Lieutenant Nyota Uhura pressed her back hard against a gnarly tree in the darkness. By her side, Spock held rock-still, with his head tilted to the left, listening for pursuers crashing through the dense forest. The forest floor crackled underfoot with dead twigs and branches. Uhura realised they would hear Dartan’s men coming, but in turn she and Spock would find it impossible to move without giving their position away.
“You just had to do it, didn’t you?” Uhura hissed at Spock. “Two weeks work thrown away. All the trust we’d built up here—”
“Dartan cannot be trusted.”
“I had it all under control until you steamed in.” Uhura brushed a layer of dirt away from her leg, flinching as she touched a deep graze on her knee. She’d fallen during their head-long dash through the gloomy forest, with branches lashing her from all sides. Her leg throbbed and her breaths still came hard and fast.
“You were not in possession of all the facts—”
“I can’t believe you hit him!”
Spock spoke calmly, so calmly Uhura wanted to knock the breath out of him.
He said, “Dartan’s physiology would have rendered a nerve pinch ineffectual, and given him time to cause you damage.”
“Cause me damage?” she exclaimed. It was his way of speaking. It didn’t mean he thought she was some inanimate object. At least she didn’t think so. They had bigger problems than his irritating choice of words, though. Dartan’s men couldn’t be far away now. It had been twilight when they fled the village, and it was pitch black now. How would they ever find the shuttle?
She sighed and shook her head. “You’ve put this project back months—”
“As I said, you were not in possession of all the facts—”
“To hell with the facts,” she snapped. “We need to go. Is it clear?” She pointed at her knee, even though in the gloom he wouldn’t see the trickle of blood running down her leg. “I need to go tend my damage.”
Spock caught her arm. “Noyota, he had his hands on you.”
She blinked several times. He was so close she could almost feel his eyes boring into her. Her breath caught in her chest. “So, you—”
A crack boomed through the forest, followed by an orange flare illuminating the canopy. Seconds later, voices rang out. “This way!”
Spock grasped her hand. “We must run. The shuttle is approximately point four five kilometres away.”
Uhura didn’t ask how he knew. She was just grateful for his ability to navigate the darkness, and the comforting feel of his hand in hers. Perhaps he did have some feelings in that Vulcan heart of his after all. They set off again through the tangled undergrowth. They’d been forced to leave the shuttle beyond the reaches of the village because phase variance disrupted the systems. It had quickly become clear that it was all connected to the problem they’d come here to solve.
They bolted through the undergrowth. He seemed sure of his path, and Uhura wondered if he saw things more clearly in the dark that she did. She’d have to ask him sometime. But for now, she saved her energy for running.
She heard voices in the darkness. “Dartan wants them alive.” They were closer now. “Ha, he wants her alive. Do what you like with the pointy-eared one.”
She felt his grip on her hand tighten. She shuddered. She wasn’t a fool, she had seen the predator in Dartan, and she had been afraid. There was a part of her that was glad when Spock sent Dartan sprawling to the floor. But another part of her was infuriated. Right now, the angry part seemed to be in charge.
It began to rain. Large droplets bounced on the fleshy leaves and splashed up into her face, soaking her uniform in seconds.
Another crack rang out from behind, closer this time.
They pelted through the trees until the forest ended without warning. To the left, across an open field was the shuttle’s outline. Ahead, there was a short span of muddy grass. After that, the world dropped away.
Spock anchored up, still holding her hand, as they slipped and slid toward to the precipice.
She tipped backwards.
The sky was starless and the full moon half covered by black clouds. The rain beat down on them both.
Her weakened knee buckled and she staggered backwards. He stepped with her towards the looming cliff edge. She desperately clawed at his uniform, but it slipped through her fingers. She lurched another step backwards. Her mouth opened. Solid ground disappeared from under her feet, but she made no sound.
As she fell away, he threw himself forwards and down onto the soil.
Then she was swinging back and forwards in his grip. Panic gripped her heart. A surge of adrenaline pumped through her as she dangled over eternity.
Spock looked down into the infinite gloom beyond and then back into her eyes.
“Do not look down,” he said. His other hand scrabbled for purchase on the muddy cliff’s edge.
Sounds came from behind him: the thump of boots through the forest; the crack of guns in the night air.
She screamed now, short, breathy screams, and clawed at his arm with her free hand. “Spock, pull me up!” she demanded. Her heart thundered in her chest. She glanced down. Blackness stretched away forever.
“Look at me,” he said again, in that calm, even tone.
She looked up into his eyes. Even in the darkness they were mesmerising.
“I cannot pull you up,” he said.
“What are you talking about? Pull me up!” Her heart thundered. Every nerve in her body screamed. One slip and she would plunge to her death. Didn’t he realise? Didn’t he care?
He was as calm as she’d ever seen him. “I cannot pull you up. Dartan’s men will be here in seconds.”
“I’ll take my chances with Dartan’s men. Pull me up, now!” Her throat was raw, and every nerve in her body screamed.
He continued as if she had not spoken. “Even if we both make it off the cliff—which is unlikely given Dartan’s stated intentions—with your current top speed, and the distance to the shuttle, we will be exposed to their weapons for at least a minute. Logic dictates—”
A biting wind tore at Uhura’s soaked uniform, but his words chilled her more. She looked down again at the blackness below. He couldn’t possibly be suggesting . . .
“No, no, no,” she began, and dug her nails into the cliff side, scrabbling with her free hand and both legs to get a purchase on the crumbling surface.
“Nyota,” he said. “Alone, I will make it back to the shuttle in approximately twenty seconds. Once there, I will beam you to safety.” His voice carried through the wind and the rain, and soothed her, somehow.
She looked down again and then back into his eyes. She understood what he was asking her to do, but it terrified her. “I can’t. I can’t let go. Please, pull me up, Spock.”
His voice took on a note of urgency. “What will happen if we are captured?”
The words stuck in her throat. She wasn’t a fool. Although she’d railed at Spock for striking the man, she’d been afraid of Dartan. He had the look of a predator about him. His breath on her face sickened her. “He’ll kill you,” she said, remembering his men’s laughter and shouting in the forest.
“The real question, is do you trust me?” Spock said.
She looked into his eyes. She saw something there she’d not seen before; some emotion he was struggling to understand and contain. They had so much they needed to work out between them. They needed time.
But she understood this: he was going to save her.
“I trust you, Spock,” she said. And she realised she did trust him. She was still more terrified than she’d been in her life. But she trusted him in this.
“Then let go,” he said.
He was giving her control, making this her choice. Even if he didn’t fully understand the human need to be in control of one’s own life, he understood her enough to know this was the right thing to do.
She nodded. She closed her eyes. The rain splashed her face and the wind whipped her hair. Then she spread her fingers. She was falling. Falling away from Spock and falling into darkness.
Spock thrust himself upwards. He took a second to orient himself on the muddy cliff. The shuttle Galileo lay directly ahead. Had they exited the forest a few meters to the left, they would have been safely there now. The image of Nyota falling away from him, disappearing into darkness, hung in his mind. The image clouded his senses. He blocked those distracting thoughts. Nothing mattered but running.
He sprinted for the shuttle. In his periphery vison he noted three figures burst through the trees adjacent to the Galileo. There had been insufficient time for his musculature and respiratory system to eliminate the high levels of lactic acid caused by prolonged exertion from his burning legs. He forced himself onwards. Nyota had twenty seconds, perhaps less, before she would smash into whatever lay in the darkness beyond the cliff. Rock, water, it would make no difference; she would be smashed beyond recognition.
Again, he forced the thought from his mind and focussed on running.
Dartan’s faceless men called to one another through the rain-soaked night. “Can you see him?” “Where’s the woman?”
With a crack, a flare of orange lit the sky. Spock knew he would be visible. He was just twenty paces from Galileo. He dived sideways, anticipating a shot if he remained on his current course.
He was right: the earth where he would have been exploded.
Mud splattered his face. He kept running.
The raw pulse of blast rifle hit him square in the back. Pain ripped through him. His back muscles convulsed. Fire shuddered upwards through his spine, gripping his neck like a vice. Dartan’s men were not stupid. Another shooter must have taken aim in the light of the flare.
He ran on. Every step was agony. He fumbled for his communicator. “Computer, open shuttle doors.”
The doors mechanism clicked open, and slowly, slower than he’d ever thought possible, the door eased open. “Computer, initiate transporters. Lock onto—”
He flung himself inside the shuttle and slammed his palm at door closing mechanism. Another crackle of light blasted, this time past him into the shuttle. He threw himself to the floor.
“—lock onto Lieutenant Uhura’s life signs. Transport her to this location.” Spock gasped the words. He winced as a new pain surged through him, forcing him onto his side to take the pressure off his burned back. His ears rang from the blast in the confined space.
Where was she? He willed the glow of the transporter beams to appear. He began forcing himself to his feet, and half-crawled toward the instrument panel at the front of the shuttle. Every nerve ending from his neck to his tail-bone was aflame.
But he felt something else. His chest was tight, his throat raw, yet he had not been injured there. Did he just drop Uhura to her death? Did her broken body lay at the bottom of the cliff, because he had miscalculated? Because he hadn’t run fast enough? Something terrible simmered and bubbled in his chest. Fear, guilt, rage. A roar grew in his throat and exploded through the shuttle.
It merged with another sound. A scream.
The transporter’s hum was drowned out: by his agonised yell and Uhura’s long, drawn-out scream of terror.
She staggered, wild-eyed, and barely kept her feet. After a few seconds, she seemed to realise she was no longer falling, and she looked frantically around the shuttle.
“Spock!” She fell to her knees beside him. “Are you hurt?”
Before he could reply, a blast rocked the shuttle.
“Computer, raise shields!” she commanded. “Can you get up?”
He shook his head. His whole back was locked in spasm. To move was agony. “We must depart,” he whispered.
She touched his face gently, and then nodded.
Spock knew her to be a competent pilot, but the conditions were difficult. It was dark and raining, and the phase disturbances on this planet made the sensors unreliable at best. Another blast shook the small ship.
Uhura slid into the pilot’s seat. “Dartan had a ship. Do you think he will come after us?”
“Unknown.” Spock’s voice sounded strained to his own ears.
She glanced back at him with worry etched on her face. How ironic, he thought, for her to be concerned for him now, when he had almost been responsible for her death. And despite his protestations, he knew his actions back at the village had been illogical.
He felt the ship rise. They would be in orbit in minutes. Once clear of this planet’s interference they could contact the Enterprise. Captain Kirk could be back here in forty eight hours. The shuttle’s medical supplies would be adequate until then. Perhaps McCoy’s assessment would not even be needed. One could only hope, he thought wrily.
Uhura activated the forward viewer. Pitch dark surrounded them, broken only by orange flares as Dartan’s men took pot-shots at the shuttle.
Uhura was frowning. “Something’s wrong.”
Spock struggled to sit up.
“The planetary defence grid has activated. I thought it was out of action. That’s what we were negotiating over, parts for—”
“As I indicated, you were not in possession of all the facts. I believe Dartan has been replacing the Letrinum crystals with low-grade alternatives. That was why the system failed. But he has stock-piled the crystals.”
“Well the system isn’t inactive any more. How powerful is it?”
“Powerful enough to destroy this shuttle. And cause serious damage to a larger vessel.”
Uhura’s eyes widened as she watched a power-grid on the console rise and fall.
“What is our altitude?” he asked.
“Two thousand feet. Will it be enough?”
Spock shook his head, and pulled himself to his feet. The spasm was gone, but his back felt raw. Every movement caused shooting pain in his skin where his uniform stuck to his melted flesh.
He sat beside Uhura, careful not to let his back make contact with the chair. “We must—” He stopped when he saw the readings. The defence grid was fully on-line.
Uhura reached for his hand.
Bright light exploded around them with a wall of deafening sound. Then they were spinning and plunging downwards, falling into darkness.