"We lost nearly twenty hours?!"
Kirk was dumbfounded; he was certain dawn just broke when they first beamed down on the planet. His portable chronometer had clearly malfunctioned, and he glanced at Spock in an instinctive plea for help.
Spock shook his head, already aware of his unasked question. "I am not aware of any suspicious time lapse. It has been five point six hours since we beamed down and four point two hours since the current landing party assembled."
"Wait, did we lose time, or did we move forward in time?" Scotty asked, "These two things are completely different, ye know — "
"There's no way to know without a reliable reference," Sulu replied, grimacing. "Either way, it is now nearly fifteen hours later than it should be."
"Oh good," McCoy threw his hands up in the air in clear exasperation, "Not only am I a doctor, but apparently now a time traveller, too." He gave Kirk the evil eye, as if it was all his fault.
Kirk deflated. "Bones — "
"It could be worse," McCoy continued, ignoring Kirk's protest, "Next thing you know, we could've aged fifteen years."
A collective groan and a chorus of 'Noooooo's. Kirk made an decidedly un-Captain-like gesture and hissed: "Bones! Don't jinx it!"
McCoy gave an elaborate roll of his eyes and tipped his chin towards Spock. "Tell 'em," he said.
Spock made no move but to flick his eyebrow upwards.
"What, you hate me so much that you'll pass up a chance to tell us how illogical we are?" McCoy said, crossing his arms, unimpressed.
"Hatred is an emotion," Spock replied serenely.
Kirk snickered as McCoy looked dangerously on verge of Vulcanicide. "Okay, okay," he said, after reining in the inappropriate glee, "does anyone have any logical theories about how we ended up here?"
Chekov's hand shot into the air.
"Chekov," Kirk said pleasantly, turning. " Do share with the class."
Chekov bounced on his heels, eyes wide, barely able to contain his excitement. "I think we were at warp, sir!"
Kirk blinked. "Warp?"
"Yes!" Chekov nodded, gesturing with his hands wildly, "Ze way we normally enter warp is by creating a a space bubble, letting space trawel while we step out of it — "
"— And instead of a space bubble, we were in a time bubble," Kirk exclaimed, catching on quickly and snapping his fingers, "Which is how we were losing time — that makes sense! Spock! It could also explain why we ended up in that strange corridor, it's basically like dropping out of warp in the wrong place!"
Spock inclined his head. "A sound hypothesis," he said thoughtfully. "Yet we do not know whether dropping out of a time warp prematurely would create an alternate reality, or simply a glimpse into a different point in the same timeline. I am not certain where the corridor we encountered fit in, Captain."
Kirk opened his mouth, then closed it again, frowning slightly. He thought back to the empty corridor, the bloodied hand, and felt an involuntary shiver run down his spine. "We better hope it's an alternate reality," he mumbled, just low enough for Spock to hear.
A brief troubled look passed over Spock's face but he said nothing, only tipping his head in quiet agreement.
"Well, there's no way outta here," McCoy declared, turning a full circle with a whirring tricorder. "We are sixty feet underground, and that chasm isn't reachable even if we stacked a human ladder. That direction," McCoy pointed at the corridor from where they came, "is the only exit and I'm not sure how I feel about that, to be honest."
"Oh I know exactly how I feel about that," Uhura said, rubbing her palm, sounding vaguely annoyed.
"Do we have to go back there?" Sulu asked, frowning, "Who knows what more could be hiding in the shadows?"
"Aye, there are no other way out though, lads," Scotty said.
"Unless," Kirk spoke up slowly, eyeing the water, "Unless..."
McCoy groaned. "Dammit Jim, don't say it."
"... This water looks too fresh to be stationary," Kirk said, ignoring the doctor pointedly. "There must be some sort of way for it to flow around, replenish itself. There could be an exit underneath."
"Or zere could be man eating dragons," Chekov supplied helpfully. Then, at everyone's incredulous stares, he shrugged. "What? It's one of ze most famous Russian myths, you must have heard of it?"
"Well, let's hope it stays a myth," Kirk said. "Spock?"
Spock made a contemplative noise. "I also see a need to explore this underground lake further, but not at the present time."
"Why not?" Kirk scowled, "The longer we stand around, the greater the risks. I'd prefer to get back to the ship asap, if possible."
"That would also be my priority if not for the fact that the sunset has apparently brought out some... foreign creatures in the water," Spock said. "Observe."
They followed the direction of his gaze and saw, almost too quick to catch by the human eye, a fleeting shadow of something spiked jumping across the water and disappearing without even a ripple.
Scotty whistled. "That's sharp."
"And possibly dangerous," Kirk said, though his tone made certain that the possibility is more a fact. "What is that?"
As if on cue, three more shadows erupted from the lake surface and skittered towards the land, making the landing party yelp in alarm. Chekov fumbled in the backpack for a spare light stick, and they got a good look at the creature under the pale glow. It was small, fish-like but covered in spikes, which reminded Kirk of puffer fishes on Earth, only it was slimmer, smaller, and decidedly faster.
And apparently, it had wings.
Before he could respond, the creatures zoomed towards him at alarming speed, aimed directly at his eyes. A forceful push got him out of the way barely in time, and Kirk whipped around to see a sharp tear in the sleeve of Spock's shirt, where the creature made a brush with just seconds earlier.
"Holy — "
In a fit of panic, Chekov waved the light stick like a torch and jabbed at the creature, which recoiled momentarily. It buzzed around for a few seconds, bumped against the light stick, then suddenly redoubled its efforts, going straight for Chekov's hair.
"Ack! Get it off me!"
"Don't move!" Kirk aimed his phaser as Sulu, Uhura and Spock did the same, each with a phaser in hand, enclosing Chekov in a protective circle.
"I can't — it wants to get inside my head!" Chekov cried, looking like he wants to pull his hair out but afraid of actually doing it.
"Chekov, drop your hands and do not move, that's an order," Kirk enunciated, narrowing his eyes.
In the split second for Chekov to instinctively obey, Kirk seized chance and fired; the phaser caught the top of Chekov's hair and singed several strands. A loud screech, much louder than a creature of this size ought to be able to produce, then it fled from Chekov's head and started to whizz around aimlessly, angry.
"I think — I think it's afraid of fire," Kirk said, taking a deep breath, " — Chekov, you okay? "
"Yes Keptin!" Chekov answered, eyes wide. "I think so, Keptin! It must be afraid of ze heat, zat's why the cold light didn't work!"
Just as he said that, however, two more creatures rose out of the water and began to close in, their spikes raised, ready to strike.
"Oh hell — "
"I dun' know about you but the corridor is looking like a pretty good idea right now!" Scotty exclaimed, ducking just in time and narrowly saving his fingers.
"No!" Sulu blurted, phaser in one hand and sword in another, "With all due respect, sir, I'd much rather face an enemy I can see!"
"Okay guys, stay calm! We can handle this! We just need to start a fire — "
"How?!" Uhura yelled, firing her phasers in rapid succession with no success, "They are too quick for our phasers!"
"There must be something!" Kirk glanced around wildly, desperate, "I dunno — flint stones!"
"Flint stones?!" McCoy roared in disbelief, "are you a starship captain or not!?"
Kirk scrunched his face together as he dodged another creature's spiky wings and nearly tumbled when McCoy tossed him something from the medikit.
"What —" He stopped and held up a vial to the dim light, "Medi-grade alcohol — Bones, that's an excellent idea!"
McCoy gave an elaborate groan and muttered something about 'don't know how you keep yourself alive, kid, honestly, flint stones' before jumping behind another rock, covering Scotty. Kirk eyed the alcohol: there was only one vial and three of those creatures, so he only had one shot, if he was going to maximise the effect...
He glanced around and caught Spock's eye, who was watching him intently from behind a boulder close by. Upon gaining his attention, Spock looked pointedly at his hand, then at the creatures buzzing ahead, and nodded, once, phaser poised.
A slow, wide grin stretched across Kirk's face: those creatures have nothing on the best Command team in the Alpha Quadrant.
"Alright guys, watch out!" He yelled and grabbed the vial, waiting for the moment when the creatures flight path intersected. "Fire in the hole!"
It didn't matter that Spock may not have understood the reference. Just as Kirk threw the vial, Spock took precise aim and fired; the vial exploded mid-trajectory and an impressive flame flared from its centre. The creatures screeched, piercing, and made a turn towards the lake; within seconds they disappeared and the cavern fell silent again, save for their panting breaths.
Slowly everyone emerged from behind the rocks and boulders, phasers still cautiously clutched in hands, and tentatively checking each other for injuries. Thankfully, aside from Spock's torn sleeve and Chekov's smoky hairstyle, no one was worse for the wear. They watched the lake for a long moment, but the creatures seem to have recognised defeat and called it a day: the water remained eerily calm, not a single disturbance in the darkness.
Eventually the adrenaline metabolised and exhaustion began to settle in the bone. After the fifth fruitless survey around the cavern for an alternative exit, Kirk sighed and rubbed his eyes.
"Alright. Looks like we are making camp here."
"A logical course of action," Spock agreed, setting down his tricorder.
"Wait, we are sleeping here?" McCoy turned around incredulously.
"Unless you want to go back to the corridor, or go into the water," Kirk said pointedly, lifting an eyebrow.
"Damn, we are sleeping here." McCoy grumbled, though he too, looked tired enough to just curl up wherever he could. "I knew coming down the planet was a bad idea. I'm a doctor, not a — "
"Lifesaver?" Kirk offered with a lopsided grin, "The alcohol was an excellent idea. That thing would've poked all our eyes out if it weren't for you, Bones."
"Flattery will get you nowhere," McCoy said, jabbing a finger in Kirk's direction, still sounding vaguely annoyed.
"Cheer up Bones," Kirk said, slapping the back of his good friend in an attempt to raise crew morale, "It'd be like the good old days. Remember that one time we went camping back in the Academy?"
"Yeah," McCoy eyed him sarcastically, "You nearly had an anaphylactic shock to a wild berry. Fun."
"I do not believe there are wild berries present in this cavern," Spock offered.
Kirk laughed. "Thanks, Spock, I feel much better already." He nudged McCoy. "See, Bones? Spock here is a good friend."
McCoy rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Though I'm not sharing a blanket with you, kid, I've learned from my mistakes." He mouthed something Spock could not interpret in the low light.
"Bones! I'm hurt!" Kirk was laughing again as everyone began to search for their ideal sleeping spots, "I'm an excellent snuggler!"
"Whatever, blanket hogger," McCoy said. "Eat your nutrient bar."
They huddled around behind a strategically placed boulder that provided both excellent vantage point and defence in case of need between the corridor and the lake, and ate a brief dinner comprised of filtered water and Starfleet issued nutrient bars. Scotty reminisced (read: complained to anyone that would listen) about his days on Delta Vega and wondered aloud how Keenser was doing, while Uhura and Sulu idly exchanged knowledge on exotic plants and the linguistic root of their names. McCoy somehow started a drinking game with Chekov sans alcohol, which amused Kirk no end, and he swayed every time he laughed, brushing slightly with Spock, who sat next to him.
Eventually they settled down and laid out the blankets, one for every two. Chekov slipped next to Sulu's without a word, and Scotty patted his with a nod to Uhura, "Ye mind, lass?"
Uhura smiled brightly and they both leaned back onto the rock, seemingly quite content with their half-sitting position.
Meanwhile, the Captain, CMO and First Officer of the Enterprise stared at each other until McCoy caved in, and sighed. "Well, I'll take the first watch, then," he said.
"You sure?" Kirk drew his brows together in concern, "You yawned, like, sixteen times already."
McCoy looked between Kirk and Spock, then shrugged. "I said I'm not sharing a blanket with you, didn't I? And I sure as hell ain't sharing one with the hobgoblin," he said, though the effect was dampened by another yawn. "I got through much worse at the Academy, trust me. I got this."
Kirk glanced at Spock, then shrugged. "He is a medic," he said, then patted the ground next to him. "Come 'ere, Spock," Kirk said, his voice full of pleasant warmth.
Spock complied without a word. He sat down next to the boulder and stared straight ahead, back straight and stiff.
Noticing that McCoy had climbed onto a higher rock to get a better view of the camp, Kirk held open a corner of the blanket and said, soft, "I know Vulcan physiology are more sensitive to low temperatures, so get in here," his voice just the right mix of insistent and gentle.
Spock hesitated for a brief moment, then met Kirk's expectant gaze. Kirk smiled, then whispered conspiratorially, "it's logical."
Spock let out a puff of breath tinted with amusement and acquiesced, settling under the blanket and patiently waited until Kirk found his comfortable position. "Wow," Kirk said, "You are really warm. I'm not sure who would be keeping whose body temperature regulated here, but I'm not complaining."
"Indeed," Spock murmured. Then, "Captain, that is my foot."
"Oh," Kirk said, sheepish, and the cool touch retreated quickly. "Sorry. Hey, good job with the flame thrower just now. Impeccable timing. How did you know that was what I had in mind?"
"If you are referring to the use of alcohol as a flammable detergent, then the conclusion I had drawn was simply logical," Spock replied. "It was a tactic you would likely employ and I calculated the odds of success would be greatly improved if I could assist."
"Yes, well, the odds of success is always better when you are here," said Kirk with a satisfied smile. "A note of commendation for Mr. Spock."
"I'm gratified, though I believe it unnecessary," Spock murmured, dropping his voice low as everyone else began to doze off. "That I would protect my Captain and the crew is a given constant. Perhaps such a formal acknowledgement could instead be used to placate Dr. McCoy?"
"Bones? You think Bones can be bought off with a commendation?" Kirk started laughing quietly and wiped at his eyes. "Oh, Spock."
Spock said nothing, but the subtle shift in his expression told Kirk what he suspected anyway: the Vulcan was trying to make a joke. Kirk grinned wider.
Spock inclined his head and did not to ask for further clarification, which Kirk took as a confirmation that the Vulcan understood more about Human expressions of emotion than he let on. A few feet away, Scotty let out a loud snore and shifted, and Kirk was suddenly enveloped by a warm, fuzzy feeling: they were stuck underground in a mysterious cavern, attacked by strange creatures and shadows barely hours before, but he was among friends.
Kirk wrapped the blanket closer around his side and turned towards Spock, smiling. "Hey," he began softly, "for the record? I am not a blanket hogger, but hypothetically speaking, if I am, feel free to kick me off this rock and claim your half."
An eyebrow flew into the hairline. "I will not assault you while you sleep, Captain."
Kirk had to bite his tongue to force back a lewd reply and rocked his body slightly in silent laughter. Another eyebrow joined its first. Kirk thought about explaining it then discarded the idea, choosing instead to snuggle further into the crook of his own arm. "Oh Spock." The name slid out like a sigh.
Spock's expression softened by a fraction. "Goodnight, Captain," he murmured, folding his hands into a meditative position.
Kirk lifted an brow and said nothing. A small pause, then in a voice gentler than before,
"Goodnight, Spock," Kirk said, closing his eyes and beaming.