Montgomery Scott stood back to allow two medics to guide an antigrav stretcher past him toward the beam-up point. Raising the lamp to better illuminate the now deserted cave, he focused on the pile of rubble to his right and sighed.
"That's the last one. It's a bloody shame so many of them didna survive."
"Damn hard to survive beneath a ton of rock," McCoy responded, squinting at the screen of his tricorder. He adjusted the instrument and grimaced. "God damned Federation ought to be more careful selecting colony worlds. Spock said that this tragedy could have been prevented if the scout ship had done a more thorough job with their solar survey. Hell, it shouldn't have taken an expert to see that Abedare was unstable."
"Abedare's unstable all right," Scott agreed. "And its danger isna limited to this planet. I'd hate to think of the damage that sun could do to the Enterprise if she doesna keep a respectful distance."
"Too bad the colonists had no way to do the same. Some choice; be killed by the heat and radiation from their expandin' sun, or play Abedarian roulette in these caves. Poor devils were desperate. That's the only explanation for taking to caves on a planet with this much seismic activity."
"Stayin' on the surface would've killed 'em for sure."
"Comin' down here killed over half of them, and critically injured most of the rest," McCoy grumbled, stepping into the shadows. "Talk about jumpin' out of the fryin' pan and into the fire!"
"The entrance is this way," Scott called, raising the intensity on the lamp. He would be glad to leave these inky caverns behind and get back to the ship. His heart went out to the colonists of Abedare Two. They were a brave and hardy group, mostly families with children. It broke his heart to see their dream of a fresh start on a new world turn into such a nightmare.
McCoy frowned and turned back toward Scott, not taking his eyes from the tricorder. "I think I'm gettin' a life sign." He pointed over his shoulder with one thumb to an offshoot of the main cavern that was partially blocked by rubble from a recent cave-in. "It's hard to get a clear readin' with the solar radiation bombardin' us like it is, but I'm pretty sure it's that way."
"Are ye sure?" Scott moved closer to look at the reading for himself.
"If this thing isn't malfunctionin' then I'm sure. Do we have time to check it out?"
Scott frowned. "Minutes, maybe a half an hour. Mister Spock could be more specific."
"To the decimal point, I'm sure," McCoy muttered. "Listen, it's not that strong, but if there's a chance--"
Scott already had his communicator out. "Scott to Enterprise."
"Scotty, I can barely hear you." Captain Kirk's voice was almost lost in static. The depth of this particular cavern made communication difficult, and transportation impossible. "Are you ready to beam-up?"
"Doctor McCoy's picked up another life sign. Do we have time to check it out?"
There was a pause, and when the response came, the voice was not Kirk's.
"Mister Scott, there is an eighth magnitude solar flare rapidly approaching Abedare Two. My readings indicate that the Enterprise can maintain this orbit for only fourteen point eight two minutes. I would suggest--"
"You make it quick," Kirk interrupted.
"Fourteen minutes?" McCoy echoed doubtfully.
"Fourteen point five six eight, Doctor," Spock corrected.
"Smart ass," McCoy muttered, already climbing over the crumbling rock that half blocked the narrow passage.
"We'll be at the beam up point in ten, Captain, Scott out."
Scott scrambled after the doctor and they made a sharp descent into a narrow tunnel. The only sound he could hear, other than the tread of their boots, was the whirring of McCoy's tricorder echoing off the high ceiling. If the cavern above had seemed cool in contrast to the climate-controlled environment of the Enterprise, then this offshoot was downright cold. Scott shivered. He could think of two dozen places he'd rather be right now.
"Gettin' closer," McCoy said, pausing for a moment. "Up ahead."
The tunnel narrowed as they progressed, and they still seemed to be descending. McCoy stopped so suddenly that Scott nearly ran into him. The doctor turned, his puzzled frown highlighted by the glow from the lamp.
"Damned thing must be malfunctionin'!" McCoy's disappointment was laced with disgust for the mechanical instrument he held in his hand. He nodded his head at the solid wall of rock before them. "I could understand it if there were signs of a cave-in, but nobody could--"
McCoy saw the crevice at the base of the wall the same time Scott did. They approached it, Scott bringing the lamp close. They heard a muffled sound as the light fell into the narrow crack.
"It's a child!"
"A little lass," Scott's voice was filled with a mixture of wonder and empathy. "She must have wandered off from the others. Och! She's just a wee bit of a thing. Come here, darlin'."
The child cringed back as far into her hiding place as possible, eyes round with fear.
"Can you reach her?" McCoy asked, taking the lamp as Scott settled onto the floor of the cave. The engineer wriggled his head and shoulders into the small opening, stretching one arm as far as he could.
"I can brush her with me fingers, but I canna get a grip to pull her out."
McCoy peered over Scott's head into the crevice. "Do you think she's stuck?"
"No, I think she's just a frightened lass, too scared to even move."
"If we could get a transporter lock--"
"Not at this depth," Scott dismissed.
"Come to Montgomery, lassie," Scott pleaded, straining against the immovable rock.
"Come on, darlin'," McCoy encouraged. "We won't hurt you. We just want to take you somewhere safe."
The only response to their cajoling was a muffled sob.
Scott twisted slightly, looking up to meet McCoy's gaze. "How long?"
McCoy consulted the tricorder. "Five minutes. Scotty, what--"
Scott waved him into silence with his free arm.
For an instant that seemed far too long, there was no sound at all in the cave, then Scott's voice rose, light and lilting, echoing off the walls around them. He was singing a Gaelic ballad McCoy had heard him sing before. The doctor always liked the little tune, but here the acoustics transformed the engineer's gentle tenor into something quite special. The lyrics, gibberish to McCoy, were unimportant. The warmth and comfort that the ballad projected required no understanding of the words. Whatever message it was originally intended to express was unimportant; its purpose now was as clear as the nose on McCoy's face. It was love in its purest musical form; a lullaby.
"Dwyres diriou o forwynion, duon brithion, teccaf bro
O borfa fras y dalar las feill ionig,
A Gwen yn godro'r deuddeg yn eu tro."
Scott completed the first verse, his voice quavering on the final note for an instant before he launched into another. McCoy should have been chaffing with impatience. He should have been doing something constructive. He should have been looking at the time they had left. But the peace that had suddenly descended over him forbade such action. Something in this folksong spoke to the child in McCoy, evoking memories of magnolia blossoms and the honeyed voice of his mother singing him to sleep. Scotty's lullaby reassured him, just as his mother's had so long ago, and told him that everything would be just fine.
Leonard McCoy, a seasoned veteran of the school of hard knocks, a man who had seen too many people die, too many dreams fail, one of the staunchest believers of Murphy's Law, was suddenly filled with a certainty that all three of them were going to get out of here in time.
When the serenade halted mid-note, McCoy shook himself out of his daze to see Scott pulling a sobbing little girl out of the crevice. The child was shivering and clinging to the engineer as tightly as the sand bats of Manark Four clung to the cliffs of their rocky world. She was free, and alive.
McCoy consulted his tricorder through tears of relief that momentarily clouded his vision. Scott's lullaby had taken less than a minute.
"There, now." The Scot's voice was muffled by the tiny arms that had entwined themselves around his neck. "It's gonna be fine, darlin'. Uncle Montgomery's gonna take care of ye. Don't cry."
They made it to the beam-up point with a minute to spare, and as the two officers stood side by side, waiting for Kyle to lock on to their coordinates, McCoy turned to Scott. The engineer was still holding the child, but she had fallen asleep in his embrace. McCoy smiled as he met Scott's gaze.
"You saved her life, Scotty..."
"Not a bad day's work," Scott said softly, tilting his head to rest one cheek against tousled curls. "She's a bonnie wee little thing, isna she, Leonard?"
McCoy smiled. "Worthy of the finest lullaby this side of the Neutral Zone." The crooked smile deepened. "Which is precisely what she got."
With a sparkle of light that glittered against the gray rock walls, the transporter carried them away.
Free counters provided by Andale.
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES --
2266-2270 The First Mission
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES On-Line Fiction
Click Here to Return to the Orion Press Website