Disclaimer: Star Trek is the property of Paramount/Viacom. This story is the property of and is copyright (c) 1980 by Johanna Cantor. Originally published in Obsc'zine #4, Lori Chapek-Carleton, editor. Rated R.

 

Paradise Regained

Johanna Cantor

 

"Class" over, Akuta led the People out of the clearing, walking proudly. His antennae were gone, for Vaal was dead -- conquered by the more powerful Skygod. But while the People remained, Akuta was Leader.

 

At his side, Ayana was mouthing the new words. Pollination . Cross-fertilization . Vaal had put the fruit on the trees and had caused the rains to fall. But it was the will of the Skygod that the People return to the ways of the Dim Time. Pollination: Brushing. The words were different, but it was the same thing. But before the Brushing, must there not be--

 

Akuta stepped out of line, waving the others past him, a decision formed. The servants of the Skygod were kind. Akuta was as sure of that as he had been convinced of Vaal's benevolence. But although they served a more powerful god, they were men. And men could forget. Akuta walked resolutely back to the clearing and reverenced.

 

Jameson, the "Osee," rose and returned the gesture. Akuta acknowledged, embarrassed as always. It was not right for an Osee to reverence a Leader. But Akuta's protests had been unavailing, and he determined not to waste time on them now. "Excuse me," he said politely. "Tomorrow will we -- that is – um…" Akuta's voice trailed off as a terrifying thought struck: The Skygod needed no ears! Akuta had seen the blue lightning from a distance; he had no desire for a closer acquaintance. He stood silent, miserably divided.

 

"What is it, Akuta?" the Osee asked kindly.

 

Akuta took a deep breath. Perhaps he could lead up to it. "When the sun returns, there will be Class?"

 

"Well, tomorrow we'll have an exercise."

 

"Exercise." That sounded hopeful.

 

"Yes. We want you to practice pollination. The noti are ready, don't you think?"

 

Akuta stammered some answer -- he hardly knew what -- and stumbled out of the clearing. He was actually at its edge before he remembered his respects. Turning, he reverenced quickly, then he hurried back toward the village.

 

Jameson started to return the reverence, but Akuta was gone. "Wonder what's worrying him," he muttered, returning to the group.

 

But the landing party had their own worries.

 

"The thing is," the agronomist said, abruptly resuming the discussion, "I don't see how we can leave orbit until the rest of these people are back on a normal -- er -- a normal social course."

 

Chekov winked at Martha, but she shook her head at him slightly. Jameson's habitual circumlocution usually amused her too. But as time passed, this situation was growing less and less amusing.

 

There was one new observation, and Thoms offered it hopefully. "The men and the women bathed together this morning."

 

"Mm," Jameson made a note in his field diary. Then he closed it with a snap and sat brooding in the gloomy silence.

 

* * *

 

As he neared the village, Akuta's steps slowed. They were waiting for him. There were none of the sounds of normal village activity, only the silence of the People Assembled, awaiting the words. But Akuta had no words.

 

"Akuta!"

 

Akuta halted gratefully. "Ayana?"

 

"Here. " Ayana slipped out of the trees, reverenced, , and Akuta held his hands out to her. Ayana had been his woman in the Dim Time, and the bond between them had held through the revolving seasons of Obedience. Now, as long ago, her sympathetic loyalty was a tree which could lift his care-weighted heart.

 

"It is Exercise tomorrow," he told her baldly. "We are to practice Pollination."

 

"Pollination? But Akuta--" Ayana faltered. Akuta lifted her hand, holding its coolness to a head bowed with care. And Ayana put aside her fear, devoting herself to soothing and fondling him, her caresses lifting the weight on his spirit. Soon he could raise his head, and he smiled down at her. "Perhaps a Talking?" Ayana murmured.

 

Akuta considered her words. A Talking was not called lightly by a Leader. On the other hand, if disaster came after a Talking, the blame was not solely the Leader's. Grasping Ayana's hand, Akuta strode firmly toward the village. They all rose and reverenced.

 

"I call a Talking," Akuta said, relieved to hear that his voice rang out firmly.

 

Automatically the men of the People formed a line, ready to follow Akuta to the Talking Place. Ayana withdrew with the women, but Akuta shook his head. "In the Old Way," he said. And in spite of the seriousness of the situation, the women's eyes flashed joyously as they took their old place, at the side of their men. Akuta returned Ayana's glowing look, then set the measured pace that would take the People to the Talking. All the People, as in the Dim Time. If truth be told, the women of the People had surprised Akuta. They had been as quick as the men to understand Class, and learn the strange words. Besides (Akuta admitted to himself), on a problem of this magnitude, he would take any help he could get.

 

* * *

 

From the high vantage point Jameson watched the People as they filed ceremonially, two by two, into the forest. "Shall we observe?" Chekov whispered.

 

Jameson thought it over. "No," he decided finally. "This is the first sign we've seen of independent action. Let's. let them carry it through."

 

* * *

 

As Leader, Akuta was the first to stand in the center and reverence "There is no Class tomorrow," he said simply. "We are to have Exercise. We are to practice Pollination."

 

There was a chorus of cries and protests. "But Akuta--" Thonta cried out.

 

"The Talking begins," Akuta said hastily and sat down next to Ayana. Silence fell.

 

The People looked at each other. As eyes met, each looked away. They had all seen the Blue Lightning. Finally, Ayana rose, took center, and reverenced. "I say nothing in disobedience to the Skygod," she faltered. "He is the greater God; Him we serve." They all reverenced. Overhead, the sun shone brightly, and Ayana went on more confidently. "It is that by the Wisdom of the People, the Sacrifice must come first. Then the Brushing." There was a general murmur of agreement, but Ayana sat down quickly, trembling. They all searched the sky fearfully. No clouds crossed. After a moment, Akuta put his arm around his woman and her trembling eased.

 

Thonta took center. "Since it is the will of the Skygod, Him we serve, that the People return to the ways of the Dim Time, we should also Sacrifice."

 

"But the Teachers have not taught the Sacrifice," Sayana objected, and sat.

 

"Can the noti fruit without it?" Makora asked rhetorically.

 

Volna, the Oldest, was already shaking his head as he took center. "First the Sacrifice. Then the Brushing. Then the Fruiting, the Growing, Ripening, and Gathering. Always."

 

Akuta rose and reverenced as the Others had, struggling to formulate a nebulous idea. "Perhaps the Skygod does not require Sacrifice. Perhaps He is One – Alone… Perhaps..." No. It was beyond understanding. Akuta sat.

 

Volna rose quickly. "If the noti do not ripen, the People will hunger."

 

"I agree." Ayana rose.

 

"And I."

 

"And I."

 

"Do we all agree?" Akuta asked, resuming his role as Leader. "Let it be tonight, then. When the second moon rises. We will go now. To prepare."

 

* * *

 

"That's odd."

 

"What is it, Yeoman?"

 

Martha lowered her field glasses. "The women-are bathing again. I thought that was a morning activity."

 

"Maybe it has something to do with that meeting."

 

"Maybe. Oh!"

 

"What?"

 

"In the village. The men are making a large pit."

 

Jameson rose and she handed him the glasses. "Call the landing party, Martha. Shielded observation. Looks like something's up."

 

* * *

 

"They've dug mussels," Chekov reported excitedly, a few hours later. "That's what the pit was for. They're having a clambake!"

 

"The women spent the afternoon adorning themselves," Martha reported. "They're all repainted. And they've been practicing a chant I haven't heard before, but very softly."

 

"Where the dickens is Thoms?" Jameson fumed.

 

"He followed a group of men into the forest. They-- here he comes."

 

"Report, Thoms."

 

"In the noti grove, sir," the anthropologist reported breathlessly. "You know how they're laid out in squares, male-female, male-female, though the People call them curved and straight? Well, the men've drawn furrows from the roots of each tree to the exact center of each square. Very painstakingly, sir. Took them the whole afternoon to get it right."

 

Jameson thought it over. The others waited; Jameson would never allow himself to be hurried. Martha studied him and smiled. He was as curious as any of them. He wasn't about to order them back to the ship.

 

"All right, we'll return to the ship." Martha's jaw dropped; the two other men began to protest. Jameson raised a hand. "For the insertion of rubindium crystals. We'll return after dark to observe. Precautionary alert status will be maintained at all times." He flipped his communicator open.

 

"Precautionary alert?" Martha exclaimed. "Oh, but--" Jameson gave her a look, and she came to attention quickly. "Sir, the People are the gentlest, mildest--"

 

"That's probably what Marple would have said," Jameson pointed out curtly. "They may be gentle, but they're primitives. If the party gets rough, I want us able to get out fast."

 

Suddenly Martha thought of the furrows dug to the roots of the noti. Swallowing hard, she stepped into position for beam-up without further argument.

 

* * *

 

Akuta bathed moodily, still sunk in worry. Next to him, Makora splashed and laughed. Makora was young, confident in young strength. Akuta turned away to hide a sudden pang. But Akuta was Leader. And the Leader must perform the first sacrifice.

 

"Akuta?" Makora reverenced.

 

Akuta straightened, nodding permission to speak.

 

"What of the teachers?"

 

The Teachers! Akuta had Forgotten about them! He thought for a moment, hiding his confusion. "Ah, yes, the Teachers. Your reminder is just, Makora. Go to them, and invite them to. the Sacrifice."

 

It was a bold stroke and Akuta saw respect in the young man's eyes. But now what? Akuta could barely contain his impatience until Makora ran back. "They are gone, Akuta. As I ran to invite them, they disappeared!"

 

"Ah," Akuta nodded. "They have returned to the Skygod. Tomorrow they must be given some mussels, to show that the People would have bidden them to Sacrifice."

 

"Yes, Akuta." Again, the bold words had good effect. But Akuta sighed. For good or ill, he was committed now. He led the men back to the village, where the women waited to adorn them.

 

* * *

 

"Akuta." Akuta started. Ayana had contrived to get behind him, where she could to whisper in his ear as she painted his back with the Sacrifice Designs. "Akuta, what is it?"

 

"I am an old man, Ayana," he whispered. "The seasons have turned so many times."

 

"You are Leader. And my man."

 

"Yes. But I am afraid." Only to his wife could the Leader say such a thing. For the first time, Ayana remembered another bit of the Wisdom: "The Leader shall take a woman." This was why.

 

Ayana smiled, moving around to paint his face. The others could hear her now, so she said only, "I have made a fine Sacrifice Cloak for you, my man." But her fingers brushed his skin and body tenderly as she worked, and again, Akuta felt his burdens lighten.

 

The Sacrifice Food was eaten by the light of the bright first moon. Every ritual was observed, and with each observance, Akuta's courage strengthened. Ayana contrived to sit beside him, and in the growing dusk, her hands were fondling his back. When he stood, it was with pride and conviction. Now that the time had come, he was ready.

 

Ayana brought the Sacrifice Cloak, carefully made that day, and draped him proudly, smiling up at him as she crowned him with the noti flowers. Thonta, the oldest, cetemoniously presented the Sacrifice Blade to Akuta. Akuta took it proudly, and led the people to the grove.

 

* * *

 

"Corn king?" Jameson asked.

 

"Could be," Thoms replied.

 

"A sacrifice? Oh, no!" Martha cried. The others all hushed her, and she lowered her voice. "We can't let them!" she whispered intently. "Not Akuta!"

 

"Observation stations," Jameson ordered, ignoring her protest. "Keep your Emergency Recalls strapped to your wrists at all times. Use them immediately if you're spotted. But try to stay out of sight. Posts."

 

* * *

 

The grove was reached; the People formed the ceremonial pattern. Akuta raised his arms, spreading the sacrificial cloak wide, and led the first chant.

 

* * *

 

Martha crouched at her station, waiting for the psychological moment. She drew her phaser, just in case. A forlorn tear crept into her eye, and she brushed it away angrily. There would be no defense against her own people. But she didn't allow herself to dwell on what might happen to her after she beamed back.

 

The beep of her communicator startled her badly, but she managed to make her acknowledgment sound official. "Yeoman, Jameson whispered, "channel your communicator into the audio-recorder. I want to boost the women's level, and I can't raise Chekov."

 

Bastard, Martha thought. She acknowledged curtly and tied her communicator in. Then she crouched again, phaser at the ready.

 

"Give me that!" .Martha barely suppressed a scream as Pav swooped on her, wresting the phaser from her hand.

 

"Pav! Give it back. Hey!" But Chekov pocketed the weapon, shaking his head at her. "Pav!"

 

He beckoned her away from the open communicator, then smiled down at her, intentness fading. "Lucky it was me, Martha," he whispered. "If it was anybody but me, you'd be on report."

 

"I don't care!"

 

"Don't be foolish, Martha!"

 

"Foolish! You're as bad as Jameson. How can you, Pav?"

 

"How can I what?"

 

"We can't let them hurt Akuta."

 

Chekov smiled and shook his head, putting an arm around her. She pushed him away. "Martha, nobody's going to hurt Akuta."

 

"But the ritual. Jameson said a Corn King--"

 

"It's possible. Jameson's just been talking to the Captain. If that's what it is, the 'Skygod's' going to raise some holy hell."

 

"Oh." Martha digested that. "He might have told me."

 

"Well, that's the Service. But there's probably no danger."

 

"No danger? The knife! Those furrows!"

 

"Mm. There's more than one way to fill a furrow. Sh!"

 

The chanting stopped. Swiftly, the two turned to watch. Akuta knelt, slowly raising the blade, and deepened the furrows. Then he came to his feet.

 

"Woman," he commanded sharply.

 

Ayana stepped from the circle, reverencing deeply, and walked behind Akuta, removing the ceremonial cloak.

 

"Wow," Chekov whispered, in involuntary tribute.

 

"Why, he's--" Martha never finished the sentence, for suddenly, swiftly, Ayana knelt, then lay back. Akuta positioned her in the circle. Then he fell on top of her and entered her, thrusting mightily. The People maintained their silence, watching eagerly, until Akuta gave a triumphant howl.

 

"The Sacrifice !" Ayana cried. "The Sacrifice!"

 

"The Sacrifice!" the People echoed, and broke into a deafening clapping, whistling, and yelling. Ayana pushed Akuta away and got up, dancing around him in triumph.

 

"Old man!" she yelled, pointing at him, and giggling uncontrollably. "He thought he was an old man!"

 

"Hurrah for the old man!" Makora yelled, and a cheer went up.

 

Akuta got to his feet, laughing so hard he could barely stand, and moved toward Ayana in a mock-menacing stance. "Woman--" he threatened. Ayana waited until he almost had her. Then she broke and ran, screeching with laughter, through the neat squares. Akuta pursued her swiftly into the next square, but halted in astonishment as she ran through it, to throw herself down two squares from the center. "Three?" Akuta gasped. Two more? What are you doing to me, Woman?"

 

Ayana wiggled seductively. "Old man," she replied softly. Akuta gave a roar of outrage, and tackled her. The People laughed and clapped. Then Sayana nipped Makora neatly in the backside and fled through the squares. Tara tagged Thonta, and Rula was already running from Mora ...

 

"Let's get out of here," Chekov said, just as Martha's communicator beeped recall.

 

"Acknowledged," Martha whispered, and they crept cautiously back to the vantage point.

 

"Shades of Frazier," Jameson was whispering, awed. "The old man could have learned a thing or two from the People."

 

"Frazier, hell," Thoms retorted, his eyes glued to Makora, who labored mightily to fertilize a noti directly, spurred on by the shouts of another couple and the more pragmatic encouragement of Sayana's mouth and hands. "This would have blown Malinowski's -- er -- mind."

 

"Sir," Chekov suggested politely, "I've been thinking. Wasn't there a technique in Malinowski's time called participant-observation? Perhaps if we--"

 

"As you were, Ensign," Jameson snapped. There was a muttered "fat chance " which the agronomist thought it prudent to ignore as he flipped his communicator open. I think we can report that the People are back on an -- er -- a normal ... " His conclusion was lost as party and equipment dematerialized.

 

* * *

 

The fourth moon was waning, but Akuta still moved smoothly with his woman. He was tired, but as his loins now fruited, so later, would the noti, from the sacrifice of the People. Ayana matched his slower rhythm, knowing he was tired, but from time to time, she pinched his backside, or fondled the little circles. It was their third square, but it, too, would receive the sacrifice. Akuta's mouth found hers in the dark, and happiness washed over him.

 

Ayana detached her lips. "Old man," she murmured. "Old man." Deliberately, Akuta stopped, fondling her hair and neck. Then he withdrew and brushed his mouth over her breasts to her navel, and then lower. The soft, wet hairs tickled his lips and nose. In the noti-scented square, his sacrifice tasted like the sweet-smelling blossoms; Akuta caressed his woman with lips and tongue, seeking the small place that only he might touch. A gentle gasp told him he was there; and then it was his turn to wriggle with pleasure as Ayana's hands and tongue explored his own sensitive places. For a long time they lay there, floating in the gathering darkness. Then Ayana's hips moved hard against him. Akuta increased the pleasure, moaning himself in delight as her mouth circled the center of his feelings. He began to move again, and her tongue tickled him deliciously. Suddenly her shivering began. Akuta pressed as hard as he could, and then his woman cried out. She moved away from him, then arched back toward him. Akuta caused her to cry out once more, and then his own sacrifice burst from him, to fall unimpeded to the welcoming furrows.

 

Ayana held him until he no longer moved. Then she turned, reaching for his face, and pulled his head to her breast. Akuta fondled her neck for a moment; then he let go, floating in the warm darkness. Somewhere nearby, a cry signaled another sacrifice. The noti would fruit well, but of all the squares, none would fruit more abundantly than this one. He drifted off to sleep.

 

"Akuta." It seemed only a moment before Ayana's whisper tickled his ear. But on his back there was moisture -- yes. It was raining! Akuta sprang to his feet, awakening the People with a glad shout. Swiftly, he sent the youngest couple back to the village to light the fires. Then he led the People in the chant of dedication.

 

The rain would carry the fresh seed along the furrows to the very roots of the noti, speeding its journey to the blossoms. The omen was good; the Skygod was pleased. Rejoicing, Akuta led the People home.

 

THE END