James Kirk was not fond of waiting. He held the record for being the youngest Captain in Starfleet history, had beaten the Kobayashi Maru test, and could face a horde of Klingons or Romulans without flinching, but he was definitely not a patient man. He was sitting in the lounge of one of the many ski-lodges of Beta Cygni VII, otherwise known as the newly terraformed planet Alpen, nursing a Saurian brandy, wondering when McCoy was going to show up. He took a swallow of the sweet brown fluid and considered the days events. It had so far been an uneventful shore leave. Many of the Enterprise crew had taken advantage of the planets pristine snow-covered mountains, spending their time skiing and participating in various other winter sports. Theyd tried to convince Spock to come down, but their resident Vulcan had begged off, maintaining that the ambient temperature of Alpen was not to his liking, and he had sent Kirk and McCoy on their merry way. Spock had reminded them that in fact, there was not even a Vulcan word for "snow." So they had dressed warmly and joined the rest of the crew in a mad rush for the surface. He and the doctor had tried most of the local activities, but McCoy had drawn the line at sliding down an icy luge run, leaving the captain to take the wild ride by himself.
Kirk repositioned himself in his seat in order to keep the main entrance in view. Still no McCoy. He frowned. That was damned odd. The doctor had left a message for him nearly an hour ago that he should come to the lounge. It was now late in the evening, and the room was deserted.
Taking a handful of pretzels from the bowl on the table in front of him and munching thoughtfully, he busied himself by studying the lounges interior. It was decorated in a very rustic style, intended to be reminiscent of a ski lodge in the American Rockies. Polished wooden beams supported the ceiling, and a fireplace took up one corner of the room, a warm, cozy fire crackling within, its glow nearly lulling him to sleep.
He was startled by a bulky form that moved into the booth next to him, and was even more surprised by the hypo that was pressed firmly against his side. "Hey!" he exclaimed.
"Make one sound, and youre dead," a voice growled, and Kirk heard the hiss of the hypo as something was injected through the his wool sweater.
The owner of the voice was hidden behind several days growth of black beard. His flinty eyes flicked nervously. Two other disreputable-appearing sorts slid into the seat opposite Kirk. Struggling against unconsciousness, the captain attempted to rise, but it was useless. He felt himself slipping into insensibility, and everything went dark.
Leonard McCoy, Chief Medical Officer and Chief Surgeon of the Federation Starship Enterprise, strolled happily along the wide sidewalks of the ski village of New Albertville, shopping for a present to send to his daughter, Joanna. He was sure that a busy medical student like herself would appreciate some sort of souvenir, and he had been prowling the shops ever since he had abandoned Jim back at that damn-fool, take-your-life-in-your-own-hands luge run. After watching his friend slide recklessly down the icy course, he decided that he wanted no part of it; he was certain that Jim was probably still up on the mountainside, hurling his body through the run at speeds of up to eighty miles an hour. Meanwhile, he had contented himself by sampling some of the local cuisine and searching for just the right gift for Joannas twenty-third birthday.
The streets were crowded tonight with the usual tourist throng, making their way from stores to restaurants to pubs, spending their credits and generally having a good time. McCoy stuffed his hands into his pockets and wrapped his jacket more tightly around him, stamping his feet in the snow, blowing out a long breath and watching it turn to a wispy cloud. It was cold, but he was enjoying it. The little town had a warm ambiance about it that he found lacking in many of the ports at which the Enterprise docked. Jim had surely had to pull some strings to convince HQ to allow the ship to stop here for shore leave. Here, on one of the most beautiful spots in the galaxy. It had been a fun day, he had to admit. He couldnt remember the last time he was on skis. Mustve been on a trip hed made with some friends back in med school. He wondered if Spock would have been a good skier, and had to grin at the thought of the Vulcan scooting down a snowy slope. Naaaah.
He made his way slowly through the crowd, stopping here and there to peer through shop windows at the wares inside. After finally locating a few items he thought his daughter might like, he started the long walk back to the lodge where he and Kirk had rented their rooms. Following the well-lit path, he approached the lodge with relief, noting that his feet were by now becoming quite tired. Then again, so was he; it must be after midnight and the thought of a warm, comfortable bed appealed to him. He stopped long enough to ask the desk clerk if there were any messages left for him. There werent any, and McCoy wondered if Jim had given up on him and gone to bed; of course, knowing his friend as well as he did, he considered that perhaps the captain had wandered off in the company of some new girlfriend. McCoy ascended the stairs and plodded down the hall toward their rooms.
Punching the entry code, he waited as the wooden doors hidden locking mechanism clicked; the door then swung open easily at his gentle push. He carefully set his purchases in the corner, and strode across the room to knock quietly on the connecting door. When there was no answer, McCoy rapped harder, and then a third time. He cocked his head to listen. He heard no rustle of movement. Kirk must not be in there at all!
"All right, Jim," he announced, "if youre over there, just want to let you know that Im comin in."
He entered the code for the connecting door and pulled it open. Stepping through into the silent room, he noticed that Kirks things were absolutely undisturbed. His eyes scanned the room but found no trace of the captain. "Jim?" he called.
Maybe hed been injured on that stupid luge. McCoy could call the hospital to find out. No, hed try the obvious first. If Jim had gone out somewhere, then perhaps hed left a message his friend. He marched purposefully back down to the reception desk.
"Excuse me, " he said to the night clerk on duty, "but did a James Kirk stop by here and say where he might be going?"
The young man behind the desk looked puzzled. "No," he replied. "Didnt you meet him in the lounge?"
"What are you talking about?" McCoy asked, nonplussed.
"Well," the clerk stated, "I got a call a few hours ago from you, sir, saying that you wanted Mister Kirk to meet you in the lounge. You are Leonard McCoy, correct?"
"Just a minute," the doctor said. "I never called you." This is getting too strange! Who wouldve called and pretended to be me? And why?
The clerk called up a computer readout. "Its right here in my comm log, sir," the boy reported helpfully, and turned the screen for McCoy to read.
Sure enough, there it was"Call from Leonard McCoy, M.D. Message for James Kirk, Captain: Meet me in the lounge," it said. He scowled at the glowing letters, completely baffled. Something is definitely very, very wrong here. He spun and went into the lounge. It was empty; the fire had nearly burned down to glowing embers. The bartender was cleaning a few glasses before closing time, and the doctor approached him.
"Excuse me," he said.
The bartender looked up. "Yes, sir? What can I get for you?"
McCoy shook his head. "Nothing right now, thanks. Im lookin for somebodya fella that may have been waiting here for me."
"Light brown hair, medium height, muscular build?"
"Thats the one," he said.
The bartender picked up another glass to dry. "Well, he was here, all right, for awhile. Three other guys came in and sat down with hima few minutes later, they all left together. They said your friend had had a little too much to drink, and they were going to help him back to his room."
"Did he say anything?" McCoy demanded.
"No," the bartender shrugged. "He looked like he was too drunk to walk, let alone say a word. Funny," he continued in a curious tone, "I only served him a couple of drinks."
That was it for McCoy. Jim Kirk would not be passed out on the floor from just a couple of drinks. An eerie feeling settled in the pit of his stomach. This just wasnt right! He fixed the bartender with his stare. "What did these gentlemen look like?" he urged. "Please try to remember."
The barkeep concentrated for a moment. "The one I remember best was a really big man with a black beard. The other two, well, I cant say for certain. They both had brown hair; one was slender, and the other was more husky. Thats about it. None of em looked like the type that your friend would normally be socializing with. Do you know em?"
"No," McCoy stated emphatically. "I sure as hell dont. But Im gonna find out whats goin on around here. Thanks for your help."
The small shuttle flew swiftly through the winter night. Max Drage ran a callused hand through his beard and checked their position again. Hed decided against a straight liftoff out of New Albertville; instead they would travel around the planet and approach the orbiting Predator from the opposite direction in an attempt to confuse any who might follow. They were travelling through a blizzard; the falling snow swirled across the viewscreen.
"Hey," a nasally voice complained from behind him, "You sure about this, Max?"
Drage turned his massive bulk to regard the speaker with a disgusted eye. "You sure about this, Max?" he parroted. Glaring at Tony Jarvis, who sat, worriedly watching the unconscious Starfleet captain, he growled, "Of course Im sure, Tony. Just relax, will ya?"
Jarvis nervously considered their prisoner, who lay prostrate on one of the shuttles two bunks. He looked back at Drage, an anxious look on his face. "I mean, I dont know, Maxthis has to be the craziest stunt weve ever pulled. Kidnapping? I just dont know, man, I mean, this is a starship captain!"
"Exactly," Drage spat out. "Helmut, you explain it to him. Ive gotta watch where were going."
Helmut Stibitz slipped a phaser into a recharge pack and replied calmly, "Dont you get it, Tony? A starship captain is a valuable commodity. There are a lot of powers out there thatd love to get their hands on such a treasure-trove of information. Just look at all of the facts he probably has in his headStarfleet movements, classified information about Fed equipment capabilities, Starfleet weapons research. All of that has to be worth a lot of money, to the Klingons, the Roms, the Tholians, the Orionseven to the Feds, because they might just pay to get him back again, alive and in one piece."
"Thats right," Drage added. "All we have to do is advertiseone Federation Starship captain, on sale to the highest bidder."
Kirks mind slowly inched its way back to consciousness. He could hear his three captorsArguing about something, he thought. He lay quietly, feigning senselessness, trying to figure out his situation. From the sound and feel of it, he must be on a shuttlecraft of some sort. He risked opening one eye slightly. It was a shuttle, and the three men were all up forward, discussing what to do with him. They mustve counted on the hypo to keep him comatose long enough to reach orbit, but perhaps they miscalculated the dose. His ears detected someones statement"One Federation Starship captain, on sale to the highest bidder." A cold chill ran down his spine as he considered the possibilities implicit in that remark. No Starfleet captain had ever been sold for ransom before, but Kirk could only guess the long-term consequences, not only for himself, but for the security of the Federation.
He assessed his physical condition, tensing muscles to see if he had enough strength to do what he was about to attempt. If he could stop them from reaching orbit, then maybe he had a chance of staying alive. He observed them through the slits of his barely open eyes. They were still up front and werent even watching him. He scanned the shuttle for something he could use as a weapon. There was a metal hand fire extinguisher beneath the opposite bunk. Reaching down, his fingers came into contact with another just under his own. Silently, he eased himself up off of the bunk and freed the extinguisher from its housing.
With a shout of rage, he rushed the cockpit and swung the extinguisher against the leaders head, slamming him into the fuselage of the shuttle. Drage dropped like a stone, out cold. The other two grabbed for Kirk, who in the scuffle smashed the extinguisher into the controls, which threw off a shower of sparks. The shuttle rocked, then began a slow dive toward the planets surface.
Jarvis lost his balance and fell to the deck, unconscious.
"You idiot!" Stibitz roared, grabbing Kirks collar and pinning him to the deck. "Youve killed us!" He plunged a beefy fist at Kirks face. Kirk reeled from the blow, but struck back, kneeing the big German in the groin, and threw him off. Stibitz curled on the deck in pain, and the captain turned to the controls, wiping away a trickle of blood from his nose. He grimaced in chagrinthe controls were destroyed, and the shuttle was rapidly plunging nearer and nearer to a craggy mountain peak. It narrowly missed colliding with the height and continued its out-of-control descent. The shuttle was just over the tops of the tall pines now, and Kirk hit the deck, covering his head. Stibitz raised himself and charged.
With an ear-shattering crash, the shuttle smashed into the trees. Kirk closed his eyes and held tightly onto a metal seat support as they cleared the trees and hit a snowbank with a bone-jarring impact. A wave of snow flew up as the little craft bounced and slid under its own inertia. When the shuttle finally came to rest, all was quiet in the cabin. Kirk cautiously raised his head and looked around. Amazingly, he appeared to be uninjured. Was he the only survivor? Stibitz lay on the deck in a pool of blood, apparently from a head injury received during the crash. Kirk extricated himself from under the control panel and approached Stibitz. He felt for a pulse and found none. The others were alive but unconscious.
Well, first things first. He searched the men for a phaser but came up empty-handed. Stibitzs weapon had been broken in the crashthe guts of the firing mechanism hung out of their housing, irreparable. Drage did have a long knife, which Kirk strapped to his own leg. At least now he had something better than a fire extinguisher with which to defend himself. Now to immobilize his kidnappers. He yanked at the paneling that covered the underside of the control panel. Setting it aside, he reached up and tugged loose as much cable and wire as he could. Within minutes, Drage and Jarvis were bound together on the deck of the shuttle.
Kirk moved to the comm panel; hed call the Enterprise and have them beamed up. "Enterprise," he said, "This is Captain Kirk. Do you read?"
The cockpit speakers emitted nothing but static. "Enterprise," he repeated. "Do you copy this message?"
Still nothing. After a few more fruitless attempts, he decided that the comm system was completely out. Well, so much for that mode of communication. He knew that by now McCoy might be wondering where he was. Once the Enterprise discovered that he was missing, theyd surely institute a search. He was confident that although he was in a remote area and had no communicator, the ships sensors would be sensitive enough to pick up their life-form readings. If not, Spock would have to search from the air by shuttlecraft. Regardless of how they would find him, he needed some way to make the shuttle more visible. Stibitzs jacket was in the back of the shuttle; he picked it up and shrugged it on, followed by the Germans gloves. A little large, perhaps, but at least itd keep him warm. There was a stocking cap in an inside pocket. He pulled it down around his ears and opened the shuttles overhead hatch. Snow tumbled in; Kirk climbed out into the howling wind. It was bitterly cold. Icy fingers penetrated the coat, chilling him. The shuttle was practically buried in the snow. Hed never be able to dig it out. Not only that, it was whiteperfect camouflage against the ground cover. There was no way it would be visually spotted from the air.
He lowered himself back into the shuttle, closing the hatch behind him. There would surely be a survival kit somewhere. He rummaged around until he found it under the pilots seat. Seating himself on the floor, he flipped open the catches and looked inside. There were some survival rations, a compass, a small phaser torch for starting fires, a first-aid kit and an emergency flare. He shoved it all into various pockets of the jacket. An ice axe was strapped to the hatchhe shoved it through one of the coats belt loops. There was a folded tent under the co-pilots seat, which he pulled out and laid on the control console.
Scrambling up the ladder, Kirk again opened the hatch and stepped out into the fury of the blizzard; if he could find enough wood here, he might be able to make a fire that would be visible for any searchers. Unfortunately, there were no fallen pieces of wood that he could see; they must have been buried by the snow. He attempted to break a limb off of one of the trees, but the trees were a hybrid characterized by high branches, and they were out of his reach.
Without warning, a burning red phaser bolt lanced into the snowbank inches from Kirks head, melting the snow with a hiss. He threw himself over the crest of the snowbank as another burst of fire flashed out from the shuttle, narrowly missing him. Drage must have freed himself and had a phaser hidden somewhere. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, he inched his way into the woods, pulling himself forward on his stomach as Drages phaser shots arrowed above him. Now he faced a decisiontry to approach the shuttle and overpower his kidnappers, which seemed foolhardy in the extreme, or attempt to find his way down out of these mountains to civilization, which also could be suicidal, when one considered the weather conditions and the fact that he had absolutely no idea where he was. Add to that that the kidnappers might just follow him; by now they must know that theyd never get off the planet with him, and it might be prudent for them to lose himpermanently. However, he stood no chance whatsoever in taking back the shuttle; it appeared that there really was no choice; he would have to run. Pushing himself up quickly, he darted deeper into the dark forest, legs pumping, hoping to put some distance between himself and his would-be killers.
McCoy sat in his hotel room, working himself into a frenzy. No one at the lodge had seen Kirk since he left the lounge, and no one other than the bartender had seen the three men who had left with the captain. He had called the hospital, just in case; Kirk wasnt there. Well, it was now four in the morning, and there was still no sign of Jim. It was time for McCoy to utilize some of the resources available to him as a lieutenant commander in Starfleet. He picked up Kirks communicator, which was resting on the table.
Flipping it open, he said, "McCoy to Enterprise."
The sleepy voice of Lieutenant Mress, the third shift communications officer, answered, "Enterprise herrre, Doctor. What can I do for you?"
"You can tell the transporter room to beam me upand hurry, its an emergency."
Seconds later, McCoy was standing on the transporter platform on board the starship. Without a word, he jumped down and dashed out of the room, squeezing through the just-opening doors as the transporter technician on duty stared after him in amazement.
Moving hastily, he jogged to the turbolift. Its doors obediently opened, and he ordered, "Deck five." As the lift ascended the three decks to officers country, McCoy considered what had happened on the planet below. Perhaps he was jumping to conclusions, worrying so about Jim. After all, maybe the captain had decided to go out on the town with those guys. Wait a minute, who am I kidding? Jim wouldnt do thatHe wouldnt just leave without so much as a note to let McCoy know where he was. Besides, there were enough oddities about this situation that made the doctors sixth sense absolutely scream. No, something was definitely up, and he knew that his captain, his friend needed help.
By this time, hed reached the door to Spocks quarters. Praying that the Vulcan was awake early for some reason, McCoy firmly pressed the door chime.
"Yes?" was the immediate response.
Raising his voice, he said, "Spock, its McCoy. Open up."
"One moment, Doctor."
He only had to wait ten seconds or so before the door opened to reveal Spock, wrapped in a regulation Starfleet bathrobe and a sleepsuitthe Vulcan equivalent of pajamashis hair uncharacteristically out-of-place. The first officer had obviously been sleeping, but his eyes were now fully alert.
"Doctor, it is 0416 hoursis there something wrong?" Spock studied McCoys worried features. Apparently, an incident had occurred on Alpen. He noted that Kirk was not with the doctor, and a chilling thought ran through him; perhaps Kirk had been injured while attempting a new winter sport.
"You bet there is," McCoy returned, inviting himself inside. He stepped past Spock into the mildly uncomfortable heat of the Vulcans quarters. Spock allowed the door to close and motioned the doctor to take a seat at the desk.
"Now, Doctor," Spock said as he lowered himself into his own chair, "Please explain the situation."
McCoy took a deep breath. "Spock, Jims disappeared. Now, I may just be jumping to the wrong conclusions here, but this has really got me worried." He went on to describe the unusual occurrences of the evening. "We need to look for him."
Spock nodded. "Very well. I do not believe that you are acting improperly, Doctor. The events that have transpired are rather unusual, to say the least." He thumbed his comm switch. "Spock to bridge."
"Bridge here, sirrr," Mress said.
"Lieutenant Mress, please contact the planetary authorities. Tell them I wish to speak with them regarding a missing crewman. I will be on the bridge momentarily. Spock out." He turned to McCoy. "Doctor, would you please join Lieutenant Mress? We will need your account of what has happened."
Minutes later, Spock, and McCoy stood at the communications station. A gray-haired, red-faced mountain of a man faced them on the viewscreen. "Gentlemen, Im Port Master Price. What can I do for you?"
"Port Master, I am Commander Spock, First Officer of the Enterprise. This is Doctor McCoy, our chief medical officer. Our captain has been on the surface for the past day, and he is now missing. We have reason to believe that he may be in danger."
After listening to their story, Price slowly nodded. "Ill have my officers place the spaceport under surveillance, and Ill notify orbital control that no ships are to leave orbit until further notice."
"Thank you, sir," Spock said. "That will be most helpful."
Prices visage disappeared from the screen. "Good," McCoy stated. "Now we can start scanning the rest of the planet for lifesigns."
Spock stepped to the command chair. "Mister Walking Bear, implement a standard sensor-search pattern orbit, please."
"Mister Spock," Mress announced, "Port Master Price is hailing us."
"Put him on screen, Lieutenant," Spock said.
"I have some information that may be important, Commander," said Price. "Spaceport control reports that they tracked a shuttle which left New Albertville about four hours ago. Its pilot hadnt filed a flight plan. Eventually, it was too far out of range to be tracked, but it apparently did not leave the atmosphere."
"Too far out of range?" McCoy asked. "What kind of antique sensor equipment do you have down there, Port Master?"
Price appeared chagrined. "Im sorry, Doctor. This is a purely commercial settlement. We have excellent sensor capability for tracking inbound ships, and expect to have an improved sensor net to cover the entire planet in the future, when resorts are opened in the opposite hemisphere, but for now, that isnt in place. Neither do we have a high-grade ground-to-airspace defense system aside from police patrol craft, not unusual considering how deep we are inside Federation territory."
"Have any ships left orbit since that time?" Spock inquired.
"None," Price said. "I dont think we need to worry that your captain was taken off-planet."
Spock agreed silently with the assessment as the Port Master continued, "Well institute a ground search in New Albertville as well as in New Vail." He shook his head. "Frankly, Commander Spock, if he was on that shuttle, and it went down on the far side of the planet, then theres not much hope. There arent any major settlements there yet, and the backcountrys quite wild. Id appreciate any help you could give us in the search; we have a very limited number of shuttles at our disposal."
The Vulcan nodded. "I had planned on doing so, Port Master. We have already begun an orbital sensor-sweep."
"Thank you, Mister Spock. Ill keep you advised."
Among the many vessels orbiting Alpen, the Predator floated serenely, veiling the real reason for its presence there. Her captain turned his Orion bulk to the scarred Human sitting at communications.
"So whats the delay?" he growled in a menacing tone. "Its been hours. Drage should have been here by now, or at the very least, contacted us."
The scarred man shook his head. "I dont know. Im suddenly picking an awful lot of administrative and police comm traffic. Looks like they didnt make it."
"Thats it, then. Im not going sit around here and wait for those idiots to finger us if theyve been arrested." He circled to face the helmsman. "Get us out of here, one-half impulse."
"Mister Spock," Mress announced, "one of the orbiting vessels has broken away from Alpen, and Port Master Price is hailing again."
"Commander," Price said. "The ship youre tracking is not answering our hails. We have notified them that leaving orbit is restricted, but weve gotten no response."
"Very well, Port Master," Spock replied. "We will initiate pursuit, if necessary. Lieutenant Mress, hail the vessel. Inform them to stand down."
Mress shook her feline head. "No response, sir."
"Mister Spock!" reported Walking Bear. "Shes turning on an attack vector. Photon torpedo incoming!"
As the Vulcan resonded, "Shields up," a concussion rocked the ship from somewhere below.
"Mister Walking Bear, evasive action. Return fire," Spock ordered calmly. "Damage control."
"Damage control here, sir." The voice, punctuated by coughs, filtered up from belowdecks. "Took a direct hit in Deck Eleven, starboard side. Were trying to get in there now."
"Im going down there," McCoy announced and entered the turbolift. "Sounds like casualties."
McCoy heard a familiar voice coming over the com channel as the lift doors closed.
"Bridge!" Scotts burr was angry. "What in blazes is goin on?"
The Enterprises phasers lanced out, striking the Predator in a hail of coruscating energy. The pirate vessels port nacelle erupted in a particularly spectacular explosion, and then the ship was drifting, bits and pieces of the shattered nacelle trailing behind it.
"Good work, Mister Walking Bear," Spock said. "Lock a tractor beam onto that vessel, then take us back into standard orbit." He rose. "Have Mister Scott meet me on Deck Eleven. You have the conn."
Spock stood with Scott as the damage control team, and McCoys medics pulled three stunned technicians from the wreckage.
"The hull breach is completely sealed off, Mister Spock," Scott said. "Im sorry, but short and long range sensors are out. Well soon know the extent of the damage."
As McCoys team moved off with their burdens, the doctor stopped by the two officers. "Doan was apparently in the forward compartmentdidnt stand a chance. The others should be all right in a few days."
The first officer motioned McCoy and Scott into a small, nearby conference room. "Bridge, this is Commander Spock. Hail Port Master Price."
Price appeared on the rooms table monitor. "Mister Spock, we saw what happened. Were sending the Orbital Police to help with any prisoners."
"Thank you, Port Master," Spock replied gravely, "but we have another dilemma as well. Our sensor capabilities are completely out. Mister Scott, your repair estimate?"
Scott sighed. "At least thirty-six hours, Mister Spock. Its not simple damage."
Spock turned back to the monitor. "We will need to coordinate search efforts for Captain Kirk. Since the sensors are inoperative, it will be necessary to resort to a search by air. At the moment, the Enterprise has only two shuttlecraft. With your permission, we will begin a low-level flight sweep of the planet."
"Certainly, Commander. Ill put our flight crews at your disposal."
After Price had again faded from the screen, Spock signalled the bridge. "Lieutenant Mress, contact Lieutenant Sulu and Ensign Chekov. They are to report to the shuttle bay immediately in winter environment gear." This might cut into Sulu and Chekovs shore leave, but the two were the best pilots the Enterprise had, with the possible exception of the captain himself. Not that Spock wasnt aware that those two would insist on going anyway.
McCoy started for the turbolift. "Ill go roust out MBenga. Meet you on the shuttle flight deck in fifteen minutes."
The trees were beginning to thin out, and Kirk found himself at the base of a sheer rock face. The wind still blew as forcefully as ever. He was going to have to find shelter before he froze to death; his face was already numb from the cold. He peered behind himself into the darkness, trying to see if anyone was still following him, but the blowing snow obscured everything. He kept on moving. If his kidnappers were still back there, theyd be along soon enough. He was getting tired; even an hours sleep would be advantageous. Up ahead, he thought he spotted a horizontal fissure in the cliff. It looked as if it might be a cave opening, though it was too dark to tell if it would be large enough. Digging into his pockets, he fished out the phaser torch. Kirk aimed it inside and fired. The phaser lit up the small cave within; there would be plenty of room if he could just squeeze through the narrow rift.
He took off the coat; there wasnt any sense in getting it all ripped up. The wind turned to knives, stabbing through his shirt. Shoving the jacket into the cave, he pulled himself up and began to slide himself between the narrow rocks. There was a moments alarm that he was going to be stuck, or that he wouldnt be able to enter the cave and had now lost his coat, but he exhaled and kept moving, feeling a sharp pain as he scraped over the jagged stone.
Kirk fell inside the cave and rolled onto his back. He touched his chest. The sweater was ripped and his hand felt something wet, most likely blood. Groping about until he found the jacket, he withdrew the phaser torch and aimed at a spot on the wall. He fired until the rock gave off a warm orange glow, and sat against the adjacent wall. His chest was bleeding from the scrape. He pulled out the first aid kit. There was a canister of antiseptic spray inside; he sprayed it on liberally, wincing at its sting, followed by wound sealant.
"Well, Bones," he muttered to himself, "Even youd have to admit that looks pretty good."
He held his hands close to the glowing rocks, allowing the heat they radiated to warm his fingers. Reaching into the coat, he retrieved one of the five packets of survival rations. He ripped it open and downed its contents, then climbed back up to the cave opening and scooped up some snow with the now-empty ration bag. The packet was quickly filled, and he held it against the glowing rocks, allowing the snow inside to melt. At least now hed have fresh drinking water.
So far, there was no sign of rescuers. Surely the Enterprise would have initiated a search by now, unless...he refused to even let his mind think that the ship might be disabled. He would just have to keep moving while he could, trying to stay one step ahead of his hunters until he was found.
The walls glow was beginning to dim. Kirk pulled on the coat and leaned back against the warm stone. Within minutes, the captain was asleep.
McCoy entered the hangar deck, medkit bouncing on one shoulder of his fleet-issue parka. Right behind him was MBenga, who was sipping a cup of hot coffee. A team of engineers was swarming over the shuttles, readying them for takeoff. Their intensity of purpose and the rapid-fire instructions that the deck chief was barking testified to the urgency of the situation. Doctor MBenga climbed aboard Columbus, while McCoy tossed his survival gear into Galileo. Pulling himself inside, he noticed that Chekov was already there, running through the takeoff checklist and powering up the shuttles systems for flight.
"Good morning, Doctor," he said, glancing over his shoulder briefly, then turning his attention back to the control panel.
McCoy unzipped the parka and collapsed into one of the forward seats. "Morning, Mister Chekov," he growled. "I wouldnt necessarily call it good, though. This is not my idea of a good time."
"Were just about ready, sir," Chekov reported. "Everything is on-line. As soon as Mister Spock and the security team" Looking up, he said, "There they are now." He flicked a switch and the Galileos engines hummed to life.
Spock, looking out-of-place in winter gear, climbed aboard and took his place next to Chekov. He was followed by Lieutenant Nored from security, who nodded a hello to McCoy and busied herself with stowing her gear and checking the settings on her phaser rifle. Chekov rose and sealed the hatch.
Sulus voice reported, "Shuttlecraft Columbus, ready for takeoff."
"Affirmative, Columbus," replied the deck chief. "You are cleared for launch. Good luck."
The Columbus shot out of the open hangar deck doors. Chekov flicked the transmit switch on his panel. "This is shuttlecraft Galileo, ready for takeoff."
"You are go, Galileo. Good luck to you, too."
Thanks, thought McCoy. Were bound to need it. They would use the shuttles sensors, but the chances of spotting Kirk on the ground were extremely small, and even considering the captains survival skills, the doctor calculated that it would only be a matter of time before he succumbed to the frigid elements. Frostbite was the least of his worries; before long hypothermia would begin to set in, and after that, death.
Kirk awoke to find a shaft of bright sunlight striking him in the face. It streamed in through the caves opening, illuminating the far wall. He stretched and got up to refill the ration bag with fresh snow. After drinking his fill and stowing the survival gear in the coats pockets, he studied the mouth of the cave. He was going to have to squeeze his way painfully through that narrow opening again this morning. Sighing in resignation, he tossed the coat outside and hoisted himself up to the gap in the rock. Kirk eased himself slowly over the rough stone, wincing as it scraped his exposed chest. The sweater wasnt much protection; last nights encounter with this rock fissure had already ripped a large gash in the front of it. He pulled himself free and dropped to the ground. His chest was bleeding again; he dug into the coat and withdrew the wound sealant. There wasnt much left. He sprayed on a thin coat, enough to help the blood to coagulate, and wrapped the coat tightly around himself.
The sky was a brilliant blue, so intense that if he looked up, he felt as if he could see forever. Kirk was reminded of happier timeshe remembered those frigid, sunny Iowa days when he and Sam would carry their sleds out into the fields and rocket down the snowy hillsides, tumbling into the drifts at the bottom, laughing and pummeling each other with snowballs until their mother would call for them to come inside and warm up with a steaming mug of hot chocolate. She would scold them gently for staying so long outside on such a cold day. She wasnt here now, standing just inside the farmhouse door, and neither was Sam, but it was bitterly cold. Kirk took a deep breath, coughing when the frosty air irritated his lungs. He wished he had a scarf to keep his face warm. Pulling the stocking cap further down over his ears, he set off, snow crunching under his hiking boots.
Tony Jarvis was freezing. He was freezing, and he was going to die right here on this ice cube. He contented himself with the thought that before he succumbed to the cold, he was going to push Max Drage off the nearest mountainside. It was all Maxs fault that he was on Alpen, wandering around in the snow trying to catch up with a highly trained Starfleet man. It was Maxs fault because the whole thing had been Maxs idea. Jarvis had just gone along for the ride; it was going to be a simple kidnapping; a big ransom, a few easy creditswhat could go wrong? He sighed gustily. Everything went wrong. Whats that law? Oh, yeahMurphys Law. How did he ever get himself involved with these pirates? Well, if he ever got out of this mess, he was going right back to his brother-in-law and beg to work in his orange grove in Florida. He never wanted to see snow again.
Drage and Jarvis had taken cover inside a behemoth hollowed-out tree the night before, when Max had decided that it was useless to attempt following Kirks footprints, which had rapidly filled with snow. This morning they were still moving in the same general direction, and Drage had voiced the hope that perhaps they would stumble across Kirks trail again. Jarvis figured that it would be a miracle if they even made it back to civilization alive, let alone catch up with the Starfleet captain.
They pushed ahead through the white powder until the forest dwindled out, and a great, gray cliff reared up in front of them.
Drage pointed. "Look at that," he declared. "A cave up ahead. Lets take a closer look."
Jarvis squinted, shading his eyes with his hand. Sure enough, there was a narrow fissure in the rock just large enough for a man to climb through. As they approached the opening, Jarvis noticed something. "Max, come here," he urged. "Blood."
The big pirate lumbered over and examined the rust-colored stain on the rock. "Humph," he snorted. "Kirks been here." Looking around at the ground, he suddenly pointed. "Therefresh footprints. Weve got him."
Jarvis sighed again and followed Drage into the trees.
Kirk stopped to rest for a minute, chest heaving. He at least knew now which direction was west. From his wrist chronometer, he concluded that he was probably within about four days march of New Albertville, knowing what he did of the planets size and speed of rotation. He had calculated how long it took for the sun, which was now at its zenith, to travel from the horizon to that point, and was sure that the shuttle had not actually gotten far from the city. Unfortunately, he wasnt at all certain what the terrain was like between his current position and New Albertville. This portion of the planet was covered by towering peaks, which meant slow going. Kirk figured he had roughly two days rations left. He was going to have to conserve them if he was to survive.
In an effort to throw his pursuers off the trail, hed found some underbrush and tried to sweep snow into his footprints. The ground had been sloping steadily upward, and try as he might to find a way down, it looked as though he was going to have to keep climbing and find a pass through the mountains before he made it back to civilization.
Kirk hadnt seen any signs of the men trailing him, and though he was relieved that he was at least managing to stay ahead of them, it was almost worse not knowing their location. Were they a kilometer behind him? Five? The very uncertainty of it all prodded Kirk to keep moving.
Spock kept his eyes glued to the shuttles viewscreen, scanning the unchanging white scenery below for any sign of the captain. His sensitive ears waited for life sensor alarms. McCoy rose to stand nervously between he and Chekov, who fought to keep the shuttle traveling at an adequately slow speed for them to be able to spot any survivors on the ground.
"See anything yet, Spock?" he asked, fidgeting.
The Vulcan frowned. "No, Doctor. Vulcans have excellent eyesight, though at this point, I have found no evidence of survivors or a shuttle crash."
"Want me to spell you?"
"There is no need to spell me, Doctor McCoy," Spock said. "I am capable of sustaining the search for as long as is necessary."
McCoy returned to his seat, grumbling. Damn the planet, anyhow! God only knows what sort of mess Jim is in. He only hoped they would be in time.
The trees were thinning out again, and Kirk realized that hed been climbing for several hours. His breath was coming in gasps now; the oxygen level at this altitude was quite a bit lower than what he was accustomed to. Spock would have no problemthe last time Kirk had breathed air this thin, he had been on Vulcan, fighting for his life against his best friend. If only he had some of McCoys tri-ox!
Trying to catch his breath, he glanced up the slope ahead of him. It looked treacherous. Snow and ice covered the path to his goal, a pass between two giant summits, one of which was shrouded by clouds. It was the only way out that he could see. Hed only been mountain climbing once, during a short leave from Starfleet Academy, and that had been with a group of fellow cadets and an experienced climbing instructor. He wasnt sure how much he remembered from that week, but he did know that he was missing a lot of the usual equipment needed for a safe climb in winter conditions.
He emerged from the timberline and immediately felt the claws of the icy wind, howling mercilessly across the snowfield before him. The sun was beginning to set behind the ridge as well. No doubt about it, he had better not attempt the rest of the climb tonight, not in the dark. Better that he try to find shelter in the trees somewhere, then get a fresh start in the morning. He turned around and stumbled back into the pines, looking for somewhere he could sleep or at least rest for awhile. There didnt appear to be any feasible cover that he could use. Kirk fell back upon the survival tactics taught at the Academy. He began to form snow into blocks, using them to build walls around him in order to keep out the frigid wind. Once he had a small shelter constructed, he set about gathering underbrush to start a small fire, hoping that its flickering wouldnt attract Drage and Jarvis. He curled up close to its pitifully small flame, praying that it would keep him from freezing during the night. He dared not sleep; if he did, he might just lie here and unknowingly slip into death. And yet, he desperately needed rest. He took scant comfort in the fact that his hunters would have no more luck than he in traveling at night. At the very least, he knew that for a short while he could relax his guard.
"Max," Jarvis called. "Forget it! Were not gonna find him tonight. Weve gotta stop!"
In the dim light, Drage turned to regard Jarvis with a look of disdain. "Damn you, Jarvis," he growled. "He could be just behind that tree, and youd still want to quit. Why I ever thought to bring you along instead of Tovar, Ill never know." But Drage reluctantly removed his pack and opened it to find the tent. Wherever the Starfleet man was, hed be a lot worse off than they, considering the fact that they at least had a portable shelter, and he had nothing. Very likely theyd find his frozen corpse somewhere up ahead in the morning. So much the better. Then all theyd have to do is find their way back to New Albertville and blend in with the rest of the population until they had a chance to get off-planet.
Kirk woke, cold. Berating himself for falling asleep again, he sat up stiffly and stretched. Hed gotten up a several times during the night to add fuel to the fire, which was now just smoldering. It was still dark, though the first hints of a sunrise gently lit the far-off eastern horizon. He rose and ate another bag of rations, following his usual routine of filling the bag with snow to melt for water. Kicking snow over the embers, he pulled his gloves off to examine his fingers. There was a paleness to their tips, and he knew from the numbness he felt that he was suffering the first effects of frostbite. His face, particularly his nose, also felt numb. He pulled the stocking cap down further to better protect his ears. There wasnt much he could do for the rest of his face. For a few minutes, he unzipped the coat a little and shoved his hands inside, hoping that the small amount of warmth they received would be enough to help prevent further damage. Shivering, he pulled the gloves back on and zipped the coat up as far as it would go, then set off through the trees, headed for timberline. Hed had very little sleep the night before, worried that if he really let himself go, hed succumb to hypothermia.
He came out of the forest at nearly the same spot where hed been standing the night before and again studied the slope ahead of him. It was fairly steep, and he would have to use the ice axe to climb it. His boots wouldnt be much help without crampons. Luckily, it appeared that most of it was soft deep snow. Often, a gust of wind blasted over the snowfield, blowing up a miniature blizzard and making it difficult to see. Taking a big breath of the frigid air, he plunged the axe handle-first into the snow and pulled himself up after it. The snow came up around his knees. Kirk yanked the axe from the snow and repeated the move, moving another few feet. He kept up the routinestick the axe in, pull himself up, pull the axe out. His muscles were tiring, and the altitude was getting to him. For the past hour or so, his head had been pounding, and his stomach twisted in nausea. He was halted several times by whiteouts created by the blasts of wind. Still he kept going. Somewhere behind him were two killers who only wanted to see him dead.
He finally pulled himself to stand upon a narrow, rocky ledge that looked like it might take him up to the top of the pass if he just followed its natural path. He walked a few meters along its length to peer back down a steep incline that he had avoided on his climb to this point. As he turned to search for a route up, he felt the snow abruptly give under his feet and he slid down the slope, headed down the ice-covered grade toward the edge of the precipice, straight to a thousand-foot drop to the snowfields below. Kirks body hurtled at breakneck speed, out of control, with nothing to break his fall, as he tried to vainly to focus on what was happening. Gripping the ice axe tightly, he swung it overhand into the ice, rolling onto it, praying that it would arrest his rapid descent. Its blade dug deeply into the snow, and just as he began to think that it wouldnt stop him in time, he felt his momentum slowing. He came to rest a few meters from the cliffs brink. Breathing heavily, he lay still, trying to regain what little remained of his strength.
Spock and McCoy knelt at the hatchway of the downed shuttlecraft and peered inside.
Noting the body of Stibitz on the deck below, McCoy drawled, "Looks like quite a brawl happened in here."
"And it appears that the shuttle has been abandoned for some time, given the amount of snow that has collected inside," Spock said thoughtfully.
"Then lets go," McCoy said, teeth chattering. "Im freezing."
"Why, Doctor McCoy," said Chekov, "in Russia we call this balmy weather."
"Then you can stay out here and freeze your posterior if you want to, but Im getting out of here," McCoy declared, and stumped off through the snow back toward Galileo.
"The doctor is correct," Spock announced. "We must continue searching, most likely westward, until we find the captain, for unless something untoward has befallen his captors, he remains in grave danger."
Kirk struggled to rise, and collapsed, gasping in pain. He must have cracked a couple of ribs during that fall. Still, he forced himself to breathe deeply in an attempt to inhale more oxygen. The nausea hadnt abated, and dry heaves tore through him, leaving him in agony for several minutes. Slowly, painfully, he picked himself up and looked back up the slope at the distance hed lost. Frustrated, he angrily jammed the axe back into the snow and began the arduous journey upward.
After about an hour of climbing, he halted, face down on the snow, panting for breath. The slope seemed endless. He couldnt seem to get enough air, and his legs were screaming at him to stop. They felt heavy, so heavy. He was on the brink of complete exhaustion. The combination of both sleep and oxygen deprivation was taking its toll. Not only that, but the altitude was causing him to experience frequent, hacking coughs that racked his chest with pain. He began to feel almost disembodied.
It would be so easy to just lie here, to just stop and sleep. Thats all he neededjust some sleep, and hed be fine. The compulsion to set aside his axe and close his eyes was nearly too powerful. He rolled over onto his back and looked directly skyward. Alpens sun blazed down at him out of an azure sky, the kind of sky that was so deep, you felt like you might fall up and never stop. What was it about the sun? Then it came to himthe stars were above, the Enterprise was above, and his friends were searching for him. He knew they wouldnt stop until they found him.
You want to see them again? You want to see the Enterprise again? Then get up. Get up, damn it, if you want to go home.
Kirk pulled himself sluggishly to his feet. Barely able to think, not even able to remember his own name, he forced himself to concentrate on each agonizing step, on and on.
Stick the axe in, pull yourself up, pull the axe out. Stop and breathe.
Stick the axe in, pull yourself up, pull the axe out. Stop and breathe.
Stick the axe in, pull yourself up, pull the axe out. Stop and breathe.
And then there was no further to climb and he was at the top. He hauled himself up onto a large flat area that overlooked the valley beyond. Exhausted and light-headed, he sank to the snow, gulping in great gasps of air, not caring anymore about the fire that lanced through his left ribs whenever he breathed.
Thats when he heard the voices. At first he thought that they were just a hallucination conjured up by his oxygen-deprived brain. He looked back down the way he had come. There, far down the slope, crawled two figures, slowly but steadily advancing. Oh, God, theyve found me. Kirk turned to study the other side of the pass for a route down. A long, gently sloping snowfield greeted him. He carefully positioned himself, then gave himself a push, and he was sliding down the western side of the pass, faster and faster, until he finally came to a stop just above timberline. He painfully crawled into the trees before again collapsing to rest.
Drage looked over his shoulder to where Jarvis was struggling to the top of the pass. "Come on, Tony, move your ass," he threatened, "Or Ill leave you here." He turned and started his descent.
The big pirate didnt notice the look of disgust and utter loathing on Tony Jarvis face. "Yeah, yeah...Im...coming," he said between breaths.
Kirk plodded through the trees, slowly making his way down to the valley below. As the altitude decreased, his throbbing headache and nausea likewise lessened in intensity, and his mind was clearer. His breathing was coming a little easier now, though his ribs still hurt with every step, every breath.
At the edge of the forest, he stopped suddenly when his ears detected a growling behind him and the rustle of something moving through the underbrush. He felt a stab of fear. Kirk knew that the terraformers had also transported various species of animals to Alpen, including bears and wild cats. Hefting the ice axe in his right hand, he spun around to face the creature. A huge brown form blurred at him from out of the woods, snarling. Vicious claws ripped down the front of his coat and his leg as he brought the axe down in an arc, smashing it into the animals face and head. It screamed in pain, and he desperately batted at its skull again. The mountain lion fell to the ground, dead. Kirk sat down heavily beside it and placed pressure on his leg with gloved hands, trying to staunch the crimson flow from his wounds. Blood seeped around his gloved fingers, and, for a moment, he was struck by lightheadedness. He took a few slow, deep breaths and doubled the pressure. He was rewarded by a marked lessening of blood loss.
Carefully, he peeled back the ripped material of his shell pants and his thermal layer to examine his injuries. What he saw almost made him retch again. The lions claws had made great lacerations in his thigh, running almost down to the knee. Now that the bleeding was under control, he could see where both fat and muscle were exposed. Swallowing against the bile in his throat, he pulled out the first-aid kit and sprayed on a good coating of antiseptic. The wound sealant was almost goneit sputtered and died after just one thin coat. Not really enough to protect the wound well, but it would have to do. A trickle of blood continued to run down his leg, dripping into the once-pristine snow. He didn't have anything to relieve the tearing pain that shot through his leg whenever he moved. Kirk gathered some snow and ate it, letting the snow melt in his mouth. He knew he was becoming dehydrated; he wasn't drinking enough.
Pulling himself up from the ground, he tested putting some weight on the leg. Painful, but bearable. He wouldn't be able to move as fast. Picking up his ice axe, he limped off, continuing his downward march.
Max Drage studied the scarlet stains on the snow near the corpse of the mountain lion. "Blood," he declared. "Lion got him-now he's just a wounded animal, easy to track, easy to kill." He rose. "Let's go."
Kirk had reached another wooded area, and sat down for a moment to rest his wounded leg. He looked out at the snow-covered landscape, bright with reflected sunlight. Rubbing at his eyes, he gazed across the valley, and there they were-two men standing near the lion's body. Kirk watched as one of them shaded his eyes with a hand. The man looked up toward his concealed location and exchanged words with his comrade. Suddenly, he pointed to a spot on the ground, and Kirk groaned as they rushed over. They'd discovered the mountian lion, and with it, the blood that he was surely trailing behind him. Damn, he thought.
He forced himself to rise. They weren't going to catch him. He wouldn't let them-he'd just keep running until he succumbed to hypothermia or walked right off a mountain, but he was not going to be the pawn of kidnappers.
Eventually, he found himself on the bank of a frozen river, which traveled through the center of an open meadow. It wasn't very wide, but he didn't see any way to cross except by walking across the ice.
He lurched around to see Drage emerging from the trees. The bearded kidnapper pulled a phaser, tried to fire, only to find that the phaser was inoperative, probably due to the cold. He produced a knife and charged the captain.
With nowhere to hide, nowhere to run, Kirk took a step onto the ice, which groaned and creaked under his weight. Praying that it would hold, he carefully made his way across the frozen water.
He was almost halfway across when he realized that Drage was catching up with him. Kirk whipped out the knife hed taken from the shuttlecraft and turned to defend himself, but the other man was quick despite his size, and kicked Kirks hand, sending the long blade skittering across the ice. Despite his aching hand, Kirk grabbed Drages arm, and the two were soon locked in a desperate hand-to-hand combat. He managed to dig into Drages wrist enough to cause the knife to clatter uselessly to the ice.
Kirk realized that Drage was not only bigger and stronger, but also had not suffered the effects of sleep deprivation and blood loss from injuries. The big man pummeled him mercilessly, each blow agonizing. Drages fist pounded his ribs, setting off a paroxysm of coughing, and Kirk attempted to roll away from his attack. The hard surface beneath him creaked ominously. Drage snatched up his weapon.
"Got you now," Drage roared, raising his knife to strike.
As he brought the blade down for a killing blow, the ice gave a final CRACK, and they both plunged into the freezing water. Kirk experienced a shock like hed never known as a million tiny knives stabbed at him from all directions. Drage was thrashing around in a panic and went under. His head appeared one more time. "Cant swim, you bastard," he cursed, and reached for Kirk, yanking him down into the dark, frigid depths. Holding his breath, Kirk fought to free himself from Drages frantic clutches and managed to grab the broken edge of the ice, pulling them both to the surface.
"Give me your hand!" he shouted, tiring quickly.
Drage had stopped panicking and had a firm grip on the ices edge. He seized Kirks collar and pushed the captain under, fully intent on drowning him.
Kirk was again plunged into a world of sensory deprivation and utter cold. He struggled wearily, but he could feel his last ounce of strength beginning to ebb as the intense cold seeped into his bones. His lungs cried out for air. Hed never been so weak.
Then suddenly, Drage was gone, and he was free. He didnt think he had the energy to swim. He stretched out an arm for the ice above; his hand was seized by an iron grip, and he was pulled upward. When his head broke the surface, he found himself face to face with Tony Jarvis, stretched out on the ice with a bloody ice axe in one hand.
"Come on," Jarvis urged. He heaved mightily, and Kirk somehow summoned up the strength to swing one leg up onto the ice. Jarvis pulled again until they were both lying flat, then dragged the captain back to the riverbank. Drage was nowhere to be seen.
"Wheres...your... partner?" Kirk managed to ask, unable now to even shiver.
Jarvis produced a dry blanket from his pack. "Dead," he replied. "I killed him." He tugged at Kirks soaked jacket. "Got to get you out of those wet things," he said. "Youll freeze to death if we dont."
"I think its too late," Kirk said weakly. "Im so tired...." His eyes closed.
Jarvis shook him, frantic. "Wake up! Dont go to sleep now!"
"So tired," Kirk repeated, barely conscious. He was only aware of the cold, a far-off whining noise, and the overwhelming urge to sleep. He really didnt even feel cold anymore, not in the sense that it was uncomfortable. The pain that had been burning in his broken body gradually faded away. As he drifted into a frigid oblivion, he didnt see the shuttlecraft that appeared in the eastern sky.
Jarvis loosened his grip on the senseless Kirk and jumped up and down, waving his arms furiously at the approaching craft. It banked smartly and circled above them once, then landed nearby, showering them with clouds of snow. Three figures emerged, racing toward him.
Spock dropped to his knees beside Kirks lifeless form. He pulled the captain into his arms, trying to transfer some of his own warmth. There was no indication of life on the pale face. His fingers felt Kirks neck and found a faint, fluttering pulse there, though it was so slow, he had almost missed it. Rarely had he known himself to be nearly paralyzed with fear, but from the moment hed realized that his friend was near death, hed been stricken. He looked at McCoy with his dark eyes, waiting for some indication that Kirk would live. Unwelcome feelings of anxiety clouded his logical brain.
"Hes alive," the doctor stated tersely, pressing a hypo full of cordrazine against Kirks neck and wrapping a warming blanket around him. "Heart rate and respirations are damned slow. Body temps only thirty-two degrees Celsius. Spock, help me get him into the shuttlecraft."
Together they hefted Kirks limp body and ran for the Galileo. Chekov and Nored helped pull him inside, out of the chill wind. McCoy immediately produced a pair of bandage scissors and expertly began to cut the fabric of Kirks shell pants. He motioned to the others. "Get these wet clothes off him, quick!" he ordered. They hastily complied with McCoys request and soon had Kirk cocooned in warm blankets.
The doctor filled another hypo and administered it to the oblivious captain. "Jim, wake up. Cmon, boy."
They all waited in breathless anticipation until Kirk moaned and stirred.
"Thats it, Jim!" McCoy urged. "Jeez, look at his leg. Good Lord, what did that to him? Weve got to get you to Sickbay, Jim-boy." Nodding an encouraging smile to Spock, he pulled out his communicator and ordered, "Enterprise, two to beam up. Youre going home, my friend."
As Kirk and McCoy dissolved into whirling motes, Spock and Nored escorted Jarvis to the waiting Galileo.
The first thing Kirk noticed when he woke was that he was warm. The unremitting cold of the past days was finally gone. The next thing he realized was that he was lying on a comfortable bed. The third thing he discovered was that he was on the Enterprise. He could sense the wonderfully familiar yet subtle rumble and vibration of the ships great engines right through the beds mattress. He opened his eyes to see the welcome bulkheads of sickbay and took a deep breath. His ribs were still painful, but much less so. Kirk glanced down at his exposed leg. The jagged tear of the lions claws had been carefully repaired by an expert hand.
"Bones?" he called out, surprised by his hoarseness. He heard running footsteps and McCoy burst into the room.
The doctor broke into a grin and approached his bed. "Youre awake! How do you feel, Jim?"
"Warm," Kirk said dreamily, and favored McCoy with a crooked half-smile. "I sure have a hell of a way to ruin a shore leave, dont I?"
"Well," McCoy said, "You could say that."
Spock entered then, taking his place next to McCoy, who continued, "But at least it gave me the chance to see him" he indicated the Vulcan "in a parka. Hed look good on the Vulcan winter Olympic team."
"There is no Vulcan winter Olympic team, Doctor McCoy," Spock returned easily.
"Okay, but just imagine itVulcan bobsledders...." McCoy broke off when Spock fixed him with an icy stare and a raised eyebrow, and retreated to his office.
"Spock," Kirk began, "I cant believe you found me, and yet, somehow I knew you would. It was really the only thing keeping me goingthe thought that you and Bones were out there searching. Actually, its one of the few things I remember clearly."
"Doctor McCoy would say that it was lucky we located you when we did. In very few minutes more, you would have succumbed to hypothermia."
Kirk nodded. "What became of the only remaining kidnapperthe one who pulled me out of the water?"
"He is currently in custody in the brig. His name is Tony Jarvis. He has given us much information already, enough to arrest their vessels crew as well. It appears that he was coerced into cooperating with Drage, the leader of the group. I am certain that a degree of leniency will be considered during his trial."
Kirk nodded. "I hope so. He saved my lifetwice. Once by killing Drage, and then by getting me to shore." He paused. "And you, my friendthis makes another time youve hauled my fat out of the fire. My thanks. I dont know what else I can say or do to express what I owe you and Bones."
A faint smile touched Spocks features. "Rest and regain your health. That will be thanks enough for doing what was only logical. I am certain Doctor McCoy would agree."
"Theres a first."
And Kirk could swear that he could feel the warmth emanating from one of the Vulcans rare smiles.
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