DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Karen A. Bates and is reprinted from Nuages 2, published by Checkmate Press, 1984. Checkmate Press is the property of Karen A. Bates. This story is Rated PG-13.
Draana: A Story of Survival
Karen A. Bates
CAPTAIN'S LOG, STARDATE: UNKNOWN
"I'm not sure the recorder is working. Ship's power is still out. Lights are inoperable and the viewscreen is blank. Bridge emergency light sources were destroyed and we are in complete darkness. I am unable to contact the rest of the ship, and only three of the bridge crew have responded thus far. Auxiliary systems are functioning, but at minimum by the staleness of air in here."
Kirk leaned back in his chair, breathing heavily. He'd only been conscious a few minutes, but the qualify of air on the bridge was declining steadily. It had been sheer luck finding his chair after being thrown into the navigation console, then losing consciousness. Uncertain his log had even been recorded, he switched the machine off and strained once more to catch the sounds of his crew. Spock, Uhura and Sulu had answered him, but no other had acknowledged his inquiries. A whirring noise caught his attention as the ventilating system started, clearing out the old air and replacing it with new. At least engineering was still with them.
"Uhura, can you patch me through to Scotty now?"
"Trying, Captain," she replied between coughs. "The main circuits are all dead. I'm encountering switchover difficulties in the back-up systems." Uhura continued her attempts to contact the engineering section, but futility hounded every effort. The pitch black darkness caused her no difficulties, it was the lack of tangible power sources and connections.
"Patch in through my station, Lieutenant," Spock ordered through the dark. "It may be possible to temporarily bypass your equipment." Several minutes passed before Uhura announced she'd made contact with engineering. Kirk used the time to grope his way around the bridge checking on the crew. Two appeared to be alive, but still unconscious, one was dead.
"Scotty, can you give me lights, power, any thing?" Kirk hated thi s feeling of helplessness. He was a man of action, not of waiting.
"We're working on it, Captain. My people are jury rigging as fast as they can." They heard muffled sounds of activity in the background followed by Scott's voice ordering someone to leave it and help another person. "Turbolifts should be working now. I could use Mr. Spock down here,
if you can spare him. I'll have lights for you in a minute."
"He's on the way. Can you give me a rough guess of what capabilities we have? We're deaf, dumb and blind here on the bridge until more power returns."
"Warp drive's gone, impulse is up to twenty percent now, life support shut off in two sections we found so far, deflector shields are barely operating."
"Do what you can. We'll start from here." His ship, nearly dead, was in a worse condition than he could ever remember. "Uhura, can you put me through to sickbay?"
"Sickbay, Chapel." Beyond her voice were the sounds of pandemonium.
"In surgery." Static ripped through the speakers despite Uhura's attempts to filter it out. "...doing everything we can. We're backed up into the corridors already. I'm headed up to the bridge right now."
"Watch your step. Engineering reports sections devoid of life support. Kirk out."
After a time the overhead lights flickered several times, then burned weakly. "Thank you, Mr.
Scott," Kirk said aloud as he hurried to the now visible men strewn over floor and railing.
"Captain!" Uhura's voice stopped him mid-stride and he whirled to her, mesmerized by her reflection in the tiny mirror over the communications console. She was running her hands over her face and down the red clad body as if discovering it for the first time.
Gently turning a fallen crewman over, Kirk searched for a pulse in vain. He had been alive moments ago, now the young ensign was dead. The other two were the same ... alive one minute, dead the next.
Chapel strode onto the bridge and knelt down next to the Captain. "It's the same everywhere. Captain," she murmured.
"He looks ten years old," Kirk observed, transfixed by the sight. "Johnson turned twenty two last week."
"We've all changed. Somehow."
"We're still alive, they aren't."
"McCoy's postulated from those we've seen in sickbay, that anyone who regenerated to a pre-pubescent ago had too many bio-chemical, physiological and anatomical alterations to survive."
"That might mean a third of the crew..."
Her eyes met his in mute acknowledgment of the unfinished statement. "We don't know for sure. Anything is possible..."
* * *
"Doctor, Richardson just sent this report on the latest experiments using data from the anomaly." Christine Chapel waited impatiently for McCoy to peruse the various sheets on the clipboard, wishing the shift would end so she could join Harry on the twilight deck for a pleasant evening away from everything and everyone. Why does time always drag so badly when you were in a hurry? She could have sworn twice already the chronometer had slowed down on purpose so the shift would be longer.
"Anything from the bio-chemistry lab yet?" McCoy flipped through the pages, noting the numerous discrepancies in readings recorded by the dying star. He'd approached Kirk about moving in closer with a shielded shuttlecraft, but the Captain had immediately vetoed the idea on the grounds of too muck risk for so little gain. All he had to work with presently, because of the veto, was second hand information fed to the ship by remote sensor units.
"I'm on my way there now. Kelly and Pange are holding heeding down the fort while I try and coordinate some of this data before Spock starts wondering whether the medical labs are doing anything."
"All he's expecting is perfection, Chris," McCoy deadpanned, noting her touchiness on the topic. Ever since Spock dressed her down in front of M'Benga for what he considered an inadequate lab report, Christine had become extremely reticent whenever the subject of the First Officer arose. Even the slight apology Spock tendered later, when it had proven the computer's error and not hers, had not changed her hardened attitude.
"Of course, Doctor." Perfection, my foot! she thought, I'll give him perfection, right down to the last decimal point.
The deck swayed gently beneath their feet as the air filled with the sound of whining engines. "What's going on now?" McCoy grumbled, disturbed by the rare noise of straining engines. There was a sharper jolt, followed seconds later by darkness.
Christine couldn't help crying out in pain as she was flung against one of the cabinets. A sticky sensation met her probing hand on the bruised leg. "Dr. McCoy, where are you?" Silence met her inquiry. She'd taken two steps in the direction he'd last been (she hoped the right direction) when the deck pitched her forward and blackness claimed her completely.
* * *
"Chris, Chris, can you here me?" A sickish odor assaulted her senses as McCoy's voice filtered through layers of haziness. Light pierced through her cracked eyelids and she immediately regretted the action.
"I'll be okay," Christine croaked. How long had she been out? It was still dark in sickbay with the exception of a single emergency light sitting nearby. "What happened?"
"Don't know." He helped her to her feet. "Air feels a little musty, so the ship must have lost power completely for a while. Communications console is dead and the doors are sealed tighter than a drum. Here, give me a hand with the rest of these emergency lights." In moments, most of sickbay was dimly illuminated.
"What a mess!" she exclaimed softly. The bleeding from her leg had stopped already, giving her a clue as to how long they'd been unconscious. "This place looks like a disaster area." Christine punched the communications console again since she was nearest, but could raise no response from the bridge. Was anyone else alive? To be so ignorant of the ship's status was unnerving.
"Amen to that." He stopped suddenly and raised the light in his hand closer her face.
"Something the matter?"
"Do you feel okay?" From somewhere, McCoy produced a scanner. Its whizzing noise disturbed the otherwise empty air.
"Shook up, but functional. Why?" What was the fuss? Sure, she felt a bit rocky afer being thrown around and knocked out, but then, who wouldn't? McCoy wasn't looking exactly like himself, either. Of course, the light was a fooler, too. Nothing looked normal under this kind of dimmed illumination.
"How old are you, Chris?"
"What in heaven's name... I'm twenty-eight. You know that." Almost twenty-nine...
"According to my scanner, your readings match those of an eighteen yean old. And your looks corroborate it."
"That's impossible! The scanner must have been damaged."
"Help me...please..." pleaded a thin voice from the doorway.
"Pange?" It looked like her, but it couldn't be... Pange was only seven years younger than Christine, now she appeared too young for standard Starfleet duty.
"Christine, check the hallway, the doors must be working now. Try contacting the bridge again too."
"It hurts," Pange moaned. McCoy helped her crawl onto the bed, watching the telltale monitors remain at zero. Until more power was restored, he would have to depend solely on intuition, experience and the tiny hand scanner. "I was just ... outside the door and ... everything went ... black..." She spasmed into a fetal position. The scanner readings went wild. "I can't ... see! I hurt ... so much..." Behind him came the sound of voices as more crew personnel filled the sickbay, but the silence of Pange's death was the only thing he heard.
Christine barely heard the intercom over the clatter. She signaled McCoy that Kirk was alive and grabbed the necessary equipment to help McCoy. Initially, McCoy had planned on working the ship duty himself, but after learning Kirk was unharmed, assigned Christine. By the appearance of things, his priority was to direct surgery.
The journey to the bridge was a nightmare come true. Warned before hand of sections devoid of life support, Christine checked each portal before entry. It slowed down the progress, but saved her life on more than one occasion. At one point, McCoy signaled her through the communicator acquired from a dead body, outlining his theory of death through pre-pubescent regeneration. By the time she left the elevator and walked onto the bridge to kneel at Kirk's side, Christine had seen enough death to last her a lifetime.
* * *
Hours later, Christine entered the sickbay to find order restored to some degree. She was both physically and mentally exhausted from covering the ship, diagnosing those who could remain on duty, those requiring immediate attention, and arranging for the deceased to be moved to the temporary morgue facilities. Life support had not been fully restored to all parts of the ship, but when it had been, her duty to assess would begin anew.
McCoy's haggard, but younger face, met her as she entered the inner sanctuary of his office unannounced. "Finished for now, Doctor. When I hear from Life Support, I'll complete the tapes and log them." Christine plopped her equipment on his desk and melted into the chair he offered. "Anything from the labs?"
Pouring a small brandy into a glass, McCoy waited until she drank a sip before answering. "Nothing much. Preliminary reports indicate a physical regeneration of approximately ten years."
"That would match the data I've been compiling all day. It's strange, though, I look younger, even 'feel' different, but I can think back and remember specific things and people from the last ten years. I can even recite verbatim the report I submitted on Hedes IV last week." Her hand absently pushed bangs off to the side and she mentally reminded herself, a trimming was long overdue.
"As advanced as we are, medically, the brain still holds mysteries. I've often wondered if we'll ever totally comprehend its powers and abilities," McCoy observed. "Right now I'm just wishing the body were as durable, so I wouldn't have every bed in sickbay taken and the morgue filled to over flowing already."
"Life Support to Chapel," the intercom broke the moment.
McCoy caught her hand as she reached for the acknowledgment button. "Do you want me to spell you a while?"
Christine finished the motion, notifying Life Support she was on her way to the newly opened section. "Thanks, Leonard, but I need to finish what I started, no matter how badly it hurts to do it."
"Harry's down there, isn't he?" He saw a hint of tears before she turned her head away.
"I'll be okay. Being eighteen again, I have a lot of years ahead to find someone else," the words spilled out bitterly. "At least this time I know for sure he's really dead and won't have to spent the next three years wondering, like I did with Roger."
"Stop it, Chris," McCoy ordered softly. "Don't do this to yourself. Harry meant a great deal to you, don't let his memory mean any less by heaping pity on yourself. Let yourself hurt now, time will eventually heal it. You know that as well as I."
"Practicing your bedside manner on the staff again, Leonard?" she smiled bleakly.
"I'd classify it more under the sledgehammer approach myself," he drawled kindly. "Give me a minute to tell Baker where we are and I'll go with you." The rest of the staff could handle things for a while without him, at least until the next major disaster...
The door buzzer sounded, interrupting them as had the intercom, and Kirk entered the small office. "Sorry, Bones, didn't know you were busy."
"I was just leaving, Captain," Christine responded, rising from her chair. If she left now, they wouldn't have a chance to ask her to leave. "I'll bring the results by later, Doctor." She tipped her head negatively as McCoy motioned her to wait for him. "If you need me later, I'll be down in the labs."
Kirk waited until the nurse had left before speaking. He wondered briefly if he would ever grow accustomed to her seeming indifference. Once, she had been emotionally transparent, wearing her feelings on the outside with pride, now, he could read nothing from her. Something had changed her drastically. Shunting the tangential thoughts from his mind as being inconsequential, Kirk poured some brandy to sip while pacing the office floor.
"Figured you'd show up sooner or later, Jim."
Kirk grinned tiredly. "Always trying to second guess me, aren't you, Bones?"
"Me? Never." McCoy set his glass darn on the desktop and leaned hack in his chair. "Since there's been no letup in emergency repairs or difficulties, I knew you would come for my report rather than interrupt crucial operations for a full blown departmental head meeting. That, and communications are still not working at full capacity yet."
"Spock and Scotty are still fighting to stabilize the engines and restore life support to the entire ship. They're hoping to keep support going just long enough to pull the bodies out and assess damage before it has to be shut down again until further notice."
"Apparently they just opened another section, that's where Chris is going right now."
"How are things in your department, Bones? Aside from scattered reports I've been getting."
"Under control for the moment. We're spread into all areas trying to accommodate everyone. M'Benga and Carter were caught in one of the sections cut off from life support and over half of my nursing and intern staff have died from regenerating too young. This is the first break I've had from surgery in over twelve hours. Chris has been on duty just as long."
"Spock found Chekov not far from engineering, carrying the latest tapes from the anomaly research." Kirk took another swallow, draining the glass. "I think Chekov's death has affected him more than he'll ever admit."
"Bridge to Captain."
"Kirk here. What is it, Uhura?"
"Engineering requests your presence immediately."
"On my way. Kirk out."
"My break's up, too, Jim. Sickbay calls."
The Captain stopped by the door. "You know, for once I'm glad not to be young."
"I know the feeling," McCoy intoned solemnly, as the door closed.
* * *
Kirk settled on to his bed in the dimmed light of his quarters. The newest report from Scott had not been good. Warp engines were completely inoperable due to destruction of dilithium crystals. They'd been due for an overhaul and restocking of crystals before diversion to a dying star, now they had none to replace those ruined. Impulse engines had been restored to 70% efficiency, but power fluctuations were erratic, striking ship's systems at odd places and times. Life support had been discontinued again, this time deliberately, in many parts of the ship to con serve power. Uhura had managed to reroute her entire board for intraship communications, but contact with Starfleet was impossible under the present circumstances.
How had they come to this impasse? He turned onto his back, staring at the blank ceiling overhead. Being rerouted from an overdue shore leave to an extended assignment was the last thing he'd expected or wanted. His ship was tired and needed a rest. He should have argued longer, made it clearer to the top brass that the Enterprise was not equipped to handle the situation in her depleted condition. He shifted positions again. They wouldn't have listened anyway, Kirk reasoned with himself. When had they bothered to hear him in the past?
Of course, the whole question was now so much rhetoric. They were here, wherever here was, and the past couldn't be relived. The past. That's exactly where they were, and relive they must, provided they survived that long. How many times had James T. Kirk wished he could relive certain portions of his life? Re-make some of those decisions, change the course of his own life? Now that he could, the prospect was no longer inviting.
The mirror told him he didn't even look thirty, younger than when he'd first taken command of the Enterprise. Even Sam and Aurelan were still alive. Jim tried to imagine what i t would be like to see his brother alive once more. They'd had such good times growing up together, only to have it end suddenly with Sam's death on Deneva. Peter would just be coming into life. He smiled in memory at the tape giving the glad tidings. The new parents had been so excited, yet disappointed that Sam's only brother had an extended mission and couldn't be there to see the baby until he was ten months old.
Ten months, ten years, ten thousand years. One was little different than the other. Time was always the enemy, and it always won the war. Science had made advances in its fight to slow the enemy, but they couldn't defeat it permanently. Life was longer, communication and travel were faster, but in the end, time eroded everything.
Kirk could see the way his thoughts were wandering and turns they were taking and decided to stop them. A defeatist attitude at this juncture was the last thing he needed. It was better not to dwell on the past, on that fateful day...
* * *
Uhura hummed quietly as she monitored the communications console. It was nearly the end of her shift and before long she would be back in her quarters curled up with a cup of coffee and a good book. She smiled warmly at Spock as he walked past her to return to the science station. He nodded acknowledgment of her gesture, then began entering data from the sensor probes launched two days ago, toward a dying star.
Starfleet could be so inconsiderate, she reflected. There they'd been, scant days from an extended overhaul and shore leave, when some pencil pushing bureaucrat decided to send them halfway across the galaxy to record the last gasps of a star son to go nova. Uhura couldn't decide if the situation was closer to Psi 2000 or Sarpeidon at this point, and hoped it would end like neither one.
"Captain, I am registering a new energy reading from the probe nearest the star."
Uhura ceased humming at Spock's announcement. Please, she whispered to herself, no problems. Have it be a malfunction in the equipment, a loose wire or broken power coupling, anything but a real problem...
Kirk rose from his chair and came over to Spock, leaning on the console near the viewer. "Source?" Probably just a power surge from the star proper.
"Unknown. Sensors indicate it emanates from the core, but is not generated by the star itself."
"Nonetheless." An eyebrow rose insistently. "It exists."
"Danger to the ship?"
"Unknown. Although it barely registers at present, it is most likely of an unstable nature. It may dissipate entirely, or..."
"Grow in intensity," Kirk completed for him. "Recommendations?" His ship was in no condition to take chances. Hanging in space for three days, keeping a precarious balance against the pull of a collapsing star had strained already overworked engines to the limit. Scott was bemoaning his beloved bairns as it was.
"An opportunity such as this is rare, Captain. I recall no previous records of a similar situation in the computer banks. It could take considerable time to reach an intensity which would endanger the ship, time I could utilize to study and record the phenomena."
Uhura could practically see the wheels turning in Kirk's mind as he weighed the varied factors before making a decision. This was a once in a lifetime chance for scientific research, yet the Enterprise was in borderline condition to handle such. "Maintain present status."
CAPTAIN'S LOG: SUPPLEMENTAL
We have been studying the power source for fifty three hours. Mr. Scott has been monitoring a minute, but recurrent, drop in power to the warp engines during the last twelve hours. Mr. Spock has estimated maximum exposure for the Enterprise to the growing energy level will occur in one point two hours. The ship should be relatively safe until that time.
"Increased magnetic pull, Captain."
Sulu made the necessary adjustments to maintain distance from the star, but the deck bucked beneath them seconds later as another sudden shift in power flared.
"Engines are starting to pull, I don't know how much longer they can hold," Scotty's voice came through the intercom.
"Power level fluctuating radically." Spock could barely be heard above the din of the engines as Sulu fought the gravitational attraction.
"Get us out of here!"
"Still being pulled in."
"Power levels off the scale."
"Full emergency warp. Give it everything you have, Scotty."
A blinding light filled the viewscreen, then all went black as the imploding force of the star flung the Enterprise across the galaxy and back through time.
* * *
The empty ceiling overhead held no answers for him. They had cut it too close once too often. Every indication and data channeled through the sensors had given them a margin of error for escape. Calculations had been precise, each variable and parameter weighed. Only ... they'd been wrong and now were someplace deep in an uncharted sector back ten years in time with little power and one third of the crew already dead.
Kirk laid a tired arm over his forehead, trying to block out the sight of row upon row of children laid out for burial in space. It would be a memory never to be forgotten.
* * *
"Comments, anyone?" Kirk looked around the conference table at the gathered officers. Each face was familiar, but altered by the impressed regeneration. Some looked barely old enough to have graduated from the Academy, others merely had fewer lines and creases, less gray along the temples. Even Spock appeared younger, despite the inherent longevity of his father's race.
"I concur with Mr. Sulu's calculations concerning our present location," Spock noted. "However, unless we can locate a raw deposit of dilithium crystals somewhere along our route, it may be impossible to complete the journey with the power presently available."
"Aye, we need the crystals, but where will we find them? They're pretty tough to find even when we know which planet," Scott agreed.
"We should be passing through several uncharted systems, any one of which could contain dilithium," Sulu observed. "Surely one of them would have some."
"The question of crystals is a moot point at this time, gentlemen. We have no choice in the matter. The only course of action open to us is to regain a charted sector where rescue will be possible. We can only hope to find crystals along the way." Or at least that we survive that long, Kirk added to himself. "Bones?"
"We're still compiling what little information we do have on the regenerative process, but there've been no concrete results so far. My main concern at this point is from a psychological standpoint of how members of the crew are adapting. The older ones are doing the best, obviously, since the slightest changes occurred. Those I'm not worried about. It's the younger ones, the ones who regressed back to their late teens that are having difficulties, but we're working on it."
The room cleared a short time later leaving Kirk, Spock and McCoy alone. Kirk had suspected there was more to McCoy's report than what was said, by the preoccupied look on his face through the entire meeting.
"Jim," McCoy began, "Christine sent a laboratory report to me just before the meeting." He explained further, "She's been doing extensive research the last couple of days using the data compiled from all the crew members. Apparently, some of the new cell structures have not settled into stable patterns."
"Until they do, if they do, anything is possible. There've been a couple reports of strange headaches and other similar complaints." He paused, searching for words. "Now, taken separately, they don't amount to a hill of beans. If grouped as a whole, however, they're starting to show a pattern."
"We don't know yet," he admitted, standing up. "There's no sign of definite danger from the unstable cells, and chances are there won't be any. If something does surface, I'll let you know immediately."
* * *
The warmed room, lit by the glowing flamepot was a welcome change to Spock after so many days away from it. His time and presence had been in such great demand, there'd been no chance for any kind of respite from ship activities since the accident.
He stripped off his uniform, dumping it in the recycler on his way to the sonic shower. Fatigue oozed from every pore as he washed the last several days away, wishing the exhaustion could be as easily wiped from him. Finding no logical excuse to delay in the shower any longer, he stepped out and donned a long robe, not quite admitting to himself he wasn't ready to face another uniform so soon.
A few hours sleep had been his original intention when taking this break from duty, yet now when faced with it, Spock had an irrational desire to stay awake and cognizant. He could find no particular reason for this bit of illogic, but it persisted nonetheless.
Leila had once told him it was his curiosity that refused to be put to sleep, hence he would persist in staying awake for no good reason other than doing it. Spock set the tape from his hand down on the console top. Why did he remember that small piece of insignificant trivia? In the new timeline, he wouldn't even meet Leila Kalomi for several years. His memories of her were tinged with most unVulcan like feelings, feelings she had no right in generating. Why couldn't she have fallen in love with someone else, someone who was free to return those feelings expressed in every look and action? He'd realized the situation, knew exactly what was happening, but couldn't bring himself to face it. Vulcans had no emotions, he told her, unable to tell the truth. Leila never knew another woman had first claim to him, a woman that didn't even want him. Even when they'd been (would be) on Omicron Ceti, he'd given her the love she'd always wanted, but still held back the truth that T'Pring had thrown him aside for someone else.
T'Pring had never understood him as Leila had. Leila had seen beyond the Vulcan exterior and facade, had glimpsed the man beneath the mask. T'Pring had never bothered to look further than her own expectations, ideals and desires... So much difference between the two.
Spock forced the thoughts from his mind. There was no logic in pursuing such things, especially now. Other, more important items should be first and foremost in his thoughts, not memories better to be forgotten. Flipping the computer switch, he skimmed through report after report from engineering, life support, communications, navigation and finally, medical sections. The statistics were indeed staggering. McCoy's report that afternoon in the meeting had been the tip of an iceberg.
Considerable time passed as he brought up page after page of data being compiled and analyzed by one of the labs. A pattern was slowly developing, just as the Doctor had predicted. It wasn't truly visible yet, but soon would be if things continued as they were.
Dressing quickly, he notified the bridge he would be in the lab until further notice.
* * *
Christine studiously ignored her reflection in the shiny metal locker door as she put the rest of the equipment away. Would she ever grow accustomed to seeing the face of an eighteen year old looking back at her? It was like paging through a holograph album of images taken a decade ago, a disembodied memory out of time with no relation to the present. Only this time, the past was the present. There would be no escaping it, no way of shutting the album cover and burying the image in obscurity.
So many things were burned vividly into her memory from the last ten years. Certain places, people, especially people, and dreams that had never come true. At eighteen she'd been a bonafide, unsocial bookworm. determined to graduate at the top of her nursing class. There'd been no time for people or activities then, nothing could come between her and her goal. Christine remembered the pride she felt when receiving notice of acceptance into the doctoral program in exobiology under the esteemed Dr. Roger Korby. She was given such an honor of working with the finest mind in the field.
What had Roger seen in her that first year? A shy, awkward young woman with a quick mind and three left feet? He always claimed later it was her determination to succeed that attracted him, but even now, years later, she wasn't really sure. Her memories of those first few years were filled with misunderstandings, trepidations and love. Love that had made the tiny bud bloom, made her happy in the knowledge as time went by, that he did indeed love her and desire to marry her one day.
Then he was gone and the bloom closed up again into the tiny little bud, afraid of the golden sunlight. Space and medicine became the center of her existence, until Spock had come into her life, making the petals stretch outward once more. Only, the light he shed on her wasn't the warm and loving kind as Roger'd shown her. It was a cold and harsh source and eventually the petals had turned in. Harry had given her love and warmth, but now he was gone, just like Roger, and the emptiness so familiar had returned.
Shutting the locker doors, Christine brushed a single tear away at the thought of Harry. After wiping it dry, she placed the same hand over the reflection of her face. How ironic it was that the ten year's rejuvenation had simply returned her to the same place from which she'd started. Now, as then, it was her work that was the most important thing in her life.
Enough reminiscing, she decided. By now, the computer should have had sufficient time to assimilate the last batch of results. Christine pulled a stool to the front of the readout screen and displayed the data.
She'd just finished rechecking the results for a third time when Spock entered the lab. He stood silently behind her, reading over her shoulder for several minutes, before making his presence known. Christine jumped involuntarily at the sound of his voice, not realizing he was there.
"I did not mean to alarm you, Miss Chapel," he apologized stiffly. "I have been reviewing your program."
Christine stood aside and motioned him to take over the viewer. "Of course, Mr. Spock." Was he always going to be harassing her like this? Always following her. Determining that she didn't make any mistakes? If he was going to continue considering her as incompetent, there was nothing she could do about it. "I was just on my way up to report my findings to Dr. McCoy."
"Your time estimate on progression of the disease?" Page after page of data filled the screen as he rapidly skimmed the total readout. She had accomplished an incredible amount of research.
"Judging by the lab results and the number of unrelated incidences coming through the sickbay, I estimate approximately thirty six hours before the peak is reached. I need to see McCoy immediately and begin trying to isolate and synthesize an antidote."
Spock nodded solemnly. "I will accompany you."
Why, she questioned, can't he trust me just a little?
* * *
Kirk acknowledged his door buzzer without looking up from the paper work covering his desk. Reports and statistics were piling up at an alarming rate.
"Jim," McCoy started before the door had even closed behind him. "We're in big trouble."
The Captain came alert immediately. "What now?"
"The cellular instability has finally taken on a pattern. Chris ran the data through the computer three times and Spock has double checked everything as a failsafe. It's a virus, created by mutating cell structures. The cases coming into sickbay all day yesterday and today are the first symptoms. Headaches, fever, nausea..."
"An antidote?" What next? Was there no end to this nightmare? Hadn't the Enterprise and her crew been through enough already?"
"Spock and Chris are down in the lab now, trying to isolate the right agents. If anyone can find the antidote, they can."
"Till they find one? I don't know. Chris estimated thirty six hours before full mutation of the virus. My sickbay's filling up fast. It's hitting as fast as Bocheii Plague."
"Any chance of isolating those infected?"
"Too widespread already, Jim. I don't know if it's even communicable. Chances are it's inherent to the regenerated cells. Those most changed are the most susceptible."
"In other words, the younger the person, the more likely they'll contract the virus."
"It looks that way. I simply don't know right now." McCoy rubbed his reddened eyes. He fairly itched to be in the lab helping in the search for a serum, but knew he couldn't be spared from sickbay.
"Keep me informed, Bones."
* * *
Christine pushed bangs away from her eyes as she made her way back to Spock after answering the latest call from McCoy. The report had been grim. Every hour for the last twenty six, the reports had degenerated in content. The virus had spread like wildfire through the entire ship, more than half of those still alive from the initial death toll were infected.
"Tertiary stage is beginning to manifest," she said quietly. "Tissue breakdown is imminent in the next several hours, on the first cases."
"Understood." Spock observed the smudges on her face and the tired look that went deeper than the eyes. The short catnaps he'd insisted on her taking were proving insufficient to sustain her. Yet he found himself respecting the drive and determination Christine was showing in trying to find an antidote. "Perhaps you should rest a short time, Nurse."
"No, I'll be okay. I want to get that new batch of cultures started before I sit down." As she shut the cabinet door, Chris found herself wishing for the umpteenth time they had an assistant, a technician, anyone to help with the menial labors. There simply wasn't anyone to spare to the lab right now. McCoy was swamped with accident and virus victims, short handed in every area. All ship departments were already operating on skeleton staffs and could spare no one for the task of lab duty. So it's us, computer brain and twelve thumbs to hold down the fort and save the day. How can he always look so together after being on his feet for days on end and I end up looking like death warmed over? Never fails. It didn't help that the shiny surfaces, which she'd never particularly noticed before, now gave her a clear picture everywhere of how terrible she appeared. Christine slumped onto the stool by the computer and punched up the new readout sheet.
"Spock ! Look!" He hurried to her side at the shout and read the printout. "I think we're on the right track now," she continued excitedly. "Definite drop in all three areas."
"Affirmative, however, there still appears no change in the mutation time synch sequence. I suggest you rerun that series of tests again, this time altering your method accordingly." He turned back to his work without another word, leaving her standing there sheet in hand.
"Yes, sir." Why should she be surprised at his reaction? What did she expect? A pat on the back? Once again into the fray, my dear Christine. Tote that barge, lift that bale. Christine chuckled to herself at the inanity of the suggestion. What was a barge? Or for that matter, what was a bale? Oh, well, it was a saying for the occasion and that was enough for her. A cup of coffee later, she felt ready to dig in again.
It was hours before any substantial progress was made and verified. Spock took the call from McCoy telling of the first deaths. The cells had simply 'fallen' apart, leaving a messy corpse. Regeneration had left the cell structure so weakened there was nothing to halt the deterioration process. Spock left Christine to sleep a while longer before waking her with the news. There was little to be done until the most recent batch of cultures had ;aged' anyway.
Christine came awake blearily at the shaking of her shoulder. Why did the midnight shift always fall to her? It never failed she would oversleep between swing shift rotations. "I'm up, Roger, I'm up," she mumbled.
"Nurse, Nurse Chapel." It took her a minute to realize the voice wasn't Roger Korby's.
Spock shook her again, attempting to awaken her fully. Calling her name hadn't been sufficient this time, requiring him to physically try and rouse her from the short nap. At last, Christine pushed herself into a sitting position and blinked recognition of him.
"How long was I out?" Why did he have such a strange look on his face?
"Forty six point three minutes." He helped her rise unsteadily to her feet. "I have run the results through the computer from the most recent cultures."
"There is a ninety four point three five two percent chance it will work."
"That's terrific! What's the matter?" Christine saw beyond the blank face into the shadowed eyes. Her feelings may have changed drastically toward him, but she could still read the Vulcan.
"There is an insufficient amount of supplies remaining in store on the Enterprise to fully synthesize enough for the entire complement of crewmembers. Ten are already dead, another fifty one have just entered the tertiary stage according to Dr. McCoy."
"Any chance of obtaining more Chrysaline? I assume it's the Chrysaline in shortage."
"I have already alerted the Captain to the problem and he is scanning this star system for possible sources."
"That's like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack."
A raised eyebrow met her observation. "I was not aware of your familiarity with the substance beyond laboratory contact."
She came to her feet, brushing her uniform into place. "I spent a three month internship on Hellos surveying for possible deposits of Chrysaline. It was one of my more frustrating experiences. The deposits are always small and usually intermingled with another substance which appears to be Chrysaline, but isn't. Took me three weeks of daily contact just to be able to tell them apart. Tricorders have a habit of registering the two together as one entity."
"Fascinating." The brow rose a fraction of an inch higher. He turned abruptly and strode over to the work table. "I have begun preparing the first batch for delivery to sickbay. Your assistance is necessary to complete the task."
When the serum was completed, Christine volunteered to rush it to McCoy, but Spock vetoed the idea. He argued, logically, it was more essential she remain behind in the lab to begin the next cultures. It was also an opportunity for him to go to the bridge and assist for a few moments in the search for Chrysaline.
Christine was silent as he left the lab for the first time in thirty hours. At least she didn't feel so trapped as she prepared the new cultures. She was aware of his monitoring of the search through the lab computers and he was just as capable of synthesizing the serum as she was. No, it was merely a chance for him to get away from her for a while. It must be terrible on him being confined with her for such a long time, she reflected bitterly. Poor Spock. Always being put upon by Nurse Chapel. Christine took grim pleasure in slamming the instrument drawer shut. No one ever bothered to consider her discomfort in having to work with him. Such pleasure could be derived from being ignored or put down. Don't forget having him behind you checking for errors constantly. Another drawer met the fate of the first. "Check on the sensors, my foot! Running away is more like it."
She picked up the small container of Chrysaline and walked toward the cooler compartment. It could be kept out of refrigeration for only short periods of time before its active element s became neutralized. Chrysaline appeared in moderate climes, but after processing required a cooler place for storage. Christine was amazed that the little bit they had in storage before the accident had survived the lengthened power shortage. There must have been just enough cool air within the storage seals to preserve it.
The lights overhead flickered a couple times, but she ignored them out of habit. Power fluctuations had become a constant bother, but had not proven to be of major proportion in life support sections.
What was there about her that bothered Spock so much after all this time? Christine could find nothing in her behavior in the last two years which could be construed as anything but strictly professional, yet he was reacting to her as if no time had passed since that day over Psi 2000. "Damn him," she said aloud.
The light blinked again and she felt a shudder beneath her feet. "If he thinks it so necessary to get away from me, then so be it." Without warning the deck pitched violently and threw her against the work table. The Chrysaline flew from her hand as another jolt tossed her to the floor.
* * *
Kirk hung onto the chair arms fiercely as the power drop shook the Enterprise. Blackness filled the bridge for several minutes before the lights flickered on again. "Report, Mr. Scott," he demanded immediately upon restoration of power to the intercom.
"One of the temporary couplings just blew, Captain," came the heavy brogue. Kirk knew it was serious by the amount of accent used. "We have a bypass hooked up, but it won't last for long."
"Do what you can, Scotty. Uhura, coordinate with life support and shut down as many sections as possible. We need to conserve power."
"Right away, Captain."
"Collins, anything on the Chrysaline scans yet?"
"Negative on fifth and sixth planets, moving on to the fourth. Sensors not working at maximum efficiency due to power drop." The entire situation had an unreal quality for the Captain as he watched the fourth planet of the uncharted system move into viewing range. It was like a bad dream that lingered after waking up. Spock had notified him of the serum completion (initial batch), yet it was difficult to consider the number of crew affected by the virus. The death count had been a steadily creeping number that kept rising. One hundred fifty had died from pre-pubescent regeneration and twelve from its lingering after effects. Fifty three had been caught in sections voided of life support. McCoy had just reported ten dead from the virus before the power drop. Two hundred and twenty seven deaths. Over half of the crew. Was it that the large number reflected people he knew, and with whom held worked, instead of some anonymous planet being afflicted with a similar malady?
Kirk took the coffee from a yeoman's tray as he passed by the bridge personnel. Caffeine was merely one of the stimulants bring used to be active. Engineering and medical sections had given up shift rotations completely, there was simply too much to do, and too few capable of doing it. Sickbay was filled to overflowing with accident and virus victims, engineering couldn't keep up with patching the temporary systems, disregarding repair of the original systems.
He stared at the swirling planet. How far were they from a charted sector? Had they been thrown deep into Romulan or Klingon territory? What were the odds of locating either the Chrysaline or dilithium crystals? Would the newly created serum be effective or had the hours of derivation and synthesis all been in vain? One of the major coupling repairs had blown, leaving more damage in its wake. How many more would go before the crystals were found and the power load rerouted where it belonged? The empty cup was set aside on the chair arm. So many questions, so few answers. Two systems had been negotiated and discarded as barren sources for their needs. He could only hope something would develop from this present system.
* * *
"Nurse Chapel ... Christine.."
Christine lay quietly, refusing to make the same mistake as last time by opening her eyes to the cruel reality of light. Her eyes flew open suddenly at the thought of the Chrysaline which had flown from her grasp.
"Spock... The Chrysaline... It was in my hands..." She scrambled to her feet searching for the container. "Oh, no..." It had rolled beneath a table, spilling its contents all over. The white grains were blackened by prolonged exposure. "It's ruined!"
Spock ran his tricorder quickly, shutting it off with an audible click. "Affirmative. Neutralization has taken place."
Her vision blurred. "I dropped it..." Why was everything fuzzy? "The ship moved..."
"There was an overload in one of Mr. Scott's temporary couplings, causing a power shortage of some magnitude." Christine grasped the table edge tightly, trying to keep her balance, after first rising from the floor where she'd crouched over the spilled crystals. "I remained in sickbay long enough to determine the serum's effectiveness," Spock continued while removing the only remaining batch of cultures from the "aging" machine. "It appears to be halting the degenerative process."
"Spock...I..." He turned just in time to catch her as she fell to the floor once more.
* * *
She could hear the monitor overhead and the rustling of other people in the sickbay. Further away she could just make out occasional words of a conversation in the next room spoken in undertones through the open doorway. "...are you sure it's there, Spock?"
"Of course, Doctor. Sensors indicate a sizable area containing deposits of Chrysaline. It is essential that Nurse Chapel accompany the landing party to obtain it."
"I used the last of the serum on her, Spock. It hadn't progressed very far yet, but I'm not sure..."
Kirk's voice cut in. "How soon will you know, Bones? From what Spock tells me it could take weeks to locate the correct deposits without her. We need that serum now."
"Don't you think I know that!" McCoy's voice rose in anger. He calmed down immediately. "I'm sorry, Jim. There's been too much death in here today. I've had over sixty succumb to this virus in the last twelve hours."
Christine had heard enough to know what was happening. There must have been a three or four hour time lapse from the time she blacked out in the lab to now, by the large number of deaths. They had apparently found a planet with Chrysaline deposits, too. Sitting up cautiously, she checked the monitor for her own readings. Not great, but good enough. Obviously the serum worked, or she would not be alive.
"Chris!" McCoy saw her first, standing just inside the doorway. "What are you doing up?" He hurried to her side, running his hand scanner over her.
"I heard you talking. You found a Chrysaline deposit someplace, didn't you?"
Spock answered the query. "Sensors show an area with possible deposits on the fourth planet of this system. We cannot be certain, however, until further examination."
"How soon can we beam down?"
"You're not going anywhere, yet," McCoy growled.
"Look, Spock, I realize she's the one with first hand experience, but..."
"There's no buts, Bones. We need her. Without that serum everyone on board is doomed. I want her and Spock to beam down at once." Kirk softened slightly in tone. "You're needed on board in sickbay. The ship comes first."
"I'll be all right, Leonard. It's my responsibility to replace the Chrysaline I dropped and destroyed. Let's go, Mr. Spock."
McCoy turned to Kirk after the door had closed behind the two on their way to the transporter room. "I thought Spock said the container had rolled off the table during the power failure."
* * *
The planet was uncatalogued, of course, in an uncharted sector of space, but sensors indicated it to be Class M quality, similar in content to that of Earth. It was a populated world without apparent technology, but the details didn't concern the duo landing party. The deposits were located a sufficient distance from populated areas and they would assumably not be there long enough in the gathering process to be discovered by any stray natives.
Spock could locate the basic deposit sites with his tricorder, but it was Christine who had to determine the actual pieces of Chrysaline. Any pieces of pseudo-Chrysaline processed with the real thing would neutralize the granules just as effectively as if exposed to heat.
* * *
Kirk sat in the command chair, watching the rotating planet in the viewscreen, waiting, for what he was unsure. Small amounts of Chrysaline were being beamed aboard intermittently and rushed to the labs for processing into the serum, but still he was impatient.
The bridge went dark for several moments, then returned to normal. Scott turned from his station where he was working. "Sorry, Captain, but the jury-riggin' just isn't holding."
"Stay on it, Scotty."
"Captain," Sulu cut in. "My long range scanners are picking up indications of an ion storm, coming this way."
"Time before impact?" An ion storm! What next? Kirk had a sudden image of a crazed writer hunched over in concentration, creating new twists to their problems with each stroke of the pen.
"Two hours. It's moving fast, would have picked it up sooner, but the far reaching sensors still aren't operating one hundred percent."
"Lt. Uhura, notify the landing party and have them standby for beaming up." Kirk punched the intercom button on his chair. "Bones, there's storm on the way, we're running out of time."
"We're still short of Chrysaline, Jim. For some reason it's taking enormous amounts of the stuff to synthesize properly. My guess would be it's not a high grade source."
"Can you identify Chrysaline, Bones?" Now that the labs were able to process the serum without his intervention, McCoy was more expendable than previously. The most serious cases of the virus had been treated, including the entire command staff, leaving a chance for him to be away from the sickbay, too.
"Been a good many years, but I'd say so."
"Good. Meet me in the transporter room on the double." He rose to leave. "Lieutenant , notify security. I want two men armed and ready to beam down when I get there." If it became necessary to remain on the planet surface while the Enterprise sought sanctuary elsewhere during the storm, the additional manpower could make a difference
* * *
"Captain, what are you doing here?" Spock set the container of raw Chrysaline down at the beam point where the four men had appeared.
"Ion storm coming this way," Kirk explained. "Time is short and we need as much Chrysaline as possible before we're forced to evacuate the area."
It wasn't long before storm clouds filled the magenta toned sky and angry flashes of lightning cut through the gathering darkness. McCoy cursed silently as his feet slipped once more on the rocky incline. He could hear Kirk answering the communicator beep over the rolling thunder. The atmosphere would protect them from the worst of the storm, but what was happening up there, in space?
"Deflector shields just snapped on, Captain," he could hear Scott's voice. "Storm's almost on us."
"Standby for beaming up." Kirk signaled the landing party to gather around him in configuration. Static replaced the voice. "Scott, are you there?"
"Trouble, Captain. I'm losing power."
"Can you beam us up?" Kirk had to shout to be heard above the wind which had gusted up around them.
"Negative. Main transporter circuit just blew. She's sparkin', laddie, switch over. Close up that circuit." More voices were heard. Raindrops fell on them out in the open. "Storm's playing havoc with the power fluctuations."
"Get my ship out of there! Do you hear me, Scotty? Get out of there, come back for us later."
"She's sluggish, Captain. I'm not sure she's going to do it."
"Full power, anything, just get that ship out of here!" The communicator crackled, then fell dead.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The storm raged unabated for two days, sealing the six members of the Enterprise landing party inside a small natural cave. Vicious winds and torrential rainfall were interspersed with tiny lulls, during which they would hurry out to drink from pools of water before being forced back to cover again it. It was a miserable group that emerged for the last time when the sky finally appeared and sunlight bathed the drenched land.
"Kirk to Enterprise. Kirk to Enterprise. Come in, Enterprise." The Captain readjusted his communicator and tried once more. "Enterprise, come in, Enterprise." Slapping his shut, Kirk for Spock's. It was just as useless.
"It's quite possible they are still out of range, Captain," Spock suggested. "If the storm developed to any great magnitude, it could be several days before the Enterprise can return to pick us up."
"You're right, of course. I was just hoping..." Kirk gathered the party together. "It appears we're going to be on our own for a while."
"Any idea how long?" Miggs asked.
"Depends on the size of the storm and how much trouble Scott has with the transporter circuits, Ensign. In the meantime, I suggest we move into a more habitable area than this one. Mr. Spock, tricorder readings?"
"According tot he preliminary scans of this planet, there was a sizable town due south of here, to the north were great plains, to the east, mountains, and to the west, desert."
"Great choice," McCoy muttered to himself. "We starve here, run into natives, roast in the desert or freeze in the mountains."
"Closest possible source of food?"
"The plains," Spock answered immediately. "If I remember correctly, the mountains are a full week from here, across terrain much like this, the plains, two days."
"We head for the plains. Let's just hope we find more berries like those near the cave, or we could be real hungry by the time we get there." Kirk hated to leave the vicinity, knowing the Enterprise would have an exact fix on these coordinates, but also realized the necessity of surviving off the land until such time as the ship could return. At least they had communicators to contact the ship and give their location. Without them a move would, perhaps, be fatal.
Seeing no reason to carry Chrysaline with them, the containers were emptied and refilled with water from standing pools of rain for probable use on the journey to the plains. Kirk and Spock led the way using the tricorder for reference. Christine and McCoy followed close behind and the rear was brought up by Miggs and Baker.
* * *
"Leonard, I hate to admit it, but my feet are killing me."
"It's these damn rocks. I swear they see me coming, wait till the last minutes, then all shift at once so I'll break my neck." He grinned tiredly at her. "At least it's cool walking."
"And cold sleeping."
"Always the pessimist," he chided her.
"Had a good teacher," Christine shot back. "Actually, I'm beginning to think Spock's tricorder is malfunctioning. If my own didn't give the same info, I'd think we're heading the wrong direction. At least there's been some vegetation and berries to eat."
"I'm sure there's some 'logical' explanation for it all, Chris. After all, Spock told us two days and it's only been three." He nodded his head toward the two officers some distance ahead of them. "What I'm more concerned about is not hearing from the Enterprise. Jim's been trying to raise them every hour on the hour the last three days with absolutely no response."
"I hate to think of the alternative."
"Let's just hope they got delayed by the storm."
* * *
Spock took another reading to verify the course originally plotted. Cocking his head, he picked out the individual footsteps of the rest of the party, saving him from turning around to look. Under the guise of checking his readings, Spock surreptitiously glanced at his Captain, noting the concerned expression that had remained unchanged since they'd lost contact with the ship. "You're unusually quiet, Captain," he remarked casually.
It took a moment for Kirk to realize Spock had said anything. "Just admiring the land, Spock," he lied. He gestured expansively. "Miles and miles of rocky incline that never becomes so steep it can't be traversed, yet never seems flat, either. It never ceases to amaze me how one geographical location can meld into another so smoothly. A few more trees, a little grass, some more wildlife, rain, running water. Each item appears so gradually it takes a while for it to even register that things have changed." Kirk pulled the communicator off his belt and tried contacting the ship. "Still no answer."
"There may be a reasonable explanation..."
"Now you're sounding like Bones."
Spock was saved replying by a glint of light off in the far distance. Kirk leaned over on the pretext of obtaining the tricorder and spoke in lowered tones. "I was wondering if you'd noticed them."
"There have been three such flashes in as many hours, Captain."
"Picking up anything on the tricorder?"
"Vague readings, possibly a single person, the distance is too great to obtain a more accurate reading through these rocks."
"A signal perhaps?"
"Possibly, Captain. It could be of natural origin."
"Not with that regular timing. Let's hope whoever or whatever it is doesn't come on us while we're out in the open like this. We wouldn't stand much of a chance, even with phasers," Kirk surmised bitterly. "How much further?"
"By my readings, over the next crest."
* * *
"Wonder what's bothering the Captain and Spock?" Christine asked.
"Hard telling. Must be fairly serious the way they're acting," McCoy replied. "I would assume it has to do with not being able to contact the ship."
"Or the signal flash ahead of us."
"What flash? I must have missed it."
"You were sliding on a rock at the time."
"Figures. Just what we need, more problems. We only have four phasers between all of us and no cover."
"The signal was quite a distance ahead. We should be safe for a while."
"Seems to me I've heard that quite a bit lately."
* * *
"At last," Kirk breathed as they crested a large hill. Below them lay an unbroken vista of flat land, grassed, with occasional spottings of trees and other vegetation.
By nightfall they made it to a small copse of trees and had located a sufficiency of edibles and a small stream to have the first decent repast in days. Where the cold rocky ground had made for silent nights, the grassy plains were teeming with life and sounds.
McCoy shifted in closer to the fire, rubbing his hands at the welcome warmth against the frigid night air. "I hope whatever is out there, making all the racket, isn't as hungry as he sounds."
"I have never understood the human propensity to assign specific genders to the unknown," Spock observed clinically.
McCoy rose to the bait out of sheer boredom. "Sure beats calling everything 'it'. Or I could have said, I hope that whodingus out there isn't as hungry as that whodingus sounds."
"Really, Doctor," came the unruffled reply.
Kirk stood up and surveyed the landscape. "Miggs, you take the first watch, Baker, the second, wake me for the third. And keep a sharp eye out for any 'whodinguses'." Pulling out his communicator, he made another effort to contact the Enterprise. The answer was the crackle of the fire as a log fell to the flaming embers beneath.
* * *
Christine woke to the weight of a hand across her mouth and a silencing shush. She could barely make out Baker's face mere inches from her own in the murky darkness of pre-dawn. "Trouble. Be ready to run," he whispered, then moved on. Unarmed, she realized the logic in escape, but yet, wasn't sure she could leave the others behind to whatever fate might be in store.
"See anything?'' Kirk whispered. Beyond the trees, they could hear sounds, but see nothing through the early morning fog. The first two watches had been quiet and uneventful, but with the first hints of light came signs of trouble. Miggs and Baker were stationed at the southern perimeter of the camp, Kirk and Spock at the northern edge. McCoy and Christine stayed near the commanding officers.
Spock and Christine used the two tricorders to 'read' the fogged area. "Captain, I'm picking up life forms, distance twenty meters," Chris reported.
"Confirmed," Spock agreed. "Spreading out, we will be surrounded quite soon."
"Twenty nine, no, thirty. Moving closer."
"Miggs, Baker, on my command, phasers on stun, wide angle. Bones, Nurse, stay low." Kirk crouched low, shielding his body with a scrubby tree. Spock followed suit, aiming outward. There was silence, then bodies began emerging from the fog, wisps of it hanging to them with eeriness. Long spears and swords were thrust forward as the circle of armed men closed on the tiny group. "Prepare to fire. Fire."
Four fingers simultaneously pressed firing buttons and nothing happened. "It could be an indigenous damping field, Captain," Spock hurriedly evaluated.
"Try again. Fire." Again the phasers refused to fire. Realizing there was no time to analyze the difficulty, Kirk ordered everyone to stand by for hand to hand combat.
Christine was never sure what really happened that day. Fog-obscured images became blurred as the warriors attacked them. It was as though she herself felt the blade that sliced Miggs' throat in retaliation for a comrade's broken neck. Baker became enshrouded in the rising mists, a brief silhouette against the rising sun before being entangled in the nets of his captors. Spock was a blur to her as he fought them with first his bare hands, then their own weapons. Kirk stood at Spock's back and McCoy braced himself against their joint effort, but the numbers were too great.
There had been no chance for her to escape and large hands held her in place despite her struggles. Christine watched, horrified, as the three were driven apart and separated. McCoy fell to the nets as Baker had done and only Kirk and Spock remained standing.
Kirk felt the blood drip from a cut on his forehead, but couldn't spare a hand to wipe it from his eyes. He'd sensed, more than seen McCoy go down, but at least the physician was only unconscious and not dead, like Miggs.
Spock saw the robed figure standing near Christine, but paid it no attention until a particular signal was given to those fighting Kirk. The First Officer yelled a warning and threw bodies aside like dolls in an effort to reach his Captain, but it was too late.
James Kirk turned at Spock's shout and suddenly everything switched into slow motion. The Vulcan strained against the men around him, clawing to reach him. Jim felt the blade drive home through his chest and saw the fury in Spock's face before everything went black.
Christine had never imagined such violence could be possible as she watched Spock decimate those around him. No quarter was given and none asked, but in the end, numbers told and the net was finally secured into place, after he'd been knocked unconscious. She was only faintly aware of Miggs and Kirk being thrown across backs of strange creatures resembling horses and carried off into the northern plains to be discarded with the fallen enemy as carrion. The rising sun cleared the far hill to greet her, the last of the Enterprise party to still be standing and conscious.
* * *
Dengan, private trader, rode astride today rather than on his own wagon. Targas were tricky to ride due to their short tempers, but had proven to be the most accessible form of transportation in the Northern Plains. Great herds of them roamed free for the capture, or better still, one could trade for tamed Targas with the southernmost tribes of the Plains. It was said the great Northern Tribes were born on the back of a Targa and didn't know what the ground felt like beneath their own feet.
Giving his beast a swift kick, Dengan surged ahead of the slow moving caravan to the lead scouts. The evening sun would soon be setting and Dengan was eager to settle for the night. Another eight days march would find them in Sendaar where the slaves would be penned and sold and his coffers would be weighted down to start new forages for humans. Slave trading could be a profitable business, provided one had sufficient forces to fend off competitors and those deciding to defend themselves rather than submit to the inevitable. Empire laws were specific as to whom could be enslaved, but border patrols and officials always looked away if their pockets were filled properly.
It was dangerous working this far north of the Empire, but the Thousand Year War of the Plains against the Empire was more words than action. Dengan could recall on ly a few skirmishes with Matta's plainsmen in the last thirty years, but in the last two or three years, Matta's son, Tenna, had begun assuming more power from the aging Leader and renewed hostilities with the Empire. Only six weeks ago, Dengan had lost fifty slaves to a raiding party of Tenna's Targa riders. It sill enraged him to think of the lost men, slaves and income from the raid.
How fortuitous it had been to find the small party in the Fringes. Once the runners had signaled him the number available, Dengan had left the caravan and slaves behind and ridden with part of his force to capture them. Unarmed, they had been easy pickings. It was most unfortunate two of the six had been killed, but the price available for the strange one, the Ungaana, would more than recoup the loss. It was rare to see one like him, with the malformed features of a barbarian this far north of the great Cities, but perhaps his fighting skills explained his presence. The evident devotion to the one killed pointed to a possible occupation as a personal body servant/guard, although the blue of his garments suggested a Freeman hired for his blade. Whatever came before this morning was of no consequence to Dengan, for now the man was chained with the rest of the string and in another week would be sold into a life much different than before.
The man in red lacked the obvious fighting prowess of the Ungaana, but would last a few years as field labor perhaps. Such an odd color to see on a man. Blue he could understand, it was the mark of a freeman, but red? Dengan dismissed the other man in blue out of hand as inconsequential. He was no fighter, didn't even look capable of field labor. Dengan would have to hope the market was good the day he went up on the block. The woman should bring a decent price, Dengan figured. She was tall, shapely and had straw colored hair -- a rarity this far north. There were no brands on her which would drive the price further up. A young woman with no markings would help fill his own pockets and replace the loss of the raid.
After directing the scout of his wishes, Dengan pulled back on the reins and returned to the main caravan. Night would be upon them soon and the chances of another raid loomed ahead. Heavily loaded wagons of provisions and the long string of cuffed slaves made a slow moving target and the sooner camp was established and guard mounted for the night watches, the better Dengan would feel.
* * *
Bright campfires dotted the stygian night. Crescents of three moons danced among the flickering stars, but the four survivors of the morning's attack couldn't bear to look at them. It was too painful a remainder of what was no more. A single tent had been pitched near the center of the camp for Dengan, everyone else would have to make do with the open sky for a roof. Mercenaries lounged everywhere, laughing, devouring their evening meal, others marched patrol or stood watch both on what lay outside and within the camp. The slave string was fastened into a circle and put in a large ring just inside the mercenaries. Targas were hobbled in an open space where they could graze, yet be visible at all times to the patrols.
McCoy rolled over carefully, mindful of the bruises gained both in the fight and in the ride from the copse to the caravan over the rump of that beast. His wrists were raw from the chains and his shoulders ached from the jerking pull of the string. The rest of him was an undefined lump of aches and pains blended together. From the moment he'd been awakened before dawn till now was one gigantic blur. The attack was a surreal vision cut off before completion and beyond that he could remember nothing but putting one foot in front of the other.
He could feel the Vulcan nearby, but knew the barriers were still in place, denying him access. Only three words had passed Spock's lips that day in response to McCoy's frantic questioning, but they were enough. "Jim is dead." The words had echoed in his mind, matching the rhythm of his steps, Jim is dead, jim is dead, jimisdead, jimisdead... Emptiness replaced his initial pain and numbness set in at last to fill the void.
None of this was possible. It couldn't be real. Nothing made sense. McCoy listened to the rustling of his fellow captives, then turned his attention on his captors. They were a rugged lot, quite human in appearance, with garments of practical leather and some sort of heavy cloth. Their language made no sense to him since the Enterprise group had not taken time to have subcutaneous translators implanted before beaming down. A richly robed figure was obviously in command, but who or what he was remained unclear to the Doctor.
Where was the Enterprise? Would she be able to find them? McCoy felt a small flame of hope, but squelched it immediately. Without communicators, tricorders, anything, there would be no way for the ship to locate them. If they had remained near the original landing site, possibly, but with each day they moved further away from the Chrysaline deposits and help.
"Spock?" Not a muscle moved in answer to him. "Spock, talk to me." McCoy had a sinking feeling the Vulcan was moving further away from them all with every passing hour. The look in Spock's eyes had grown more distant through the day, until now, there was no response at all . He'd tried all day to get through to Spock, but the effort had been to no avail. If his guess was right, soon it would be too late to make any effort.
Spock could hear McCoy's voice as though coming through a heavy filter or funnel. Why couldn't McCoy leave him alone? Always pestering, meddling in matters that didn't concern him. Questioning, prodding, poking his way through clearly drawn barriers that denied him entrance. When Kirk had been lost in the Tholian space and everything was coming apart at the seams, McCoy had been right there, pushing, until the tape had set things right again temporarily. The time alone in the cell with him on 892-IV after the gladiatorial fight in front of Merik and Claudius Marcus, surely he could have seen that Spock wanted to be left to himself, but no, it was a time to needle the Vulcan for some unknown reason.
Couldn't McCoy understand his grief was his own, not to be shared with anyone? A Vulcan would never be so rude as to intrude as this human did. Spock wasn't sure which was worse, the grief at Kirk's loss, or the shame that was his for allowing such a thing to happen. He had failed to protect his Captain, his friend. Death had claimed him, for this there was no excuse, no defense for his actions that had made this possible. The image of Jim's face at the moment the sword entered his body remained fixed, frozen in action in Spock's mind. It was a picture with no prelude or coda, just the event itself. Occasionally, other images would replace the one of death. His Captain seated on the bridge, making decisions, outwitting the enemy with his intuition and tactical gen i us. Chess games, workouts in the gym, missions, exchanged moments of empathy ... Miramanee, Edith, Sam ... the memories of Rayna, Spock had taken away frost him.
A beach to walk upon. A line that replayed over and over. A tall ship and a star to steer her by. The Enterprise had been the center of J im's life, but Kirk had been the center of Spock's. What now remained? Why couldn't McCoy just keep silent? Why this intrusion?
"Spock, I know you can hear me. Quit ignoring me."
What would life be like without James Kirk?
McCoy found his temper slipping. "Damn it, Spock, stop this. How dare you! How dare you be so selfish?"
No one there to understand him.
"What gives you the right to choose the easy way out when the rest of us have to put up with whatever is thrown our way?"
There was nothing left for him now. No Jim, no Enterprise, no Vulcan, no ... nothing...
"We don't have this ability to just 'shut' ourselves off."
To turn inward and leave the outside world behind...
"Oh, what's the use. You never did care for anyone but Jim anyway. I know you and I have had our differences, but what about Baker, or Christine? I never did understand what she ever did to you that made you treat her so badly. Oh, she told me about that fiasco over Psi 2000 quite a bit after the fact, but since then I know she's tried everything to be nothing but professional around you. And what do you do? Treat her like dirt. What about Baker? What did he ever do to warrant being left on his own because his commanding officer decided to abandon him?"
I hear his voice. No, it is two voices. Why does he follow me even in here?
"It's funny, Spock. I never took you for a coward. Guess I was wrong. Go ahead and do as you please. Chris and I will get along just fine without you. Don't worry about us. Sorry to have bothered you." McCoy emphasized his words by rolling over and putting his back to Spock.
Words, always words. Spock tried to shut the verbose doctor out, to retreat to that inner place of seclusion, but failed. There was no truth in McCoy's words, no logic. What did this planet hold in store for McCoy, Chapel and Baker? Would his survival and presence make any difference in their future? Would he be failing Jim, failing his responsibility, if he chose not to remain with them as senior officer? Would James Kirk have left them on their own if his presence could have made any difference?
Enough. It had been decided the moment Jim had died, only he hadn't seen it. How illogical he'd been to even consider following Jim so soon. The time was not right.
Spock opened his eyes to see the crescent moons overhead. Unfamiliar star patterns dotted the night sky and he briefly felt a pang of regret for all that had been lost. Had he been guilty of allowing scientific curiosity to override logic, thus causing the Enterprise to be thrown across time and space by the star's implosion? Would Kirk have detained the Enterprise had he curbed his curiosity and allowed the ship to leave when initially suggested? Was there any point in dwelling on it after the fact? There was no delaying the inevitable any longer. He placed a hand on McCoy's shoulder, then removed it.
"Dr. McCoy, I have never known anyone with such a propensity for verbosity."
"And I have never known anyone who could be so stubborn," McCoy returned. It had been a cruel way to elicit a response, but it had worked and for that he was thankful. "I'm sorry, Spock, I didn't know any other way to reach you."
"Logic dictates we make every effort to extract ourselves from the present situation and return to the original beamdown point, or at least to try and regain our equipment. There is little we can do with Nurse Chapel separated from us as she is. We will have to wait until such time as we are all together to effect an escape."
"When will that be? They have us chained and guarded constantly. Hell, they don't let us out of these things for any reason. I haven't seen any indication that it's going to change very soon either."
"So it would appear," Spock agreed. "Our captors have held to a southwest route all day, which would indicate a specific destination. I suggest the possibility of the large city near where we originally beamed down."
"But why there of all places?"
"I should think that would be obvious, Doctor. These chains are those of enslavement, the presence of a large city that of a trading place." McCoy felt a shiver run up his spine totally unconnected with the chilled night air. Somehow the prospect of being sold had held an ethereal quality to it until matter of factly verbalized by Spock. If the string of slaves were indeed scheduled for sale, chances were definitely against all reaching the same place. Things were looking worse all the time.
One of the guards cane over and kicked Spock, saying something neither of them could understand, but the meaning was clear -- shut up. Rather than invite further attention, both men exchanged glances, knowing the conversation would continue in the morning.
* * *
Christine lay on the hard ground, staring longingly at the far side of the large circle to where the men were located. They were so close, yet so far away from her. At least they had been unconscious when her captors had forced her to strip and undergo an examination, for what she didn't know, then allowed to redress. It had been so degrading, to be treated like an animal or a specimen under a microscope.
Now, after a long hard day of walking, Christine hurt in places she didn't know she could hurt. The heavy metal manacles were relentless in pulling her along at the captor's chosen pace. She shifted positions, trying to find a more comfortable way to lie. Those who had attacked and captured them rode animals, what did they care how difficult it was for one hundred plus men, women and children to keep pace?
Scenes of the morning's attack relayed in her mind. Had some of these children been forced to see similar events? How many of them had been torn from their homes, ripped from their families? By the ages of the string, their captors were interested only in the young. She couldn't remember seeing anyone over forty, nor younger than six or seven.
The Captain was dead. She'd seen it with her own eyes. The blade had gone completely through his chest, they'd carried him away to dump someplace to be devoured. It was such an ignominious ending to an otherwise glorious career and great man. She had respected him, admired him as a Captain, even admitted defeat to him as her rival for Spock. He'd never particularly liked her, she knew, but somehow, now, that didn't matter much. He'd never understood her, partially because of his over wishes, but also because she'd never allowed him to get that close. He had a friendship with Spock she could never have, she owed him nothing. Jim Kirk had possessed everything -- a ship, McCoy and Spock as best friends, any woman he wanted, the list was endless. Now he would have one more thing -- unasked, but given anyway -- her fears and grief.
From Kirk, her thoughts eventually turned of their own accord to Leonard and Spock. How were they coping with their grief which was surely greater than her own? Would they turn to each other in this time, or become bitter enemies? How many times had she seen them at odds? And always for the same reason -- Kirk. What would happen now that he was gone? For that matter, what would happen to any of them? Chained Like this they were no better than a herd of cattle being led to slaughter. The scraps of food doled out to them were barely sufficient to keep them on their feet and water rations were little better. Where were they being taken and why?
Thought after thought swirled through her tired brain until sleep finally overtook her.
* * *
Dengan threw the parchment across the tent at the messenger. Four days out of Sendaar, and now this. How dare the Imperial Governor make such a demand of him after taking those enormous bribes last year? It was Naachan's responsibility to circumvent just this sort of thing.
"Imbecile!" he yelled at the unfortunate slave from Naachan. "Go from my sight." The wretched man withdrew quickly, knowing Dengan's reputation for avenging wrath on others.
The parchment had been an order from Naachan, Imperial Governor, to Dengan, slave trader, to furnish the imperial Stone Quarry outside of Daarae with ten slaves of Naachan's choice upon arrival in the city... Signed, by decree from the Emperor himself, with his seal, Telchanto.
Ten slaves. Dengan retrieved the paper and tossed it into the chest containing other important documents. It was hard to resist the temptation to throw it into the brazier dish. Denying it arrived would do no good as a copy was already on file in the archives. Telchanto always covered himself well. It was why he'd survived this long wearing the Imperial robes of silver. Losing another ten slaves with no profit to show for them, on top of the fifty already lost to the raiders, was going to set him back considerably. They were much too close to the city to collect any more slaves for the string and cost of rerouting back into the north would be more expenditure than probable gain.
* * *
Spock caught McCoy's arm as he stumbled from the chain's pull. Dengan had picked up the pace that morning and many on the string were having trouble keeping up. They'd been traveling four days, today being the fifth with an unvaried pattern. No opportunities had presented themselves for escape either. Slaves were never unchained and guard vigilance was never relaxed. It was life in a large fishbowl. "Why the rush?" McCoy asked harshly.
"Unknown," Spock replied. "A messenger came to the camp last evening and left soon thereafter. It would be logical to assume a connection."
"Great. Have you seen Christine today? I seem to have missed her this morning in the hoorah of starting out early."
Had he seen Christine this morning? Spock had hoped the question would not be asked. McCoy had been asleep, exhausted from the day's journey, long before the messenger had even arrived. Only Spock had remained awake, listening and learning all he could.
* * *
Spock wished the fires were built closer to the slaves. It was difficult to withstand this continuous chill, even though McCoy inevitably snuggled close in his sleep to capture the body heat radiated by the Vulcan. Snatches of conversations wafted in and out of his sensitive hearing as he tried to put rhyme and reason to the language. It bore no particular resemblance to an language he knew, but given time, Spock was certain he could master it sufficiently for their needs.
He watched, fascinated, as the runner approached the camp, alerting the guards to his friendly intentions and calmly submitting their search of his person. Dengan had met him at the tent entrance and led the way. Angry words had followed, spoken only Dengan, the runner never did say anything after his encounter with the guards. After the messenger had gone, Dengan had emerged from his tent once more, giving quiet orders to those standing guard around his quarters.
It had been difficult to keep silent, not to make a move as the two men converged on a sleeping Christine Chapel. They had done this sort of thing many times and had her gagged and removed from the string without rousing more than a couple of women chained next to her. Spock wasn't sure what happened next when they carried her away from the camp toward the far stream, but made a reasonable guess when she returned with damp hair and a large blanket wrapped around her.
They never removed the gag, but he could hear the struggle that ensued inside the tent. How she endured the pain and humiliation of Dengan's anger and lust, Spock didn't know, but when they finally returned her to the string, dressed, not in her tattered uniform, but in a short dirty tunic, there were few tears left to be cried before exhaustion overtook and blessed her with a few hours of oblivion.
The two guards who'd assisted Dengan had stood near the fire following their watch and Spock etched their features into his memory.
* * *
"I saw Miss Chapel this morning, Doctor. You must have missed seeing her due to the confusion," Spock replied neutrally.
"That must have been it. I wish we could at least talk to her, see how she's enduring this. We at least have each other, but she has no one."
"It is unfortunate they have segregated us, escape will be more difficult because of it."
"Speaking of, Spock, have you come up with any ideas yet?"
"Negative. Even if we should break free, where would we go? We would be on foot, with no knowledge of the countryside, language or shelter. Our equipment, if it wasn't destroyed, was left at the site of the attack, over four days journey behind us."
"You sound like you've given up."
"Doctor, I am responsible for four lives, as you so carefully pointed out to me several days ago. Until the time an effective escape can be made, with satisfactory odds of success, there is no point in deluding ourselves of the facts."
"And how will the Enterprise find us? We're a long way from the Chrysaline deposits, and with the ship in such bad condition, they can't hang around forever to find us." The string slowed down and McCoy was grateful for the respite.
"That is correct. However..."
"However, nothing. We're running out of rime, if it hasn't run out already."
"What do you propose?"
"Leave us here. Head back for the equipment. We can take care of ourselves until you find us. You've said yourself we can't all escape, but alone you might make it."
"It is too risky. The odds of locating the three of you again are too high. Even if I should make it back, there is no guarantee of the equipment being there, or in working order. I do not believe the Enterprise will be in the vicinity by that time, either. Mr. Scott had barely enough power to break orbit once, if he was indeed able. To enter orbit again to rescue us could prove fatal to the entire ship."
"You've known all along we were stranded here, haven't you," McCoy accused bitterly. "You knew, but let us keep hoping. That's why you didn't care whether you lived or died, isn't it? Because you knew there was no chance of rescue, of getting off this forsaken hellhole. Did you tell Jim, or did you deceive him, too?"
A sigh escaped him. "I did not know any more than the rest of you, at the onset, that we would be stranded here. It is only because of the unexpected storm and elapsed time coupled with the power difficulties and other factors that have led me to this conclusion. Jim was well aware of the possibility, but he indulged in the human propensity of hope."
"He would." McCoy fell silent with his own thoughts. "There's really no point in even trying, is there?"
"What would you have me say?"
* * *
Why, she kept asking herself, why me? Why did Dengan have to choose nu? There must be fifty women, yet he had to pick me. Christine kept her expression unchanged the entire day, trying to ignore the occasional looks sent her way by guards and slaves alike. Did everyone know? Was rape so accepted that it warranted no more than a passing notice? Did these chains on her wrists mean she was free game to any who wanted to take advantage?
What kind of man was Dengan that he needed to inflict pain on a woman to gain satisfaction? Was he typical of the men on this planet? Didn't anyone care? Christine could have sworn she saw a couple women nod at her as if in understanding. Was this treatment of his captive women normal?
At least Spock and McCoy wouldn't know what had happened. Everyone had been asleep when the guards had taken her to Dengan, and being ignorant of the language they wouldn't understand any of the talk being passed around about it. It hadn't been her fault, but yet, she couldn't help but think they would be disgusted with her.
Don't be silly, Chris, she told herself. Leonard would never react that way. You've seen how he treats others who've been attached or abused. There's not a mean bone in his body. He would be nothing but compassionate. Pity you, a voice spoke up inside. How could any man truly understand what it means to be used so viciously then discarded like a dirty rag? They might think they understand but how could they?
McCoy might come close to comprehending her inner pain, but Spock would never understand. He came from a world where such things didn't exist. Violence of this nature would be alien to him. He would know of it on an intellectual level, but how would he react to it on a physical plane? Spock thought so little of her now, what would this do to his opinion and impressions?
Her bruised ribs ached with the endless walking, but at least they kept her mind off some of the other aches and pains. Christine knew she shouldn't feel it, but Dengan had made her assume a new perspective of sex. Instead of something to be shared, it had become a feeling of disgust. In one night, Dralan and the guards had wiped away the good and replaced it with bad. For that, she would never forgive them. To take away the pleasant memories of Roger and Harry and return ones of pain and humiliation was worse than anything they'd done to her body.
The chains tugged unmercifully, bringing her back to the present. Soon it would be night again. She had an idea sleep would come harder to her from now on, knowing that at any time it could be disrupted in a most unpleasant manner.
* * *
Sendaar spread out below them. The road they traveled was well used and bore signs of age. They'd connected with the road yesterday and would follow it all the way to the city.
Dengan wanted to spit at Naachan's ornate dwelling near the center of the city as they passed it, but knew the possibility of a spy among his men was strong. Sendaar was the largest slave trading center in the Empire. Buyers would travel for weeks from all corners, just to peruse the hundreds, even thousands of slaves available at any given time. Now was the peak buying season, just before harvest. Any dealer fortunate enough to have strong men and women on his string would carry back full coffers from several days bidding. Dengan cursed the order to surrender ten of his finest to the quarry again. The streets were packed, showing the City to be burgeoning with prospective buyers and their entourages. Open market bazaars were at a constant pitch with coins changing hands continuously. Beggars crouched in alleyways and thieves moved freely, pocketing fortunes. Crops were reported good this year, prices would be high.
Census takers for the Empire claimed Sendaar to be a City of thirty thousand, but Dengan estimated the population to be double that during a time like this. Contained by massive stone walls, the City proper was well protected from possible attacks from the Plainsmen. Its history contained records of many such attacks being repulsed during the early years of the Thousand Year War. Now the walls were seldom used for defense anymore, but rather for the containment of thousands of slaves within the pens. There was only one gate and armed sentries patrolled the wall tops day and night. Even those few slaves who made it to the top of the wall either died from the sheer drop of two hundred feet down the outside, or from impalement on the cruelly sharpened and strategically placed stakes below.
Dengan paraded his string down the twisting thoroughfare to the permanent pens where the slaves would be recorded and held until auctioned. He knew some dealers would take the back street route, preferring to surprise the buyers with their slaves, but Dengan wanted his customers to know ahead of time what was available and be able to plan ahead on their purchases.
He sat on his Targa, watching the processing of the string into separate pens. The view was always better from a Targa, than on foot, not to mention staying out of the filth. His only regret, and it was a passing one, was the loss of the strange woman with the straw colored hair. She was feisty, never submitting willingly to him on the three nights he'd take her. Oh, well, she would be someone else's problem soon.
"Berra Dengan." Dengan turned at the title and confronted Naachan's military commander, Tii.
"Commander Tii. Naachan is punctual, as always."
The smile on Tii's face was quite superficial. His hatred for Dengan matched that of his master, Naachan. He was always happy to comply with imperial orders that would deny Dengan of a profit. One year it had been road workers needed, another for the ship yards, this time it was the quarry. "I see you had a successful acquisition journey, Berra. His August will appreciate your effort in supplying his quarry with labor."
"It is always a pleasure to do my part for the Empire," Dengan answered silkily. "It's a shame you're not in the position to do the same."
Tii's second in command caught Tii's arm en route to the sword by his side. The insult was plain to Tii. Military service was a mandatory life profession for those born to its ranks. To achieve wealth such as Dengan had accrued was impossible for someone in the military, unless events made it feasible for them to enter politics. Few made it in that field because of the enormous amounts of collateral necessary.
"I am sure, in your generosity, you would be willing to offer more than the mandatory ten, Berra," Tii ground out through clenched teeth.
"My generosity does not extend into stupidity, Commander. Choose your ten, then leave me." Dengan directed the gate be opened and Tii allowed to enter. At least only the men would be fair game this time, the women would be left alone.
Spock noticed the exchange going on between Dengan and someone bearing the markings of a soldier. There was no apparent love lost between them. Still wearing chains, but no longer attached to the string, each slave was free to go where they chose within the large pen. McCoy and Baker followed him to the far corner away from the others.
"Not sure I like this place any better than the slave string," McCoy grumbled as he settled to the ground, leaning back against the massive stone wall. "Did you see the size of these walls from the outside? Even from the inside they're pretty impressive."
"Agreed. It may be possible, however, once past those gates holding us in here, to lose ourselves in the city for a time until we can make our way elsewhere."
"Tonight?" Baker asked.
"It may be our only chance, Ensign. In a few hours it will be dark, we will go then."
"What about Christine? We can't leave her here," McCoy objected. "How will we get her out?"
"I heard them place the women in the next area down from us. When the three of us have broken out of here, you and Baker will go ahead while I try and get to Miss Chapel. There's no sense in all of us being risked," Spock added, knowing McCoy would object to the separation.
"Mr. Spock, I have a bad feeling about that fellow." He nodded toward an armed man some distance away. "He's pulled six or seven men out so far and he's headed this way." Baker hunched closer to the wall trying to become less conspicuous.
Tii almost walked by the three, but at the last second noticed Spock's ears. So, Dengan had an Ungaana, a strange barbarian from the far lands... A rare prize... One Ungaana alone would bring enough profit to pay for the entire journey. Taking this one away from Dengan would pay the trader back for all his insults. Actually, Tii figured, Dengan must have thought him stupid not to realize this and allow him free rein of the pen.
He motioned to his men that another had been chosen. "This one, the one with the misshapen ears." Tii reveled in the look of hatred that crossed Dengan's face. Naachan would enjoy hearing he'd had the last laugh after all on the ruthless trader.
Tii's men were long on experience in handling slaves. Working in the pens either made you an expert, or dead. Fresh slaves, especially those unmarked were the most dangerous with which to contend, as they were untrained and unbroken. Dengan had a reputation for pushing his string to the limit of their endurance before reaching Sendaar, but for some reason, this Ungaana seemed unaffected by the grueling journey. Six moved in cautiously, watching out for the man's companions. Many a worker had lost their lives to friends or relatives of the slave they sought, because of carelessness.
All three men found long barbed poles directed at them, but McCoy and Baker felt the points pushing them away, whereas Spock was kept where he was.
"It's you they want, Spock!" McCoy shouted, trying to get past the barbs and back to Spock.
"We can't let them take him," Baker yelled, lunging at the guards. Escape was so close, within their grasp that very night. Without Spock, they would never make it. He'd seen and experienced more than enough of captivity on this miserable planet. Only the hope of escape and eventual return to the Enterprise had sustained him this long. Now these men, these stupid barbarians, were taking that chance away from him. He grabbed one of the poles near the point, trying to wrest it away from its owner, oblivious to the pain of the other barbs.
"Ensign." "Baker," the other two men ordered, attempting to forestall the inevitable, but Baker was out of control. In his mind, he had nothing left to lose. His training, as a security man in the service of Starfleet, was erased by the events of the last two weeks, replaced by a man of pure desperation. He was twenty eight years old, his life had just begun. The regeneration had made him eighteen again with many extra years ahead. There was such shock in his eyes when death claimed him.
"Doctor, don't fight it. There is nothing you can do." McCoy ceased struggling, not so much because of Spock words, as by the death of Baker. "This separation could be temporary. If not, Christine is your responsibility." Spock tugged at the chain dragging him away, stopping the two men leading. "I will endeavor to return for you."
McCoy slumped down to the ground after Spock was gone. Had Baker been right after all, preferring to die rather than submit to slavery the rest of his life? The dead body had already been dragged away and only the memory remained of a man to whom he'd been chained. Was life and death that simple here? Spock must have known it since he chose to go with rather than fight back. Leonard McCoy pulled at the shackles on his wrists. He had given Spock a reason to live that day Jim died, forced him to survive against his wishes. Now the tables had been turned. Making Christine Chapel his responsibility would force him into living. McCoy wondered if Spock had hated him that day as much as he hated Spock now.
* * *
The sun beat down unmercifully on the crowd gathered around the main blocks. Street vendors hawked their sweets, taking coin that was offered and some that wasn't. Jugglers and entertainers kept the crowd occupied until such time as the auction started. Wealthy and poor mingled freely, setting aside protocol for the day. City officials rubbed their hands with glee at the thought of all the taxes and duties coming into the City's chest, and their own as a by-product. from today's sales.
A public auction this size was rare most of the year, except for this short season before harvest when the traders would flood the market and draw buyers from all over the Empire. Private auctions were becoming the vogue now, too, which reduced the amounts of money being collected by the law.
Dengan reclined beneath the shade of the balconied portico directly overlooking the open plaza. Damn Tii for taking the Ungaana for the quarry. Naachan and his man would pay for this... somehow... The string of quarry workers had left at dawn this morning for the three week trip to Daarae. It was a shame Tii wasn't a part of the string.
A hush settled over the gathering as the portly auctioneer stepped heavily onto the platform. Sweat beaded on his face as he signaled the first of the slaves to be brought out. It was a restless crowd today and the heat would make it worse. Further away could be heard the voices of other auctioneers from the surrounding plazas.
Up on the balcony, Dengan smiled at his competitors' losses while keeping track of the crowd's mood. His string was just now coming to the block. If bidding remained fierce, the loss would not be as great as originally anticipated. His man was near the block and moneykeeper, keeping records of every transaction, runners would keep Dengan informed of every coin going into his coffers.
One of the slaves caught his attention. The man in blue who'd been captured with the Ungaanan. Bidding soon narrowed down and eventually he was purchased as a slave for the Chaiing House. Dengan was pleased one of his slaves had been bought by one of the most prestigious Houses in the Empire. The Chaiing lineage was long and the wealth was great. It was said Leonge Chaiing had the ear of the Emperor in nearly every matter. The House itself was located near the palace in the Ruling City of Shu.
The woman captured with the Ungaanan came up soon after. Stripped as all women were for the block, she first appeared embarrassed and shy, then defiant. Her fire showed through in attempts to thwart the buyers trying to inspect her. As Dengan had expected, the straw colored hair, together with her youth and looks brought an excellent price. It was a shame she wouldn't keep it for long. Zarton, Master of the largest and finest House of Pleasure demanded much of his women. In a few years, her beauty would be gone and he would sell her to some establishment of lower repute. At least he still retained her blue garment as a reminder of her.
The last of the runners came and reported to him just as the sun was beginning to set over the high city walls. Dengan rose from the divan and paused to look down at the empty block and diminishing crowd. Despite all, the day had been profitable. Perhaps he would be lucky on his next journey and find another Ungaana.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Cool fall breezes caught the coup plumes hanging from the Targa's nosebands as the three riders made their way back north to the Tribe. Ren motioned the other two riders to follow the main trail while he investigated a faint track away from the rest. The three had been trailing Dengan's caravan while the remainder of the raiding party traveled north with the newest acquisition of fifty slaves. Raid after raid in the last five years had sent many Empire slaves to new homes among the tents of the Wanderers. Ren and others like him had made slave trading less profitable for Dengan and his competitors. The desperate measures to which Dengan had been pushed had been evident that morning by his attack on the small copse before dawn. They hadn't been close enough to actually see what happened, but the remains left behind gave mute evidence to the fight.
Ren loosened his sword within the baldric before dismounting his Targa. There was a stench of death in the air, but something else, too, which made him cautious. Stealing through the tall grass, he crept closer. Breaking into a clearing, Ren saw the abandoned bodies left by Dengan's men. Most were of their own number, two were strangers. He stopped short at the sight of the gold tunic. It was a color reserved for the burying of the dead, especially those of ruling clans. Yet, the man lived. A slight motion could be seen as the unconscious man fought to live despite the wound in his chest.
Wondering why he did so, Ren bandaged the wound and slung the man over his Targa. Only the dead wore gold, yet this man was alive. Had Dengan been hasty in leaving him for the beasts of the plains, or had the man come back to life after death at the hands of the slavers? Ren wasn't sure he really wanted an answer to the question.
The other two never questioned his decision to take the man with them to the north. As Head Warrior, none save Tenna and his sons, Vallon and Tull, would interfere with Ren's right to do as he wished with the man. By nightfall, fever had set in and the stranger thrashed about in delirium. With the morning light came Ren's decision to send the other two riders ahead with news for Tenna and for him to remain behind with the one in gold.
* * *
A dull throbbing in his chest met Kirk as he woke to a new day. He lay still for a moment, adjusting to the strange sounds and smells before opening his eyes. There was someone near by, he could hear them, but whether it was friend or foe, there was no way of telling.
Ren was immediately aware of the slight movement and turned to his companion of five days. "How do you feel?" he asked, checking the wound which now looked fresh and healing after much festering. The man in gold replied, but it was a tongue Ren couldn't recognize. Ren tried again, shifting to a southern dialect, one of the languages of the Empire, but was once more met with the strange words.
Although Kirk was driven to begin the search for his crew, he could do little else than stay supine and sleep for several more days and regain his strength. His companion, Ren, used the time to start instructing the Captain in the Northern dialect of the great Tribe.
James Kirk was puzzled by Ren. What had prompted a Northern Warrior to stop and care for a stranger, one left by the slavers to die? Why had the men attacking the Enterprise camp left him to die with a would in the chest? Perhaps the physiology of this planet's people placed the heart in a different part of the chest. It would certainly explain why they would leave him for dead -- one of their own kind would have been. According to Ren, another man dressed similarly to him had been dumped inĚ the tall grass in addition to the attackers. Who else had died? Was it someone besides Miggs? The fighting had been so fierce and against such odds that he'd lost sight of everyone at the last moment. Only the image of Spock's face and movements as he tried to save his Captain remained forever etched, all else was gone.
By the tenth day, Kirk felt strong enough to begin hobbling around the camp and insisted on visiting the place where Ren had found him. He had to know who it was that had been left there. Ren broached no argument with Kirk and hoisted him up onto the Targa.
New grass had sprouted and that which had been trampled down had sprung up once more, obliterating the traces of man's passage. There was nothing particular to be seen at the camp proper, other than the destroyed remains of the equipment. Kirk's communicator had somehow remained attached to his belt during the fight, but he'd been unable to contact the Enterprise since regaining consciousness. All the comnunicators, besides his own, and the tricorders, were smashed into irreparable bits of junk and left in the ashes of the fire. Where was his crew now? Who was alive and who was dead? Did they think him dead, too?
Little remained of the bodies left for the beasts. A few bones, some scraps of material, part of a boot, bits of metal from the attackers clothing. The material was red and Kirk felt a pang of guilt at the relief of knowing the dead man hadn't been Spock or McCoy. Miggs was the only one who had perished so far on this planet, but no one would ever know about it.
* * *
The next morning, Kirk announced, in halting words, his plans to fallow the slaver's trail and find his people. It took time and considerable sign language to get his thoughts across, but he succeeded at last. Ren kept his silence, then motioned the Captain to mount the Targa, climbing up ahead. They rode for some distance to the south, keeping to the path blazed by Dengan. By mid-day sun, they crested a rise, lying flat in the grass to observe the valley below. Rank after rank of soldiers marched past the hidden spectators. Kirk took a rough estimate in his head and whistled to himself in amazement. Two thousand men. The logistics of moving and supplying a force that size in this primitive culture astounded him. Why a military group that large so far north?
Ren touched his arm and Kirk slithered back down the hill to the patient Targa. An anger filled Kirk as he realized the warning the warrior was giving him. There was no way he could merrily skip past a military operation, locate Dengan's caravan, rescue his crew and escape unscathed. The slavers already had over a two week start on him and without a phaser, there was no way to take on all those mercenaries and hope to win. At least he could be secure in the knowledge that Spock would take care of them until Kirk could find a way to get to them. Spock would find a way to escape and head back north, or at least somewhere safer than where they'd been captured. Kirk regretted the pain his 'death' must be causing them, especially Spock and McCoy, but also conceded they had the advantage of not having to wonder about him as he did them.
* * *
Kirk pulled the borrowed fur cloak tighter against the bitter cold with a surreptitious motion as they rode past the sentinels guarding the outer perimeter of the main encampment. His wound had healed in the last three months, but he was still conscious of the chill that hovered constantly in the last days of fall. Ren seemed imperious to the cold, shedding layer after layer indiscriminately through the heat of the day until long after the setting of the sun.
The journey had been long and hard, moving ever northward to reach Matta's camp. Several times they had encountered warriors and hunters from other Northern Tribes, each bearing the same news... Imperial scouts and spies were encroaching the very heart of the Plains.
It was one month into the long trek that Kirk had his first taste of life in the Northern Plains. His thoughts turned back to that day as he and Ren passed tent after tent...
* * *
The days were slipping by too quickly and dragged interminably for James Kirk. Had he been on Draana four weeks, or was it five? How long had it been since he'd last seen his friends? Where were they now? Were they still alive, or had this planet claimed them as it had Miggs? Where was the Enterprise? Had she returned for them as planned, or ... Jim shifted, trying to find a more comfortable spot on the Targa acquired from an encounter with a small group of warriors. Why hadn't someone ever invented saddles for these critters? A heavy fur between his body and the bony frame of the Targa just didn't quite fill the bill. At least he no longer had a bruised posterior as he'd obtained the first few days of riding.
"Jeem, to the west," Ren pointed at specks above the horizon.
Kirk strained to see what it was Ren had noticed, but his eyes weren't as sharp as his companions. With a nudge, they turned the Targas and headed for the specks.
"Kallas?" Jim made a regretful wish for a universal translater, then pushed the thought aside. Why did everything have to remind him of what was no more?
"Scavengers, winged creatures that feed on the dead."
"Draana's equivalent of the vulture," Kirk surmised. "How far?"
Five miles, Kirk estimated mentally. Vultures visible at this distance? "How large are these Kallas?"
"This far south, perhaps the size of a man. It is said that those who live at the farthest reaches of the Plains ride them as we do Targas. Whether the legends are true, I don't know, for I haven't been that far to the North. My grandfather told me the tales, when I was very young, of the Kallas that grew to be larger than three Targas and carried warriors through the air." Ren adjusted the bow slung over his shoulder. "It was just a story to tell young children at night around a fire."
"Most legends have their basis in truth."
"Perhaps, one day after we have defeated the Empire and regained our land, I will journey to the North and find the truth for myself." They rode in silence for a time, drawing closer to the circling Kallas. Kirk was fascinated by the aerial creatures. A cross between a bird and a reptile, they swooped and soared with ease far above the ground. Great leathery wings beat the air, but no sounds came from the huge beaks.
"We better leave the Targas here, any closer they would become prey for the Kallas. If we stay concealed, we should not be in danger."
A mile's walk later, they crested the rise above a small depression. bodies were scattered over the entire clearing, Targa and human mixed together. At the far side were five men, laughing as they passed a skin of drink around between them.
Kirk grabbed Ren's shoulder and forced him back down to the ground. "Wait, let them get thoroughly drunk first." Three men, two women and three small girls, all dead. The men appeared to have been killed outright, the women and children much later, all murdered in a barbarous fashion.
"The Emperor grows bold that they have remained behind with their deed to drink of their fortune," Ren spit out. "They sit there bragging of how little they left behind for the Kallas to feed upon."
"Imperial soldiers?" Jim looked for telltale signs of armor, but could find nothing in their appearance that marked them different from the dead bodies.
"The Targas have been shod with metal and their tongue is that of the Empire, not the Tribe." Two of the five rose unsteadily to their feet and headed for the tethered Targas. "We must kill them before they rejoin."
"Why not follow them and see where they go? We can't help these people."
"We can stop them from killing others taken in by their disguise." Loosing his knife, Ren slithered closer to the seated men. Kirk followed cautiously, keeping the men by the Targas in sight. Another stood up and left the group, walking to the body of a woman who'd been abused. He stumbled over her cloak and kicked her in retaliation. A moan slipped from the lips of a victim he thought dead. Shouting with glee, he drew his sword and hacked off her arm before slitting her throat. Tossing the limb into the air, he tumbled to the ground in a drunken heap as a Kallas grabbed it in a lightening fast swoop.
Sickened by the night, Kirk crawled through the grass toward the unconscious man while Ren made his way toward the rest of the soldiers, once again grouped together with the drinking skin.
His sword slipped from the baldric into his hand in a smooth motion as he threw himself at the four. No one noticed Kirk grabbing the blood-stained sword and running to help Ren against the half drunken soldiers. Metal clashed against metal and curses were shouted with slurred tongues, but the fight was short and four bodies soon lay at their feet. With a contemptuous gestures, Ren walked to the man lying by the woman and swung his blade with a vengeance, sending the soldier to join his companions. Tearing the dead shirt, Ren used it to clean his blade, then tossed it to Kirk, motioning him to do the same.
What would Spock, or Bones, say if they saw him now, wiping his sword clean with a dead man's shirt, feeling no guilt for his actions? Did a massacre and a woman's agony justify his actions on a strange planet far from the jurisdiction of Starfleet? Did he still owe loyalty to the Prime Directive of non-interference when he felt morally justified in killing these men?
"Come, Jeem, the Kallas have tasted blood. We must leave here quickly." Ren tugged a soldier's baldric till it came off and tossed it to Kirk. "Use this to hold the sword you have earned. He doesn't need it any longer."
* * *
Small furry things, which Kirk immediately dubbed as 'dogs' yapped at the Targas as the two men approached the central tent. Kirk felt the tension in the air, could see it on the people's faces. Tradition was the binding force of the Great Northern Tribes, Ren had explained, but now it was strangling them. Tenna was the acknowledged Leader of the Tribes, but could not assume power till the death of Matta, present Leader. Strength was the only recognized symbol of authority among the tribes peoples, according to Ren, yet for Tenna to move against Matta in his advanced age and senility would be cause for banishment from the Tribes with the mark of cowardice upon his forehead for all to see. Their culture and traditions extended back thousands of years, to defy them in any way was unthinkable.
Some distance away, Kirk noticed several warriors working out with the short blades of the Empire, others practicing with traditional Tribal weapons of knife and unarmed methods. Beyond them, he could see groups of children playing in the manner of all children, yet further away were the older ones clustered around older men, being instructed in the ways of war. An occasional woman could be seen wearing the marks of warrior.
Noting Kirk's curiosity, Ren gestured to the marks on his own arm that showed him to be a full warrior. "Any woman who can pass the tests may wear the marks, but no man will ever claim them to bear his sons." Sliding from the backs of their Targas, the two men waited patiently for Matta to acknowledge their arrival from the South. Ren had brief ed Kirk during the journey for this moment. It had been a long ride for them, transforming the relationship from one of cautious trust to one of growing friendship.
The Northern Tribes had no slaves, all those captured from the Empire were taken to the furthest regions from the Walled Cities and given the choice of being absorbed into the Tribe or released into the Plains to survive on their own. There seemed no logic to this method in Kirk's mind until Ren explained that once the Tribe agreed to the adoption, no distinction was made between those of Tribal birth and those brought from the outside. Each man, or woman, was judged on personal merit, not their place of origin. Some chose to journey onto the Plains, some to try and return to the far lands of the South, few ever survived. Many were unable to adapt to the harsh codes of the Tribes, but, Ren shrugged, this was the way. Mortality rates were high among those brought from the outside, but it all equaled in the end -- the Empire lost many, the Tribe at least would gain a few. Slavery had no place on the Plains, where every warrior was needed to fight the Empire encroachment and keep the rest of the Tribe supplied with fresh game. There were no warriors left to guard those who were unwilling to stay and contribute to the welfare of everyone. Everyone worked, everyone ate, there could be no other way of life.
Kirk adjusted the strap so it would hang at a slightly different angle down his back. What would his fencing instructors at the Academy say if they could see him now? Sulu would have enjoyed having this piece in his collection -- the hand forged blade was razor sharp and the leather wrapped grip was well oiled and preserved despite several dark blood stains. Here he was, James T. Kirk, Captain of a Starship, waiting for permission to join a horde of barbaric nomads in hopes of eventually journeying back South to find his men. Why wait? Why not turn around this minute and start back? Every day he waited the distance and trail would grow colder and more difficult, if not impossible, to follow. Was it the word of scouts that reported the destruction of Dengan's caravan to the last man and slave that met them on the outskirts of the Tribe? He and Ren had been unable to move rapidly, allowing word of the caravan's demise to reach camp before them. There had been no survivors, no possible hope of the Enterprise group being alive by such an attack. Spock, McCoy, all were dead. Was it worth the pain to keep on believing they were still alive? What could he gain by going back and seeing the remains himself, assuming there was anything left to see? His communicator had been silent for the entire time also. The Enterprise had never returned. Had it ever left orbit?
A large flap was thrown back and Matta emerged to stand before his tent. Age hung heavily on him as he adjusted the cloak over his shoulder. Few Leaders saw his age. Relative peace with the Empire during his lifetime had allowed him to see over one hundred migrations of the Tribe from the winter hunting grounds to those of summer.
Matta sized the stranger mentally while listening to Ren's formal greeting. So, Ren had returned finally from the South. Tenna's raids were becoming bolder with each strike. This last one had completely obliterated an entire caravan. Each of the Great Northern Tribes was following his lead and making swift invasions into the Empire to plunder and confuse the Emperor's forces. Couldn't they see the folly of their ways? What could t hey ga in by inciting the anger of the Empire? With the cessation of Tribal hostilities, Imperial troops would be withdrawn and the Fringes safer to negotiate for trading with the Northern Cities.
Ren caught Vallon's eye and knew things had worsened in his absence. Senility was creeping up faster on the old one daily. Hi s mind was living in its own world, its own reality, that didn't see starvation coming to his people from loss of hunting grounds by Empire infringement, didn't see the building of Telchanto's armies for a fatal strike at the Tribes.
Stopping mid-sentence, Matta squinted his eyes at the sun, wondered who these men were and why they were bothering him, then shuffled back into his tent. From where were all these strange people coming? The delights of the life in his mind, from long ago, were more real than reality itself to Matta.
Vallon motioned two men nearby to watch over the old one, then grasped Ren's arm in greeting. "Your return is a welcome one, Ren."
"Rides to the South for another strike and to assess the growing numbers of imperial swordmen."
"And Tull?" Ren's face remained impassive at the request for information on the whereabouts of Vallon's step-brother. The enmity between Ren and Tull stretched back to the days of their youth and the death of Ren's father by the carelessness of Tull on a hunting trip.
"Also with Tenna. Beware, Brother Ren, Tull is gathering power and men in your absences and hopes to displace you soon. Tenna will not interfere this time."
"Understood, Brother Vallon." Ren gestured for Kirk to join them. "Jeem, this is Vallon, he will teach you the arts of a warrior. I ride to join Tenna."
Kirk nodded acknowledgment at the formal transfer, understanding Ren's need to return to his capacity as head warrior. His place in the tribe was secure now because of Ren, even if he never did achieve true warrior status. Kirk smiled sadly internally as he compared Ren to Spock. How alike they were in their loyalties! He could visualize Spock on a Vulcan of a thousand years past having the same position and behavior as Ren. What would Spock say if he could see him now?
* * *
Kirk felt the sweat drip from him and wondered how he could have ever thought this place cold. Two years on the Plains had calloused him to the bitter cold and given him greater appreciation of the skills and endurance that allowed these people to survive year after year. Unable to venture as far south as usual for winter ground because of imperial soldiers, hunting and providing for the Tribe was more difficult than normal -- yet they survived.
Vallon crouched lower and feinted with his blade to the right while his left hand threw dirt from the tent floor into Kirk's face. Kicking on instinct, Kirk caught Vallon off balance and knocked him into the far wall .
"You are improving, Jeem."
Kirk laughed as he pulled Vallon to his feet. "You think to flatter me with your words so I'll be less cautious next time." How easily he'd fallen into the formal speech patterns of the warrior caste. The veneer of Starfleet life had slipped away gradually and been replaced with another life, a totally different way of living. Memories persisted, seemingly sharpened by the passage of time, yet clouded with the perceptions of long past remembrances altered by that same passage of time.
The faces of his friends and ship were always there, hovering on the fringes of his mind, waiting for some little thing to trigger them into focus. His friends, his ship, his entire life, was gone. He'd finally conceded there was no longer any return, the door behind was closed forever.
Here, on the Plains, there was a freedom he had never felt before, a release from the responsibilities that had always been there, forever pressing on h im. Life was reduced to the basics of survival, a genuine struggle for life against the elements and forces of man.
Wasn't this what he had continually strived for, always searched for, among the stars? Yet, when he stood outside the tent on a clear night, the stars would beckon to him, playing their siren song of entreaty and he would feel the urge to journey among them once more. The constellations were unlike any he'd known before, but they each had a name and their origin rooted in legends passed from generation to generation. Aarklis, mother of man, banished to the heavens to watch over her creation for defying her lord and master, Zerron. Turret, the winged serpent, chasing his tail. Why was it, he would often muse, looking up into the alien sky, so many different planets, light years apart, would have such similar legends and concepts? Was this another one of the planets populated by the Preservers? Then such thoughts would immediately remind him of Miramanee and in turn, his ship. The stars called to him, but there was no way for him to answer.
Vallon had proven to be a demanding and exacting instructor, always pushing his student to the limit of his endurance. Kirk had come with many of the basic fighting and survival skills, forged by Academy training and experience, but Vallon stretched those same skills to the breaking point. One didn't simply track an enemy, one could list the number of Targas, and their individual temperaments, number of men per animal and what each had for breakfast that morning. Riding a Targa didn't mean just bring able to stay on it for a length of time, it meant riding astride, crouched on the side out of view, even underneath, if necessary. He'd lost count of the number of scrapes and bruises acquired learning the various positions and how many times he'd walked miles back to camp because Vallon had deemed his riding posture unacceptable.
Yet, Kirk persevered, showing the same tenacity that had led him up the ranks of Starfleet to the Captaincy. Held mastered the Targa finally and could track anything that walked or rode on the Plains. There were scars all over his body from the endless hours of long and short blade training, callouses covering his palms from gripping the hilt. Today, he'd finally beaten Vallon, bested him in a fair fight. Two long, hard and lonely years, but he'd done it.
"Jeem," a new voice spoke.
Kirk whirled at the sound to see Ren push back the tent flap and step inside. "So, you finally decided to come back," Jim teased. "I was beginning to think you preferred the stench of the Walled Cities to that of our own sweet Targas."
Ren grimaced at the reference to his journey into Sendaar as a spy in the guise of a merchant in perfumes. It had taken weeks to wear off the smell of his wares, after being liberally doused by an imperial soldier performing for his companions. The soldier's body was eventually found in a pool of blood beyond the city walls, but none would ever connect it to the bedraggled perfume vendor.
* * *
"Now that you have been here long enough to see the march from the winter grounds to those of summer, what have you to say?" Ren sheathed his sword and motioned Jim to do the same. It was relaxing to be back with the Tribe, after so long an absence to ride with Tenna.
Kirk rubbed the back of his hand across his eyes, feeling the pull of overused muscles from the bout with Ren. "Tell me about the attach on Dengan's caravan.." It had been six months since hearing the news but he still wrestled with the situation. His friends were dead, butchered by the very Peoples that had befriended him and were allowing him to prove himself as one of them, yet it made no sense that these same warriors, who captured slaves to turn free again, would destroy an entire caravan to the last man.
"I spoke with Tenna upon my return and learned it was not as we had heard. The caravan was destroyed, true, but it was not the work of the Tribe. The Targa tracks were shod.."
Ren shook his head. "The work of mercenaries. Perhaps a rival. Whoever it was did a thorough job. Much coin must have passed to accomplish it."
"None. I found cloth like yours, only blue in color with much blood. Your friends are dead. I'm sorry, Jeem." Ren caught the slightest glimmer of emotion pass through Kirk's eyes, yet none touched the face. This man who had come dressed in the gold of the dead was a strange one. He had the manner of one who led, yet had made himself subservient to Vallon without a word. There was deep sorrow at the loss of his companions, but it did not hinder him from existing for today. He learned the language quickly and moved among the Tribe with the ease of a Traveler, yet, he didn't have the true semblance of one of those who spent their days on an endless journey. A strange, but charismatic man, this Jeem Kirk.
Kirk was truly alone on this planet. The Enterprise was gone. Nine months of silence since that fateful day, when he'd beamed down. There was no longer any reason to hope. His days as a Starship Captain were over.
Enough of the past... He wad here, today was what required his attention. Summer was upon the Plains and life should have been good, except that Matta kept leading the Tribe further North in hopes of avoiding a major confrontation with the Empire. Every shift North only allowed the soldiers to push further past the Fringes and onto Tribal land. Tenna and some of the other Tribes harassed the Imperial Soldiers and outposts and did what they could to forestall the inevitable, but the ground lost was increasing yearly. More and more men were turning to the training in weapons as a serious preoccupation, but without Matta's permission, none could join Tenna than were already with him. The law could not be broken.
"Vallon speaks highly of you." Ren broke the silence at last.
Jim frowned and rubbed his posterior."He must be speaking of my ability to hit the ground squarely."
"Any man can learn the arts of handling a weapon, but few take the time and have the drive to strive for the Warrior Caste."
"Encouraging. I'm beginning to think it's more a case of masochistic tendencies being tested than anything else." Kirk had run the gauntlet of traditions on a thousand planets, witnessed events that would make any sane man's blood run cold, but there was something special about becoming part of a tradition in terms of permanence that made many things in his life fade in significance. It was one thing to beam down and make a pretense of understanding an alien culture, it was quite another to live it on a daily basis with no hope in sight of simply beaming up and leaving it all behind.
It was the challenge that made it worthwhile, compelled him to rise in the morning and face another day. Here, in the Great Northern Tribe, the most challenging course of action was to achieve the Warrior Caste. Only those in the Caste could even hope to hold power and power was the one thing for which Kirk still had a taste. He had the innate ability and desire to lead others, losing his ship didn't alter that fact. Jim could envision Spock's eyebrow rising just that little bit, expressing that "I fail to see the purpose" message again. No matter how hard he tried, Jim had never been able to make Spock fully understand the drive he had, to be on the top, to be the best at everything he did. Spock always claimed no ambition to be anything more than he was -- a scientist. The thought of pushing himself beyond endurance just to be a leader of men simply didn't occur to him.
"I'm sure Shallon would disagree wit you."
"Shallon would no doubt disagree with anything I said," Kirk retorted. "I'm not sure which is sharper -- her blade or her tongue." He was glad for the change of subject.
"She mentioned encountering you," Ren remarked casually. It wasn't exactly the way she'd put it, but it would do for now. Most of her comments had been spiced with unsavory references to Kirk and his immediate and far reaching lineage.
"You told me your sister was a member of the Caste, it would seem you neglected to mention a few other minor details." He traced the pinkish line of a new scar on his forearm. "I will never make that mistake again."
"There is no halfway with Shallon, Jeem. She is a fine warrior, and should she survive, one day she will join the priestesses. No higher honor could be bestowed on a woman."
Kirk could see the pride Ren felt toward his sibling, yet wondered what the Head Warrior saw in her. Few women had ever resisted the famous James T. Kirk charm, but Shallon remained impervious, even somewhat hostile toward him. After six months she was still just as much an enigma as when he arrived.
Still, in some ways, he admired her, an emotion he rarely felt toward a woman. The Romulan commander had earned his respect, Amanda had been deserving of it, even Shahna to a lesser degree, but few others. Shallon could handle a sword as well or better than most men, track, hunt, do anything necessary to insure her survival. Kirk thought he detected agleam of amusement in Ren's eye and decided to change the subject.
"What of Matta?"
Ren threw the clump of dirt in his hand away in disgust. "He's given the order to move North again."
"Winter's going to be here soon."
"With the next move, we're going to be stretched to the limit trying to defend the Fringes and keep Telchanto's men at bay. If not for Tenna's need of information on Matta's movements beyond the messages he sends us, I wouldn't be here now."
"He can't hold out forever, thinking to protect the Tribe from the Emperor by staying out of his reach." Kirk shook his head at the stupidity of the whole situation.
"We can only hope for the early death of Matta." Ren tossed another lump. "And hope it doesn't come too late."
* * *
"Brother Ren, welcome back, though your presence here concerns me." Vallon shifted things out of the way so all three men could sit down.
"I've come to warn Matta that Telchanto is moving more men to the North. He has ignored our messages for too long. Tenna can no longer hold them at bay. We must be allowed to move against them with the full strength of the Tribes."
"And Matta's answer to your warning?"
"He listened, then turned away. He plans to move further North."
Vallon sprang to his feet. "Any further North and we won't survive the winter snows. Game has been scarce this year from the drought, we must move South."
Kirk finally spoke up. "I assume Tenna has something in mind?" So far the crafty warrior had managed to work around Matta's commands and keep his men alive. Jim appreciated the subtle workings of a fellow tactician's mind.
"He speaks of defying Matta and calling the men together for an attack."
"Will he succeed?" After two years with Matta's tribe, Kirk knew the workings of those around him and understood the politics and sentiments perhaps better than those involved. He asked the question more for Vallon's sake. The man was a Warrior, not a politician.
"We may soon know."
* * *
The night air was crisp, but Kirk ignored it. He could see the camp fires in the distance, illuminating figures finishing last minute preparations. Out here, under the stars, less strange now, even somewhat friendly, he could be apart, away from what was happening at the camp.
News had come today of Tenna's decision to defy Matta and take matters into his own hands. Ren and Vallon had ridden to join him, Kirk had chosen to remain behind for a day and follow later. The rift was as great as he feared it would be. Tradition ran strongly in the Tribe, to knowingly deny a living leader simply was not done. Tenna had increased his force today by many, but he had also lost the support of others.
Kirk shook his head at the illogic of it all. Their very lives were at stake, yet many would choose to blindly follow a senile old man to death than realize the danger at hand and act accordingly. Tomorrow, the Tribe would once again move to the North just weeks before the first snows of winter.
"What is it you seek out here, Kiirk?"
"I could ask the same of you, Shallon." She ignored the invitation to sit down and leaned against a nearby tree instead. "Ren told me you ride tomorrow to join them."
"Yes." What did she want? No words had passed between them for several weeks, and now she was here.
"I will join you."
"You disapprove?" Her face was hidden in the shadows and the voice was too neutral for him to discern anything behind the question.
"No." He settled back against the log. "I ride at dawn."
"I will be ready."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The march from Sendaar to Darae was long and hot. Imperial Subcommander Lang pulled his Targa to a stop and watched the slaves file by, some already nearly dead from the heat. Most were from regions north of Sendaar where it was a cooler clime and being this far south under the blazing sun was too hard on them. Except one, the Ungaana. For suite reason he seemed unaffected by the heat -- or by anything else. He walked, dragging the chains that connected him to the slaves in front and behind h im, as if he wasn't there, as if everything else wasn't there. It had been a long five hundred miles, and he, for one, would be more than glad to deliver this foul smelling bunch of carrion to the quarry and get back to the relative coolness of Sendaar.
The Darae stone quarry was a long established source of stone for the building of those edifices so desired by the Emperors. It was large and extended miles in all directions, going deep underground in some areas. Slaves were brought in constantly as the mortality rate was high. Insufficient food, shelter and harsh working conditions created a high turnover, requiring constant requisitioning of slave labor. Telchanto, like the Emperors before him, had a penchant for large and beautiful structures; it was the quarry foreman and guards' responsibility to see that those tastes and desires were fulfilled, on schedule.
Spock was oblivious to all that went on around h im. He existed for the chance to escape and return to McCoy and Chapel. What happened between now and that chance was insignificant. The walk to Sendaar had been taxing in itself, now this one, it was no wonder nearly one fifth of the men on the line had died. Five hundred miles at a steady clip in this heat was too much for a human.
Rising from his self induced state, Spock made a careful study of the quarry from the entrance to the holding pens. The route from Sendaar had been stored away for future reference, that coupled with information about the quarry would help him escape one day.
Slaves were removed from the holding pen one at a time and led to another area where collars were fit into place around their necks and the Emperor's symbol branded into their right thigh directly below the hip joint for permanent identification. Spock felt the iron burn the elaborate design into his skin and wondered if the other two would be spared this.
* * *
Another man died. The third to die next to him in the same position, since his arrival thirteen months ago. A new one was brought and chained to the line. Spock immediately not iced the quality of clothing and grooming was high, much was Dengan's was. The man was at a loss of what to do and seeing the guard move in to give 'personal' instruction of a painful nature, Spock gestured for him to follow his example.
By nightfall, the man had nearly collapsed from exhaustion, but still moved in to sit by Spock. No other slaves would have anything to do with the Vulcan, fearing his strength and strangeness. "I am Syl."
"Spock." His command of the language was limited by lack of exposure to it. Guards spoke in monosyllabic commands, but by extending his hearing, Spock had eavesdropped enough to pick up the rudiments of the Empire language.
"I have never seen one such as you." Syl nibbled on the crust of bread. "Except one, a long time ago. He'd traveled from some far away place to see the Emperor. I don't know why and he disappeared soon after."
"From where are you?" Spock had few reference points, so the origin of Syl was secondary to the chance to increase his knowledge and vocabulary.
"Shu." Seeing the puzzled look in Spock's eyes, illuminated by torch, he elaborated. "The ruling city of the Empire." The crust was completely devoured. "You are from far away. Anyway, Shu is where the Emperor, may he rot, lives and all the major Houses are there. Are you understanding what I'm saying?"
"Some. The language is still strange."
"In my twenty five years I've been a thief, merchant, entertainer, anything and everything to avoid my responsibilities to the family. Responsibility to the family. Isn't that a laugh? It's because of my family that I'm in this place. Well, I can't change that, so I may as well make the best of it for now. I've done about everything else, guess I can be a teacher." Syl yawned widely. "Maybe tomorrow, I can barely keep my eyes open."
* * *
The hammer fell at a steady rate, uninterrupted by the words of Syl. His body kept the rhythm, but his mind raced, absorbing the outflow of words and concepts. Places, names, events, everything was taken in and tucked away for future reference. Syl had been a nobleman's youngest son, educated by the finest tutors at an early age. His knowledge was extensive, supplemented by travels throughout much of the Empire. His deserving of a life sentence to the quarry was of being in the same family as a man who attempted to assassinate Telchanto. An elder brother, disillusioned with life, plotted with a servant of the Royal household to poison the Emperor. One too many walls had ears and the scheme was discovered. Each member of the immediate family was sentenced to life imprisonment somewhere, the guilty brother put to death slowly. That no one else in the family had knowledge of the plot was inconsequential. They were related by blood, that was enough for Telchanto. Given a choice of suicide or sentence, Syl was the only one to choose a sentence.
* * *
"I was always wanting to learn things as a child. Just couldn't seem to find out about everything fast enough. Every morning I'd sit and listen to my teachers, then in the afternoon I'd race out to walk the streets, asking questions.
"One day, this old man I knew, a beggar by trade, approached me and asked if I was interested in becoming his apprentice. I said sure, but what was it he could teach me besides begging? That's when my life became interesting. Aallyn was a master thief, one of the best that ever lived. For a year, he taught me how to lift purses in the market square, remove jewels from the necks of women, get into anything; take it and get away. Through him I learned the 'underground' of the city. If Telchanto only knew what goes on beneath his very nose!"
"What happened to the old man?"
"Aallyn? Died in his sleep one night. I think Aallyn was the only thief I ever met that hadn't lost at least one finger as punishment for being caught. With your speed and coordination, I'll bet you'd be good, too."
"I fail to see that I could ever utilize the knowledge, but it is information, nonetheless." Spock had a quick mental image of Edith Keeler's face as she accused him of taking the watchmaker's tools. No particular ability beyond his sensitive hearing had been involved that time, but someday such knowledge could be useful. No information was totally without value. What would Jim have said about this turn of events?
Of course, Jim would never know about this or anything else. He'd been dead for twenty eight months and four days, left someplace out in the Plains for the scavengers. Dengan, the great Berra Dengan would pay for this. It was Vulcan to feel the need for vengeance, but Spock no longer cared. He'd controlled this same feeling felt toward Parmen, but with Dengan he didn't feel the need to suppress it. Dengan alone was responsible for Jim's death, McCoy and Chapel's fate, whatever that had been, and for him being chained to this wall, left to toil until death claimed him. Berra Dengan would one day be held accountable. One day...
* * *
The passage of seasons left their mark by the changing of men on the line. Production was accelerated, more blocks were needed for the latest project. Whips fell more often than ever and the influx of requisitioned slaves increased daily.
Spock had been chained to a quarry wall for over three years, Syl for two. No one else had survived so long before, men rarely lasted over six months, more than one change of seasons. Spock survived because of innate strengths given by a Vulcan heritage, Syl because of the help Spock gave him in cutting the massive stone blocks.
Pressed by questions, Spock finally conceded to talk of himself. The Prime Directive had been his excuse for a long time, but chained here with no chance of escape, there seemed little purpose in maintaining it. Syl was intelligent and had a remarkable ability to learn. Spock now became the teacher and Syl, the student. Grudgingly, Spock admitted to himself that he genuinely liked the man.
* * *
Politics became the topic, since it was the third day of the week. Syl was well versed in Draanan politics, having grown up in the Ruling City with a father who'd been involved with the storage of official documents (giving Syl access to parchments he would never otherwise have seen).
The Empire was expanding as never before in history. Telchanto's father had begun the great thrust outward, playing on Matta's complacent attitude and later weaknesses as a Leader of the Great Northern Tribes, now Telchanto himself was finishing the project -- total annihilation and/or subjugation of the Tribes and acquisition of all lands presently under their jurisdiction.
"What of this Thousand Year War?" The sun was hot today, reminding him of a cool day on Vulcan.
"It was a genuine war when it was begun. The Tribes were powerful in those days and it wasn't until the Walled Cities were built along the Fringe borders that the Empire was able to strike back effectively and defend itself from the invasion. Since then it's been a case of stalemate until recently. The Tribes have become weak and I don't see much hope for them protecting even the land they have left. Telchanto has mobilized every man possible to drive them North."
"You know a great deal about Telchanto's movements," Spock observed.
"I made it a point of spending time in the taverns where Telchanto's men went for their heavy drinking. A few too many and they'd talk about anything. They spent a lot of their time complaining about all the duty time they were pulling, up in the Fringes. I asked the right questions and managed to piece things together of what was happening."
"Why this major offensive after so many years of relative peacefulness? I fail to see the purpose."
"No idea other than it's just another example of Telchanto's greed for power. I think he's also more bloodthirsty than his predecessors. He's made the games the most important social function of the Empire during his reign."
"The games?" Visions of Planet 892-IV and its arena came to mind. He wondered if their revolt was finally successful, then pushed the thought aside as the Enterprise's visit hadn't even happened yet. Was Draana another planet of similar evolution? So far he'd discovered elements in common with both 892-IV and Earth's history, but the same could be said for a thousand other planets in the galaxy. The concept of a ruling empire and a slave class was typical it seemed, by the studies he'd done and the many civilizations he'd visited. Names and places changed, but the brutality of the human species remained the same.
"The games are death matches between trained, and occasionally untrained men for public viewing. Lately, Telchanto has been using the Arena as a means of execution... forcing untrained civilians to fight those trained in the arts of combat." Syl stopped working for a moment to wipe an arm across his face."I wish I had skin like yours on days like today. This heat is terrible. It feels like rain again, too."
"The men who fight in these 'games'. From where do they come?"
"The slave class. It's considered an honor to be sold into the Arena, because you then at least have a chance of eventually earning your freedom, assuming you don't die first." Noticing the guard's attention of his inactivity, Syl began pounding the rock. "I worked the Arena for a while, purses tend to be heavy because of betting and any other kind of business transaction you can imagine happening there.
"It's an incredible place, Spock. Huge, with seating for thousands. Underneath, there's miles and miles of tunnels and chambers, most of which haven't been used in centuries. They must have been used as slave pens or something similar in the past, just when, I'm not really sure."
"Now they're used for a little of everything. The men live there and use the large rooms and open arena for training. They also keep the women reserved for the fighters there, too."
"Women?" No, Christine wouldn't have ended up there.
"Used to cook and tend to the fighters. That was the sentence given my sister -- to be an Arena slave." Syl was silent in his remembrance of that day in Telchanto's justice chambers when the decision was given on their fates. His sister, eighteen years old, had stood there beside their parents, listening to the pronouncement. Accepting the knife, she'd sliced her arms, preferring death to the Arena. His hands clenched in rage at the memory of Telchanto's disregard for the loss of an innocent life and order to wipe the blood away quickly and not to damage the floor ... a stone floor.
Spock saw the pain, and changed the topic. "How is freedom earned?"
Pulling himself back to the present, Syl gave his companion a weak grin. "Should a fighter survive a thousand matches, he's given the 'sword of freedom'. It's more symbolic than anything else. A long time ago it was the mark of freedom to be able to bear arms. Now that right belongs to the military exclusively, but at one time anyone could carry a sword. I think there's only been two or three in my lifetime who've earned it. Telchanto doesn't like to award it. Freemen can become slaves, but slaves shouldn't become freemen. Interesting logic, wouldn't you say?"
An eyebrow rose in answer. "Telchanto does not receive enough blood in the games and now turns to the North for satiation."
"It probably doesn't make a whole lot of sense to you, but if you'd ever seen the games and the crowd's reaction, you'd understand this 'blood lust' better. I have a strong stomach, but I gave up working the Arena because I simply couldn't take it anymore. The smell of blood on a hot day would seep right into the tunnel and out into the streets. I saw Telchanto there several times, sitting in the royal seats directly overlooking the matches. The same look was in his eyes the day of justice as at the games."
"You believe the destruct ion of the Northern Tribes is imminent?"
"Yes. Too bad you and I will never live to see it." Syl fingered the heavy collar. "I thought I was being clever that day, choosing life over death. Since then I've changed my mind."
"Do not give up yet. There are always possibilities."
"You really believe that, don't you? You believe you're going to leave here one day and find your friends. I can't survive on that belief anymore. Life is becoming more of a burden than a blessing. You have made life bearable, for that I thank you, my friend, but I don't know how much more can withstand."
"I understand. I, too, have considered the same."
"As you say, I have an obligation to the other two who were with me."
"The two Healers."
"I must escape and find them."
"There's no way out of here."
"I will find it." Spock crushed the small rock in his hand. "Somehow, I will find it."
* * *
The tattered uniform had been replaced finally with rough garments, but it was the only sign of consideration ever given him. His hair had never been cut in four years, his boots were long gone and the stripes on his back rarely healed before the next set was given. Physical punishment was the only way the guards felt they could exact revenge on this man who gave no sign of noticing. His stoicism tormented the guards and it became a game to see who could get a reaction from the strange one.
They were moved to a new site where blocks were being cut for some project, different from the last. The slaves never knew what was done with their labor, they only knew how many blocks were required from any given section before being moved elsewhere to start all over again. Syl complained once to Spock that should he ever leave the quarry and enter Shu, he would be extremely respectful of every piece of stone he encountered.
"I find it amazing sometimes to consider how the whim of one man can cause so much suffering. Here we are, breaking our backs to cut the stone, more slaves are required to transport these same blocks great distances, still more to build with them, and yet more to serve in them. Think of the waste of lives involved."
"There are many such men and places that exist, Syl."
"You've seen them, haven't you?"
"Yes, but until now I've never experienced slavery," Spock admitted.
"Things always look different from the other side, don't they?" Syl thrust his frustration into the blow of the hammer.
"It would be illogical to assume all things appear the same from different perspectives."
"There you go again. You must have driven everyone crazy in the past, where you came from. Don't things ever get to you, make you want to strike out, release that inner hatred?" The hammer fell again with a solid thud.
"It is necessary to control such impulses. What can be accomplished by such unproductive activity?" Chips flew.
"Thinking that this rock is one of the guards, or even Telchanto sometimes makes me feel better. It's probably as close as I'll ever come to realizing that dream, but it's better than no chance of releasing that hatred at all."
"You desire a release of your hatred just as I need to control mine."
"At least you're finally admitting to having sane honest hatred."
"Yes, there is hatred. Hatred for the death of Jim, for chaining us to this rock, for the destruction of lives that has taken place since we arrived on this planet." The block split away from the wall.
* * *
"You two, come with us." Spock and Syl set their tools aside and stood patiently waiting for the transfer of chains from the wall to a post mounted on a moving platform. The quarry had existed for centuries, and the handling of slaves was an art, learned and perfected with each generation of guards. There was never an opportunity given for a slave to escape. Guards who permitted an escape paid for their folly by becoming slaves themselves.
Whips fell unnecessarily as they were led to the initial place that Spock remembered well from four years ago. "It's been decided to separate you. He doesn't like slaves getting too friendly," one of the guards mentioned.
Why were they being brought here? To separate them would have required no more than splicing the line and moving one of them away. Why the sudden change of policy? Why this elaborate production?
Syl pushed the hair back from his eyes at the sight of the robed man walking toward them. "Spock," he whispered, "trouble ahead. I know this man. He was at the trial as one of the witnesses." He schooled his face into a neutral expression. "Berra Teng," Syl greeted the man with the title of respect, though there was none felt.
The robed man ignored the salutation, taking in the sight of the wretched men before him. His appointment as foreman of the quarry for the next several years was extremely distasteful. Teng had been useful for many years to the Emperor, giving false testimony, planting evidence, whatever was required to rid his employer of certain people. Now as his reward, exile in this place. At least he'd remembered one of the people sentenced to this place. Records weren't kept of slaves' identities, mortality rates were too high for that kind of bookkeeping, but he'd recognized Syl during an inspection tour and plied the guards with sufficient incentive for all possible information of Syl and his companion. It was hard to believe Syl was even alive after this long. According to the guards, it was the companion, the strange one that kept Syl alive. He himself had been here for over four years.
A small piece of revenge, to offset the anger felt for being sent here. Now that he'd seen the strange one about whom he'd heard so much, perhaps a bit of profit under the table.
"It has come to my attention that the two of you have been here for quite some time. Being a reasonable man, I've decided to change all that ."
Spock noticed the way they were chained and the positions of guards and came to a conclusion he didn't like. Teng was after something, or there would have been no point to this charade. Why was a man of his obvious position and wealth here at the quarry, acting as foreman?
"Syl, by all rights, and by the intention of Telchanto you should be dead. Your crime has obviously not meted out sufficient punishment. I plan to correct that oversight." It had been a long debate with himself of whether to continue brutalizing Syl, or to simply kill him outright. The deciding factor was the presence of Syl as a constant reminder of why Telchanto had sent him here -- because he knew too much. It was one of the Emperor's games to send him here instead of killing him because death would have been too quick and easy. Something slow and onerous was more to Telchanto's taste, hence the quarry. Miles and miles from everything, unendurable climate and nothing but foul minions for company. A wretched existence for a man of his culture ... having Syl alive was too much.
"You, the one with the ears, have been here too long without earning your keep. I have graciously arranged for your transfer to other facilities which will relieve the quarry of responsibility for your food and clothing. Guards, take him to the holding pen." The tone of voice remained noxiously cheerful. "Cut the other one's throat."
Spock jerked his arm, pulling the guard handling his chain off balance. It only took a split second to kill him and move on to the next one. He could hear Teng shouting for help and the sound of feet as more guards came running, but his attention was on getting to Syl. The guard ordered to kill him was dead from a broken neck. Swinging a hammer on solid rock for two years had given Syl power and strength, he was not going to be the easy target Teng had thought. Teng yelled to the guards not to kill them. Spock and Syl stood back to back, struggling for a chance to make a break for freedom, but the numbers eventually halted the battle.
Teng used the respite, while the two were held at bay, to rethink his strategy. Syl didn't have the skill of fighting that the strange one obviously did, but he was strong, not the Syl he remembered. Perhaps a larger profit could be made than originally anticipated. "Place them both in the holding pen and mount a full-time watch on them until Berra Jaii arrives." Maybe he would even get a chance to go back to Shu and see them in the Arena in a few years.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
House of Leonge Chaiing, second in wealth and power only to the Emperor Telchanto, was located in the Ruling City of Shu. McCoy pulled at the loose fitting tunic in disgust, wondering what was in store for him as one of the new slaves bought by the House. The trip from Sendaar had been relatively uneventful with the exception of picking up bits and pieces of the language. He'd been given the garment upon arrival at the slaves' quarters with orders to don it immediately and await instructions. The Doctor had a feeling he wasn't going to like whatever they had in mind.
An hour later he was sure he wouldn't like what they had in store for him. Scrubbing floors on his hands and knees, with more work waiting for him upon its completion, was about as far down the ladder of menial labor as he could think, until he was told of the stable and latrine duties that awaited him before long.
Spock had never come back that day, although McCoy kept vigil until the auction. If it had been at all possible, Spock would have returned for them, which meant something must have happened to h im. Where had he been taken? Six weeks and several hundred miles from Sendaar, it would be next to impossible for Spock to track him here. The brand on his thigh marked him as property of Leonge Chaiing, but otherwise he had no identification or identity as a person. Spock could be dead by now for he knew.
Where was Christine? He hadn't seen her since the separation on the arrival to Sendaar, before Baker's death and Spock's disappearance. She had undoubtedly been sold, to whom, or what city, and to do what?
Perhaps Jim had been the lucky one after all. At the moment death was more inviting an alternative than life as a slave on a barbaric planet with no hope of rescue.
* * *
Over the next several weeks, McCoy kept a low profile, doing as he was told and taking note of everything and everyone. The Chaiing Household was huge, with several hundred slaves in residence at the main building in Shu. He learned there were two other estates, also maintained year around for the use of Leonge and Telchanto, each with a full complement of slaves and animals. Domesticated Targas were kept in the stables far from the main buildings along with an assortment of other smaller animals to which McCoy referred mentally as the Draana equivalent of the Terran dog and cat. The 'cat' fur made him sneeze and the 'dogs' made his temper rise by continually tracking across the wet floors.
Escape was foremost in his mind, but he felt eyes on him constantly. Someone was always around keeping track of what he was doing, but he didn't give up hoping. The main problem would be clothing and a way to hide the collar. If he'd had access to his equipment, a method of at least disguising the brand could have been jury rigged. As it was, he was marked for life as someone else's property. What he needed was some blue clothing, the color of a freeman. Brown, his color, was the same as the dirt, the level symbolically of a slave. Then there was the problem of where to go, how to survive. Would it be possible to trace Spock and Christine? Could he exist the rest of his life on this planet as a fugitive slave?
* * *
The prospect of escape wasn't quite so appealing a few days later when he saw the remains of an escaped slave, caught within hours of his try for freedom. The public mutilation and slow death of the slave and the man who helped him gave McCoy serious pause in his plans to follow suit. The Empire took the class system to heart and no bending of the rules, laws and traditions was allowed. There were no exceptions.
Scrubbing floors and performing menial labor was no way to live, but at least it was life. Scars and various minor mutilations showed the punishment scheme for recalcitrant and disobedient slaves. McCoy decided immediately he was going to try and avoid that route. If he made an attempt to escape, there would be one chance only and it would have to be successful. This early in the game that would be impossible, he would wait.
* * *
His proficiency in the language and customs accumulated gradually, prompted by necessity. Faces and names became familiar, separating themselves into those on his level and those above. As time wore on, the days became routine and monotonous, making him fairly chafe with boredom and frustration.
At least, he thought with satisfaction, I had a chance to treat someone this morning. Medical care available to these people was abominable at the best. Primitive butchers, McCoy muttered, giving the floor a vicious swipe. If it hurts, bleed it or cut if off.
This morning had been a simple case of sewing up a gash in a boy's leg. An easy procedure, even under these barbaric circumstances. Yet, everyone had been amazed, figuring the boy would eventually die from loss of blood or massive infection. Needle was a little big, and I could have used some painkiller, but at least the wound is clean now and protected. And I thought 1930s Earth was bad!
His opinion of Shu and its inhabitants, for that matter, all of Draana, was that it ranked as one of the most disgusting cultures he'd ever encountered. Cleanliness was reserved to the Elite class as far as he could see. House slaves were required to be clean, but those serving in the out buildings or gardens were filthy. Animals ran loose in the food preparation areas, and the sewage system was entirely insufficient for this large a city. He was surprised that disease wasn't running rampant through the entire city.
Spock would have found a study of this culture fascinating, a unique study in class structure. Of course, he probably would have figured out a way to escape by now, too. Jim would have, also. Was Spock still alive?
* * *
"Makoy, come quick!"
McCoy could hear the call all the way from the first floor. It was a good thing Chaiing wasn't in residence right now to hear this infringement of noise regulations. In moments he could see Dalick running up the central staircase, still yelling for him.
"What is it?" McCoy set the bucket aside, wondering what the problem was this time. Ever since healing the boy six months ago he'd been in constant demand by the slaves for emergencies and some not quite emergency situations. It made for more work, but it was a satisfying feeling that compensated for the negative aspects. He was a physician by trade and temperament. At this point, he was happy for any chance to practice his skills.
"Sen Chaiing..." Dalick puffed. "Come quick."
McCoy raced after the other slave, puzzled by the presence of Chaiing's eldest son at the House. Leonge wasn't expected back until the morrow at the earliest, from a stay as Telchanto's guest at the Emperor's quarters at the Arena. McCoy preferred Leonge's absence -- it meant considerably less work for the slaves when he wasn't there. The parties Leonge gave, when he was at the House, were long extended affairs leaving the entire place a disaster to be cleaned and put in order for the next time. It took McCoy three days to scrub the stains out of the rugs and wall hangings, left by the last one.
Sen Chaiing was lying on one of the low divans in the garden foyer, bleeding profusely and unconscious. "A runner has been sent for a Healer," Elkon explained, "but it will take time. If Sen Chaiing dies, we will be to blame."
Pressure bandages and a tourniquet stopped the worst of the bleeding in moments, giving McCoy an opportunity to assess the damage. "Broken leg, some cracked ribs, head looks pretty nasty, but pulse look good." He turned to Elkon, "what happened?"
"He left the games early..."
"And?" McCoy prompted after a long pause.
"He slipped us and went down to the wharf front district looking for some action. By the time we'd located him the damage hall been done."
"Zarton's?" McCoy knew of Sen's attraction for the high class brothel, frequenting it whenever possible. Only the Elite could afford to go there and if he'd just won some bets at the games, as he was wont to do, Sen had probably headed there, ignoring the fact that it lay in the worst part of Shu and considered it a lark to lose his bodyguard, unmindful of their fate should ill befall him.
"Of course. Will he live?" Elkon and his two companions were already contemplating their punishment when Leonge arrived to find his sixteen year old son injured, because of their incompetence. It didn't matter that Sen had brought it on himself.
"Yes. You got him here in quick time. That's far from here, isn't it? McCoy asked, cleaning the scalp wound.
"We ran the distance, fearing the worst. At least, if he lives, we won't be killed."
"He'll be fine. I'll set the leg and wrap the ribs. Keep him off his feet for a while to completely heal the break and he'll be okay. Why don't you give me a hand setting this, then we'll carry him up to his room," McCoy ordered. "Dalick, you and Aaron clean the divan and floor, clear away everything."
An hour- later there was no sign of the accident and Sen was resting in his room under the influence of a homemade narcotic McCoy had brewed front various herbs through trial and error over the last several months.
* * *
It was late the next day before Leonge came home. McCoy stayed with Sen during the night and made periodic checks on him all during the day. He was pleased with the progress of his patient as infection had not set into the break so far and Sen was responding well, proving there was no concussion.
Elkon came to see McCoy once to thank him for treating Sen and saving the boy's life. McCoy didn't know how to respond to his fellow slave, knowing anything could happen to him once Leonge Chaiing arrived.
"I'm not worried, Makoy. It is doubtful he will kill me since Sen is alive. I have served the Chaiing House for forty years, my father served before me, and his father before him. I only wish my son had another alternative, though what that would be I don't know."
"I've always been a freeman, a 'Healer' where I come front. To me, slavery is one of the worst evils to ever plague a civilized society."
"There are no slaves? How is the work done? How is this possible?" Elkon was incredulous at the thought of not having a slave class. He dreamed of better things for his son than what he himself knew, but he didn't know what or how it could be accomplished. There had been slaves as far back as recorded history went, even he, an illiterate, had heard that many times.
McCoy was at a loss temporarily of how to explain something so alien to an uneducated man. "We have... 'tools' that do much of the work for us, the rest we do for ourselves. It's a society of 'freemen', no Elite, no slaves. Everyone is equal." Elkon just shook his head in amazement and walked off, muttering to himself about this strange place Makoy must know.
Leonard wasn't surprised when one of Leonge Chaiing's personal slaves came for him later that afternoon. Word of his treating Sen would have had to reach Leonge's ear eventually. It was a case of hoping for lenient punishment for daring to presume a Healer's right and privilege.
Leonge was in the sun room, an imposing man of immense stature. He reclined on a side couch, picking from a tray before him, of various edibles. Leaving McCoy to await his attention, Leonge used the time to look at this particular slave. He was a new one by the freshness of the brand, no more than one year in his service, no prior brand either, which was interesting. What caught his attention more than anything else was the look of intelligence in the slave's eyes. This was no ordinary slave. Perhaps he'd been part of the Elite class at one time, before reduction to the slave class. That would explain the lack of brand if nothing else. Parm, head House slave, had reported the activities of a slave who practiced Healer's arts on the slaves. Leonge had permitted the continuation of it seeing fewer deaths and generally better health among those treated. Telchanto chided him on occasion for paying too close attention to his slaves, but Leonge had not risen to his position and wealth by accident. The Chaiing House was long established with amassed wealth few could hope to see, but it was still the individual Master's duty to manage the continuation of prestige and favor with the Emperor.
Leonge Chaiing had long known Telchanto, growing up together as boys, through the early years of rule when Telchanto had assumed the reins of ruling after deposing his father, to now when the man had absolute power over the largest Empire in history. All subjects bowed to his whim, even the Tribes were learning to acknowledge him as ruler.
It was said that Telchanto had reduced Shu to its lowest level with his depravity and decadence, even Leonge could see where it might be t rue. Where another man viewed the Emperor with fear in his eyes, Leonge knew none, at least none to which he would publicly admit. He had seen and heard enough over the years to realize what was happening and knew silence was the best recourse. Too many of the Elite had made the mistake of voicing their opinions, only to learn too late, the folly or their ways, the Royal Triremes and quarries had found many new laborers among the Elite class, in the last several years. Leonge had every intention of making sure he wasn't one of them.
McCoy had seen Leonge Chaiing once or twice from a distance, since his arrival at the Chaiing House, but having no reason to be in closer vicinity he'd wisely chosen to remain absent. Chaiing was known for his temper, but he was also known for his fairness upon occasion. A peculiar man, this one who had the ear of the Emperor.
Motioning Parm to leave, Leonge leaned back and scratched his chin in thought. "It has come to my attention that you defied law and treated my son."
McCoy opened his mouth preparatory to defending his action, then thought better of it. He could hear Spock in the back of his mind making a comment about the Good Doctor's inability to keep quiet when necessary. His time as a slave had shown him the wisdom of the advice. Where was the Vulcan now?
"Have you anything to say in your defense before I hand down the appropriate punishment for such an act?" Leonge watched Makoy's face for any indication of what was going through his mind and saw the struggle going on between the desire to speak and the wisdom of saying nothing. He had been right, alter all, in his estimation of the slave's intelligence, definitely a former member of the Elite class.
"The Healer came by a short time ago and was annoyed at the treatment Sen had received, showing displeasure in how the leg was bandaged and the wounds closed away from the air." Leonge remembered well the tirade about the incompetence of whoever had treated Sen, all the while trying to cover how impressed he'd been by the lack of infection and perfect set of the broken bone. Even the Arena Healers, considered the best in the Empire next to those attending the Emperor, couldn't have done as well as this slave. "He recommended moving the leg to another position where it would heal better and opening the wounds to the air."
"Move that leg and it'll never heal straight!" McCoy spat out, throwing caution to the wind before he could stop himself.
"You have a tongue after all. I was beginning to wonder." A small piece of fruit was devoured. "You disagree with the Healer?"
"Yes." Well, he'd gone and done it now. Elkon, he said to himself, looks like you're going to have company at the flogging tonight.
"You have the bearing and knowledge of an Elite, yet you still struggle over the simplest words in the language. Where did you obtain your knowledge of the Healing arts?"
What did Leonge Chaiing want? Why was he taking interest in a slave? "I come from a far country where I was trained for many years in the various kinds of Healing."
"Then you are a Healer." A statement, not a question.
"For many years."
"How did you come here? Why are you a slave?" What wrong have you done that puts you in my service? was the unspoken question. Who have you offended that one of the Healing arts should be reduced to such means?
"I was traveling with some friends in the north country and we were attacked by a slave trader. Some were killed, Jim, you weren't to blame, it is the way of this planet, you couldn't have known, the rest were captured and later sold. I was bought by the Chaiing House where I have served since." My friends were butchered and ripped from their lives by your filthy countrymen and I've been cleaning your damn house every day since they put me on the block like an animal. I hate your House, your city, your whole planet.
The words would never be spoken, but Leonge saw the hatred in Makoy's eyes that belied the placid phrases. A party of Elite from a distant land had been traveling peacefully when they were set upon and ruthlessly thrust into new lives. Still, there was nothing he could do about it. The favor the gods had been plucked from this man, what could he, a mere man, do against such fate as that?
"Sen has need of a domestic, someone who has skills and experience beyond his own. You will be his personal slave until such time as you are no longer needed. Practice your Healing on your fellow slaves, I have need of a healthy House." With a wave of his hand, Leonge dismissed the stunned McCoy and called for Parm to issue his dictums before departing for the country for a well earned rest away from the city life and its various forms of entertainment.
* * *
"Makoy, have you a minute?"
"Elkon, where have you been? You left that day to run an errand for Sen and we hadn't heard since." The two men clasped arms in the greeting of old friends. Ten months had passed since Elkon's disappearance and McCoy had lost hope for the return of the one true friend he had on Draana.
"I ran into some problems and it took a bit of time for everything to work out, but they did at last, and here I am." McCoy took in the weight loss and added lines on Elkon's face and made his own assumptions about the kind of trouble Elkon had that day. He was more surprised at Elkon's return than the fact that he had trouble. There had been sporadic difficulties among the slave class as conditions worsened by the year. Just in the two years McCoy had been in the Chaiing House, the incidence of runaway slaves had increased enormously despite the harsh countermeasures being taken by the Empire. Leonge had taken his own steps to hold the number down, but occasionally one would slip through and not be seen again. McCoy had hoped Elkon had been one of those few to succeed.
"How is Magda? And Ton?"
"Your wife is lust fine. Ton was sent out to the Northern Estate two months ago, but I'm sure he's doing fine. Magda's out in the kitchen, why don't you go see her yourself?" Why hadn't Elkon searched her out first? Surely a man would seek his wife before a friend after such a long absence... The house was empty this week due to a large gathering in honor of the Emperor's birthday which Chaiing was giving next week at the Northern Estate. Sen had chosen to remain in Shu until the last minute allowing McCoy a reprieve from duties, for a few extra days.
"I came to see you. No one must know of my presence. If you do not approve, I will leave and ask for your silence for the sake of an old friend."
Checking the hallway for signs of activity and seeing none, McCoy pulled the door shut and made a cursory inspection of the room for possible ears and eyes. Two years among the slaves had given him a different view of the House -- from behind walls and passages that remained slave knowledge. "We are alone. What brings you here?"
"I spent many months pondering the words you spoke to me of the place from where you came, before coming to the House." McCoy had a flash of memory of the countless nights spent talking into the early morning hours on topics of every kind with Elkon. His first few months as a domestic had been trying and the support Elkon had given had made all the difference to McCoy and the debt was immeasurable. " It took time," Elkon continued, "but I eventually learned of others, like myself, who wanted to break the chains given us by the Empire. We are few in number, but with time we will grow and one day overthrow the Empire. It may not happen in my lifetime, but perhaps my son, Ton, will know the pleasure of wearing blue and walking the streets with pride and not shame for his origins."
"But why are you here? if they catch you, all your work will be in vain." Elkon knew as well as he the price captured runaways paid, not to mention those who helped them.
"I am leaving the city and returning to the hills for the last time. Magda would not understand, nor would Ton, so I will not see them, but you, my friend, know and understand. I came to say good bye and wish you fortune and health." Elkon unfastened a small chain from about his neck which fit neatly beneath the heavy metal col lar. "Take this and should you ever need me, give it to Tieran, he'll know how to get in touch with me."
McCoy fastened the chain into place around his own neck where it hung completely hidden from any prying eyes. Perhaps, one day, he could follow Elkon's footsteps and leave the House and Shu behind him forever. Some day when the trail was safer and he could fulfill a purpose, a need which would make the danger worthwhile. Right now there was nothing to be gained from running. "I will remember it and you. Farewell, old friend." Elkon stepped back into the tapestries from whence he had come through the old passageways and was gone as quickly as he'd come.
"Good luck," McCoy whispered one last time.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The smell of salt water assaulted her nostrils as the string was led down the back streets of Shu to an unknown destination that would be her new home. Christine pulled at the insufficient rag she wore for the umpteenth time, trying to stretch it in an effort to cover herself further against the stares of strangers. After six weeks on the road, following her humiliating spectacle on the auction block, she was covered with dirt and grime, her hair hanging down in unkempt tendrils, but the desire for cleanliness was second only to the one for escape from this chain and all its implications.
Her education in the ways of Draana had begun immediately after the sale, having the language forced upon her with pain as the reward for mistakes. It was amazing how fast one could learn with the 'right' motivation. Six weeks had shown her how great her capacity for learning could be, and how great her hatred could grow under such provocation.
Shu reminded her of some of the small backwater dumps the Enterprise had visited over the years. Places and names changed, but the vermin that infested the city streets remained the same. McCoy had once suggested a clean sweep operation that would have removed the cesspool regions of a city, but in reality there was no way to rid a place of the lowlife it attracted.
Her thoughts, as always, returned to her missing shipmates. Where was McCoy now? What had happened to Spock? Were either of them still alive? Was Baker? Was she alone on this forsaken planet? Once herded into a holding pen in Sendaar, Christine had been separated from her companions, never to see them again. Jim was dead, as was Miggs, but what of the other three? Had they been sold as she was? If so, who had bought them and where were they now? What if she was the only one left?
The tired line of women and boys finally came to a halt by an imposing edifice not far from the wharves and shipbuilding facilities. Armed guards stood beside the entrance, stern in composure, completely unmoved by the pathetic sight of human chattel. What windows she could see were barred, leaving her no doubt as to the status they now held.
* * *
Scrubbing was thorough and Christine felt as if every inch of her body had been rubbed to the bone in their effort to erase all signs of the journey. The short pink tunic she now wore covered her no better than the rag given her by Dengan, the only difference being this one was clean.
It was a small, but functional room where she now stood, with a bed and bureau, no closet and one chair. The single window was grilled, but it looked not over the city and dingy streets, instead the sea lay before her dotted with an occasional sail to break the glassy surface. Her experience with large bodies of water was limited, yet being able to see something other than Shu cheered her a little.
How quickly her life had changed in the last two months. First the regeneration process and travel back in time, then the virus, and now this. Christine Chapel, Ph.D., Head Nurse on the Starship Enterprise was now another nameless face in a brothel on an uncharted barbaric planet. What would Roger have said if he could see her now? He'd once teased her being pretty enough to earn a better living than being in academia. Christine smiled sadly at the memory. She had her youth and beauty just as it was when he'd known her, only now she had years of experience and knowledge which made it secondary in importance to her. Many women would hope in vain of recovering their past, a chance to relive those younger days. Christine now cursed them for had she not regenerated to such an age, she would never have been chosen for this kind of service. None of the women in the chain had been over twenty five.
Checking the door again, she found it still locked from the outside. I'm almost thirty years old. The sea held her attention. A giant trireme bearing three banks of oars gracefully dipped into the water and propelled the warship out to sea. How many slaves do you have chained to your benches? Do you have Spock or McCoy on you?
She heard the latch pulled on the door and whirled around. A large man walked in, closing it behind him. "I am Rand. It is my duty to prepare you before Zarton's return from Sendaar."
"Prepare me for what? One woman is the same as the next to a man who buys their time," she stated between clenched teeth. "Go away and leave me in peace."
"I am Rand. It is my duty to prepare you before Zarton's return from Sendaar," he repeated verbatim with no change in expression.
"You've already said that."
Rand crossed the room in three steps and struck her across the face, sending her sprawling on the bed. She came to her feet with a bound and backed away as far as possible, her motion halted by the wall. He slapped her again, but this time she was prepared and rolled with the blow, kicking out in an attempt to connect with any vital part possible. The effort was short-lived though, and before long Christine was left alone in the tiny room, sobbing. Rand and her tunic gone.
By morning the swelling had subsided some, but the jaw was still bruised. Having no mirror, Christine couldn't tell for sure if she had a black eye, but since there'd been no blood the skin hadn't been broken. Rand had been quick and thorough, obviously an expert in meting out punishment, yet not permanently marking the victim. The room had contained a chamber pot, but no food had been delivered since the single meal given upon arrival the day before.
It was obvious to her now what preparation he had in mind. The process of training her to be an obedient slave had begun on the trip, Rand was taking it further. They meant to break her spirit and reduce her to willing submission. "I won't let you," Christine yelled out the window toward the sea. "I won't let you destroy me."
Each time footsteps approached the door, she tensed, expecting the latch to be pulled and Rand to enter, but every time they continued past her portal and on to someone else. Every now and then Christine would hear a scream and wonder which one of the women was being tormented.
Shadows were lengthening across her floor before the latch was pulled back and Rand stepped into the room. Christine knew what was in store for her this time and felt ready for it. The brothel needed willing women to fill their ranks to serve the customers. What could they do to her if she continued to rebel? They'd invested money in her and needed to see it turned to profit. They couldn't mark her permanently or her value would be lost. It was possible they would sell her to someone else, which was just fine with her. What could be worse than the present situation? Scrubbing floors the rest of her life was preferable to working as a prostitute. Christine had put a great deal of thought into the problem all day and had made the logical conclusions. Spock would be so proud of me...
'Kneel, slave," he repeated.
Christine had a feeling this was her last chance to do as he ordered before there came a repetition of yesterday, but stood her ground firmly. "No. I will not."
Rand was impressed with this new slave. Few had ever persisted this long. It did not matter though, in the end they all came around, the alternative was most unpleasant. He seized her arm and pulled her with him as he left the room. Perhaps show, the only other option open to her would change her mind.
Christine struggled, but the grip was like steel and after feeling his hand again, she acquiesced for the moment to this excursion, feeling ridiculous walking around in public with no clothes. Soon, though, she saw several other women in the same state coupled with the disinterest given by the guards and felt less self-conscious.
They went down several flights of stairs, passing guards at every turn, until reaching the lowest level. Rand signaled to the two men standing before a large door and by the time they reached it, the two had swung it aside with effort.
Beyond the door lay the working areas of the House, where food was prepared and slave training was performed in earnest. Zarton's establishment was open continuously for the pleasure of the Elite, but only certain sections at a time, allowing for cleaning and maintenance periodically. The women who cleaned and scrubbed, who kept every room immaculate, lived in the bowels of the House.
Christine was thankful for her years as a nurse which kept her front averting her eyes or showing any expression as Rand dragged her from cell to cell. Every woman they saw had been disfigured horribly, yet left unimpaired to perform their tasks.
"You have chosen to fight me," Rand remarked blandly. "I have brought you here to show you the choices open to you. Most women surrender after an initial struggle, but I have seen that look in your eyes, the look that promises nothing but trouble." They came to the end of the cells where several men sat around drinking. A bed of coals lay in the fireplace, lending an extra warmth to the dampish subterranean chamber. "It is rare that allow a woman to make this choice, but in your case it is necessary."
Christine kept one eye on the seated men while trying to make sense of what Rand was saying. A choice? "What are you talking about?" Had those poor women back in the cells been through this? Was that what he was talking about? A choice between disfigurement and hard labor or prostitution? Neither option was particularly inviting at the moment to her. The warmth of the room was suddenly stifling.
"You are the property of Zarton and bear no name or identity but what is given you. Your purchase was made with the intent of serving the Elite that frequent this House." Christine felt hands grab her from behind, but could do no more than struggle ineffectively. She was carried to a large wooden frame and pinned into place with slats of wood. "If your honor is the most important, you may choose to join those in the adjoining room and clean the House of Zarton for the next five seasons and entertain the guards, or you may agree to preparation for serving in the capacity for which you were bought."
Five years... These women were only allowed to live for five years. A life of pain and disfigurement with a death sentence over her head. Death was an alternative she had been seriously considering as opposed to life on Draana, but not a living death as those in the cells had. Could she bear the pain of having her nose sliced off, or one eye removed? Was working upstairs and waiting for a chance to escape this madhouse any worse than what she'd seen down here?
Spock had always said there were alternatives, it was simply a case of finding them all. Right now, fastened down like a butterfly on display, Christine found herself wondering if Spock had ever found himself in a similar position where there was no way to win. What would he have done in her place? Damn you, Spock. You made me believe there was an answer to everything, made me believe there was an honorable way to live. You were wrong. Dead wrong. There aren't always alternatives. You were wrong, damn you, wrong!
"You win, Rand. I'll work upstairs," she whispered finally. "I'll do as you say."
Rand picked up the branding iron, examining if to make sure it was the proper heat. The frame normally held the women securely, but he wanted to be sure this particular brand was perfect and deep, her kicks had done considerable damage yesterday, prostrating him the rest of the day and part of the morning. "Hold her." Three men took hold and further immobilized her as Rand applied the iron to her thigh. Her scream of agony comforted him before she blacked out from the pain. "I'm going to make you regret your choice, little one," he crooned, brushing the hair from her face. Rubbing salve on the burn, he threw the unconscious woman over his shoulder and carried her back upstairs.
* * *
The food on the tray lay untouched as Christine limped from the bed to the window. Whatever they'd put on the burn had prohibited infect ion, but the leg was still stiff and sore. It was a curious design, beautiful in its own way, yet ugly to her eyes because of its meaning. A mark of ownership, a sign that she was no longer a free person with autonomy. The hammered ring of metal around her ankle also symbolized her position. It must have been done while she was unconscious as she had no knowledge of it before waking to find it.
"I reasoned it out logically, Spock, just like you said," she said to the heavy metal bars. "If I refused hard enough they would sell me to someone else and I would be free of this place." Christine stretched her arm through the grillwork, feeling the caress of freedom just beyond her reach.
Everything was always just beyond her reach. Roger, Spock, Harry, and now life itself. The Enterprise was gone, Kirk, McCoy, Uhura, all of it was gone. All that remained was this alien world, this nightmare that wasn't a dream.
"All we wanted was some Chrysaline, some lousy Chrysaline to save lives. What did we do to deserve this? What did we do that was so terrible they had to kill the Captain and sell us into slavery?" Her question fell on deaf ears, silence was her only answer.
* * *
Rand was thorough in his efforts to subjugate Christine. She was his private project as no other woman had ever been. He named her Iisa and had it inscribed on the metal band after registering it officially in Zarton's records. Occasionally her feistiness would come to the surface, but mostly she remained closed to him, her emotional defenses in place at all times.
He spent time forcing her to learn protocol and etiquette, to learn the language fluently. Her appearance, clothing, behavior, everything was under constant scrutiny and infractions were immediately punished. In six months he had changed her from the obstinate wrench straight off the block to a glamorous woman of obedience.
* * *
Zarton walked down the line of slaves, inspecting the newest acquisitions from his trip to Sendaar. His records keeper gave details as necessary on each person, listing purchase date, training to date, attitude, etc. Most of the chain was destined for the ground floor, serving the street trade, but a few had been chosen to work the upper level where the Elite came to buy pleasure. It was a shame the work was so taxing that only a few years could be had from any given woman. Turnover rate was high in the Shu House because of the high percentage of Elite living in the Ruling City. His Houses in the lesser cities had far less attrition, but this was the way of business. Over the next few weeks the new slaves would be eased into place and the old ones taken away and sold on the block to lesser Houses or anyone who wanted to buy them.
"Iisa, trainer Rand," the records keeper read Zarton nodded acknowledgment of Rand's selection. Trainers of long standing, such as Rand, had the pick of those women they thought worthwhile to prepare for Elite use. Zarton had never been disappointed in the ones Rand chose.
Iisa. Tall, young and graceful, she was perfect in Zarton's eyes for serving on the upper floor. He was already mentally reviewing the list of steady clients and checking off those who would be interested in one such as this. She had the look of a fresh flower ready to be picked, with any luck that look could be preserved for a few years. "Mark her as Elite," Zarton ordered. "She begins tonight."
* * *
Christine remained submerged in the pool, wishing the water could remove the inner sense of dirt as easily as it did the outer. It had been bad enough enduring Berra Sire, but knowing Rand had secreted himself behind a panel to monitor her behavior had made it even worse. She applied more soap to her hair, scrubbing vigorously. A trained animal performing for an audience had as much dignity as she did. Sit up, Iisa, roll over, Iisa, play dead, Iisa.
Spotting Rand coming down the hallway toward the pool she ducked under the water and quickly rinsed the suds out. The temptation to remain there and drown was strong, but her will to survive won out and she came up for air.
"Good morning, Iisa."
"Good morning, Berra Rand," she replied obediently, mentally cursing him at the same time.
"I wish to discuss your performance of last evening." Sitting on her towel, he forced her to remain in the water. "Very disappointing, Iisa. Very disappointing. It is fortunate that Berra Sire was so drunk so as not to be overly upset."
Rand clutched her chin tightly, forcing her to look up at him. "Berra Sire is an important client. I would hate for his complaints to reach Zarton's ears. It would not go well for me. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Berra Rand," Christine gritted her teeth and replied evenly. Any distaste she had over the previous evening had now been completely displaced by the hatred she held for Rand. On pain of being sent below, she had endured the slovenous Sire, and now to be upbraided for it...
"Dry yourself quickly, I have work for you to do." Sire's praise for Iisa had been so overwhelming, Zarton had give full control of her to Rand. When not serving the House, she belonged to him as a personal slave. There were times when being the bastard son of Zarton had its advantages. He was not physically attracted to her, there were other ways to fulfill those desires, but the power held over her had its own thrill. To see her grovel at his feet one day, begging him for anything... This was what attracted him to her, this woman who would not break.
* * *
The tiny room became her only sanctuary away from Rand and the duties she was required to perform as a slave in the House of Zarton. Every night Rand would come and unlatch the door, inspecting her clothing and makeup, critiquing her appearance minutely, then lead her upstairs to the Elite floor where she was to mingle and eventually fulfill the desires of anyone who would pay the appropriate price.
There were times when Christine wanted to talk to the other women, to reach out to them and see if they felt as she did, yearned for freedom as she did. But Rand kept her on a short leash, controlling her every movement, her every desire thwarted. If he found her behavior questionable he would whip her, or upon occasion chain her to the stone hearth in his quarters with no protection against the cold rock for hours on end.
The rest of the time she remained in her little room, alone with nothing but her own thoughts to keep her company. Each day she would watch the sails grow smaller in the distance, as they left Shu, until it became such a painful reminder of her own imprisonment she could no longer bear to look out the window.
Time lost meaning for her and only the change of seasons outside her window brought its passage to her attention. Christine could no longer remember how long she'd been on Draana, or here at Zarton's. Had it been two or three seasons of snow? Was it last week or the week before that Rand had punished her for being moody? Her hair was longer than it had ever been... There were no mirrors in the House, did she still look the same, as beautiful as they said she did, or did she appear as ugly on the outside as she felt on the inside?
Her memories were the only friends left. Each day Christine forced herself to relive a day on the Enterprise, or some particular planetfall, a time with Roger, even to perform one of the many experiments that were standard fare in the science labs.
Faces were no longer quite so clear, blurring with the passing of time and details often escaped her, but the joy they gave her in an otherwise miserable existence filled the craving as best it could.
The stars outside the walls that held her weren't the ones she remembered as a child, but at least they were a reminder of things that had been and hope that someday her life would change.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The years that followed became a blur for Kirk as Tenna struggled to hold the imperial army at bay. They became marauders, attacking under the cover of darkness, using ruse and sabotage t o hide their numbers. By the time winter had settled in, all ground had been lost and the Warriors were driven Northward to seek refuge in flight.
Kirk pulled his Targa over to the side and allowed those behind him to precede. News of Matta's death had come to them that morning, just days from the return to the Tribe. With Matta dead, they could return to the Tribe in peace instead of having to plead for reacceptance into the People after splitting to defend them against the will of the Leader. Winter snows were upon them already, soon travel would be impossible. they didn't return now, spring would be the next opportunity, after thaws. Telchanto behind, a fractured tribe under the hand of Tull ahead... Kirk didn't like the alternatives.
He felt rather than heard Shallon pull up next to him. Her face was hidden beneath the heavy hooded robe, but the long blade was exposed and available for immediate action. Their time together under Tenna had made them formidable allies, tentative friends.
"Why do you stop, Kiirk?"
"I'm looking for a reason to go on," he answered, watching the last of the riders go by on their way to rejoin the rest of the Tribe. "There will nothing but unrest and fighting when we return. Tull has shown his character, and now that he has tasted the power he's always craved, nothing will stand in his way to maintain it. Tenna refuses to see this, he will not acknowledge the greed that motivates his son."
"The winter will be a hard one. Game is scarcer than ever and with Telchanto's troops scattered over the Fringes, we'll be unable to seek relief from the South as we have in the past." She fell silent a moment. "I agree with you in your surmise of the situation. Tenna will not live to see the spring. The tribes will become even more divided until there will be no need for Telchanto to do anything but wait for us to kill each other."
"There can be nothing gained by rejoining the Tribe now. It will be better to wait until winter has passed, then assess the damage and see what can be done. I'm not stupid enough to think I can stop what's going to happen." Kirk shifted his baldric inside the robe.
Kirk shrugged. "Telchanto can do nothing until the spring thaws. We can use that time to assess the situation and make plans."
She smiled, though he could't see it. "There are legends of a tribe that lives in the far distance. I should like some day to journey there and see if the legend is true."
Despite the sorrow he felt at the loss of Ren several weeks earlier, Kirk felt warmed hearing Ren's words spoken by his sister. "Tull will one day pay for his treachery that cost Ren his life, Shallon."
"Of that I have no doubt. In the meantime, which way shall we go? To the North or the West? Despite the legend telling of them being to the North, the maps are fairly complete in every direction but the west beyond the Far Mountains, which no one crosses."
"Let's go." Neither one spared a second glance at the tiny specks moving to the North.
* * *
The Empire had never extended its boundaries to the far west because the terrain was too rough for movement of goods, that added to the lack of marketable products available in the region. Water to the south made easier and cheaper commerce and natural resources lay more to the north and east. Legends told of the far west region as being part of a vast valley, rich in farmland and fishing. Then, one day, the ground split apart and replaced it with a huge range of mountains and worthless reaches where little could survive the elements.
Kirk could understand why no one ventured this far. He and Shallon had gathered supplies before leaving the Fringes, all the time avoiding patrols, and without them they would not have lasted. The range was desolate, no apparent lifeforms, or vegetation. They'd been tempted any times to turn back and return to the Plains, but still they persisted.
"I hope this pass leads through to the other side, Kiirk." Shallon tugged on the reins, urging her Targa forward as she led the way on foot. The snow was deep and the terrain rough and this was their last chance to get through a pass before supplies forced them to turn back in defeat.
Snow gave way beneath his feet and Kirk clutched his reins to keep from following the clatter of rock down the canyon side. Regaining his position of safety, he motioned Shallon to move forward. In a couple more hours, they would trade positions and he would blaze the trail. Night descended before they reached the anticipated pass, and they camped for yet another freezing night. There was no wood for a fire, but Kirk had discovered a rock that burned similar to coal when ignited, which they used to keep warm. It was too bad, he reflected, this culture is so low on the scale, the rock, in large quantities could prove to be a viable source of energy. Heat was produced, yet the rock was not consumed in more than minute amounts. A sizable shipment could keep the Tribe warm for an entire winter. Huddling beneath the furs to share body heat, Kirk and Shallon fell into the exhausted slumber that met them every night.
Dawn came and with it, the last of the Targa supplies. Kirk threw the empty bag back with the others and led the way. Towering peaks loomed far overhead as the path wound precariously to and fro. Suddenly, as they came around a sharp turn, the mountains opened and a panorama was spread before their eyes.
Huge tracts of timber, lakes, lush valleys that could rival parts of the Plains. "How many days to the bottom?" Shallon inquired. She had earlier acknowledged Kirk's expertise in the art of mountain climbing and respected his ability.
"Three, maybe four. Fortunately, there appears to be vegetation several thousand feet down for the Targas." But what lay beyond that? he wondered silently.
* * *
Days later they were off the mountain and headed toward what they hoped would prove to be a settlement of some sort. Time was running short and they would need to start back if they wanted to reach the Tribe before the spring thaws made passage difficult.
They weren't sure what happened next, but suddenly they were entrapped in a large net. Men appeared from behind large timber and secured them to the Targas. Kirk didn't detect any particular hostility, just the detached interest of guards doing their job. He and Shallon were free to converse, but their captors remained mute.
What amazed Kirk, though, were the gigantic Kallas wheeling overhead. Men rode on their backs, secured by straps and harnesses, just as the legend had told. Shallon seemed unsurprised by the revelation, wasn't this what they had come to find? It also explained the means of capturing them so easily. Kallas had silently glided over them and the riders had dropped the suspended net.
Once past the timber, the Plains met them. Tents were scattered in the traditional pattern of the Tribe and Targas grazed nearby. They could have been with their own Tribe, things were so similar, yet it wasn't quite the same. The dress was altered, the children were playing games instead of scrapping for food among themselves. Only the adults and older youths carried weapons -- unlike the Tribe where all carried weapons of one sort or another.
The man who came from the Leader's Tent reminded Kirk of Ren. Tall, strong, with honesty written on the face. Jim was immediately reminded of his vow to atone for Ren's useless death.
"You are strangers and have trespassed on our ground. Have you anything to say in defense?"
The words were similar to those of the Tribe, but removed by several centuries or more of time and distance, Kirk assumed. Surely these people and the Tribe were once of the same parent group. No two cultures could independently develop so similarly without a common background.
"We came across the mountains seeking a legend." Kirk decided on a poetic approach, rather than a more straightforward one.
"The mountain is impassable. None who tried have ever returned," Yan countered. "Yet your speech is not ours and the Targas bear no marking I recognize. If what you say is true, what legend is it you seek?"
"The giant Kallas."
Yan turned away and ordered the strangers to be released, then invited them to join him in his tent. Shallon shrugged her shoulders at this behavior. No Leader would ever expose himself thus to attack as Yan was doing. Two armed men followed them in, but positioned themselves some distance away so as not to disturb them.
"Why it you have crossed the mountains just to see Kallas?" Yan asked, curious of these two that had come so far. He could see no reason to doubt their words.
"We have none."
Yan nodded in understanding. "After the mountains came, there was much death and chaos here on our side. We were completely cut off from everything."
"You have records?" Kirk had seen little evidence of any kind of written record preserved among the Tribe. All knowledge was passed on by word of mouth, from generation to generation. The Empire had a written language, that much he knew from Ren, but not the Tribe.
"Not many. Most were destroyed in the cataclysm and its aftermath. Heavy dust hung in the air for months, many died from lack of air and the Kallas nearly died out. A few were saved and later bred. Now they flourish in great numbers."
"Is this the only tribe on this side of the mountain?" Shallon interrupted.
"No, there are two more tribes further west, several days journey from here. We trade with them occasionally."
"There is no conflict?"
"Conflict? Over what would we conflict? There is enough land for all, sufficient food and water. We have had no conflicts here for hundreds of years."
"True peace," Kirk observed. "A remarkable achievement."
"Yet you still carry weapons," Shallon remarked.
"It is one of the traditions we maintain, that all remain in readiness should the need to defend ourselves ever arise. The training builds strong bodies and active minds. We hope never to use that training for any other purpose. Is it different on your side?"
"Very. Our people are being starved and driven from their lands by the Empire." Shallon caught the look in Kirk's eye and allowed him to take over. She had seen his silver tongue at work in the past.
"Have your Leaders done nothing to stop this?" Yan was horrified at the situation.
"The recent Leaders of the Tribe have been weak and unwilling to do what was necessary to halt this. My companion and I decided to risk a journey here in hopes of finding ... something ... that might help us. Now that we are here and see the peace you have, we must leave."
"Can the two of you lead the Tribe to victory over this 'empire'?"
"We're going to try. A strong leadership must be established and a unity among the people created to do it." He could hear Spock in the back of his mind, the Prime Directive, Captain. The longer he was on this planet, seeing his people slowly starved to death by a greedy Empire, the more useless the Prime Directive was becoming. His people. What an odd thing to say, even to himself. Kirk searched back over his memories of the last six years and wondered when the Tribe had stopped being 'them' and started being 'us'.
"Why do you search for the Kallas though?" Yan persisted.
"The Empire has huge Walled Cities, impregnable to a ground attack. We had hoped to find Kallas to carry us over those walls and into the city itself. The Tribe has been fighting a Thousand Year War against these cities. We are losing."
"Stay with us a time and we will teach you the ways of the Kallas. If they are hooded, you may be able to lead them back the way you came." He held up a hand in warning. "Once you have gone through, we will destroy your passage from this side so that no others may traverse it as you did. We will help you in this way, but we do not want your conflicts, or ways of life on this side of the mountain."
"We would not want you to have them."
* * *
Kirk could feel the wings of the Kallas beating rhythmically beneath him as they few through the air far above the ground. A distance away he could discern Shallon pacing him.
The journey through the pass was one he wanted to forget, but would remember the rest of his life. By spring, most of the snow was gone and the trail accordingly. The Kallas were fairly docile creatures when hooded, but the distance was great and their tempers short. Both Kirk and Shallon had scars to prove it. The talons could rip anything to shreds, and the beaks could bite a man in half. Kirk was grateful more than once that these Kallas were domesticated, in spite of the difficulties they had with them.
Once over the pass they rook to the air and made the rest of the journey quickly. Their Targas had been left behind with Yan, others would have to be acquired to replace them, but Kirk wasn't worried about it. There were other, more important things to consider.
Spring thaws were just beginning and the water flowed freely beneath them, creating rivers and streams that would disappear just as quickly as they appeared. The months spent with Yan and his Tribe had been a time of healing and thinking for Kirk. He could no longer separate himself from what was happening. There was no Enterprise waiting to pick him up when he finished his job. There was only today and tomorrow and the day after, on Draana. This was his life. The prospect of going to war against the Empire had seemed surreal to him before, now it was reality.
War was what he'd been trained to avoid, and here he was planning long range strategy. Was this so different from his confrontation with Kor? Or giving weapons to the hill people of Neural? Where did the line between war and peace lie when the alternative was death either way? Without direct war, the Tribe would perish, with war, many would die. Was he trying to justify it by claiming one to be more honorable than the other, as a means of dying?
The Empire had taken the lives of Spock and McCoy, had destroyed the entire landing party with death and slavery. He had seen the atrocities committed by Telchanto's troops on innocent dwellers of the Plains. Ren had taken him into the Walled City of Sendaar once on a spy mission, showing him the depravity of those who dwelled there. After the stench of the City, the wide open spaces of the Plains seemed cleaner and more honest than ever. On the Plains there were traditions that maintained life on an even keel. Sendaar was a cesspool in comparison.
Shallon called him an idealist, a dreamer of things that couldn't be. Maybe he was trying to make Draana into something it wasn't and never could be. Maybe Shallon was right, maybe the idea of combating the Empire after so much def eat the last several years was crazy. Matta had allowed the Empire to drive them North, Tenna had refused to take the risk of deposing Matta and push back south, while there was a chance. Now Tull was in command of the Tribes. Tull, the man who failed to carry out his orders and caused the death of Ren. It would take more than luck to pull the tribes back together.
Before returning to the Tribe, they took a detour south, over the fringes, gathering all possible details on the layout and deployment of imperial troops. The situation didn't look good. It was going to take time and much planning.
* * *
It was as they feared. Tull had killed Tenna during the long winter months, seizing complete control. Their arrival on the legendary Kallas gave them the edge needed to impress the people and unnerve Tull.
Winter had weighed heavily on the Tribe in their absence. There was much discontent among the Warriors with the loss to Telchanto fresh in their memories, coupled with the 'accidental' death of Tenna.
The Kallas were tethered a distance away from the tents with full time guards from trusted members of the Caste to insure their longevity and keep the overly curious away. Tull refused to give audience to them, so Kirk and Shallon went in search of Vallon. Upon finding his tent gone, they were informed that Vallon had joined with a smaller tribe further east after the death of Tenna.
"So, Kiirk, our next move?" Shallon leaned casually against a tent pole, keeping her back covered and one eye on a minion of Tull's sent to watch them.
"Tull." Together they walked to the central area, noting the number of people that turned away from what they were doing, to watch. "Obviously Vallon knew what happened to Tenna and left before the same could he done to him."
"Tull is mine, Kiirk. I have waited a long time for this." Shallon grabbed his arm and stopped him. "You must lead the Tribes against the Empire. One who has killed a Leader cannot be a Leader, that is the law, it is the code you must obey, or you have to foreswear the Warrior Caste forever. I do not aspire to Lead, I am justified in my vengeance on the man who caused my brother's death. There were witnesses that day who can swear who it was that failed his duty and lost five men their lives."
She was right and he knew it, but it didn't sit well. Ren had been his friend; he wanted the satisfaction of killing Tull himself. It would help ease the pain of knowing he could never avenge himself on the men that killed Spock and McCoy. Shallon was also right in saying the people would never follow him if he killed Tull. He was deserving of death, but tradition would be upheld, he knew that from watching the Tribe die a slow death under Matta. It was now a choice between personal satisfaction, or the opportunity of avenging himself on the Empire, the killers of his crew.
"He is yours, Shallon. Be strong."
"Always, Kiirk, always."
She stood before the tent and drew her sword. Word spread quickly and a crowd was soon gathered. Seeing the men there that were present the day of Ren's death, she addressed the tent.
"I, Warrior Shallon, seek redress for the death of my brother, Warrior Ren, at the hands of Tull, Leader of the Tribe. I call Gyllon and Sorn as my witnesses. Witnesses, speak I the truth?"
"The truth has been spoken," Gyllon agreed.
"Justice is mine," Shallon stated.
"Agreed," came the murmur.
Tull stepped from the tent, sword sheathed. "I deny the charge and refuse challenge. You have been gone front us for a season, things have changed. Go and never return."
"Challenge cannot be refused," Gyllon shouted. "Leader is bound by law. Meet her or be banished."
Seeing no other way to save face and avoid banishment, Tull drew his sword and advanced on Shallon. "So, you've returned at last. I wondered how long you could make it without the Tribe."
She backed away, blade poised upright at her shoulder in a guarded stance. Shallon had seen him fight in the past and knew this would not be an honest meeting of blades. He sliced and she parried, leaping back and cutting downward. "I waited until you had shown more of your true colors by killing Tenna. A man cannot live who has killed his own flesh and blood." Several men smiled grimly as the unspoken accusation was at last brought out into the open. No one had before been able to voice it until now, because of law requiring a kinship challenge to fight a Leader. Warriors were not a faint hearted caste, but without Tenna or Ren. there was no one to follow but Tull, and that they preferred not to do actively.
"You will pay for that, Shallon." Metal hit metal in dissonant clashes, blood was drawn, but in the end it was Shallon's blade that told. Tull lay dying in the dirt with none to mourn him.
"Now," she announced between deep gasps for air, "we unite to fight the Empire."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The Arena was quiet now that the crowds had emptied out for the night. Spock heard the distant clank of the heavy gates being locked into place, sealing them in until morning. Routine was unchanging for the Fighters. Little had altered during the two years he'd been here in the way they were treated, or the way their freedom was curbed by old, but quite effective means.
Yet, the Empire didn't know everything that went on behind the locked gates. It had been Syl, and his knowledge and contacts that had put him and Spock into touch with the underground of slaves. What better, and less suspicious place from where to operate than the Area, symbol of the Empire and Telchanto.
It had been slow and hard work to gain the trust of the underground. Everyone was organized in small groups with very limited knowledge of other groups, or even who the leaders were. Spock had immediately recognized the pattern and gently pointed out the flaws in the system and how to remedy them. Time passed before word filtered back to him that the advice had been taken, but by then his involvement had grown considerably.
Escape continued to elude him, though. Security was tight, but what made escape the more difficult was his growing reputation in the Arena. His victory tally was being officially marked on the Arena wall at Telchanto's orders, even though Spock knew the Emperor had mixed feelings on the subject. Telchanto appreciated the revenue being generated by the continuously large turnouts for the matches because of the barbarian's popularity, yet it annoyed him that here was someone who was now a rival for the people's attention.
There had been a chance, once, to escape the Arena and begin the search for McCoy and Christine. Unfortunately, his involvement with the slave underground was such that his presence in the Arena as a focal point for the slowly fermenting rebellion was of greater importance. Word was being channeled through the slave grapevine, searching for McCoy and Christine. If they were still alive, they would be found -- faster and more efficiently than he could do it on his own. When they were located he would make his move.
* * *
Finely grained sand slipped beneath his feet as Spock shifted quickly to parry the stroke. His training partner, a long time veteran of the games, swung the dulled sword with as much skill as strength, despite expecting the barbarian to be easy prey. Few had the endurance to withstand him as a sparring partner for long. Years as an oar slave were paying off now in the Arena. He was in reach of the number of matches needed to earn his freedom from the Arena. Nothing and no one was going to stand in his way.
Spock kept the man at bay, while concentrating on Syl's bout some distance away. His friend was strong from swinging the rock hammer for three years, but his skills as a fighter were few. Should Syl survive today's trial match, Spock would find himself busy trying to train Syl as quickly as possible before the initial matches a month away.
Being in the Arena presented an unresolved dichotomy for Spock. It was preferable to the quarry: here, even though still a slave, there was more freedom. No chain bound him day and night to a wall. To willfully and needlessly take another's life... This was yet unresolved. He was a Vulcan, a man of peace -- killing was something he could not do without a reason, a logical reason.
How many times had Jim been forced to order him to kill because he couldn't bring himself to do it willfully? How often had he thought of the training in Tal-shaya as nothing more than a useless ritual, a bygone era that wanted to be forgotten? He would and could kill if attacked, but to simply walk into an arena and kill for the entertainment of the masses ... no. He would train Syl so his friend could protect himself and survive the harshness of this new sentence, but that was all. Some day, somehow, he would find a way to escape this place and search for McCoy and Chapel.
Berra Teng had sold them to a Berra Jaii, who in turn had brought them to Shu, Syl's home city, to fight in the Arena. A sentence to life in the Arena was considered an honor. Spock found himself unimpressed with the honor bestowed upon him. To him, death was death, in whatever guise, and to glorify it like this was wrong. Even the arena itself, with its thousands of tons of stone, each block hand hewn from a quarry, spoke of death. How many slaves had died to build this place of death? How many more would die to bring fame to a pile of inanimate rock? He doubted it would be possible to place a number on the men who'd spilled their blood on this very sand, only to be forgotten like the wind that filled their tracks. Spock forced his mind away from such thoughts and back onto the fight.
Sweating bodies sparred in the small corner of the huge Arena, practicing the various techniques that would mean life or death to them before long. The clash of metal against metal filled the air, reminding Spock of the sound of lirpas meeting in combat. His ancestors had been savage and violent, but nowhere in the annals of pre-reform history was there any record of killing for sport or pleasure.
His blade broke and Spock was weaponless, except for the jagged hilt. Most of the other matches had broken apart to watch the favorite battling the new barbarian. Spock tossed the sword remains away and crouched in a defensive posture. The larger man gripped the sword firmly and moved in warily. This barbarian fought differently, his ways were not those of anyone else he'd ever met. The movements were swift and strong, precise without excess. He swung, lunging to maim, but discovered the barbarian inside his guard, pressing on the sword wrist until the blade dropped from the numbed hand. Something touched his neck, then he knew nothing.
Syl grinned as the man landed face down in the sand. The same man whose reputation had been touted since their arrival two days prior, now lay in ignominious defeat. For a m an who spoke of peace, Spock could certainly take care of himself.
* * *
There was a slight deference now shown to Spock for defeating the favorite, but the match had been at practice, not under the pressure of the Arena where the end result was death for one or, even on occasion, both. Final respect given him would have to be earned in the Arena.
They worked assiduously, day after day, practicing and training. Spock was grateful for the chance to once again use muscles and motor skills long ignored. The freedom to move without the confines of the chains, together with the lack of whips, allowed his body to heal fully for the first time in four years. Scars formed, creating discolored designed across his back. Food, living quarters and sanitary conditions were far above those of the quarry. Men chosen for the Arena were meant to die in combat, not from starvation or dysentery. There were hundreds of men training for their chance to die to entertain the crowds and Telchanto.
Syl took his training seriously, pushing himself to the limit to prepare his body and skills for the highest level possible in the short time he had before his first match. The month passed far too quickly for him.
He remembered vividly the days when he'd worked the Arena for purses and other valuables. Late morning would herald the opening events such as races or staged mock battles, the crowd would be warmed up both by the activities and the sun for the afternoon matches of the trained fighters. Less skillful fighters would begin after lunch culminating in the hottest part of the day -- the mid afternoon time -- when tempers were shortest, with the best. Now, watching from the sidelines, it was all too real.
Word had been heard that Telchanto was planning to expand the games to continue on a six day cycle for the entire season instead of the four day cycle. It was also said that events would be scheduled that would enhance the already bloody matches to entertain the crowds. Syl had a feeling the rumors were probably true as several large sections of the tunnels underneath had been opened, cleaned and partitioned for use as storage pens. Syl was unable to determine what they were to store, but the activity bode no good will in his mind.
He found his suspicions verified when three days before the opening day a new cycle of games, wild Targas and other undomesticated beasts were brought in and penned. The day immediately before the games, another set of holding pens were filled with people. Syl recognized them as a mixture of slave and criminal elements and knew that Telchanto was continuing with his plan to make the Arena an execution ground for those he didn't want around.
* * *
It was a hot day, with no clouds, and the stands were filled with spectators. All morning the events took peace, leaving the stench of blood and death to seep downward into the men's quarters, making Syl sick to his stomach in memory of other days. Lots were drawn for matching and Syl was among some of the first.
Spock waited underneath the side portal to watch Syl fight and discovered himself tense and, even though he would never admit it, worried. The match was short and Syl the winner. His opponent had been new like Syl, but not nearly as thoroughly trained, thanks to Spock.
Syl dazedly walked to the side portal, where he dropped his short blade onto the sand and followed it down. The heat was merciless and now that the match was over, he was shaking worse than before it. He'd fought a man and killed him. The man had never done him any harm, he didn't even know his name. He was just another face out of many that lived and worked in the same arena every day.
A shadow fell over him and he knew it was Spock. The Vulcan had been matched with the same man he'd fought the first day just one short month ago. Heldon would be a difficult match as he was experienced, and further motivated by the knowledge that ten more victories would win him the sword of freedom.
"For today," came the calm answer.
"Until tomorrow when I have to do it all over again. What's the point, Spock? At least in the quarry I knew who my enemy was, I had my hate to keep me alive. Here, I still have the hate, but forced to punish someone I don't even know."
"I have no answers other than life is a precious commodity, whether it be your own or someone else's."
"What does that mean, Spock? I'm important, you're important... The man I just killed was important. Before long you have to go out there and do what I just did. How will you feel then?" Syl saw the faint furrowing of a frown touch Spock's brow, then it was gone. "I have no intention of fighting."
A voice interrupted from behind the Vulcan. "All must fight, barbarian." One of the Training Masters came closer, his weapon drawn.
"I will not fight," Spock repeated firmly.
"I have watched you. Your own life means nothing." The Trainer clocked his head to the side. "But the life of your friend means a great deal."
Syl came to his feet. "Spock, don't let him do this. I'm not afraid to die."
"It is Telchanto's law that all are to fight who are sold into the Arena. Those who choose not to fight become other forms of entertainment. Perhaps a match between your friend a few of those wild beasts we have penned below... or maybe we could tie him to a pole and use him for thrust practice tomorrow morning."
Spock moved so quickly his actions were a blur and the Master found himself without sword or air as Spock's hand closed tightly around his neck. His choices were few, Spock decided. He could continue refusing to fight, in which case Syl would be killed in any one of the many slow and painful ways, or, he could violate his way of life and enter the Arena. Unfortunately, should he take his own life, Syl could still be held responsible and any chance of finding McCoy or Christine would be gone forever. If he refused and Syl died, Spock would still die after al by refusing to fight, and again no chance of escaping to find the others.
"You wish me to fight. So be it."
"I knew I could change your mind," the man gasped. Spock tossed him to the ground.
"Since you insist on a match, you should participate.
"That's impossible!" the man stuttered. His single experience with the barbarian had shown him just how dangerous he could be. The Training Master was proud of his record of ten years serving the Arena and never having to fight in it. His duty was to prepare fighters, not be one. Out of Spock's reach, his bluster returned."You will regret this, barbarian." What was he afraid of? Experience was the deciding factor, and the barbarian had none.
* * *
Syl lay asleep, exhausted from his day in the Arena, but Spock was wide awake, staring out of the cell into the torch-lit hallway beyond. He had taken two lives that day, had they been justified? Was saving Syl's life a fair exchange for killing the Training Master? Or the further match with Heldon, which the other had lost? What had happened to him in the last four years that made this behavior possible? The logic of it seemed unclear. Killing those two men had been a violation of the Prime Directive of non-interference.
Yet what had been his alternative? Syl's death? His own? Spock gripped the band still clasped about his neck, feeling the hardness of the metal. He was a slave, the brand on his hip said do. Fate was no longer his own choice. The decision of life and death had been taken from him.
Perhaps it was fortunate that Jim had perished early. The human's spirit would have chafed under the burden of slavery. Kirk's will to survive was much stronger than Spock's At first it had been McCoy and Chapel that had kept him alive in the quarry. Now Syl had been added to the memory which sustained him.
The void in his being was still unfilled from Jim's death. Nothing and no one would ever be able to take his place. Syl was very much like Jim in many ways, but they could never interchange their positions inside of Spock. He even missed McCoy's jibes and friendly bantering. Despite their frequent disagreements, be it real or to entertain the Captain, Spock realized he found the Doctor's absence more noticeable than he would have believed, under other circumstances.
Fighters were given access to the women of their choice among those kept in the Arena for that reason. Healers were also available to treat the many and various wounds received in training or actual matches. Spock ignored the women, but often discovered he missed the caring touch of Nurse Chapel and McCoy when he needed treatment. Arena Healers were said to be among the finest in the Empire, but Spock found their methods crude and their attitude indifferent. More times than not he would tend both his and Syl's wounds to the best of his limited knowledge instead of trusting the Healers.
It was difficult for Spock to ignore the plight of the women slaves sentenced to the Arena. Besides their availability for the men, they were responsible for the most menial and often gruesome tasks. A few male slaves assisted in heavy chores -- such as butchering animal carcasses from Arena entertainments for the kitchen. All other work was done by women. Even pen cleaning was their duty, be it animal or human.
Spock could see no logic in this arrangement until Syl explained it. In the past, women were strictly rewards for the Fighters, but the rivalry between the men who fought and those who performed baser jobs could not be controlled. Those who served resented having no chance to earn their freedom or access to the women. The fighters resented their lives being forfeit every match Some preferred to fight, to take their chances in the Arena, but others did not -- envying those whose lives were filled with only onerous labors.
For a time he'd been puzzled at the quarry, then here at the Arena, at the lack of notice his difference in appearance and color blood received. Syl assured him there were barbarians like him and though the oddness was a bit unusual, it was accepted for what it was and not feared. Could there be other Vulcans on Draana? From the description Syl gave, the 'barbarians' were more like pre-reform Vulcans, or even Romulan in nature. It would be fascinating to study this phenomenon -- should he ever get the opportunity.
The torch light flickered with the passing of a guard. Spock looked down on the sleeping Syl and knew the only alternative open to him right now was to fight in the Arena and hope to either escape or earn his freedom. It may not be the right, or even the logical way, but under the present circumstances it was the only way.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
ONE YEAR LATER
The rebellion was gradually gaining strength, but the Emperor had begun a retaliatory move, publicly executing even those suspected of involvement. Informers were selling valuable information to Telchanto for their freedom, not realizing their days were then numbered.
Trust became a rare commodity, but the system held together. Small fragments were betrayed and destroyed, but the core remained untouched because of lack of knowledge by individual members of others. Many escaped into the countryside surrounding Shu and formed bands which preyed on small imperial patrols and generally disrupted and harassed whenever possible.
When the appropriate time came, Syl escaped through a new tunnel dug from the deepest ones already below the Arena. Few knew of its existence and after Syl used it, it was again sealed from prying eyes for another time.
* * *
Seven years had passed for Spock on Draana, six of them with Syl. The bond between them was firm and there was no one else Spock would have trusted to coordinate the rebellion from the outside while he was still on the inside. The closer they came to their goal, the more dangerous it would be for all involved.
Killing in the Arena never came easily to him. It was only the knowledge that his efforts were unifying the rebellion that would bring the Arena to a permanent end sustained him.
The brutality and slaughter in the arena increased steadily as the crowd's thirst for blood grew in even strides with Telchanto's need to destroy his enemies. It was no surprise when Spock learned that a thousand had died on the sands that week -- most of them unarmed slaves. If only they could end this carnage soon...
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
McCoy tugged the high collar of a Healer into place, mentally comparing it to a dress uniform, then left his room to go downstairs to the dining hall as one of many guests of Telchanto's this evening. Saving Leonge Chaiing from choking to death that night in front of Telchanto had completely altered his future. Telchanto, convinced by a grateful Chaiing of McCoy's expertise, had raised him to the status of Healer to the Royal House and others of the Elite.
The heavy metal collar had been removed and the brand now had a mark on it which officially negated the sign of slavery. He was a free man for the first time in four years.
His duties, light at first, increased as his reputation grew. In two years' time, McCoy had become a wealthy and respected Healer. The name assigned to him by Telchanto had been Healer Coy, to make a distinction from the name he'd borne as a slave.
McCoy was a free man in many respects. He'd accumulated a House, servants, wealth -- everything one of the Elite would own. The difference was that Telchanto still controlled his life by determining where he could live, who he could treat, and how far he could travel within the city. Leaving Shu was expressly forbidden.
The only way McCoy could thwart Telchanto was in his treatment of his own slaves. By law he couldn't free them -- only Telchanto had that power, but he made their life bearable. He eventually bought Tieran from Leonge -- as well as Magda and Ton. The chain Elkon had given him was still fastened about his neck, this time hidden not by a slave collar, but the garments of the Elite.
* * *
"Any luck?" McCoy asked the moment Tieran came into the room.
"None." Tieran handed the package of documents, allowing him to travel, to McCoy. "Records are not kept which can in any way identify the former name of a slave. Dealers often get slaves through illegal means, this protects them," the man explained patiently, not for the first time.
"There must be a way of finding them."
"I'm sorry, Berra Coy."
The Doctor was immediately cued that someone was spying on them by Tieran's use of a title. With the high incidence of trouble in Shu, all were suspect and the Emperor's spies were everywhere. Privacy was non-existent. Changing the subject, McCoy steered the conversation to matters of the House and other mundane things until Tieran signaled the listener had left. Tieran's ability to detect someone else nearby astounded McCoy. There was no rational explanation for the talent, it was simply there.
McCoy had spent mast of the last year, once he'd amassed enough fortune, hunting for Spock and Christine. Unfortunately, both had disappeared, without a trace, from Sendaar. He'd even tried to trace Dengan, only to find out the entire caravan had been destroyed, to the last man, right after the Sendaar auction. Tieran had channeled McCoy's money into the right palms and discovered the massacre had been accomplished not by Tribesmen, as was the official story, but rather by Imperial troops or mercenaries. No proof could be found to directly link anyone in particular, but McCoy found it interesting to note that Tii had been promoted shortly thereafter by Naachan.
Every possibility was followed, but each had come to a dead end. At first, reports of a barbarian slave in Cannae had convinced McCoy he'd found Spock, but he soon discovered that barbarians answering Spock's description were slightly unusual, but not unheard of. He continued to check every rumor of a barbarian, but so far had met with no luck.
Christine was proving even more difficult to find. Dengan's records had been destroyed in the massacre and it was taking great amounts of time and money to search the inventory lists of all slaves sold by Dengan that day. Six years was a long time to backtrack when the beginning trail was so faint. Women were of even less importance on the block than men, as far as record keeping went. Their identity was the number assigned to them until such time as their new owners branded a new identity onto them. After six years, Christine could be anywhere! She could even be dead. McCoy refused to accept the latter possibility, but did silently acknowledge the chance that she was gone for good.
Tieran was still standing there, waiting for his instructions. "We keep searching, Tieran. I must have proof that they are dead before stop looking."
"I understand, Makoy. I will continue searching."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
THREE YEARS LATER
He had a medical practice, of sorts, wealth, the rank of personal physician to Telchanto... little was lacking from his life. There was still no sign of Spock or Christine, but Tieran was faithfully doing everything possible to find them. His thoughts often wandered to the past few years and how strange life could be. Now everything was changed. Now he had Letia.
He'd seen her several times at Telchanto's parties, but always in the company of other men, or the Emperor himself. Then, one night, she'd appeared at his elbow, requesting him to sit with her for supper. Young, beautiful, intelligent -- she was everything he ever wanted in a woman. Telchanto had ordered the Union, but even if he hadn't, McCoy would have initiated it himself. Letia bore a slight resemblance in looks to his first wife, but her personality was neither like Joanna's mother, or Natira. Letia was ... Letia. A trifle flighty and a bit vain, but he loved her nonetheless.
Their first child came in less than a year after the Union, a girl who bore a striking resemblance to her mother. The year after, twin boys who Letia insisted looked like her late father. McCoy was unbothered that none of his children looked like him, they were his and that was sufficient.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It was tradition that all mirrors were carried face down by the slave and non-free classes. Christine had learned her position well and gave no particular thought to what she was doing as she picked her way through the crowded cobblestone thoroughfare. Rand had sent her on the errand by order of Zarton as a gesture toward the new wife of one of the Elite.
New wife! Christine muttered to herself, tramp would be a closer description. Dealon was the daughter of Dealonos, High Elite, long established house in Shu, and had run wild for many years before being given as bride to the aging Melosan. Christine had seen her several times in the last few months at Zarton's posing as one of his "women" to ease the boredom of her young life. She couldn't imagine someone actually wanting to perform the things required of Zarton's slaves, let alone pay for the privilege.
This was only her third time outside of Zarton's establishment in the six years she'd been there. Why Rand was giving her this 'freedom' was beyond her. She put it down to another one of his mind games and knew that no matter what she did, it would eventually be wrong and punishment would follow.
Guttural voices singing a filthy tune reached her ears and Christine instinctively cowered as close as possible to the stone wall, hoping the sources of the tune would turn off on another street, leaving her unharmed. She clutched the glass to her and held her breath as the sounds came closer. Perhaps if she retreated a street and went a different route to Melosan's house...
It was too late. The carousers had spotted her and were moving in for the sport. Christine had heard too many stories of other women sent on errands in the street. It was impossible to hide the pink tinged garment of her trade and no one in the streets would even think of helping one of her kind in need.
The men surrounded her and forced her down the street a distance and into a filthy alley. A lack of sounds from above her and the now silent thoroughfare made the isolation of the clammy and stinking alley even worse. Stones, rough hewn and covered with mold pressed against her back and Christine knew she could retreat no further.
"My fellow gentlemen, I see we have been blessed by the presence of a fine and pure woman." Laughter greeted the satirical statement expressed by the well dressed man. Christine thought she recognized two of the four from Zarton's, but the other two were total strangers, probably from another city or province by their dress. The next words confirmed her guess.
"Gentlemen, as long as you are visitors in this fair city, our finer pleasures mustn't be denied you." The speaker swept low in a clumsy bow which he perceived as being graceful and expansive.
"After all," his partner added, "she wears the color of pleasure and servitude, and it is our responsibility to take advantage of those opportunities presented to us."
"Indeed," the first agreed. He came forward and touched her race. Christine jerked away from the touch and was rewarded by a harsh slap. "On your knees, woman, and beg my forgiveness."
She shook her head, imploring him to let her go. "Please, sir, I must deliver this gift." Her words of begging came roughly to her ears. When had begging become so natural?
"On your knees," he commanded again.
"Please, I'll be late..."
He seized the glass and wrenched it from her hands, throwing it down the alley where it landed with a telltale crash. "Now you have no errand. Seek my forgiveness."
Christine slid further along the wall in terror, searching for a crack, anything that would allow her to escape. She wasn't sure which would be worse, the treatment from these men or Rand's anger when she returned with the pieces of broken glass. There would be no escape from either fate. Runaway women, wearing the color of pink, had no chance. Their status was of non-existence and anyone caught helping them would be executed. She'd seen the grisly remains of two runaways her first year on the planet, there hadn't been much left to even identify them as women, except for a few scraps of pink cloth and some long hair. Christine felt an opening large enough to squeeze through.
"Gentlemen, who wants to go first?"
In moments she was running down the street. The drunken shouts faded as the men fumbled in their haste to follow.
* * *
For once Christine was grateful there were no mirrors to show how badly Rand how bruised her. One rib was broken for sure, maybe more, as was her jaw. His anger at her failure to deliver the gift, not to mention allowing its destruction, had been great. She was sure he'd been disappointed at her escape from the men on the street, too. Now, chained to the hearth, she cried herself to sleep in order to escape the pain for a time.
* * *
"She's growing old, Rand," Zarton insisted. "You've had her for six years, it's time to move on to someone younger, a new face." Rand knew he could keep Iisa no longer. Zarton would grant no more extensions to retain her. It would take weeks to heal the damage he'd done this afternoon in his anger, time he couldn't spare to have her out of commission. Arena season was the busiest for the House and all were needed. Iisa was popular, but as Zarton said, a new face would be needed this season.
The question was, what would he do with her? Once she was gone there would be no way he could make her life more miserable. Who he sold her to was important. Not just any master would do for his Iisa.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
ONE YEAR LATER
"Where's the rest of it?" Keln demanded, cuffing her.
"This is all there is," Christine insisted, showing him the empty bag. "The gathering was small."
"Lazy wench. I spent good money on you. Trained you. And what do I get in return? Lies."
Christine backed away in terror. Rand's final words were coming back to haunt her. He'd promised that her new Master would make her long for Rand. She hadn't believed it possible that day when he'd sold her to a complete stranger, at least a stranger to her. Now, after one year of this beast she understood the joke Rand had played on her.
Keln was a Master Thief, one of the best alive. Unfortunately, he'd lost to Rand in a wager and the payment had been buying the woman Iisa. He'd trained her in the ways of a thief, but the agreement had been to make her as miserable as possible. That part had been easy actually. Rand had chosen Christine's new Master with care, knowing Keln's treatment of women far in advance of the wager. The haul that night was excellent. Iisa had proven the most adept of any he'd ever trained, but she would never know that.
As the shadow covered her partially, Christine's hand slid beneath the slitted skirt and loosened the blade fastened to her leg. This once Keln had been right in accusing her of not turning everything over to him.
The small blade had been lifted from a man who'd concealed it in a sleeve crease. She'd taken it without him even suspecting her, and hidden it as soon as possible on her person. For an entire year she'd put up with Keln's abuse and temper. Stealing at his command, doing everything demanded of her to avoid the painful alternative. Now, it would stop.
"Don't touch me," Christine threatened.
Keln grabbed at her, going for the throat. Christine plunged the knife up to the hilt into his chest, pulling it out and striking again. Visions of Rand swam before her eyes, obscuring Keln's face as she hysterically struck him over and over. He was dead before she collapsed in a heap, throwing the knife aside in disgust over her actions.
* * *
The cell was small and filthy, but she was alone, truly alone for the first time in a year. They had found her the next morning with Keln's body, covered with his blood. She figured the only reason she was in prison instead of dead for murdering Keln was that the authorities who found her decided he deserved death. Their words had implied it, and her life being spared confirmed it. What they would do with her though was still a question. It was feasible they would leave her here in this prison cell for the rest of her life, or she could yet be executed. Either way, it didn't really matter to her.
Christine Chapel no longer wanted to be found by Spock or McCoy. Six years had changed her hopes of rescue into dread that one of her former companions would learn how the years since the Enterprise had been spent. To think that she'd been worried of how they would react to Dengan's attack... Rand had systematically destroyed her, removed all vestiges of the woman who'd come to Draana. In her place he'd put a shell of a person with nothing left to her name. Not even her own name. She'd been a whore, a thief, and now she was a murderer. Not exactly Starship material, nor was it fitting for someone in the medical profession. Prison or death, it made no difference.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Vallon led the multiple skirmishes as Head Warrior to keep Telchanto's troops confused. Kirk had laid out the plan of attack, based on random strikes and routes which had no sense of order. The Fringes became pandemonium as the marauder's moves became more and more erratic and the intercepted Empire messages were delayed, altered or, more often than not, destroyed.
Kirk needed time. The scattered Tribes had to be brought together, organized. Logistics were against him. There were also the lesser Leaders who had to be brought into line. When Matta had died, many of the tribes had purposefully drifted away, seeking their freedom from the strangle hold on them, by the large Tribe. Under the short reign of Tull, relations had become further strained, and now with Kirk as Leader of the Tribe, the ties were completely severed.
Shallon became Kirk's right arm. He drew on her knowledge and reputation as a Warrior to unite the caste into a force. Kirk and Shallon traveled from tribe to tribe, employing diplomacy, cajoling, even fighting when it became unavoidable to convince the other Leaders of the necessity for a unified attack against the Empire.
* * *
The central fire burned brightly in the dark night, throwing sparks high into the air. Kirk sat back in the shadows, watching his people observe the annual festival of spring. How different this spring was than the last when Shallon had killed Tull and he'd assumed Leadership by choice of the Caste. He looked down at his arm, unable to see the marks of Warrior burned into the skin because of the dark, but still able to remember the day Ren had placed them there in celebration of Kirk's passing of all tests to join the Caste. His friend was long dead, but the marks would remain forever to remind him of the great Warrior who saved him from death on the Plains, so long ago.
Kirk felt Shallon's hand on his leg as she sat beside him in the dark. Laying his hand over hers, he squeezed it slightly, welcoming her to his side.
"This is the first time in many years I've seen the Tribe observe Spring" she remarked. "The High Priestess sees it as a good omen."
"I wish we could convince Hool and Dangee of that. They're the only two who've refused to yield to the Tribe. We must be ready to move on the Northern Cities next year."
"They each seek to become Leader of the Tribes," Shallon replied, watching the flames leap in dancing motions that copied the bodies moving in ritual fashion around it. "I fear they will challenge you the way Geen did."
Kirk ran his hand over the scar on his arm at the mention of Geen. The lesser Leader had challenged Kirk's right to Leadership, choosing to forfeit his own chance at the Leadership by the possibility of deposing Kirk -- hoping, of course, that his son would step into the position. They had fought under the auspices of the Caste. It had been a hard fight for Kirk since the other had eight inches of height and considerable weight over him, but he'd won finally and sealed the lesser Tribe into the main Tribe.
"Let them challenge. Right now we need their numbers and herds. Without a strong force from the east, we can't begin moving south." Kirk leaned back against the tree. "The Empire lost many men last summer, we need to further increase the odds this summer."
"By mid-summer we need to be as far south as possible, controlling the Fringes. We also need more spies going into the Cities. There must be a slave underground we can tap into for information and help."
"How can you be so sure? And if so, why should they help us?"
"Any Empire this large with wide-spread and long established slavery has to have an underground organization of some sort. I've yet to see one that didn't. Why should they help us? We have to convince them that the life we offer them will be better than what they already have. The trick is to find the central brains behind the underground and talk to them. Without their support, we don't have much of a chance. The attack must be from inside and outside simultaneously."
"Logically, your plan is sound."
"Thanks, Spock," Kirk retorted in jest.
"I know he's dead, Ren saw the proof, but sometimes, like tonight, I can't help but feel he's out there somewhere waiting for ore to find him." He drew Shallon to her feet. "Join me?"
* * *
Fighting continued as the summer months wore on. The Tribe was at last consolidated, with the loss of Hool and Dangee in fights with Kirk, which by tribal law sealed their tribes to the main one. It took days for Kirk to ride the breadth of the Tribe as they moved en masse toward the south. He knew now, riding with first this lesser tribe, then that, what was meant when he read of mighty hordes traveling in search of ... whatever. On some planets the quest was for space, on others it was for food or water. On Draana, it was for the preservation of their lives against the Empire's superior forces.
Countless spies had been sent into the Cities, infiltrating the Empire to her southernmost edges. Daarae, Shu, Planae, all of them were searched for connections into the slave underground. Most of the unrest seemed to be centered around the Ruling City of Shu, so Kirk ordered a concentrated effort on that city, in hopes of finding it. Time was running out for the Tribe. Unless contact was made soon, there would be no chance of coordinating a simultaneous attack and the Tribe would be on its own to conquer the Walled Cities.
On occasion, Kirk and Shallon would take to the air, studying the enemy's positions and manpower. The Kallas were proving as valuable as Kirk had hoped they would. Without them it would have been impossible to gain so much ground in such a short time.
Winter was upon them, but this time, game was more plentiful and the weather less severe due to their movement south. The Fringes could not support the massed Tribe more than a few seasons at best, which Telchanto knew and hoped to play upon. Telchanto knew of Matta's death, but had also calculated the internal politics would help disintegrate the large Tribe long enough to wipe out the fragmented remains one by one. Where the new Leader had come from, he didn't know, but the news being brought by spies wasn't good. The Leader had a charisma and the true qualities of a man born to lead; nothing could be more dangerous to the Empire right now than such a man. If he were not annihilated soon, the Walled Cities would be under attack. The Fringes had already been lost to the Tribes, Sendaar was next in the path toward Shu.
* * *
Shallon blew out the small oil lamp and crawled under the covers, lying close to Kirk to share the body heat, yet careful of the fresh wound in his side. It had been a pleasure for her to interrogate and later have put to death the assassin who had attacked her man. He'd been a trusted Warrior, a long time member of the Caste. She was disgusted with the knowledge that his loyalty had been bought by Empire coins. Coins that now filled the Tribe's coffers.
Kirk shifted with the restless sleep of the fevered and she held him gently, wiping the sweat away from his brow. Today's attack proved Telchanto's desperation, that he would hire someone to murder a Leader. What he hadn't anticipated was failure on the part of his paid killer, and the unity it had created in the Tribe.
Lying on her side, with one arm thrown across his chest, Shallon regretted the marks on her arm for the first time in her life. Here was a man she could respect, but the marks of a Warrior meant no man would ever take her to bear his children. He would sleep with her, but no man would ever commit himself to a Binding with a woman Warrior.
At least one piece of good news had come their way, she had to admit, in spite of her late night depression. News had arrived that an inroad had been made into the slave underground. There were several bands roaming the area outside of Shu which supposedly had connections to something or someone inside the city Halls. Kirk's envoys had been met and given audience by several men, then sent away with the promise of another meeting, should those in power decide it. It wasn't much, but she had faith in Kirk's ability to turn the slightest possibility into a full blown opportunity. She had seen it before. If there was even the remotest chance of getting the slaves to help, Kirk would find it.
Pulling the robe tighter, Shallon drifted off into sleep with dreams of walking through Shu's mighty gates and into Telchanto's House where he awaited the Tribe's decision of his fate. Funny how her visions of Shu kept looking like Sendaar ... the only Empire city she'd ever seen...
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Sitting in the shade of a large pillar, Spock reveled in the fresh air. Even during the week when the Arena was shut down for cleaning, the slave quarters and other areas were never free of the stench of the pens and the animal/human chattel they contained. Syl had been right in his observation that the smell of blood seeped into the very stones of the Arena and down into the lowest bowels and chambers.
Spock enjoyed the week long break because he was freed from having to fight tor eight days. He had nine hundred matches tallied on the far wall of the Arena, directly across from where Telchanto and his retinue sat. One hundred more and he would be granted the sword of freedom. Perhaps as soon as next year he would be a free man to walk out the gates and join Syl. At the five hundred match marking, the collar had been removed. The years fighting hadn't been in vain. The rebellion was stronger and his nearness to freedom was the marker to signal the next phase. If only Jim had lived to see this day, when the Empire would be overthrown and slavery replaced with another form of government.
Another group of women slaves had been brought in last week to serve below and Spock chose to spend his free time outdoors in the arena, to avoid listening to the various activities that went on around his quarters. He no longer had the barred cell of his first year as a Fighter, now he had his own quarters apart from the rest, but still within earshot, by Vulcan standards, to their revelry and debauchery.
He turned his thoughts to the latest message from Syl mentioning the contact made with the Tribesmen who spoke of a peaceful union between the slaves and the Tribe to overthrow the Empire. Perhaps an envoy of their own, traveling back to the Tribe to make their own assessment would be the wisest move. Better to risk one life than the lives of all.
Something kept interrupting his thoughts, but Spock forced the distract ion away, trying to keep his train of ideas going. There it was again ... it was a voice ... a woman's voice ... only he didn't know any of the slave women...
It was familiar, a nagging pull on his memory. The only woman's voice he knew on Draana was Nurse Chapel's and she was dead for all he knew. Then why was he hearing...
It took only moments to traverse the tunnels to the lower chambers, tracking the elusive sound of the voice. He found it at last in a small room with two men holding a woman down while a third prepared to rape her. Spock threw the attacker into the wall, making sure he would be long in recovering. The other two immediately recognized their attacker and beat a hasty exit, hoping he wouldn't come after them later, to finish the job.
Christine clutched the garment around her and slunk into a far corner at the sight of Spock. Nothing could be more humiliating than having him see her like this. This last week as an arena slave was no worse than anything she'd already lived through in the last seven years. They hadn't killed her for murdering Keln, just kept her in prison for a few months, then sentenced her to life as an Arena slave, thinking it to be a terrible punishment, not realizing it was a step up for her. But now this, to find Spock here... She'd heard of a Fighter who sounded similar to him, but fear had kept her from investigating.
"Stay away, Spock, please..."
"You are injured."
"I'll be all right, just please go away." She studied him as he stood in indecision. His hair brushed his shoulders and he somehow seemed more muscular than she remembered. Christine had wondered often what had happened to him, now she had the answer. Somehow, fighting in the Arena was the last thing she would have figured on him doing. How had he survived all this time, doing something he must abhor? He stepped toward her, and she crouched deeper into the corner, covering her head with an arm in reflex.
Spock saw the reaction to him and stopped at once. This wasn't the Christine Chapel he'd known on the Enterprise. She'd been a strong and resilient woman, willing to face the unknown, not this creature who cowered in fear at his very approach. What had happened to her since coming to Draana to make her this way?
Getting up to close the door, Spock returned to her with a blanket off the room's bed. She wrapped it firmly about her, covering everything but her face. "Remain here, while I get some water so you can bathe," he ordered softly.
She waited until he'd left the room, then bolted for the door, planning to run anywhere she could, to hide from him. Christine had taken two steps outside the room when she felt strong arms envelope her. Struggling made no difference and Spock gave her no chance to escape. He'd known she would run from him and had waited for her.
His quarters were larger than the cells, and much cleaner since he did his own housekeeping. Depositing her on one of the chairs, he drew water from a bucket and placed it in front of her with a clean cloth. Leaving her in privacy, he withdrew, carefully barring the door from the outside. The mark on her thigh had been one he'd recognized from another woman who'd served in the kitchens for a time and assigned to clean his quarters. House of Zarton. The name on her ankle band was Iisa. It wouldn't take long, with this much information, to track down the ones responsible.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Makoy, I have news at last."
McCoy set his papers aside and looked up expectantly at Tieran. The House was empty at the moment with Letia visiting relatives in the country and the children with their aunt, until Letia's return. "What have you found?"
"I have finally found the one you call Spock."
"Where?" He came bounding out of the chair, excited by the first breakthrough in eight years. Spock was still alive...
"Here, in Shu. He goes by the name of Hesh, but I am certain it is him. The description matches, and I have witnessed the great strength he possesses. It could be no one else."
"Where, Tieran, where?" McCoy was practically beside himself waiting for Tieran to tell him.
"He is in the Arena." McCoy had never gone to the Arena, viewing it as disgusting. It also brought back unpleasant memories of another time in a gladiatorial arena on 892-IV. Telchanto had often invited him as an official guest, but the Physician always refused, stating medical obligations as an excuse. Letia went occasionally, despite his requests to the contrary. It puzzled him, but then there were many things about her that still puzzled him, after two years of marriage.
"Are there games today?"
"This afternoon would be the best time to go."
"Any news of Christine Chapel?"
"None. I fear it will be impossible now to find her since the Tribe has taken over Sendaar. All slave records were destroyed in the fire."
"I knew Sendaar had been destroyed, but I thought we had all the records possible already..."
"I was told there were certain documents of Berra Dengan among the possessions of Commander Tii. In another few days I would have known for sure, but then the Tribes attacked and they were lost forever."
"This is incredible! The Empire is under attack and life goes on here in Shu as if nothing's happened."
"They cannot reach this far. The imperial troops will stop them before they can get here."
"You can't be sure of that though."
"I have heard the troops turned the Tribe back north after Sendaar was destroyed."
"Why is it you know all these things and I never hear anything?" McCoy shrugged into the collared robe.
Tieran smiled as he opened the door for them to leave. "For you there is nothing beyond your healing and family. For me, there nothing beyond gathering information."
* * *
McCoy recognized the smell of death long before they reached the Arena proper. If not for the chance of finding Spock he would turn back now and never return. As he paid for their entrance, he noticed a great many of the Elite dressed and behaving as if they were freeman class. Going to the Arena was even more of a game to them than he'd heard obviously.
People were everywhere, milling the thoroughfares, coupling in dark corners, reveling in drunken abandon down side tunnels. McCoy followed Tieran through the maze that led to the higher seats, amazed by the open depravity. His life in Shu had been very sheltered, he decided.
Sliding past several boisterous men and women, Tieran and McCoy sat down at last, in two vacant spots on the stone tiers. Even at this distance, McCoy could see Telchanto and Chaiing in the royal box directly overlooking the sand. At the moment, two women were confronting a feline-looking creature unarmed. Rather than watch, McCoy studiously observed the crowd.
The afternoon wore on, one bloody match after the other until he felt ready to explode with frustration. "Are you sure he'll be here?" Tieran pointed to the slaves on the sand clearing out the dead. "He will be next. It has become tradition for his match to be the last of the day. Right now they're preparing the sand. I understand that today Telchanto has ordered Hesh to fight three at once. He's very close the sword of freedom and Telchanto needs to stop him." McCoy stopped listening as four men walked out onto the sand. Three of them he didn't recognize, but the fourth... His mouth was suddenly dry and he could barely croak out the word "Spock" as the familiar form came into view. Time had altered the Vulcan some. His build was more muscular than the slim one he remembered, and the hair was long, giving Spock a different appearance altogether.
"This Hesh is your friend?" Tieran asked.
"It's Spock. I have to talk to him. Is there any way to get to him later?" He was mesmerized by the match below. Could this be Spock? It looked like him, but the actions were nothing like the gentle man of peace he'd known on the Enterprise. Every movement was precise, each stroke planned. One lay dead almost immediately, the other two were not long in joining him. Spock, his Spock, would not be acknowledging the yells of the crowd with an upraised blade before walking back into the tunnel.
"Come, I think I can get you below to see him."
"You've been here to see him often, haven't you?" McCoy asked suddenly.
"Hesh is the hero of the slaves. I am one of the few fortunate enough to have coins to see him when I like. All others are dependent on the whim of their masters to attend the games. Some sneak in, others are here to serve their owners. Sometimes, when the Emperor isn't here, the gate keepers let us in free, to fill up the seats. Do not think badly of me, Makoy. It took a long time to realize Hesh could be your missing companion. His actions were not like those you described and his appearance is somewhat different. I convinced you to come today on the slight chance it might be him."
"I'm sorry, Tieran. You're right, there's no way you could have known for sure it was Spock. He's changed a great deal. As far as coming to the games to see someone you consider a hero, don't forget I've had my taste of slavery. It's not something I'm going to forget very soon."
Bribes were paid as they descended into the lower tunnels. McCoy was surprised at the number of Elite women in the bottom chambers with the Fighters.
"For many of the Elite women, this is the only 'entertainment' they get. They pay for the attention of a strong virile man to make up for the neglect they get from their husbands," Tieran explained quietly. "See the masks? They think it conceals their identity, but the Fighters know who they are, it's a game for them, too."
McCoy shuddered at the thought of his Letia attending the games and being exposed to this sort of thing. The Arena on 892-IV was artificial, a mock set-up for the cameras, this was the real thing. The tunnels he was traversing had been here for hundreds of years, if not longer, unchanged by the passing of time. Draana had seen no progress, stagnating and festering, dying a slow death of moral decay. Laws and traditions held up a system that could do nothing but exacerbate, yet nothing was done to change it. Letia, he thought in despair, why do you come here? What does this place offer you that I don't?"
Hesh's quarters were located at the deepest level, away from the rest of the Fighters and slave quarters. A small crowd of people was milling in the tunnel leading toward the quarters, but armed guards stood at attention, barring access to Hesh.
"What's going on, Tieran?"
"Hesh is well-known, these people want to see him. The men for whatever purpose, the women to seduce him and claim a small piece of his fame for their own to relive later."
"How will we get through?" Spock was so close, yet with these guards he would never get to him. To come this near after eight years...
Tieran led the way to the guards, maneuvering around Elite and slave alike. Pulling out identification papers, he flashed them at the guards. "My master is on official business for the Emperor. His Royalness wishes his personal Healer to inspect Fighter Hesh for possible injury that could affect tomorrow's match."
At the guard's hesitation McCoy stepped in, pulling the high collar up imposingly. "Your name, that I may report you to Telchanto."
"Pass through, Berra."
* * *
Spock heard the knock on his door and wondered who could possibly have passed by the guards assigned to keep everyone away. He motioned Christine to silence, then asked who it was.
"Berra Coy to see Fighter Hesh on official business for his Royalness," Tieran announced loud enough for all to hear, that there would be no questions later of why they'd been allowed through and no others had been.
"Spock," came a voice moments later, much softer. "It's me. McCoy."
Christine came to her feet and rushed for the back room. "Don't tell him I'm here, Spock. Please, I beg of you."
"Please, we'll talk about it later. For now, you haven't seen me."
He noticed the shaking in her hands as she pulled back the curtain partitioning the back part of his quarters where she now lived. Her logic often escaped him, but for now he would respect the request and keep his silence.
Could it be possible McCoy was really here? Berra Coy? On business from Telchanto? None of it made any sense. The slave network had been searching out McCoy for years and come up empty handed, just as it had with Christine. In her instance, the name was totally changed, was McCoy's a similar case? The search had been among fellow slaves, not among the Elite...
The questioning thoughts took but a second as he opened the door and allowed the two men to enter. It was McCoy.
"Your social manners haven't changed a bit, Spock," McCoy observed dryly after an uncomfortable silence.
"I am ... pleased to see you looking so well, Doctor."
"What the hell," McCoy said, wrapping his arms around the Vulcan. Standing back, he walked around the other man, perusing him. "I can't believe I've finally found you."
"Makoy, I will be outside..."
"There's no need, Tieran."
"Berra, walls have ears, especially in the Arena."
McCoy saw a brief flash of something pass between Tieran and Spock and could have sworn he saw Spock nod his head indicating Tieran should go outside and stand guard, but dismissed it as imagination on his part.
Sitting dawn, the Healer found himself immediately filling Spock in on the last nine years of his life as slave and Elite. So much had happened it was difficult to tell it all. He was so excited telling about Letia and the children he missed the look that came to Spock's eyes momentarily.
Spock listened to the ongoing narrative with interest. First a House slave, then a Domestic and finally a Healer to the Elite and Telchanto himself. A life very much different from that led by either him or Christine. Aside from the first few years, Draana had treated McCoy well. He had a medical practice, a family, everything he could want on this primitive world. Spock's musings were cut short by a question.
"Have you seen Christine or know where she is?" McCoy repeated.
"You have not found her?" he countered.
"I've been trying for years to find both of you. All the slave records in Sendaar were destroyed recently so now there's no way of tracking her down."
"Dengan is dead, I hear."
"Tieran thinks Commander Tii did it shortly after we were sold in Sendaar."
"Tii. I knew there had been a massacre, but I d id not know who had done it. Rumor was that the Tribe had done it."
"That's how it was supposed to look, I guess, to throw suspicion away from Tii. How will we ever find Christine? I barely found you. What if her name's been changed? What if ... she's dead?" He paced the room, noting with surprise a woman's scarf lying on the bed.
"It is possible."
He whirled on the Vulcan, lashing out in anger. "You cold hearted... You don't care, do you? She never mattered to you, never meant anything. Well, she did to me. She was a friend, the finest nurse I ever had under me. Christine Chapel deserved better than to die on this forsaken hellhole with no one to mourn her."
"Jim deserved better, too."
"At least he had someone to mourn him. Damn it, Spock why do we always end up fighting?"
Spock changed the subject rather than answer. "What will you do now?"
"Find a way to get you out of here. There must be some way to buy you , or ... something ..."
"I cannot leave here just now."
"Why? Do you like it here?" Not leave?
"There is something I must finish. Unless I can wrest the sword of freedom from Telchanto, all these years will be wasted."
"That's all it is? A game where you can show who's winner? I never would have thought it of you."
"Perhaps being among the Elite for so long you have forgotten the life of a slave," Spock threw back at him. "Have you become so immersed in your untroubled life that you are unaware of what is happening?"
"What are you talking about?" McCoy grabbed the scarf and shook it in mid air. "I can see you've changed in your taste for companionship. Now it seems you've lost your Vulcan half and traded it in for Draanan."
Seizing him by the cloak, Spock forced McCoy back against the wall. "Always you have talked instead of listened. I must win the sword to give the slaves a symbol, something to show a slave's power over Telchanto." Dropping his arms, Spock walked away from the shaken human. "There will be a revolt one day, a rebellion that will bring the Empire to an end."
McCoy was silent as he absorbed Spock's words. How could he have accused Spock of wanting to fight in the Arena? The lines on his face and the scars on his body spoke otherwise, as did his memories of a gentle man from the Enterprise who had to be ordered to kill. Plus, if Spock chose to have a female companion, who was he to say no. He had Letia and the children, why should Spock be denied?
"I'm listening, Spock. What can I do?"
"Go home. You are close to the Emperor and his court. No one has better access to the Elite."
McCoy snapped his fingers in thought. "Of course! But to what end? I don't have access to his military operations, or his movements even here in the City."
"You can. You're his personal physician, are you not? Otherwise the guards never would have believed your story and allowed you in here." McCoy nodded. "Then take advantage of it and get close to him. Make friends with the Elite, gain their trust, learn what you can and get the information back to me."
Pieces were starting to fall into place. Tieran's knowledge, his ability to bypass the guard... Elkon. Elkon had said to give the chain to Tieran if McCoy ever needed him. That was why McCoy had originally purchased Tieran from Leonge Chaiing -- because it would be a line to his friend. It had never occurred to him that both might be part of something larger. How blind he'd been not to see any of it. To what else was he oblivious, that was going on in his life?
"I understand, Spock."
"Tieran will fill you in when you find a time of privacy. Be cautious, trust no one."
* * *
The room was empty, his glass of drink untouched. Tieran had left him after a long and involved discussion. It hadn't been Tieran's fault that he hadn't recognized Hesh as Spock, he'd come to McCoy as soon as he'd suspected. Tieran was loyal to him, very loyal, but he was also loyal to Hesh and the slave underground.
Time was growing short for the slaves. The Great Northern Tribe was coming closer all the time. Sendaar had fallen. There were only five major cities standing between the destroyed City and Shu. Tieran didn't know everything going on in the rebellion, his knowledge was limited to that which Spock decided he should know.
What now? He would have to get close to Telchanto and Leonge Chaiing. Spock had set up a series of small uprisings to gauge the Empire's reactions and available manpower, it was up to McCoy to supplement this information from the inside.
Letia would be back soon. How was he going to keep this from her? Should he? She was his wife, surely that counted for something... Yet Spock had said to trust no one. Was there anyone he knew well enough to trust with his life, or the lives or Spock and Tieran? Was he willing to gamble with the lives of Letia or the children by talking to the wrong person?
McCoy studied the list of instructions from Spock one last time, then held the paper to the flame, watching it burn to ashes.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Now that McCoy was gone, Christine came out of hiding and sat in the corner away from Spock. Even after a year with him, she clung to the habits acquired on Draana and living with Rand. The year had been a difficult one for her, a time of adjustment and evaluation.
* * *
She didn't know how he'd done it, but somehow Spock had claimed her for himself and installed her in his quarters. A blanket now partitioned the room, giving them each privacy. Christine spent most of the first month behind the blanket, convincing herself of his presence and motivations. In actuality, she saw very little of him since most of his time was spent in the Arena either practicing, teaching or fighting.
Quickly bored with nothing to do, and this time having other options, she immediately took advantage of the situation and acquainted herself with the kitchen. For the time in almost eight years, she was able to talk to fellow slaves, other men and women, instead of being isolated from everyone but Rand and Zarton's customers. The work was hard, but being the property of Hesh relieved her of being in demand as the other women were. She chuckled at the envy some of the women displayed at her status. Little did they know just how platonic the relationship really was.
* * *
Now that winter was upon them, the Arena shut down for the season until the warm weather returned. The tunnels were cold, relying on the heat from burning torches to warm them. Christine joined the group of slaves taken into the hills to collect firewood for the quarters. Escape didn't occur to her now that she'd found sanctuary with Spock, but several others took advantage of being outside the Arena walls and ran. The next morning she saw their remains hanging from a tree for all to see as a warning.
They spent a week collecting wood, part of which was tagged for general use and the rest for their own use during the rest of the winter. They must know how to apportion their own for the winter months, once it was gone, there would be no more. She was amazed at the quantity she'd amassed from her hard labor when it was placed in a nearby room for storage. Even Spock was duly impressed and acknowledged her effort in a rare moment of conversation.
Because the hearth was in the main room, Christine had to move into Spock's area as the weather grew colder. He spent more time in the quarters since space indoors for practice and training was limited and the push was not so great this far from Arena season. Christine started taking more interest in his movements, now that she'd overcome most of her fear. His actions at first seemed curious, but the more she watched the clearer they became. It wasn't long before she pieced it all together and approached him about the underground.
Expecting him to be angry, Christine braced herself for anything. Instead, he nodded acceptance and gave her an assignment. As time wore on she became more involved, learning the details as they unfolded. It was a daring plan, especially now that contact had been made with the Tribe and an envoy on his way North to make an assessment. She could tell that Spock would be worried until Syl returned with news of his trip.
* * *
Spring came at last, but Spock grew more tense. At first she excused it, blaming it on worry over Syl's late return from the North, but not feeling that to be a sufficient cause, she started looking for other reasons. It wasn't until he yelled at her for no apparent reason that the memory of another time when he'd done the same thing on the Enterprise that Christine realized the truth. She mentally kicked herself for not recognizing the symptoms sooner. Two days of an unreasonable Spock should have tipped her off immediately, much less two weeks. Why hadn't she paid attention?
"Because I was too wrapped up in myself to notice, that's why. I'm so busy with myself I've ignored everything. I'm a Doctor, it's my job to notice this kind of thing." Not anymore, a little voice inside said. That's all part of the past. Now you're just a slave like the rest of these people.
Taking extra care, Christine cleaned their quarters and pulled the blanket back, tacking it to the side so the separation of rooms was gone. She could tell as he walked in the door that it'd been a difficult day for him. The chemical imbalance was nearly out of hand already. His hands shook slightly as she gave him an extra quilt for warmth against the cool spring evening. Setting the door latch into place, she drew a deep breath and mentally steeled herself.
"Spock, I want to talk to you."
"Do not bother me," he growled.
Swallowing hard, Christine jumped in with both feet. "The rebellion needs you. Without your leadership, the revolt will fail and Syl, along with all the rest of the slaves who are depending on you, will die if they try without you."
He glared balefully at her, then turned his head. "Cease."
"I will find another place to stay so that you may have the quarters to yourself and the women you choose for the pon farr. It is my fault not to have recognized this sooner and gone. Now there will be nothing in the way." Picking up her meager possessions, she headed for the door.
He caught her arm as she walked by him. "How do you know? McCoy promised to tell no one."
"I'm a Doctor. It wasn't difficult to study your lab results and come up with the same conclusion he did. He simply confirmed my suspicions, that's all."
"As a human, you must find my condition ... distasteful."
"Distasteful, no. Distressing, yes, that you would trust me so little and allow it to progress so far when it was all so unnecessary. I realize you must find my ... past ... disgusting, but I would have done anything to save you from having to seek someone from the outside. I should have know."
"You speak in the past tense."
"I'm not stupid, Spock. You wanted nothing to do with me on the Enterprise, why should now be any different, especially..."
"...especially after you survived what few women could? You underestimate yourself, Christine. You are right in your estimation of the pon farr's progress, but it is more than I could ask of you or any other woman to endure."
"Are you asking?"
There was a moment of silence. She could feel the trembling of his fingers as they gripped her wrist. "I ... am asking ... Christine."
"I am yours, Spock."
* * *
His face was so peaceful, now that the ravages of the pon farr had passed and sanity was restored. Christine pulled the guilt higher against the chill of the early morning air.
The pon farr had lasted five days, driving him to seek her out until exhaustion overcame him, only to wake to the same overpowering desires. Now that the ancient drives were spent, he would push her aside and resume his life as it was before. At least she would spare him telling her to go behind the curtain by doing it before he awoke. The moments they had together were over now, perhaps never to be relived again.
* * *
Spock never mentioned the subject of pon farr or her move back behind the curtain. Their five days together had never existed, life continued as before. With the full return of spring and his 'health', Spock spent his days in the Arena and Christine, hers in the kitchen. Everything had been going just fine, until today when McCoy had reentered their lives.
At least Spock had respected her wish for privacy. There was no way she could have faced Leonard, especially now in view of what she'd overheard him tell Spock of his life on Draana. He was married and had children. Christine was grateful: for once, to Rand for changing her name, prohibiting McCoy from finding her at Zarton's. She could have walked up to him and said, "Hello, Berra, my name is Iisa, would you like to spend time with me tonight?" or maybe, "Berra Coy, it is my dc~ desire to fulfill your fantasy this evening, may I? Letia. Letia, there was something familiar about that name. Where had she heard it? It had been since coming to the Arena... Try as she might, Christine couldn't bring the memory back.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
From his vantage point, high on the Kallas back, Kirk could see the flames of Sendaar reaching for the heavens. The Tribe's attack had been successful. Spies planted withing the City had wreaked havoc from within while the two Kallas plucked sentries from the top of the walls enabling Warriors to scale them and force the gate. The battle had been long and hard, costing many lives on both s ides. Kirk knew Telchanto would expect them to push further south, so the Tribe headed back North after defeating the city and bringing its officials to their knees. It wasn't until later that word came of troops following them to retaliate. Leaving Shallon to lead, Kirk took to the Kallas to fly back and study the situation. The flames were unexpected as no fires had been set by the Tribe. Chances were Telchanto had decided to sacrifice the City completely to rally the Empire against the Tribes, rather than admit that a point had been made and concede the victory and land that had been won.
Now that war had been officially declared, there was no turning back. Until a treaty could be signed and put into effect, the Tribe would keep moving South in quick strikes, reclaiming old ground and taking new. Their movement northward at the moment meant to confuse Telchanto, in another week they would shift south again, this time on Vaar.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
ONE YEAR LATER
Shallon pulled the tent flap back and stood aside as the man stepped into Kirk's tent. "Syl, envoy from the underground," she announced.
Kirk set the map he was studying aside and motioned the other to sit down. Shallon remained in the background, but always near enough to the stranger to insure his behavior. One assassination attempt on Jeem's life was sufficient.
"I have been instructed to meet with the Leader of the Tribes and hear what he has to say, then report back," Syl explained cautiously. What was he doing here? There were nothing but Tribesmen for miles, in every direction from here. The trip from Shu had been a tense one, avoiding patrols and trusting his guides were not leading him to death. He was sure Spock knew what he was doing, sending Syl instead of one of the other men. The logic behind the decision was not too clear. Still, his instructions were precise. Meet with the Tribal Leader and make a decision of whether the offer was an honest one, or simply a trap.
Setting the map between them, Kirk outlined the plan to incorporate the slave underground into a combined attack on Shu. It would be necessary to get several of the Caste into the city and located in strategic positions where they could hit the military strengths inside the city walls immediately, cripple the Emperor's forces before they could react.
Syl examined the idea, comparing it mentally to the one Spock had hypothesized. The plans were very similar, varying only in detail based on each man's knowledge of the city. "Leader..."
"Call me Kirk."
Kirk. There couldn't be two men on Draana with such an unusual name. But the real Kirk was dead, killed eight years ago. The description fit though. Except for the scar on his cheek. It was a gamble...
"Kirk. Jim Kirk?"
The Leader pulled back in reaction. "How do you know that?"
"You are from the Enter...prise?"
How could this man have that knowledge? There was only one possible answer -- someone from his crew had survived to ttell him of it. "Who told you this?"
"I am friends with the one known as Spock."
Spock was alive. How could that be possible? The entire caravan had been destroyed. Ren would never have lied to him about such a thing. What of the blue uniform? Who's had it been? "Spock is dead. Dengan's caravan was destroyed To the last man," Kirk tested h im. Still, there was no stopping the hope that leaped inside him at the thought of Spock's survival .
"Berra Dengan was attacked after losing Spock in Sendaar to Tii."
"And the others?"
"We have tried to find the two Healers, but have been unable to locate them. Spock has believed you dead all these years."
"I nearly was. A man, a Warrior, saved me. I knew the caravan had been attacked and the remains of uniforms were found afterwards. It appears we were both wrong."
"What will you do now?"
"Go find Spock."
"No, that would take time, time you don't have to spare right now. I know his plans, they're much like yours -- we can compare them and set up a timetable."
Shallon could see the indecision in Kiirk's face. He was torn between responsibility to the Tribe and desire to see his friend again. Syl was right, Kiirk's presence was vital. Without him Kannae couldn't be taken as Sendaar and Vaar had been. He was the planner, the Leader, a Kallas rider, his knowledge and skills couldn't be replaced.
Pulling something from an inside pocket, Kirk handed it to Syl. "Give this to Spock and tell him I will see him in Shu one year from now.
Syl examined the tattered and worn emblem, remembering one similar to it on the blue shirt Spock had been wearing when they'd first met. He carefully tucked it away, concealing it from all. "He will be waiting."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Letia heard his footsteps and hurriedly checked her appearance in the small mirror. Putting a smile on her face, Letia prepared herself for a morning with her husband. Lenaard was so boring and predictable. Why couldn't Telchanto have ordered her to Unite with someone exciting? He was so serious now, even more so than before. Ever since he'd become involved with Hesh, life had become practically ... grim! She wondered what he would have to tell her today...
* * *
Telchanto could see the faint flush in her face as she entered the royal box overlooking the sand. "I assume you found a fighter to your satisfaction this afternoon, Letia?" he questioned drily. He'd ordered the box empty for a time in order that he could speak with her alone.
"Better than some, not as good as others."
"Still can't get to Hesh," he observed sarcastically.
She thrust her lip out in frustration."He has some slave woman living with him now. I don't know what he sees in her. Ugly, old whore."
"Jealousy is so becoming on you, my dear." He munched another piece of fruit. "What have you found out?"
"It's soon. Tieran's been gone for two days. I think he's meeting with Hesh. He's supposed to be back today." She eyed the plate of fresh fruit, imagining the cool taste sliding down her parched throat.
"What is Coy's part in it?"
"When Tieran gets back, Lenaard is taking the children and me away from the city. I don't know how, I don't think he knows how. Within a day or so, anyway. Tieran's probably getting the information right now."
"Drug his wine tonight after Tieran returns. I must know the details," Telchanto demanded roughly. "The Tribe is close."
Letia read fear in the Emperor's eyes. He was actually afraid of the Tribes! All his talk of Shu being in no danger had been a lie.
"What if he suspects?"
"He won't. This particular potion erases all memory of the event. He'll just think he had too much to drink."
* * *
Setting the wine glass aside, Letia pulled the covers over her husband and slipped from the room. Tieran had returned early this morning, and McCoy had come directly to her. He was so trusting! It had taken some effort to get him to drink the wine, but her wiles had won the war. Letia pulled a cloak suitable for outside wear over her nightdress and ordered one of the guards to escort her to the Ruling House.
Tieran stood at the upper window and watched her leave the House. Why was Makoy so blind to her? Hesh had been right in giving Makoy the wrong information...
* * *
Telchanto dismissed her and sat down at his desk, contemplating the latest news. The Tribe was only four days from attacking Shu. Somehow the slaves were going to help them. Four days. Why four days? Hesh would have the sword of freedom tomorrow, surely there was significance it that. His order for the arrest and torture of Tieran would be fulfilled in hours. Perhaps the slave would have the information Letia had lacked.
Tonight was a gathering of the Elite as his guests. Letia would have McCoy there, perhaps a bit groggy from the drugged wine, but there nonetheless. There was no more time to delay. His Empire, his very life was at stake. To destroy the slaves, he would have to destroy Hesh. Without Hesh, the Tribe would have no allies.
A short time later, guards escorted Tieran into Telchanto's chambers. Soon, he would have all the answers...
* * *
McCoy nodded his head as if intently following the conversation about the newest gambling rage, while keeping an ear on the men behind him. For ten months he'd been carefully maneuvering his way in and through the Elite social circles, becoming confidante, friend to all, speaking no ill will of anyone, doing everything in his power to gain information for Spock. Several times already, his effort had paid off in items about Telchanto's, movements and those of his highest military officials. Often i t was the wives who let things slip without realizing the importance of what they were complaining about. His services as healer were in high demand now that he was treating the 'imaginary' ills of lonely women. He disliked pampering that kind of person, but they were often the ones who could be the most'helpful'.
Spock had sent word several months ago that Jim was alive and leading the Tribe. It was incredible that the Captain had survived all these years. Now the only one still missing was Christine. What had happened to her? Messages between Shu and the Tribes were rare, taking as few chances of information falling into the wrong hands as possible, so McCoy had to be content with the knowledge that soon the Tribes would be here in Shu and Jim with them. He wasn't worried about the attack. Spock had already arranged for him and his family to be safely away from the City and danger, days in advance. In the meantime he would continue collecting and relaying anything and everything through Tieran to Spock.
Letia appeared suddenly at his side steering him away from what he was trying to hear. There was no way he could protest without being obvious, so he acquiesced.
"Lenaard, Telchanto wishes to see you in his private chambers immediately."
"What about?" What could Telchanto possibly want with him in the middle of a party? McCoy forced himself to remain calm. It could simply be a medical matter, nothing to get worried about.
He wasn't reassured by the two guards standing outside the chamber doors or the presence of Leonge Chaiing and Iito, Commander of Shu's Imperial forces inside. Letia remained in the hallway, shut out completely by the large doors that were closed after McCoy entered.
"Berra Coy," Telchanto greeted him without rising from the seat behind the massive desk. "I am sorry to take you away from the gathering downstairs, but this could not wait."
"I am at your disposal, my Emperor," McCoy answered smoothly.
"Over the last several months it has cane to my attention that someone has been leaking information to the group of slave rabble that has been disrupting my City."
McCoy put on his best innocent face and concern in his voice as he questioned what this had to do with him. Beneath the robes he could feel the sweat starting to pour down his body.
"We have discovered one of them, but unfortunately, he died before we could extract all the information we needed. A pity. I understand he was an excellent slave."
Telchanto stood up and came around to the front of the desk, casually sitting on the edge of it. "Now, if I simply ordered the arrest and execution of the leader of this ring it would accomplish very little. He would soon be replaced and remembered as a martyr for the slaves to rally behind." He picked up a slave ring from the desk and studied it carefully. "No, I think it would be more effective for the leader to be publically denounced by one of his own -- the chance of martyrdom is thus reduced and a fatal blow struck at this conspiracy against me. Therefore, Berra Coy, I have arranged for you to join me at the Arena tomorrow for a very special spectacle. You will be given a choice of publicly denouncing Hesh as leader of the rebellion or watch your wife and children put to the sword in his place. Guards, take him to a cell. Oh, and Coy, take this ring to help you to ponder upon your choice."
* * *
It was hard to ignore the rodents swarming over the scraps of rotting food on the cell floor, but McCoy had no weapons and hoped they would not choose him as their next meal. He held the neck ring in his hands, rubbing a finger over the raised symbols that spelled out Tieran's name.
How did they find out? Who could have possibly done this to them? They had been so cautious, so sparing in their actions. There was no way anyone could have found out about them. Yet, here he was in prison and Tieran dead. He couldn't blame his friend for talking. If their places had been exchanged he would have done the same thing. Few men could resist torture of the kind Telchanto's men meted out daily.
What was he to do? Tomorrow would be here in a few more hours. How could he make a choice between Spock and Letia and the children? He loved his family, but he also loved Spock. Could he forgive himself for choosing his family over his friend? Spock would tell him there was obviously only one possible choice to make, logically. Furthermore, the Vulcan would never forgive him if he sacrificed his family for a friend.
What would Jim do in a situation like this? How could he solve this dilemma that would cost the life of someone dear to h im? Why couldn't the Tribe have come sooner? Next week would be too late. By tomorrow Spock would be dead, the rebellion in chaos and Jim caught in the middle. At least McCoy would never see the end of it. Telchanto would not allow him to live once the denunciation had been made. Letia and the children would be sentenced to lives of slavery. All this because he believed in the freedom of men. In a few hours the sun would come over the hills. The last sunrise he would ever see.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
McCoy squinted against the burning sunlight glinting off the sand below. He'd been sitting in the royal box all morning, enduring the day's matches. Guards were on all sides of him, Letia and the children on the other side of Telchanto. Now the afternoon matches were proceeding as normal, no one suspecting the usual day's finale was not on the agenda.
Perhaps Spock had already left the City to meet with Kirk to arrange the final attack, or maybe he would suspect something was wrong because of where McCoy was sitting and run for it, or... Who was he fooling? Spock wouldn't suspect anything. Telchanto had acted too fast, there'd been no time for Spock to react in any way. In another hour Spock would come out for the final match of the day and discover it would be the last fight of his life.
Of course! That was why Telchanto had chosen today. This was the day Spock was to fight his last match, to earn the sword of freedom, the signal for the coming end. He was to win today, then join Syl taking McCoy and his family with him in preparation for the attack a few days from now. Where had he gotten the idea that the attack was going to be next week? It was four days from now. How could he have forgotten so quickly such an important thing? It must have been the wine yesterday. It'd been heady stuff, knocking him out for hours and ever since, he'd been a little foggy.
Letia was so beautiful. Their life together hadn't been perfect, but he'd been happy. Their children, what little he saw of them, were offspring of whom he could be proud. Would they ever understand what was going to transpire today, or would it remain fixed in their memories as a surreal nightmare? What must Letia think of him that he would put her life in jeopardy.
The rest of the afternoon passed too quickly and soon it was time. Telchanto rose from his seat gesturing the crowd to silence. His voice carried across the empty spaces with acoustical wonder thanks to the original designers of the Arena.
"Today is the day for which you have waited. Today, Hesh will fight the final battle in his quest for the coveted sword of freedom which only I, Emperor, may award. Behold, the spectacle."
McCoy couldn't believe that Telchanto was actually going to allow Spock to fight this match, then order him killed. What could the Emperor hope to gain? His heart and hopes sank as Spock strode out onto the sand with his last opponent. The match was brief and too soon Spock was holding his blade in the air to the overwhelming roar of the stands. This was the moment for which all had been waiting.
Telchanto allowed the din to continue for several minutes, then stopped it. "Before I award this symbol of freedom, there is another matter at hand." The silence was deafening after the yelling of moments past. "As an example to all who oppose my will, today there will be an execution of the leader of those who dare to challenge my authority as Emperor of all Draana."
McCoy was forced to his feet. Telchanto quieted the rising murmur. "A trusted member of my House has shown his disloyalty. Now to redeem himself he will name the leader for all to hear that justice may be done."
Letia pulled the chain from her neck showing Union to McCoy, handing it to Telchanto. The Emperor allowed it to slip through his fingers to strike the solid rock below. "Stand, Woman, see what price you cost."
"What are you talking about?"
Ignoring her, Telchanto addressed McCoy. "Berra Coy, the choice is before you. The life of Letia, or that of the leader. Which is it?"
Letia struggled against the guard now holding her. "I did what you asked. I consented to the Union, bore children, everything you commanded, I did!"
McCoy absorbed her words in shock. What was happening? Everything had been clear last night in the cell, now it was falling apart. What was she talking about? Consenting to the Union? Bearing children on command?
"Name the leader, Coy, or she dies."
The Doctor stared long and hard at the screaming woman he had loved. How could he have been so stupid, so blind to the truth. She had played him for a fool all these years. Tieran had warned him not to tell her of the plans to leave the City. At least he'd never mentioned the Tribe's involvement, or Spock's, only that he was leaving the city, taking his family with him, very soon. Or had he? He had trusted her, believed in her.
"My children?" he asked Telchanto.
Telchanto brushed at the dust on his cloak. "They will soon be dead from poison placed in their food this morning. For them you can do nothing."
McCoy wanted to yell, strangle this beast who would murder innocent children for no reason other than his own pleasure, but instead kept his face schooled in an icy look. "Letia?"
"The choice is yours."
Looking out over the sand, he could see Spock alone, a solitary figure in the middle of a wasteland of death. "Forgive me, Spock." He turned back to Telchanto. "I want to join Hesh in the Arena. I will not choose between them."
"Then lose them both!" Telchanto screamed in rage.
Discarding the robe of a Healer, McCoy walked down the steps and out onto the sand. The lonely figure never moved, rooted in place. Once there, he saw nothing but the blank expression on Spock's face. "I'm sorry, Spock. There was no way to warn you. Tieran was right about her, and now he's dead."
"Stand several feet from me and don't move."
"What...?" Moments later, before the guards could move toward them, he felt a crushing sensation around his chest and the ground dropped away beneath him.
* * *
Christine wanted to stay and watch Spock's last match, but knew much depended on her ability to follow orders. The black dye had completely darkened her hair and eyebrows, while another tint had given her fair skin a ruddy appearance. Few would recognize her now. It had taken several months of experimentation with what was available in the kitchen and laundry facilities to develop the dyes, but her many years in the lab paid off.
There were a few rocks in the way, but most had been cleared away in the night by trusted slaves for this very moment. She shifted the last of them and squeezed through the narrow opening into the tunnel beyond, her torch was small, but enough for her to see as she picked her way in the dark.
Some distance down the funnel she found them. Tribesmen, men of the Warrior Caste sent by Kirk to surface inside the City and attack at the proper time. It was her duty to direct them down the appropriate tunnels to areas where they could exit the Arena unseen. They were dressed as city dwellers, concealing their weapons in various ingenious methods.
It didn't take long to give the directions written down by Spock, but to Christine it was an eternity. What was happening in the Arena? Was he safe? Every ounce of will power was exerted to stay where she was and not go running to the surface.
At last the job was finished. The Warriors were on their way to the important military points and Elite Houses. When the signal was given they would move as one, destroying Telchanto's forces from the inside.
Now it was her turn. The tunnel stretched for miles. An engineering feat in a barbaric world, how many generations of slave labor had gone into its construction? A long time later, Christine tossed the light away and was able to finish the last leg at a trot. Sunlight greeted her as she stepped from the escape tunnel.
She'd never met him, but the description fit.
She smiled at the use of a name she'd put in her past. Spock had kept his promise after all and not told him the truth. "Are they safe?"
"The Healer suffered a couple cracked ribs, and Spock was bruised severely, but they are alive."
"Now Telchanto pays."
* * *
The attack was quick and brutal. Kirk and Shallon took to the air again after depositing Spock and McCoy safely with the Tribe, striking without mercy at the guards on the city wall. Spock joined his followers, leading them through the tunnels back into the city where they systematically wiped out imperial strongholds with the help of the Caste.
It was the hardest battle of all, a bloody war that saw the collapse of the Empire. Success was not instantaneous, nor was it glorious, but the result was a freed class of slaves and the end of a decadent period in Draana's long and stagnant history.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
ONE YEAR LATER
The wind gently ruffled the long grass of the Plains. Two men rode side by side on Targas, reveling in the spacious freedom of the open countryside.
"What are you thinking about, Jim?" McCoy drawled.
"The last ten years. We've come a full circle, you realize."
"We're back on the Plains, not too far from where the Enterprise left us, we're back together again..."
"Not all of us. Miggs, Baker and Christine are gone," McCoy reminded him. "And Letia," he added softly.
"You really loved her."
"At the risk of sounding foolish, yes, I did. I know now what she was, that she spent most of her time playing whore to the Arena fighters, but I still have good memories of those years. My children probably weren't even mine, but I will always love them as if they'd been my own flesh and blood." He vividly recalled the day he forced Spock to tell him the truth about his wife. McCoy was certain Spock had not told him everything, but what was said was enough.
"At least Telchanto paid dearly for their deaths, Bones. I can't say that I approve of the way he was put to death, but I'm sure those that did it would say it was justified."
"Syl has done a good job of pulling the Empire back together," McCoy remarked, wanting to change the subject from one still painful to him. "That was some Treaty drawn up between the Empire and Tribe."
"It will take a few years to straighten out all the details, but it's a good start."
There was a strange beeping noise. Both men were startled and Kirk reached for his hip in reflex. The beeping continued as it took the Captain a few minutes to dig his old communicator out of the pouch.
The voice was so familiar. "Uhura?" It couldn't be after all these years.
"Scott here, Captain. Would you be wanting to beam up now?"
Kirk couldn't help but laugh in pure joy. "Stand by, Scotty, we have one more member to collect."
* * *
Spock gave the Captain the excuse that he wanted to say good bye to Syl, which was true, but there was more to it. Christine had chosen to remain in Shu instead of traveling north with Kirk and McCoy. She hadn't been able to bring herself to confront them, deciding to let them continue believing she was dead. Spock traveled back and forth between Empire and Tribe, visiting her and Syl whenever he came South.
She was often in his mind, it seemed...Their time of living together in the Arena quarters had been a time of peace and tranquility, with the exception of the pon farr, but even then she had shown nothing but a gentle touch and caring. Once the fever had passed, he discovered he missed her presence next to him, but the choice had been hers to make, and he'd respected it.
* * *
Syl greeted him warmly, welcoming Spock as always to the Royal house with joy. His friend's visits from the North weren't frequent enough for Syl's taste, but he respected Spock's commitment and loyalty to his former companions. Today, though, he sensed something different. "Something troubles you, my friend."
"The Enterprise has returned." There was no point in delaying the inevitable.
"This is good bye, is it not?" Syl felt as if a chunk of his life was being torn away suddenly by a mysterious entity he would never see.
"I have no choice."
" I understand." Syl removed the heavy chain from around his neck and handed it to the Vulcan. "Will you object if I tell you I will miss you and ask you to take this as a reminder of me?"
Spock felt the weight of the symbol Syl had just given him in his hand. His memories of this man would never fade. "I have nothing to give in exchange."
"You have given me life, and an Empire. I think that is enough for any man to give another. I wish you well, Spock."
"And I, you, Syl."
* * *
Her residence was a small, unimposing place on a side street, She lived a solitary life, away from everyone. Her only visitor was Spock.
Christine listened as he told of the Enterprise's return. It had taken ten long years to hobble back for repairs. Once the warp drive had been fixed, the return had required little time. They never did locate any dilithium crystals, causing the long journey back. The Chrysaline beamed aboard before the Enterprise had broken orbit had been sufficient to treat everyone, thus halting the disease and returning all to normal aging process.
Once repaired, Starfleet had refused permission to search for survivors after so long a time, but Scott had defied them until they agreed on the terms that it was actually a survey mission, not a rescue. Scott didn't care what semantics were applied, just so they could go. Finding them had been a miracle. If not for the single communicator te search could have been extended indefinitely.
The ship was back, she could return to a life of medicine and research, all the things she had loved. Yet, could she? Christine felt the wright of the ten years on Draana and felt she could never go back. Too much had happened. Years of abuse had told on her. Her optimism and love of life were gone. Christine Chapel had been ruthlessly ripped away by Rand. Nothing was going to replace it.
"I can't go back, Spock."
" I ... just can't. There was a man ... his name was Rand..."
Spock nodded his head. "He is dead."
"How do you...?"
"When you first came to the Arena, I read your brand and ankle band. I kept track of him through the years, and when we attacked the city, I found and killed him." The words were even, tinged by years of fighting in the Arena. A man of peace had been replaced with that of realism.
"I still couldn't go back to the Enterprise. To admit what I've been, what I've done... Even you cannot accept me for what I am, how could I expect it of anyone else?"
"I don't understand."
"It's not important anymore. Maybe then if was, not now."
He understood then what she meant. "It was your choice, not mine."
"You never asked."
"After the fury of the pon farr I knew it was too much to ask."
"On the Enterprise I thought I loved you. Now ... I think I understand you."
"On the Enterprise I thought I understood you. Now I find that I have grown accustomed to you and do not want to leave you behind and out of my life forever."
"Once we're back on board, things will return to the way it was ten years ago. I can't face that, not after what I've been through. There's no other man who would accept me, give me respect."
"What is it you fear, Christine?"
"Nothing. Things are different now, I couldn't go back to what was. What would I say to people, how could I make anyone understand what I did in order to survive? I can't even face Leonard with the truth."
"So you run from fear."
"Stop it! That's not true!" She turned her back to him. "How can I make you understand there's nothing left inside of me? I feel like an empty shell. All the things that made up Christine Chapel are gone -- her feelings, des ires, even the motivations -- everything is gone. I'm not the same person anymore."
"Nor am I."
"That's different. You're not all that much different on the inside now as ten years ago. Perhaps less idealistic, there's a more even balance between logic and emotion, but you're still Spock. When you killed it was a match between equal opponents, I waited in the shadows to murder a man."
"Of all the men I've killed on Draana, there is only one who's death do not regret. When I killed Rand, it was no match between equals. He was deserving of pain and death, just as Keln was. Killing Keln proves that you still felt the need to live. That was Christine Chapel fighting back to retain who she was."
"You've never told Kirk or McCoy, have you?"
"I have obeyed your wishes. What you choose to tell them does not have to be the entire truth."
Her head jerked at his words. Spock was point blank telling her to lie to them if she so chose. "They will see the brand and know."
"Brands can be obscured," he added, "It would be painful, but it would hide the truth until you could have it removed on board surgically."
"Why are you doing this, Spock? Why can't you just leave me here in peace? Syl has promised me a Healers position if I want it, I can manage. Here I will be on equal footing with all the other slaves just freed. On the Enterprise, I'll be different..."
He touched her forehead lightly, tracing a line across it. "Do you believe there to be a mark here that announces to the world who and what Christine Chapel is? Because your attire and brand label you on Draana, you think the same label applies everywhere else. Leave the past here."
"You haven't answered my question, Spock." Roger was nothing but a faded memory, Harry's face could no longer be pictured in her mind, and when they got on board, Spock would return to his old self and treat her as he had ten years ago. Kirk would pat her on the back and congratulate her for surviving, then prompt ly forget she ever existed. McCoy would gently pry, thinking to help her readjust. No one would understand, even if she fabricated a totally fictitious story to explain her life on Draana. No, it was better to stay here on the planet the rest of her life, become a Healer to the new Royal House.
"Have you never wondered why I continued returning to Shu instead of remaining on the Plains with the Captain?" he asked softly.
"You're helping Syl. There's still much work to be done in stabilizing the new Empire. You drop in to check on me out of duty, just as it was when you took me in at the Arena. It's your responsibility, as you see it."
Spock reached for the right words, words that would make Christine see what she was blinding herself to. "With Syl, and with you, I am... 'comfortable'. You accept, there are no questions, no justifications requested for my actions. It has been that way since the day I found you at the Arena. The violence of the pon farr came between us, which I regret. Yet I do not blame you for the rejection, it was logical."
"I knew you would ask me to leave that morning since the fever had spent itself, rather than hear the words, I left. There was no rejection, just an acceptance of what had always been between us -- a platonic relationship." Christine turned to look him in the eve. "Vulcan has no prostitution, does it? That's why I knew you would never be able to comprehend my position with Rand and Keln, Why I'll never willingly give my body to someone I don't love. I may not have any other dignity left to me, but the choice of who I sleep with is mine. Not Rand's, not Keln's, mine." Her voice rose in volume as the anger of her treatment at the two men's hands surfaced.
"You slept with me."
"That was different," she answered defensively. "Without me, you would have died. I couldn't let that happen. Too much depended on you."
"It was not love." The voice was inflectionless.
"There's none inside of me to give anymore." Of course it was love, you thick headed Vulcan! But I decided never again to offer it to you, because I couldn't handle anymore rejection. "The ship is picking you up in three days, you will have to leave soon to reach the Plains in time." Tears were threatening to overflow.
He saw the moistness in her eyes and caught a tear on a fingertip. "You have not learned to lie well, Christine. Three days will hardly be time to learn the skill of lying before you see the Captain and good Doctor."
She brushed the telltale tear aside. "If you alter the brand today, it should be healing by the time we get there." More pain, but also the last pain she would ever have on Draana. She was still afraid of facing the Enterprise, but at least if Spock was there, somehow, she would survive this, too.
* * *
Kirk and McCoy had chosen to remain on the planet surface until Spock returned from Shu. They were itching to get back on board, but somehow they didn't feel it would be right to go ahead of Spock. They would return together.
Once Kirk knew the Enterprise was back he turned the Leadership of the Tribe over to Vallon, knowing it was in good hands. Syl and Vallon would work together, securing Draana as a united world.
Now, he and McCoy sat beside the stream that ran outside the camp, waiting for Spock's return, talking as only two old friends can.
"Whatever became of him, Bones?"
"I don't know. Tieran was my only connection to him and with his death I had no way of finding him. Elkon was outside the city, part of the group Syl was leading, but after the battle was over he was never seen again. Chances are he was just another one of the nameless masses that perished. Magda and Ton are back on the Chaiing estate, it was the only real home they ever knew. Leonge Chaiing is dead, but his House lives on.
"Letia was one of his nieces." McCoy stared off at the distant tents in silence. "I told Spock once that I pitied him because he would never know the extremes love could drive a man to experience. Do you suppose this time I could be wrong?"
"Give it time, Bones. Your own advice."
"You were lucky not to have found someone special, Jim."
Kirk held his sword in the air, watching the sun glint off the freshly polished surface. It had been one year...
* * *
They swooped and soared above Shu's walls, picking off guards and disrupting the enemy forces. By the time they landed, Kallas and humans alike were exhausted. Shallon wiped the blade and sheathed it, taking care to spread feed for the Kallas before walking away.
"Kiirk, how far to the others?"
Making a quick estimate Kirk turned back to her to answer. The nearby copse was suddenly alive with men, three of them attacking the nearest Kallas, the other two, Shallon. He rushed to assist her and between them five opponents lay dead, but one Kallas was wounded. The winged creature could feel nothing but pain, lashing out at everything near it. Shallon ducked the beating wings, but the mighty talons caught hot.
By the time Kirk was able to destroy the wounded Kallas, Shallon lay dying. He pulled the talons apart, easing her body to the ground. Blood was everywhere, covering them both. Brushing the hair from her face, he kissed her gently.
"I am here."
"On the Other Side, I will bear ... no marks ... of a Warrior."
"So I have heard." Shallon, his Shallon was dying.
"Do you love me?"
"Always," he whispered, feeling the pulse weaken.
"I will ... wait for... you..."
* * *
"Sorry, Bones, I was just thinking."
"Time, Bones. Time..."