DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Sharron Powell and is copyright (c) 1999 by Sharron Powell. This story is rated PG.



The Cave

Sharron Powell



"ACMO's Log, Christine Chapel, recording. I'm going to beam down to the planet today."

Christine hit the pause button on the recorder, stopping to collect her thoughts before continuing. She hadn't had many chances for planet duty since her return to the Enterprise. As Assistant CMO, it was her job to take care of the day to day aliments that reared their ugly heads, since M'Benga had left to do research at the Xenobiology Institute on Altair.

Then again, to be honest, even before she had gotten her medical degree, Christine had been the one to handle the little problems that cropped up. Geoff's bedside manner hadn't been the most nurturing; he'd probably spent too much time among Vulcans to whom courtesy wasn't required. So most of the crew had come to Christine for help anyway.

The only real change in what she had done before as Head Nurse was that she didn't have to bother to ask one of the 'boys', as she sometimes thought of them, for an ultimate okay on a prescription that she knew was the right course of treatment.

But it was in her capacity as a bio-researcher that Christine was being assigned to the landing party. The advanced team had brought up some plant samples that showed great promise as sources of medicinal extracts. In particular, an especially powerful form of diasinate, a substance which had resisted all attempts of artificial synthesis, which had proven invaluable in the treatment of Lefferson's disease, a rare neurological disorder that effected a very few space-faring humanoids each year.

If this planet was a source for a new, more powerful version of the substance, it would be a breakthrough. It was found on only a few planets in a neighboring system in the roots of a plant known as aramethea. The plant, while beautiful, was a slow growing, poorly propagating plant. Which made diasinate hard to manufacture. And what they did manage to produce was weak in quality, making large quantities of it necessary to cure one patient.

From some of the archeological reports that Spock's team had sent up from the planet's surface, she gathered that they had stumbled on evidence of an advanced, though extinct culture. One that may have been adept at the arts or space travel.

Or medicine, which Christine hoped would explain the presence of the plants on the surface, virtually identical to the known culitvars of aramethea. Maybe the former inhabitants of the world below had known of the value of the plant and had tried to propagate it on the worlds they visited?

She smiled at herself. She wouldn't find out by standing here. Time to get moving. Spock should be in the transporter room by now. She pushed the recorder back on.

"I hope to find a large stand of the aramethea-like plants that grow on this world, in their natural habitat. Maybe even find several different strains of the plant. Enough to perform a proper analysis. The prospect of finding a new source of diasinate will keep me and the lab techs busy for the week that the Enterprise has been given to survey this world. Log, off."

And with that, Christine looked around for a sign of Leonard. She glanced at the chronometer. Hmmm, it was 1130. He was probably on the bridge, trying to lasso the Captain into eating lunch. Oh, well, she'd just have to see him when she got back.

* * *

The beam of a transporter released her into a paradise. Christine immediately turned around in a circle, scanning with her eyes the landscape before turning on her tricorder.

A few feet from her, Spock stood issuing orders to the mixed science and security team that made up their 8 man crew.

Christine barely heard him, for ahead in the distance lay a small set of hills and at the base of the hills was the object she sought, aramethea. And more than she could have dreamed of, if her readings were correct.

"Spock," she called to the tall, slim, first officer. "Take a scan over there. Do you see what I see?" She looked over at him, eager to have him confirm her sighting so that they could set out for it.

Spock raised his eyes from his tricorder and returned her gaze. "Yes, Doctor. A significant stand of aramethea."

Christine shook her head. "Significant? That's the largest number of the flowers yet to be discovered, if I remember my research right."

"You do, Doctor. As I said, a significant stand."

Christine sighed. It was no use getting into a word play about it. That was Len's domain.

"Okay, it's significant. And as such, we should gather some samples from there." She stopped and looked at her tricorder again. "It seems to be about a half of a mile from here."

Spock frowned. Well, what Christine knew to be his version of a frown, a slight movement in his facial expression. She sighed inwardly.

"I do not believe that that is the wisest course, Doctor," Spock replied. "It is not standard procedure to stray so far from the beam down point, especially since the archeological team will be here. We would have to split up the landing party. Can you not gather the samples from this local site?"

Christine drew herself up to her full height; something she tended to do when she was confronting someone. "Yes, we could. But there is only a small sample here. Not enough to be truly representative of how the flowers grow in the wild. My lab tech can gather the flowers here. With such a large concentration of the plant at the other site, I may be able to find flowers of differing sub-strata, something which we haven't found at this site. And that," and she emphasized the word that, "is one of the goals of this mission, after all."

She watched as Spock deliberated, knowing that she was right. They could always beam them up from the new site, after all.

"Very well, Doctor," Spock replied succinctly. He turned to one of the security men who were standing around, watching the archeologists work. "Chief Matthews..."

A stocky, but physically graceful man stepped up to them and looked at Spock. "Yes, Commander Spock?"

"We need accompaniment to a second site. Select a person to accompany us, then continue to watch over this site while we are gone. We will check in at hourly intervals. In the event of an emergency, beam up to the ship, immediately. Regardless of our whereabouts."

Matthews snapped to attention. "Yes, sir." He turned from them then to call to one of his men over to him, a tall, reed thin redheaded man. "Lindsey, you're going with the Commander and Dr. Chapel to a secondary site." After getting an affirmative from the man, who stood waiting for Christine and Spock to be ready, Matthews looked back at his commanding officer, nodded, and strode off to watch over the archeologists.

Spock nodded to the security chief in return, and then shifted his attention back to Christine.

"If you are ready, Doctor..." Spock said, indicating with an incline of his head that she should lead the way since she had forced the issue.

Christine just nodded, ignoring Spock's less than enthusiastic glance. "I'm ready."

* * *

As they walked along the natural path between the shrubs and trees, Christine silently thanked her parents for her long legs, currently getting a workout from the blistering pace that Spock was maintaining in their trek to the site of the plants.

He is trying to annoy me... that's it...why else would he be power-walking through the most beautiful stretch of country that she had seen in months.

Oh, Chris, you're being unfair. Spock is only trying to get us there at the most efficient rate possible.

Right.

"Mr. Spock," Christine called out finally, when they were in sight of their destination. "Could we please slow down?"

Spock stopped suddenly, turning to look at her. To his left, the security man, Lindsey, stopped and ran his hand surreptitiously over his forehead, behind Spock's back. Christine had to hold back her laughter.

"Thank you," Christine said, nodding in Spock's direction, putting her hands on her hips as she caught her breath. "Could we stroll the last few meters? Now that we are near the base of the hill, I might miss an interesting plant or soil sample." Not to mention the beautiful countryside and perfect weather...

Spock tilted his head down slightly to look at the patch of ground at her feet. It held no vegetation, besides the roots of the large trees that lined their path.

"I see no plants of interest here, Doctor." Spock paused.

Christine raised an eyebrow. "You're wrong, Mr. Spock."

Walking up to the nearest tree, she made a big show of pulling off an uninteresting piece of lichen that grew on the bark with a pair of tweezers and then pulling out her specimen tube. She looked back at Spock and noticed him looking at the specimen tube with an unimpressed look on his face. Over Spock's shoulder, she could see Lindsey smiling.

"And may I ask why you picked this specimen, Doctor? You didn't take a tricorder reading of it."

Christine pocketed the tube calmly before answering. "It's a time-honored technique of specimen sampling, frequently used by we bio-researchers. 'Random selection'. Or in other words, 'pick it up, it may be useful'."

Spock's eyebrow rose. "I see." He tilted his head in his trademark sign of forbearance with human idiosyncrasies. "Then since you have retrieved your sample, may we continue on our... stroll."

"Of course, Mr. Spock," Christine replied, smiling, as she walked past him and Lindsey to set the, much reduced in speed, pace.

In no time, they were at the base of the mountain, and Christine was amidst the field of aramethea that was growing and blooming profusely. She immediately stooped down and spread out her specimen gathering equipment, looking at the bounty of flowers with a smile on her face.

"They're beautiful," Christine remarked to Spock absently, quite unconcerned about how her voice, which was laced with satisfaction at the flowers and the day, might sound to her logical commanding officer. "We could cure hundreds of people with this field of flowers... what makes them grow so profusely here?" she wondered aloud.

Spock stooped down beside her. "The temperance of the climate, perhaps. Or the composition of the soil."

Christine nodded. "Or the slope of the land. I better get a sample of the soil for analysis. The flowers are growing much better at this site, than at the one where we beamed down. It might be interesting to do a comparative soil analysis." Reaching to her communicator, she called to her lab tech back at the dig. "Chapel to Caster."

At the sound of her tech's answering hail, she started speaking. "Harry, could you collect a soil sample at your site?"

"Already done, Chris. Is Commander Spock there? Chief Matthews said that there was a call from the ship."

Christine turned to look at Spock and found him already in conversation with Scotty, by the sound of the voice she could hear. "He's already in communication with the ship, Harry. I'll see you back at the lab. Chapel, out."

Standing up and brushing herself off, she turned to face Spock. "Is there a problem, Mr. Spock?"

Spock nodded. "Not immediately. Mr. Scott informed me that there is an ion storm approaching this planet. It should reach our position in approximately 55.3 minutes. We must beam aboard before then or the ship will not be able to contact us or lock on to our signals."

Christine sighed. "It figures. Well, how long will you give me, Mr. Spock? There seem to be several types of plants here, both of aramethea and another plant that I have never seen before."

"You have 30 minutes, Doctor," Spock said firmly.

"I'll take it."

* * *

Exactly 29 minutes later, Christine felt a shadow on her shoulder. She didn't bother to look up as she finished collecting her last sample. "I'm ready, Mr. Spock." She stood up and stretched. "I think that there are some definite possibilities here."

"Indeed," Spock replied. "There are some fascinating rock formations in his area that indicate the presence of the former inhabitants. The caves seemed to be decorated with carvings." He looked around suddenly as if his explorations had made him miss something. "Where is Mr. Lindsey?"

Christine scanned the area too. "I'm not sure... I thought that he was with you, exploring the rock formations."

Spock's eyebrows crinkled. "He wished to explore on his own. However, I left specific instructions for him to meet us back here in 30 minutes." Pulling out his communicator, Spock called for the security officer. Silence answered him.

Christine pulled out her medical tricorder. "There's one life sign in..." She stopped and pointed in the direction of a set of caves. "... that direction, near those caves." She paused again. "Spock, how long before the ion storm hits us?"

Spock looked grim. "19.3 minutes. We will need to leave in ten, to be safe."

"Then we'd better go."

* * *

Eight minutes of their search had gone by without finding the young crewman. Christine was puzzled and worried. Her tricorder had said that the life sign was in the direction of the caves, and she was still getting the reading.

But the reading was growing weaker and as they had gotten closer to the caves, the signal had fragmented into several ghostly ones, seemingly bouncing all over the place. They had tried two sets of caves already with no sign of Lindsey.

"Spock," Christine said worriedly. "What could be causing the directional locator in the tricorder to malfunction? I am getting a reading. But it's growing weaker. And besides knowing that it exists, I'm getting no sense of direction."

Spock's eyebrow's crinkled and his voice was stern. "Unknown. A feature of the rock, perhaps. We will not be able to search much longer. The ion storm will be upon us in 11 minutes. If we have not found our missing crewman in 3 minutes, we must leave."

Christine looked at him, shocked. "We can't. The signal is getting weaker... he must be seriously hurt."

"You can't be sure of that, Doctor," Spock said firmly. "The signal could easily be weaker because of the fragmentation effect. We will not be able to transport or contact the ship for many hours if we don't leave. There is no choice."

"Yes, there is! We can stay until we find him." She turned to face him, her absolute conviction shining in her eyes. "Spock... there are only two caves left. He has to be in one of them. We can't just leave him here. Even if we can't get back for awhile... we won't be harmed by that. It's an inconvenience, at best. Our leaving could mean his life."

Christine winced inwardly at the disapproval that radiated from Spock, but she stood her ground, meeting his gaze squarely. Finally, Spock pulled out his communicator and called the ship. She could hear Captain Kirk's impatient voice on the other end of the connection.

"What's the problem, Commander? You should have beamed up 5 minutes ago."

"We have lost Crewman Lindsey in one of the caves, Captain. Our tricorders are unable to indicate his direction, which has necessitated a physical cave by cave search. Dr. Chapel feels that he may be hurt and wishes to continue searching for him."

"Spock... I feel for the crewman, but we have to leave orbit... you know the damage to the ship that can be caused by one of these storms. We may not be able to return for 8-10 hours; we can't leave you there. Beam up."

Christine looked at Spock and spoke in a fierce whisper. "We can't just leave him here, Spock. It isn't right! We won't be harmed by staying... please..."

Spock looked at her, an inscrutable expression on his face, as he stood unmoving, his communicator still poised near his lips.

"What's going on, Commander?" the captain asked impatiently.

Spock continued to stare at Christine as he answered Kirk. "Captain... the risk to ourselves is negligible if we remain. Request permission to continue the search for Crewman Lindsey."

"But you'll be stranded there, Spock."

"A minor inconvenience, Captain. Once the crewman's whereabouts have been ascertained and his health stabilized, we can merely continue our scientific explorations until your return. There are several fascinating archeological items of interest in this site as well as the flowers that Dr. Chapel..."

Kirk's voice interrupted him. "All right, Spock. If you feel that it's best. You have my permission. See you in 8 hours."

"Affirmative, Captain. Spock, out." Spock looked at Christine and raised his eyebrow at her relieved expression.

Christine spoke quietly. "Thank you, Spock."

Spock turned away from her in the direction of the next cave and raised his tricorder. "No thanks are required, Doctor. Your arguments were logical. The next ghost reading is this way." And with that, he started walking the meter to the next cave, leaving Christine to scramble to catch up with him, a smile on her lips.

As they passed the narrow mouth of the next cave and entered a larger middle portion, Spock's palm beacon shining a strong beam of light into the dark expanse, they could see a body lying prone, next to a large mound of rubble that blocked the back of the cave.

Christine rushed to Lindsey's side, whipping out her medical kit as she felt for a pulse... it was weaker than normal, but steady. The gash on the back of his head indicated a blow. Probably from the falling rocks. Blood had partially coagulated and was slowly dripping from the wound.

As Christine worked on him, Spock examined the rocks by Lindsey's side and the ceiling that they had fallen from.

"Dr. Chapel," Spock's voice was terse and Christine looked up from her patient. "This cave seems to be unstable. It could collapse further at any moment." He looked down at Lindsey. "Can he be moved?"

Christine nodded, pulling out a emergency splint and returning to her work. "Yes. Just let me get his leg immobilized. He's suffering from a head wound, he's lost a fair amount of blood, but I've stopped the blood loss and given him something for the swelling. He should be fine, though he'll be out for a while and have one hell of a headache when he wakes up. The only other major injury is his broken leg. We can move him..." She paused as she fixed the splint in place. "... now. If you'll do the honors, Mr. Spock." She stood up and backed away from Lindsey so that Spock could lift him up.

Christine led the walk back towards the mouth of the cave, but just as they were near the narrowing walls that signaled the mouth of the cave, she heard a large rumble and felt rocks pelting her head.

"Spock!" Christine yelled as she felt herself knocked to the ground, "Look out!" She passed out as the wind was crushed out of her by the falling rocks, the avalanche of rocks pouring from the ceiling.

* * *

When Christine woke up, she found herself lying on her side. Pain shot through her back and side as she attempted to move. The light that she could see was faint, but it was still more than she was interested in seeing. She groaned and shut her eyes.. God, she hurt.

"Do not move, Doctor. You have sustained several severe lacerations over your back. You may have internal injuries."

Christine groaned again, before looking out into the direction of the Vulcan first officer who stood near the interior cave-in that had originally injured Lindsey.

"Spock... are you alright?" she asked weakly as she narrowed her eyes in an attempt to better see him and ascertain his condition. His shirt was torn and dirty and there was dried green blood on his forehead.

Spock's face was impassive. "Quite all right, Doctor."

Christine shook her head, again moaning softly at the pain in her back and sides. "Why don't I believe you." She shifted her gaze to the source of the light, Spock's palm beacon which sat above their young crewmember's prone body. "How's Lindsey?"

Spock hesitated noticeably before responding. "Mr. Lindsey sustained further injuries when we were hit by the cave-in. I believe that he has developed a subdural hematoma, but I cannot confirm that diagnosis. The results of his injury are clear, however. He is in a coma."

Christine leaned her head back and closed her eyes again. The poor boy. That they had found him, only to see him slip into a more serious injury hurt her deeply. I have to see to him...

She gingerly stood up, then flinched at the pain she felt radiating from her mid-section. Hmmm... a few broken ribs, at least... I will have to bind them with something, eventually...

"You should not be moving, Doctor," Spock said, his voice sounding perturbed to Christine's ears.

Christine looked over at Spock, noticing his frown. She nodded. "I know Spock, but I need to check on Lindsey," she replied.

She looked around for her med kit; it was nowhere to be found. She scanned the small space they were inhabiting, eventually looking in the direction of the opening... or what had been an opening. Now it was a wall of rocks. Her mood sunk as she realized what must have happened to her med kit. It must have been crushed by the falling rocks... she felt for her phaser, then glanced surreptitiously at Spock's waist.... no phasers either, from what she could see. They were well and truly stuck.

Closing her eyes, she pushed the thought of their greater predicament out of her mind for the moment as she sat down next to the young security officer with a wince at the jolt to her ribs. Okay... she'd just have to examine him the old-fashioned way... and leave worrying about their predicament to Spock.

Checking the crewman's pulse, she then lifted the his eyelids to check for the normal reaction. Satisfied that he was at least alive, she smoothed the hair back on his head and squeezed his hand lightly with her other hand.

"You are going to be fine, Lindsey," she said softly. "Come back to us soon."

She looked over at Spock in time to see him watching her with a raised eyebrow at her seemingly illogical action.

Christine slowly maneuvered herself to recline on the cave wall next to Lindsey, careful to recline on the portion of her back that didn't hurt and to not jar her ribs more than was necessary.

"Nurse's habits die hard, Mr. Spock," Christine commented in response to his expression. "Comatose patients are often aware of their surroundings and research has supported the benefits of a therapeutic touch and a friendly voice."

Spock turned his back on her then to continue his systematic search of the rock face, alternately probing it with his fingers and resting one ear upon it as if listening for something.

"May I assume that you haven't found a way around the cave-in?" Christine asked matter-of-factly.

"I have, as yet, been unable to find a passage that we could use," he acceded grudgingly.

Christine sighed as she stared at his back, which seemed tense to her eye. "I'm sorry, Spock."

"Sorry?" Spock replied in a distant fashion, his attention moving to the wall of rocks that had so recently blocked their path.

"For getting us stuck here."

Spock stopped and pulled at a particular rock, his fingers gripping the edges he could reach in an apparent attempt to displace it or move it. "Such contingencies are," he began, emphasized the word 'are' as he pulled at the rock again, "why Standard Operating Procedure is to beam up at ship's leaving."

She wrinkled her nose and lowered her eyes to the dirt beneath her. "Thanks for making me feel better, Spock," she replied sotto voce.

Spock raised his head up from his task; though he did not turn to look at her, his voice was cold. "Was that the purpose of your apology, Doctor? For me to make you ... feel... better?"

Christine sighed again as she lifted her eyes to again stare at his back, which had gotten more stiff. "No, not really," she said quietly. "I am sorry that I got you stuck here. I can't be sorry for myself." She touched the top of Lindsey's head and checked his pulse again. Still there.

"I would make the same choice. I could no more leave this boy here, possibly in pain, just for convenience sake, than I could leave you here." Her voice was certain and sure; its timber reflecting her convictions as well as a hint of her continuing affection for him. "Not if I could do anything to prevent it."

Spock's posture lost its excessively stiff cast as he replied with his more familiar mix of logical non-emotionalism and subtle shield of Vulcan decorum in discouragement of her apparent regard for him.

"You are not responsible for my actions; therefore no apology is necessary in any case." He resumed his examination of the rocks in front of him, as if he had never been distracted from the task. "But if you wish to indulge in such illogical pronouncements, I cannot prevent you. I do not promise to respond with the expected human response, however."

Christine smiled at his statement. "I wouldn't expect you to, Spock. I wouldn't expect you to."

* * *

As several more hours passed, Christine's routine became less and less varied as Spock became more and more quiet; his manner increasingly distant.

After their initial conversation, Spock had resumed inspecting the walls for cracks or chinks. But eventually, he had given up his examinations. And at that point he had stopped speaking to her entirely; his attention instead turning inward.

His long legs were folded beneath him cross-wise and his hands were steepled together and resting on his lap. He stared at the space directly in front of his hands as if it were the most important thing in the universe.

Christine didn't disturb him, although at times, she badly wanted to. To relieve the boredom if nothing else. In the absence of conversation, her routine consisted of monitoring Lindsey at evenly spaced intervals. But as she started to check his pulse for the thousandth time, it seemed, she began to notice how often she started to drift to sleep.

It was probably nothing, the silence was lulling her into sleep. But she was finding just counting the heartbeats of Lindsey's pulse to be the more than her mind could handle without effort. What was happening? Think, Christine.

She checked Lindsey's breathing rate. It had quickened considerably. As had his pulse. She shook her head. This was not good... his body had been in a state consistent with coma; slow, steady breathing and heart rate. Unsettling, but normal with his condition that she hoped that he would come out of, as the subdural hematoma, while serious, could be treated easily when the Enterprise returned for them in...

...how many hours had Spock said when he spoke to her last? Three hours... they only had approximately two hours to go, if she was estimating the amount of time that had passed correctly.

She checked her own pulse. It had increased also, as had her breathing rate. She was beginning to feel a bit dizzy as well as sleepy... My god...

The realization of what was happening struck her all at once in a wave on anxiety and she looked over at Spock, noticing as if for the first time, his still aspect and the probable reason for it.... and he hadn't told her.

An irrational anger welt up in her (she knew that this was another sign of their problem, but she didn't care) as she attempted to stand. She couldn't seem to move her legs properly, so she crawled over to him, temporarily exhausted by the short movement but determined to have it out with him.

"You bastard."

Spock's eyes flew open from his meditation and he stared at her. He seemed alarmed at her nearness, as she was only a foot in front of him. She didn't care.. She moved even closer to him, eventually griping his shoulders in both hands and shaking him.

"You know what's happening," she ranted in a hoarse whisper, resisting weakly as his hands came up to firmly, but gently remove her fingers from his shoulder. He held her away from him easily, but she continued resisting until she could no longer shake against his grip. She slumped against him, her head bowed, her body spent, as it worked to replace the oxygen that she had just used.

"You must not exert yourself, Doctor," Spock said quietly, his voice apologetic. "As you have clearly surmised, we are suffering from hypoxia. This cave is filling up with carbon dioxide and there is no way to dispel it. It is imperative that we remain still."

Christine sat back and looked at him with sad eyes. "Why did you keep this from me, Spock? What logical reason could you have?"

Spock closed his eyes briefly; but at her accusing question or at the onslaught of the emotions he must be feeling through her hands which he still held in his, she couldn't be sure.

"There was nothing, is nothing, that you can do, Doctor," Spock began even more quietly. "I saw no logical reason to disturb you with the knowledge prematurely. I knew that you would come to realize the problem in time. As you did."

Christine stared at him. He was lying... she had spent enough time with him in sick bay over the years to know when he was lying, usually in an attempt to avoid treatment or leave sickbay sooner than was needed. And she knew, without question, that he was lying now. And she thought that she knew why.

"That's not all of the reason, is it?" she asked as a statement, not a question. "How much time do we have left? Lindsay and I? I know that you can survive for much longer periods of time, because of the efficient way that Vulcans process oxygen, than we can."

Spock hesitated.

"Spock," Christine quietly persisted. "I have a right to know."

"One hour and forty-three minutes, at best," he replied in a dull monotone.

And Christine found that she too had nothing to say, for she knew what his pronouncement meant.

She and Lindsey would die before the Enterprise could return to save them.

* * *

Christine shook off her fatigue and melancholia with a sudden release of his hands as she pushed herself away from him.

"We aren't dead yet," she said grimly. "The first priority is to get Lindsey to a higher elevation. CO2 is heavier than oxygen." She started to look around the room, eventually finding a ledge that was several feet above them.

"Do you think that we can get him up there?" she asked, pointing to the ledge. She turned back to Spock, to see him, contemplating the height of the ledge.

"I believe so, Doctor," he replied, already on his feet before she had even moved to get up, as if the action was a welcome diversion to their plight.

He held out a hand to assist her and she took it gratefully. With his help (she had gotten slightly dizzy), they reached her patient; and with Spock lifting the man into his arms, they crossed the small expanse to the ledge Christine had spotted

"I will need your assistance in keeping his legs immobile..." Spock said, as he gritted his teeth and lifted the man above his head, beginning to slide him upon the ledge. Christine lifted Lindsey's lower legs and feet as high as she could as she completed the maneuver.

With that done, she slowly lowered herself to the floor. Even her slight actions had left her exhausted. Spock sat down beside her in a fluid motion and Christine looked at him. He didn't seem to be effected by the growing levels of CO2 and the depletion of the oxygen in the cave. She knew that he wouldn't be. At least not fatally.

"Spock?"

"Yes, Doctor," Spock replied quietly.

"I'm glad that you will survive." Christine reached out and took his hand. He didn't pull way; of that she was grateful. "Leonard will have a hard enough time with my death without having to deal with you dying as well."

"Doctor..."

She snatched her hand from him, hurt at his continued use of her title. "Is it so hard to call me by my given name, Spock?" She pushed herself a little further away from him. "You won't have to bother in a few hours, the least you could do is call me by my name, now."

"Christine," Spock said quietly, gently. "You must calm yourself. You are only expending the remaining oxygen faster."

She shook her head. "What difference does it make, Spock? You said that the Enterprise will be here in two hours, at the earliest. And that the levels of oxygen in this cave will fall below the level needed to sustain a human in a little over an hour and a half from now." She knew that her mood had changed from 'can-do' to 'why bother' in an short period of time, but the facts were starting to sink in.

"There is always a chance of an error in my estimates," Spock said firmly as he moved his hand to her arm. "And there are always possibilities. I was attempting to..."

Christine shook her head again as she interrupted him, oblivious to his hand on her arm as she started to refute his obvious attempt to raise her spirits. "How often has that happened, Spock? I appreciate the sentiment, but..."

Spock grasped her other arm more firmly than the first, and willed her to be still. "Christine."

Chris looked up at him, shocked at the presence of his hands on her arms and more importantly, by the way he was staring at her.

"I shall never understand you humans' propensity to talk during inopportune moments," Spock commented dryly before resuming his earlier explanation. "Before you interrupted me with your irrational name calling," And at this he cocked one eyebrow at her and Christine laughed softly, apologizing with her eyes even as she nodded for him to continue. "I was attempting to enter a state of deep preparative meditation, so that I could eventually attempt a mind meld. There have been recorded instances of one mind willing another to reach a state of minimum usage of resources, in an attempt to survive a traumatic event."

Christine thought that she knew where this was going and started to speak. A slight increase of the grip of his hands on her arms stopped her. She would have bruises on her arms, she thought absently.

"If in addition to this mind-meld, we were to lie close together, so that our..." he paused briefly as if gathering his mental shields around himself. "... mouths would be touching each other, you could breathe in the higher oxygen content of my exhales." He sped up his explanation as Christine's eyes widened. "In this manner, you would be sustained for as long as possible and even when your lungs ceased to function, I would be in a position to breathe for you for some time."

Christine sat back, stunned. No wonder he hadn't wanted to talk to her... he was already thinking of a time when they would not need words.

"Spock, are you sure that you should do this? No mind meld is without risk. Besides the fact that you found our last 'communion' disturbing, to say the least..."

He looked at her squarely. "Discomfort is irrelevant, Christine. And a forced melding of minds by Sargon is not indicative of the natural process."

Christine smiled at his bravery. She couldn't say that she wanted to argue. But he was risking more than she and she feared hurting him. "What do I need to do?" she said quietly.

Spock seemed relieved at her calm tone. "You will need to lie down. On your side would be prudent, since your back and ribs are injured."

She complied with his words silently, her eyes relaying her sympathy at the discomfort she could read in his even as he calmly lay down next to her. Then he closed his eyes to meditate and Christine watched him, marveling again at his willingness to sacrifice his needed space, for her.

At last, he opened his eyes and pulled her face close to his. His fingers shifted to her temples; his breath tickled her mouth as he began to speak.

"My mind to your mind. Your thoughts to my thoughts."

The last physical sensation Christine felt before her mind melded with his was his mouth pressing upon hers.

* * *

When Christine had fantasized about Spock lips touching her own, she had imagined pretty mundane settings or reasons: the arboretum bathed in starlight or her quarters with him declaring his love for her. But now she saw how limited her thinking had been..

She could feel him... softly calling to her body to relax... slow down... and his lips... she could taste them.

... giving her a kiss, not of mere romance, but of life..

Poetic, if inaccurate. The air is life. I am only the conduit.

Spock's voice, even more beautiful mentally than it was when he spoke out load, slipped into her consciousness. Despite his words, she could feel the gentle appreciation for her statement laced through his thought.

Christine laughed, not sure whether she laughed out loud, or just in their mind.

You are more than that, Spock. Much more, she replied, and her joy at hearing him... feeling him... in her mind lapped out from her in waves. Waves which she felt him absorb into himself. In the back of her mind, she could feel tears starting to flow from her eyes. And she was not ashamed.

It's so beautiful, Spock... Is this...

the norm? he answered, picking her thought from the ether in which they existed. The mind meld is different for each pair. There is no norm.

Even as he spoke, Christine could feel his memory of another meld: The joy of the Mother Horta when he told her that her babies were safe. She smiled at the compliment the Horta gave him. She had good taste, indeed, Spock. Laughter welled up inside her as she witnessed the innate pride he had felt at the time. An embarrassed good humor was his response before she felt a light shield go up around his consciousness.

Christine, he thought firmly, but gently. You must start the breathing. And she felt his will gently encouraging her to act on what he was telling her. Breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose. In this manner, will we share life... from my mouth to yours. I will breathe in the opposite manner in order to gather the air and filter it of more of the carbon dioxide than you would be able to do on your own.

Christine cleared her mind of all other thoughts, as she could feel him compelling her to do, and she focused on breathing as he was instructing her. It was the opposite of how a human usually breathed, so she had to concentrate while her body internalized it as the new norm.

In from the mouth, out through the nose, she repeated over and over. She could feel her body responding to her commands, just as she felt Spock commanding his body to the opposite rhythm. A word came to her mind, unbidden. Symbiosis.

Indeed, he replied, approving of the term. Now I give you another task, Christine. In a little while, you will feel compelled to sleep. The large amount of Carbon dioxide in your blood will trigger this reaction. You must resist the temptation for as long as possible. Once you become unconscious...

I know, Christine interrupted softly. She knew... once she became unconscious, her mind no longer actively helping to control the body, her body would start to shut down. The breathing first; then ultimately, the heart. She would die.

You will not die.

A sudden blast of stern emotion filled her mind as his thought sliced into her. She felt his utter determination to prevent her death.

Spock...

Spock broke into her thought, attempting to quell her response with the pretense of logic. Concentrate on your breathing, Christine. You must not think of death. Negative emotions hinder the body and are self-fulfilling.

And what of positive emotions, Spock? Christine asked as she tried to reach past the mental shield he had once again erected around his feelings, even as she willed her free arm to surround his waist and pull him closer so that their bodies would touch at chest and hips as well as with lips.

They are irrelevant to the task at hand, he coldly pronounced as he mentally pushed her back.

No, they aren't! They sustain life, as surely as the air does.

Silence greeted her, and Christine suddenly realized what she was doing. She was trying to force him to confess to something that he didn't feel... couldn't feel...

She let her arm drift to her side. She wouldn't spend her last hours trying to force him to be other than what he was. She loved him too much for that.

I'm sorry, Spock. The carbon dioxide must be effecting me more than I thought, she began, her mental voice returning to the low, calm voice that normally characterized her. Forgive me.

Again silence greeted her and she mentally drew into herself before she heard his voice speak to her quietly.

The cause is sufficient.

With that, he lowered his shield just enough for her to feel his forgiveness before changing the subject. Explain to me the properties of the aramethea. I did not have time to study its effects and properties before we beamed down...

Gratitude flowed from Christine. She knew he was lying; he could probably give her a dissertation of the flower that had brought them to this world. But he was reaching out to her in the only manner open to him, and she gratefully responded, launching into a complex medical explanation that would engage them for most of the hour and thirty minutes left of her life.

... I hope that... this world will give us ... the abundant supply that we need... that we weren't stuck here for no--

Christine's mental voice trailed off. She was so tired. She couldn't think anymore. She had to sleep.

Christine, Spock's gentle mind voice prodded at her consciousness. Please continue. You did not finish your sentence.

Hmmm? She mentally shook herself. Was I speaking, Spock? Everything was so fuzzy now. I don't remember...saying...

She could feel consternation emanating from him. What was wrong? She needed to sleep... she would think more clearly in the morning.

Christine! Spock's voice took on a sharp note. You MUST stay awake.

... She must be having a dream... Spock was with her... lying beside her... calling to her... she didn't want to wake up.

Suddenly she felt a pain in her back... someone was pulling her to them... she could hear their heart beat... why did that make her back hurt? The pain pulled her out of her sleep just a bit and she could hear her name being called.

Spock? she asked in confusion. Is that you?

Yes, Christine. His voice was softly commanding; it compelled her. It had always compelled her.

You have such a beautiful voice, Spock. I've always wanted to tell you that, she said, not questioning why he was beside her or why she could feel his open lips on hers. She gently pressed her lips to his. I'm so glad that you came back to the ship, Spock. It wouldn't have been the same without you... that was my one regret when I left for Medical school... knowing that I wouldn't see you again...

You have done well, Christine, he responded quietly. You are a fine doctor. And I too am glad to be on the Enterprise again. Amongst those who ... care for me.

Christine could feel herself smile against his lips at his words. We always will, Spock. I always will...

She didn't hear his reply as she drifted to sleep.

* * *

She felt comfortable... and pain-free... and she could feel a bright light on her eyelids. Maybe she was dead.

... but she could also hear voices... familiar voices... one of them sounded like... Leonard.

She smiled. Then she couldn't be dead. He sounded as caustic as ever.

"She's coming around. We'll talk about this later, Spock. Chris? Chris, wake up. You're home."

Christine slowly opened her eyes, wincing slightly at the bright light that she hadn't seen for what seemed like ages. As her eyes adjusted, she could make out two people next to her bed: Leonard, and a tall, thin Vulcan who had his hands folded behind his back...

"Len," she said softly, her voice rough with sleep. "How's Lindsey?" Her question was directed at McCoy but her gaze drifted to Spock, and they shared a gaze of silent communion. And as she looked at him, she felt as if she could still faintly hear his voice, like a song you heard from a far distance. You knew that it was there. You felt the beat, but you couldn't quite make out the melody. But it didn't matter in the end, because what you did hear was beautiful. And in that instant, she knew without question that Lindsey was alright...

"He's alive," McCoy was replying as she reluctantly pulled herself away from the sensation that she was feeling, not knowing if it was real or just a phantom of a tired brain.

"Apparently, the higher elevation kept him from experiencing the worst of the CO2, though he had still stopped breathing about a minute before we got there. But his heart was still going, so we were able to ambulate him. He would have certainly been dead at the ground level where you were. There was some brain injury from the subdural hematoma, but I think he'll make a full recovery, in time."

"Good. I'd like to look in on him," Christine started to slip her legs off the side of her bed, and found herself restrained by McCoy's hand. She sighed.

"Easy there. You still have 3 broken ribs that need to be rested up. Not to mention, just getting over CO2 poisoning. Just sit back and relax, Chris." Christine rolled her eyes at him, laying back upon the slightly tilted bed in resignation.

"I must say that we almost missed Lindsey up there on that ledge." McCoy took a long look at Spock before continuing. "The sight of you two lying there, locked together, almost shocked the landing party into coronaries. I was tempted to issue smelling salts all around."

Christine smiled faintly at McCoy, knowing full well that he was pumping her for info. "Sorry to be an inconvenience, Len." Looking back at Spock, she lost her playful expression and became serious. "Spock saved my life. I'm grateful."

"No thanks were required," Spock replied in the first words he'd spoken since she'd awakened. "It was logical to preserve the ACMO. Otherwise, we'd be left with only one primary physician." He glanced over at McCoy with his trademark look of long-suffering. "A situation to be avoided, whenever possible."

Christine laughed softly at Leonard's affronted look. Len must be giving Spock a hard time. She'd have to put a stop to that when they had a chance to talk alone.

McCoy looked at the two of them for a moment before hmmf-ing again. "Well, I guess that I'll leave you alone to sleep, Chris." He glanced again at Spock who showed no signs of turning to leave at McCoy's obvious dismissal.

"You have 5 minutes, Spock," McCoy said, raising a finger and shaking it in front of him. Then he turned and left, giving Christine a weird searching look before he walked out of the door.

Christine watched Spock and he watched her, in the silence that followed. Neither spoke for a moment until, finally, Christine broke the silence.

"Speaking out loud seems strange," Christine commented softly. "I feel like I'm shouting in an echo filled cavern. I hear my voice and it seems too loud. Too clumsy."

"It is a common occurrence in a meld such as this one," Spock spoke just as quietly, as if he too felt speech to be clumsy. "It will pass in time."

She nodded, afraid of bringing up the feeling that she had had earlier, but also needing to know if it was real. "When I asked about Lindsey, I could swear that I could hear you, telling me that he was alright. Did I imagine it, Spock?"

She didn't want it to be a phantom sensation, like an amputee who still felt pain in their severed limbs. She wanted to know that she had had heard one last song.

His aspect softened almost imperceptibly. "You did not imagine it. The... feeling of... connection is real. But it too will fade in time."

Christine lowered her eyes and looked at her hands, which she held against her stomach. "I suppose that you must be relieved. I want to apologize for any discomfort I may have caused you."

"In the merging of two minds, there are always moments of 'discomfort'. We could expect to be no different. I suffered no hardship." His voice held a note of quiet certainty as he gently dismissed her words of apology. "The meld was logical and necessary... and not without beauty, Christine."

His words sent her searching his face and she watched wordlessly as Spock reached over to an adjacent nightstand and picked up a flower, which he placed on the monitor arm of her bed.

Christine picked it up and smelled it. The scent of the aramethea was sweet and light and she succumbed to the urge to bury her face in its blossom.

"The flower is from the samples you gathered. We've analyzed the plant. This particular strain has three times the diasinate as the currently used varieties."

She lifted the flower from her face then placed it back on the small table beside her, continuing to finger it in wonder. "Then our 'detour' wasn't in vain."

Spock gave her his patented look of surprise. "Scientific exploration is never in vain, Christine," he commented in feigned disapproval. "However, this is one of only a few flowers of this strain that was found in the field we discovered earlier. It stands to reason that there may be more of this strain in another field. We will need to make search for more of it's type. May I assume, when the good doctor releases you, that you would wish to accompany me?" Spock paused for a moment, waiting for Christine's nod of agreement before continuing.

"Perhaps, while we are searching, you could teach me to 'stop and smell the roses' on occasion."

Christine smiled and held their flower out to Spock, suppressing the shiver that ran up her spine as their fingers connected for a moment around the stem.

"I'd be very glad to do that, Commander Spock."

THE END

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