DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Cheryl Rice and is copyright (c) 1976 by Cheryl Rice. Rated PG. Originally printed in Alpha Continuum, 1976.
Never Enough Dark
"Jim, you've got to get this ship out of here soon or none of us are going to make it." The Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise spoke with uncharacteristic vehemence, all traces of his southern drawl absent.
"Bones, we can't use the warp engines as long as we have tractor beams on those transports out there. And we can't get the transporters working to get those people off the transports and we can't get them working until we're out of range of that damned star and..." The Captain of the Enterprise broke off as he realized his voice was rising in a very non-regulation wail.
His tone of voice was not the only non-regulation factor involved in the current crisis. Of course, most crises are not known for their adherence to rules and regulations, man made or otherwise, but even so this one was exceptional. To start things off, Kirk's precious ship was ridiculously overloaded with almost a thousand refugees from the fourth planet of the Deira II star system, so full that the decks were awash with a flood of living flesh. Human and humanoid colonists, along with a contingent of non-humanoid natives, that had somehow managed to survive the partial disintegration of their previously benign sun, now filled almost every inch of the vessel. All areas except the bridge were jammed, which made proper running of the Enterprise almost impossible. Many of the unwilling passengers were sick or injured and to add a final dismal touch to the situation, the natives could not digest any of the ship's available store of food.
The logical thing for the starship to do, then, would have been to head to the nearest starbase for assistance at maximum warp. Two things, however, made this course of action at least momentarily impossible. The first was that some survivors had managed, in their desperation, to lift off from the surface of the doomed planet in ships that were barely spaceworthy. Several of these dilapidated vessels were now under tow by the Enterprise and, until their passengers could be brought aboard or until they were out of range of the deadly radiation from the unfaithful star, they could not be abandoned without dooming 200 people. Due to the power drain caused by the tractor beams the starship could not go into warp drive without damage to the dilithium crystals. The second reason for not departing the area for immediate help was that no one was really sure just where that help was located. Subspace communications were out until they gained some distance from the source of the radiation that was threatening to take all their lives and for the same reason navigation was also very uncertain.
"You're going to have to decide very soon," McCoy was returning to the main point of the discussion, "'cause these people are in bad shape and we don't begin to have the facilities to treat all of them. I've got cases of radiation sickness like I've never seen before. Some of the crew were injured when they went down to help organize the evacuation and we just can't go on like this much longer--we're all falling apart. I'll bet you haven't had any sleep in two days...you look horrible!"
"Actually it's been three and you aren't a picture of loveliness yourself, you know." Kirk was right. The Doctor, wearily slumped in a chair in his normally quiet office, looked for once far older than his years. His pleasant face was haggard, the bags under his eyes looking like huge blisters that had been drained without breaking the skin. And the scene around the two officers was not one to raise anyone's morale. Sickbay was completely inundated with prone bodies in various stages of disrepair. All the beds had been filled days earlier, so the nurses had spread blankets on the floor for the other patients until it looked like a wall-to-wall carpet of unhappy, sick people. The medical teams stepped gingerly around their patients, doing what little they could to alleviate their suffering. "Just give me something to keep me going for a while longer," the Captain continued. "I've got to go find out how engineering is coming along with those transporters."
"Nothing doing, you've been on stimulants for two days now. You've got to get some sleep." McCoy gazed at his commanding officer with the eyes of a friend as well as those of a doctor. He knew Kirk would never admit it, but the strain of the last few days was evident in the man and the next few promised to be no easier. "Go lay down somewhere, if only for a few hours. Do you all the good in the world." He belatedly realized that last statement didn't quite apply in their situation but decided to ignore the fact. He was far past worrying himself about details.
"Bones, there isn't any place to lay down...not even if I could right now. All the crew's quarters are full of Deirans. The only place that's clear is the bridge and I couldn't sleep there."
"Why not? You're going to drop somewhere if you keep up like you have been much longer. Take a blanket and go up there. Curl up on the floor. Everybody else has been doing just that." The last was quite literally true.
"No," Kirk hesitated--he didn't know how to explain his reasons to the highly unmilitary doctor. "It wouldn't look right...be bad for discipline. Look...I'll go see Scotty, then I'll try to find someplace. I really am kind of tired..."
Neither man could seem to find anything to fill the glum silence that followed this admission.
"Wait..." the younger man continued after a moment's further thought, "I'm almost sure there isn't anyone in Spock's quarters. These people can't take the heat in there and I'll bet no one has bothered to change the life support controls to cool it off yet. It won't bother me all that much for a few hours; I'll rig it to come down to ship normal and in a few hours, after I get that sleep you want, we can put some of these people in there." Kirk finished the outline of his plan rather triumphantly--proud of such clear thinking under the circumstances. However, it didn't seem to find much favor with his companion.
"Spock! Don't talk to me about that...that Vulcan! After what he said yesterday I don't care if I never hear anything else about that cold blooded, pointy-eared..." McCoy sputtered off into a series of highly uncomplimentary remarks as a nurse motioned for him to come into the other room. "You can say all you want about it being logical, Jim, but I call it just plain disgusting!" The angry surgeon rose to see what help he could be to their unlucky passengers. Over his shoulder he reminded the Captain, who was still rather precariously perched on the corner of an overloaded desk, "He would have let half these people die, because his computer told him it would have been the wisest course to follow. Disgusting...just plain disgusting!"
Kirk stood up and not without trouble made his way to the door leading to the corridor. "Well, call it what you want, but he may have been right after all." He opened the door manually, necessary due to a malfunction somewhere in the miles of circuits that governed such things, and left the overburdened medical department to its rather futile tasks.
The Captain set out on what he knew could be a long trip to the engineering deck. Half the turbo elevators were out, and the others worked only sporadically. Life support systems were using far more than their usual share of power, causing overloads all over the ship. His fatigue walked along with him as an almost visible companion. Kirk tried to shake off the numbing weariness that dragged at him--he had too much to do to give in to it. Wryly, he thought that if the ship couldn't go into warp drive soon, they would all have the opportunity for a very long rest indeed. But what about the people on those little ships out there that were depending on him? Then another thought assailed his desperately tired brain; what about the Enterprise herself? Didn't she have first claim on her Captain?
As he trudged down the curving corridor, passing the now mostly sleeping throngs, he could feel a command decision coming on like a migraine.
* * *
A short while later he knew that decision was even closer than he had thought. Scott had convinced him that there was no hope of escape while the extra power drain continued. They were reasonably safe as long as the radiation level didn't rise dramatically. If, however, the star suddenly went nova, which there was a good chance it would soon do, they would all die, some more quickly than others, an equally horrible death.
Kirk punched the intercom button on the engineering communications console.
"Bridge. Uhura here." Somehow, in spite of the situation, she managed to look much the same as usual, cooly efficient.
"Tell Mr. Spock I want a readout on when the computer says that star is going to blow completely." He didn't especially want to talk to his first officer. "I'll be in engineering a while longer. Kirk out."
He started to leave, but stopped at the lieutenant's rather hesitant, "Er...Captain? Mr. Spock isn't on the bridge right now. Mr. Sulu has the conn."
Kirk turned back to the viewer, surprised--it was unlike Spock to absent himself from the bridge during even a minor emergency, much less during one of the present magnitude. "What the..." He caught himself in time. Now was not the time to let his temper get away from him. "When did he go and where is he?" Try as he would the last part of the sentence did not emerge in his normal tone of voice. If he couldn't count on Spock...
"He left about twenty minutes ago, sir. I think he was going to his quarters. He did say that he had just thought of something and that he would return soon."
"All right, Lieutenant, have Mr. Chekov cover the science station and get that information for me." Kirk paused, thinking hard for a moment but his overworked mind refused to supply him with any hint as to what the Vulcan might be doing. "I was going to Spock's quarters anyway so I'll talk to him there."
As Uhura's rather startled face faded from the viewscreen, he realized that he was more exhausted than he had believed. Normally he would never have let on that there was anything strange in Spock's behavior. Command image was all important. He rubbed his bloodshot eyes, knowing that rest was now an ever receding mirage, and decided to go see what the Science Officer was doing that he considered to be more important than his duties on the bridge. Whatever it was, it had better be good.
"Scotty, I'm going to go talk to Spock. Get those things working...otherwise a lot of people are going to die. And some of them will be us..."
"Aye Captain, it's a hard fact to face."
Kirk walked slowly to the door and paused, as if afraid to tackle the job of pushing past all those people between him and his destination. Just as he decided that there was nothing to be gained by waiting, Scott's low, sad voice stopped him.
"I hate to say it, but Mr. Spock was right. We never should have decided to put those people on the hangar deck...if only we had it to use now..." His voice trailed off wistfully.
"We didn't decide, Scotty," his Captain reminded him, "I did."
And as Kirk stood in the miraculously working elevator, he knew that was the truth. In the frenzied activity of the evacuation, more beings were suddenly on the starship than there was room for. Someone, no one ever remembered who, suggested that the hangar bay be used. It seemed a good idea at the time until Spock and his computers discovered that there was a 77.436% chance that in such an operation the normal use of that facility would be vital to the well-being of the ship. By that time the deck was full of intelligent beings and to return it to a state of operational readiness would have been a death sentence for its inhabitants. They had nowhere else to go. The rest of the Enterprise was packed.
The Captain mentally winced as he recalled the staff meeting that followed Spock's announcement. McCoy practically hit him and even Scott and Sulu seemed absolutely amazed that the Vulcan would even consider emptying the area of its living cargo.
"But Mr. Spock," Sulu's voice had lost whatever small amount of inscrutability it had ever held. "Even the Klingons have been helping...I mean...it would be murder!"
"That is a non sequitur, Lieutenant." The Science Officer had remained unruffled as usual. "The Klingons are offering assistance basically, we think, because this system is in close proximity to their empire and they find the entire situation to be of great propaganda value in their attempt to take over the Deira I confederacy. That is assuming there is anything to take over after all this. Also we have no reason to assume they are doing anything that seriously threatens the safety of their own ships. We, on the other hand, are."
After half an hour of increasingly bitter wrangling, Kirk had realized it was time to settle the matter. "You are probably correct, Mr. Spock. We should have kept that deck clear, but it's too late now. We'll just have to hope for the best."
But as so often happens, the best had decided not to make an appearance. As the elevator slid to a jerky stop, the Captain abandoned the unpleasant memory to try and concentrate on a more immediate problem: what could his Vulcan friend be up to? He stepped out of the conveyance into a hallway that, if possible, was even more crowded than the others he had seen. The expression "wall-to-wall" people had been used in his hearing before, but he had never been in a situation where it was so uncomfortably true. Sitting, standing, lying, shouting, sleeping, crying...the corridor was jammed with beings in far less than optimum condition. This group didn't seem to be quite as disheveled as some of the others on the Enterprise but they did not seem in a better frame of mind because of this fact. A number of them seemed to be complaining vociferously to no one in particular. Fighting an impulse to step back into the elevator and return to his relatively peaceful bridge, Kirk straightened his shoulders, marched into the center of the fray, and asked what was the problem.
Ten minutes later, as he left the protestors and continued on his journey to Spock's quarters, he knew. These were people who had been snatched from certain death at no small risk to his ship and crew and who were now angry because they couldn't have private cabins! He had almost offered to take them back to their dying planet if they didn't like their accommodations on the ship, but he had restrained himself. All he could do was promise that the situation would soon be improving, that seemed safe enough since if it didn't get better it could only get worse, in which case they would all be tiny bits of space debris and wouldn't be able to complain about his treatment of them at all. Several did inform him of their intentions of making a formal complaint when they reached Starbase 4.
"If we ever reach it..." Kirk muttered to himself as he finally negotiated the last few feet to chez Spock. "Next they'll be blaming me for the nova..." His voice trailed off as he got a look at what was happening within the cabin. The door was partially ajar and through the opening left the human could see the spare figure of his First Officer and what for a wild moment seemed to be a flock of small yellow and orange birds. He blinked rapidly, fearing that the lack of rest had finally affected his mind. But the scene remained steady and as he walked into the room the situation became clearer. He had forgotten that the young of the Deiran natives had a colorful down-like covering until puberty. Spock was simply, if unexpectedly, surrounded by children.
"Well, Mr. Spock, babysitting?" Kirk couldn't keep himself from grinning at the situation. The Vulcan, looking a bit harassed, turned at the sound of the familiar voice. "No indeed, Captain, I am merely attempting to rectify an error." He paused temporarily while he removed a child, who seemed intent upon eating it, from his bed. "I had carelessly forgotten to turn down the temperature in here...which is inexcusable under the circumstances. I attempted to call a maintenance crewman to adjust it so that the space would be available for the use of the passengers, but no one would answer the call from the bridge. Presumably they were all busy, although intership communication is not working properly, so it is possible my call never got through. However that could be fixed by..."
"Spock please, what are these children doing in here?" Kirk knew that if he didn't get his friend back to the subject at hand that he would receive a lecture on modern cross-circuiting procedures that, however interesting, could well wait.
"I am coming to that, sir." Although he knew that it was impossible, Kirk thought the Vulcan sounded a bit miffed. He liked to tell things his own way.
"It seemed safe for me to leave the bridge for a short period of time to come here and reset the controls myself. Also it seemed a good opportunity to check into the condition of the ship and the new arrivals since I had not had the chance to do so for several hours. You were expected back on the bridge momentarily, therefore; I had no qualms about leaving Mr. Sulu in temporary charge. In case of emergency, Lt. Uhura did know where I was and..."
"Yes, that's all fine," Kirk interrupted hastily. "I'm sure you took care of all the details before you came down here. But what are you doing with these children?"
"I am endeavoring to explain, sir... Once I arrived here, and a difficult journey it was, I noticed that several of the Deiran young were clustered around the door of the cabin. Even though it was closed, some of the heat from in here had escaped. Suddenly I remembered that pre-adolescent children of that species require a temperature 23 degrees higher than the adults do for optimum comfort. Since most of them aboard the Enterprise are suffering from radiation and exposure, their need is all the greater. Therefore I simply opened the door and made arrangements for as many of the children as would fit in."
"Are you planning to take care of them personally?" Kirk couldn't keep the surprise from his voice. Spock was such a private person, his cabin had always been off limits to almost everyone. It was filled with the Vulcan's personal treasures, many of which, Kirk was sure, were irreplaceable. Yet he had turned his home over to a horde of small, noisy, emotional creatures who seemed mostly intent on breaking everything available and crying for their brood-mothers. Several were also molting all over the floor.
"No indeed, several adults have volunteered to take care of the children. I shall be returning to my post momentarily." Spock paused as if awaiting a comment from his superior officer.
Kirk could come up with no useful comment...his brain was definitely not working at peak efficiency. He just nodded rather weakly.
"Jim, you seem to be tired," the Vulcan continued. "As I shall be back on the bridge shortly, it would seem logical for you to obtain some rest at this time."
"I had planned to get some--in here. But that's out of the question now and everywhere else is full."
"That is not quite correct, sir."
Kirk blinked in surprise. Spock wasn't going to suggest using the bridge too, was he? "I have ordered recreation room 3 cleared and blankets brought in. It was my intention that we use that area as a resting place for members of the crew who could endanger the ship by continuing to perform their duties in an exhausted state. I believe that you yourself would fit into that category, sir."
Trust Spock to think of everything and not to be shy about telling the truth, unpleasant though it might be. "I would like nothing better than to sleep for a week," Kirk admitted, "but I can't until we can go into warp..."
"...or abandon the transports," the Vulcan finished, bending down to disengage a particularly orange little female that was attempting to climb up his left leg.
"Yes, or abandon the transports. It looks like you were right the other day."
There was a moment of reflective silence as the two men lost themselves in their own thoughts. Fortunately for all concerned Vulcans do not share in the common human failing of saying "I told you so."
"Well, I'm going back to Engineering for a while. If we could only get those transporters working... See you on the bridge." Kirk turned to leave but was struck by the enormity of Spock's sacrifice, and turned back. "I'm really proud of you. I know you were against much of this operation and for you to give up your cabin like this..."
Spock raised both eyebrows. "Captain I was not against the evacuation effort per se. I merely noted that some of the methods used showed a lamentable lack of foresight on the part of our own people. And as for my cabin...the use of it in these circumstances is only logical. Lives are far more important, obviously, than material possessions or my privacy. Once these beings were on the Enterprise I could do nothing less than to aid them in every way possible."
Kirk felt slightly rebuked somehow, but it didn't especially bother him. Spock's strong point was not, and never would be, taking praise gracefully. "Yes, of course, it's all very logical. I should have expected nothing less." He turned away again and headed for the turbo lift.
The human knew that it was a small thing to be so pleased about but the scene in the Vulcan's cabin had cheered him immeasurably. He was sure that another Vulcan could have found it equally as logical to keep the children out in the cold.
As he trod around sleeping bodies he was suddenly reminded of the favorite saying of an elderly neighbor in his childhood home town. Long years before she had often said, "There isn't enough dark in all the world to hide the light of one small candle." Right until this moment he had never really understood what she had meant. His small world was still full of dark, but the light he had seen in Spock's cabin had truly shone.
A wall intercom beeped for his attention and he managed to reach it without seriously stepping on anyone. "Kirk here."
Scott's voice answered, weakened by static but obviously happy. "Captain, we have 'em working! We can have those people aboard in ten minutes."
Kirk slumped against the wall in relief. "Great! The second the last one beams aboard cut the tractor beams and get us out of here fast. I don't care where...just away from that damn star."
"Aye, Captain...but where are we to put them...you know how crowded everything is already?"
Kirk thought desperately for a moment. Somehow that little detail had managed to slip everyone's attention. "Well...has anyone thought to have the swimming pool drained? It would hold a goodly number of them. It only has to be for a short time, you know. Once we figure out exactly where we are, we ought to be at Starbase 4 in less than eleven hours."
"Now that you mention it, sir, I don't think anyone remembered the pool. I'll have someone attend to it immediately. Oh and one other thing... One of the transports has 500 kilos of food concentrate on it. That would be enough to keep the Deirans for several days."
"That's even better. Do what you can, Kirk out." He was stunned...so much good news so fast was unsettling. He pondered for a moment while he absently watched a group of Deirans waddle down the corridor in the direction of Spock's cabin. For his friend's sake he hoped the adults, who bore a weird resemblance to a group of five feet tall turkeys with magenta fur, were the babysitters he was awaiting.
Once more he punched an intercom button. "Kirk to bridge."
"Do we have subspace communications yet?"
"No sir, but the interference is beginning to clear."
"Well, tell navigation to give us warp eight as soon as the last of the refugees are aboard. Take us anywhere... we'll figure out our exact position later...just tell them not to hit anything:"
"Yes sir," Uhura's voice held an undercurrent of amusement. "Where will you be, sir?"
"I'm coming up to the bridge...no wait." Spock could take care of things for a while now that the worst of the emergency was over. "I'll be in rec room 3 for awhile if anybody needs me."
Kirk straightened up and resumed his oft interrupted trip to the elevator. Conditions were still far from ideal, but he was sure that after a few hours sleep he could deal with everything much more efficiently. In his mind's eye he could still see Spock and the young ones and he smiled... the dark was lifting.