DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Johanna Cantor and is copyright (c) 1979 by Johanna Cantor. NOTE: This story is based on the animated episode "The Lorelei Signal." This story is Rated PG13. Originally printed in Alnitah #9.



A Few Curves

Johanna Cantor



Kirk entered the Transporter Room briskly; and Spock and McCoy, at his heels, matched his military gait. It wasn't necessary any more, thank God. But hiding fatigue had gotten to be a habit these last few missions.

The Captain almost broke stride at the sight of the unfamiliar transporter crew, but he remembered in time that he'd allowed most of the ship's complement to start their leave this morning. The last mission had been as productive as it was exhausting, and even Spock had fallen behind on the record keeping. To say nothing of the Captain. But he'd seen no need to keep the whole crew straining at the bit while the senior staff cleared their desks. And now everything was shipshape, and the Enterprise was ready for overhaul and refitting. Kirk permitted himself to join McCoy's sigh as they stepped into the transporter. A month's R and R. He savored the taste. As soon as he finished with the Portmaster...

"What time do your parents arrive?" McCoy was asking.

"They dock at 1500, planet time," Spock reminded him patiently. "We are to meet at the Concourse at 1800."

"Fresh vegetables!" McCoy murmured ecstatically. "Milk and eggs that never saw a dehydrator. Melon, and--"

"Energize," Kirk interrupted. "We're not off duty yet, Bones."

The Portmaster was waiting in the transporter alcove. Kirk took leave of his officers curtly. They'd meet this evening and then they could all relax. He still had work to do.

He made his reports succinctly, focusing with fierce concentration. Then he took almost an hour to discuss the long commendations list. The records were fully documented, of course, but he wanted to be sure Starfleet's representatives recognized the crew's performance. Finally he walked out into the sunshine, a free man.

For some time he just wandered around. Unscheduled time and unconfined space. Fresh air to breathe, and no destination to press toward. Who'd be a starship captain? Funny, he thought. Things never caught up with him until he began to relax. Now he felt as if he were dragging antigravs.

He lingered to watch the sun set, then checked his chronometer for the first time that afternoon. Plenty of time. His feet were moving before he realized what it was he wanted time for. He walked slowly, still savoring the open space, but his heart was beating a little faster. He found the way unerringly, even after almost a year. The Ambulant Hospital was exactly where he remembered it.

The courtyard had changed, however. Kirk recognized some of the characteristics of the Taurean style. "Making themselves at home," he muttered. "And I'll bet they had plenty of help." He ran up the steps and activated the door.

The suite's large common room was empty. Or, no -- a man was sitting on a deeply cushioned chair. Apparently he was lost in a pleasant reverie; certainly he was unaware of the Captain until Kirk crossed to look at him.

"Hello, Bones."

McCoy sprang to his feet. "Why, hello, Jim. I didn't know you planned to come here."

"Didn't know it myself." Footsteps in the courtyard made both men turn, but only two men entered. Kirk relaxed. "Come in, Commander. Don't be shy, Mr. Carver. Come right in."

Carver was speechless, but his companion spoke composedly. "Thank you, Captain. Did you finish with the Portmaster?"

"Yes, in good time, Mr. Spock. Enjoying your leave, Ensign?"

Carver blushed scarlet, but managed to stammer a reply. They sat.

The silence grew awkward. "Nice day," McCoy observed idiotically. No one bothered to answer.

Suddenly a babble of feminine chatter filled the courtyard. All four men sprang to their feet as the door opened. The Taurean women surged in, then halted in surprise.

"Hello, Theela," Kirk's voice quavered just a little as he looked down into those deep violet eyes.

"Jim!" The Taurean queen threw herself into his arms and Kirk gave her a hard hug. He felt much less tired.

"Welcome, our saviors. Welcome, honored ones. Welcome." The babble of greeting reached Kirk and he released the head female and turned to greet the other women. They all stood at eye level. They weren't even unusually tall. The Kinshassa doctors had done quite a job.

"Be seated, honored guests." Theela ran to pat a cushion invitingly. "Darah -- punch. Fruit, Iola. Reela, call the distribution center; we must have more Antarean brandy at once. And check to see that we have enough Saurean. Romi, run to the wharves. We must have fresh scampolini for dinner this night. Phra..."

"I'm afraid we can't stay for dinner," Kirk interrupted. "At least, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy and I have an engagement."

"Oh!" Theela's droop of disappointment was mirrored by the other women. "Well, surely you will have mese with us?"

"With the greatest of pleasure," Kirk accepted for all four. "Theela!" He caught her wrist. "Stop flitting around and let me look at you." He held her at arms' length, drinking in her beauty. "Theela," he declared at last, "you are twice as beautiful. The doctors have done wonders."

Theela's smile wavered, and to his horror, tears filled the violet eyes.

"Theela! What is it?"

"Nothing! Nothing. What should it be, but the pleasure of seeing you again after so long? Again welcome. Welcome, honored guests and dear friends."

The other women echoed the queen again, but Kirk could not shake off the feeling of having slapped a playful kitten. Their voices were too cheerful. And now Darah was turning away. "What is it?" he blurted "No, don't put me off. You're not happy." He cast his mind back to his last remark. "The doctors! Have they been unkind to you?"

"Oh, no!" Theela exclaimed sincerely. "Everyone has been most kind."

"Then what is it?" he insisted.

Theela forced another smile. "A small disappointment, honored one. A trifle--"

"Theela!"

"Truly, Jim. It is only that the endocrine damage caused by the Taurean radiation has proved irreversible. At first the doctors thought they could restore normal functioning. But now it seems we-- it seems--"

"We are barren," Darah finished flatly.

Kirk stood stock still, appalled. He groped for some comfort to offer, but no words came. Theela watched him, trying to smile. But her smile went awry, and she stumbled into the arms he wordlessly held out to her.

"I am so sorry," she gasped, a few minutes later. "Darah, stop crying and fetch the wine. Really, Iola, you will drown the ensign. Dr. McCoy, Mr. Spock, do forgive us. Sit down and be comfortable. Captain?"

Kirk allowed her to seat him, watching Theela as she imperiously ordered matters for their comfort. "Good girl," he applauded mentally. The Taureans' chins were up. Their gaiety was forced, but it was there. Still, he avoided meeting the other men's eyes.

The one thing they really wanted, he thought. The hope that induced them to destroy the Luramag and leave their home. They wanted a normal life -- learning, and love. But above all, they wanted children.

"Theela -- all of you," he blurted. "You can still have the life you wanted!" They fell silent -- respectful, but stolid.

"Children aren't everything," he argued. "And if you do want them, you can have them. Find husbands! Establish a family and then adopt. Or you can have a child created with your husband's sperm. It's not uncommon, you know. In fact there are sperm banks all over the Federation..."

The women remained silent as Kirk began to argue the point. He spoke forcefully and well, and the other men backed him. But he couldn't get through.

"What man would wish to marry one of us?" someone asked. "Alien, man-destroying, and barren."

"I would!" Carter almost shouted it; then he blushed red. Kirk gave him full marks for a sincere try. But nothing they could say seemed to comfort the women.

Suddenly Kirk caught sight of his chronometer. "Spock!"

"Yes, Captain. But my parents will forgive us."

"Oh, no. We mustn't keep them waiting. Listen. You and Bones go ahead. Tell them I'll be a little late. Go on. I'll be along."

He watched as Spock and McCoy took leave of the women, gathering his energy and his arguments. It was natural for them to feel disappointed. But surely they'd listen to reason.

* * *

Over an hour later, he entered the Concourse, gathering his composure. The party, he was glad to see, had already gone in to dinner. Summoning a smile, he walked over to them, to be firmly hugged by Amanda, and honored with a handshake from Sarek. But as he met McCoy's eyes, he shook his head slightly.

Spock had taken one look at his captain and activated the servitor. Now he put a tall drink at the empty place and motioned the Captain toward it. The party sat in sympathetic silence while he absorbed his drink, reviving in the cool quiet.

"You are throwing up the sponge, Captain?"

Spock's tone told nothing but sympathy, but Kirk couldn't refrain from giving him a look. "I am throwing in the sponge, Mr. Spock." He sighed. "They're so disappointed. And after they gave up their own world and came all this way. The one thing they really wanted--"

"Understandably distressing, Captain. But after their initial disappointment has passed, logic will indicate--"

"I'm afraid logic isn't their strong suit, Mr. Spock."

"Well after all," Amanda said sweetly, "have you ever seen a stem with a tulip at both ends?"

"Mother!"

Amanda twinkled at Spock unrepentantly. Like most women in the Federation, she had heard quite enough about the Taurean beauties.

"Spock is right," Sarek declared. "Once the Taurean women have accepted their condition, they will realize that there are many other contributions they can make, and many other rewards."

'Well, you'd think so, sir," Kirk conceded. "But the thing is, they've known about this for almost three months. And they still feel it keenly. They wanted children more than anything else, and they just can't seem to get past--"

"They require occupation," Sarek stated. "Training and reorientation will help them form a new life plan."

"No doubt," Kirk agreed politely and changed the subject.

* * *

Two days later, he remained unconvinced. And even Sarek, who had gone to some trouble to rearrange a crowded schedule so he and Amanda could meet the women, seemed less confident of their future. The women had listened to all the arguments the Vulcans and Humans could muster, and agreed politely. Of course they would find a place. Their gracious benefactors were not to worry about them. They were quite happy.

In a pig's eye, Kirk thought.

"The shuttle is on time," Spock reported.

"Naturally," Sarek replied.

"Must be a Vulcan shuttle," Kirk needled.

"Of course," Sarek said in astonishment.

"Sorry, sir," Kirk apologized. "I know it's a Vulcan shuttle. My mind was wandering."

Amanda winked at him. "I do wish we didn't have to attend these meetings," she said regretfully. "We'll be so busy that even if we invited you to Vulcan--"

"I understand, Amanda. And anyway, Spock and I have been planning this trip for months."

"I know. And it's so nice you can go with Dr. McCoy."

"Excuse me," Spock interrupted suddenly and left the room on the words. Even Sarek stared after him for a moment before he rallied, covering his son's discourtesy by suggesting they all have some coffee.

Kirk helped maintain a polite conversation. But he sensed that he was not the only uneasy one. Vulcan etiquette was formal, and Spock usually observed it scrupulously in his parents' presence. Kirk was frankly relieved when Spock reappeared, escorting a slender brunette.

The woman looked very familiar, but Kirk couldn't quite place her. Then he had it. Number One -- the First Officer of the Enterprise during the captaincy of Christopher Pike. He rose as Spock performed the introductions and seated her. "A pleasure, madam," he said sincerely. "A real pleasure."

Spock got down to business at once. "I have been explaining the problem of the Taurean women to Number One. I believe her planet might hold an answer. She agrees, but with some reservations which--"

"Excuse me, Mr. Spock," Number One interrupted firmly. "Before we go on, must be sure of my position." She turned to the others. "Mr. Spock has assured me that all of you are trustworthy. I have many years' knowledge of him, and I accept both his judgment and his word. But I must have the word of each of you that what we will discuss will remain absolutely confidential."

Sarek met his son's eyes for a moment. Then he made a ritualistic gesture. "I so bind myself," he said, and repeated the phrase in Vulcan.

"I agree," Kirk said.

"I also," answered Amanda.

"Thank you." Number One was totally serious. "I think you may came to regret having given your word. But I believe that you will keep it."

"I am convinced you have nothing to fear, Number One," Spock said. "Aside from all else, the Prime Directive..."

"Applies only to less advanced cii:ilisations," she iilterrupted. "Also the Prime Directive, while undoubtedly well-meant, is subject not only to different interpretations but also to the weakness, ineptitude, and corruption of Federation representatives."

Amanda winced. Then she shrugged ruefully, expressing the exact reactions of the impassive men.

"I mean nothing personal," Number One apologized. "And in fact, were I not convinced of the integrity of each of you, I would not have entered this discussion. Let me open the matter at hand. My world might provide a position the Taurean women would find congenial and rewarding if they are fit. But if they are offered a home with us, this must be done without revealing certain aspects of our civilization to the Federation. We will not risk contamination by male-dominated cultures."

"Your culture is female-dominated?" Amanda asked.

"Precisely. In fact, we have no men." Kirk spilled his coffee.

Sarek entered the conversation smoothly, covering Kirk's confusion. "Your race reproduces asexually?"

"No." Number One recognized and respected scientific curiosity. "Like other humanoids, we originally had both sexes. But there have been no men on Planet K301-4 for over three hundred standard years."

"K301-4," Sarek repeated reflectively. "A small, class M planet. Inhabitants humanoid, culture reported to have attained Richter Level L. Maintains trade agreements with the Federation, but has never applied for membership."

"Never," Number One affirmed.

What about the Taurean women?" Amanda asked.

"Our race has reproduced by parthenogenesis ever since the development of the technique freed us from dependence on men. Fetuses are brought to viability in the laboratory. Then they are cared for in nurseries until learning begins. At that paint, roughly the age of six months, they are assigned to responsible citizens to train and educate.

"The Taurean women, with their obsession with breeding, could fill a need in our society. Our people enjoy teaching the young, but infant care is not considered a desirable occupation. We have constant difficulty finding personnel to staff the nurseries."

"You do not automate?"

"Of course, Ambassador. But like the young of other humanoids, our infants require inputs, such as body contact, which our adults find unrewarding before the mind has begun to develop. It is possible that the Taurean women, if they are fit, could nurture our neonates."

Number One picked up her coffee and sipped it composedly. She had, Kirk realized, outlined a business proposition. Now she was letting them consider its merits. He hoped his face didn't express his feelings.

"You said twice 'if they are fit'," Amanda said. "What do you mean?"

"Our people value the feminine virtues. We train our young to be courageous, curious, and above all, emotionally stable From what I have heard of the Taurean women, I would question whether they have those virtues. Of course, these qualities may not be as important in nurturing as they are in education."

"I don't think the Taureans' courage is in question," Kirk protested. "They are pioneers. They left their home and traveled halfway across a sector to find a new life..."

" ...under the guidance of men," Number One interrupted, and for just a moment, her face showed a contempt she was too polite to verbalize. "Are they capable of controlling their own destinies?"

"No one is--" Kirk began, but Spock cut him off.

"I would suggest, Number One, that you must meet them."

"Obviously, Mr. Spock.. But this is a matter I cannot decide alone. Therefore, I suggest that we explain the situation to the Taurean women, swearing them to secrecy. Do they understand astrogation?"

"Not at all."

"Good. Then we can refuse to tell them the Federation name and the coordinates of my planet. Should they prove dishonorable, they will have no damaging information.

"If they are at all interested in this possibility, they may travel with me when I return home. There we can assess their fitness, and they can learn about our world. If we reach no agreement, they can simply return here." Number One rose smoothly. "You have my local address, Mr. Spock. It has been my pleasure to meet all of you. Good day."

* * *

Kirk stared out the small observation bubble into space, still trying to adjust to the fact that he was on board. For the hundredth time, he cursed himself for a fool. The Taurean women were no responsibility of his. Why was he giving up a week of leave to travel in uncomfortably crowded conditions to what his mind persisted in labeling the Pussy Planet? Well, it was a good question. Maybe Spock, still lost in his study of the craft's instrument design, had a logical reason for coming. All Kirk knew was that the moment the invitation had been reluctantly proffered, they'd both jumped at it. "Curiosity killed the cat," he snarled to himself.

Spock released a tape from the viewer and automatically handed it to Kirk. Kirk inserted it and began to study, duty bound. But soon his enthusiasm stirred. This craft was a real beauty. Basically a Federation scoutship, it was outfitted with Elissan instrumentation so responsive that a solo pilot could handle it, and usually did.

"I'll say one thing for the Elissans," Kirk observed, "their instrumentation has to be the most elegant in the galaxy."

If Spock noticed the veiled hostility, he chose not to react to it. "Most impressive, Captain. Look. I believe this tracking device would resolve much of the difficulty we experience with the Kalpo."

"You're right," Kirk agreed a few minutes later. "Do you think the Elissans would let us take a plan back to Scotty?"

"Almost certainly, Captain. The Elissans have always given their knowledge freely to the Federation. Number One used to return from leave quite regularly with new designs. That is how I learned of the Elissans."

"She told you?"

"I guessed what she was doing. She then told me the whole circumstances, in order to obtain my word that I would not reveal her people."

"Why -- oh, hello Theela. Come in."

"Thank you."

'What is it? You look troubled."

"Oh, no. In fact, I think I am less troubled than I have ever been."

"Work something out, dear?"

"Number One did. We were discussing our relationship with men. And she says that our need to serve men stems from guilt. Now that we no longer exploit men, she says, we no longer have to worship them. We can be free of both. And I think that is true."

"Theela, you can relate to men without worshipping or exploiting them. On our worlds, men and women live together, helping each other--"

"The women help the men!"

"Yes." Kirk bit back his annoyance. "And the men help the women."

"Help them remain dependent!" The violet eyes flashed.

"Theela, every being is dependent on the beings of his own kind. Humanoid creatures need roots -- contacts--"

"I'm sorry, Jim," Theela relented, seeing he was upset. "I didn't mean to attack you or your mores. We Taureans have every reason to be grateful, to both. But we have always lived in a world without men. I doubt if we could make the compromises we would have to make to live with men now and still remain ourselves."

Kirk searched her face. "You are considering Number One's offer."

"Yes. If the offer is made, I think it will be for the best, Jim."

"But Theela--" Kirk began. But Theela shook her head, and left. "Damn!"

"In an odd way, Captain, Number One is right. The cultures are comparable: the Elissans, with their contempt of men, and the Taureans, with their worship of the men they devoured. Basic to each is the concept of men as objects, important only in their use to women."

Kirk digested this in silence. "But what a waste!" he blurted. Then he grinned ruefully. "Today's chauvinistic remark. I wonder-- What was that?"

A dull thud shook the ship, followed immediately by another.

"Captain, I believe we are being fired upon."

"In this sector? Impossible!" Another thud shook the ship. "I mean, ridiculous. Who'd fire on a Federation craft in this sector--" Instinctively he headed for the pilot room.

"Repeating. This craft is from a neutral world, engaged on private business." Coldly angry, Number One was speaking into the communications grid. "Identify yourself and state the reason for this aggression."

Another thud was the only answer.

"Screens?" Kirk snapped.

"Holding," Number One responded automatically.

"Can you make her out?"

"A Federation survey ship. But--" Number One broke off and adjusted the communication panel. Then she switched on a speaker.

"...no harm will come to you, but we require your ship. Drop your screens. We will transport aboard. You will be taken to a Federation port, where you will be landed, unharmed. Mercy is conditional on absolute compliance. This offer will be made only once."

The message recycled automatically. Number One switched the speaker off.

"Hijackers!" Kirk exclaimed.

"Unquestionably," Spock agreed. "Can you return their fire?"

Number One shook her head impatiently. "They'd cut through my shields before I could do any damage."

"Outgunned. Can we outrun them?" Kirk asked.

"My thoughts precisely, Captain Kirk. I would suggest you gentlemen strap in." Number One was already setting instruments.

"Excuse me," Theela, in the doorway, spoke hesitantly. "But may we know what is happening?"

"I'm sorry," Number One apologized. "Here." She whirled in the pilot's seat, touching a control which activated the screen partitioning the pilot's room. As it opened, Kirk saw that the Taurean women were wide-eyed with fright. But they sat quietly.

"Space pirates," Number One explained tersely. "They want my ship. They say," she sneered, "that they will spare our lives if we surrender it." A heavier charge shook the ship, and she wheeled back to her console. "Port shield is weakening," she commented.

The women shook off their rigor. "Space pirates!" "Hijackers!" "What will they do to us?"

Theela silenced the babble curtly. But Number One, at the console, seemed to droop. Then she turned back to them. "I am sorry," she said steadily. "I had not considered the position. I have no right to jeopardize your lives. Probably the pirates will keep their word if we surrender. There have been such cases."

Kirk stiffened, aching to protest. She was right, of course. But to surrender... Shut up, Kirk, he admonished himself. There are civilians an board. And it's not your ship.

"I will signal for surrender," Number One said dully. She reached for a control.

"Wait!" Theela snapped. "Is that what you wish?"

Number One turned back to face her, eyebrows lifted in question.

"Are we sheep? Sheep to be herded to the pen of our keepers?" Another charge hit; the shudder was more pronounced. But the women sat erect and defiant. Number One smiled.

"Hold on," she said casually.

The ship veered crazily. Kirk grabbed the console, holding with all his strength. Several of the women weren't braced; they went flying across the deck. The ship righted and Kirk started toward them. It veered again, and suddenly both he and Spock were at the bottom of a tangle. Quickly they sorted themselves out, got the women back and strapped them into the seats.

"Sorry," Number One said without contrition."But we took them by surprise. They're only now getting on an intercept course. Hold on."

Kirk grabbed for support. "How can you travel at warp speed with full shielding?" he demanded.

"Can't," Number One replied laconically. The ship veered again and the intense light of a phaser blast glowed outside the observation bubble. Instinctively, Kirk's hands went up to protect his eyes. Close.

"Can you outrun them?" Spock asked.

"No. Will you take the tracker?"

"Taking tracker," Spock acknowledged.

"There's an asteroid cluster at around two-nine-one. Can you pinpoint?"

"Two-nine-one, mark seven."

"Setting for two-nine-one, mark seven." It was Number One's last observation. She carried out her maneuvers in silence. Spock concentrated on the tracker. Kirk gripped the chair, sweating it out. He longed to demand data.

"Meteor shower," Spock warned.

"Understood," Number One replied. But she took no action to change course. Suddenly a buzzer sounded."Damage! Crack in port hull."

"Sealant?" Kirk demanded, already on his feet.

"Hull sealant functioning," Number One reported.

"I'll check the interior." Kirk grabbed a tricorder and was off on the words. He made a quick but thorough job, then sped back to the pilot's section. "Sealed," he reported.

Number One acknowledged with a nod. "Coming about," she reported. 'We have them:"

"How?" Kirk snapped.

"Our retreat through the meteor shower appears to have confused our pursuers," Spock reported. "We are now circling a Class Gamma asteroid. When we emerge, we will be behind them."

"Readying phasers," Number One said. It was an observation of pure satisfaction.

Headless of etiquette, Kirk stepped into the pilot's well, bracing himself against the back of Spock's chair. On the tiny screen was the image of a Federation scout ship.

"Firing!" Charge after charge, precisely directed, hit the ship's rear deck, seconds apart.

"Their screens are buckling," Spock reported.

"Right!" Number One firmed her own shields, then activated communications. "Your screens are gone," she told the pirate ship. "Prepare to--"

The image on the screen enlarged, then disappeared. The screen automatically backed down the intensity level, then restored it, leaving Kirk gazing mutely at the indifferent stars. There was silence.

"Well at least there's one less pirate ship," Number One observed after a moment.

Taking a deep breath, Kirk turned back to the women. "Anyone hurt?"

Theela was already unfastening her harness. "Darah hurt her arm," she reported, crossing to her. "Anyone else?" There was a chorus of concern and reassurance. Spock rose and hurried over to assist with Darah.

"It is not serious," he reported.

Kirk sank into the vacated co-pilot's seat, and looked over at Number One, who was coolly running a check on ship's system. "If you ever need a berth, ma'am..." he began.

"Thank you, Captain Kirk. But I resigned my commission five years ago, at the completion of my mission."

"Your mission?"

A smile tugged at the side of her mouth. "The question arose on Elissa, Captain Kirk, whether our civilization was missing too many advantages by remaining in isolation. It became necessary to weigh the possible benefits of closer contact against the possible dangers of bringing our culture to the notice of your male-dominated Federation. Since the questions were largely intangible, it was decided to send five young citizens to join in Federation life, participate in it, and experience the pressures it exerts on women. My assignment was Starfleet. For twenty standard years, I participated in that life as fully as any woman can. Then I resigned, and returned to Elissa to report."

"And you decided to remain in isolation."

She was silent.

"Why?"

"Most of the benefits we desire from the Federation can be obtained by trade and peripheral contact. We do not have to risk closer tips."

"But what risk would there be?"

"Perhaps none, Captain. But all of our participant-observers reported a latent tendency even in the most sensitive humanoid males to wish -- and even need -- to dominate women. Worrse, in the more advanced societies, this need to dominate is disguised, even at the unconscious level, as a need to protect. This hypocrisy makes a doubly difficult situation for women, who cannot fight the domination without feeling guilty for fighting."

"But women try to dominate men too," Kirk protested. "It's part of being human."

"That may be true, Captain. But this is a struggle we eliminated from our civilization generations ago. And we think it is better so." She looked at him frankly. "I would not expect you to agree."

Kirk was silent. There was no way he could win this argument. "Well." He summoned a smile. "Let us rejoice in our differences."

Number One nodded gravely. "That phrase is the hope of the Federation," she observed. "If it could be the reality, instead of just the hope..."

Kirk held up his hands in mock surrender, then turned back to study the vastness of space, miniaturized on the Elissan's tiny screen.

* * *

Kirk shifted irritably in his cramped seat, trying to change position without disturbing Spock. The Vulcan lay still, totally relaxed, willing his body to rest. Spock had offered to coach his Captain in the relaxation exercises he had taught him long ago. Then he had suggested a sedative. Twice rebuffed, he had sensibly turned off, leaving his Captain to stew.

Kirk didn't want to relax. He wanted to take their hostess by the hair and stuff her insults down her, making her swallow them, one by one. Why had he come on this trip? All he'd have to show for giving up a week of leave would be one beauty of a bellyache. The Taurean women would be offered asylum -- their bravery under fire must have assured that. Filled with Number One's anti-masculine propaganda, the women would accept -- Theela had already said so. And one James T. Kirk, having spent three days being politely but unsubtly shown the triumphs of a male-less civilization, would be sent back to his basket, to lick his wounds as best he might. What a way to spend a leave!

Still moving cautiously, he punched an order for a new tape. The silent efficiency of its delivery added to his annoyance. Some of the instrumentation on this Elissan-fitted craft was years ahead of Federation standard. Even of the Enterprise. And that rankled!

Tape in hand, he surveyed the craft. Number One had not reclosed the partition which separated the pilot well from the craft's interior -- another sign, Kirk suspected, of her increasing acceptance of the Taurean women. All systems on automatic, the Elissan slept in the pilot's chair, as neat and contained as a cat (watch it, Kirk!). Behind her, the Taurean women also slept, sprawled across the seats.

Darah shifted and moaned softly. Kirk eased past Spock, fetched the medikit, and went over to examine her. Spock had done a professional job of mending the arm broken during the attack, but there was nerve and tissue damage which would require better facilities. Probably the analgesic they had forced Darah to take had worn off. Kirk took a careful reading, gave the sleeping woman another dose, and tiptoed back. He closed off their section, sat down, and forced himself to concentrate on the tape.

The sound of a woman's voice brought Kirk to wakefulness. Number One was speaking -- apparently to ground control. The women were tiptoeing around, talking in whispers. Then one looked up and saw that he was awake, and immediately their cheerful babble broke out. They were excited, of course. But they were also happy. Kirk choked down his resentment and returned their joyful greetings.

Spock was checking Darah's arm. Kirk paused to be sure no help was needed, then stepped into the pilot well. "May I?" he asked politely.

Number One glanced up, then waved him to the co-pilot's chair with civil indifference.

Kirk whistled. "That's some force field," he commented.

"Most of our weapons outlay goes for shielding," Number One observed. Kirk bristled, but then forced himself to relax. If he read man hatred into every comment, he'd have a bad three days.

"May I put the screen on?"

"Certainly." Number One switched it on for him, getting there a split second before he did. But she allowed him to adjust it and made no objection when he turned it so Spock and the women could see.

To his surprise, there were no apparent restrictions or landing routines. Number One brought the craft dawn smoothly, hangared it, and ushered them into a groundcar. "First, the hospital," she said.

She left them in the hospital waiting area. But she was back by the time Darah was released. "They say I may go with you!" Darah reported in triumph.

"She would do better to remain in bed," the doctor said, following her out, "but she will come to no harm if she does not overdo."

"We'll see to it," Theela replied firmly. Then she turned to Number One. "May we go to the Nursery?"

"I have made arrangements for a tour this afternoon," Number One replied. "But first we are going to the Citizen's Museum. I believe that will be the best way to help you understand us."

The Museum seemed more school than exhibit. Each room had a few children, each accompanied by an adult. Kirk watched the dyads more than the exhibits. The little girls questioned eagerly; the women responded fully, often with questions designed to guide the children to the logical answer. Smiling, Kirk reached out to pat one little girl's head -- causing her to jump almost out of her skin and turned to Number One.

"Are these their -- er -- caretakers?"

She smiled at his hesitation. "We call them mothers, Captain. The lack of a biological bond means nothing compared to the psychological bonds."

"Our presence does not seem to interest the children," Spock observed.

"Oh, it does. But it is not etiquette for our citizens to disturb you. Will you come this way?"

One long hall had been cleared of Elissans. Number One led them to an exhibit case and Kirk saw it was the first in a series of holograms. "This is what we believe about our history," Number One began formally.

"In prehistoric times, Elissan men and women lived together in harmony, fighting together for survival. The men, with their greater physical strength, presumably hunted, and tilled the fields. The women, restrained by the demands of childbearing, were less mobile. The earliest records indicate that polygamy was the common practice, since even then there were fewer men than women. But the sexes were interdependent, and worked together as they lived together."

Number One motioned the women to the next case. Kirk lingered, studying the figures. Facial expressions were suggested rather than presented, but each figure gave the sensation of inner life and intelligence -- the men as well as the women. Curiosity rising, he hurried past four cases to catch up with the group.

" ...Richter Level C -- corresponding to the Middle Ages of Western Terran history, or the Age of Empresses on Vulcan. Even for this period, records are scarce. But more and more, it is believed, the men were turning their attention to warfare. The women still remained behind. As a result, though legally they were chattels, in fact, women amassed wealth and, more important, learned the skills of a developing technology.

"The discovery of the Outer Continent in 5561 crystallized this development. It was the men of the Old World who fought to subdue the aboriginal inhabitants of that continent. Warfare became their way of life. And although that warfare was based on the developing technology, it was for the most part the women, left behind in the Old World, who were not only the inventors, the builders, and the craftswomen, but the priestesses, healers, poets...

"You must understand," Number One broke off lecturing, "that I am giving you only a rapid overview of a process that took generations. There were many men who remained in the Old World. There were many women who accompanied their men to the Outer Continent. No sexual schism was recognized as yet. With the separation of function, however, came the beginnings of that schism.

"Also you must know that the population balance was shifting. With every generation the Old World was producing more females and fewer males. There is a genetic tendency in my race toward conceiving females. It may also be that male infanticide was practiced among certain family groups, though there is no record to confirm this.

"Population trends in the Outer Continent showed the opposite trend. It is estimated that by the year 6000 -- that is, roughly four hundred standard years ago -- the population of the Outer Continent was 100 million, of whom roughly 65 million were males. These figures include the soldiers, nominally citizens of the Old World, as inhabitants of the Outer Continent. By now they had more in common with the people they fought than they did with the women whose efforts fueled their wars. On both sides, men were supreme. The women on the Outer Continent were little more than breeding machines. Uneducated, and interested only in warfare and its barbarous accomplishments, they bore child after child, often as many as fifteen. The Old World, much smaller and less productive in that sense, had a permanent population of roughly 50 million, with 20 million males.

"During this generation, the tide of the war began to turn. The technology of the Old World troops was superior, but their weapons began to fall into the hands of the aborigines, who learned to use them. They also had the advantage of sheer numbers. Slowly, the troops of the Old World were forced back to the coast. In 6503 the Battle of Karn was fought. Sola, leader of the Old World troops, was defeated and cut off. In this emergency, the women of the Old World used, for the first time in warfare, a discovery they had been exploring. The troops were rescued by air, and the Outer World armies were driven back from their coast.

"Sola returned to the Old World, to which he owed allegiance and his life, for the first time. For days he toured our country, loud in his praises of the women's accomplishments. Then, wit his arrogance totally superseding his understanding, he struck.

"You must know that most of us Elissans had, by that time outgrown the primitive worship of gynomorphic goddesses. But some of the old forms retained a symbolic importance. Sola went to Creusa, the head of the Sisters of the Womb, on the day of the public display of the relics, and demanded the Girdle of the Omphthalos. Creusa and the Sisters refused. Sola attacked.

"It is believed by our historians that Sola expected the men of the Old World to rally to his cause. Actually, only about 1 per cent did so but among the traitors was Varian, a brilliant but unstable member of our Science Council. There was a brief battle. Sola and his followers were defeated, and they fled by ship back to the coast of the Outer Continent. Our people let them go, believing that would end the matter.

"But in 6510 Sola met with Tvi, the leader of the barbarians, and formed an alliance. Now the barbarian hordes, fired by Sola's tales of wealth and advanced technology, began to plan for an invasion of the Old World.

"Our people were unaware -- complacent. Sola and Varian prepared, undisturbed. The invasion began in 6512. We managed to push it back, but for the next five years, we fought for our very survival against tremendous odds.

"The end of the story is simple, and not unknown in other worlds. Both sides were working on the atomic bomb. Our side used it first."

Theela was first to the next hologram. She peered in eagerly and recoiled. Kirk closed his eyes for a moment, and even Spock seemed to grasp for control. Number One let the group takes its own pace through the horrors of the next exhibits, waiting for them in front of a life-sized status of a woman.

"The decision to use the atomic bomb was made by the then leader of the Sisters, Elissa. The decision was made reluctantly, but in the conviction that if the weapon were not used by us, it would soon be used against us. One bomb was dropped as a warning on the coast of the Outer Continent. This warning was countered by the launching of another invasion. Three more bombs were dropped. Radiation sickness and pollution did the rest. By 6515, the Outer Continent was a barren wasteland, as it remains today."

Number one fell silent again, letting the aliens examine the holograms at their own pace. Kirk studied the male figures again, feeling the profound sadness that seemed to have permeated Number One's lecture. Finally he turned to the statute in the center. "Who is that?"

"Elissa, leader of our people from 6509 to 6540. It was she who made the decision that saved our civilization."

"What does the inscription say?"

"It is from her best-known speech, in which she announced the use of the weapon. ' The responsibility is mine, and mine alone.'"

Kirk studied the statute and its noble, tragic face. What a waste. What a bloody waste. Impulsively, he moved to Spock's side. Spock stood rigid, looking unseeingly at a globe encased in still another hologram. The little world turned slowly, suspended in isolation, beautiful, and tempty.

Kirk shook himself. "What is this?"

"This slows the weather conditions natural to our planet. It was these atmospheric currents which protected the Old World from the worst of the fallout."

"So your people escaped?"

"No, indeed, Captain. That generation of our own people was decimated. Furthermore, the percentage of normal births dropped from 98 to 32 over the succeeding five years."

"Is that when you turned to parthenogenesis?"

"Yes. The technique ensured the survival of our people. The last natural birth on Elissa occurred in 6523. The last Elissan male died in 6545."

Spock still stood in front of the suspended globe. "Was it worth it?" he asked.

Number One stiffened. "An untestable question, Mr. Spock. But our people and our culture survived. Fifty years after the war's end, we developed interplanetary travel. By 6652 our scientists--"

"I do not question the accomplishments of your civilization," Spock interrupted quietly.

Number One led them to the door in silence.

Theela went to Jim outside the museum and slipped her arm through his. She was trembling, and Kirk squeezed her arm fiercely. "You cannot stay here," he whispered. "You are not like these harpies."

She shook her head. "It was a long time ago, Jim." He kept a tight hold on her all the way to the shuttlecar and she leaned on him, grateful for the contact. But when they got to the car, she stepped in alone, proudly erect. Number One gave an order and the automatic vehicle took off.

"This is our Nursery," Number one announced a few minutes later. The women crowded out eagerly. And from then on, it was baby's day. The women simply couldn't get enough of the infants. Kirk pulled out early and went out to the shuttlecar. Spock was already there. The two men exchanged a look, then sat in silence. By the time the women rejoined them, it was dusk.

Kirk remained silent, virtually ignored, through dinner. The women chattered excitedly about the infants, recalling this dimple, and that curly hair. Number One sat composed, faintly amused. Kirk caught her eye once. She met his stare levelly until he disengaged. He took care not to catch her eye again.

But after the meal, he detached Theela from the group and took her away for a walk. She was attentive, almost sympathetic.

"Has Number One invited you to settle here?" Kirk asked.

"Yes, Jim. And I have accepted."

"So. You think you can't come to terms with men. And because you won't even try, you'll settle here on this--"

"Jim, it's not like that," Theela interrupted quickly. She went to him and gave him a quick kiss. "You'll understand," she said gently, and then ran back to the group.

* * *

Two days later, Kirk was looking forward to the end of their stay with savage eagerness. He and Spock had been shown -- very thoroughly -- the accomplishments of Elissa. The extraordinarily sophisticated instrumentation. The techniques which had almost eradicated the pollutants from what they called "The Man's War." The advanced medical methods. The social equality, of a kind, possible only in a small and homogeneous society. Again and again these excellences had been pointed out, and politely but unsubtly contrasted to the short-comings of the male-dominated Federation worlds. Enough, Kirk thought, was sufficient. By now he no longer cared that the Taurean women had been offered full citizenship and had accepted the offer. All he wanted was to get out himself, before these women's constant putdowns separated him from his company manners.

"Captain!" Number One cut into his thoughts. "There is still one important installation you have not seen: our fetal laboratories. Would you like to go out this afternoon?"

Kirk had seen fetal laboratories on other worlds. They always afflicted him with a vague crawling sensation. Number One noticed his hesitation. "Or is it too unpleasant for you to see a male-free reproductive system?"

"It does bother me," he said honestly. "But I would like to see it."

"Good. Mr. Spock is to meet us there in half an hour."

Kirk snorted, but followed her out the door.

"You know, Number One," he said as they traveled toward the labs,"I can understand that your history has prejudiced your people against men. But has it occurred to you that all men, everywhere, might not be the arrogant conquerors your tradition describes?"

"Of course, Captain. That is why we sent the team to the Federation."

"And did you encounter such blatant arrogance in Starfleet? After all, we have women captains now and even a Vice Admiral--"

"Blatant, Captain?" Number One interrupted. "No. Not blatant. Worse. Much worse. Your societies -- your cultures -- are so permeated with male arrogance that you don't even recognize it for what it is!"

"Oh, come on."

"Do you remember what I said the other day? That on Elissa, we value the feminine virtues? In your language, there is no such thing. Etymologically, a virtue is masculine!"

"Oh, forpetesake--"

"Every aspect of your culture is male-dominated. You allow women to participate, yes. But from the cradle, your women are taught that they must first be women. And once having absorbed that self-concept, they are no further threat to you."

"I'm not threatened by--"

"No, of course not. Because when you deal with a Federation woman, you know that the most important thing in her life is your opinion of her. As a woman! Captain Kirk, you have one of the best communications officers in the Fleet. But she's a woman. When you look at her, do you see a competent officer? Or do you see a nice piece of ass?"

Kirk shut his teeth on his reply.

"I don't mean it's your fault," Number One told kindly. "Probably it is instinctive. But basically, any male sees any female in just one way. As a sexual slave."

"Now see here!"

"Oh, there is no need for you to be upset, Captain. It's not your fault. As I say, it's instinctive.. But here on Elissa, we are free of that..."

"All right! So it's instinctive! So I see women as sexy! What's so horrible about that? They see me as sexy, too, you know. At least, I certainly hope they do."

"But to a man sexual gratification is linked with conquering."

"Sometimes."

"Sometimes! Why do you try to deny it? Inside, Captain. It may be well buried, but it's there. Somewhere inside, there's a cave man. And that cave man is nothing less than a rapist."

"I never--"

"I don't say you did. But deep down, you'd love to. It's inevitable. Your ancestors were--"

"Cave men? Apes? So what? Some of my ancestors were cannibals. Maybe some of yours were too. Does that mean at some level--"

"We're here. This way, please."

"The hell with the lab! You know what you are?"

Number One swept toward the door. Kirk followed her, too angry to curb his tongue. "Your whole society! You're cowards! You've gotten this tiny corner just the way you want it. But it's super-clean. Plastic! You women can't even soil your hands tending your own babies! What are you afraid of, anyway? Getting your hair mussed?!"

Number One strode on in silence, leaving Kirk red-faced and fuming. She left him in an anteroom, where Spock was waiting. Kirk stepped over to the Vulcan.

"Trouble, Captain?"

"Just a friendly argument, Mr. Spock," Kirk said bitterly and kicked a handy counter.

"Indeed." Spock's tone was very cold and Kirk looked at him curiously. "You, too?"

"I ventured to suggest a modification in the shuttlecar. By adopting the Fellini design, they could increase power utilization by approximately 13 per cent."

"So?"

"My guide suggested that I verify my calculations with one of their engineers."

"Bitch!"

As if an cue, Number One reappeared in the doorway. "The labs are this way, gentlemen."

Kirk went reluctantly, still angry. He barely looked at the fetuses, neatly contained in their sealed artificial wombs. He barely listened to Number One's lecture. A baby farm was a baby farm. And her talk was just as predigested as everything else on this homogenized planet. Well by tomorrow, he'd be so far away from this...

"Efficient." Spock's measured tone cut into his thoughts. "But hardly original. These are exactly like the incubators on Cygnet 14, which are studied by every academy plebe as an example of a computer-maintained environment."

"Of course." Did Number One sound chagrined? Kirk felt a small triumph. "Nevertheless..."

Number One's communicator buzzed. She excused herself, opened it and listened to a coded message. Then she smiled apologetically. "Will you excuse me? There is something wrong with the computer here. Feel free to look around. I shall return shortly."

"May I be of assistance?" Spock asked politely.

"I doubt it," she told him sweetly and left.

Kirk exchanged an eyebrow lift with Spock and found a seat.

"I do not understand Number One," Spock remarked, sitting down next to him. "She never used to be so abrasive."

"Probably just keeping her cover," Kirk snapped. He was in no mood to discuss the Elissan women. "God! I can't wait to get out of here. I wonder why--"

A loud alarm bell interrupted him. Kirk started and looked around the empty lab. Suddenly he realized that there were no technicians in the room.

"I wonder where everyone is?"

Spock was surveying the long lines of sealed plastic containers. "They must be monitoring the problem at the central controls." It seemed to Kirk that his voice lacked some of its usual certainty.

"Number One said there was a problem with the computer." Kirk rose and began to pace. The alarm still shrilled, assaulting his nerves. "I wonder what can be wrong."

"The temperature, Captain!" Spock exclaimed suddenly. He pointed to an indicator, and as Kirk looked, the Federation-style gauge dropped a half degree, almost into the danger zone. Alarmed, Kirk trotted to the intercom. Again and again he signaled. There was no response.

"Where is everybody?"

"Captain, if the present rate of cooling continues, these fetuses cannot survive."

"Can you stop it?"

"Negative."

"Get to the control room! Find somebody. And see if you can help."

"Acknowledged." Spock was gone. Kirk stood at the intercom, signaling fruitlessly. Logic told him the technicians had to be working on the problem from another room. But as he watched, the indicator dopped into the danger zone.

"The incubator temperature has dropped into the danger zone!" he shouted. "Mayday! Assistance!" There was no answer. Feverishly he tried to recall academy biology. How long could the babies stand the lowered temperature? "Is anyone there? Help!" The indicator was sinking fast now. Forcing himself to calm down, he calculated temperature and time. There was no time left. Even if they fixed the problem right ow, they'd lose most of this generation before they could get the temperature up. Deliberately, he drew his hand phaser.

"Captain!" Number One stood in the doorway, smiling.

"The temperature's dropped seven degrees in five minutes!" he yelled. "We've got to stop it."

"Captain, there is--"

"Get out of here! Run!" He took careful aim.

"Wait! Captain!"

"There's no time. Get out of here!" Kirk took a deep breath and fired.

Instantly the coolant vapor gushed from the ruptured tubing. For a second, Number One stared at it in horror. Then she grabbed the arm Kirk was reaching to her. Bending low, they ran together toward the door.

Number One, unprepared for the vapor blast, was already coughing and gagging. Kirk pulled her toward the exit. Just short of the door, he too was forced to breathe. The vapor clutched at his

throat, but the door activated and he managed to shove the woman through it. Arms grasped him and pulled him to safety, and he collapsed, sucking in great breaths of air.

"Get your ventilators revved up," he ordered between gasps. "Then you should have plenty of time to mend the break and replace your coolant."

"Thank you, Captain." Even now Number One managed to sound faintly amused. "We'll manage." Spock was holding out an inhaler. Kirk took it gratefully, and for some time thereafter concentrated on breathing.

"Blood oxygenation normal, Captain," Spock said finally.

Kirk relinquished the inhaler cautiously and sat up. "The incubator?"

"The situation is under control. How do you feel?"

"All right. I didn't get much of the stuff. How's Number One?" Spock indicated her with a gesture.

Number One lay on the knees of an older woman who held the inhaler for her, stroking her hair. The woman was watching the men with the impersonal politeness characteristic of the Elissans, but she softened as she read the anxiety in their faces. "She will be all right," she assured them, and Number One raised her hand to gesture an okay.

"I'm sorry," Kirk said sincerely. "There was no time."

A peal of feminine laughter answered him and he jumped, looking around. He was surrounded by the smock-coated technicians, all laughing. Even Number One and her comforter were grinning at him. Uncomfortably, he rose to his feet and drew himself to attention.

"Captain." The women on the floor was speaking. "It is we who owe you an apology. Please believe that your strategy, remarkably effective though it was, never occurred to us. If we had thought there was any possibility of danger to you, we would never have designed our test in this way."

"Test?" Suddenly Kirk realized that he was towering over the speaker, and he dropped to one knee beside her.

"Yes." The woman blushed, but she met his eyes squarely. "And if you will, I should like to shake your hand."

Wordlessly, Kirk extended it. The woman grasped it like a child grasping a nettle, but then she held it. "We do apologize," she repeated.

"Well," Kirk grinned, "you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs." Euphorically, he gave Number One a friendly cuff on the shoulder. "And that was some omelette! Lord, what a time you put us through!"

"Do you understand?"

"I'm beginning to. But forpetesake, did you really think we'd allow a whole generation of women--"

"No, Captain, not really. But most of us have never seen a man, and have known the male only through the possibly distorted traditions of our culture. We had to make sure."

"So you picked me to represent the male of your fantasies. The arrogant, overbearing--"

Number One stirred indignantly, reaching over to remove the inhaler. But the older woman held it firmly over her face. "No, Captain. We felt sure that your innate humanitarianism would win out. But it was necessary to demonstrate that, beyond doubt."

"Hump," Kirk grunted, suspecting a snow job. "So you rigged the indicator to show a non-existent temperature drop, and watched to see what I'd do."

"Yes." The woman had the grace to look sheepish. "And you acted." She smiled. "You gave us a busy five minutes, Captain."

Kirk snorted again. But glowing with the consciousness of rectitude, he couldn't really stay angry. "Well, now that you've demonstrated that the representative Federation male won't automatically try to destroy you, what now?"

"The Council meets next month. If the straw vote that was taken during the last session holds, we will apply to join the Federation."

"Good! Some of your instrumentation is years ahead of the Federation's."

"It will be made available. But we have more to offer the Federation than that, Captain Kirk."

"More'"

"The Outer Continent. An area the size of your North America, Captain! Our earth sciences have brought the pollutants down to a tolerable level, and it is becoming habitable once more. But we do not have the resources or the population to reclaim it. It could be a home for millions."

"Indeed," Spock concurred. "But if you open yourselves to colonization, or even contact, your culture will change. You cannot prevent that."

"We do not wish to prevent it, Mr. Spock. Change is growth. If we do not accept that, we are in danger of stagnating in the backwater of fear and selfishness. We have much to offer the galaxy. And the galaxy has much to offer us."

"Including male arrogance," Spock cautioned.

"Including male arrogance, Mr. Spock. My daughter..." She smiled down at Number One. "...and the other observers reported that it does indeed exist. But we are not helpless before it. That is the lesson our whole history teaches us, except for the propaganda generated during the Men's War. Women can be dominated by men only if they choose to be."

Kirk grinned at her. "Something I've always suspected," he teased.

"And a damn good thing, too," Number One retorted, removing the inhaler.

"Captain." Spock sounded distressed. "Madam. No doubt the dynamic tension which is the normal relationship of the genders will be re-established here. But must you do it today?"

Gravely, Spock stretched his hand out to Number One. She took it, smiling at him, and allowed him to help her up. "May we together become greater than the sum of both of us," he intoned Number One nodded agreement and he helped her toward the door.

"Yes." Kirk joined them. "And I, for one, rejoice in our differences," he added wickedly, looking pointedly down at one of them.

Number One stiffened. "Captain Kirk," she replied with great dignity, "the fact that my anatomy differs from yours -- pleases me immensely!"

Spock pulled Number One's arm through his and hurried her out the door, outrage stiffening every muscle. He would never understand the human sense of humor, he knew. But was it really consistent with the dignity of a starship captain -- to giggle?

THE END