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) 1981 by Johanna Cantor. This story is Rated NC-17. It was originally published in R&R #13.
Uhura searched the pasture carefully, keeping away from the other women, whose mindless chatter had begun to irritate her intensely. She looked back at the babbling group and sighed. They were so beautiful. Anyone coming on the group, out of earshot, would take them for a band of Amazons, muscles rippling over their magnificent six-foot frames. That's what Uhura had thought, until an emergency call while they were under the very noses of the natives had forced the Enterprise to warp out, leaving them behind. In perfect safety, but Lord. The men were enjoying the peaceful life, but Uhura would almost barter safety for some excitement. A little participant observation in this type of culture went a long way, for a woman.
There. Well-dried too, thank goodness. She stooped to get the large pad and managed to transfer it to her basket intact. For a second she felt pleased at her increasing skill, then saner thoughts prevailed. Dung collecting was not a skill she cared to cultivate.
*All labor has dignity*, she scolded herself, trying to emulate her supremely logical first officer. But then, her supremely logical first officer wasn't stuck with the dung collecting by virtue of having these and not those. The men in the party had really lucked out this mission. Too bad, she thought savagely, the prime directive prevented them from getting a real taste of a woman whose pride and joy was to keep her man in idle... *Stop it, Uhura!* That was unfair. At least with the captain and Mr. Spock. They went out of their way to share the dronework whenever possible. The captain had even firmly assigned the cooking to the three of them -- survivor cooks all -- so that Uhura -- a dedicated gourmet hobbyist -- could have the last of the light to record her daily observations.
"Got a good one, luv?" Shit! She'd forgotten that today was Krasciuko's turn to escort her back from the dungfields. She managed a sweet, subservient smile -- Malinowski would have been proud of her. Then Krasciuko reached to take the basket from her -- a chivalry at once so ill-advised and so patronizing that her temper cracked.
"I'll carry it!" she snapped. She didn't notice the glances the natives exchanged or the sudden veering off of most of the adults with all the children. She was too involved in an unspoken exchange of compliments with Krasciuko.
"Castrating female!" his expression said.
"If you can't hold on to them, Mister...." her eyes replied, and she turned away with a defiant shrug. Suddenly she noticed the smaller group and a professionally-honed instinct for danger tugged at her. But Tsalli moved to her side. Lamica and Percon were slightly behind her. Uhura relaxed. Probably the rest of the group was just ahead, out of sight in the trees. She stole a glance at the fuming Krasciuko -- it wouldn't take any basic change in attitude for that one to settle down here, she thought. But as long as they were stuck here, she'd better not goad him into open disrespect; baiting him was conduct unworthy of an officer and a lady. She looked down at her feet. Suitably barefoot, if not-- Say! Were any of the women pregnant? She must try to see a birth; odd, she hadn't thought of that before. From what she had now, that section of her report would have to read "data unavailable." Which was ridiculous.
Her report. As she walked slowly back to the village with Krasciuko and the women, she began her mental draft. "The dungfields are the only area where a woman may properly go alone. Obviously this is considered a woman's proper--" *Stop it, Uhura!* There was a brief struggle, but her better self emerged triumphant and she began again. "As afternoon ends, a period which is almost a Sabbath begins. The pig tenders finish rootgathering and pen the swine. The hunters return from sport. Married men gather at the edge of the pasture to escort their women home. There, in their own kingdoms, the men will smoke *smotl*, taking their ease, while the women do the shitwork. Literal--"
The three women jumped her. In her first second of disbelief, they brought her to her knees. She fought, already knowing she was helpless. They forced her to the ground, pinning her shoulders, one on each leg spread-eagling her, lifting the native skirt high for the convenience of the male who took her with a savage yell of triumph. Uhura's only weapon was her teeth and she only got one good bite in before a basket handle slipped swiftly between her jaws yanked her head flat.
Instinctively she tried to close, screaming in animal outrage and panic. Then she got a grip on herself. "If rape is inevitable... " she heard the voice of her Academy survival instructor, "go limp. Try to relax, and stay as uninvolved as you can. You'll reduce your chances of being torn, and you'll also have the satisfaction of spoiling the fun for a man who likes to see women struggle..." Uhura let go, closed her eyes, and thought of Africa.
She couldn't stay entirely detached, though training helped. The second one had had time to think of some cute ways of getting her attention. She stayed impassive, determined not to give him the satisfaction, but she couldn't help wondering how many there were. There were three women pinning her, so there must be three men, at least. Terrific. Today's Sabbath recreation -- put the woman in her place. No, that was for every day... Number Two grabbed her hair with both hands, howling as he came. His smug pride in his performance was as palpable has his *smotl*-fetid breath, and Uhura gave a low growl that promised what she'd do to him if she ever got the chance. He slapped her hard; another figure loomed over her. Number Three. Uhura went as limp as she could, but she felt the tears of humiliation on her cheeks.
Suddenly, in the very act of taking her, Number Three seemed to be ripped aside. The grips on her body slackened. Galvanized, she pulled free and scrambled to her feet. Number Three went spinning past her, but Number Two stood directly in front of her, mouth agape. Uhura swung into her best karate kick, aimed where he'd remember it longest, but an iron hand snatched her arm, stopping her in midair, forcing her to her knees. Uhura saw the Vulcan flesh tones of a gaunt pair of legs and had just enough sense to realize that revenge wouldn't be sweet enough to compensate for endangering them all. She bowed her head in feminine submission.
She couldn't see what was happening in the silence, but after a minute native feet began to shuffle away, pair by pair. Probably Spock had simply stared them down; he was capable of it. His hand relaxed on her shoulder, but he kept it there warningly until the last footsteps had died away. Then he knelt beside her. "How badly are you hurt, Lieutenant?"
Thank goodness for a Vulcan. Any suggestion of hysteria would have sent her over the edge. His calm helped her pull herself together. "Minor bruising, I think." She glanced around the empty area and stood. "Ouch!" He reached to steady her. "No, it's all right." She managed a smile. "I didn't enjoy it, exactly, but I did relax."
Spock frowned as he sorted out the idiom, then he nodded and they started back to the village. "Krasciuko!" Uhura exclaimed.
"I do not know. But I believe the priority is to escort you to the hut. If the captain has returned, I will search for Lt. Krasciuko."
"I don't think they'd hurt him." It was true. With the notable exception of this afternoon, the natives' behavior had been hospitality personified.
"Nor I." The river glinted ahead. Uhura ran. Spock halted, momentarily startled, then went to sit on the bank. It was unlikely that two minutes would make a difference to Lt. Krasciuko. As long as she was careful to stay away from the bog and avoid swallowing... Uhura emerged with an apologetic grin. She looked much more comfortable and Spock nodded approval.
Kirk was pacing as they entered the hut. "Where--" He saw Uhura's dripping reed skirt. "What happened?"
"Fell in, sir," Uhura answered smartly.
But Spock shook his head. "Lt. Uhura was raped, Captain."
Kirk froze. Then he was at Uhura's side, taking her arm, urging her to sit down. It was genuine sympathy, she knew. But she couldn't take it just yet. "Captain, Lt. Krasciuko is missing. I suggest--"
"If you will search for Krasciuko, Captain, I will remain with Lt. Uhura," Spock interrupted. "He was last seen near the pasture path." Kirk looked at Uhura doubtfully; she nodded. He seemed surprised, but he left at a run to find his missing crewman. "Do you require medical attention?" Spock asked.
Under the circumstances, that was really almost heroic of him, Uhura thought. "No, thank you, sir. But I'd appreciate it if you could synthesize some di'strol." An eyebrow lifted. "Oh, it's not necessary; I'm up to date. But I wouldn't mind being double-sure."
Spock thought that illogical, obviously, but he nodded. "Tonight."
There was a scrabbling outside and Krasciuko staggered in. "Where were you?" Uhura asked.
What she'd intended as a question zapped out and Krasciuko glared. "On my face in the ditch!" he snapped. "Where'd you think I was? Joining the cheering section?"
"That will do," Spock told them both. He sat Krasciuko down and began to examine him. Daylight was fading, so Uhura lit a torch and held it for Spock. Krasciuko was one mass of bruises; he'd put up a fight, all right. Spock got their portable medikit and Uhura laid a hand gently on Krasciuko's arm. "Thanks for trying."
His eyes dropped. "Sorry, Lieutenant."
"Lt. Uhura, if you will treat his injuries, I will find--"
"I can't find Krasciuko!" Kirk announced from the doorway. "We'd better-- oh." He sighed in relief. "Report."
Krasciuko grimaced, embarrassed. "We were caught off guard," Uhura explained quietly. "Outnumbered. Also outmuscled."
Kirk sat down wearily.
There was a scratch at the door. Spock hid the medikit quickly. "We are not eating," Kirk called permission to enter.
Tsalli stepped through the doorway, carrying a basket of dung. She did not look at them, but she placed it by their fire pit -- fuel for their evening meal. An apology? Uhura couldn't help looking at her hard. Tsalli looked away and started to leave. But in the doorway she stopped, and caught Uhura's eyes. "The outlaw returns," she said remotely.
"Outlaw?" Kirk asked sharply.
"Tsalli!" Vrom's voice was bellowing. "Tsalli!" Tsalli ran to obey.
It was Spock's turn to cook. Uhura found she had little appetite, but she knew the men were watching her, concerned. She managed to make a meal. "All right," Kirk began harshly. Meals, matters of some delicacy among the natives, were the only time of day or night they would be secure from interruption. "Discussion."
Uhura glanced at him, then away. What was there to discuss? It was her fault. She'd shown her colors on several occasions. Krasciuko shouldn't have reached for the basket -- carrying dung was entirely women's work. But she'd been the one to openly defy custom, snarling at him as though a woman were the equal of a man. "I--" she faltered.
"We--" Spock cut in, "--have obviously been guilty of lack of consideration. We must do a better job of appearing to conform to the native ways. I suggest that the only safety for all of us lies in letting it be seen that we have adopted monogamy."
Kirk nodded. "Explain." He'd just as soon Spock was the one to say it.
"One of us must pose as Lt. Uhura's husband. If the natives believe that she is the wife of one man, I believe there will be no further trouble."
All three of them were looking at her. Damn! But Uhura nodded. The situation was perfectly clear. And actually, it wasn't so bad. At least if-- "May I choose, then?" She managed a smile.
"Of course, Lieutenant." Kirk smiled back, but the captainly chest puffed, just a trifle.
"Mr. Spock. That is, if it's agreeable to you, sir." She turned to the science officer, who was almost as taken aback as the captain. But he recovered quickly.
"As you wish, Lieutenant."
Kirk took a moment longer to rally. "Anything else?" Uhura looked at him, wondering if she should explain. Then she decided she'd only make things worse. There was simply no respectful way to tell the captain that she could trust only the Vulcan to handle the situation logically, not now, so much, but when they got back to the ship.
"One thing, Captain," Spock spoke again. "I took some readings this afternoon which show a significant change."
"Yes?" Kirk was normalizing.
"Physiological changes in the natives, sir. Minute, but consistent, and universal."
"Hm. Well, keep an eye on it, Spock."
"What about this 'outlaw'?" Krasciuko asked.
No one had any information. "Well, I guess we'll find out when he comes." Kirk rose, signalling the end of the conference. Uhura took their bowls outside to scrape them as the men spread the pallets. Uhura had staked out one corner of the hut, but when she returned, she nodded to Spock. He spread his pallet close to hers, managing to convey a silent apology. But they could never tell when one of the natives might barge in. From now until the Enterprise returned -- soon, please God -- she and Spock must give every appearance of husband and wife. It would probably bother him more than it did her, she thought, and grinned at the thought. They lay down.
"Mr. Spock?" she reminded him softly.
"As soon as the natives sleep," he promised. "I can synthesize an antibiotic ointment for Mr. Krasciuko at the same time. Good night. Sleep well," he added politely.
* * *
Uhura woke suddenly, realizing that she'd fallen asleep almost immediately. But the strong back that had almost touched hers was gone. Spock was off, after the portacomp. She shivered involuntarily and suddenly she knew she was in for it. She scrambled into her skirt, tip-toed out of the hut and through the compound, then ran, tears rolling down her cheeks. She had to get to the river, wash off the memory of the horrid-- She tripped and went headlong, then lay prone, pounding the ground and weeping out her rage and humiliation. Scrabbling to her feet, she streaked for the mooring and plunged in, staying close to the rafts for safety.
She was still sobbing, but the water, almost body temperature, felt good and she began to quiet. She swam to the shallows, but rested there, paddling, postponing the moment when she'd have to return to the hut.
"Lieutenant?" Spock's voice was low, but slightly sharpened by anxiety. "Lt. Uhura?"
"Here, sir," she answered reluctantly and scrabbled out, bracing herself for a well-deserved rebuke.
"We had best return," was all he said. Uhura smiled gratefully, hoping he could see her in the light of that sorry excuse for a moon, and followed her keen-sighted superior up the path. "Lieutenant." He spoke without turning. "Do you wish to... 'talk about it'?"
Now that was nice of the man. "No. But thank you, sir." She sensed his hesitation and went on. "I'll talk it out with someone when we get back if I have to. But I think I can handle it."
"I am not qualified to help," he explained unnecessarily, "but if I can help you put the matter in perspective I am at your service."
She shrugged. "There's nothing to discuss. It was my fault."
"We were all at fault."
"Well, we didn't exactly plan on getting marooned here."
"True. And by the time we realized that we must stay, we had already given the natives cause to suspect us."
"Yes. The first thing they saw me do was give Krasciuko an order. Poor Tsalli." She smiled at the memory. "Vrom ordered her home on the spot. And she ran like a hare." She shook her head. "That was my real mistake this afternoon. I was suspicious, but I let my guard down when I saw the women were closest."
"The outcome would have been the same."
"Well, I could have given them something to regret." She shook her head. "That is hard to accept -- the women. I know I should have expected them to turn on me, but somehow..."
"They were asserting their customs."
"And every people's customs seem correct to them," Uhura finished for him. "Xenopsychology One. I know. And I was still caught off guard."
"You are accustomed to the support of women who are your colleagues. But I believe it is not unknown in your Terran cultures for women who have been unable or unwilling to develop their own potentials to attack women who have."
"That's true. I remember my track coach's wife tried very hard to discourage me from accepting the Academy admission."
"Indeed? Was she afraid you would fail?"
"No. That I'd succeed. She was one of those 'woman's place is in the home' women. She said I'd never catch a man. And she thought a woman without a man is a pretty pitiful thing." Uhura laughed. "I saved my pity for the one who really needed it."
"No. Her husband."
That surprised him. "Her husband?"
"Oh yes. She was a psychic leech. 'Living for' her husband -- bah. 'Living through' is more like it."
Spock held a finger to his lips; the village was just ahead. But he could not help being pleased with the effects of the conversation. "What you say is most interesting, Lieutenant. When we get back to the Enterprise--"
The Enterprise. Involuntarily, and most unscientifically, Uhura looked up. Then the scientist took over. "Look! What's that?"
"I saw it. It can only be the fifth planet. You may recall that it follows an eccentric orbit."
"So now it's visible from this planet. Interesting."
They crept back to their hut and slipped silently in and back to their pallets. Spock picked up a hypo; Uhura held out her arm. "This should guard against any... repercussions," Spock whispered and administered it.
"Thank you." Spock turned and went to treat the sleeping Krasciuko. Uhura wriggled out of her wet skirt and lay down. Spock came back to bed, lay down, and turned over, back to her once more. Uhura watched him. Was there just a tinge of embarrassment, rigidly controlled by the logic of accepting the situation? Or was it her imagination? She felt like telling him she didn't mind sleeping with him, but it would be unkind to tease him. Especially when he was being so patient with her human foibles. She turned over too, in case that should be the Vulcan idea of etiquette, and was soon asleep.
The next morning seemed to dawn unconscionably early, but Uhura was relieved to find that she felt quite normal. Breakfast was hastily consumed in near-silence, but none of them was naturally talkative at that hour. Kirk and Krasciuko left for their usual observations -- they had taken out a sort of honorary membership in all the hunting fraternities. Spock, who had dutifully volunteered to observe the pig tending, glanced outside, then sat down and began to record some notes.
"There's no need to break off your observations, Mr. Spock. I'm sure I'm entirely safe." Spock looked at her. "I'll be watchful. If there's any sign of trouble I'll scream so loud even the hunters will hear me."
"I do not object to staying, Lieutenant, if--"
"If I want a bodyguard. Well, I don't. Besides, your being here at this hour is unusual -- the very thing we want to avoid. You go on along. I'll be fine. I'll see you at the pasture this afternoon." Even the last words came out firmly. Spock nodded, and left.
Uhura tidied the hut, making sure to show herself in the doorway as she shook the pallets out and rolled them. The hearth-tending done, she went to the river to fetch water. The other women watched her, unusually silent. When they all gathered to work on the daily task of beating reeds into fibre, Uhura went to join the circle. Tsalli moved over to make room for her. Uhura squatted, tickling one of the todders. After a moment someone made a remark. She answered cheerfully and before long the women were back to their usual chatter.
Uhura looked around the circle. Everyone was absorbed In the task. Damn them! How could they be so ... so *content?* Liv, there. Last week she'd been a young girl, spending most of her days playing ball, planning picnics and mock hunts ... always in motion, always laughing about something. Then, suddenly, she'd disappeared for three days -- a three days of enormous activity in the village. A new hut had been built, furnished, and decorated with a bewildering variety of totems. Uhura herself had been invited to join in the intricate job of weaving a thick reed roof -- an honor, she'd sensed.
The evening of the third day, Liv had been brought back to the village by her mother, to stand alone in its center, until a whooping, laughing crowd of the young men had descended upon her. Uhura had watched as Biol had "captured" Liv, bearing her in mock triumph to the new hut, while the natives feasted and danced far into the night. It had all been highly colorful and Uhura's notes the next day had actually approached enthusiasm. Then the young couple had emerged, Biol to join the hunters, Liv to pound reeds, prepare meals, clean, and gather the dung, waiting each evening for a young husband at whose appearance her eyes always glowed with--
Yeough! Didn't any of them ever *think?* Hadn't it ever occurred to any of these women to wonder why they were collecting the dung? Why they were cooking and cleaning, while their husbands sat, and smoked, and-- *Calm down, Uhura. And stop projecting. People cling to the ways they're used to. We lack the wisdom to interfere with the development of this culture.*
Besides, this was a peaceful, ordered culture. In all the time they'd been here, they'd seen no instances of violence among the natives. They didn't even have weapons; the ironwood spears and knives were domestic implements. *Relax, Uhura. You're a trained observer. Keep it that way.*
Observations for today. She began to map out her areas. Yesterday she'd thought of an omission -- of course. Pregnancy and childbirth. She looked around unobtrusively, studying the women. No, not in this group. Not for a while, anyway. Odd. She looked around at the children. Now that was odd. All of them, except Moli's baby, seemed to be about the same age. As if.... *Maybe the tribe had an oyster fry*. She grinned, then swallowed it quickly, making a mental note to draw Mr. Spock's attention to her observation.
*Observation*. But damn it, she'd already recorded more than enough about the toddlers and about child rearing: the warmth, the joy in the children, their sunny security, all, unfortunately, firmly related to the proper place of women. Children were rarely struck; but a male child was never even admonished. As she thought, one of the toddlers tugged at his mother once too often; she whirled and slapped him. Uhura froze, astonished. She glanced around at the others; they were all suspended too. Then one by one they resumed work.
*Be alert to anything unusual*, her instructor's voice sounded in her ear. She bent to her work, resolving to keep a low profile.
She'd assumed the women's constraint was due to yesterday's events. But as the day wore on, she grew more and more aware -- or was it her? -- of an undercurrent she couldn't identify. She was very glad to see Mr. Spock at the pasture that afternoon, but there was no visible reaction from the natives. The evening passed without incident. The night was quiet.
The next morning was equally routine. But almost as soon as the men had left, Uhura heard a scratch at the door. She went cautiously; a small bundle was thrust into her arms. "Keep this for me," Pecor whispered. "I will come for it; you know when. Do this thing!" She slipped away, leaving Uhura open-mouthed. She hid the bundle carefully under her baskets.
The rest of the day was uncomfortable; Uhura still could not analyze why. The women, normally the gentlest of creatures, were becoming moody, even irritable. The children were increasingly silent. During the reed pounding Pecor and Charia left the task abruptly. Tsalli looked at Pecor speculatively, then her eyes returned to the reeds.
When the group broke up, Uhura moved close to Tsalli. "What is happening?"
"No." Tsalli looked at her, her eyes widening. "My mother died when I was very young," Uhura excused herself. It had worked several times. She knew immediately it wasn't going to work now. Tsalli was backing away from her in near terror. "Tsalli! It's all right. I'm not going to hurt you. Tsalli!" She put out her hand.
Tsalli stopped backing. But she was looking at Uhura as though she'd sprouted two heads. "This land of yours," she whispered. "It is far away, you say. And that is why your men have different color. Others from this land have occasionally come among us. But they knew of the outlaw! Uhura! Where is this land of yours?"
"That's not important. Tell me about the outlaw." Tsalli turned and ran.
The whispering began almost at once. By midday it seemed to Uhura that even the children were whispering about her. "She does not know of the outlaw." She debated calling the men. But there was no menace in their attitude; they seemed to be growing terrified of her. By the time Mr. Spock met her at the pasture, the two of them were almost in quarantine.
"What has happened, Lieutenant?" She told him. Spock shook his head. "We must learn about this outlaw."
They discussed it over supper. But aside from an increasing nervousness among the natives, none of them had any real data. "Top priority," Kirk ordered. "Anything that's this basic, we'd better know about. Anything else? What about those physiological changes, Spock?"
"Continuing, Captain. Still no indications as to why."
"Could they explain the irritability?"
"It's more than irritability," Krasciuko said. "They're frightened."
"That is my impression also," Spock said and Uhura nodded.
"Everybody be watchful," Kirk directed as they rose.
The next day was more of the same. Pecor, Charia and one other woman did not even come to the reed gathering. No one spoke to Uhura; she felt almost invisible. But when Mr. Spock joined her at the pasture, he told her, "The captain has been with Vrom all day. I believe progress is being made."
"Thank goodness. This is beginning to get to me. It's a little difficult to be a participant observer when no one will--" She stopped. Pecor was outside their hut. She gestured to Uhura, then ran for the bushes. Uhura sent Spock away with a brief explanation, went inside, and got her bundle. Pecor slipped into the hut and grabbed it. She stood for a moment, then anxiety overcame her reluctance to offend. She spread the bundle on the ground and took a quick inventory, examining each possession carefully. Totems, and obviously precious.
"Thank you. I go." Pecor rose.
"Pecor, I did this thing for you!" Pecor stopped. Uhura drew very close. "What is happening?"
"The outlaws come."
Plural now. Interesting. "Where do they come from?"
Pecor looked at her sharply. "You do not know. You truly do not know," she marveled. "I heard it said, but I did not believe it."
"Tell me. Where do they come from?"
Pecor hesitated. "Upriver."
"Why do they come?"
"Steal? Your totems?"
Pecor's chin lifted -- the first such gesture Uhura had seen in a native woman. "They are the outlaws," she said rapidly, "the ones who will not serve!" She put her lips to Uhura's ear. "They will take any man they see, away with them. And those men are seen no more!" She grinned at Uhura. "Run away. Hide! Then you will see your men scream as they are taken! And then you shall see them no more!"
"Pecor? Pecor?" Shiloth was shouting.
"Wait! These outlaws--"
"Pecor! I will not beat you!" Shiloth sounded almost desperate.
Pecor's lip curled. "He lies. I have served him. No more! He is not worth fighting for. Listen, Uhura. Come with me. Two of us, together. We can choose among the men who are taken. Each of us can get a *good* man! Men who will give us sons! Come with me!"
Pecor shrugged. Shiloth was on the path to the river, his pleas and promises echoing forlornly back from the silence. Pecor stood for a moment longer to savor the sound of it. Then she slipped out of the hut and was gone.
Uhura looked out cautiously. Everything seemed normal. She took a quick circuit of the village. Most families were home now; cooking fires were being laid. Pecor's hut was empty. She went next door, to Tsalli, and scratched politely. A frightened squawk answered her, then Tsalli loomed up in front of her. Tsalli's eyes narrowed; Uhura simply stood, mute with astonishment at the change in her friend. "Wait," said Tsalli. She disappeared, then came back with an ironwood knife. She gave it to Uhura without a word, then stepped back inside the hut. Another section was placed over the open doorway. A lashing came through, anchoring one side in place. Uhura stared at the reed knife, then ran back to her hut.
A raucous male hoot sounded from inside; she halted in the doorway, bewildered. Krasciuko was on the ground, hugging his ribs as the captain pounded his shoulder in an agony of merriment. "Hoo!" The captain doubled over. "The rape of the-- ha ha ha!"
"Well, just remember, Captain," Krasciuko choked out, "if rape is inevitable, you might as well relax and--" He caught sight of Uhura and stopped midword. The captain looked up, saw her, and straightened. Both of them had the grace to look slightly abashed. Uhura looked at Spock. He was on the ground, studying his tricorder, but his expression suggested he was storing data for his ongoing study of human illogic.
"I see you know," Uhura said quietly.
"Vrom told me." The captain caught another laugh. "He's scared witless." His shoulders shook. "I asked him if we'd hunt tomorrow and he almost passed out! He said he will not leave the hut until the outlaws have gone. He said we'd better do the same, if -- that we'd better do the same."
"*If*," Krasciuko supplied, "we could trust our woman to protect us." He was off again.
"That will do, Mister!"
"That's enough, Mr. Krasciuko!"
The two rebukes from the superior officerscame simultaneously. Uhura relaxed.
"We might have to rely on Lt. Uhura. At any time," Spock told him austerely.
Kirk looked at Krasciuko, decided he was sufficiently filleted, and smiled at Uhura. "And I can't think of anyone I'd rather rely on."
"Sorry, Ma'am," Krasciuko managed.
Uhura took her place around the hearth. "There's another thing, though," Kirk began as though in middiscussion. "Vrom kept hinting at it, but either he was too nervous to explain properly, or else he doesn't understand it himself. Whenever I asked why the women--"
"Wait a minute!" Uhura interrupted. "The outlaws are women?"
"According to Vrom. Sounds like some *Gentlemen's Quarterly* fantasy, but that's what he said. Why?"
"I don't know if it correlates," she answered slowly, trying to pull her observations together, "but the women here are different. They're ... in command of the situation. Pecor is leaving and Shiloth was begging her to come back. She just stood there, hiding, but listening to him beg. Enjoying it. And she had a plan worked out... It's as though suddenly they can think. But..."
"But," Kirk prompted.
"But it's the first time I've seen any indication of ... executive abilities at all. Surely there'd have been some hint. Some flicker of--"
"Not necessarily." Spock closed his tricorder. "Readings are correlated. Endocrine output is up ten percent."
"Still unknown. It may be some sort of cyclical change. But the result: as a working hypothesis, I suggest that the women are ovulating."
"A *fertility* cycle?" Now it was Uhura's turn to smother a laugh. "But these are human..." Her voice trailed off as she began to test Spock's hypothesis against her observations. Come to think of it, the women did act something like thyroid deficients who'd suddenly been given... Hm. But a cycle... "The planet?" she exclaimed suddenly.
Spock could never approve of such leaps. "Long-term data would be required to test that hypothesis. We may have a more immediate problem."
Kirk nodded, his eyes widening. "These outlaws. Women--"
"Who will not serve," Uhura added.
"They need men," Spock concluded. "Males."
"Holy shit," Krasciuko whispered.
The hut grew very still. Uhura had time to think of three acid remarks. She was trying to select the best when Spock rose suddenly. "If the natives seek hiding places, our heavy equipment is not safe. Permission, sir."
"Wait." Uhura stood. "I'll go."
"With respect, my nightvision is far superior."
Kirk hesitated. "All right, Spock. Return immediately. And stay out of trouble." Spock went to the door, listened a moment, then slipped out. "I'll cook," Kirk said. Uhura jumped, then went to get her tricorder, to observe routine. Her hand was shaking; she glowered at it. Time seemed to stand still, so she actived her tricorder chronometer, thinking through Spock's movements. Twenty minutes to the cave -- allow thirty; he'd be moving cautiously. Dismantle the framing -- say five minutes. Disintegrate the components -- allow one minute. Set the phaser to destruct -- or would he risk bringing it back? She couldn't help thinking that a phaser, set low, would be a handy thing to have around. *He is not worth fighting for*, Pecor said. What in heaven's name did they do? Fight hand-to-hand over a desirable male? It should have been funny, but Uhura kept thinking of the strength in the hands that had held her to the ground, and Tsalli's knife... "We won't wait for Spock," Kirk said, setting a bowl aside for him. "Let's eat."
They ate, but in a silence that would have done credit to a meditation group. The minutes dragged. Uhura went to scrape the bowls; the village seemed deserted. Half an hour, she calculated. Spock would be back soon. She spread his pallet as well as hers. "Being wifely, Uhura?" Kirk asked lightly.
"No, sir," she replied, more truthfully than she'd intended. "Keeping up morale." It grew dark; they lit a torch. An hour. An hour and a half. Uhura gave it another five minutes, then stood. "Permission, sir."
Kirk looked up at her, his face strained in the light of the torch. "Be careful, Uhura."
"Respectfully suggest you gentlemen remain in the hut." Good Lord, did she have to sound like Spock? But her voice was trying to tremble and she'd be damned first. Kirk nodded. Uhura took a torch and paused in the doorway, exactly as Spock had, then slipped out.
The village was a tomb -- even the pigs must be scared to death. She moved cautiously around the hut to give her eyes a chance to adjust. Damn that excuse for a moon! This was as good as it was going to get. She moved silently, as quickly as she could. There was no sound except the pad of her bare feet. But she knew she was not the only creature moving in the darkness. Once a torch flared, lighting her; she stopped dead with an involuntary squeak. It was instantly extinguished. Uhura stood for a moment, giving her eyes a chance to readjust, informed her knees that it was no good shaking because she was going anyway, and resumed.
The cave was empty and suddenly Uhura realized how much she'd counted on finding Spock there. She lit her torch, held it high, and gasped. Their equipment had become many mathoms of fused components. But Spock hadn't had time to finish the job! She looked around carefully and called. There was no answer.
Uhura gathered the reed-and-vine frames and placed them in the cave mouth. She separated the mathoms, grunting as she tumbled them into various corners of the dark cave. At least there were no signs of a struggle; maybe Spock had escaped. Her hopes rising again, she made quick work of smashing and scattering the frames. Then she raised a shout outside the cave. "Mr. Spock!" A startled gasp sounded, quiteclose to her. Then there was silence.
A tremendous crashing sounded off in' the distance. Uhura charged, only to be brought up short by a despairing scream. Spock wouldn't scream like that. If he screamed at all, it would be for her, to let her know he'd been captured. Perhaps,he was hiding, maybe even nearby. "Mr. Spock!" Silence. May he was too close to danger to reply.
She paused, considering. Better get back and make sure the others were safe. Spock could take care of himself. Only she didn't want to miss him in the dark. An idea occurred to her. "Oh come all--" she sang, and stopped. "Come on, Uhura," she said aloud. "You sound like a piccolo!" She took a deep breath, and belted it:
"Oh come all you sailors, wherever you be,
"Just row up alongside and sit down by me...."
Pericolos's "Twentieth Century Sailor Song" has 23 verses. Nineteen took her back to the village, but the twentieth died in her throat. Their hut was gone. Flattened. And the area it had contained was bare.
Uhura almost screamed. Then she forced herself to listen. Silence. A thrashing, far away.
And nothing more. "Captain? Krasciuko?" She already knew that it was no use. Damn it! Damn them! And damn herself, all of them, for being such fools! They'd underestimated the danger from the beginning, all of them. 'Relax and enjoy it' -- talk about a cultural set! If they'd had the elementary sense to get to the cave, hold it, use stun phaser if necessary... Damn! She ran for Tsalli's hut and pounded on the doorpiece.
An unearthly shriek answered her; Uhura froze, then rallied. "Tsalli!" The shriek came again, but of course it couldn't be a tigress defending her territory. It only sounded like it. "Tsalli! It's Uhura! I must talk to you!" Silence. Encouraged, Uhura shouted again.
"No, Tsalli!" Vrom's voice was quite close. He was at the door, his back to it, probably. "Tsalli, she is different! Perhaps she is an outlaw! Do not let her!"
"Tsalli!" Uhura begged. "They have taken my men! I must go after them!"
The door, moved as lashings were tugged. Vrom pleaded feverishly, but the piece opened. A strong hand clutched Uhura's arm and drew her inside. "So," Tsalli said. "You changed your mind."
Uhura blinked, trying to focus, then she realized it was totally dark. "No. I went to bring one back. The outlaws got the others. Where will they take them?"
"Then I need a raft."
"Take Shiloth's. He will not need it again."
"Thank you." Uhura turned.
Tsalli caught her arm. "Uhura. Do not go beyond the narrows. If they take your men past there, know that they are lost, and turn back."
Uhura shrugged. "Thank you," she said again.
"So?" Tsalli 's voice sounded strange. "Even, beyond the narrows, you will follow?"
"If I must."
"Then there is one other thing I can tell you. Do not fall too far behind. You must find your men in the night. Or you will find them dead." She pulled the door open.
"Be careful, Tsalli," Vrom begged.
"Yes, Vrom." But Tsalli's tone was not obedience. It was reassurance.
"You will fight for him?" Uhura asked softly.
"If I must. I have kept him through many returns. He is a good man. He has given me three sons. He will give me a son again."
"Or a daughter?" Uhura asked, a little sharply.
"If it is another daughter, I will still keep him."
Uhura shook her head, but this was no time to debate it. Both women listened for a moment, then Uhura slipped out. The door was firmly replaced and lashed down.
Uhura set off down the path. Halfway to the mooring, she tripped: their medikit! She snatched it up. "Luck, go with me," she prayed. She climbed into Shiloth's raft, and pushed off.
Well ahead on the river, torches bobbed and flickered. There seemed to be a convoy of rafts, all crowded, and riding low in the water. But they were moving fast; Uhura had to pole constantly to keep the flames in sight. From time to time an altercation broke out up ahead. Each time the wild tigress yelling was followed by the outline of one or more rafts moving laterally away from the main group. Once a raft overturned; the cacaphony was unbelievable. Raiding parties, Uhura guessed. Women like Pecor, following the outlaws, hoping to capture a 'good man' and bear him off. She'd have given a year's pay to know where her shipmates were. But all she could do was forge ahead, praying that if they were taken in any of the raids, they'd be safe enough in the hands of a woman who wanted a husband -- alive and in usable condition -- until she could return and get them back to the village.
She poled endlessly. The raiding parties diminished. Soon they were far from any village. By dawn the convoy was passing through a narrows. Uhura waited until they were well ahead. Even then she waited, hoping against logic that she would hear her name, or even a shout for help that would tell her that the men she sought were ahead. But at last she rose and picked up her pole, and one more raft moved slowly through the narrows.
The river took a wide bend, then straightened, and now Uhura was in full sight of the convoy. They were slowing -- probably past fear of pursuit. Uhura shortened her distance slowly. No one challenged. But she began to worry. Surely one of the men, seeing the single raft, would guess who poled it. Perhaps they were behind her after all. But she must make sure. She drew closer, damning the glint of sun on the river. If she could only get a clear view...!
Suddenly a scream of rage rose ahead. Uhura froze, then drove her pole into the bottom to anchor her raft. There was a brief tumult and a figure went sailing through the air, to land in the water with a terrific splash. Uhura waited, confident that one of her crew was on the way. A dark head appeared on the surface and her confidence diminished. Whoever it was was not swimming, but keeping afloat with a tadpole wriggle. *Bound*, she thought and drove the pole in deeper, lashing the raft to it. The head went under and reappeared; the figure made a peculiar convulsive movement that was certainly not part of survival training. The head went under again. Uhura calculated the drift and went in. Soon she was in deep water and she struck out, swimming strongly. Intersection point... here. She almost collided with a struggling Spock. She grabbed, her hands closing on wet twine and got under him, buoying his body to get his head out of the water. He convulsed, almost sending her under. "Easy," she gasped. "I've got you. You're all right." He groaned and her eyes widened. He was not all right. She kicked hard, floating, them both diagonally cross-stream toward the shore. Soon she could touch bottom and she dragged him, thinking only of getting him to land.
"Lieutenant!" Spock warned. "Quicksand! Be--"
Uhura paused, panting, gathering her wits. Then she knelt to work on the twine that bound him. The river here was essence of mud, but Spock was right. It beat quicksand.
Spock groaned again. Was he trying to say something? Swallowed water, maybe? She put an arm around his stomach, taking a moment to remember its location, and doubled him over sharply. He retched, bringing up water, and she grunted in satisfaction. But the retching didn't stop. She patted him rather helplessly for a few minutes, then returned to the twine. As soon as his arms were free he pressed both hands into his midsection and doubled over them. Uhura felt him grow rigid with the effort of control. But even at that it was several minutes before he was able to stop, and sit up in the mud.
"Thank you, Lieutenant."
"What's wrong?" she demanded.
"A -- a moment." He drew his knees up and hugged them, closing his eyes. Uhura reached for him and hesitated. But the captain would put a hand on his shoulder. And if Spock had ever need comforting, he needed it now. She rested her hand lightly on his shoulder. After a few minutes he straightened.
"What is it?"
"The women have some sort of potion. They forced us to drink it. It seems to make the natives ... docile. On me it acts as a violent purge -- poison, or perhaps a strong allergic reeaction." Uhura replaced her hand and he seemed to appreciate it. "They kept forcing me to drink it," he confided, then actually smiled faintly. "It made me a most unpleasant boating companion."
She managed to smile back. "Is that why they threw you overboard?"
"I believe so. One woman in particular was most infuriated with my lack of resp...." He stopped suddenly. "Our hypothesis was correct, Lieutenant."
"I see. The captain? Mr. Krasciuko?"
"The potion seems to affect them the way it does the native men. They are ... compliant." Spock looked as though he might be sick again. Uhura didn't ask for the details.
"Let's get back to the raft." She rose. "I have the medikit. Maybe there's something that will help you. Can you stand?" She grabbed his hand, he got to his feet, and immediately fell to one knee. "Steady!" He breathed quietly for a moment, then tried again. This time he made two steps, and went all the way down. "Better rest a while," she said.
"I can't leave you here."
Spock shook his head. "Activity seems to ... toxicity. Go. Safety of the crew is top... His voice trailed off. Uhura looked up, following his gaze, and froze at the sight of an enormous woman making her way through the shallows toward them. "It seems she changed her mind," Spock said dully. "Go, Lieutenant. Run! Stay free. You are the only chance. Run!"
Uhura ran. About ten yards away she stopped. The woman gestured at her with a reed knife, then hauled Spock to his feet. He went down again and she gave him a ringing slap. Then she threw him over her shoulder like an empty sack, and stalked away.
Uhura discovered she was crying and angrily dashed away the tears. But she couldn't stop, even as she made her way back to her raft. She made herself take a few minutes to purify some water, drink, and make a quick meal of supplements. Then, still sniffing a little, she lifted the pole, and resumed her slow progress upriver.
* * *
Sunset, at last. Uhura began to move in. The women had moored and disembarked at a large delta. Since then there had been a lot of activity, keeping Uhura pinned to her hiding place, but the silence had encouraged her to believe that no one was being ill-treated. Now the silence was increasingly broken by excited voices -- women's voices. Still no sounds of pain or fear. Probably they were keeping the men doped. As night gathered, torches flickered all over the area. Whatever they planned, it would be now.
She moved in closer. No guards challenged her. Of course the women thought they'd thrown off pursuit. She paused behind a handy tree. A woman ran past her, yelling; her reed skirt was thrown high in the air as she whooped.
Uhura shrank back into the shadows as another woman ran toward the center. Reluctantly, she reached for her own skirt; when in Rome... Good thing she was the right sex and color. Of course, it was too bad she wasn't six feet tall and hormonally hyped, but a girl can't have everything.
A tremendous whooping sounded again. Uhura ran toward it, then dodged again as a woman ran past her, towing a staggering man. She pushed him onto the ground, not far away, and crouched over him, murmuring in an odd combination of seduction and command. The man reached for her, giggling inanely. Uhura turned away, and as she did, another woman came to crouch a safe distance from the couple, watching them hungrily.
None of them paid the slightest attention to Uhura. She began to prowl, passing couple after couple. Here and there an unserviced woman crouched. A male climaxed with a cry; the woman on top of him giggled, then rolled over and over like an ecstatic kitten, hugging herself. Her place was immediately taken by a watching woman who fondled the male, crooning encouragement.
At that moment Uhura heard a familiar deep voice, speaking with an unaccustomed urgency. Uhura listened, then smothered a laugh. Even in this extremity, Mr. Spock was still endeavoring to be logical. "Madam," he protested. "I am in the infertile phase of that cycle. Madam, please try to attend to what I am saying. I am Vulcan! I--" His tone reminded Uhura that he found this far from funny. She stalked nearer. Suddenly Spock choked; when his voice resumed it was strangulated and very close to desperation.
Now she could see him. Spock was staked out, his arms spread-eagled by twine and pegs. His captor, straddling him, was choking him scientifically with one hand while the other played with him. "But how subtle," Uhura growled, suddenly furious. Spock's legs began to thrash in an involuntary struggle for air. Uhura leapt, her kick knocked the woman back. She scrabbled to a crouch; a reed knife flashed. They circled ferally around the bound man. The woman rushed, Uhura ducked, grabbed her ankle, and was rewarded by a satisfactory crash. A spring, a quick chop to the neck: "One down," Uhura muttered. She grabbed the reed knife. Another woman was coming toward Spock; Uhura leapt on top of him. "Sorry, sir," she whispered. "Can't fight the whole bunch." The woman growled, but moved away, in search of an unclaimed man. Uhura cut Spock loose. "Can you stand?"
"Yes." He did. He was breathing too fast, but otherwise he seemed all right.
"Yes. Lieutenant, we must find--"
"Right. Stay close to me, but stay in the shadows."
Mentally she quartered the area and they began their search. First quarter, no luck. In the second they were challenged by a teenager about Uhura's size, but a quick knife gesture took care of that. She stared curiously at Spock; Uhura grabbed his wrist, glaring in possession. The girl moved away.
"There must be some well-worked-out ranking order," Spock murmured analytically. Uhura felt like clouting him. "There!" Spock whispered sharply. "Jim!"
A woman was just leaving the captain. She patted his throat in an almost affectionate gesture and he groaned, turning over to hug his knees protectively to his chest. Another woman was stalking. Uhura rushed and yanked the captain to his feet. His knees gave and she held him upright, glaring at the other. She fled and Spock took the captain. "Jim? Jim! High fever, Lieutenant."
Uhura felt his forehead. "My God!" Then she realized the fevered eyes were aware. The captain tried to smile. "Sir, the medikit is on the raft. But we must find Krasciuko. Can you walk?"
"Try me." It was barely a whisper, but his two officers exchanged a nod. Spock put his arm around the captain, and led him to the shadow of a nearby tree. Two down.
One to go. Krasciuko was nowhere in the second quarter. They moved to the third, but danger was increasing by the moment. More and more of the women were dropping out, sitting sullenly on the ground. It would not be long before one spotted the two men and decided to investigate. And now the captain was giving tiny, involuntary moans. Spock hushed him, but the fever was mounting; soon the captain might not understand. Maybe she'd better... She drew close to them. "Spock," Kirk was whispering hoarsely. "You're all right?"
"I'm ... not. Keep me moving. Make me shut up. That's an order. We have to find the crew. Keep me mov..."
"Acknowledged, sir." Uhura returned to the search.
In front of her was a familiar face -- Shiloth! A woman was fondling him, one hand at his throat. The hand tightened and he gave a pleading moan. She choked him into unconsciousness, then revived him with a hard slap and tried again. "He can't!" Kirk whispered, directly behind Uhura. "Dear God--"
"Captain, we must find our crew," Spock interrupted urgently. "We cannot save all of--"
Shiloth screamed; a reed knife was lifted high. Uhura sprang but her wrist was grabbed. Spock swung her around hard. Behind her, Shiloth gave an odd gurgle; his pleading ceased. Suddenly Uhura knew she was going to scream. She drew breath and Spock said the only two words that could have stopped her. "Mr. Krasciuko." Uhura turned away, to search some more.
They passed two couples and a corpse. Uhura turned away, and' her heart leapt! A white man, unmistakably alive, was groaning as a woman tried to stimulate him. "Please! Oh, my God."
"Krasciuko!" Kirk gasped.
"Lt. Uhura must get him, sir."
Uhura stalked. The woman looked up, saw Uhura's knife, and stood. She made a contemptuous gesture and fled. Uhura knelt by Krasciuko, promising herself that someday, somehow, she'd let the bastard know he hadn't been worth fighting for.
She touched his shoulder; he folded. "No!"
"Why don't you just relax--" No. That was too mean. "Steady, Sailor," she said gently, "You're okay." He stared at her and her satisfaction evaporated. Fever. Just like the captain. But he recognized her. "Come on." He made it to his feet, and she pulled his arm around her. In seconds
they were back in the shadows, moving toward the mooring.
It was a rough trip. Krasciuko was heavy, awkward as hell, and obviously in as much pain as the captain. Twice he fell and it took all her strength to haul him to his feet. *Come on, you bastard*. He groaned as if he'd heard her. "I'm bringing my command through!" she snarled. "So move it, Mister." She saw a grin, faint in the moonlight, and he stumbled on.
At last they reached the rafts. They dumped the invalids on the closest one and Uhura sprang for the medikit. She brought her pole back and she and Spock poled out to the middle. Then Spock went to minister to the others. Uhura swallowed a sob of weariness and poled, keeping them square to the current, knowing in her bones that the worst was still to come.
* * *
The bend, then the channel. Uhura took a deep breath. Home was in sight -- but at that moment a muffled groan reminded her that they weren't home free. "How are they, Mr. Spock?"
"They appear to be responding to the antipyrin, Lieutenant, but--" The captain groaned again. "Steady, sir."
"No!" The captain was struggling to rise. "No! Please!"
"Steady!" Spock made it a command, but he gripped Kirk's shoulders reassuringly. "You are safe, sir."
"Spock?" Kirk sounded bewildered. Then training asserted itself. "Fill me in."
"We are returning to the village. It is approximately one hour away." Kirk sighed. Uhura didn't like the sound of that sigh; obviously, Spock didn't either. "Jim?"
"I'm ... okay. Just ... catching up with me..."
"Sorry, Spock. I ... sorry." Kirk's breath rasped as he fought for control.
"No." Uhura spoke firmly. "Mr. Spock, please take the pole." Spock rose and changed places with alacrity. Uhura knelt by the captain. He was trembling, face buried in his arms. "Captain," she said gently and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Don't!" he flinched.
"I know," she said. "It's a bad thing. A bad thing to remember."
'That -- those... My God, Uhura, I'd have killed them, if I could. To make someone... Force--!"
"It shouldn't happen," she agreed firmly. He was silent and she began to pat his shoulder. He flinched again and she felt a tremor run through him. "You're safe now, sir."
"I know. I--oo! Damn! Sorry, I...."
"What hurts, Captain?"
"My existence," he muttered. But he came up for air and actually managed to smile at her. "Good work, Lieutenant. You -- ow!"
"It appears to be a malarial or dengue-like fever," Spock explained from the stern. "It is painful."
"I bet." Uhura felt the captain's forehead and let her hand linger. "At least the fever's down."
"Sure," the captain whispered. "We'll be fine." But he took her hand and held it like a lifeline as the raft moved slowly around the bend.
* * *
They passed through the narrows at daybreak. When Uhura poled up to the village mooring, Tsalli was there, holding a skirt. She greeted Spock respectfully, as though nothing had changed. He bent to pick up the unconscious captain. Tsalli stooped and lifted Krasciuko. "Pecor's hut," she said briefly, and started effortlessly up the path with her burden. Uhura followed, almost too tired to put one foot in front of the other. She was steered to a pallet and that was the last she knew until sunset.
She woke to screaming -- Krasciuko, delirious with fever and terror. Spock was holding him down. "Water!" he gasped. "Reedsponge. Bring the temperature down." Uhura ran for them. By the time she got back the captain was moaning and tossing. They set to work with the sponges.
"What about the antipyrin?"
"Gone," Spock replied briefly.
And no way of making more. Uhura bit her lip.
They were back to fundamentals as the fever soared. They had to keep the temperature down as much as possible and force the men to drink to counter dehydration. It was all they could do. An analgesic quieted them -- too much; they only tried it once. Tsalli produced a native fever medicine; Spock analyzed it. "Water and spices," he reported tersely. "No medical value."
The second day their supply of water purifiers ran out. They instituted a hot stone and basket technique to sterilize the drinking water. Fetching water and fuel became a full-time occupation, even with Tsalli's help.
Spock worked tirelessly feeding, sponging, cleaning and administering the food supplements that would soon run out as well. Uhura began to despair. If she'd saved them, only to watch them die like this... Midnight, she came back from a trip for water, to find Spock flat on the ground. He opened his eyes at her involuntary exclamation. "I must ... rest ... a little. I apologize for..." He stopped with a little gasp. Uhura ran to kneel beside him. His forehead was burning. "I can ... no longer control," he apologized.
"How long have you been ill?" He shook his head, to signify it was unimportant. "Since the others! *Haven't you?*" He nodded and she burst into tears.
By dawn, Spock too was delirious. Uhura's world narrowed to the hut. She sponged and fed, literally sitting on them to hold them down. When Spock started up, screaming that he was Vulcan, Tsalli had to run to help her. He quieted eventually, but there was no time during that day when all of them were quiet at once. Uhura became an automaton. There had never been a time when she had not tended the three. There never would be.
At evening Tsalli gave her a bowl of food and stood over her until she began to eat. Krasciuko moaned; Uhura put the bowl aside. Tsalli handed it back to her firmly, rising to tend Krasciuko herself. Vrom moved closer to Uhura; she sensed a silent sympathy. He looked up and his eyes widened. Spock was trying to sit up; Tsalli caught him and forced him down. Spock looked at the doorway. "It is good to see you, Doctor," he whispered.
Uhura turned, certain he was delirious again, and found herself staring into a pair of intensely blue eyes. For a moment, the blue widened, threatening to engulf her. She pulled herself together. "Stretchers," she ordered.
* * *
She woke in Isolation, where she'd been rushed, bundled like an Eskimo on an isolation stretcher. The three men were quiet; Christine sat near them. "Chris?"
"Well, you had a good sleep. Feel okay?"
"Fine. How are they?"
"Well, it's going to be a while. But they had a good night. I think they've turned the corner."
They smiled at each other, then Uhura scrambled out of bed. "I don't need to be here, do I?"
"Chris, they were all forced to drink unpurified water. It can't be contagious, or I'd be down by now. Besides -- are we still orbiting the planet?"
"I've got to go back. On an isolation stretcher, if necessary. But I've got to--"
"Not up to me." But the nurse rose and buzzed for the doctor.
"It's not the fever," McCoy told her a few minutes later. "But you were pretty close to collapse. I don't--"
"Doctor," Uhura interrupted, "I've got to thank them." She tried to tell him about it. How they'd been welcomed, fed and sheltered. Tsalli's knife, which she'd spent hours chipping out of the ironwood. The way each emptied basket and jar had simply disappeared, during her lonely vigil, to reappear full...
"Tomorrow," McCoy conceded.
* * *
The village was quiet and peaceful. The men were gone, hunting, and pig-tending. The women were gathered to do the reed-beating. Uhura walked to them and stood watching. They chatted idly as they worked -- the vacuous, almost bovine contentment had reappeared, as though the intervening days had never been. Mitchell, suitably darkened and reed-skirted, walked over to stand beside her.
"I'm anxious for your report, Lieutenant," she whispered.
"This afternoon," Uhura promised. "Have you taken scans of those women?"
"Yup. Barefoot and pregnant." Uhura stared at her in surprise. Mitchell nodded. "Every single one."
Uhura shook her head. The universe was very strange.
Tsalli saw her when the group rose and came over to her. She looked at the red uniform and the boots, but made no comment. "You did much for us," Uhura said. "I would thank you."
Tsalli shrugged. "It was necessary. Three men are too many for one woman."
"That is true. Is Vrom here? I would thank him also."
"You will tell him?"
"I will tell him." Tsalli 's eyes held Uhura's. "He has given me another son," she confided.
"Or a daughter!"
Tsalli shrugged philosophically.
It was hopeless. "Goodbye, Tsalli. Good luck."
"Farewell, Uhura. Be happy."
Uhura beamed up, mentally drafting her report. But she must check on the men before she could concentrate. Sickbay was quiet, but the isolation seal had been taken off the section where the men lay, and as she walked over, she heard the captain's voice.
"Come on, Spock," he was saying gently. "Tell the truth and shame the devil. We know it hurts." Uhura walked in and he looked up to smile at her. "Besides, if you complain -- just a little -- I bet Uhura would smooth your forehead." Uhura looked at Kirk, caught his signal, and went over to Spock.
Spock looked up, tried to greet her, then caught himself to control a reaction. "It does hurt, doesn't it?" she said gently. His jaw set but he nodded. She sat down and took his hand. After a moment he eased, nodding thanks. Uhura let him retrieve his hand, but she did reach to stroke his forehead.
"Very dutiful," Krasciuko needled weakly. "You'll make some man a good wife someday, Lieutenant."
Uhura gave him a look. "If he's worth it." An edge she hadn't intended crept into her voice and Krasciuko's eyes flashed. Both Kirk and Spock turned to give him a look and he changed his zap to another needle. "Well, you sure are acting wifely."
"No," Spock said, quite unperturbed. "She is comforting me. Not as my wife. But as a colleague. A valued--" He stopped suddenly and Uhura reached for his hand again.
But she had a report to file. She rose, giving Spock a pat, and went to sit with the captain for a minute. "Hang in there, Captain, sir," she said gently, and won a genuine, if rueful, smile.
"Thanks, Uhura. And highest -- damn!"
Uhura went to the doorway. "Chris, isn't there something you can give them for the--"
"We're working on it," Chris called cheerfully. But she shook her head as she passed Uhura. "They've already had everything we dare give them."
Uhura looked at the three men. But Chris was sitting down next to the captain. There was nothing she could do here. Krasciuko gave a little groan; she looked at him. He saw her look and managed a thumbs-up that was almost jaunty. Uhura grinned and went over to tweak his nose. Then she left to draft her report.