Spock wasn’t sure if it was the throbbing headache or the sharp rock jabbing him in the back which brought him back to consciousness. Suppressing a groan, he sat up, eliminating the problem with the rock, at least. But his head still pounded and he gingerly felt through his hair until his fingers found the sizeable lump that was the source of the problem. How did he get that? he wondered. And where was he?
Slowly he got to his feet and looked around. He was standing in an arid wasteland of wind-sculpted sandstone, scrubby grey bushes the only vegetation in sight. It was extremely hot and the stiff wind that blew down the hillside behind him kicked dust and sand into the thin air and swirled it away into an orange sky. Surface gravity was a bit heavier than the Earth-based 1G he had grown accustomed to on the ship, but it felt comfortable. Moreover, it felt right. That puzzled him for a second, then he knew the reason why. His body was adjusting naturally to the gravity field in which it had formed. Instinctively, he knew that he must be on Vulcan. He just didn’t know where on Vulcan. Or when.
He and S’Von must have accidentally fallen through the Guardian together. But to where? And where was S’Von if they’d come through at the same time? Looking back up the hillside, he pinpointed where he must have exited the time portal. About halfway up, the sand and gravel was abruptly disturbed and a mussed trail ended at his feet. Obviously, he had fallen through onto the angled surface, found no solid ground underneath him and tumbled down the hillside, probably hitting his head on a rock in the process, thereby rendering himself unconscious for an unknown length of time. He saw no other trail and then remembered that S’Von had gone through the Guardian a split second ahead of him. That small difference could be significant. The speed at which the Guardian presented the timeline could mean that S’Von had emerged in another time period altogether — a week, a month, even a year before his arrival. He could be anywhere.
any real hope of an answer, Spock pulled out his communicator and flipped it
open. “Spock to
He started up the hillside, crumbling scree and sand slowing his climb. When he reached the point where he’d come through to this world, he stopped and felt through the air and around the hillside, with the faint hope that he could relocate the portal. But any interdimensional opening that had once existed was now closed. Dismissing that probability, Spock continued to scramble up the hill. It wasn’t far and eventually he made it to the top where he surveyed his surroundings from the higher vantage point, shielding his eyes from the wind snapping at his clothing and whipping his hair into disarray. There was nothing as far as the eye could see but endless mesas and buttes, weathered rock formations and canyons, all in muted shades of ochre red and gold.
And then, as he turned toward the east, he came upon a sight that brought him up short. Far off on the distant horizon rose the cone of a distinctively shaped mountain. It was so familiar that he caught his breath and stared, for he knew it intimately. He’d grown up in the shadow of that mountain, known its presence all his life, looming in the background of his family ceremonies and gatherings. It was Seleya. It had to be.
And if he had any lingering doubt that he was indeed on Vulcan, in the sky were two objects that put the question firmly to rest — the Eyes of Heya, the brilliant companion stars of Vulcan’s primary, Las’hark, known as 40 Eridani A to the humans. They burned bright even in the daytime, one white, one red. Listed on the starmaps as 40 Eridani B and C, Ni’ikhahl and Ni’ikhirch were part of a trinary star system, two dwarf stars locked in an eternal celestial dance with the star that Vulcan orbited, itself an orange dwarf. The Eyes had been revered and worshipped back into the distant mists of Vulcan’s history, and from the red one, Ni’ikhirch, Spock’s family took its ancient clan name — the House of the Eye of Fire.
He recovered from his momentary reverie and nodded to himself, feeling a totally illogical pulse of relief and joy at his relative proximity to home. No wonder his surroundings felt right. He was practically in his own backyard. ShiKahr must be only about 40 or 50 kh’eet away, if he could see Seleya from here. A long way on foot but perhaps there was a settlement or homesteading near where he could arrange transportation. He caught up his tricorder and began scanning the area.
Nothing registered that would be of any help to him, however. There didn’t appear to be any settlements within scanning range, and for the first time a very small degree of concern began to creep into him. He had come through the Guardian accidentally and had brought only what he had on his person — his uniform, communicator, tricorder and the phaser he had wrenched from S’Von’s hand just before they had fallen. He surmised that he was in the Se’han Hills, a wilderness area to the southwest of ShiKahr, bordering on the western edge of the vast stretch of nothingness known as Vulcan’s Forge, one of the most desolate and unforgiving stretches of desert on the planet. He had neither survival gear nor supplies and, while his uniform was fine for shipboard duty, it was not at all suitable for an area such as this. He needed a desert robe for protection from the sun and, more than that, he needed to find water soon. Although he could survive without food for a bit longer, that was essential as well. And shelter if he was forced to spend the night here. Le’matya roamed these hills and probably wild sehlats as well. There were other, smaller predators in addition to carnivorous plants that lay deceptively in wait for the unwary. There was little game and he was sure to be viewed as choice prey.
And he had another problem to consider. S’Von had escaped through the Guardian and it was logical to assume that he was somewhere roughly in the same time and vicinity. There might be distance and a degree of time between them, but Spock could not dismiss his responsibility of finding him. But what time period was this? It was impossible to tell from his surroundings just when he was. His duty was to locate and apprehend the renegade and take him back to the present under arrest.
looked around at the bleak landscape and sighed. That seemed a forlorn hope at the
moment. And, if an
Resetting his tricorder, he began scanning again. He had nearly given up when a small reading showed in passing. Quickly, he swung back the way he’d come and caught it again, finally narrowing the location and pinpointing it. North, about ten kh’eet. It was quite far away but he thought he’d be able to make it before the sun set.
Marking the location, he searched for a way down to the flatter land at the base of the hill and finally located a steep but passable route. He skidded down, slipped, caught his balance, and finally managed to make it. And there he found something else that captured his attention immediately — following the base of the hill was a wide trail.
Kneeling, he examined the dirt path more closely. It was hard packed from use but there were no fresh tracks in it. No evidence of wheeled vehicles was rutted into it, either. This was not a simple footpath, however. Several people could comfortably walk side-by-side along its length. It had the decided appearance of a road.
Spock stood and looked first one way along its length and then the other. There was little to see, for it curved around the hill and out of sight. Well, a road must lead someplace and the logical thing to do was follow it, especially since it was heading in the general direction he needed to go. Without further ado, he set off.
He hadn’t walked far when he realized that he had to have some sort of head covering. The afternoon sun was fierce. After giving it a moment’s thought, he stopped and peeled off his blue velour uniform tunic and then the black cotton t-shirt he wore underneath. He slipped the tunic back on then ripped the t-shirt down the front and tied it into a crude burnoose around his head. Barely adequate protection, but it might prevent sunstroke.
He walked steadily for three hours, periodically checking his tricorder to make sure he still had the water source located, and also keeping an eye on the westering sun. It would be a close thing and, if his destination turned out to be a water hole, he might have still more trouble to deal with, for it was sure to be a gathering spot for any wildlife in the area ... including the carnivores.
As the red sun was just touching the horizon line, the tricorder readings indicated that he had come parallel with the water source and needed to climb back into the hills about a half mile. As he was looking for a way to do that, he saw that a side path veered off from the main road, leading in that direction. Totally logical, he decided. Travelers would know all the springs in this wilderness and make use of them.
The sun had disappeared below the horizon when he reached the source, approaching it cautiously. As he’d suspected, it was indeed a watering hole. Slightly above him, water trickled out of a crack in the sandstone, staining the face of the hillside dark, and then pooled in a depression some twenty feet below. The depression showed evidence that it was regularly used by game in the area. Tracks and droppings abounded and the water didn’t look very potable. Better if he managed to catch it from its source.
And there he found another dilemma. He didn’t have anything to catch it in, other than his hands, and it would take quite a while for enough water from the seep to collect for even a modest drink. He drew back into the shelter of an overhang that formed a little cave in the hillside. It didn’t go very far back and was just about deep enough for one person to squeeze into if nearly folded double. It was impossible to stand or move much, but it was shelter and was somewhat defensible. In any case, it was getting too dark to go farther without risk from predators. He squatted down in the shadows to ponder the solution to the problem of obtaining water.
The twilight deepened as he sat there silently and abruptly his sensitive ears heard the quiet scratch of a hoof on stone. He quietly peered out of his shelter and saw that a half dozen orinda were picking their way down to the water. They were compact herbivores resembling Terran gazelles, reddish brown to blend in with their surroundings, able to live on the nearly indigestible desert scrub. There were three does and their fawns, their large ears flicking in all directions as they listened for danger. With infinite care, they moved forward, ever alert, then bent their heads to drink.
Despite his own predicament, Spock was fascinated. He’d always thought orinda were beautiful animals and had never seen any outside of a zoological park. Holding his breath, he watched them sip delicately at the water, their ears still flicking back and forth, large dark eyes scanning the surrounding area.
Without warning, there was a scramble on the rocks over his head and a long gold and gray-green body rocketed past, hurtling with incredible speed towards the water hole. The orinda reacted instantly, exploding into frenzied flight but it was too late for one of them. The le’matya had dragged down one of the does, fangs buried in its neck, large poison-tipped claws skewering the kicking body as green blood spurted and ran across the stone.
Startled badly, Spock burrowed back as far into his shelter as he could get, trying to still his pounding heart. He was stunned by the speed and savageness of the attack, sickened by the sight of the big tiger-like carnivore ripping chunks of bloody meat from its victim and gulping them down whole. And then a second chill went over him. The le’matya had been right above him in the rocks and he’d never realized it. If he’d stepped out from beneath the overhang, he would be lying there in its jaws instead of the orinda.
The cat settled down to enjoy its meal and showed no signs of leaving. Realizing there would be no water for him tonight, Spock sank warily back to wait, his phaser in his hand, set on kill.
* * *
At dawn the next day, the le’matya was joined by another, smaller one which was dragging an orinda fawn, and by three half-grown cubs. All five of them took up lazy residence beside the waterhole, alternately gnawing meat off the fast decomposing carcasses and sleeping in the shade. When the parents were asleep, the cubs quarreled over the remains, hissing and spitting and batting their big paws at one another, but careful to keep their poisoned claws sheathed. All around hovered lesser carnivores, all hopeful of a snatched mouthful. Their howling and fighting sounded like a chorus of demons as they prowled around the site.
For two days, Spock crouched back in his shelter, never daring to move more than stretching an arm or leg that cramped up or trying to work the knots out of his shoulders. During the days, the heat was nearly unbearable, for not a breath of wind made its way into his hiding place, and at night the temperature dropped to a chilling degree as the desert quickly gave up the heat it had stored during the day. Spock stoically endured the range of temperatures, but found that the worst thing about waiting through the heat of the day was the reek of rotting meat that permeated the area.
The stench of the putrid orinda carcasses was so strong that more than once he had to expend discipline over his stomach to keep from being violently ill, but it was a blessing in disguise. The stink of decaying flesh and the rank odor of the le’matyas themselves served to effectively mask his own scent from the predators that prowled around his hiding place. Intent on scavenging the orinda, they ignored him.
Thus, he waited without food or water and steadfastly foregoing sleep, fighting nausea and heat exhaustion that made his head pound. By the time the sun set and the temperature began dropping, he welcomed the evening cool. The relief was short-lived, however, because soon the chill of night set in and the cold gripped him in its iron talons. But at least his shivering helped keep him awake. He didn’t dare doze off with so many predators around him and yet, to his chagrin, he found the forced inactivity and fatigue made avoiding sleep nearly impossible.
Long after midnight on the second night, he was startled out of a doze by a growl and the snuffling muzzle of a hycal, peering into his hiding place and sniffing with interest at the fresh prey it had just found. Small black eyes glittering, it licked its chops and began advancing on him in a purposeful manner, teeth bared.
Spock gave an involuntary cry and slammed the heel of his boot squarely into the ugly creature’s snout. It backed off for a second, snorting in surprise and pain, shaking its heavy, grizzled head. Then it turned back to the man it hunted and crouched into an incipient pounce, yellow fangs bared and murderous intent in its narrowed eyes. The hair all along its spine standing erect, the hycal hissed viciously and lunged at him with extended claws.
Yanking the phaser up with lightning reflexes, Spock shot it point blank, the beam slamming it to a halt in mid-leap. The force of the blast knocked the creature back out into the open where it convulsed wildly then lay still. The rest of the pack erupted into an ear-shattering howling and attacked the carcass, ripping it to shreds and battling over the bloody scraps.
The commotion startled the le’matyas and the two adults launched into the hycal pack, scattering them with hair-raising roars. For a short while, pandemonium reigned around the water hole as the high-pitched screams of the le’matyas mixed with the hooting and snarling of the hycals and the yipping of jaq’a, small canid-like carnivores skulking around the edges of the site. Sak’ar, large vulture-like carrion-eaters, squawked and flapped into complaining flight around the area, while smaller flyers circled out of reach. Eventually, however, things settled down again and relative quiet descended over the night once more.
Spock shuddered involuntarily and sat gasping for breath, working to still his pounding heart. That had been a close thing. Hycals disgusted him, always had, although he knew it was illogical to hate a mere animal. But they were ruthless and had filthy habits, would chase down prey and eat it alive, then turn on any of their own who showed weakness and rip them to bits as well. The pack had nearly had him because he had let himself doze off.
He made sure that he did not make the same mistake twice. To keep himself alert, he worked out computations in his head, trying variables on a problem when he’d solved an equation. When he tired of that, he mentally field stripped and rebuilt all manner of hand weapons. By the time he’d made his way from class one hand phasers up to tripod-mounted cannons, the sky was beginning to lighten with dawn.
Over the course of the long days and nights, the le’matyas had demolished the two orinda. When all the meat had been gnawed or rasped away, powerful jaws cracked the bones for the marrow inside. Spock had waited through the interminable hours with a growing thirst, his mouth and throat so dry that he had begun to think seriously about blasting all the animals with his phaser and scrambling down to the muddy waterhole after all. It was insanity, of course. Even if he got past the le’matyas, the hycal pack would surely pull him down before he got halfway there. He couldn’t possibly fend them all off single-handedly, even with a phaser. And so he waited patiently. He had no other choice.
Now at dawn on the third day, he heard the big male get up and stretch, yawning noisily. The diamond markings on its gold and green coat rippled as muscles underneath the sleek hide moved. The male greeted his mate, rubbing cheeks with her, and the cubs followed suit, then drank from the waterhole and nosed around to see if there was anything left of the kill. There wasn’t. What the le’matyas hadn’t eaten, smaller scavengers had carried off, even the bone splinters disappearing down the burrows of insects. The male twitched his tail and ambled away from the waterhole, disappearing as he leaped up onto the rocks. The female and cubs followed him casually, the little ones taking time to have a quick game of tumble before scrambling up after their mother.
For a long time, Spock sat unmoving, straining to hear any sound. But, except for the wind, it was totally quiet. They had all gone.
Cautiously, he crawled out from beneath the overhang, phaser ready should an ambush be waiting, and gradually straightened up. Muscles, cramped up for too long, protested and knotted painfully. His knees ached and his back felt as if he were carrying a heavy weight. He waited long enough to insure that he was really alone, then scrambled over the rock face to the spring. Using the butt of his phaser, he hammered out a little bigger opening, then stuck the weapon against its fabristik strip on his trousers and quickly cupped both hands under the tiny trickle of water coming from the crack.
For a long time, all he did was fill his palms and gulp down the clear, cool liquid. He’d never been so thirsty in his life, even during the kahs’wan survival test when he was a boy. He’d grown lazy, he realized, living among humans who always had an abundance of water at their disposal. He rubbed a handful over his dusty face, relishing the cool evaporation it immediately provided. Finally, he turned his back to the cliffside and leaned his head back into the tiny flow, letting it trickle through his hair and down his neck.
thirst now assuaged, he remembered that he hadn’t eaten in over three days
either. His last meal had been breakfast
thinking what to do next. Obviously he
couldn’t stay here. It was too dangerous
and he would starve to death within the week.
His only hope was to get to a town or holding. He took up his tricorder again and scanned in
the direction of
At the edge of the device’s range, he picked up another water source, this one much bigger. About 20 to 25 kh’eet, if he estimated correctly. Sighing, he snapped the instrument closed. There was nothing to do but make it there. He turned back to the spring and drank several more handfuls of water. Then he soaked his torn t-shirt in the spring to help cool himself, tied the make-shift burnoose back around his head, and set out again as the red morning sun was breaking over the hills behind him.