Chapter 21

Kirk was gasping for breath by the time he reached the rocky outcrop. He sunk down onto a low rock and rummaged in the bag for the first aid kit. As expected, there was a hypo of tri-ox, which Kirk gratefully jabbed into his arm. He then dealt with the problem of dehydration by slugging down a good measure of water from his canteen. He could feel the sun beating down on his head, and chided himself for not donning the protective headgear sooner. That would be just great, wouldn't it? The hero of the Galaxy, the Great James T Kirk, strides off into the desert like Lawrence of Arabia on a mission of mercy, only to die of heat stroke.

He looked up at the sky, shading his eyes from the glare. It was nearly mid-day. He had to take shelter before Vulcan's fiery sun cooked him alive.

He scanned the rocks for a suitable place, and hoped that Ashan had made the same decision. Vulcan's Forge was a very well named.

By the time Kirk had found an area of shade amongst the rocks, he was sweating and breathing heavily again. Perhaps this wasn't such a bright idea. Perhaps he should have waited for Spock to return and let him deal with it all. After all, humans were extremely ill suited for survival in these conditions. Vulcan's of course were almost born to it. It occurred to Jim then, that Ashan was probably swell suited to it too. Wouldn't it be just dandy if the boy had to rescue him?

Then he heard it. A sound he had heard before, and one he had hoped never to hear again. It was a cross between a growl and a hiccup, and it was much nearer to him than was comfortable.

He scanned the local area but could see nothing. That was not so surprising. The le-matya, a large desert swelling carnivore that looked like a green mountain lion with scales, would be crouching among the rocks. You never saw a le-matya until it was going for your throat.

This time, when he heard the growl, his ears triangulated on an extremely rocky area at the top of the rise. The animal seemed to be moving away from him, and it was definitely hunting something. They were silent until nearly ready to attack. Whatever this one was stalking, was about to die.

Kirk quietly picked up several large stones and began picking his way over the rocks, hoping that the animal would overlook his approach in favour of its prey.

He had only gone a few meters when he saw the beast leap from its cover, and pounce on something. He heard a scream and knew it was Ashan. He covered the rest of the distance in seconds, but Ashan and the le-matya had evidently fallen from the ridge onto a natural amphitheatre of rock. It was too deep for either of them to climb out, and so they circled each other warily, the le-matya looking for an opening to attack, Ashan looking for a weapon.

Kirk hefted the largest of his rocks and threw it with unflinching accuracy at the prowling beast. It skidded sideways and roared in pain, as the rock caught it just above the eye. Forgetting momentarily about its intended victim, the huge beast leapt at Kirk, fangs flashing in the sunlight. It failed to reach to top of the ridge, but not by a large margin.

Kirk looked around for another weapon and spotted a long piece of bamboo-like wood. It was heavy enough to do serious damage, so stripping off the lower branches by hand, Kirk returned to the spectacle below. Ashan had picked up some rocks of his own by now and was keeping the animal at bay with several well aimed shots to the head and body. Kirk didn't want to distract him, so he waited until the two combatants had circled and Ashan was facing him, to throw the weapon down to him.

Ashan leapt up, caught the heavy branch in one hand and brought it round in a wide arc, smashing it into the le-matya's head.

The animal howled in pain as it rolled several times under the impact. Ashan was sweating heavily. Kirk noticed the tear in his tunic. Damn! The poison from the le-matya's claws would work quickly to paralyse the boy, who was already weakened by the heat and the fight. Kirk knew he had to do something fast. He located another smaller branch and with a banshee wail, he launched himself into the arena, landing heavily between Ashan and the deadly beast.

Now faced with two potential foes, the animal slowly backed off, until it was up against the wall. Kirk locked eyes with it, and slowly backed away until he stood beside the boy.

"Did it break the skin?" he asked through clenched teeth.

Ashan pressed his hand against the tear and it came away covered in green blood. He began to shake, either with fear or as a result of the poison, Kirk couldn't tell, The first aid kit contained the antidote but it was still up on the ridge.

"Try not to move too much. It'll just speed up the reaction."

The le-matya growled again and began to slowly advance on the two men. Kirk jabbed at it with his stick, but the animal didn't react this time. It circled to the left, focusing all its attention on Kirk, as if realising that the boy was no longer a threat.

Ashan dropped his weapon and sunk slowly to his knees. Kirk kept the boy behind him as he faced the snarling le-matya. "Kirk..." the boy gasped, "...let it come for me. You can climb... to safety... while it is distracted."

"No way." A poison tipped claw shot out and clipped the end of Kirk's stick.

"You must... save yourself. My father... my father would be most..."

The le-matya gathered itself to spring, and Kirk took a steadying breath. He had fought a le-matya before, but that had been nearly 25 years ago and he had been much fitter. He tried not to remember that the animal had almost won back then.

The odds against surviving his time were small, but Kirk specialised in beating bad odds, and besides, he would rather die that let the beast have Spock's son. He held the stick in both hands and waited.

The beast leapt, and Kirk slammed the stick into its face. The impact threw him backwards, but he allowed himself to be borne to the ground. Lifting his feet up into the animals midriff he rolled backwards and kicked so that the le-matya flew over his head. It landed some feet away. Kirk scrambled to his feet, clutching at his hip where something hard had dug into it. His hand closed on a small object nestled in his pocket, that until this moment he had completely forgotten about.

The le-matya was on its feet against and coiling its heavily muscled body for another jump. Kirk whipped out the phaser, aimed, and fired.

Nothing happened.

He had a second to realise that he had pressed the wrong button, before he saw the beast leap again. He had no time to heft his stick, no time to roll out of the way, no time to do anything but raise his arm to protect his face. The ferocious hiss of the leaping predator suddenly turned to a howl of pain as it was caught in a phaser beam set on full intensity. It was held for barely a second before disappearing, leaving a lightly acrid smell hanging in the air.

Kirk dropped his arm and gazed in awe at the empty space before him. He sighed in relief, and turned in the direction from which the phaser had been fired. On the top of the ridge behind him, a figure stood silhouetted against the sun.

"Spock, get the first aid kit. Ashan need the le-matya venom antidote," he yelled, shading his eyes from the sun's glare.

There was no answer from the shadowy figure on the ridge. Kirk took a couple of steps backward. "Spock...?"

Suddenly, the figure jumped, and landed in front of Kirk. He looked over towards the boy, who was now nearly unconscious. Reaching into the folds of his long flowing tunic, the stranger pulled out the first aid kit, and tossed it to Kirk. Catching it deftly the captain hurried to Ashan's side, and fitted the correct vial to the hypo. He hoped that the dosage was the same for Romulans as it was for Vulcans. Within a moment, the boy's breathing had steadied. Kirk straightened and regarded the stranger coolly.

"Thank you, sir. You saved our lives."

"A most interesting diversion. For a while there, I actually thought you would win without my aid."

Kirk too a step forward, his brows drawing together angrily. "You mean you were watching all that? How long?"

"Long enough to know that the boy is of some importance to you. You were willing to die in order to save him, were you not?"

Kirk had never seen this man before in his life, but somehow he knew exactly who it was that had saved his life.


"Oh, well done, Kirk. Now that the introductions are over, it is time for us to leave this place, pleasant thought it is."

The being raised his hand, but Kirk interrupted him.

"Wait! We can't leave the boy here. He'll die."

"That is of no import to me, but it may be interesting to see exactly how far you would be willing to go to protect him." Lien appeared lost in thought for a moment. "Very well, bring him."

Kirk hauled Ashan to his feet and they disappeared in a blinding flash of light.

Three hours later, Spock found Kirk's bag amongst the rocks and located the stone amphitheatre where signs of a struggle were still evident. There, he found a broken stick covered in red le-matya blood, and a discarded Starfleet issue phaser. He also found spots of green blood in the sand, but here the trail ended. With a sense of deep shock, Spock realized that he had failed to protect Kirk from the Q. And it had also cost him the life of his son.





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