DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Cheryl Rice and is copyright (c) 1976 by Cheryl Rice. Rated G. Originally published in Tal-Shaya #4, 1976.
Fleurs du Mal
"Sulu, if the Captain sees you with that thing on the bridge he'll have a fit. Get it out of here!" Uhura made shooing gestures as she tried to convince her helmsman friend of his peril.
"Don't worry ... he and the rest of the senior officers are getting ready for the banquet. Besides, I thought you'd want to see her ... isn't she cute?"
The communications officer abandoned hope of carrying on her duties in anything approaching normal fashion and turned her attention to the box being held by the beaming man in front of her. Actually the container itself was not all that enthralling, being pale brown and composed of what seemed to be something similar to woven bamboo.
But the content ... now that was a matter for at least momentary interest. Nestled in the foot-square box was what looked to be an ordinary flower pot, dull red in color, and in it had to be one of the most gorgeous flowering plants the Bantu woman had ever seen. The blossoms were similar to that of certain orchids except that no plant of Earth had ever bloomed with the hues this one flaunted. While Uhura watched, dark eyes wide in surprise, the colors on the petals slowly changed. Pink turning green, then to blue. It was a subtly dazzling display; every color more beautiful than the next.
In the passenger quarters, decks below, a slight figure wakes from a nap and makes its way to stand before the dresser. The mirror is small but it wishes to check its appearance. Although basically humanoid, some of the proportions are slightly different ... the arms and legs a shade too long and thin. Different yes, but not unattractive to human eyes. The being checks a nearby chronometer then nods in satisfaction. Time to begin preparing. Must be in the most appealing state possible.
Jars are opened and a cleansing jelly is spread over the facial area. The features are basically standard but a human observer would undoubtedly notice the irises of the being's eyes that surround the dark blue, oval pupils. They glow slightly and change constantly in color ... every color of the rainbow and some that are not even included. The effect is almost hypnotically attractive.
Uhura finally found her voice. "Oh, it's gorgeous! Can I hold it?" She reached out eagerly for the box only to discover to her chagrin that the plant actually shrank back and somehow managed to chitter at her angrily.
Sulu made soothing noises and after peace had been restored, deigned to explain ... a bit smugly to his companion. "Sorry, I should have told you. They don't like women. Anyway that's what they told us down there." There was the mist-swathed planet the Enterprise was now orbiting. "They went into a lot of detail on the matter. They are very delicate and get upset easily so they need one person for each of them who will be responsible for their well-being through the whole trip. Since Dr. McCoy knew I liked plants anyway he thought I'd be a good choice for the job and it seems to have turned out great. Annabelle and I have really hit it off, haven't we?" At this point Sulu broke off intelligible conversation to coo at his new pet.
Uhura restrained herself from telling her friend how silly he looked and contented herself with taking out her communications earpiece and then putting it back in place. That activity palling quickly, she ran over in her mind the details of the current situation.
Actually there weren't all that many to run. The Enterprise was currently here at Bartell 4 to establish diplomatic relations with a civilization that had been first contacted only seven standard months earlier. The intelligent beings the planet could provide were reasonably friendly. They placed rather low on the usual scale of industrialization but had one thing the Federation needed ... the knowledge of how to grow food stuffs practically without any free water. Several semi-desert worlds wanted that information badly, so after studying the situation, it was decided by Star Fleet that the Prime Directive (that most elastic of laws) did not apply and the Enterprise had been sent to talk matters over.
Due to some abnormality in the planet's atmosphere, visual contact had proved impossible from the ship so a team had beamed down to the surface two days earlier. The leaders of the Barts (as some wag had nick-named them) were smart enough to see the advantages of aligning themselves with the Federation. Their science had taken them as far as it could; they needed and wanted assistance. There was a universe out there, but without help they could never take their place in it. Whatever that place might be... The offer of aid was most attractive -- to become part of an organization was infinitely preferable to being conquered. So the bargain was struck.
Since preliminary discussions had proved so fruitful, it was decided higher level talks could be continued at leisure on the nearest Starbase. So the Enterprise was once more scheduled to serve as an interstellar taxi.
A group of Barts, both male and female, had been invited to make the trip and had eagerly accepted the offer. The ship would soon be heading for Starbase 4 at normal cruising speed.
In honor of their guests, the Enterprise brass was holding a semiformal dinner ... one of those affairs where the good Doctor McCoy would be forced to suffer the indignity of a dress uniform collar.
That thought struck Uhura as she watched Sulu verbally caressing the plant-creature he was holding. So why was he in his regular uniform and why, for that matter, was that thing on the ship in the first place?
When she could finally obtain his attention she asked her second question first. Sulu, for once allowing his usual smile to fade, tried to come up with a logical answer ... which was difficult since no one had given him a logical reason either.
However Star Fleet encourages independent thought, to a certain degree, so the helmsman had formed a theory of his own. "I'm not sure exactly how anyone got interested enough to want to bring them along. You'd have to ask Mr. Spock, but from what I heard he was walking around in the city down there, being given a tour or something, and he noticed some of these little beauties growing in a garden or park of some sort. Even he was struck by them ..." Sulu paused, as if in awe of their loveliness.
"Please don't start talking to it again." Uhura was beginning to fear she was never going to find out the whole story. "After he was 'struck' ... then what?"
"Oh." Sulu returned to the present. "Well, you know how curious he can get about anything the least strange. So he asked his guides about the plants and they were happy to tell him all they could. It seems this variety is something between a plant and an animal ... at least that's how our science would classify it. The Barts have bred them for thousands of years for their beauty ... sort of like before the Eugenics Wars on Earth, the Japanese bred goldfish. The Barts are very proud of these beauties."
Uhura sensed there was more to this whole situation than was readily discernable ... had to be. Spock was not going to be all this smitten by a plant ... no matter how lovely it might be. "Okay so far. Now what else is so fascinating about them? How many of those things do we have on board anyway?"
"I'd say ten or twelve. I'm not sure exactly. Anyway, there's no big mystery about the plants. There is some evidence that the Barts may have evolved from something very much like these ... uh, creatures ... and for that reason Mr. Spock thought they might be worthy of further study. The Barts seemed to be flattered we were taking so much interest in the matter."
Uhura looked at the contents of the box skeptically. It seemed to her most unlikely that any humanoid, intelligent life-form could ever evolve from that. Then as she looked at "Annabelle" carefully, she thought she could almost imagine the upper stems of greenish black as arms and the top blossoms did have the look of a head held gracefully on a long, slender neck. Suddenly uneasy, she tried to laugh at her own fancy.
In the cabin below, the being's face is now clean and make-up is being applied. The huge eyes are even more luminous from the color that surrounds them so delicately, the lips a darker rose. The creature stands in front of the mirror admiring her own reflections. Then loosening the shoulder length hair she begins to brush it. Soon it falls in perfect order around her heart-shaped face. Too perfect ... she shakes her head and the mass now tumbles in exquisite disarray. Tiny tendrils frame her face, gracefully. The lights of the room reveal greenish sheen in the strands' black depths.
"Well, your pet is really a beauty. Now why don't you go feed it or something?" Uhura did not admit, even to herself, that she found the thing making her uncomfortable.
"It doesn't need it. Only eats every week or so they said. And even then it gets most of its nutrients from the soil ... just like a geranium or something. But every now and then ..." Sulu paused dramatically.
Uhura decided to play along. "I'll bet it eats a virgin!"
"No." Even he had to laugh. "They feed it some sort of animal protein ... makes its petals brighter or something. Besides, if it needed virgins to survive, the poor thing could starve to death on this ship."
Before Uhura could make a suitable retort, her communications board buzzed for attention and she returned to her duties. "Bridge, Uhura here."
"Good, you're still there." The familiar voice of the Captain answered, sounding rather strained.
"Yes, sir. I'm on duty for two more hours." Schedules had been shuffled due to the prolonged layover while the talks continued but she was sure he knew she was working this shift.
"Two more ... well, get a replacement and get down to Rec Room Z as fast as you can."
"But, but why ... sir?"
"Because, Lieutenant ... it seems our visitors, the male ones at least, prefer female dinner companions. I'm not sure of all the ramifications but they seemed upset that we will be here as partners for their women and they will be left to their own devices. There's no time for explanations. Just get down here. From what I understand they are real music lovers so you're a natural. I have other things to do, other people to call. So get hold of your relief and get down here on the double."
Before he could break off Uhura hastened to assure him of her compliance with his wishes. "Right away, sir. It will only take me a minute to get Lt. Bryant up here and go to my cabin and change clothes.'
"No, Lieutenant. We don't have time for that. Your uniform will be fine. Hurry!"
"But, sir ..."
"Uhura, that was not a request. Kirk out."
The woman sat for a moment in blank disarray then quickly began tracking down her elusive relief. Finally locating the man, she informed him of her problem and he promised to be on the bridge as soon as he could make it. That chore done, she stood up to stretch her legs and try to smooth out her wrinkled skirt.
"Oh, just look at me ... I'm a mess. Do you s'pose the Captain would know if I stopped off at my cabin for a minute ... ?"
Sulu was nodding his head, somewhere between amusement and sympathy. "He would know ... he always knows. And he doesn't sound like he's in too good a mood right now anyway. You look fine ... besides if those women are half as lovely as they are said to be ..."
"Oh no, not another one of those alien races where the women have some sort of super powers ... like Elasian tears. I don't think I can take it." Uhura's normally dulcet tones held the edge of a wail. At her best she felt she could compete on an even basis with any human. But in her uniform and against some alien enchantress ...
"No, it's nothing like that. In fact I don't think any of our people have seen more than a glimpse of them. You know how these stories start."
At this time the bridge elevator doors whooshed open to reveal the much wished for Bryant and in less time than it takes to tell, Uhura and Sulu were in its familiar depths and heading for their destination.
In the cabin below ... a dress is being drawn over petal soft skin the exact hue of ripe wheat in mid-day sunshine. The cloth is the vivid green of new leaves and has been selected to complement the highlights in the figure's hair. Long strangely supple fingers work the garment's fastenings and pale green slippers are adjusted on the delicate, slender feet. The figure -- fully ready -- checks itself over, then nods in satisfaction in a curiously human fashion. But a human woman would notice the figure does not use any perfume. Her kind needs none. Leaving the cabin, she finds an elevator and directs it, using the Universal Translator, to her destination.
"You know, Sulu, there's still something I don't understand ... Why are we taking a plant to dinner? Or is it feeding time?"
"She's going because I'm going and she is to stay with me all the time. The Barts were very definite about that. These plants droop or something if they aren't around some sort of an intelligence that is interested in them. They are very delicate. That's why I didn't change into my dress uniform. Mr. Spock thought it might upset Annabelle since she really isn't acclimated yet."
"I had no idea he was so thoughtful. Who all has one?"
"Dr. McCoy, the Captain, McWilliams and Johnston in Medical Services. I don't know the whole list."
Uhura continued the conversation absently, worrying a bit about the upcoming meal. She was used to 'singing for her supper' so to speak, but why did these men want women companions for this banquet ... what all did they do at a meal like this at home? Well, that was the Captain's problem. She turned her thoughts back to Sulu's pet. "Doesn't Mr. Spock have one of those things to baby-sit? After all, the whole thing seems to have been his idea."
"No ... he didn't pass whatever test it is the guardians have to pass. He isn't emotionally affected by their beauty like we are, of course. Just intellectually. And apparently that isn't enough."
At the correct deck an elevator door opens and the slight figure steps out warily. Seeing a tall, blue-shirted figure walking along the corridor she hurries to catch up. "Please ... where is the meeting place?"
The translator forms her sounds into words, clear yet foreign in inflection. The figure in front of her turns in mild surprise and surveys her exquisite form with detached clinical interest. "The next door to your left, Madame." Her beauty is noted, stored and dismissed. He gives a polite nod and continues on his way.
The female figure stands silent, momentarily stunned behind her impassive demeanor. This is not the response she had been taught to expect. Then she walks to the correct doorway and glides into the room ... noting with satisfaction that several of her stem-mates have already arrived. Each is surrounded by an eager group of Federation males. Each is lovelier than the next.
"Well, I'm glad you have Annabelle and not me." The elevator seemed to be crawling to Uhura. "There's something spooky about them. And why did you name her, I mean it, that anyway?"
"That's what she looks like. And they aren't strange at all. In the wild they attract insects and other small creatures with their scent and flowers. It's a relatively common evolutionary pattern. Even on Earth ... you know, like the Venus Flytrap."
"These remind me more of a plant I saw once on Epsilon Canaris 4. In fact they looked a lot like these except that they were much bigger, the size of small trees. They were horrible. They attract and poison things they couldn't even eat. They just killed for the fun of it."
"You are being very unscientific. Plant-life can't do something like that."
"Yes, it can ... if it's intelligent." This was accompanied by a look, full of meaning, from Uhura's flashing eyes.
A bit uneasy, Sulu tried to change the subject. "I don't know about all that but these couldn't hurt anything bigger than a butterfly." A slight pause, then they were finally at their deck and the elevator doors sprang open. As the two crewmembers hurried down the hall, they could hear party sounds in the distance.
Before they went in, Sulu, ever curious, for one last time returned to the subject of plants. "I'll have to look up that tree you mentioned. What was its name?"
"I'm not sure of the scientific one but the people there called it Fleur du Mal or Evil Flower. You know, just because something is attractive to look at doesn't mean automatically that it is good. I bet if the Klingons were as cuddly as tribbles they would have conquered us years ago. Our defenses would be down."
Before Sulu could comment they were in the party group. Uhura saw no other crew women and was about to mention this to her companion when she realized his attention was riveted on something over her shoulder. She turned to see what had to be one of the alien women coming at them. The Bantu was quickly scrutinized and then obviously dismissed as unimportant.
A smile, singular both for its sweetness and its guile flickered across the golden-skinned creature's face as she came up to Sulu who (Uhura was to remember later) looked as if he had just been hit over the head with a blunt instrument.
She heard the alien woman say something to the helmsman then the two moved off. Sulu murmured a question, asking her name, and the answer came back softly, "Anana."
Furious at being so cavalierly abandoned, Uhura looked around the crowded room for another companion. There must be someone who would pay her some attention. The area was set up for an elaborate meal. Two long tables were set with the best dishes ship's stores could provide and there was the smell of good food. The dull gleam of silver vied for attention with the starred gleam of crystal glasses. It was quite a sight. But all the men, all wearing those slightly stunned expressions were occupied. Uhura had the sudden feeling that she had ceased to exist. "I bet," she mused in exasperation, "that I could walk around here naked and with my hair on fire and no one would even notice."
Luckily for all concerned, before such extremes were called for a diversion appeared. Several of the visiting male "Barts" made their entrance. They were mostly elderly men, balding and heavy but there were several ... several who were not old at all.
One of them caught sight of Uhura and came directly up to where she was standing, moving with a lithe, easy grace. He was quite tall, his skin a darker gold than the female's had been. He was wearing grey, soft-leather boots and form-fitting green trousers and a tunic open to his waist. He had on much more jewelry than human males of Uhura's acquaintance ever wore but it only seemed to emphasize his almost excessive virility. He was truly a magnificent creature and from the look on his handsome face he found the sight of the Communications Officer much to his taste.
In a different age she would have been equipped with a fan and she would have fluttered it flirtatiously ... as it was she made do with her eyelashes. Her name was asked, small talk about the ship and crew exchanged. Though she didn't realize it, she was wearing the same silly look the human males had had earlier.
Time passed quickly and pleasantly, other people entered the room, the buzz of discussion grew.
Finally the Captain called for attention and everyone moved toward the tables. Uhura noticed that each of the few human women in attendance had one of the alien males hovering around and a part of her mind warned her that something was wrong somewhere, but her senses bade her relax and soak in all this masculine attention. What could possibly be wrong with this? The eager, enticing look in his eyes ... the feel of his long-fingered, cool hands ...
Then suddenly she was afraid. Things were moving too fast. She caught sight of Spock at the other, far end of the table. There was a look of faint amusement on his face at the folly of emotional humans. The woman took a sip of water and tried to control her fancies. She sternly told herself that she was being silly ... these were rational, intelligent humanoids who were just trying to be friendly. They obviously had no relation at all to those vicious plants she had seen once who attracted then killed for the pleasure of it.
Determined to channel her thoughts into a more pleasant direction she asked her attentive companion what she hoped was a neutral question. "I saw one of your women earlier ... that one." She motioned discreetly at the girl who was now seated between an enraptured Sulu and an equally smitten Scott. "She said that her name was Anana. Does that have any special meaning in your language?"
The man thought for a moment. "The transfer into your tongue is difficult, but I believe it could mean something like Fragrance."
"And yours?" Uhura was telling herself this was all scientific curiosity but in reality she wanted to know for herself.
"Mine? Khalilah ... let me think. The word does not precisely exist in your language. It would have a meaning somewhere between beauty and desire, I believe."
Right then something told her, though for some reason it did not seem important at the time, that the Federation was going to find out that there were other talents the natives of Bartell 4 had to trade. Ones of more importance than their agricultural skills. That there were other ways to be dangerous than by making threats with phasers and other ways to be conquerors than by waging war.
And as we all know, it would be pleasant but untruthful to record that she was wrong.