Whumptober2020 Prompt 4: Running Out of Time
Caged / Buried Alive / Collapsed Building

...Yeah, I thought this one was actually the one on day five, where one of the words is "Rescue." That would have been perfect. That would have made everything easy. But guess what? That's day five. And I already posted day three, where I promised to have this done Sunday, so there went my planned story out the window! Let's see what happens now! And just to spite it, I'm going to try to use all three prompts. Ha. Take that.

WARNING: there are aftereffects of cruel treatment shown within this chapter, as well as peril. Please do not read it if it in any way upsets you.

OOOOO

"I think, Captain, our most logical course of action would be to wait."

"I don't like the idea of depending on Mr. Scott when Bones is still in danger," Kirk responded sharply.

I refrained from further comment. Ingenuity and stubbornness were character traits that made Kirk a successful starship captain, and it would be illogical to regret their presence in the present moment.

Furthermore, he was correct about Doctor McCoy.

"The ceiling should be accessible if you were to climb on my back, Captain. However, I would appreciate it if you refrained from falling. Doctor McCoy was most strident in his instructions to keep your head from further damage."

Captain Kirk laughed, hoisting himself up onto my back as I pent down. I straightened as much as I could and moved towards the wall. "Bones would diagnose the neighboring patient's problems if he was on his deathbed." He reached up and touched the ceiling where it joined to the wall. "It's quite soft." I heard a ripping sound, and the Captain's foot dug into my back as he shifted his weight. Very soon white dust and a substance somewhat similar to "straw" began falling around my head. "We can get through, Mr. Spock." Both feet dug further into my back—a most uncomfortable situation—before the Captain's weight vanished altogether. I straightened and looked up. The upper half of the Captain had vanished through a rough hole, and as I watched his black-clad legs and feet began wriggling around, attempting to get purchase.

Humans were so illogical. And we must reach Doctor McCoy quickly. We did not know the Merretorians' plans for him, but logic dictated they would be unpleasant. I reached upwards and put my hands underneath the Captain's feet, pushing. He pushed against my hands and disappeared a moment later; I jumped and caught the edge of the wall. With Vulcan strength it was an easy matter to lift myself gracefully through, and drop down to join the panting Captain.

"Thank you, Mr. Spock. Shall we move on?" As we walked away he glanced back. "I wonder why our hosts don't reinforce their prisons better."

"Warriors' quarters, Captain. I do not believe their spherical shapes are conducive to stacking. Such a method would not occur to them."

"Ah." The Captain increased his stride, a fast pace he adopted only when intent on danger. Or rescue. I did not object.

At that pace, we excited the space with metal doors in 45 seconds. There were no Merretorians in any of the circle-shaped halls, either guarding or walking, though we edged around every adjoining hallway as a precaution. Outside of the sandy amphitheater or the unpleasant prisons, the Merretorians appeared to thoroughly enjoy comfort, and their soft floors muffled our footsteps — and the movements of any of our captors.

"I believe we should follow the hallways with the larger doors, Captain. I have observed that the Merretorians give great architectural weight to size, not unlike humanity in its early settling stages. The Pyramids of Egypt, for example-"

"All right, all right, Mr. Spock, we'll take your suggestion. But do you think they keep their prisoners in those areas?"

I did not particularly want to correct him, but it is the Vulcan way to tell the truth. "The elite warrior called him one of seven sacrifices. Such a practice is new to their world, but I do believe, from the crowd's reaction, the sacrifices are believed to be of great importance."

"Sacrifices?" Captain Kirk paused, staring at me. "Barbaric."

"Indeed. But many pre-enlightened cultures are."

"We are getting Bones out of here. Now." He began walking even faster than before, and I wished to offer that human idea of "reassurance."

"Even if we do not find the Doctor, I believe our communication devices and phasers will be stored in the more important areas."

"Which would allow us to contact the ship, and locate Doctor McCoy with the ship's scanners."

The Captain had a pleasing habit of grasping the logic within suggestions quickly. However, logic did not always equate with results, particularly when wandering around a seemingly deserted building half the size of the Enterprise. We did not find the communicators, or anything but large, empty rooms.

"Look at this, Spock."

"I believe that is what they eat. It's a gelatinous substance made of minerals and water, which they absorb-"

"Perhaps another time, Mr. Spock." The Captain set the bowl and drinking straw back down. "It's still half full."

"It appears they left in a hurry, Captain."

"Yes, but I want to know why. Could this be a part of why their civilization, planet-wide, is dying?"

"Their sacrifices and battles would be enough to accomplish 43 percent of that without help."

The Captain grimaced. "But what started the sacrifices and the battles?"

"I do not know."

He stood, looking around the room. I had already observed, and could perfectly recall, all the scattered or organised contents. It had been a wealthy family who lived in these quarters, judging by the opulence and varying colors of the soft tapestries, the gold bowls and straws, and the breadth of the large room.

It was at that moment that I heard the muffled sound of movement from the hall outside, and I grabbed the Captain and tugged him down to one side of the door. He tensed, accustomed to these situations, and both of us waited, listening. The curtain over the door lifted itself into the ceiling a moment later, and a Merretorian rolled in, heading immediately for the table. From behind, I observed several dents in its shell, and all the appendages had veins that were noticeably darker than the rest of the blue body. Doctor McCoy would have diagnosed it with malnutrition the instant it came in, and would have snuck up behind it to hypo it with a mixture of minerals and a sedative.

His compassion went beyond logic. But it was one of the reasons he was a skilled physician, and his sedative would have been quite useful.

The Captain nodded at me, and we both moved quietly forward, flanking it. It had rolled right to the bowl, opening a part of its outer shell around the straw, and began sucking in the gelatinous fluid quite quickly. The Captain glanced at me and I nodded. I was ready.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded sharply. The Merretorian squealed, a high-pitched noise worse than the wail of a human infant, and rolled itself into a shivering ball. It clutched itself with all six appendages, staying in one corner, since we stood between it and the door.

"I just want the food! The food! And maybe a few things to live on! I swear, o gods, I did not mean to come between you and your sacrifices!"

"We are not gods," I pointed out. "We are aliens on your planet." Surely those facts were obvious to any thinking being.

The Merretorian uncurled its arms, and appeared to consider us. "You are the warrior and his prize." The Captain frowned at that, but I saw no reason not to acknowledge the actual events on this planet.

"That is correct."

"What are you still doing here?"

"Enough of your questions, where is Doctor McCoy, and why is everyone gone?" the Captain cut in sharply, and the Merretorian quivered, two of appendages wrapping around itself again.

"We felt the ground quiver beneath our feet, and the wrath of the gods always follows. We left the seven sacrifices here to appease their wrath, but if we stay, we're told the wrath of the gods will take us as well. But I was so hungry!" One of the appendages not curled around itself stretched towards the bowls still behind us. "I thought, if everyone left their food, I could just come and get some."

Captain Kirk glanced at me. "I believe this planet has tectonic plates, Captain. On Earth their movements were stabilized, but here-"

"They still cause destruction."

"I believe so, Captain. Though there is no prior record of it happening."

"The elite say the gods are angry!" Four of the limbs wrapped around the quivering sphere.

"So you fight for them, and sacrifice to them," Kirk finished, a hint of anger in his tone.

"We do not want them to rip the planet apart! There are monsters in the heavens, monsters ready to eat us if the sky were not between us!"

But my attention had moved forward, and I grabbed the Captain's arm. "If the quivering comes before the quake, and the sacrifices are left here, Doctor McCoy could be in danger." The Captain whirled towards the Merretorian.

"Where are the sacrifices kept?"

"In the cages under the gods' battling area!"

"The amphitheater," I put in.

"And where is that?"

"Down the hall that way, to the right, and then the tunnel leads right towards it!" The Captain began running and I followed. I did not stop to ask the Merretorian how one got from the amphitheatre to the cages; I was sure I could recall the way.

And I could. There were seven openings into the sandy floor, and we had been brought up the one 6 centimeters smaller than the rest. That tunnel led directly to the cages, rows upon rows of them, but six were lit by the faintly glowing blue light of Merretorians, and the Doctor would be with them.

I did not see any unlocking mechanisms in the entrance, but perhaps the cage could be opened from the outside. We ran for it, I arrived just before the Captain, and I went straight to examine the door, though I listened carefully.

"Bones?" the Captain panted. I heard him grab the cage bars. The door appeared to be fused to its frame. There must be a way to unfuse it. "Bones!"

"Jim?" The Doctor's voice was slurred, half awake, and I took a moment to examine him. Within seconds I was attempting to rip the door from the frame. Both his arms were bent at angles that indicated they were broken, half his face was covered in drying blood, and the other sported a darkening flesh around the eye. White bone jutted out above one ankle, and he was caged, and we could not get to him, to relieve his pain.

"That's it, Bones. That's it. I'm right here. We're getting you out." I returned my attention to the door; it was the only way through to the Doctor. Apparently the side I had been examining was not the side that opened, but the other side had a series of tiny latches between the frame and the door itself that required an unlocking mechanism. And from behind me I heard the Captain ask the question that I, as a Vulcan, should not dread. "Spock?"

"I cannot open it, Captain."

"There must be a way! We've got to get to Bones!" Instead of answering I tested my strength against the bars again, both on the door and on the cage walls. I could not move them. The Captain looked around, and I hoped—as illogical as it might sound, but the Captain's ability to turn the smallest of things into a means of salvation led to hope being a logical response—he would find something, but when he looked back at me, I knew he had not. Both of us turned to the man in the cage.

"The green-blooded hobgoblin with ya?" And there was his voice change, what those on earth referred to as a "Southern Accent." It was not a good sign.

"I am here, Doctor McCoy." I was a Vulcan, and I would be calm.

"I thought Vulcans were peaceable folk," he slurred. "An here ya are, a warrior."

"Presently, Doctor, I am not fighting anyone, but attempting to find a way into your cell." The Doctor snorted.

"Scotty'll be beaming us out soon, an' ya won't have to."

It is the Vulcan way to speak the truth. "We should have been beamed out 6 minutes ago, Doctor, just after the Captain and I entered the cages. I believe the minerals in the rock above the cages may interfere with the ship's scanners."

"Then one of us has to go back outside, and return with a phaser and a security detail," Captain Kirk put in. Neither of us would leave the Doctor alone in his present condition, but I knew both of us would wish to stay. It would not be in keeping with my oath to Starfleet to leave the Captain down here to face danger alone. And my greater strength had a higher probability of removing the Doctor from his confinement, but I knew the Captain would disagree.

Before we could state our cases, however, the ground underneath us lurched, pushing both the Captain and myself into the bars. I caught him before he could hit his head, ignoring the pain from the elbow I'd used to cushion it. I glanced at Doctor McCoy—both his eyes had opened—and looked around.

The ground moved again, rising up underneath us, and the Captain and I dropped. On the ground, I caught the sound of creaking. It came from overhead. I reached out and grabbed the Captain. I rolled us towards the cage side, hoping it would support enough of the cave roof, and glanced through to see if I could pull Doctor McCoy closer.

He was too far, and he couldn't move. I stuck one foot between the bars and wrapped both hands around it, pressing the Captain and myself against it, and deep within the human part of me, I hated that I was leaving Doctor McCoy to face the danger alone again. My first choice led to this, and I hated it, with all my half-human soul, before my Vulcan mind reasserted itself, and left me ashamed.

We rode the quake out, my focus going more and more to dull the pain from my elbow as I kept us near the bars. When the ground finally stilled, I let go but did not move. I was listening.

And I heard it again. The groaning of stone cracking, jostling, falling, the sound of an avalanche. Moments later the ceiling fell, and all I could hear was the roar, and all I could feel was the stones hitting me, and the Captain trying to move from underneath me. I did not let him. One of us would survive this.

And I could not stop my brain from running through the options, seeing if there had been any way there could have been two. Whether I could have saved the Doctor as well.

When the pain finally stopped, there were two large rocks resting on my leg and on my shoulder, judging by the pressure. And I was alive. The odds of that were small enough I knew I would be running the probability matrix latter, and it would yield fascinating results.

But that was for later. Now, I tested moving myself, pushing up, and I collapsed, my elbow snapping under the pressure. I breathed. And breathed again. There was no pain.

"Spock, don't move. I'm going to get out from under you." Logic did dictate the crew member who was more whole should do the moving. Though the unpredictableness of the Captain and a delicate rock formation should prove an interesting combination. I gave our survival a 42.6 percent chance as the Captain's torso moved out from under me, pushing rocks off as he went.

I gave the doctor a 12.4 percent chance. I had to ask. "Captain, do you see the Doctor?" The Captain stopped moving.

"No," and his voice was subdued. "Spock—he had to survive all that. He's still under there, buried alive, and we'll get him back."

I did not answer.

"One of the sides of the cage is down, we can get to work rescuing him as soon as we're clear ourselves."

A 12.4 percent chance. It was still a chance.

"I can get up," I heard the Captain say, and as his legs disappeared from under me—dragging painfully along my ribs on the way out—I collapsed onto the ground.

And it was then, with my head on the ground close to my fingers, that I saw my fingers begin to disappear in a familiar yellow light.

Of course, I thought as my fingers reformed on the transporter pad. The removal of the stone above us meant the Enterprise's scanners could locate us. I shoved myself up on one arm, looking around, to see Captain Kirk, covered in dust, already sharply ordering sickbay to the transporter room, and there, on the pad, was Doctor McCoy. I moved over to him, putting two fingers beneath his ear to check his pulse.

It was still beating.

He was still alive.

The Enterprise defied the odds, again and again. Nurse Chapel came rushing in the room and I moved away, listing the injuries I'd observed to her as I did, and helping move Doctor McCoy to be transported to Sickbay. Someone, unfortunately, noticed my arm, and I was required to go to Sickbay as well. I waited, listening to the Captain ordering an armed team down to the quake site to see if any of the other sacrifices survived, and also ordering a planetary quake expert to be assigned to this planet to see if they could teach the race about the fault lines before the race extinguished itself.

At that point I pointed out that his presence was required in Sickbay just as much as mine was, and that he could log his report there, after both of us had been seen to. "And we could also check on Doctor McCoy," I added quietly, knowing that would convince him.

It was indeed his first question upon entering, and we found that, though there was severe internal bleeding, he had been stabilized, and already his bones were being reknit. Doctor M'Benga predicted an order of three days of bedrest, though he doubted Doctor McCoy would stay in bed for more than one. I did not disagree. At that point the nurses, trained by their CMO to be as demanding and authoritative as he was, had pushed us into our own beds, well within eye-and-ear-shot of each other, and they were prepping my arm. Within 30 minutes, the Captain's hurts seen to and Doctor McCoy resting as comfortably as was possible, I lay back and entered a healing trance.

When I woke, Doctor McCoy was still sleeping. The Captain was sitting in a chair between his bed and mine, watching the Doctor. And I knew the look on his face.

"What troubles you, Jim?"

The Captain smiled at me and moved over, allowing me to get off the bed and stand near McCoy's. "I was thinking of the choice you made, and of an old earth quote."

I thought back to my hatred of that choice, when the roof was falling in. And yet logic told me there had been no other. "I could not have made another choice, Jim. And the Doctor, I think, knew that."

"Because for you, it was not a choice." He sighed, before moving forward to check one of the readouts above the Doctor. "No more than there would have been for me, between a crewman and the Enterprise when fully staffed."

"We all have that first allegiance," I agreed. "What was the Earth quote you were thinking of?"

The Captain smiled, turning towards me. "I don't remember all of it. Just someone singing, 'You have no control over who lives, who dies'...and something else, I can't remember the rest."*

"And who tells your story," a voice rasped, and both of us turned back towards the Doctor. "It's an old Earth musical. 'You have no control over who lives, who dies, and who tells your story.' How the blazes did I get here?"

"The roof caved in, and Scotty got us out. You're safe, Bones."

"'Bout time." The Doctor pushed himself up on his elbows and glared at both of us. "How hurt did you idiots get, before we got out?"

"Minimal injuries, Doctor," I put in. I doubted provoking an argument would leave him with the energy to stay awake for long, and Jim needed the reassurance of seeing him move, hearing him speak. "Both of us are well rested and fully healed." The Doctor sank back, running his eyes over both of us.

"Seems you did. Well, that story's finished, anyhow, and I can't say I'm sad to end it."

The Captain grinned, looking from the Doctor to myself. "Then shall we go on to the next chapter, gentleman?"

OOOOO

*From the musical Hamilton, which I have never seen but really want to.

A/N: This story got wildly out of hand. This last chapter is 3,600 words long. I really shouldn't be doing this on the weekend, I've still got Crown of Life's last chapter to write!