt think that creep was any match for me, did you?" she asked, blinking back tears of joy.
Leonard McCoy managed a small, lopsided smile.
"Lets get out of here," Kirk said, putting his arm under McCoys shoulders and lifting him up. "Think you can walk, Bones?"
"Yeah. Im just a little dizzy."
"You have a concussion," advised the Vulcan.
"I know, Spock. And I also know that we cant stay here any longer. Ill be okay. Just need a little support," he added, leaning against Jenkins shoulder.
Spock nodded, then took hold of McCoys arm and draped it around his strong shoulder. Supported by Jenkins and Spock, the doctor slowly mounted the stone carved stairs to freedom.
The temples crumbling ruins were deserted when the officers reached the planets surface and looked around warily.
"With only one phaser and no communicators, we dont have many options," advised Kirk. "Our best chance for survival is to get that distress signal in the escape pod operational." He paused, turning to McCoy. "Can you make it that far?"
"I think so, but if I cant keep up... Well, you cant afford to waste any time."
"Forget it, Bones. Were not splitting up. If necessary, well carry you."
With Jenkins and Spock supporting the injured doctor, the group retraced their steps back to the lush meadow. Overhead, the sky was turning dusky.
"If it gets dark, it will be to our advantage. The hills will give us shelter from an attack," suggested the security officer.
"Not necessarily. These creatures may have better nightvision than we do." Kirk frowned. "Itll also be impossible to find the pod after dark. Wed better get started," he said, taking the lead up the incline.
Pushing back stickered brush, the landing party made their ascent as quickly as possible. Malone tugged at her skirt as it became entangled on a thorn bush. "Is it much farther, Captain?" she called out.
"The plateau is about one hundred meters ahead, just over the rise."
Nodding in relief, she looked back at McCoy. "Looks like were going to make it."
The doctor smiled. "Yeah. I had my doubts, but we should be back aboard the ship in time for dinner."
Ahead of them the hill crested, and Kirk called a halt. Spock and Jenkins helped ease McCoy to the ground against the hull of the pod to rest. "This morning this place looked like a paradise, and now..." began the doctor.
"And now we must survive. You will rest now," replied the Vulcan, then turned his attention to the pods mechanism.
Jennifer Malone sighed wearily, then sat down. "You okay?"
McCoy closed his eyes and reached up to touch his forehead gingerly. "To be honest, Ive had better days. I have a pounding headache, and Im as weak as a kitten."
"When we get back aboard the Enterprise, Ill have to nurse you back to health," she promised smiling. "I have a great bedside manner."
"Really? Dear me, maam, I do believe Im blushing," he joked, then frowned. "What is that silly hat youre wearing?"
"Oh. I forgot I still had it on. Its a betrothal band from my fiance Zrll." She reached up to take it off but stopped when she heard the loud rustling of wings overhead.
"Take cover! The gargoyles are attacking!" Kirk shouted.
The five-member landing party huddled behind the escape pod and stared into the sky now filled with the alien warriors. Jenkins cried out as he was struck with a rock, and McCoy crawled over to help him.
Kirk took aim and fired his phaser, and several of the creatures fell to the hillside dead. As Malone watched in horror, the horde of gargoyles landed and moved in to overpower the officers. Arms pinioned to their sides, Kirk, Spock and Jenkins were dragged away from the others.
His head bandaged, Zrll took hold of Jennifers arm and pulled her to her feet. "You will see my wrath."
"What...what are you going to do?" she stammered in fear.
Shoving her aside, the alien ruler called out to one of his men. "Bring that one," he growled, pointing a gnarled finger at the doctor.
"No!" screamed Jennifer as McCoy was dragged to Zrll.
"Down!" commanded the gargoyle.
The doctor was forced to kneel, then watched warily as Zrll removed a small leather pouch from his belt. Reaching out, he put a clawed hand on McCoys forehead and pushed his head back. The officer grimaced as the claws pierced his wound.
Across from them, Kirk struggled against his captors. "Leave him alone, damn it!"
Despite his struggles, the doctors mouth was forced open by his alien guard. Zrll snarled impatiently. "Deaths darkness will be your release," he chanted, then poured the pouchs contents into McCoys mouth.
The doctor gagged, then choked as the bitter liquid ran down his throat. Helpless, the other officers watched in horror. A cruel smile spread across the rulers twisted features as he stepped back. "You will die soon," he rasped with vengeance.
McCoy slumped to the ground and lay there too exhausted to move. He felt nauseated as his abdomen began to cramp. Rolling weakly over on his side, he clutched his stomach and moaned.
"You bastard!" shouted Kirk.
"Death to the Outworlders," Zrll growled, his eyes gleaming with rage.
On the bridge of the Enterprise, Lieutenant Uhura was receiving a transmission from the surface of Kappa Pegasi IV. "Mister Sulu, that distress signal is being transmitted again."
"Contact the captain, Uhura."
"Im trying, but theres no response from any of the landing party," she reported as her fingers continued to operate the controls on her communications panel.
"Then there may he trouble down there." The Asian officer reached out to one of the buttons on the arm console. "Transporter room, Lieutenant Sulu here."
"Mister Scott, do you have the landing partys position?"
"Checking now. Aye, theyre at the coordinates where we received the distress call this morning." There was a slight pause, then, "And Mister Sulu, theyre not alone. Im also picking up life readings that are not humanoid."
"I see. Weve been unable to reach the landing party on their communicators," advised Sulu.
"Theres something else. One of the landing partys vital signs just registered below the norm. Damn Prime Directive to hell! Do ye want me to beam them up?"
"Yes, Mister Scott. Ill take full responsibility. I want them back aboard immediately."
Lieutenant Sulu leaned backed in the command chair. He knew from experience that the loss of contact with a landing party most likely meant only one thing: something had gone wrong, and time was probably of the essence.
On the planets surface, a heartbroken Jennifer Malone dropped to her knees, then wrapped her arms around the doctors writhing body. "Leonard?" she called softly. "Its going to be all right."
"Jennifer...dear God, the pain..." he gasped.
"Dont talk. You have to save your strength."
"Have to...have to tell you. I...I love you."
"I know, dear. Just hold on. Ill find a way to save you," she promised blinking back tears.
As if in answer to her prayers, a high-pitched hum filled the hillside, and the landing party dissolved in beams of sparkling light.
The gargoyles stared in disbelief. Lifting his clawed fist to the heavens, Zrll let out a bloodcurdling howl.
A startled Montgomery Scott watched the landing party materialize on the transporter platform. A badly bruised Lieutenant Jenkins was supported by Spock, and Doctor McCoy lay slumped against Jennifer Malones shoulder moaning. The captain reached down, gathered the doctor into his strong arms, then stepped down from the transport platform.
"Mister Scott, we have to get McCoy to Sickbay. Notify MBenga that were on our way," Kirk said over his shoulder as he hurried out.
Lieutenant Malone pushed her tousled hair back as she hurried down the passageway behind the captain. Her stomach was churning by the time they reached Sickbay. The doors swished open and closed as they rushed inside.
Doctor MBenga was waiting in McCoys outer office. Shocked by both the doctors battered condition and Kirks look of anguish, he directed them to the examination room. "Lay him down on the exam table." The black doctor glanced up at the life reading indicators. "Hes lost a substantial amount of blood and body fluids. Theres a toxin in his system." He turned to look at the captain and lieutenant. "What happened?"
"He was poisoned," Kirk said nearly in a whisper.
"Do you have a sample of the toxin?" asked the assistant chief medical officer. "Itll increase the odds of his survival immensely."
"The red berries," the botanist spoke up, removing the band from her hair. "These must be the origin of the poison."
"Ill get Leonard on life support and send these to the lab for analyzing. Coupled with his weakened condition, the toxin is spreading quickly." He injected McCoy with a general antitoxin.
"Can you save him?" the captain asked urgently.
"If I can find an antidote and keep his organs from any further damage, he has a chance."
Jennifer Malone glanced over at the pale form of McCoy as he groaned in the beginnings of delirium. She fought back tears. "Im going to my quarters and get out of these clothes. If theres change in his condition..."
"I was about to suggest that both you and the captain get some rest. Ill let you know as soon as the lab turns something up."
When Lieutenant Malone reached her cabin, she immediately ripped the gauze garment off and threw it down in disgust. Still fighting back tears, she walked dazedly into the bathroom, then stepped into the shower. The hot water trickled down her bruised body as the tears finally came. Why is this happening? The person I care for more than anyone is dying.
She reached up and turned off the water. Quickly drying herself off, she went to her closet and pulled out a clean uniform. I wont let him die. Ill go to the lab and find that antidote.
Commander Spock was in one of the medical laboratories, working alongside Doctor Sanchez and the entire staff of medical technicians to find the antitoxin, when Jennifer Malone rushed in breathless. "Have...have you analyzed the berries?" she asked.
"Affirmative. The berries contain the toxin that has entered the doctors system."
"Then youve found an antidote?"
"Negative. The computers have been unable to link the poison with any known antidote."
Malone paled. "Then theres no hope."
"Hope is not..." Spock never finished the sentence; his dark eyes scrutinized the young woman. "As long as he is alive, there is hope."
"And how much longer will that be, Mister Spock?" she said, her words tinged with bitterness.
"MBenga estimates that McCoys condition will remain stable for one point five hours."
Malone nodded wordlessly, then frowned. "Death and life joined as one," she murmured. "I wonder."
"Something Zrll said to me. If the berries are death, then the flowers are life. Mister Spock, where is that band I had in my hair?"
"The berries were removed for testing. The remainder of the band is on the lab table."
The botanist hurried to the table and grabbed up the band now entwined with wilted flowers. "The flowers may contain the antidote!"
"Indeed. You may well be correct." The Vulcan turned to one of the technicians. "You will process these flowers at once. I believe the lieutenant may have found the answer."
Leonard McCoy lay deathly still on a diagnostic bed in Sickbay as the monitors registered his irregular life readings. The ward doors swished open softly, and MBenga entered with Lieutenant Malone and Spock.
The doctor walked over to examine his unconscious colleague, then looked up at the monitors and sighed. "Time is running out for him. As much as I hate using an untested antitoxin, I dont see much choice." Spock handed him a loaded hypospray, and MBenga put the device against McCoys neck. A soft hiss echoed across the room as the antidote was administered.
Silently they waited for a change in McCoys condition. Minutes passed before his eyelids flickered, then finally opened. He peered up at the faces staring down at him. "Where am I?" he mumbled sleepily.
Malone smiled and laid her cool hand against his hot fevered forehead. "Not a very original question, but thank God youre able to ask it."
"How do you feel, Leonard?" MBenga asked.
"My head hurts and so does my stomach," McCoy complained.
"Ill get a pain killer for you," the black doctor promised as he left the room.
"It is indeed gratifying to see your favorable reaction to the antitoxin, Doctor. The captain is on the bridge; I will notify him of your impending recovery."
The weary doctor nodded, then watched as the Vulcan left the ward. He gazed up at Malone. "I thought I would die from Zrlls poison, but you found an antidote."
She ran her finger gently down his cheek. "Yes, and with only minutes to spare. Youd never guess what saved your life."
He smiled. "What?"
"The hat, Leonard. The silly hat."
"You wouldnt kid a sick man, would you, Jennifer?"
Malone giggled. "Ill tell you all about it when youre stronger," she promised, then kissed him lightly. "Just remember, Leonard McCoy, miracles do happen."
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