DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of M. L. "Steve" Barnes and is copyright (c) 1977 by M. L. "Steve" Barnes. Rated PG. Reprinted from More Trek Tales, 1977.
To Seek the Sun
M. L. "Steve" Barnes
The alien ship filled, dominated, the entire viewscreen of the shuttlecraft. It hung before them, a huge dark shape whose very silence had become menacing.
Lieutenant Uhura glanced doubtfully at First Officer Spock, but as usual she got no inkling of his thoughts from his face. She slowly removed her hand from her communications ear plug and turned to face the Vulcan.
"Despite what we may be thinking, Mister Spock," she said calmly enough. "- that a ship of that size could not be in trouble without having some outward signs of it - the distress call did originate from that vessel. I'd stake my life on it."
"Please, Lieutenant," Spock said gravely. "A little less emotion and more attention to detail. Have you tried raising them since the first signal?"
She nodded. "I've been trying repeatedly to re-establish contact but I've received no response. Can't we call the Enterprise, see if they can come to their help?"
The Vulcan gave a negative shake of his head. "The Enterprise is still far out of range, Lieutenant. We're not expected to rendezvous with them for another ten hours."
Uhura sighed. It had been an uneventful trip back from Star Base Four where she and Spock had undergone briefing on the new communications board. Then, on that new board she had picked up an urgent distress call and they had diverted slightly off course to investigate.
"It was a real signal, Mister Spock," she said defensively.
"I've no doubt of that, Miss Uhura. Are there any other vessels in the immediate area who might assist us?"
"Negative. I've tried all frequencies."
He looked thoughtful. "Then I presume we must offer what aid we are capable of -- provided they will acknowledge our queries." He touched a switch. "This is Commander Spock aboard the Federation shuttlecraft Ptolemy. We have picked up your distress beam. Do you require assistance? Is there trouble aboard your vessel?"
The silence stretched ominously. Uhura exchanged glances with the Vulcan.
"It is a very large ship," Spock commented. "More than three hundred metric tons, I should say. I doubt if we shall be able to help them if they have a real emergency, but..." He broke off, reached for the switch once more.
"Wait, sir..." Uhura tipped her head, touched the ear plug, "I thought ... just then... Yes! I've contact with someone who identifies himself as Protector."
"Put it on audio, Lieutenant."
She pressed the proper button and the small craft's cabin was flooded by the sound of a cool, precise voice.
"...of the ship Lagosta. Stand off and do not approach any closer. This is Protector Chel of the ship Lagosta and we have sent no distress call."
Uhura shrugged at Spock. The First Officer's eyes sought their new monitor.
"I must disagree with you, Protector," he said quietly. "My instruments have recorded a definite call for assistance. Is there trouble aboard your ship?"
There was a pause during which they heard only space static. Finally Chel responded, "I am informed that on re-checking our communications system, Commander, that there has been an instrument malfunction."
Uhura leaned forward earnestly. "Mister Spock," she whispered. "That was no malfunction. Someone deliberately sent out a beam."
"...but if you would like to reassure yourself that all is well with us, may I invite you aboard for a brief visit? It is the least we can do for your kindness."
There was a disturbing lack of warmth to the tone, but Spock did not seem aware of it. He shut the communications switch for a moment and Uhura could see he was pondering the logical choice of action.
"It is clear to me," he said slowly, "that if the Lagosta intended to show hostilities to us, Miss Uhura, there would be very little we could do to prevent it. I therefore suggest..."
She knew how he felt about studying alien life forms, his insatiable and - yes, even illogical - curiosity about them. Besides, as he has pointed out, they would be helpless against a ship the size of the Lagosta.
"Shall we yield to the logic of the situation, Mister Spock?" Uhuura asked calmly.
The Vulcan nodded and opened the switch to the other vessel. "We would be pleased to come aboard the Lagosta, Protector Chel, if our life support systems are compatible."
"We have been scanning you for the last few moments and I can assure you that our system is geared for your type of humanoid."
At the information that they had been under surveillance, Spock's eyebrows twitched. "We shall await your instructions then," he said blandly and cut the switch.
He left his seat and quietly removed a hand phaser from the weapons panel. He slipped it unobtrusively under his shirt, attaching it to the tabs there. He noticed Uhura observing his action with concerned eyes.
"One phaser is no deterrent if they intend us real harm, Miss Uhura," he told her. "But it could prove useful under the right circumstances."
"A security blanket, Spock?" she asked lightly. "You surprise me." And had no time to explain the remark for Chel was offering them instructions for entering Lagosta's hanger.
As the giant ship's dark maw opened to receive their tiny craft, Uhura felt a shiver touch her spine.
"...Just like Jonah was done swallowed by the whale," she mocked softly and was again rewarded by Spock's look of puzzlement. Then the bay's doors closed behind them and they were locked within the confines of the alien ship.
The group of men and women who had gathered to welcome them was a pleasant surprise. Humanoid beyond doubt, they were impeccably clad in silver uniforms trimmed in pale blue. Tall, graceful people, they possessed beautifully delineated features and Uhura was intrigued to note their coppery skin -- a shade lighter than her own brown tone.
At the front of the group stood a dark-haired man who appeared to be their leader. He was stern-visaged but singularly handsome and Uhura was gratified to notice that he returned her interest. He came forward with a smooth stride and bowed slightly, first to her and then to Spock.
"We welcome you aboard the Lagosta. We are known as the Randourii." The voice was unmistakably that of Chel. It was restrained, cultured, and now that Uhura was in his presence she wondered how she could have thought of it as lacking warmth.
Spock returned the greeting with a polite inclination of his head. "I am Commander Spock. And this is Lieutenant Uhura, communications officer from our ship."
Chel broke his gaze away from the Swahili. "Ah, yes, Commander -- your ship. Which is...?"
"The Federation Star Ship Enterprise."
"We are not familiar with your Federation, or its ships. Were you able to contact them about your encounter with us?"
"No, Protector, they are still out of range." Uhura thought she detected a minute relaxation on Chel's part and was not surprised to hear Spock add, "But they will, of course, be expecting us at our rendezvous point."
Chel managed a smile. It started as a change so faint she was not sure of its beginnings, as if Chel himself were uncertain of the expression. But it developed into an entirely charming cast of his features. Uhura found herself returning the smile with genuine pleasure.
"Of course, Commander," Chel said gently. "And they would no doubt be distressed if you are late in meeting them. We won't detain you for long, but please let me show you some of our ship. We are quite proud of it. And perhaps we may reassure you that all is well aboard the Lagosta."
He turned to the small gathering behind him. "You may return to your duties. Mav and Karn, you will accompany us." He singled out two men, quite as impressive and immaculate as himself, to act as escorts. With a gallant gesture he offered Uhura his arm.
The Swahili hesitated only long enough to consult Spock's calm eyes and then stepped forward to accept Chel's guidance. The Vulcan assumed a position on her other side and the five of them left the hangar bay.
Chel led them dorm a short corridor to a moving ramp set in the deck. He touched a control button set in the wall and it conveyed them upwards, nearly the full length of the ship.
At the upper end of the ramp they stepped from its smoothly flowing surface onto a level of the ship that magnificently appeared. It was filled with comfortable furniture, viewing ports, even growing plants. There was a miniature pool set in a perfect garden, surrounded by blossoming flowers and complete with a splashing fountain. Uhura broke away from Chel's arm and stretched her hands enthusiastically to include the entire area.
"Isn't it beautiful, Mister Spock?" She tipped her face up to where artificial lights streamed, brilliant as the sun, warming the deck and nourishing the plants. Chel permitted himself a quiet smile.
"I have shown you the best first," he commented. "Perhaps not good showmanship, but I wanted you to appreciate our fine ship." He turned a bit on one heel. "This is called the Sun Level and constitutes much of the dome of our ship. There is not another like it, I'll wager, in your galaxy." He gestured to the hidden lights. "They produce a brilliance almost equal to that of some solar systems."
"A tremendous drain of energy, if true," Spock commented.
Chel's face held a mixture of surprise and pride. "But it is a special part of the ship, Commander. The creators and designers of the Lagosta wanted to carry a reminder of what life can be outside a ship, on a friendly planet. This region was sacred to them. Nothing will ever be permitted to darken the Lagosta's small suns."
Chel studied the Vulcan. "What is your particular interest, Commander Spock? What part of our ship intrigues you?"
Spock had started to open his mouth but Uhura impulsively beat him to the words. "He's fascinated by computers, Protector Chel. It's even been rumored that he talks to them."
She regretted the sally as soon as she uttered it, but Chel gave her a slyly amused look which balanced the disapproval she received from Spock.
"I have often had the same said of me, Commander Spock," Chel said quietly. "I share your admiration for their logic. Mav. Karn." He called the two attendants. "Take Commander Spock to our control center. He may find it interesting."
As Spock and the Randourii guards left them, Uhura found herself alone with Chel. Now at last she found the opportunity she had waited for.
"Your title? Protector? May I ask what it is you protect?" she asked, curious.
Chel's motion included the entire ship. "The world of the Lagosta, the ship -- its cargo. It was the duty assigned me by the designers of the ship."
She nodded and began to move about the Sun Level. The man with the copper skin was watching her, observing her quietly as she examined the place.
"You are suited for such a place," he told her. "The bright light brings out your beauty as it brings the flowers to bloom."
She was flustered by such old-fashioned poetic overtones and gave him a guarded smile. Her feelings toward him had not yet coalesced and she found herself both attracted and confused by his pronounced interest in her. To give herself time in which to collect her thoughts, she moved away to look at the luxurious plants that crowded the edge of the pool. One type of foliage in particular caught her attention.
Among the sturdy, broad-leafed vines, the plant's tiny tendrils were slowly and stubbornly climbing upward to the light. "What a delicate little thing!" she exclaimed. She bent over the plant, fearful of touching its fragile leaves.
Chel reached around her to cup the vine in his hand. She had noticed his hands before when he had folded hers around his arm. Strong, lean hands with gentle fingers. Now he cradled the plant in one tan palm.
"Don't be afraid to touch it," he admonished her. "See? It is much more rigorous and determined than the bigger vines. How else could it have survived here so long?"
She grinned at him. "I hadn't thought of that."
His diffident smile appeared and he admired the room, taking in the flowers. He sniffed their fragrance, and stretched beneath the warmth of the solar lights.
"I, too, find life worth struggling for, don't you?" he asked, looking directly at her. At that moment she made up her mind; she definitely liked him and she smiled.
"Of course, Chel. But I sometimes wish mine were more interesting."
He shook his head. "That I do not believe. You are filled with the essence of life, the sheer joy of living. You could be an example to my people..."
His words were interrupted by Spock's return with his escorts. Uhura noticed that the Vulcan wore a troubled expression and she forgot Chel's words as they continued with the tour.
Chel took them on a journey that included the upper level living quarters. These were also the epitome of luxury, filled with the soft sound of subliminal music and maintained at a comfortable temperature.
They proceeded to a lower level where there appeared to be scientific and laboratory facilities. These, however, gave the impression of being largely deserted. Only one or two had any equipment in them, the rest stood empty and silent. As they moved on with the tour, Uhura noticed some sections of the Lagosta that did not have the lighting activated. She had also noticed a distinct chill to the air as they had left the Sun Level.
Chel had moved ahead of them with his two men, manually operating a corridor door that had failed to function properly. Uhura moved nearer the Vulcan.
"You haven't had much to say, Mister Spock," she said softly. "Has the Lagosta made you envious?"
"Envy would never enter my mind, Lieutenant,"' he said crisply. "And besides I see little to envy here. I find instead that I am frankly puzzled."
"Puzzled over what?"
He indicated the area behind them, the others they had circumvented. They stretched away, dark and forbidding.
"Much of the ship appears to be in disuse. I have seen examples of gross neglect and disrepair."
She had been vaguely aware that the ship's condition was not normal, but Chel's attentions had dulled her powers of observation. Now she studied the vessel with an open mind and was forced to agree with Spock; the Lagosta was improperly maintained. She was a partially deserted shell, much of her empty of life and warmth.
"The illogic of such waste..." the Vulcan was saying when at that moment Chel managed to free the door. Spock frowned with distaste at the malfunctioning portal and exchanged glances with his crewmate. Uhura gave a slight nod. "I see what you mean," she murmured.
"Protector Chel, may I ask a question?" Spock's curiosity had gotten the better of him. "Why is much of your ship not in working order?"
The coppery-skinned man was slow to respond. "Surely that does not concern you, Commander?" Then he appeared to accept the question as one of genuine interest. "If you must know, we are a small crew, this is an immense ship. We are not able to maintain all sections."
"But I do not see why such a small crew was..."
Spock's words were abruptly cut off by a cry from one of the darkened corridors. It was the ululant wail of a lost soul and Uhura turned cold at the sound. A shaggy shape burst from the unlit hall and raced toward them. Clawlike hands reached out to the Swahili woman, a croaking voice gasped, "Strangers, help us! Save the Zanai from a living death!"
Uhura saw Chel turn slightly to the disheveled figure and without warning the intruder stumbled and collapsed, almost at her feet.
Instinctively she drew back to Spock's side. Both of them stared down at the thin, unkempt humanoid who lay unconscious on the deck. His grey hair was shaggy and untrimmed, his clothing old and rumpled. Even if his garments had not presented such a contrast to the immaculate Randourii, Uhura would have been aware of his skin -- a fair, golden color, shades lighter than Chel's. Beneath the wan skin, pale to the point of transparency, the bones stretched prominently. The shape of his face was also subtly different from the Randourii and it was obvious that he was not of the same race as they.
Chel gestured to his two men. "Take him below to the keeping place -- and see that he does not leave there again." His voice was sharp and more filled with expression than Uhura had yet heard it.
The two Star Fleet officers watched in silence as the guards gently lifted the old man and carried him to a ramp that slid downwards into darkness. They made no comment until the three figures had vanished below. Spock had now fastened his attention on Chel and Uhura could sense the tension in him. If there was trouble aboard the Lagosta, they had stumbled on it at last.
"May I inquire why he must be confined?" The Vulcan's voice was mild and inoffensive. "He seemed relatively harmless."
Chel's face altered. There was a determined set to his features that had not been there before. When he spoke, the words sounded studied, as if uttering them had become mechanical with the Protector.
"The Zanai were given into our care many years ago, Commander. We have assumed responsibility for them. That is all you need to know."
Uhura felt her nerves jump at the soft sound. She knew Vulcans. She knew Star Fleet officers. Most of all, she knew Spock. He would never be satisfied with such an answer when he had just witnessed the sight of that neglected and abused humanoid. The fact that they were here at Chel's invitation, alone and practically defenseless, would make no difference to him. He was what he was, and at that moment she was proud to be at his side.
"I find that answer unacceptable, Protector. If your people are custodians for the Zanai, then should you not at least provide them with adequate clothing and food? The man I saw was undernourished and..."
"Commander Spock!" Chel's voice held real emotion now, and a hint of warning. "It does not concern you!"
"In that you are mistaken," the stubborn Vulcan persisted. "We were summoned here by an urgent distress call and that man has asked for our help. We are very much involved."
Chel stood silent for a moment, then a reluctant smile crossed his face. "You have more courage than caution, Commander Spock." Slowly the smile faded.
"I was afraid, from the moment you contacted us, that you were going to be difficult," the Randourii went on. "I was doubly concerned when I learned you were from a larger ship. I had thought that perhaps a harmless tour of the Lagosta would put your mind at rest, ease your suspicions. It is unfortunate that old Heran made his untimely appearance... Unfortunate for you, I mean."
He stepped back and snapped his fingers. Three more Randourii came from a darkened corridor where they had been lurking unobserved.
"Take them!" Chel ordered.
What Spock might have done had he been alone, Uhura would never know. As it was, he moved to place himself between the Randourii and her, drawing his phaser as he did so. His body effectively screened her vision for a second and the next thing she knew, the Vulcan had clutched at his head and dropped to his knees. The phaser slipped from his limp fingers and he fell forward, unconscious as Heran, before him.
"Mister Spock!" Uhura did not waste time in trying to revive him but grabbed for the weapon. It was too late. Already the Randourii guards were on her, seizing her arms, pulling her away from the fallen First Officer.
She struggled in their grip which felt like bands of steel on her arms. At last, out of breath, she stopped and stared angrily at Chel.
"Why?" she gasped. "What have we done? Why are you taking us prisoner?"
"We must care for the Zanai at all costs," Chel repeated tonelessly. "We must allow no one to interfere with our duty. They belong to us."
"Then let us go! We won't interfere. I promise!"
"No. It cannot be. You have heard the Zanai's plea and you would remember it. You would not be silent. Others would come and we would not be able to perform our duty." His face grew solemn. "You will see why the Zanai have been given into our care. Their protection is our prime purpose in life."
He signaled the guards to help the stunned Vulcan to his feet. "Take them below and put them with the others." He picked up Spock's phaser and as he straightened his eyes met Uhura's. For a moment she thought he would say something more to her, but he turned away abruptly and was gone.
As if sleepwalking, Uhura allowed herself to be led to the ramp. Spock's guards half-carried, half-dragged the semi-conscious Vulcan to the conveyance and they began the long journey into the depths of the Lagosta.
There was no sound except the whisper of the walkway as it slid ever downward. Even their footsteps as they left the walk echoed hollowly in the nearly empty ship.
Four levels below the deck where Heran had accosted them, the Randourii guided her to the end of a long corridor. They touched buttons on the silver belts they wore and a vast, metal door slowly slid open. She and Spock were thrust inside a huge, dimly lit chamber and the door went shut behind them.
A strong odor of too many bodies crowded into one space, the scent of stale food and bad air assailed the Swahili's nose. Undefined shapes hovered in the half light and she shrank back against the door, straining to see in the darkness.
Spock was seated on the floor, head lolled back against the wall. For the moment he seemed all right and she hovered protectively over him as she stared at the many bodies around them.
Gradually she made out shapes and faces. Most of the people were lying quietly, faces blank as if in deep sleep. Some were shambling about aimlessly or sitting silently on the deck. A few approached and stared at her dully and she saw they were all pale skinned Zanai.
Deciding that none of them meant her harm, she squatted beside the Vulcan and shook his shoulder. When he still did not respond, she grew worried and tentatively touched his face. At the corner of her vision she saw something move and, crouching, she whirled to face the intruder.
A young girl, no more than fifteen by Earth standards, stood staring at her. Her eyes were wide in the dimness and she pointed a shaking finger at Uhura's arm.
"Randourii!" she exclaimed.
Uhura glanced down, saw her hand dark against Spock's face and suddenly it all made sense. She was so relieved that she laughed. They were more afraid of her than she of them.
"No. No, I'm not Randourii. Please help me. Do you know that's wrong with my friend?"
The girl hesitated, her attention seemed to wander. She looked vacantly at the wall and turned as if about to walk away.
Uhura scrambled up and grabbed the slender wrist. The child shrank back, started to cry out. Uhura softened her grip, urged the youngster closer.
"I'm not going to hurt you," she soothed. "See, I'm your friend. My name is Uhura. What's yours?"
The girl frowned; the idea seemed difficult for her to grasp. At last a small smile broke out. "Tavia," she said shyly.
"Tavia. What a lovely name." The Swahili brushed back the uncombed brown hair and scanned the fine features. "And you're a lovely girl, Tavia." She smiled reassuringly. "Do you know what they did to my friend?" she repeated.
Tavia nodded slowly, wisely. "Their eyes give pain. We have have all felt it."
"Their -- eyes -- give pain?" Uhura was confused. "But that doesn't make sense." She looked around for someone older who could offer her a better explanation. Huddled to one side of the door was a familiar gray-haired figure. It was old Heran from the upper deck and she saw at once that he recognized her.
"Heran, were you the one who sent the distress call?" she asked.
Slowly his look of fear began to fade and with it the blank expression he had been affecting. He glanced around as if to assure himself that no one could overhear.
"Tavia is right," he whispered. "Their eyes do give pain. That is what happened to me up there." He jerked his chin to indicate the upper decks.
"But what about the message? Did you send it?"
He furrowed his brow, massaged at his temples with bony fingers. He looked at her, face working as he tried to recall. "I think so, I must have. Something's been eating at me, urging me to be free of this place. My people ... I can't let them be treated this way..."
He glanced around at the masses of Zanai. There must have been over two hundred crowded in the chamber. Nearly all of them were strangely quiescent, barely taking notice of the new members of their group.
Uhura saw a few nearly as old as Heran, several adults of middle age, but the majority were young adults. Of children below the age of fifteen, she saw none.
Tavia tugged at her arm. "Heran was like your friend when they brought him back and he's fine now. See? Your friend is going to be all right, too." She pointed and Uhura saw the Vulcan had begun to stir.
She want to him, crouched at his side. Abruptly his eyes were wide open and he was fully awake. She rested a hand on his shoulder, glad to have him back with her.
"What happened, Mister Spock? What did they do to you?"
He canted his head as if sorting through the facts in his inquisitive mind.
"As near as I can determine, Lieutenant, I was hit by some sort of energy beam -- almost like an electrical charge. I ... am not certain of its origin."
"Heran says..." She glanced at the old man who still squatted beside the door. "...that their eyes cause pain. Does that mean anything to you?"
Spock gave a nod of assent as memory returned. "It does indeed, Miss Uhura. My last recollection was of looking into Chel's eyes and catching them grow brighter and brighter. I believe he was the source of the energy that struck me."
"But that's impossible, Mister Spock." She hesitated, mindful of the unusual and exotic life forms they had encountered in alien worlds. "I mean -- isn't it?"
"I do not know, Lieutenant. But it is one of the many things we must discover if we are to escape this place."
Uhura took in the mass of people deep in some odd sort of stupor, the barren chamber with its steep walls that soared into invisibility above them. The massive door had been locked by the Randourii when they left.
"Mister Spock," she said quietly. "I admire your optimism, but I think we 're trapped hare."
He got swiftly to his feet and she followed. His face was grave in the dim light. "There are always alternatives, Lieutenant," he said. "And if we are to be confined for any length or time, I suggest that for the sake of expediency we dispense with the use of our ranks. You may refer to me simply as Spock. I shall call you Uhura -- unless you've another name you would prefer."
"You couldn't pronounce it," she said distractedly and wondered at his look of amused surprise. She held out a hand to the young girl. "Tavia, come here." And when the youngster had complied, Uhura indicated Spock.
"This is my friend Spock."
The girl carefully examined the First Officer's features and Uhura saw her eyes linger on the tapered ears, but she was too polite or too disinterested to comment.
"Tavia has been helpful," she told Spock carefully. "She seems to respond to us when the others do not."
Spock took the cue and gave the young Zanai his full attention. "Tavia," he said slowly. "Is there ever a time when the Randourii do not keep watch over you? When they seem to relax their vigilance?"
The girl blinked, struggled to grasp the words. Uhura reached out and touched her arm. "Think, Tavia. Try very hard. Do they ever fail to watch over the Zanai?"
At last the child nodded. "Sometimes. I have peeked through the watch hole, over there." She pointed at a minute pin point of light drilled in the door. "And they are not outside our chamber. And once..." She stopped, sought for the memory. "Once I crept out when they came to feed us. When I reached the bright place -- the place where the light is -- they were all asleep."
"All of them? At the same time?" Spock asked.
"All of them except Chel ... I don't think he ever sleeps," Tavia said resentfully. "He caught me and brought me back here."
Uhura glanced at Spock. "Is any of that helpful?"
"Possibly. Now if an opportunity..."
Heran had risen from his spot by the door unobserved and had come to stand beside them. He clutched at Uhura's arm, startling her.
"You must take me with you!" he cried. "You're planning to escape, aren't you? You must take me with you!"
Spock bent a studious gaze on the old man. "Heran, with all due respect, I do not think a man of your years..."
"I can keep up!" His voice was clear for the first time and filled with determination. "Please -- I must go with you. I can't explain..." He rubbed at his head again, then looked up at them pleadingly. "There are things in my mind, dim but growing stronger. I may be able to help."
Uhura looked at the Vulcan. She could see the dubious set to his mouth, but at last he nodded. "But you must not impede our progress," he warned.
Heran gave a quick bob of his head. "I understand."
In her mind Uhura had been carefully organizing bits of information she had stored about the Randourii. "The buttons on their belts, Spock, I think they operate the locking devices on the vessel's door."
Spock looked at Heran who gave an affirmative nod. "Yes. Without them they would be unable to pass from one section to another."
At that moment there was a stir outside the door. Uhura scurried to one side and at Spock's signal Heran stepped back as Spock took a place near the portal.
There was a low hum and then a sharp click as the locking mechanism released. Uhura felt her nerves tighten to a twanging tension as the door slid slowly open.
She was in for a disappointment, however, for the Randourii guards did not cross the threshold. Instead one of them pointed at her.
"You will come with us?" He made it sound like a question.
Spock moved quickly from his spot beside the door and stood at the Swahili's side. "Why is she to be taken? I am the senior officer here. Take me."
"Chel wished to speak only with her. No harm will some to her." The guard's race relaxed into a poor imitation of a smile but Uhura saw his eyes and they were mild and reassuring.
She laid an arresting hand on the Vulcan's arm. "It'll be all right, Spock. I'll go with them."
Before he could argue she walked quickly from the room. She heard the door being locked behind her. Then the guards took her up the long ramps to the computer center. They indicated she was to enter the room alone, and with only a small jump in her pulse, she did so.
Chel was bending over a panel, some form of headset across his hair. At her step he smiled and removed the listening device. He gestured for her to be seated by a small table across the room and after shutting down the panel, joined her.
Uhura's eyes were busily acquiring knowledge as the Randourii seated himself. Except for this small area the room seemed to be standard computer storage banks and panels for extracting and feeding of information. The section where she was now seated consisted only of a small table, two chairs, a low cabinet and an indirect lamp for additional illumination. Her heart gave a sudden leap as she recognized Spock's phaser lying on the cabinet.
Chel spread both hands wide to encompass the entire complex.
"Welcome to my world, my living quarters -- my life, if you will."
"You live here?" The words were pulled out of her by surprise.
"A great deal of the time. My people are free to enjoy the rest of the ship. My duties seldom permit me the luxury."
"Does your duty include imprisoning Mister Spock and myself -- not to mention the Zanai?" she asked.
He lounged back in his chair, looked inquisitively at her. "But surely now you know it was necessary."
"Necessary? You're talking in riddles." She looked array from his handsome face, furious at his calm tone.
"That was why I let you be taken below along with your friend. I wanted you to see for yourself -- to realize..."
"I realize only that you are treating over two hundred people as if they were less than animals!"
He leaned forward now, stretched his arms across the desk. "But you must see..." He suddenly reached out and linked his hand with hers. Warm fingers folded firmly around her own. Even with her mind crowded with angry questions and the humiliation she and Spock had suffered, she could not fail to respond to his strength, his vitality. She sat unmoving, unable to resist his touch.
"Uhura..." His voice was almost pleading. "You must understand. You are one of us."
She followed the direction of his pointed glance, down to the similar shading of their skin. But the differences between them were not negated but emphasized by that slight variation of color. Reluctantly she forced herself to remember her revulsion on her first glimpse at the plight of the Zanai. Slowly she extricated her hand from his gentle grasp.
"I do not know what you are," she said clearly. "But I could never be one of you."
He sat back, eyed her curiously. "What if I told you the Zanai once thought of us only as slaves -- used us as callously as you would a machine?"
"Then I would say they were wrong. But two wrongs don't make a right, and you're as wrong as they were, Chel, to confine them in those conditions."
"Those conditions are absolutely necessary," he said shortly.
"Then explain them to me so I can understand. I want to understand!"
"I do not offer explanation," he said firmly. "I am the Protector and I will do what is needed."
"And what is 'needed' is that the Zanai be kept in sub-human circumstances while the Randourii luxuriate on the upper decks?" she asked caustically.
He got up, paced a trifle. It was the only sign of impatience she had ever seen him display. Momentarily, she forgot the phaser as she watched his graceful stride.
"Haven't we the right to a decent life?" he queried her.
"Haven't the Zanai?" she countered.
"You speak of things that are beyond your knowledge," he told her. Distress warred with annoyance on his features. He turned to study her and the touch of his eyes was almost physical on her body. "I had thought you of all people would be able to understand."
In the measured steps of a man who acts against his own volition, he came to her, drew her to her feet, stood looking into her eyes. At this intimate distance she was witness to the startling transformation that occurred on his face.
From a look of contained anger it altered to one of uncertainty evenly mingled with a look she was unable to fathom.
"You are something unknown to me," he said. "Something beyond the realm of my knowledge. You frustrate me, puzzle and intrigue me. You create new and different sensations in me." He paused and his expression was one of surprise. "Some of those sensations are painful."
He lifted one hand from her arm and hesitantly put out his first two fingers to softly trace across her lips. It was the brush of a butterfly's wings so gently was it done.
"But some of them are pleasurable," he murmured.
Uhura was shaken to the core of her being, her heart was pounding in great urgent leaps. A part of her wanted to ignore the past, explore with this fascinating man a richer side of their relationship. For a second she was weak and lingered, simply enjoying the feel of his arms around her. But from somewhere she summoned the will power to push him away at last. She retreated to sit down in her chair and found that her knees were shaking.
"What one of us feels for the other is unimportant," she managed to say. "What is important is what you have done to the Zanai."
For a moment he remained where she had left him and she sensed the battle he was waging with himself. She had endured a similar confrontation only seconds before. Finally he turned away slowly and re-seated himself across the desk from her.
"We care for the Zanai. I cannot make you believe that apparently." His voice was sad. "But that is why they are in the depths of the ship."
She did not meet his eyes. Instead she stared at her hands which she had tightly gripped together in her lap.
"You couldn't know what my name means in my native tongue," she said carefully. "So you cannot know its significance." She lifted her eyes to look at him at last. "Uhura means 'freedom'," she said. "And that is what you have denied the Zanai -- the right to be free of darkness and degradation."
"Then you will not join us?" The softness of his tone was like a knife at her heart.
She shook her head fiercely, blinking away the sudden tears. "Never! In fact I will fight against you every chance I get."
He gazed at her for a long moment. "I had hoped..." he began. But the sentence was never finished. What might have been, could not be, and he changed his mind about uttering the words.
He walked to the cabinet, touched a small knob and a drawer sprang open. In it she could see a shining tray and an air hypo. When he picked the instrument up, she felt a quick dart of fear but she would never have let him see it. She lifted her chin, stared at him defiantly with narrowed eyes.
"Do not resist the inevitable, Uhura," he said gently. "This--" he indicated the hypo. "--is a harmless drug, one developed by the Zanai years ago to make their life less unpleasant. Now we have a different use for it. Given in larger doses and at repeated intervals, it acts as a sedative, induces temporary amnesia. It makes our job of managing them much easier."
"And you call that harmless?" She spat the words at him.
"There are over two hundred of them," he reasoned with her. "And only forty of us. We were forced to take drastic measures." He came around the desk and for an instant her eyes flicked to the phaser behind him.
He noticed the object of her attention and shook his head. "Don't fight me, Uhura. My guards are just outside. This will not harm you..." He touched the hypo to her arm. "And as we repeat the dosage, you will gradually find you no longer mind how you are forced to live."
He removed the syringe and stepped back. "It will take a little time for the shot to have full effect. Your next one will be administered in five hours. That is when the Zanai receive their next dosage. I will have my men give your friend his first medication at that time, also."
He sat back down behind the dask, retreating from her, and fingered the tab on his belt. The door to the room opened and his guards came in.
She stood, already feeling a slight dizziness from the drug. Chel was looking at her but his expression was safe behind the stern control he maintained. Only his voice seemed a bit different, softer somehow, as he said good-bye.
When she had been returned to the Zanai prison, Uhura found she was suffering a disorientation from the medicine. Spock came to her anxiously and she tried to smile her reassurance.
"I'm all right, but Chel gave me an injection. It's a drug they use to control the Zanai. It robs them of their will -- effects their memory."
"I had wondered at the apathy I've seen here," Spock turned to look at the torpid Zanai masses. "All except Heran, of course--" His eyes narrowed and he walked over to the old man who had resumed his usual place by the door. "Heran, how long has it been since you were given the drug?"
Heran glanced around with that same furtive motion Uhura had noticed earlier. "I have missed two of their injections," he whispered. "By accident another man received mine the first time. The next time I was feeling stronger. Less willing to let them treat me, I persuaded a different man to take a double dose. Most of the Randourii don't know one of us from another."
"Then that explains why you became disturbed over the living conditions here," Spock commented. "Your mind is becoming free of the drug."
"Yes. Yes, and I sent the message that brought you here." Heran nodded at Uhura. "I remember now. You asked and I wasn't sure. But I've been thinking, trying to remember. It was me. When I was on the deck above that was where I had been -- to the communications center. I had escaped after the last drug injection. I wanted to... Cannot allow my people..." His voice trailed off and the old look of forgetfulness returned.
Uhura had been trying to concentrate also. There was something important she must tell Spock. She frowned. It was getting so difficult to organize her thoughts.
Suddenly it came to her. She caught the Vulcan's arm. "Spock! Chel told me that the Zanai are due for their next injection in a little while. He's going to give you your first shot then!"
Spock had been focused on the deck, frowning. "We may have less time than that, Uhura. By now the Enterprise is approaching our rendezvous point and will be expecting to have our response to their signal. When they do not receive one..."
A chill touched her. "Will the Enterprise be In any danger?"
"Captain Kirk is not going to abandon us without a search. Our craft's passage will have left a clear and unmistakable ion trail. Once they locate that..."
"...they'll follow it here, to the Lagosta." She glanced upward to where the chamber's walls vanished into darkness. "And the Lagosta is twice her size."
He nodded. "I am uncertain how capable her weaponry is -- there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that she is in poor repair, but it is not a confrontation I would care to contemplate. We must find a way out of here and contact them."
"And what about the Zanai?" The Swahili gestured to the stolid people behind them. "We can't just leave them."
Spock sighed. "I'm well aware of their deplorable situation, Uhura. But we must face facts. They will have to remain here until we find a way to overpower the Randourii."
He eyed the door, an expression of deep concentration growing on his face. He walked to the portal, slid sensitive fingers over it.
Uhura watched him, curious. "What is it, Spock? Do you have an idea?"
His look had intensified. "Once before I was able to use Vulcan mental techniques to plant a suggestion, create an impression of..." He broke off, recoiled as if he had received a mild shock. "Fascinating, " he murmured. "I would not have suspected..."
His eyes suddenly rolled up under his lids as he sent all the power of his partially telepathic mind outward, directed at the Randourii guards the vague imagery of trouble below decks.
Finally he let his hand drop, his eyes looked normal once again. "I have done all I can," he said.
"Were you successful?" Uhura couldn't resist asking. He looked at her as though he wanted to tell her something else but changed his mind and gave a noncommittal shrug.
After a few minutes they heard the sound of approaching footsteps. There was a hesitancy about the strides as if the guards were uncertain what had triggered their concern. Still, they came slowly and relentlessly to the door.
"Heran," Spock said softly. "When I jump them, run straight through the door. Don't stop. Uhura, grab tha belt from the man nearest you. We may need the control tabs and if we take them the guards will be locked in here after we escape."
He gestured for the two of them to step back from the door. "Pretend that you are fighting," he directed them. "They must step through door."
With a soft click, the door began to open. Uhura expanded her healthy lungs and let out a piercing scream. Heran caught at her shoulders and began to shake her as the door slid clear.
The guards halted outside, completely at a loss; their charges had never behaved in such a manner before. If they remained there Spock would never be able to overpower them.
"Help me!" Uhura shrieked, desperately trying to lure them inside. "He'll kill me! Protect me!"
She had uttered the magic word. Together the two Randourii leaped into the room and that instant the Vulcan launched himself from behind them. Hitting them low, his shoulder bowled the two of them over and they went down in a tangle of arms and legs. Spock fell on top of them and for an instant was unable to extricate himself. He saw Heran streak by, followed by Uhura who paused only long enough to snatch the belt from one or the men. Spock dragged the other device from the other guard's waist and staggered out the door. He touched the tab on one of the belts and the great door banged shut.
"We must hurry," he told his companions. "They may have some method of communicating with the others. We have to find some way of stopping the Randourii."
Together the three hurried up the long ramps. Uhura found that the walls seemed to swim past her in a dazzling blur. Her legs felt rubbery and her mind was not clear, yet she raced on goaded by the urgency in the Vulcan's voice.
They found no one on the upper levels. With caution they approached the Sun Level, expecting at any moment to stumble over alert Rarndourii. Instead their arrival was anti-climactic; the upper dome was silent and deserted.
Uhura had not noticed the numerous small cubicles that led off the main region when she had been there before, but Spock now entered the first of them and she and Heran followed.
The room was softly lit by the reflection from the main area. Though they had no illumination of their own, they were glowing pleasantly with gentle light and warmed by the Sun Level's radiant heat. And they were crowded with people.
The Swahili darted back in fright at the sight of the many Randourii. Then she paused. They were all lying down, stretched out on comfortable couches and they seemed to be in a deep sleep.
She took a moment to conquer her skipping heartbeat and then noticed that there were shining panels above each couch and long, flexible tubes running from these panels. Spock walked over and examined one of the tubes.
He looked up, his penetrating gaze going directly to Heran. He came back to the doorway, seized the old man's arm and turned the wrist upward.
Uhura could see the faint surgical scar, the small artificial implant above the old man's hand.
"What is it?" Uhura stared at the odd looking mark.
"A shunt," Spock mused. "I should have realized... A shunt, Uhura, for administering drugs painlessly. Do all your people have these?" he asked Heran.
Heran turned the hand up to his eyes, peered at it as if it were something out of the dim past. "Yes ... yes ... I think so..."
Quickly Spock inspected the other ten cubicles. Each was outfitted with couches and each of the couches held the body of a Randourii man or woman. Uhura could make no sense of it and by now her head was swimming.
"But they aren't connected to the tubes, Mister Spock." In her disordered state she automatically resumed the use of his rank. "They've no shunts for taking in drugs. Yet they seem to be asleep."
He turned from bending over one of the copper-hued men. "They have simply turned themselves off, Lieutenant."
The words were without meaning to her in her befuddled condition.
He fastened his gaze on her, drawing all her powers of concentration with his steady regard. "It explains the unusual mental patterns I encountered as I attempted to reach their minds. At first I mistrusted the information -- could not accept what their minds told me. But how I know."
Uhura sagged a little, weary and uncertain because of the drug.
"Mister Spock," she said. "You're going to have to be more specific. I can't understand most of what you're saying."
"The Randourii are not humanoid, Lieutenant," the Vulcan said quietly. "They are android."
"Androids!" She straightened with the shock. "But that can't be! They seem so alive, as real as you or Heran. I touched Chel. His skin is warm, he breathes -- he showed emotion..."
Heran had staggered backwards to lean against the doorway. His fingers worked frantically at his brow as he sought to drag out the elusive memories.
"Emotions!" he breathed. "Yes. Yes! We gave them life. We gave them the ability to make decisions, the knowledge of right and wrong. Perhaps they did develop emotions..."
Spock looked at the old man with pity. "It would seem that is the case, Heran. Your creations were more perfect, more life-like than you thought."
Heran pulled his hands away from his face. "But they were only supposed to be our servants. We were on a long voyage..." His face clouded. "I ... can't remember why. What could have happened?"
Uhura felt as if she had gone mad. What they were saying could not be true. A sense of loss overwhelmed her.
"But Chel -- Surely not Chel..."
Heran's expression was one of regret and profound sympathy. For a fleeting second she saw something else on Spock's face -- understanding mixed with pain -- then it was gone."
"Chel is an android, too, Lieutenant," he said gravely. "And I do not see him among his people. He may still be conscious. We must proceed with caution to the computar complex and ascertain what has happened to the balance of power aboard this ship. The information should be stored somewhere in the memory banks."
The Vulcan looked at the old man. "I presume the Randourii were programmed to turn themselves off at regular intervals?"
The Zanai bobbed his head. The memories were crowding back, jostling his mind. "Yes, Generally after we had eaten we came into these chambers for ... dreaming ... and ... they ... went off duty. Most of them at least. There were always one or two left to monitor the ship's systems, to alert the rest of them if there was a problem."
"Then we must be hopeful that we do not encounter one of them." Spock started out the door. "Quickly. There is no time to lose. The Enterprise will be within range before long."
With great care they made their way down the long, sunny dome to the computer center, Uhura as determined as Spock now to discover what had happened to the Lagosta.
The center was empty and with a little aid from Heran, Spock managed to find the proper storage banks. He searched among tapes and computer chips, sorting and discarding. At last he found the one he had been looking for and inserted it into the main computer.
"Once we have the answer to the androids' behavior," he told his companions. "We must find a way to deactivate them and contact the Enterprise."
One end of the vast room was occupied by a large blank wall. Now on it, the three-dimensional history of the Lagosta and her mission came to life.
What the three of them witnessed was the miracle of time travel without leaving their present era. Like some magic Sesame portal to the past opened and the history of the Zanai began to flow past their curious eyes.
A vast, red-sunned planet, Zanai had developed to a high order of society. Technology flourished unfettered and with it came the knowledge that other stars, other worlds, were available to the courageous. A distant system was selected after careful survey, detailed plans were drawn.
A gigantic ship was built, outfitted for a leisurely flight, made comfortable for the twenty odd years the journey would take. Entire families were to be traveling together for these Zanai were never to see their original planet again. A planet around a new star would be theirs to colonize, to call home.
Into this elaborate design were built the android Randourii, whose name was derived from the progenitor of such creations on ancient Zanai. Uhura found it painful to watch the asceptic technical films depicting their birth in laboratories of the homeworld. It was incredible to her that such life-like, breathing beings were meant to be only machines.
Gradually, as the tapes went on, she could see what had occurred. The Zanai had taken along plants whose narcotic effect was to prove useful to them. From some of the vines in the Sun Level they manufactured a 'dream drug' whose original purpose was to ease their unbearable sadness at loss of homes and friends, and which could be used to pass the countless hours of deep space flight.
The tapes made no mention of cryogenics, that method used among Federation planets on 'sleeper ships' and Uhura presumed that the Zanai had not mastered the technique. Instead, after each meal, the Zanai gave their ship over to the care of the androids, and young and old alike, retired to their sun rooms. They attached the drug tubes to the artificial shunts in their arms and dreamed away long hours in peace.
But there was a trap in this system. As the Zanai became more and more dependent on the drug for relief from boredom, they also depended more on the Randourii for operation of their ship. Set on automatic control it still required constant surveillance and monitoring and the Zanai were no longer diligent.
As the Zanai grew careless about maintaining the efficiency of the ship, the Lagosta fell behind schedule. After fifteen years of travel, the computer predicted that it would take them six point three months longer than originally planned to reach their destination. There would not be enough food for all the Zanai to complete the trip, nor fuel for their ship at their present rate of consumption. Chaos broke out as knowledge of their fate spread among them.
Spock shut off the computer and glanced at Heran.
"Do you remember now what happened?" he asked the old man.
Heran brushed away the last of his clouded thoughts and moved his head slightly in assent. "I ... believe so. We left more and more responsibility to them, lost ourselves in the pleasure of our dreams."
"And as their responsibility grew," Spock went on, "So did their knowledge, for you had built even more perfect machines than you realized."
"Yes. Yes," Heran said, showing excitement. "We gave them the power to make decisions, the ability to learn, to grow intellectually as situations changed."
Uhura glanced at the empty wall, overwhelmed by the numbing drug and all that she'd seen and heard. "And when your food supply ran short and you no longer had unlimited fuel..."
Heran ducked his head in shamed reminiscence. "I can recall how many hours we debated it, the council and myself. We couldn't -- there was no way we could -- make the decision, the choice of who to sacrifice and who to save. We fell to squabbling over it -- each of us wanted to save those dearest to us. We were no longer a united race, but separate, selfish individuals. The conflict threatened the existence or the entire ship."
"So the Randourii made the decision for you." Uhura stared at him, uncertain if her feeling of sadness was for the little man and his desperate people, or for the single-minded devotion of their manufactured servants.
Spock went on. "They herded the Zanai together and closed down vast sections of the ship to conserve fuel. There weren't enough of the Randourii to keep all the ship in repair without you, at any rate. They put your people on strict rationing to extend the food supply, kept them sedated so they would not rebel and would conserve their strength. They took all the logical steps that humans in their emotionalism can never seem to do. In short, Heran, they probably saved your lives."
"What about the Sun Level?" Uhura asked. ''They're wasting a tremendous amount of energy to keep it illuminated."
Heran sighed. "It was one of their prime directives -- that the Sun Level was almost a sacred place to us, never to be darkened. And without the light they would have been unable to produce the seed needed for the dream drug."
"What about the pain -- the pain they give with their eyes?" she demanded. "I thought all androids were supposed to be designed so they couldn't harm their creators?"
"We gave them the pain as a defense," Haran explained. "Our ship was largely automated -- even our course preset and fed into the computer before we left Zanai. But there were long periods of time -- while we were sleeping -- that an intruder might have circumvented the defense system and come aboard the Lagosta. We gave the Randourii the energy beam strictly for our protection."
"The Randourii were supposed to guard the Zanai," Spock reminded her. "When it became necessary to confine them, the androids would have rationalized that the use of the beam was permissible to protect the Zenai from themselves."
"And Chel?" The name stuck in her throat.
Heran did not meet her eyes. "Chel was our primary link between the computer and the Randourii. It was his function to daily scan the ship's progress and correlate that with our supplies, to make any course alteration to avoid meteorite showers. He also acted as co-ordinator between our needs and the Randourii."
"Then he -- then Chel was the one who..."
Heran nodded, his face was an odd mfxture of despair and pride. "Chel would have had to be the driving force behind their decision to confine us." He rooked at the Swahilf at last. "But he cannot be blamed for the conditions you found us in, Uhura," he said gently. "What could an android know of such non-essentials as the need for privacy and better clothing? I am amazed that he managed it so well. And he did find a way for all of us to complete the journey."
"Then all they were trying to do..." she began.
"...was to protect and care for our creators."
The voice, like a cool stone dropped into a pool, disturbed them. Chel spoke from the shadow of the doorway. He moved out of the dimness to stand before them, tall, omnipotent, and gleaming in his copper skin and silver uniform.
"Chel, we bear you no malice," Haran started forward. "Let us be free of the drug and we will..."
He stopped in his tracks as Chel turned his warning gaze on him.
The Protector tipped his head back and eyed the old man coldly.
"I will care for the Zenai," he repeated. "They are my charges."
Out of the corner of her eyes, Uhura saw Spock inching towards the cabinet where his phaser had been placed. She moved a step nearer Chel to distract his attention.
"Chel," she said softly. "This is wrong. You aren't infallible. Remember -- you mistook me for a Randourii when you first saw me."
He gave an impatient jerk of his head. "You represented a new learning situation, one not covered in my programming. I was eventually able to assess the proper facts."
"But you've made another error," she explained. "Can't you see now that it was wrong, even for the best of reasons, to keep the Zanai shut away from life and light, without enough nourishment for body or mind?"
Chel's expression once again revealed the definite flicker of emotion.
"And what of the Randourii?" he growled. "For years we were considered intelligent enough to run this ship, trusted to watch over the Zanai, given responsibility beyond our original programming. In return for what? For long periods each day we were sent below to that black, cold chamber and expected to turn ourselves off."
He gave her his full attention as he attempted to explain.
"Uhura, the Zanai expended every effort to develop a superior android. They succeeded beyond their greatest expectations. The mind of our kind of android is remarkable. It can store the images of pleasure, understand the feel of light and warmth, the intangible concept of freedom -- just as your brain does. How long were we to be satisfied with half a life?"
His voice changed, became both remote and sad.
"As the primary I was able to alter my programming so that I no longer have the directive to turn myself off. In time I hope to find a way to remove it from my people's memory patterns as well. I have been working toward that moment for weeks now."
He paused, moved a step nearer the Swahili woman.
"Do you know what it's like to be ordered to shut off your mind, Uhura?" he asked in a tense voice. "It's a little like dying each day."
Heran fidgeted into Chel's vision. He, too, was aware of the Vulcan's slow approach to the phaser.
"Androids can't die," he grumbled.
Chel raised a clenched fist as if to strike the old man. But it was only a sign of his frustration and he let his arm drop to his side. His face had become such a mask of agony that Uhura could not bear to look at it.
"Can' t I make you understand?" the Protector cried. "We have evolved beyond your wildest imaginings, Heran! We are no longer what you made us. We breath, we think, we feel! And none of you can know what it's like to be one of us!"
Chel stopped, collected his control and continued in a strained tone.
"If you should find a way to shut us off now, what will happen to all that we've become? The feelings will live on forever, looked in our memories, useless, wasted. It would be murder committed forty times over." He shook his head. "I cannot permit that. You will return to the keeping place -- all of you."
He turned to include the Vulcan in his command and Uhura saw that Spock had the phaser in his hand. Chel's eyes began to glow as Spock touched the fire button.
A scream of warning tore her throat. Later, in her dreams, she would relive that moment and wonder -- for which of them was the warning intended?
The brilliant flash of the phaser hit Chel's chest and he sagged as a human would when stunned. But instead of falling he remained upright, frozen in that terrible moment of retaliation.
The energy beam's brightness faded from his eyes and there was a faint hum from his body. His expression relaxed into the empty impassivity of a robot.
Heran leaped for the computer's main panel.
"Quick!" he shouted at Spock. "The androids have a direct link with the computer. It's the only way they can be permanently deactivated!" He pointed to a red switch high on the board.
Spock brought the lever down. Chel made no further movement but the last of comprehension slowly died in his eyes. Uhura turned away from the sight, hid her eyes behind shaking hands.
"We must get to the communications room and contact the Enterprise," the Vulcan was saying calmly. "They will assist your people in obtaining the necessary supplies, Heran, so that you may all continue on your journey."
The three started to leave the room. Heran went first, with a quick look of regret as he passed the silent Protector.
Uhura found the needed steps harder than she had imagined. She was not yet free of the drug and the sight of that immobile figure forced her to a halt. Unwillingly she looked into that still face and knew how much she missed that quick responsive glance.
"Chel..." Unaware of what she did, she started towards him.
Spock had been observing her closely. Now his strong hands stopped her. His arms gently restrained her, offering her solace.
"Walk away, Uhura." His voice was too low for Heran to overhear. "What he is cannot be changed -- nor what you are." It was not her fellow officer speaking now, but her friend.
After a moment she lifted her face and gave him a faint smile. "I'm all right, Mister Spock."
He gave her one last penetrating look as if to ascertain for himself the truth of her words, then released her.
Uhura looked to Heran waiting in the doorway. She could not bear to glance at Chel's immobile form. "Does he have to remain like that forever?" she asked, her voice breaking a little.
Heran's wisdom and kindliness showed in his gentle smile. "When my people are again themselves and we've replenished our supplies, we will find a way to make them a part of our lives. Chel especially, for he is unique among his kind. They are our children, and who knows?" He paused and glanced at the handsome, silent face, thinking of what Chel had done. "They may even be better people than we are."
Uhura nodded and permitted herself at last to be led from the room.
Three hours later as she prepared to transfer to the Enterprise, Uhura searched for Tavia to sag good-bye. She could not locate her on the lower decks. Much of that region was totally deserted now as the Zanai, with help from the Enterprise medical staff, returned to normal. Spock had told her that Heran and the star ship technicians were hard at work on re-programming the Randourii,
She found the girl at the base of the ramp to the Sun Level. When she saw the communications officer, Tavia's face lit with a radiant smile. She glanced upwards -- towards the dome.
"I think I'm afraid," she told Uhura. "It's been so long..."
A large group of Zanai had collected about them, uncertain of going further up the ramp.
The Swahili put out her hand. Without hesitation the young girl caught it, grasped it tightly.
Hand in hand, followed by the Zanai, the two climbed towards the light which promised warmth and life to them all.