There wasn't much time to think. There was no warning; their sensors did not detect it. Spock certainly read the reports, all of which never accounted for this.
For the past two days people went missing. A Rogers here, an Olsen, there…
Two out of every five members beamed to the planet suffered from sporadic disappearances. Spock re-modulated his sensors to detect neutron radiation; he scanned the surrounding space for warp signatures or anything that could denote a cloaked ship.
Sulu was the first officer to come up with an explanation. He'd be on the planets surface for three hours and though his theory was slightly on the radical side of things, it did bear some merit.
Kirk insisted on accompanying the away-team to the planet's surface and since there were already three senior officers beaming down, the likelihood of the captain's disappearance doubled.
Spock gave his usual complaints and regulations but that smile won. Every time.
He just hoped he'd see it again, Spock thought as they searched frantically. He struggled with his tricorder, going over every last known location.
"Any luck, Mr. Spock?" The doctor asked in succession every ten minutes.
And every time, "No."
Spock twisted more knobs and looked over the horizon bleakly. The chances for survival dwindled at every passing hour.
McCoy decided to stay silent after the next ten minutes were up, feeling utterly useless until he could ascertain the captain's wellbeing.
"Commander!" Sulu barked from a distance.
Spock's head whipped to the sound and approached the excited helmsmen.
"What have you got, Lieutenant?" Spock set his tricorder on his hip and waited.
"I've scanned the region looking for the captain using a standard wide field sensor and turned up nothing. I went back to the sites of all missing crewmembers and began taking smaller more precise readings on the ground and vegetation. Every site showed a small struggle and then nothing, as though they were beamed on the spot. I got to thinking maybe they weren't beamed. What if they were lifted? My natural curiosity with plant life led to a startling conclusion."
"And that would be, Mr. Sulu?"
"One particular plant system has a series of carnivorous characteristics. After studying the vines I found what appears to be a contracting membrane with incredible durability."
"Are you suggesting these plants lifted the missing crewmembers?"
"This vine. It has the captain's skin cells on it. The vine system is very intricate, but if we can trace it down to its source, maybe we can find the captain."
Spock thought for a moment and quickly recalibrated his tricorder to read the specific signature of the plant Sulu grasped.
"Get as many men as you need on it and report to me every half hour."
"Yes sir!" Sulu took off to find the rest of the away team and signaled Scotty to beam down an extra compliment.
Spock immediately informed McCoy of the development, pleased at the doctor's renewed hope and rare smile.
Spock went to work carefully tracing each vine. He followed the vast matrix of purple spindles. Some stretched for miles.
Tracing the vine itself was proving to be useless, and the same reports from Sulu's team were less than encouraging.
"Lt. Sulu to Mr. Spock?"
"Spock here, what do you have Mr. Sulu?"
"A thought, Commander. What if we recalibrate our tricorders to detect energy levels? The furthest ends of the vine have fewer nutrients then others; I believe if we modify our tricorders to read the specific synthesis and its correlated energy levels we might have better luck finding the source."
"Do you have the specific signature configuration for such a calibration?"
As Sulu calculated Spock continued deeper into the jungle of purple webs.
A shift of light caused Spock to turn swiftly as a purple tendril slipped over his arms and waist, extracting a gasp of alarm from the Vulcan. Spock's communicator tumbled to the soil and with his arms locked firmly at his sides, his phaser was useless.
Spock heard Sulu's voice from the ground and immediately tested his strength.
The vine did not budge. Instead of lifting, it coiled about him and rolled, twisting him along the line at an alarming speed. It crushed his wrists and ribs as it used a wavering pressure to send him through the forest. Spock stayed conscious but he suspected that his human companions would have lost awareness in the next ten minutes. He fought to focus on his own physiology and slowly restricted the flow of oxygen to his brain. Spock had training over his body's responses and though the situation was tense, he was able to calm considerably through the manipulation.
As soon as Spock was able, he began making calculations based upon speed and distance. He hoped to extrapolate how far he would be from the away team and if Sulu was successful in the recalibration, approximately how long it would be before they caught up.
Vegetation became a blur, the constricting pressure became a numb constant, but the ache in his right wrist was persistent.
By the end of his trip he estimated he was at least 34.7km from his original position in 36 minutes. He made a note to look at that contracting membrane Sulu spoke of once this was all over.
As he made his descent toward the center of the botanical being, he saw an array of red colors and one golden spec.
The plants central system was housed in a deep lagoon. The depths were incalculable.
The water was crystal clear, but no end to the rooting system was in sight.
It made sense that the plant needed constant hydration for what it could do, Spock thought.
As Spock got closer he saw individual vines holding each federation member. All were unconscious, though not all were accounted for.
Out of the eight captured only three remained. Uniforms of the others floated eerily on the water's surface.
Spock was fastened and secured next to Kirk who looked all intents and purposes aside, unharmed.
"Captain!" Spock shouted.
Spock shot a glance at the two security officers. The last of which awoke rather abruptly.
"No NO! NO!" He screamed, the vine squeezing and contorting his body in painful ways before plunging the officer beneath the depths. He could see the officer struggle. In fact, the water was strangely clear for housing five dead people; Spock was at a loss to wonder how.
He had a long while to contemplate the exchange.
The plant held him beneath the water for exactly thirty minutes.
Another 19.02km and Sulu should happen upon them.
If this was a ritual and if the next security officer would be taken in the same fashion- then help would arrive at eight point seven minutes into his captain's murder.
More if they encountered complications.
The red haze Spock wondered about floated up and nearly touched his feet before a suction-like system absorbed it into the main root system.
Spock twisted his left arm slightly trying to reach his phaser. The angles were off and try as he might- he was still out of reach.
Spock's gaze settled on his Captain. He was thankful for the man's unconsciousness and hoped he hadn't experienced the other's deaths prior to his arrival.
"Captain!" Spock tried once more.
Jim's eyes remained shut, his cheek bruised lightly and his breathing labored.
But breathing, Spock reminded himself.
A shudder rippled through the vine and all became still.
Spock used all of his strength and reached, twisted, wiggled- anything. But the constant force holding him refused to reflect the lax reaction of the root system.
The plant took all of two minutes to absorb the nutrients and continue on. The pulsating energy was nearly tangible as the plant shook and vibrated. The next security officer was submerged.
Spock wished with all his strength that he could've prevented those deaths. For all his clinical and scientific output, most input was purely emotional. He would grieve silently as he recalculated their rescue rate with the digestion period of two minutes.
Spock absently wished he'd stayed with Dr. McCoy. At least the doctor could have picked up his communicator and reported what had transpired. The wish was short lived as he watched the inevitable color fill beneath his feet.
"CAPTAIN!" Spock tried again.
Two minutes and his captain would be submerged.
Spock, without the use of his hands, was skeptical if a mental calling would reach his superior officer. But thoughts of doubt were always meant to be tested. It was the way of his scientific mind. He tried, however, against the odds.
He failed. His captain did not stir, nor did he sense his mind. Spock was out of reach.
Just like the phaser. He held no power.
"JIM!" Spock screamed this time, using a dangerous amount of oxygen to call to his friend.
The vines shook. Rumbled. The vibrations began quickly and scooped Kirk into the air.
His light respiratory reactions would make his lungs a vacuum as soon as the shock of water hit them.
Spock estimated that Kirk would live for two minutes before his brain functions became critical. After that it was a question of will, and if the captain regained consciousness after the initial shock.
Spock had never felt so helpless in his life.
Kirk's gold uniform disappeared, and Spock was doomed to watch.
An unusual shudder and an immediate releasing occurred. The vine no longer held him and Spock's body plummeted into the water.
Spock immediately snatched his phaser from his hip and prayed it would work under the surface.
The end of the weapon bubbled, but gave no power.
Spock cursed to himself and watched as his captain's eyes remained closed.
Spock pushed himself to the surface as quickly as he submerged and drew in a breath for two.
He dove down and located the captain. His inner eyelids made the sting of alien water bearable. Forty seconds.
Spock reached Kirk, nearly 12.114 meters beneath the surface.
If he could just keep him alive for twenty-five minutes, the away team should arrive, and with the away team, Dr. McCoy.
Spock immediately connected his fingers to Kirk's temple, probing, and awakening. He gave his intent mentally so the Captain could respond and take the breath given to him without being startled.
Spock made a firm seal with his lips against his captain's and then opened his mouth to let air pass between them. Time was precious and as soon as the delivery was made, Spock pushed to the surface to reload.
When Spock came back he could see the distress and agony beginning. Kirk's eyes were no longer open and squeezed tightly. The lines of pain were upsetting, and Spock had to tap Kirk's cheek before he could administer the next round of oxygen. He waited for the bubbles of Kirk's exhale to cease before he reapplied his lips.
Kirk took from him quickly, desperately. Spock read the signs and tried to make his ascent quicker, more efficient.
Spock sucked in the air as soon as he hit the surface and sped through the water, his body now accustomed to how hard he had to push, and how long it took to get to Kirk's body. His hands reached out cupping the human's cheeks and pressed his life-giving lips to Kirk's.
Kirk's eyes flew open, wide and his throat hitched. He hadn't expelled the air he already held and would suffer doubly this round.
Spock quickly ascended, took another breath and raced down for the fourth time. Kirk coughed bubbles of stale breath and tried desperately not to open his mouth against the vacuum of water. Spock replaced his air as quickly as it left, and retreated to repeat the action.
Twelve minutes had passed. And once they neared the eighteen minute mark, time would be actively running out. It was around minute 26 that the blood started.
Spock returned again, his lips firm and hard against Kirk's. Spock's hand settled low on Kirk's neck behind his head, cradling him lightly as he tried to project strength to his captain through telepathy. He didn't have time for a light meld as he did when Kirk was first submerged, but it would have to do.
Spock's limbs burned, his muscles straining by the sixth descent. Spock traveled a total of 121.14 meters since he started.
And by the ninth time Spock broke the surface he doubted help would arrive in time.
Kirk was phasing in and out of consciousness, the pressures crushing him were reaching threshold.
And through their ninth exchange of air, Kirk seemed to get that feeling too. His lips pressed back at Spock's briefly and were less then conducive for obtaining oxygen. Spock let his fingers trace over Kirk's cheek and then to the back of his neck near his brainstem.
"Please live." Spock projected; his forehead touching Kirk's just barely before he rocketed to the surface.
He could hear the propagation of sound from the surface to the water as he ascended. Muffled voices and tones shattered Spock's senses.
As soon as he got through the surface he located Sulu crouched near the shore.
"SULU! Fire 50 degrees at the base of the submerged vine!" He gave the order with no need to watch if it would be carried out or not, gathered another breath and plunged beneath the water with renewed energy.
He raced downward, wondering if the time it took him to the order was too long for Kirk as his captain struggled to breathe.
The vine sizzled as its immolated end hit the lagoon with a sickening whine. Spock watched Kirk's body move as the end uncoiled and his form slowly ascended.
Spock intercepted him, stopped their succession and gave him one last breath. Spock couldn't help his arms that cradled his captain's head to his shoulder in a light embrace before he started kicking. Kirk's extra weight was difficult but manageable. Spock angled toward the shore. Even if Kirk were to get a lungful before they hit the surface, McCoy would be present to revive him.
Spock saw a hand dangling from the surface. He concentrated on it and pushed.
Spock felt Kirk's fingers tighten around his waist; he felt the gripping at his uniform and recognized the strain.
A few more seconds. Please.
Spock reached for the hand and grasped it tightly.
Sulu pulled them from the water and quickly secured the captain.
Kirk hacked violently as oxygen surrounded him. He expelled what water choked him as he met the surface. For a minute he had a look of relief as one of his body functions returned to normal.
The pain came next. He writhed, and screamed. When he finally sucked in, it was agony. Spock immediately dropped at his side and gathered Kirk's head in his lap. McCoy was taking readings, his eyes wide and his expression tense.
Spock used both hands to initiate a meld. The color of his captain's face was sickly and pale, his cheeks had yet to fill with color and it worried both First Officer and medic.
McCoy secured Kirk for beaming and made the order. Spock, against all emotional desires, remained on the surface to get Sulu's account.
"How did you find us, Mr. Sulu?"
"I used the energy signature and traced the main root system, my calculations worked. I happened upon a particular root bearing Vulcan DNA and fabric from a Starfleet uniform. I immediately severed it with my phaser, I assume that is how you were freed and the captain was still captured."
"Your timing was impeccable. Any further delay and our captain would be dead." His relief spoke louder of gratitude than anything else.
"How long was he under the water before we got there?" Sulu wondered aloud.
"Twenty-four point four minutes." Spock said gravely. Together they cleaned up the site and recorded the names of those that didn't make it back.
As soon as Spock materialized he went to his quarters and typed up the deceased reports.
Spock also sent information to Starfleet along with a preliminary report. He urged that the planet was be given a priority 4 threat alert. Any other follow-up missions Starfleet wished to acquire should be conducted with high caution.
If it were Spock's decision he would have the planet quarantined and left alone. But it was a lone suggestion of a First Officer. Whether Starfleet adhered to such an action was up to them. But eight deceased and a mangled captain were sufficient grounds.
"Spock to Sickbay."
"He's not out of the woods yet, I'll report to you when I'm not busy saving his life." McCoy answered briskly.
Spock didn't reply and went back to the deceased reports. After Spock made a few conference-vid calls he discovered exactly why Kirk hated doing them.
Mothers wept and fathers tried to look strong. Wives' jaws set firmly and angrily and then sobs would distort the audio inputs.
Spock tried to use words he'd overheard Kirk using as a source of comfort. He recounted the excellent service the men gave before that very service claimed their lives. He tried to put a proud spin on their lives, that their death was not meaningless. But no matter how he worded it from person to person, they all ended up as the same blundering mess. Emotion was never Spock's strong point. He had them, he controlled them. But the expression of them was so foreign he could not calculate the right response to some of the transmissions. He usually ended up shutting them off and feeling worse off for it. At least they were eight more reports Kirk wouldn't have to deal with when he recovered.
Spock stalked to the bridge, feeling the cold tension suspended low to the ground; as low as the gazes the alpha shift gave when Spock took the center chair.
"Do you have the reports I sent to your console, Lt. Uhura?"
"Three sir, the obituary reports, your preliminary account and the personal letter of suggested quarantine. Anything else?"
"No, that will be all. Please send them personally to Admiral Carter, and another copy to Starfleet headquarters."
Carter had been the instigator of the investigative mission and it was standard practice to send the reports back to the source.
"Mr. Sulu, prepare to leave orbit."
"McCoy to Bridge."
Spock hit the channel to Sickbay faster than anticipated and winced as his broken wrist decided to announce itself. He'd forgotten.
"He's stabilizing, please report to me when you're available."
"Once we have left orbit, head to the nearest Starbase. Warp factor 4. Contact me if needed, otherwise you have the conn Mr. Sulu."
Spock walked briskly to the turbolift. He contemplated resetting his wrist during the journey, but McCoy would probably be able to tell if he scanned him and being reprimanded was the last thing he wanted to deal with upon entering Sickbay.
The doors swished open and McCoy stood near the patients' archway with a post-surgery drink already in hand.
"How is his condition?" Spock asked.
"His organs were smattered together, some squished behind others and the configuration of his ribs was all out of whack. A lung collapsed during surgery and his heart stopped beating for six seconds but all and all he pulled through. You know I had to place every single organ back into their respective cavities? And hell I had to repair two or three cavities just so they could fit. Damnit all, he should be dead." McCoy's tone was a drone and denoted a very difficult battle between reporting his status as a friend and a skilled physician.
Spock took it all in. How very close.
"Now I read the reports. Can you tell me how the captain was able to stay under water for twenty-four point four minutes without so much as a lungful of water?"
"I supplied him with oxygen while he was submerged."
"My lungs." Spock recounted.
McCoy stayed silent, his bottom lip twitched and his eyebrow quirked slightly. He resigned to a firm hand on Spock's arm.
"I did what I had to Doctor, nothing more."
"You've brought my friend back to me perhaps more than I do for you, I think saving his life is a joint effort, and without you I doubt he'd be here today."
"You're right, he wouldn't."
"Damnit Spock, I'm just trying to thank you— "
"But you are right doctor." Spock interrupted. "It is a joint effort, and without you he'd also be lost to me. Thanks are illogical, but necessary in this case."
McCoy's terse expression broke as easily as it started and he smiled weakly.
"We'll let's hope we continue to keep him around for a bit longer, shall we?"
Spock shifted in agreement and peered over the doctor's shoulder.
"Can I see him?" Spock asked quietly.
"Yeah, he's not awake. I put him into a medical healing trance if you will—"
"He should be awake in three days. Until then there's not much you can do."
Spock left him anyhow and entered the room.
Kirk laid in one of the more advanced anti-grav. beds. His body was suspended and healing, his eyes closed and his heart beating. Spock wanted to reach out. He wanted to feel Kirk's mind alive and well but he knew that while he laid in a coma it was best to leave his body to heal.
Spock stood still and took in his captain's features. His cheek was darker now that the bruise had time to set in. His chest was wrapped and heaved uncomfortably with the assisted breathing apparatus. One eye was swollen and glossy with inflammation. His whole torso looked like a puzzle with jagged lines and surgical ink marking each incision.
But he was alive.
Spock reminded himself again and again.
"I'll check you out now, if you're satisfied with my work." McCoy insisted.
Spock slowly turned to the doctor and followed him to another bed.
Spock sat on the edge and held out his wrist in compliance.
"I know, it shakes me up too, seeing him like that." McCoy said but the ghostly look that took Spock's face remained.
McCoy breathed deeply before swiftly tugging on Spock's wrist, snapping the bone back into place. He took an infuser to his wrist and sealed the injury from the inside to ensure its strength.
"Try not to do any heavy lifting and I'll leave it out of a healing wrap."
"Do you want something to help you sleep? You look tired as hell Spock."
"No, my own functions will recognize that need as well and fall accordingly. If you'll excuse me, doctor."
"Yeah, yeah. And I'll call you when he wakes."
"I thought you said it would take three days?"
"Yeah, but you know Jim. He's climbed out of my coma's before, I'm not about to underestimate him now."
"Indeed. I will take my leave then, please inform Mr. Sulu any further command decisions are to be given to Mr. Scott."
"Have a good night. And don't worry; I'll take care of him."
"Of that I have no doubt, good night doctor."
Spock took his time walking to his quarters. His mind kept clouding with kilometers and minutes. Of seconds and close calls.
Eventually he made it to the officer's deck and stood in the middle of his room.
For a long while he didn't move. He should eat. He should sleep. He should meditate.
But he was still.
Spock finally settled his mind and started with incense. He lit two of them. One smelt of sand and dirt, the other of lush grass and ocean mist. As the smells filled the room he dialed in a small Vulcan dish. He ate slowly, the purple veins in the green leaves he requested drudged up a memory of the vines. He squashed down the feeling and ate the vegetation anyhow. He set the tray aside and began a more physical type of Vulcan meditation. He remained standing and stared at the smoke spiraling through his cabin. His heels lifted slowly until he was supported by just the tips of his toes. He brought his hands to his side then slowly up, over his head. His fingertips met, connecting the circuit of thought and feeling. He brought his joined hands down in front of his chest and simultaneously lowered his heels.
Spock continued his descent to the floor with purposeful twists and folds of his legs.
Eventually he ended up on the ground, cross-legged.
He began intense breathing exercises and began organizing his thoughts as he inhaled and exhaled.
At each inhale he found an emotion and by the time he exhaled he had categorized and placed it away. He did this for ten repetitions and when he could no longer categorize, he stopped.
His eyes opened to an unusual amount of disorder still floating through his mind, clogging his senses.
Anything that he couldn't reason with logic stayed for analysis.
Spock took another deep breath and stood.
He stripped down to Starfleet issued blacks and climbed into bed. His fingers steeple again, this time in front of his face, trying to focus the last bits of information.
Information that sent his heart racing.
Information that made his ears flush.
Information that hitched his breath during the most disciplined of breathing exercises.
He replayed the moments of confusion.
His hand on Kirk's neck was logical- he needed to calm his captain less he suffocate. But the moment focused on his thumb. The small circles they made were not for Kirk's benefit. They calmed him. They calmed Spock.
And the last press of their lips was firmer than simply providing a seal against the water surrounding them.
And it wasn't just action that puzzled Spock this night.
It was reaction.
Adrenaline could only be blamed for so much.
Spock's eyes snapped open. He realized the depth of his affection. It was as suffocating as the water had been deep. And as frighteningly clear.
Their embrace as he raced to the surface flooded him with warmth, and with a companionable reassurance that he wasn't alone through that moment.
He'd never felt the need for reassurance before.
How could he tell his captain? Should he know?
Spock's judgment was certainly compromised. He knew that. And any discrepancy in his judgment should be reported. His heart locked and tightened at his side the moment that vine plunged Kirk, Jim, beneath the depths of that lagoon. The other deaths had affected him, but not as severely.
It frightened him to think that he could hold a single life in a higher regard than another.
The conflict remained even as Spock slept.