DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of T'Eros and is copyright (c) 2001 by T'Eros. This is rated NC-17 for sexual situations.



TRUST

T'Eros



Christine wiped the blood out of her eyes and turned back to the injured crewman. It was too late. He was dead.

Next she turned her attention to Spock who was sprawled beside the pilot's chair, knocked unconscious by the concussive blast that had crashed the shuttlecraft into the hillside. Thankfully they hadn't gained very much altitude or speed before the Klingon attack had felled them, otherwise all of them would surely have been killed.

Spock groaned as she ran a medical scanner over his body and then made a sharper noise as he tried to move.

"Just lie still," Christine ordered him, studying the readings on her tricorder. "Your left arm is broken in two places. Your rib structure is cracked and your upper thoracic region is heavily bruised. There may be pulmonary damage as well."

"Wildman," Spock managed to get out.

"He's dead," Christine answered, not allowing herself to succumb to the shock and panic that was threatening. Focusing on her job was keeping her calm.

"What about Chekov and Mead?"

"I don't know yet."

"And you?" Spock was struggling to get upright.

"I'll be okay. Mr. Spock, stay where you are!"

"I must assess the damage," he insisted and grasped the co-pilot's seat, using it as a lever to pull himself to his feet. There he swayed drunkenly, then leaned against the chair and cradled his broken arm against his body. Even with his Vulcan fortitude, his face had drained of all color. "See to the others."

Christine was beginning to shake from both shock and frustration, torn between helping Spock, tending to her own injuries, or carrying out her medical duties. She chose the latter and made her way aft to check on Ensign Chekov and Medical Technician Ellen Mead.

She found Mead coming back to consciousness, bloody and bruised but essentially uninjured. Chekov, however, was in far worse shape. Blood poured from a head wound and Christine's felt suddenly cold as she scanned him. His skull was fractured and there was evidence of a massive concussion. He had to have immediate medical attention or there was little chance of survival.

The weight of their situation hit Christine like a load of dutronium. Surveying the interior of the battered shuttlecraft, the dead and injured people around her, the nurse realized with a cold certainty that this was one time they weren't going to make it.

Spock stumbled back toward the rear of the shuttle, then, gasping for breath, he was forced to lower himself into one of the crew chairs. His face had turned a shade of green that more denoted nausea than any Vulcan heritage. In point of fact, he looked like he was about to throw up, something Christine had never known him to do even in the worst of illness.

After a moment, he seemed to master his pain and vertigo and looked up at her. "Report, nurse?"

She shook her head from where she was busy stanching the bleeding of the Russian's cranial wound. "Chekov's dying unless we get him some help. There's nothing I can do for him. Or you, Mr. Spock, beyond splinting that arm. Is there any hope that we will be found?"

"There is always hope, Lieutenant. However, it is remote. Our comm panel is smashed beyond repair. I have activated the emergency beacon. There is the possibility that a ship will hear it, although we are on the edge of Federation territory. We are not due to rendezvous back with the Enterprise for another 73 hours."

Christine blinked as blood dripped into her eye once more and she reached up to gingerly touch the gash on her forehead that was the source. Spock gazed at her with a weariness born of injury and ordered, "See to that cut, Miss Chapel. Then I need you to set my arm. Once that is done, I will be in better shape to search for a way to contact help."

Chapel nodded and went into the shuttle's tiny washroom to quickly clean and bandage her forehead. She was back in a matter of minutes. Ellen Mead was on her feet now as well and, while she was not a nurse, she was the least injured of the party and able to help Christine. Both women were black and blue but had no broken bones or serious cuts.

Christine located a piece of metal tubing that was short and sturdy enough to serve as a splint, then found a full roll of bandage in the medkit. Once that was ready, she turned to the Vulcan. "I don't have anything to sedate you while we do this, Mr. Spock. You're just going to have to grit your teeth and hang on."

"Allow me a moment to prepare," he answered and closed his eyes, his breathing dropping into a deep, rhythmic pattern ... or as close as he could get with cracked ribs and damaged lungs. When he opened his eyes, his face was serene. "Proceed," he said.

Christine did another quick scan of his forearm and addressed the medical lab tech who was assisting her. "His arm is fractured just below the elbow and again approximately 10 centimeters below that. Vulcans have only a single bone in their forearms, not a radius and ulna like humans. I'm going to place his arm on the metal splint and set the upper break, then the lower. I want you to hold his arm steady while I do so. Can you do that, Ellen?"

"Yes, ma'am," the girl answered, getting into position.

"Ready, Spock?"

"Yes."

"Okay. Here we go."

What followed was fifteen minutes of agony that Spock bore with clenched jaw and iron discipline. Never once did he flinch or make a noise, but Christine could see what the effort was costing him. His face was absolutely white when she finally finished bandaging his arm to the metal splint. She then fashioned a sling and secured the splinted arm against his torso.

"It's done, Spock," she said softly to him. "I'm going to give you an antibiotic and a pain killer."

"Thank you, nurse," he answered in a strained voice.

For several minutes, he sat back in the chair with his eyes closed. Christine supposed that he was absorbed in some Vulcan meditation thing to hasten his healing. She really didn't care at the moment. With the immediate medical emergencies somewhat contained, she was beginning to feel herself crumble emotionally and physically. She'd been operating on adrenalin and it was beginning to wear off.

She turned back to Ellen. "We need to get Pav into a more comfortable position. Do you think you can help me lift him onto a crew cot?"

"I don't know," the young woman answered uncertainly.

"I will assist you," Spock interjected and got unsteadily to his feet.

"You couldn't lift a cat right now," Christine shot back at him. She was aching all over from her various contusions and had little patience left for male heroics, Vulcan or otherwise.

Surprisingly, Spock didn't quarrel much with her. "Perhaps not. But the three of us should be able to move him."

Ellen let down the narrow cot that folded out of the side wall of the rear compartment and together they managed to transfer the comatose man off the floor and onto the bed. All three of them felt weak once the exertion was over and they all took a moment to rest before Christine steeled herself and turned back to monitoring Chekov's condition.

Spock got up and addressed the lab tech. "Crewman Mead, assist me. I want to check out the condition of the shuttle."

The two of them walked off toward the bow of the shuttlecraft while Christine perched on the narrow edge of the bunk and ran her scanner over Chekov's body. What she found alarmed her even more. There was evidence of internal bleeding and it appeared that his spleen had been ruptured. She had debated whether or not to move him, but had decided she couldn't leave him lying on the cold, hard deckplates.

She got a woolen blanket from the storage locker and covered him to ward off shock. If she could just keep him alive until help arrived, perhaps their rescuers would be able to do something for him. For all of them.

If anyone came to rescue them, that is.

She could hear Spock and Ellen talking from the pilot's station and discussing whether or not the ship was capable of being repaired. Something told her that their efforts were futile. This ship had seen its last flight and was now a mangled pile of junk, suitable only as a cramped shelter from the elements. Christine didn't even know if they would be able to get the hatch open without taking a wrecking bar to it. She looked back down at Chekov and turned her thoughts to what had brought them here.

The planet they had been surveying was a beautiful Class M world, uninhabited but teeming with plant and animal life, most of it benign, even beneficial. The science and medical team had been dispatched to survey the planet as a prelude to botanical and geological exploration. What they'd found indicated that the planet was a treasure house of medicinal plants and mineral deposits.

They had finished their sweep of this section and were lifting off to move to another area of the planet when an explosion off to their port side had slammed the shuttlecraft into the side of the hill they were in the process of clearing. Christine had automatically assumed Klingons were responsible. They were in the border territory between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, so they were the logical choice, to borrow an expression she'd heard too many time already this trip.

What puzzled her was why the Klingons hadn't come to capture them, or at least to see if there was anything worth stealing out of the shuttlecraft. She'd always heard that Klingons were ruthless, savage, uncivilized. They were little better than animals, despite the fact that they had warp capability and had conquered several surrounding planetary systems of their home world.

Christine stood up and made her way to the front of the shuttle, carefully stepping over Ensign Wildman's body. He still lay where he had fallen and Chapel moved up to stand beside Spock, who was seated in the pilot's chair. "We need to do something about Wildman," she said softly.

"Yes," the First Officer replied, not looking up from where he was attempting to twist two wires together one-handed. "You and Miss Mead will have to form the burial detail. I am afraid that in my present condition I will be of limited help. I would suggest checking to see if any of the phasers are operational. There may be no other way to excavate a suitable grave."

"Good idea," she answered.

"Mead, hold this wire for me," Spock ordered, his attention fully back on the job at hand, getting the hatch open. "I cannot manipulate this properly."

Christine went back to the storage area and checked the arsenal. There were six hand phasers stored there, all of which seemed to have ridden out the crash in good shape. As she was pulling one of the weapons from its housing, she became aware that the deck beneath her feet was vibrating. Puzzled, she wondered if Spock had gotten the thrusters working but a glance his way showed that he and Mead were just as perplexed as she was.

Then she became aware of a high pitched hum that was dopplering down through the audible levels. It was coming from outside the shuttle and from overhead.

"Spock? What is it?" she called.

"A ship," he answered, rising to his feet as the shuddering of the deck became more pronounced. "Landing quite close by."

Christine's heart leapt with hope for an instant. They'd been found! But Spock suddenly seized Mead's arm and shoved her toward the rear compartment with Christine, following her as best he could. "Phasers!" he ordered sharply. "That's not a Federation ship!"

"Klingons?" Christine asked as she hastily distributed phasers to both Spock and Ellen, then took one for herself.

"I don't know," Spock replied, listening intently to the signature sound of the descending engines. "I have never heard a Klingon ship land. Be ready!"

The three of them huddled in the rear compartment, watching the hatch, protecting the still unconscious Chekov with their own bodies.

Outside, the sound of the engines growled to a bass roar, then shut down as landing thrusters fired and hissed to a stop. For a while, all was quiet, then they detected movement outside their own craft. There was scraping and banging on the hull, then the sounds moved to the sealed hatch. After some scrabbling sounds, there was suddenly the scream of an energy weapon being directed there.

The seal held for a moment, then there was the whistle and screech of hull breach and the atmospheres inside and out equalized. The hatch still refused to come open, but with a shriek of forced metal, it was pried apart, accompanied by a loud, sibilant hissing sound. Something about it made the hair on the back of Christine's neck stand straight up, something primal that told her to run as fast as she could away from there. But there was no escape now and, her heart pounding, she waited for the Klingons to board their downed shuttlecraft.

The hatch now forced open, a stocky figure lumbered aboard and turned to the Starfleet crew. Christine managed not to scream, although Ellen was not so successful.

They weren't Klingons.

They were Gorn.

All three people yanked their phasers up to fire, but the Gorn touched a button on its belt and the weapons went dead. It growled something in its harsh language and two more Gorn stepped into the shuttle behind it. One was attired in a tunic with metallic embroidery worked throughout the cloth and it wore a jeweled dagger in a scabbard on its belt.

Stepping forward, it pressed a stud on its belt and spoke, its words coming out in barely intelligible Standard through a universal translator. "Hoomons," it said. "You are prisoners."

Spock, always pragmatic, straightened as best he could. "So it would seem," he replied.

The Gorn turned its whole body slightly to the side, the better to see Spock with its faceted eye. "You are leader here?" it asked.

"I am Spock. I am in command of this mission."

"He first," the Gorn growled and immediately one of the other Gorn stepped forward and motioned Spock toward the hatch, emphasizing the order with the blaster rifle it carried. Spock exchanged glances with Christine and Ellen and obeyed the order. The Gorn captain turned back to the two women.

Christine gulped and demanded, "Where are you taking him?"

"Female," the Gorn replied in a hiss. It came closer, causing the two women to back up involuntarily until stopped by Chekov's bunk. The creature sniffed loudly and appeared to turn its gaze on Mead. "Also female." Then it spied the man on the bed and bent slightly to peer at him. "Male. It is injured?"

"Yes," Christine answered, trying to keep her voice from quavering. "He is dying."

The Gorn touched another stud on its belt and gave a terse statement then looked back at the humans. "We will repair. You come now."

"I will not leave our crewman!" Christine replied with more bravura than she felt, but the other armed Gorn raised its rifle and pointed it directly at them.

The captain spoke. "We will repair injuries. Go now!"

Christine and Ellen had no choice but to follow the command and the two were herded toward the hatch. As they passed Wildman's body, another one of the reptile-like aliens entered, this one carrying some sort of equipment. She heard the captain speak, "How long dead?" The other answered in their hissing language and the captain replied, "Cold keep. Stay fresh."

Chapel spun back toward them, her skin prickling with premonition. "What do you mean?! What are you going to do?"

The captain looked up at her, its scaly face expressionless. "Save body. If we leave here, will rot. Bad meat."

Christine didn't have a chance to question him further, for the guard shoved both women out through the hatch. There they could see the ugly Gorn ship squatting in a burned section of grass not far away. It was a good deal larger than the shuttlecraft, a full-fledged starship, and steam curled up between its landing struts from the still hot landing jets. The boarding ramp was extended and Christine and Ellen were forced unceremoniously up its length and into the ship.

For a moment, the two women balked at the hatchway, repelled by the odor. The ship smelled faintly of dust and decayed flesh, mixed with the oily miasma of engine lubricants and impulse fuels. There was something else about it that made Christine's skin crawl. It had a cold reptilian scent that made her feel like a rabbit being shoved down a snake pit.

The Gorn soldier behind them jostled them with his rifle and the two women entered fearfully. Inside it was cool and dim, which only added to the sensation of being trapped. The guard took them down a lift to a lower level and there they found themselves forced into a small room that bore an alarming resemblance to a cell. There were pallets on the floor and a tiny trough on one wall with water running into it and out through a drain. In one corner was a hole in the floor that Christine supposed was a toilet.

The Gorn soldier activated a force field and went away, his toe claws clicking on the deckplates. For a few moments, both women huddled together, then Ellen began to cry. Christine put her arms around the younger woman and they held each other in despair and fear. Faint sounds echoed through the ship, unidentifiable from the lower levels. At last they heard what they supposed was the hatch being sealed and this was followed by the sound of the engines charging up.

Within a half hour, the gravity field changed from natural to an artificial one and they felt the inertial dampers kick in as well. The sound of the engines built in pitch and the deck beneath them quivered with incipient lift off. And then there was the unmistakable sensation of being airborne and the women knew that the ship was on its way back into space.

A very long time passed then and finally they were roused by the sound of claw clicks coming their way. A guard appeared before the opening -- whether it was the same one or another, Christine had no way of telling -- and this time it spoke in the same harsh Standard as its captain had used earlier.

"You, female, yellow head. Come."

Christine supposed it meant her since Ellen had dark hair, but she had no intention of blithely obeying this creature. "I'm not going anywhere!" she retorted. "Tell your captain that I want to speak with him."

The Gorn merely damped the energy field enough for it to step through, seized Christine's arm in an iron grip, and dragged her out bodily. The field immediately reasserted itself. Without further speech, the Gorn turned and started back the way it had come, hauling Christine by one arm.

"Wait! Wait!" she screamed, feeling as if her arm was being wrenched from its socket. "Please! I'll walk! You're hurting me!"

The Gorn stopped and allowed her to get to her feet, then shoved her ahead of him. "No more refuse," it hissed at her.

The stocky reptile herded his captive to the lift and they ascended to an upper level. There Christine was taken down a curving corridor and into an interior room. Startled, she stopped dead. Inside the room it was dark, punctuated by pools of light illuminating what were clearly examination tables.

On two of them lay Spock and Chekov, both of them unconscious, naked and shimmering with a gelatinous red energy field that enveloped their whole bodies. The splint had been removed from Spock's broken left arm and the arm was lying in a quite natural position at his side. Likewise, the bandage was gone from Chekov's head.

Before Christine could note anything further, she was shoved forward by the Gorn guard and the door slid closed behind them. Shaking, she allowed herself to be pushed toward another one of the tables. "No clothes," the guard growled without ceremony.

A surge of terror nearly buckled her knees underneath her. "What?!" she cried. "No!" And she abruptly made a run for the door. She never felt the energy pulse hit her.

* * *

Christine came back to consciousness slowly as if waking from a long sleep. Her brain refused to operate properly but gradually she began to sort things out. The first thing she could discern was that she was lying on a cold, metal surface and that there was a bright light hanging somewhere above her. Next she realized that she was naked. Things around her seemed to have a deep rosy glow to them and then she understood that the same red energy field that she'd seen around Spock and Chekov was covering her as well.

At the thought of the two men, she tried to turn her head to see if she could locate them. At first, her muscles didn't want to work but finally, as if swimming through a heavy sea, she managed to move her head to the right. There she could make out Chekov still lying on his table. She couldn't quite see Spock but there did seem to be another table with an occupant and she assumed that was the First Officer.

With an effort, she turned her head back to the left. Ellen Mead was lying on a table on that side of her, likewise naked and enveloped in the red energy, unconscious. And there was something else there that made Christine's heart seize up with fear.

Ellen was not alone.

Standing beside her examination table were two aliens that were not Gorn. Christine had never seen this race before. Small and slender, they were almost insectoid in appearance, although that wasn't a proper description either. They were vaguely humanoid in shape, but there was nothing human about them. Their skin was the color of putty and had a sheen like oiled leather. Their arms were slender and boneless, bending in places that no humanoid arm would flex, and in place of hands they seemed to have a set of short tendrils, functioning as fingers, all of them opposable and like the arms able to bend in any direction.

But it was their heads that she could not look away from. They were over sized for the bodies and were dominated by large, almond-shaped black eyes. It was the heads that made them seem insectoid, for they reminded Christine of wasps or ants.

The two aliens were running some sort of scanner over Ellen's body and, although she could not hear any sounds, she had the impression they were communicating with each other. Then a Gorn appeared beside them, seeming impossibly large and awkward next to the small, graceful creatures. It growled and hissed a command at them and one of them answered in a high-pitched language.

As Christine watched in horror, one of the aliens moved down to the end of the examination table and spread Ellen's legs apart. It inserted a long probe into her vagina and paused for a moment to observe the readings on an instrument pad it held. It then chattered a report to the Gorn, who seemed satisfied with what it had heard.

The Gorn ground out another command and the probe was removed from Ellen's body. Then, the group moved toward Christine's table with the obvious intent of carrying out the same examination on her.

Terrified beyond any level of fear she'd ever known, Christine tried to get up, to get away, but she couldn't make her body move. And the screams that wanted to rip from her throat would not materialize beyond a weak whimper.

One of the creatures came to stand beside her and peer into her eyes. That sent her heart leaping into an even more frantic pounding, for they were deep, black, fathomless eyes and they seemed to engulf her. Then it laid a tentacled hand on her forehead and a voice abruptly sounded in her mind.

Sleep.

Instantly, the world went dark and she knew no more.

* * *

The ship didn't sound right, thought Christine. Something was wrong with the warp engines. Why didn't Scotty fix them?

No ... something was just wrong. This wasn't her cabin and it wasn't her bed. And she couldn't seem to get her eyes open. She couldn't wake up.

"Miss Chapel?"

She knew that voice, although she couldn't pin down who owned it. It was soft and deep, reassuringly familiar. Something about it said strength and competence and just hearing it made her feel better somehow. She turned her head in that direction, letting a deep breath fill her lungs. But the cool, fetid air made her cough and she frowned in her semi-conscious state, rolling her head back the other way.

"Miss Chapel?" the voice asked again, this time with just a hint of concern in it. "Please wake up."

Abruptly she knew where she was and that there was some person, some being beside her. Instinctively, she jerked away with a cry of fear, her eyes flying open, bringing up her hands to ward off the horrible hands, the terrifying instruments.

But it was Spock who was down on one knee beside the flat pallet on which she lay. He was peering at her with an expression of consternation, his dark eyes intent. "It's all right, Miss Chapel. They are gone. Are you injured?"

"No ... no, I ... I ..." She gulped and managed to calm down a bit. "Where are we?"

"A holding cell of some type," Spock answered. "I awoke a few moments ago and found that you were here as well."

She pushed herself into a sitting position and looked wildly around her. "I think this is the same cell they had me in earlier. Where are Pav and Ellen?"

"I believe they are in a nearby cell, but I cannot be certain."

Christine did a quick survey of herself and her condition. Both she and Spock were fully clothed again in their uniforms and suddenly she noticed that his left arm was resting easily across his thigh, showing no sign of injury.

Without thinking, she reached out and grabbed his left hand, turning it palm up in examination. Startled, he yanked it out of her grasp and only then did she realize what she had done. Still, she said in amazement, "Your arm! How...?"

"I do not know," he replied. "It was fully healed when I awoke. In fact, all of my injuries seem to have disappeared. I no longer appear to have cracked ribs or bruised lungs. And I might add that your head wound is gone as well."

Christine lifted her fingers to the cut over her eye, only to encounter smooth, unblemished flesh. And when she took an assessment, she had no sensation of having been hurt at all. Her bruises and contusions were gone.

She quickly ran back over her memories. "That must've been what they were doing," she said aloud. Spock looked at her quizzically and she explained. "When they took me to that ... that examining room, you and Chekov were on tables with a red light or energy field on you. Then I woke up later on a table and it was on Ellen and me as well. It must have been healing us. Or else the Gorn are much more sophisticated medically than we've ever suspected."

"That is a possibility," Spock replied. "They are quite highly advanced. We learned that much when we encountered them at Cestus III."

Christine turned her gaze fully on him. "Mr. Spock, where are they taking us? What do that want?"

"I cannot answer that question, Miss Chapel," he answered solemnly. "At the moment, there is nothing we can do except wait and watch for an opportunity to either learn more or attempt to escape. Until that time, I suggest that we make ourselves comfortable. We could be here for a very long time."

* * *

Jim Kirk stood in the ankle-deep grass of the hillside and watched his team survey the crash site. It was too bad that the wreckage of the shuttlecraft marred this place, for otherwise it was incredibly beautiful and unspoiled. The hillside swept down to a wide river valley through which a peaceful stream meandered amid stands of aspen-like trees. Beyond the valley, he could see hills marching into the purple distance, lost in the faint haze of early morning. Overhead stretched a periwinkle blue sky, streaked with wispy high altitude cirrus clouds. Idly, Kirk wondered if there were any trout in that stream and thought what a perfect place this would be for a cabin. He had a yearning to hike these hills and explore.

With a sigh, he turned back to business as Scotty approached him. "Report," the Captain ordered.

"It was definitely an energy burst that knocked 'em down," Scott answered. "I'm pickin' up residual radiation all along the port side. I don't recognize the signature pattern but it's not from a Federation ship, I'll gi' ye that much!"

Kirk answered with a grunt of acknowledgment, then looked toward the demolished hatch as footsteps sounded from within. McCoy appeared, holding his medical tricorder before him.

"There's a lot of blood in here," the doctor reported. "All human except for a small amount with a Vulcan reading. I'd say they were all pretty well bunged up in the crash."

"Opinion, Bones. Could they have left the ship on their own?"

"Hard to say, Jim. Depends on how badly they were hurt." McCoy nodded toward the large burn spot across the field that Sulu and his team were investigating. "My guess? They managed to attract a ship with their emergency beacon and whoever showed up took them aboard."

"Yes..." Kirk mused, following his gaze. "But who? And where did they take them?"

Sulu had been scanning the area with a tricorder and now he turned and trotted from the burned expanse of grass to where the other three men stood beside the shuttle. His expression was grim.

"Captain, I've identified the radiation signature from these scorch marks," he said. "You're not gonna like it." He paused then stated, "This was a Gorn ship. And the size and pattern of the landing marks correspond with a type that has been red-flagged in our database. Captain ... this ship was a slaver."

* * *

Christine was curled up asleep on the pallet and Spock was sitting in lotus position at her feet, deep into meditation, when the tone of the engines changed pitch slightly. Instantly, he came back to full alertness and listened intently to the sounds of the ship, deciphering their meaning.

After a moment, he reached out and ever-so-gently touched Christine's foot with his fingertips. "Miss Chapel, please wake up."

She came groggily out of sleep then quickly brought herself into full wakefulness as she saw his serious expression. It had been three days since they'd found themselves in this cell, three days of anxiety and boredom equally mixed. Their Gorn captors had brought them food twice a day, an unpalatable cake-like thing that they ate nevertheless because they had nothing else. Spock had graciously ceded the pallet to Christine, asking only that he be allowed to use the end portion of it for meditation. She had offered to take turns sleeping, but he had declined politely, saying that meditation would serve the same purpose for him.

Sanitary concerns had been a more delicate issue, for there was absolutely no privacy in the cell, but they had worked this out by agreeing that, when one of them must of necessity use the toilet, the other would go to the far corner, turn his or her back and studiously ignore the other. It was extremely embarrassing but there really was no other option and both agreed that it was the mature and logical thing to do.

The rest of the time they had spent talking. At first, each felt a bit uncomfortable with the other, but as the hours crept by, both began to relax. Now, at the end of the three days spent locked in with Spock, Christine felt that she knew him better than she'd ever hoped. He was still distant and formal, unfailingly polite, and quintessentially Vulcan, but he had gradually seemed more at ease in her company. She had always enjoyed working with him, but now she decided she liked him as a person. That quick, sharp intellect was seasoned with a rapier-like wit and such a multi-layered personality that she had not begun to sort it all out.

As she listened to the engines, Spock rose to his feet in a graceful, fluid movement and went to the force screen over the opening, attempting to see what was happening. He leaned so close to the energy field that his hair bristled up from the static charge and he was then forced to back away when the field sparked and hissed at its light touch.

"What's going on?" Christine asked him, likewise getting up.

"I would hazard a guess that we have reached our destination," he answered. "I believe that we are in a landing pattern."

"But where?" she wondered, almost rhetorically.

"That I have yet to ascertain," he responded. "I would suggest returning to our positions by the wall. Our captain might not care how much he jostles his cargo and our landing could prove rough."

He ushered her back to the pallet, where they sat with their backs against the cold metal wall. For a long time, nothing seemed to be happening and Christine had about decided that Spock was mistaken, when abruptly the deck underneath them settled with a thump and the gravity changed from an artificial field to a planetary one.

Christine felt heavy, as if she'd suddenly gained a hundred pounds, but Spock got up with his usual lack of fuss and walked to the cell opening once more, completely at ease with the gravity pull. Christine did a quick bit of calculation. Wherever they were, the gravity was about Vulcan-normal, about 1.2 that of Earth.

Now Christine could also hear a commotion down the corridor -- voices, footsteps, the growling hisses of Gorn. She got up and went to stand beside Spock. Almost without thought, he pushed her behind him, shielding her with his body. It was an instinctive but ultimately a futile gesture.

A heavy-set Gorn appeared and deactivated the force field. "Out, hoomons," it ordered.

"I demand to speak with your captain," Spock answered, standing his ground.

"Out," the Gorn repeated and produced a thin silvery rod about a meter long. He tapped this against Spock's thigh and the Vulcan gave an involuntary cry of pain and nearly crumpled. Christine caught him before he could go down and steadied him.

The Gorn brandished the silver rod. "You want more, hoomon?" he asked.

"No, don't hurt him again," Christine retorted and gave Spock a gentle push out into the corridor. He went, limping, favoring his shocked leg. As they started up the corridor, joining a mixed crowd of other beings -- she could see Chekov and Mead ahead of them -- Christine leaned close and asked in a low voice, "What did he do to you?"

"An electrical charge of considerable voltage," Spock responded in a similarly soft voice.

"A cattle prod," Chapel snorted.

"What?"

"I'll explain later. Is it getting any better?"

"Yes. The feeling is beginning to come back." Spock tried putting his weight on the leg. "I believe I can walk on it now. Thank you, nurse."

They had no other chance to speak, for they were herded along with the other beings down a chute and into the harsh light of day. Blinded by the sudden change of illumination, Christine flung one arm up over her eyes and groped until her hand encountered the soft velour of Spock's uniform tunic. She didn't want to be separated from him and she latched onto his arm desperately, not caring whether she violated some Vulcan taboo or not.

After a few moments, the group stopped. Christine's eyes had adjusted to the light and she released Spock's arm and peered around her. The group of prisoners that had been on the Gorn ship were standing in what she could only call a holding pen formed by a fence of energized plasma. Outside its boundaries were several Gorn guards, all bearing phaser rifles, the electric prods tucked in their belts. The group itself consisted of a number of different races, although they were the only humanoids. She recognized a few of them, but most were unknown to her.

As she and Spock waited, Chekov and Mead pushed their way through the crowd until they had joined their companions. Christine impulsively hugged both of them, then looked more critically at Chekov. "Am I ever glad to see you two! Pav, how are you feeling?"

"I feel fine," he answered. "Unfortunately, I don't remember anything between lifting off in the shuttlecraft and then waking up on board that ship." He cast a hostile glance toward the nearest Gorn.

"You were critically injured," Christine told him. "The Gorn healed you somehow. You would have died otherwise."

"But I don't understand why they would do that," the Russian answered.

"Neither do we, ensign," Spock replied. "Nevertheless, it is pleasing to know that you are back with us once more."

"Thank you, sir."

"Something's happening," Ellen commented.

A fat Gorn attired in a thigh-length embroidered tunic had appeared to stand with the ship's captain and the two of them were conversing in their harsh language. The fat one held a data pad and now he turned to the group of prisoners, consulting the pad.

A portion of the fence was deactivated and there began what the Starfleet crew assumed was a sorting process. One by one, the prisoners were hustled forward by the guards and the fat Gorn looked them over and directed that they be taken off in one direction or another. Not being familiar with most of the beings, Spock and his officers were unable to determine the criteria used. They only hoped that, when it came their turn, they would be allowed to remain together.

Finally, the three humans and lone Vulcan were shoved forward as a group and made to stand before the fat Gorn. Chekov had his arm protectively around the trembling Ellen and Christine edged closer to Spock, wishing she could slide into the security of his embrace. Spock glanced at her reassuringly then turned his steady glare back into the silver faceted eyes of their captors.

The fat Gorn hissed something to the captain, who clicked on his universal translator and spoke to them. "Mated pairs," he growled. "Stay together. For now."

Spock's eyebrows shot up at that remark, then he surprised Christine by putting his arm around her shoulders and drawing her hard against his side. "Yes," he stated firmly. "Mated pairs. Stay together."

The Gorn made a sibilant remark and one of the guards prodded them forward to follow one of the paths that part of the captive beings had taken. Spock kept his arm around Christine the whole way, but she could feel that his whole body was rigid and there was no affection or warmth in his touch. She knew that it was a charade he was playing out for the Gorn and that his sole purpose was to keep them together and alive.

They were marched into a nearby building and down a dark corridor, along which were doorways with shimmering energy fields blocking them. At last, they were halted before one of the doors and the guard deactivated the field. Unceremoniously, all four of them were shoved inside and the field immediately came back on.

"Oh, my God," came a voice behind them and they all turned to find a group of humans -- three men and a dozen or so women -- led by a tall, sandy-haired man with a beard. "They're Starfleet!"

Spock stepped up to him. "I am Commander Spock of the starship Enterprise. Who are you and what are you doing here?"

"My name is Robert Baxter," the sandy-haired man answered him. "These people are what's left of my science team. We were on Cestus III when the Gorn attacked there. We're all that's left of the personnel at that outpost."

"We thought that everyone had been killed," the Vulcan answered. "I am quite surprised to find you here. It is astounding that you have been able to survive here."

"We're alive because the Gorn want us alive," Baxter answered grimly. "You're alive for the same reason."

Christine stepped forward to stand beside Spock. "What do you mean? What reason is that?"

Baxter glanced at the newcomers and turned his gaze back on the blonde woman. "You're strong, healthy and of breeding age," he replied flatly.

Ellen caught her breath and Chekov visibly blanched. "What?!" Christine responded, shocked. "Do you mean they plan to use us to breed slaves?"

"I wish it was that pleasant," the man answered. He hesitated then stated with finality, "The Gorn eat meat."

* * *

Bingo!" announced DeSalle who was bending over the viewer at the science station. "A clear ion trail with the proper warp signature. Bearing 248 mark 3."

"That's your heading, Mr. Sulu," responded Captain Kirk, settling back with determination into the command chair. "Ahead warp factor two."

"Aye, sir," answered Sulu, setting in the heading and taking the big starship out of orbit.

McCoy was standing beside the comm station, watching quietly, and Uhura looked up at him. "Do you think there's a chance we'll find them, Doctor?"

McCoy crossed his arms and his mouth tightened into a line that wasn't quite a smile. "If I know the Captain, we'll be on their trail like bloodhounds on a scent. Don't you worry, Nyota. We'll find them."

"Alive, I hope," the comm officer murmured and turned back to her board.

* * *

Ellen's legs would have collapsed beneath her if Chekov hadn't caught and held her. Christine felt much the same way but kept herself from leaning against Spock for support.

His attention was focused on the human before him. "What do you mean?" the Vulcan demanded.

"Just what I said," replied Baxter. "This facility... It's a breeding farm. We're cattle."

"I find that incredible," Spock answered, his expression betraying his shock despite his attempt to maintain a placid exterior.

"Nevertheless, it's the truth. From what I've been able to gather in the year we've been here, this is a fairly new experiment the Gorn have going. Food has gotten scarce on their home world and the nearby planets. They're branching out, trying to establish new food sources, and the rest of us are just pot roast as far as they're concerned."

"But to ... to breed us," Christine stammered. "That's ... inhuman!"

"Completely," Spock answered. "But logical from the Gorns' point of view."

"Spock!"

"Humans eat a variety of meats from animals that are specially bred for that purpose," he pointed out. "To a Gorn, eating a human or a Vulcan would be no different from you sitting down to a dinner of roast lamb or filet mignons."

"There's a big difference!" Christine replied hotly. "We're sentient beings!"

"I might also point out that, in certain cultures and under certain circumstances, cannibalism has been practiced on Earth since the beginning of time," Spock answered.

Ellen groaned and hid her face against Chekov's shoulder. "I think I'm going to be sick," she murmured.

Ignoring them, Christine glared at Spock. "Not in civilized cultures!"

"Might I also mention the practice of some of your religions in which the bread and wine of Holy Communion are said to actually become the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ--"

"Hold it! Hold it!" interrupted Baxter, seeing that the Vulcan and human were about to become engaged in a full scale argument. "None of that helps our present situation. Why don't you all come and rest. I imagine that you're all tired after your ordeal and I'll introduce you to the others and we'll fill you in."

That was agreeable and the four newcomers followed Baxter and his group into what proved to be a very large room. It was a living area with bedding grouped into one area and large floor cushions scattered in part of the middle. In one corner were sanitary and shower facilities, again exposed to the rest of the room as they had been on the ship. The Gorn obviously did not have the same need for privacy as humans. Or else they didn't want their captives doing anything out of their sight.

Baxter confirmed that assumption when he nodded toward a large expanse of dark glass that took up most of one wall. "Be careful of that window," he said. "It's a one way viewer. The professors like to study their animals."

"Professors?" repeated Spock, looking curious.

"That's what we call them anyway." Baxter indicated that they should seat themselves on the cushions and they did so. "I don't know where they come from. Certainly not the Gorn home world. I think they're from one of the worlds the Gorn conquered. Very highly advanced technologically. It's our guess that they're the ones who came up with this breeding scheme. They help the Gorn and in return their race is spared."

"A logical assumption," the Vulcan nodded. "How will we know them?"

"Oh, you can't miss them," Baxter assured him. "Small, greyish-white skin, big eyes."

"I saw them," Christine spoke up. "On the ship. They were the ones doing the medical examinations." She closed her eyes and shuddered involuntarily. "I hoped I had dreamed them. That it was a nightmare."

"Oh, it's a nightmare all right," the man answered. "But they're real enough. They'll probably come for you tomorrow."

"For what purpose?" asked Spock, his brows lowering over his dark eyes.

"Testing. To see if you're fertile and which breeder your genetic scan matches best. They always seem to be trying out new pairings." Baxter's jawline moved tightly as he clenched his teeth in disgust.

"Do you mean that they actually expect us to mate with a person of their choosing?" Spock asked.

"We won't do it!" Chekov spoke up vehemently, still keeping Ellen close to him. "They can't make us!"

Baxter snorted in mock amusement. "Do you think that makes any difference to them?" he retorted. "It doesn't. They've learned that very few of us 'animals' will breed on command so they simply do it in a more practical way." He paused and snorted again. "Haven't you ever heard of artificial insemination?"

"But how do they get the semen?" questioned Christine. "I can't imagine the men giving them a sample voluntarily."

"They don't. They get it by auto-ejaculation. You're strapped down and an instrument is put over your groin and they give you an electric shock." The sandy-haired man looked away. "It's been done for centuries on Earth with cattle and horse breeding. Then the semen is implanted into a fertile female and voila! She's been bred with the male of their choice."

"That's disgusting!" Ellen whimpered and burst into tears. Pav pulled her close and held her as she wept, nearly in hysterics with fear.

Spock tried to keep his attention on the conversation and not be distracted by the emotional outburst of the girl. He noted that Christine had moved closer to his side, although she wasn't touching him. "Even so, I would imagine that the female does her utmost to interrupt the pregnancy."

Baxter nodded. "At first, the women would do just about anything to cause an abortion. I'm ashamed to tell you some of the things we all did." He shook his head sadly. "They were too smart for us. If a women tried to kill herself or the child, she was put in a type of stasis ... awake but paralyzed until the fetus formed enough that it could be taken. Then they removed it from her womb and put it into an artificial growth medium."

"Fascinating!" Spock whispered, his eyebrows rising almost to his bangs. "I had no idea that the Gorn had access to such advanced medical technology."

"How can you say that?" Christine demanded of him, her voice tinged with horror. "Don't you understand what we're talking about here?"

"Indeed, nurse, I know precisely," he responded, turning to look at her. "But intellectually it is a fascinating topic."

"Intellectually?!" retorted Chekov. "We're talking about babies, Mr. Spock! Human babies!"

Spock turned a critical eye on the navigator. "I know that, ensign. Do not think for a moment that I belittle the extreme seriousness of this or that I do not feel disgust and horror at the atrocities the Gorn are committing."

Baxter waited until he finished then spoke again. "We're not just talking human babies, Commander."

"Yes, we came in with a number of other beings."

"No, I mean there are other humanoid races here, too." He paused and eyed the tall Vulcan. "I think you'll be moved in the morning ... into either the Vulcan pen or the Romulan one. I don't expect to see you again after tonight."

* * *

Christine was having a dreadful nightmare, one in which she was paralyzed and naked on a medical table. Horrible creatures were inserting instruments into her body and she needed to scream but her throat wouldn't work. What made it worse was that she knew she was pregnant with Spock's baby and they were taking it from her, ripping the tiny, barely formed little boy from her womb, taking it away to be raised for something so grisly that her mind would not even confront it. And then they came and implanted her again...

Christine awoke with a start, drenched in cold sweat, shaking nearly uncontrollably. For a moment, she looked wildly around her, trying to identify her location, trying desperately to make herself be in her cabin on the Enterprise.

But she wasn't. She was curled on a mattress amid two dozen other humans, some sleeping together and some alone. Next to her, she could make out Chekov curled protectively around Ellen. She didn't know if they had been together before this godforsaken mission had begun or if Ellen had just turned to the handsome young Russian because she was so desperately in need to comfort and he willingly offered it.

Christine was desperately in need of comfort as well, but the man she needed was not there. Gazing around the darkened room, she made out the figure of someone sitting cross-legged on one of the floor cushions across the room, unmoving. Quietly, she got up and went to him, so shaken by her dream that she didn't care if he didn't respond to her. As long as he allowed her to be near him, she would feel better.

He looked up at her as she approached and lowered herself onto a cushion beside him. "Were you unable to sleep?" he asked in a whisper.

She nodded. "Nightmares," she answered in a low voice. "What about you?"

"I do not require sleep," he answered. "I have been attempting to discern a means of escape from our predicament."

"Any luck?"

"I have been unsuccessful so far."

She hugged her knees up to her chest and shivered slightly. He turned his gaze back her way. "Are you cold, Miss Chapel?" he asked.

"No. I'm just scared to death."

"Indeed," he replied. "I have been most impressed by your courage and resourcefulness during this ordeal. You have not exhibited fright."

She glanced over at him. "I don't think I've ever been so frightened in my entire life! It's all I can do to keep from going into complete hysterics!"

He was silent for a moment then said very quietly, "I will attempt to get us out of here as quickly as I can. I regret that my incompetence led us into this situation at all."

"Incompetence? Spock, we were attacked! They shot us down!"

"But I should have been more vigilant. I am very sorry that I have allowed us to be put into such a dire circumstance."

Christine almost smiled. "Oh, Spock, why do you always beat yourself up like this? I know you feel responsible, but it's not your fault, really." He didn't answer but looked down toward the floor, toward his tightly clasped hands resting in his lap. She sighed and continued, "There's something else I've been thinking about. You told them we were mates. What are we going to do if they decide to make us prove it?"

"I do not know. Perhaps, as you would say, we should cross that bridge when we come to it." He had tensed up, still looking down at his hands.

"Spock, I will be completely and totally honest with you. If they do force me to mate with someone, I don't want it to be with a stranger. I want it to be with you." He looked up at her, his expression unreadable in the dark. "That didn't come out very well," she sighed. "I didn't mean that they would have to force me to mate with you, but that--"

"I do understand what you said, Miss Chapel," he interrupted, his voice gone rough with embarrassment. "Perhaps it will not come to that. However, I too would prefer not to be forced into intercourse with a stranger." He looked down again. "My fear, however, is that we will not have that choice. If we are to believe what Dr. Baxter told us, our captors prefer a more clinical approach."

Christine shuddered and rested her forehead on her drawn up knees. "I couldn't bear it if they did that."

"I will do my best to see that they do not subject you to such an intolerable procedure," he answered softly.

She raised her head and looked back at him. "I meant if they did that to you, Spock. I can't imagine how devastating something like that would be to you!"

That seemed to surprise him then he answered, "I can close myself off totally if I must. If worse comes to worst, I will attempt to shield you as well."

But Christine shook her head. "No, if you can shield anyone, shield Ellen. I can stand what I have to stand, but she's very close to the edge now. Chekov is helping her, but I don't know what his limit is. He may crack, too."

"Then we must endeavor to aide them both," Spock replied in a whisper.

She looked up to find him gazing at her with a steady, calming expression in his dark eyes. Her heart thudded harder in her chest and she wanted more than anything to sink against him and feel his arms warm and reassuring around her.

Instead, she asked, "May I stay with you tonight, Spock? I won't disturb you."

"Of course," he answered and she slid down onto the rug until she was curled up, using the cushion as a pillow. Just being near him made her feel more at ease and safe. She was close enough to feel the heat that his body radiated and it soothed her. Without thinking, she reached out and for a moment rested her hand on his knee, her touch speaking volumes before she withdrew her hand and tucked it underneath her face.

Just before she drifted into sleep, she felt the light, tentative touch of his fingers on her shoulder, returning the gesture.

* * *

A babble of voices and sudden scramble woke Christine the next morning. She was stiff from sleeping on the floor, but her heart leapt when she saw that Spock still sat beside her. But then she turned her attention to what was going on.

The rest of the people in the room were getting up and crowding away from the main doorway, huddling in fear. Spock came swiftly to his feet and reached a hand down to pull Christine up. They, too, backed away from the opening.

Two armed Gorn had stepped inside the room, flanking one of the small insectoid aliens. It was holding a datapad in its tentacled hands and studying it closely. Then, looking up at the group of humans, it spoke a high-pitched word and the Gorn moved forward. Quickly and efficiently, they cut the newcomers out and herded them toward the door.

As they moved down the long dark corridor, Christine was shaking so hard she could scarcely walk but her attention was caught by Ellen Mead, who was wracked by harsh, desperate sobs and looked to be on the verge of complete and mindless hysteria. Christine and Chekov both put their arms around her, but every step they took toward their unknown destination was one step closer that Ellen made into panic-stricken insanity. She began to balk and was finally being practically dragged along by her two companions, nudged now and then by one of the Gorn.

Finally Spock motioned Christine out of the way and took her place, his left arm sliding around Ellen's shoulders to keep her moving and his right hand moving up to touch her face. He had never done this while in motion but he had no choice now. As Christine watched, he closed his eyes and frowned in concentration as he walked.

Ellen jerked and her sobbing shut off as if by a switch, to be replaced by a blank, zombie-like stare. Pavel, on the other side of the girl, looked startled and exchanged glances with Christine. "What did he do?" the Russian whispered.

"He's shielding her with his mind," the nurse whispered back. "I don't know how long he can do it, though. Don't interrupt him."

A rough prod in her back reminded Christine that the Gorn guards were right behind them. She shut up and the little group kept moving.

Within a few moments, however, they reached their destination. The area had the smell and feel of a medical lab and they were shoved toward a row of metal examination tables much like those on the Gorn ship. Like the ship, this room was dim with lights spotted on the tables. There were more of the insectoid aliens waiting them, attired in form-fitting body suits, all uniformly slate gray.

One stepped forward, taking them in with its great dark eyes, and spoke through a universal translater. Its voice was high and whispy, its language difficult for the translater to handle.

"I am Chk'kck," it said. "I will test you. Shed skin."

Christine and Chekov looked at each other again, their expressions matching in their fear. "What? We can't shed our skin!"

"Wrong word I use," the alien answered. "Covering. Layer."

"Clothing," Pavel supplied. "No! We won't!"

Chk'kck seemed to have exhausted his patience with them. He turned to his associates and made a noise. Immediately the others advanced on the group of humans and went swiftly to work. Spock was torn away from Ellen's side, breaking his contact with her, and without further discussion, all four were quickly and efficiently stripped. Any resistance was rewarded with a touch of the cattle prods that the Gorn carried.

Within a few minutes, the Enterprise officers were stretched on the examination tables, held motionless by force fields. Christine glanced over at Spock and Ellen. She was unconscious and the Vulcan appeared to be coming slowly out of a deep meditative trance. On the other side of Ellen, Chekov appeared to be struggling to break free, his face set in a hard mask, his jaw clenched.

Chk'kck and his team moved first to Ellen. Evidently, he had left his translater on because Christine could pick up snatches of conversation. What appeared to be a scanning unit was lowered over her abdomen and Chk'kck poured over the data on a small screen. "This one is new ripe. Fertile. We can proceed."

The translater was picking up close by voices as well. "Which male?" asked Chk'kck's assistant.

The alien looked alternately at Spock then at Chekov. "This one is mate," he answered, indicating the younger man. "We test him first." They moved to his table.

Chekov's eyes were wild with panic but he could not move from the neck down. Nevertheless, he began to curse his captors vigorously in Russian, spitting such hatred-filled phrases at them that Christine was shocked that the boyish ensign would know such words. The aliens paid no attention to him.

One of them pulled an instrument down that had been hovering in the darkness above the table and situated it over Chekov's groin. Its main section was a long metal tube, attached to cables and probes that were lost in the gloom.

One of the aliens reached through the holding field and took hold of Chekov's penis, pulling it upright and then fitting the metal tube down over it, pressing the instrument all the way down to his pubic region. Pav began to plead hysterically with them to stop. Then Chk'kck activated a switch on the side of the tube and Chekov began to scream.

The alien closest to his head laid a hand on Pav's forehead and immediately the young man collapsed, unconscious. The instrument continued to purr for a moment then there was a click and Chekov's whole body jerked up off the table as if he had been shocked.

Chk'kck removed the tube from Chekov's penis and the organ flopped limply back between his spread legs. The alien ignored him but turned his attention to the vial of viscous white liquid he had taken from the instrument. He took this to a nearby table and inserted it into another scanner. This hummed for a few seconds and then data poured across a screen.

"Good," Chk'kck said. "Motile, healthy, clean DNA. We use this. Prepare her."

Two of the other aliens moved to Ellen's table and pulled her legs up and apart, the force field holding them in place. Then one of them spread her genitals and inserted what looked to Christine like an old-fashioned speculum, leaving her vagina open and ready to accept the long probe they slid in next. To Christine's medically trained eye, it was too long and she suspected that it reached up through the cervix and into the uterus itself. She had no doubts whatsoever about the next procedure.

She was right. Chk'kck brought the vial containing Chekov's semen over and inserted it into the probe. With very little fuss, the semen was injected into Ellen's body and then the probe and speculum were removed and her legs moved back down onto the table.

"Move these to observation," he directed his assistants.

Then, as his first two subjects were wheeled out, the little alien turned his attention to Spock and Christine.

As he had done with Ellen, Chk'kck moved first to Christine and the scanning instrument was lowered over her abdomen. The alien doctor studied the readings and commented to his assistant, "She is not ready. Maybe ten days and then fertile. I test the male next." Chk'kck turned to Spock.

Christine's thoughts and emotions whirled in chaos. While relieved that she had been spared the implantation process, she nevertheless was terrified over what they would do to Spock.

As the aliens surrounded him and began to work, Spock moved his head in her direction and Christine saw barely suppressed fear in his eyes, something she never expected to see there. Then he turned back to face forward and closed his eyes, and Christine understood that he was sealing his mind off with a protective wall to remove himself from what was being done to him physically.

The instrument that had been used on Chekov was lowered once more and situated over Spock's groin. As before, it hummed for a moment then Spock's body bucked convulsively on the table as the electrical shock forced an ejaculation from him. Christine bit her lip and tried to keep tears from blurring her vision, praying that his consciousness would stay buried.

But the shock had jolted him awake and out of his meditation. He blinked in confusion as the alien medical staff lifted the instrument from his body and his penis slipped free. Understanding and shame flooded over him and he let his head fall back onto the table, his eyes closed once more, this time as if in pain.

Christine felt hot tears slide down her temples and into her hair. She wanted to reach out to him, to go to him, but all she could do was whisper, "Spock..." and hope he heard her.

He didn't respond, consumed in shame and violation.

Chk'kck was busy with his analysis of the sample he had obtained. Christine could hear him discussing the readings with his assistant. "This not true," said the assistant with a hint of astonishment in his voice. He turned to stare at the two captives, his large black eyes glittering. "Not mates."

"I see," answered Chk'kck, still looking over the readings. "Female is humanoid. Male is vulcanoid. Not possible to mate. But they pair bond as mates."

The assistant turned back to the readings. "Look here. Human markers. Human genes."

Chk'kck stiffened and chittered. "Hybrid! Male is hybrid! Look! Look! This DNA strand not natural! Artificial blend of two!" The alien doctor whirled to stare at Spock with new interest. "Male is genetically designed hybrid!" Immediately he turned back to the data panel. "What is fertility? What dominant DNA? Must use him for others!"

The two aliens poured over the readings, then Chk'kck muttered, "Low count but motile gametes. Prepare other female. Opportunity must not be passed."

Spock's eyes snapped open and he jerked his head toward the two aliens who were still muttering in excitement. Chk'kck's assistant had pressed a tiny light panel on the control board and made a high pitched trilling noise for a second. Then he announced, "Preparation proceeds."

In consternation and obvious distress, Spock rolled his head back the other way to lock his gaze on Christine, his eyes eloquent with his puzzlement. Christine had heard the alien doctors but she didn't know what "other female" they meant either. Were they talking about Ellen? They'd just implanted her with sperm they'd gotten from Chekov. Did they plan on double-fertilizing her?

Their silent question was answered just at that moment. From the gloom of the surrounding area, they heard a door hiss open and close. And then two of the insectoid aliens were moving another examination table into position.

On it, unconscious and naked, lay a Vulcan woman.

* * *

Drifting like one of the countless chunks of rock around them, the Enterprise lay in silent observation of the blue-green planet that was just within reach of their long range sensors. The system's asteroid ring had proven a perfect hiding place to observe the destination of the Gorn slave ship.

Kirk had taken a cautious approach into the system. After their last encounter with the Gorn, he was fully aware of their strength and technological power, every bit as advanced as the Federation and moreso in some cases. They could not hope to outrun or outgun even a single Gorn ship and, with the amount of traffic in this system, they would have been easily overpowered if Kirk had followed his usual method and simply warped into orbit.

Now the Captain turned his chair toward the science station to receive DeSalle's report. It seemed strange not to have either Spock or Chekov there, but Kirk damped down the feeling and fixed his steady gaze on the tall, dark-haired man who stood in their stead.

"This is just incredible, Captain. I'm getting a whole mix of different lifeform readings -- human, Vulcan, Romulan, Klingon, Andorian, Tellarite, Gorn, a dozen I've never seen before. And those are just the sentient species! This place is crawling with more beings than the Grand Promenade on Rigel 4!"

Kirk rubbed his chin, his elbow propped on the arm of the command chair, and swung slowly back to gaze at the planet on the main screen. "That's damn peculiar," he murmured, almost to himself. "Armaments?"

"Coming out their ears, sir. This isn't a simple colony," DeSalle replied. "It's a fortress. A maximum security facility." The officer straightened and looked solemnly in Kirk's direction. "A single starship's not getting through that defense, if you want my opinion, Captain. We're gonna need the Fleet on this one."

Kirk glanced sideways at the younger man then turned his gaze back to the screen. "Yes, thank you, Mr. DeSalle. I'll take that into consideration." He continued rubbing his chin thoughtfully, however, for he had been thinking much the same thing himself. This was going to take a battle group, probably with a squadron of Federation Marines. One ship going in there would be suicide.

"Back us out of here nice and slow, Mr. Sulu," Kirk said. "Let's not attract any attention. Mr. DeSalle, keep monitoring our situation. I don't want any interruptions while we go get some help."

* * *

Spock hadn't realized that he'd been unconscious until he woke face down on a hard, thin mattress on the floor. Immediately his senses told him that he was not in the room from which he'd been taken. The scent and feel of the room were different and there was something else -- the air practically hummed with the psychic energy of barely shielded telepathic beings.

Pushing himself up cautiously, he looked around. The room was essentially the same as the one in which the humans were held but was smaller. His first sight was the young Vulcan woman who had been brought into the examination room. She huddled in a corner, clothed now in a simple shapeless dress, hugging her knees to her chest and rocking back and forth mindlessly, her eyes staring ahead.

Memory flooded back to Spock of what the alien doctors had done to her. She had been unconscious during the procedure, but he couldn't help but wonder what had preceded it. It had been devastating enough for him to endure. He could not begin to imagine what she must have gone through.

Getting up, he walked quietly over to her and knelt down beside her. She continued to rock and he could now hear that she was making a tiny whimpering noise deep in her throat. "Lady, I greet you," he said softly in Vulcan. She did not appear to hear him so he tried again. "I am Spock. By what name are you called?"

She ignored him completely. Breaching Vulcan etiquette, Spock reached out to touch her arm lightly and the girl suddenly threw herself back against the wall with a frightened squeal. Panting in terror, she stared at him with huge dark eyes. They were uncomprehending eyes, though, burning with fire and madness.

Her abrupt movement had knocked Spock backward and he sprawled in shock, staring at the wild creature attempting to squeeze even deeper into the corner of the room.

"You won't get any sense out of that one," a deep, arrogant voice chuckled and Spock turned to find a tall, well-built Vulcan standing behind him, flanked by three women. Then he corrected himself. They were not Vulcan; they were Romulan.

He got to his feet and faced the little group. "I am Spock," he greeted them.

"I know who you are," the man responded. "First officer of the Enterprise. We in the Empire have not forgotten your role in the theft of our cloaking device. I am A'Keen, in command of the warbird Talon." He jerked his head at the three Romulan women. "These are what's left of my crew." He slid an arm around the shoulders of one whose hair held the same fiery chestnut tint that Spock remembered from another Romulan woman. A'Keen smiled without humor. "My mates. Or so the Gorn like to believe."

"How did you get here?" Spock asked.

"The same way you undoubtedly did," A'Keen replied. "Our ship was attacked and we were taken prisoner. There were eighteen of us in the beginning."

"What happened to the rest?" the Vulcan asked.

The other man sneered as he answered, "They didn't cooperate so the Gorn disposed of them." His nostrils flared in anger. "I hope they gave those lizards a gut-splitting bellyache."

Spock felt his stomach heave as the Romulan's words sunk in, then he steeled himself and glanced back at the girl. "What about her? I assume she wasn't on your ship. She's Vulcan."

"I don't know," A'Keen answered with contempt. "She was here already, along with a man. He was taken three days ago."

"The same way? For food?"

A'Keen shrugged. "I don't know. I don't care. I just know that he started fighting them and they took him away. She's been crazy like that ever since." He looked around in boredom and said, "If they've brought you here to mate her, I wish you luck. I can't get near her, even after they took her man and she was alone. I'm done with her. I have my hands full with these lovelies."

He started to turn away, then swung back and glared at Spock. "Take that bitch, but these women are mine! I'll gut you and serve you to the Gorn myself if you come near them!"

Spock's brows lowered dangerously. "I have no sexual interest in these women nor in her," he informed the Romulan in a tight, low voice. "And you will find that I am more than your match if you should challenge me."

A'Keen laughed harshly , scornfully. "We shall see, Vulcan. Sleep lightly."

The group of Romulans walked away to the other side of the room, where they settled in on a group of floor cushions. Spock watched them closely, then turned back to the frightened Vulcan girl squatting in the corner. He knelt before her again.

"Do not be afraid," he said, again speaking in Vulcan. "I will not harm you. Allow me to help you."

She was still breathing heavily, warily. Her eyes were bloodshot, rimmed with green, and her face was flushed behind the curtain of long black hair that hung loose around her shoulders. He could feel the heat that radiated from her body and hear the way her exhalations came as almost a growl. And he could feel the frantic searching of her mind, the hunger for something no longer within her grasp.

Suddenly he understood. Knew why her man had fought the Gorn and been removed from the enclosure. Slowly, he held out his right hand, palm toward her in salute. "I can help you control this," he said softly. "I can help you fight it. Allow me to guide you into meditation, to get you through this."

Her breath hissed out through her clenched teeth, but cautiously, uncertainly, she lifted her right hand and brought it up nearly touching his. She was still afraid, still lost in delirium, but then she slapped her palm against his, completing the link.

Spock almost cried out as the power of her fevered mind swept over him. He staggered then mentally fought his way through the flames and swirling insanity of her thoughts. Insistently, he beat down the sensation of drowning, of floundering helplessly in a sea of red sand that threatened to pull him underneath its slipping, cascading dunes. With sheer determination, he pulled them both back to the surface, to lucid thought. Reaching for the light, for the air, he gasped and clawed his way upward, dragging her with him.

With a final lunge of mental power, their mindlink broke and he found himself on his knees, the girl lying in a heap before him. As he gulped and concentrated on slowing his hammering heart, she stirred and lifted her head, her expression one of doubt and fear but with her thoughts back in focus.

"It's all right," Spock whispered in Vulcan. "You will be clear-minded for a while now. Perhaps I can determine how to resolve your problem before..."

"...before I go mad once again?" she whispered back, looking up at him. "Who are you? Why do you attend me?"

The Vulcan helped her up until she was kneeling as well, facing him. "I am Spock," he said. "I am also a prisoner of the Gorn. It was logical that I aid you in overcoming the plak tow. You would have died otherwise."

"We must not speak of this," she murmured, looking away from him, her hair falling to hide her face. "It is forbidden. You are not my spouse."

"I know," Spock answered in the same soft whisper, feeling and understanding her embarrassment and shame. "But logic dictates that we speak in order to save you."

"Logic dictates that I die," she replied, hugging herself tightly. "My bonded mate is dead, killed by them in his madness. I am unresolved. There is no hope for me."

"I will not accept that answer. I will meditate with you until you are through this time." She still would not look at him and Spock changed the subject. "You have not told me your name."

"T'Kal," she whispered. She scooted away from him, huddling back into her corner. Her face turned into the wall, she pleaded, "Just leave me alone. I thank you for coming to my aid but ... please ... just leave me alone."

Spock sat back with a sigh, then rose to his feet. Obviously she didn't know what the alien doctors had done to her and he didn't feel that her current emotional state would bear up well to the knowledge. She was deep into the plak tow, triggered by her now dead mate, but he was no longer alive to resolve the condition with her. Pon farr in the male caused ovulation in the female and the aliens had taken advantage of her fertility to implant her with sperm they had forcibly taken from Spock. She might be pregnant now, but that did not end the blood fever. Only concentrated meditation, intense combat, or physical mating could do that.

Spock realized grimly that T'Kal did not seem to be strong enough to undergo the meditation routine required to damp down the fever and purge it. He guessed that she would not survive combat either. The last alternative left him with a distinctly cold knot in the pit of his stomach. If he convinced T'Kal to mate with him in order to save her life, he would be bowing to the exact wishes of their captors. If he refused to comply, then she would die in madness and he could not allow that to happen either. And, if she did indeed conceive, he had the responsibility of getting her and their unborn child away from here. Or -- and his guts twisted at the thought -- making sure that the Gorn never carried through their monstrous plans. Even if it meant killing T'Kal with his bare hands to save her from that fate.

And T'Kal was not the only problem he faced here. He must find a way to reach his human crewmates and get them all out of this prison and off this planet, fighting their way through legions of Gorn and "grays". Further, as a Starfleet officer, he now had responsibility to see that all the prisoners were rescued and this unspeakable breeding farm was destroyed forever.

He couldn't do this alone. The only way all of them were going to escape from this place was in working together. But, if what he believed was true, then half the beings imprisoned here were at war with the other half in the political arena of the galaxy. But here they had to work together. They had to learn to trust one another. Otherwise, they were all doomed.

With a deep sigh of resignation, Spock turned and made his way to the area of the room in which the Romulans had taken up residence.

* * *

Christine awoke with a headache, realizing that she'd been once again knocked out. She was getting damned tired of this, she decided, and let her arm slide out along the pallet on which she lay. It was an action she made without even thinking and only when her fingers met nothing did she understand that she had been unconsciously hoping that Spock was beside her.

Sitting up and looking around, she saw that she was back in the human holding pen and that she was alone. Well, not quite alone, because there was a Gorn guard standing like a statue beside the door, the soft light glittering off his green scales and faceted eyes. He was holding a long staff, about six feet long and, as she moved, he shifted.

"Awake now," he hissed through the translater on his belt. "Come now. Run."

Christine got to her feet, irritated and tired of being ordered around. "I'm not going anywhere! What have you done with the others? Where is the man I was with? The Vulcan."

"Outside," the Gorn replied and she didn't know if it was an answer or an order. Apparently it was the latter because, when she didn't move, the creature shuffled toward her and reached to grasp her arm.

She jerked it away, back-pedaling. "Keep your lousy hands off me! Who's in charge here?! I want to see your superior!"

"Out!" the guard snapped, his razor-sharp teeth grinding together.

Christine struck out at him with all her strength -- and staggered back in shock at the impact. It was like slamming her fist into a brick wall. Even without its armor, the Gorn was built like leather over steel. She wondered if he'd even felt her blow. Dazed, her whole arm aching now, she allowed him to herd her through the doorway and into the hall, where she was directed to a set of double doors at the end.

Shoved through those, she was momentarily blinded, but by sunlight rather than the artificial illumination of the examining room. She was outside and, as her vision adjusted, she saw that she was in a huge outdoor area, fenced with a charged field that prevented escape. And in this area were all the rest of the humans, turned out for their daily exercise apparently.

Next to this pen was another, separated by a simple metal grid rather than the force field. It was occupied by other humanoids that looked oddly familiar to her. As she walked closer, her heart leaped, for they were Vulcans!

Christine ran to the grid and called joyously, "Hello! Please -- I need to speak with you!"

One of the women turned and regarded her arrogantly and it was then that Christine realized they were Romulans. The woman spoke a contemptuous word to a tall, well-built man, who approached the fence at a calculated pace.

"What do you want, human?" he inquired haughtily.

"Have you seen a man? A Vulcan? He was with us when we were captured but they took him last night."

The Romulan sniffed. "Oh, him. Yes, he's here. Tending to his bitch, I imagine."

Christine was stunned speechless for a second, then understood that he must be talking about the young Vulcan woman who had been brought in to the examination room. "Can I speak to him? Please, it's urgent."

The Romulan regarded her with studied indifference then said over his shoulder, "Sukreen, go tell Spock his other bitch wants him." He turned and walked away, ignoring the blonde human.

The Romulan woman laughed nastily and sauntered over to the building, where a shady alcove was set back into the facade. She snapped something and Christine saw a long, lean figure detach itself from the shadows and step into the sunlight.

"Spock!" she cried and could barely contain her excitement as he quickly walked to the fence.

"Miss Chapel, I am extremely relieved to see you," he said, his voice and eyes betraying the anxiety inside him and his joy at finding her well. "Where are Chekov and Mead?"

"I don't know. I haven't seen them since yesterday." She longed to get closer to him but had to be content with devouring his face with her eyes, drinking in his presence. "Oh, Spock ... I'm so afraid!"

"Have they hurt you in any way? Forced you into any other procedures?"

"No. I heard the little doctor say that I wasn't fertile yet, not for about ten more days," she answered in a low voice. "I think I'll be safe until then, but what happens when I am?"

"I hope to have us far away from here by that time," he assured her in a hoarse whisper.

"How?"

"A plan," he answered. "It is too early in its implementation to discuss. I will attempt to keep you informed."

Christine nodded. "The Romulan said something about your tending another woman. The one they brought in?"

"Yes. Her husband was taken by the Gorn a few days ago and she is in a bad way. I am attempting to guide her through meditation techniques that may help."

Christine saw something pass over his face, something he was holding back. "What's wrong with her, Spock?" she asked quietly, intently. "It's more than grief, isn't it?"

He didn't answer for a long moment and she saw the color of his face deepen slightly. "It is ... not something easily discussed," he said at last.

Christine's heart tightened. "Oh, God, it's pon farr, isn't it? I understand now. It makes sense."

His expression conveyed his distress. "How can you know that?" he whispered.

"Because I've been around you too long and because I've studied Vulcan physiology. Pon farr causes Vulcan women to ovulate. That's why they brought her in to mate with you. Her husband is gone, probably dead, she's fertile, and you showed up at the perfect time."

Spock's face was tight, his discomfiture evident. "Your logic is flawless, Nurse Chapel," he answered. "There is a larger problem, however." She peered up at him in question. "The pon farr has not been resolved. T'Kal still suffers its effects. If it is not resolved, she will die."

"And, to resolve it..." Christine finished slowly, "...you must have sex with her."

"That is the logical solution," he answered in a soft, rough voice, plainly disgusted by what he was being forced to do. "I am attempting to help her find another way out of this dilemma, however."

"And if you can't...?"

He didn't respond, the answer to her question painfully obvious.

Christine reached through the fence and touched his arm with her fingertips. "Oh, Spock, I wish there was something I could do. Some way to help you."

He sighed. "I see no evidence that our captors will allow me to avoid this. I suspect they have put me with T'Kal to bring about this very conclusion."

"What about the Romulans?" Christine glanced in the direction of the little group.

"I do not believe that A'Keen will interfere. He has warned me away from the three female members of his entourage, but has for all intents and purposes found T'Kal to be of little interest." Again Spock sighed. "I spoke with him last night. He is very pragmatic. He feels that, if engaging in sexual intercourse with his women placates the Gorn and keeps them all alive, then it is a small price to pay. He feels that it is foolish to antagonize them. Considering that he watched them take most of his crew for ... other uses, I can find little fault in his argument. Except that it goes against everything I have been trained to believe and observe."

At that moment, there was a commotion as armed Gorn appeared in the various pens and began herding the captives back to their interior habitats.

Quickly, Christine clutched Spock's forearm and said urgently, "We'll figure a way out of here! I'll try to see you again tomorrow!"

Surprisingly, Spock moved his arm so that her hand slid down into his and he held it in a tight, warm grasp until he was physically pulled away from her by the guard. "Tomorrow," Spock called back to her and then he was shoved inside by the Gorn.

* * *

Back in the cool darkness of their living area, T'Kal sank down onto her sleeping pallet and huddled in on herself, shivering violently. Spock knelt beside her, reaching out to lightly touch her shoulder. "What is your condition?" he asked softly.

She jerked her head up and stared at him, her breath coming hard and strong. "Spock," she whispered. "You must help me now."

Her face was flushed, her eyes fever bright, and he removed his hand from her arm. "I will help you," he answered warily. "I will guide you into meditation."

She moved toward him, clutching at him desperately. "No! I need you to help me! I cannot stand this much longer!"

He fended off her attempt to embrace him, to push him backward onto the mat. Catching her wrists, he held her firmly away from him. "I cannot do that, T'Kal," he insisted firmly. "It is the blood fever talking. You do not want me. You only seek relief."

"Yes," she hissed back. "I want you to give me relief! My mate is gone! You are the only one to whom I can turn! Please, Spock! Join with me before I go mad!"

He could feel her pain and despair but still he shook his head. "No, T'Kal. There is another way. If your thoughts were clear, you would not wish me to give you resolution here and in these circumstances. Not with them watching..." His voice dropped to a barely audible whisper as he flicked his eyes toward the group of Romulans on the other side of the room.

A'Keen was observing with interest and now he strolled their way. "Is your little bitch in heat, Spock? What a pity! Well, if she needs fucking and you can't manage it, I suppose I could--"

Spock was on his feet in an instant and nose-to-nose with the arrogant Romulan. "Stay on your side of the room," he ordered in a low, dangerous voice. "You will not touch her."

"What's this?" A'Keen responded with smug amusement. "Is that famous Vulcan calm cracking a bit? Do I detect a note of jealousy there?"

"Do not provoke me," Spock breathed back, his whole body rigid with anger.

The Romulan stared calmly at him, neither man flinching as they faced off. "You could not take me, Spock. You are not my physical equal."

"You would be wise not to put that belief to a test," the Vulcan responded tightly.

Behind them, Sukreen made an impatient noise. "Oh, stop posturing, A'Keen," she snapped. "You two can compare dicks later. Come back over here with us."

"Shut up," the Romulan answered but, after another long, cold staring match with Spock, he turned and went back to his part of the room. The four Romulans settled down to eat and rest, pointedly turning their backs on the two Vulcans.

Getting his breathing back under control, Spock moved T'Kal as far from the other group as possible and gently pushed her onto her knees on a cushion. He knelt before her and said, "I will help you meditate. I will strengthen you until you are through this." He brought her hands up to touch his face and then moved his own fingertips into position on her temples. "Meld with me, T'Kal. Give me your thoughts and take mine."

With his encouragement, she sank into the mind meld and then felt his own psyche probe into hers, calming her, damping down the fire, pushing the plak tow back. She joined with his strength and fought to contain the overpowering urges consuming her.

But it was so hard, so very hard. For underneath his control and logic, his vibrant masculinity crouched and watched for an opening, a smoldering tinderbox that would only need the spark of her fire to burst free in full ignition. And the intimate contact with her mind had already brought them together like a glowing coal and parchment.

* * *

Deep into the black night, Spock became aware of T'Kal's presence hovering over him, her labored breathing and the heat of her body alerting him to how quickly and fully the plak tow had overtaken her once more. They had meditated together for hours and she seemed soothed as she curled up with her back to him and went to sleep. Now he realized that their efforts had been futile. The blood fever was too strong, too powerful for her to overcome.

She was on her knees beside him, staring hard at him, her pupils dilated fully as her night vision picked up his body's radiant signature in the darkness. He picked up more than that from her. She was fairly broadcasting sexual energy, her whole being nearly incandescent to his eyes. It took his breath away as she leaned over him and ran the flat of her hands roughly up over his chest and shoulders, to his neck.

Her hands slid up to cup his face, the palms hot against his skin, almost painfully so as she initiated a bonding meld. Reaching up, he covered her hands with his, but did not remove them as he felt her mind probing frantically against his. Unbidden, primal instinct roared up out of the hidden wells of his soul to answer her summons, ripping apart the veils of civilization and logic that stood in its way. Futilely, he fought to maintain control, to beat down the primeval hunger that reached for her, but the ancient drive was too powerful. It blasted free of all restraints and completed the mindlink, opening his psyche to hers.

It was as if a torrent of flame engulfed him and set him ablaze. Frantically, with what little reason he still possessed, he attempted to control their joining, to bring them back to sanity. She would not be controlled, however, the plak tow transforming her into a wild, ravaging beast, a primitive parody of a modern Vulcan.

She bent down and took his mouth with hers, her tongue searching for his, devouring him. He found himself responding with fervor, unable to stop himself, and then the fever took him as well, invading his neural pathways and consciousness, setting fire to his blood, his mind, his soul. His body reared itself into full arousal, her raw femininity demanding his complete attention and answer.

He was still lying on his back with T'Kal leaning over him and abruptly she swung a leg over his hips and straddled him, rubbing against the growing hardness she felt pressing into her. She was still clad in the short, one-piece dress and he discovered with a jolt of excitement that she was naked beneath it. It sent his blood flaming up into an inferno and with desperate hands he reached down and shoved her off him, enough so that he could get at the closure of his trousers.

Within seconds he had them open and pushed to his hips and his searching fingers went to her face, anchoring into meld position on her contact points, still locked in the fiery kiss. Now the full force of the plak tow took them both, flowing interchangeably from one to the other, their minds blending together into one. The rest of the universe did not exist now, only the conflagration of their mating, only the melting and merging of their minds, only the joining of their bodies.

Grasping her shoulders, he rolled her beneath him and, with a lunge, was within her, lodged in her fiery depths. Even as his hips took up their fierce, instinctive possession of her body, their minds took possession of each other. He saw and understood all that she was, all that she had been, and she was no longer a stranger to him but someone he suddenly knew intimately and without reservation. She plumbed and measured every centimeter of his soul, learning more of him than he knew himself, more than he had ever revealed to anyone.

Sometime in the long night that followed, the flames within them burned to embers, the blood fever abating as it ran its course, but still the couple held each other in tight embrace, Spock still embedded within her. Their minds were clearer now, their personalities beginning to separate. Within their mental world, populated by only the two of them, T'Kal caressed his face and whispered against his lips, "Adun ... Husband."

He did not dispute her. It seemed a fact, logical, natural. If thoughts of a woman with sunny hair flitted through his fevered mind, they did not linger, for he once again centered his attention on the exciting creature beneath him and found that the embers could still flare into a brief flame as he began to move within her one last time.

* * *

On the third day since Christine had been returned to the human enclosure, two things happened. Chekov and Mead were brought back by their captors, carried in unconscious on an antigrav stretcher by two Gorn and dumped unceremoniously onto a sleeping pallet. One of the doctor aliens came with them and checked their readings. Apparently satisfied, it turned to survey the other humans huddled on one side of the room.

One of the young women was noticeably pregnant, just beginning to show, and she cowered back behind the others, attempting to be as invisible as possible. But the doctor pointed her out and made a high chittering sound. Immediately the Gorn advanced in her direction.

She gave a frightened cry and attempted to escape the guards. Baxter blocked the path of the Gorn but was knocked out of the way with a backhanded blow. The rest of the human group quickly jumped to the young woman's defense, Christine included, but got the same treatment as they attempted to shield the girl. One of the guards brought his cattle prod into play, sending several of the humans down with shocks to their legs. As Christine attempted to keep the guard away from the young woman, the Gorn slapped the rod against her thigh. Christine screeched in pain and dropped as the leg folded under her.

It felt like someone had done a flying kick square into her leg. No, it felt like someone had stuck the live end of a power cable against her flesh. In any case, after the first blast of blinding pain, the leg had gone completely numb and now lay leaden and useless. Christine could only watch helplessly as the rest of the drama played out.

It only took a couple of minutes before they had the girl cornered and the two Gorn each bent stiffly to grasp an arm and haul her toward the little alien waiting calmly by the antigrav stretcher. The girl struggled and screamed but to no avail. As the Gorn dragged her forward, the gray-skinned alien reached up and placed its tentacled hand against her forehead.

Immediately the young woman collapsed and was placed on the stretcher. She was carried out and the door shut and sealed.

After they had gone, Christine, like the others, began to drag herself up, wincing as feeling began to flood back into her leg. She rubbed and massaged it vigorously, then went to help the other men and women. Several of the women were crying and all looked angry and frustrated.

"What will they do to her?" Christine asked Baxter as she helped him get back on his feet.

He had tears in his eyes, too. "They'll take her baby and put it in a maturation chamber. It accelerates the growth and development."

Chapel hesitated as chills went down her spine. "Do I want to know what for?"

"No," the man answered bitterly. He turned to help the rest of his people.

Behind her, Christine heard Chekov groan and mutter, "Oh, my head. Vat have they been doing to us?"

She went to kneel beside him, wishing she had her medical tricorder. "What do you remember, Pav?"

"Not much. Machines. Lights. Hands touching me." He shivered. "How is Ellen?"

"I think she's beginning to come around, too." Christine bent over the young woman who lay beside Chekov on the pallet. "Ellen? Wake up!"

Mead moved sluggishly, opened her eyes, and then bolted upright with a shriek. Christine caught her and held her, Pavel also sliding his arms around her. Together they comforted the young woman until she began to calm down.

Then her expression crumpled and she burst into tears, hiding her face in Christine's shoulder, sobbing hysterically. The older woman soothed and rocked her like a mother with a child until Ellen's grief began to play itself out. Then Christine pushed her away a little into Pav's strong embrace and reached up to wipe Ellen's face.

Baxter had been standing by and now he too knelt down with the little group. "Did they hurt you? We'll demand medical care if they did," he told her.

"Who are you?" Ellen asked tremulously.

"Robert Baxter. Don't you remember?"

"Oh, yes..." She blinked as more tears welled up in her eyes. "Yes, they hurt me. Oh, God, Christine, you can't imagine! I remember what they did to me!"

"I know, sweetie," Christine murmured soothingly. "I saw part of it."

"They tried to make Pav and me have sex but we wouldn't, so they put us on tables and they'd put this ... this ... thing on Pav and shock him, and then they'd take his... his..." She couldn't say it and her voice was beginning to take on a note of hysteria again.

"I know," Christine continued to whisper. "I know..."

"Oh, dear God, they were trying to make me pregnant!" Ellen cried, her voice getting louder as her emotional turmoil and terror spilled out. "They were doing artificial insemination on me!! Like I was an animal! Like Pav was an animal!!" She put her hands over her face and began to shake with loud, wracking sobs once more.

Christine pulled the girl back into her embrace and repeated her earlier routine of comforting her. Almost to herself, Chapel murmured, "God, I wish Spock were here." If nothing else, Spock could have given Ellen a nerve pinch and knocked her out again. Or he might have been able to mind meld with her and take away some of the girl's terror.

"Vhere is Mr. Spock?" Chekov asked.

"They took him and put him in with the Vulcans," Christine answered over Ellen's shoulder. "I saw him two days ago but not since."

What Chekov asked her next made her blood run cold. In a very soft voice, he inquired, his brows lowered over grave eyes, "Do you think they are doing the same thing to him as they did to me?"

Christine's eyes involuntarily stung with tears as she remembered what she had seen them do to Spock in the examination room. "Yes," she whispered back in a strained voice. "I just wonder who ... or what ... they're making him do it with. They seemed very excited to have a genetically engineered Vulcan/human hybrid to play with."

Chekov's closed his eyes in pain, envisioning the stately Vulcan brought so low. He would resist the Gorn and their abominable scientists to the very end, but ultimately they would violate him as easily and unthinkingly as they did their other captives.

"Ve have to get out of here," the young man murmured back, his voice hard as stone. "And, if I get the chance, I'm going to kill every one of those bastards with my bare hands. I swear it by all the blood of the saints and czars. I will kill them!"

* * *

T'Kal had been very subdued during the days since the pon farr. With perfect poise and humility, she had slipped into the role of wife to Spock ... or at least as much as was possible under these circumstances. She said and did the correct things, anticipated his needs, even made herself available to him at night should he desire continued sexual contact, which he did not. It was not that she was unattractive to him or that he did not have a right to such contact, but he would not use her in such a way simply because he had the opportunity. She was legally his under Vulcan law and tradition, but not in spirit or mind. She grieved intensely for her lost mate and because of the circumstances that had taken him from her and supplied her with a stranger for a husband.

Spock was not any happier about the happenings that had suddenly furnished him with a wife at the most inopportune of times. When he had come back to himself as the blood fever faded away and had found himself half-naked and locked in a fervent embrace with the beautiful young girl, he knew exactly what had occurred between them. He could feel their bond solidly in place in his mind. More than that, he could feel her discomfiture and something bordering on a feeling of horror, for she had not been able to control herself and neither had he.

Since that time they had spoken little and Spock had spent much of his time meditating, seeking to sort out his jumbled emotions and return order to his thoughts.

He had the solitude and privacy to do it, because the Romulans had all been gone on the morning following the blood fever. Spock could only assume that the Gorn had taken them and that they would be returned shortly. But two days passed and there was no sign of the others.

As usual, food appeared in the form of the unappetizing cakes and T'Kal retrieved it, kneeling down on a cushion before him, waiting silently to be noticed. Spock raised his head and looked at her, noting her downcast eyes, hooded by her long, dark lashes.

Reaching out, he gently touched her hand, causing her to jump slightly before she recovered herself. "T'Kal," he said softly, "it is important that we discuss this."

"What is there to discuss, my husband?" she answered, looking down once more. "Logic dictates that we both accept what has happened. You are my mate now."

"Then, if that is so, attend me," he responded in the same low voice. Obediently, she looked up at him. He paused for a second to take in her features. Her long black hair cascaded around her heart-shaped face, delicate upswept eyebrows hovering over eyes the color of onyx. It was a beautiful face, one that he could grow extremely fond of ... if he let himself.

Spock reached out once more and tucked her hair behind the tip of one elegantly pointed ear, letting his fingertips linger on her cheek. "I am sorry that I was unable to help you resolve the pon farr without resorting to intercourse. I did not intend to bond with you." He said it gently so that it was not an insult, only a fact.

"The madness was too great," she whispered back. "You were not at fault."

"I do not know yet what we can do about this," he said. "It is difficult to dissolve a bonding link. We will need to consult the Elders of our clans to gain their insight and help." He paused for a second. "However, should you conceive from this mating, I do not believe that they will consent to a dissolution."

She looked down again. "If I should conceive ... then I would not want a dissolution, Spock. Whatever the circumstances, you would be my child's father and it would not be logical to dissolve the bond simply because we were brought together against our wills." She was silent and then went on in a soft whisper, "And ... I perceive you as a good man, Spock. During our bonding, I could see the life you have led and the honor that rules you. I believe that I can rely on that honor to follow the correct course for us both ... whatever happens."

Touched and a little surprised, Spock gently stroked his fingertips down her cheek once again and, despite himself, he felt a desire for her that was not ruled by blood fever or uncontrollable mating urges. Through their link, he felt the whisper of that desire echo in her mind.

Folding his fingers into position, he trailed them across her chin and up to her lips, his touch so light that she barely felt it. But it left a sensitized tickle behind and she closed her eyes at the sensation, drawing her breath. Then she looked up at him and, after a moment, hesitantly responded, caressing his face in a like manner. Their bondlink flared open, the growing emotions moving back and forth between them, leaving a euphoric trail in its wake.

He spread the fingers of his right hand across her face, instinctively moving them to her contact points, and was reaching out with his thoughts when she abruptly wrenched away from him, catching her breath with a sound that was almost a sob.

"No, please, Spock. I do not wish to grow close to you," she said, turning her face away. "I cannot bear it. They will kill you as they did Seruk. They will kill my child. They will ... kill ... me."

Her voice began to shake, her control to crumble, and she hid her face in her hands. Without thinking, Spock pulled her into his arms and held her, projecting the comfort and the intimacy a husband would share with his wife. He surrounded her with a sense of protection and strength and with a certitude that everything would be all right.

She clung to him and buried her face in his chest, letting the sense of his solid masculinity wash over her. After a moment, he pushed her away a little, his left arm still around her shoulders, and brought his right hand up to her face again. "T'Kal, give me your thoughts," he said, his voice soft but firm, and this time she allowed him in.

He did not seek dominance over her or submission on her part, but to impart courage and comfort to her. To quiet her fears and share his innate strength, infusing part of himself into her soul. Her eyes closed and she caught her breath as he melded with her, feeling him in every cell, every molecule of her body.

She gave herself back to him, flowing into his mind, accepting what he offered and returning it in kind. The remembered heat of pon farr glowed deep within them and the combining radiance began to build a flame, still small but growing.

She was so close, so warm in his arms, her breath so soft on his mouth that he had bent down and was kissing her before he could halt himself. It was not a logical action, not a Vulcan one, but she responded to him, sliding her arms around him and letting her lips part beneath his, allowing him to tease his tongue against hers. From their position on her face, his fingers eased into a caress, then slipped into the ebony mass of her hair, pressing her a little harder against him. He felt his body begin to awaken, felt the anxious yearning begin deep inside him, wanting to again possess her as he had done during the night of fever.

The sudden slap of the door sliding open flung them apart, startled by the interruption. Two Gorn entered bearing two of the Romulan women unconscious on an antigrav stretcher. A third Gorn was dragging A'Keen along with an iron grip on his arm. The Romulan was fighting mad, cursing the guard fluently and with a vengeance, trying to free himself. The Gorn paid no attention whatsoever.

The stretcher bearers dumped their load and started back out. A'Keen's escort flung the man halfway across the room and then turned to go. The Romulan was on his feet in an instant and had launched himself at the Gorn with a roar. He landed on the reptiloid's back, one arm around the thick throat, doing his best to throttle the alien.

With ridiculous ease, the Gorn reached over its shoulder and grasped its attacker, flipping him easily up and over then slamming him to the floor. Hurt but undaunted, A'Keen attempted to rise and go for the Gorn once more.

The guard had pulled loose the cattle prod in its belt and A'Keen's rush was met by a sizzling static charge that knocked him away with a screech of pain. After that, the Romulan did not move other than a labored panting for air as he lay on his back against one of the walls.

The Gorn continued their exit and the door hissed closed behind them. The whole incident had not taken more than a couple of minutes.

Spock leapt to his feet and hurried to the other man's side, directing T'Kal, "See to the women." She didn't argue but moved quickly to comply.

A'Keen was groaning and beginning to move. "Lie still," Spock told him. "Allow the shock to wear off."

"Sukreen..." the Romulan moaned, and it was then that Spock realized that the chestnut-haired woman was not one of the two returned to the room.

"What about Sukreen?" Spock asked him.

A'Keen gave a pitiable sound and clutched at Spock's sleeve, his face crumpling in anguish. "They killed her! Sukreen! Oh, my Sukreen!" He began to weep, deep wracking sobs. "She was my pledged. We were to be married when we returned home."

Stricken, Spock didn't know what to say. He looked up at T'Kal who was kneeling by the other two Romulan women, now beginning to come around. Her eyes mirrored the haunted expression he knew was in his own.

And again Spock felt that it was time to end this nightmare. He had formed a plan, one desperate and insane enough that it might possibly work.

Or it might get the whole lot of them killed before they got ten feet. In any case, it was time to put it into motion.

* * *

As they had done nearly every day, all of the captives were herded out into the exterior yard for their exercise period. Spock had spent his days closely studying the setup and had discovered that on every third day the entire complement of captives was exercised at the same time. Today was that day.

As he strolled about the yard, he inspected the force field that faced the enclosures and noted that, as he had suspected, it was a unified system. Separating the area into individual pens were simple metal grids as far either way as he could see. Besides the humans in the next holding area, he could see a group of Klingons, huge and long-haired, much different from the smaller, more human Klingons they had met before. Beyond them was a race he did not recognize. They were of shorter stature with large-lobed heads and improbably gigantic ears.

Looking the other way, he spotted a couple of Andorians, beyond them a gathering of fat, stub-nosed Tellarites. He had the unpleasant thought that the Gorn would undoubtedly find the pig-like natives of Tellar much to their liking.

A'Keen strolled up beside him, seemingly for nothing more than casual conversation. "Do you believe it will work?"

"That is something we will soon discover," Spock answered. "Are you certain you feel well enough to carry out your part of the plan?"

The Romulan looked at him sharply, a steely glint in his eyes. "My friend, I wouldn't miss this if I had both arms severed on the battlefield!"

"You may, if this fails," Spock replied.

"Anything is better than ending up as a meal for those butchering lizards," A'Keen ground out between clenched teeth. "I do this for Sukreen and all the other colleagues they murdered." He paused and his face darkened. "And for my son. The one Sukreen was carrying when they--" His voice broke and he turned away to compose himself.

Spock looked the other way, uncomfortable, and saw that the humans were coming into their pen. He immediately went to the fence as Christine spotted him and hurried to him. Chekov and Mead were behind her and for a few moments, the four shipmates exchanged greetings and expressions of relief at seeing each other once more.

"I can't tell you how happy I am to see you!" Christine said with a wide grin, reaching through the grid toward him, expecting to take his hand as she had done at their last meeting.

Instead, Spock stepped back a little, his hands behind his back and his face composed into an emotionless expression. "I, too, am pleased to see that all of you are well," he said. "I trust that you have all been bearing up adequately under your ordeal."

Christine's face fell, puzzled, but she answered, "Yes. It's been rough on all of us, but we're getting through it okay. How about you?"

"I have managed to get through the days in a satisfactory manner," Spock replied rather formally.

At that moment, he was joined by the Vulcan woman they had seen a few days before and Christine took a moment to appraise her. She was rather petite, only coming about to Spock's shoulder, and her exotic face held the cool, serene beauty that was common in Vulcan women. She returned Christine's scrutiny then turned to Spock and asked, "Si t'qomi'a, adun'i?"

Chapel's eyes widened in surprise. She spoke just enough Vulcan to understand what the woman had asked Spock -- who the humans were -- and one word, adun, leapt out at her in startling clarity. "Husband?!" the blonde woman echoed before she could catch herself. "Spock! What is she talking about?!"

The First Officer glanced at Christine with a flash of distinct discomfort before he quickly assumed the unemotional mask he habitually wore. "It is a personal matter," he answered in a low voice. "This is T'Kal. We were bonded through ... events that occurred three days ago."

Beyond that, he would offer no explanation, but Christine knew what had happened. He had resolved T'Kal's pon farr in the only way possible. She could read it in Spock's eyes. The others might see only the cold lack of emotion on the Vulcan's face, but she knew him too well, had shared too much with him. She had seen something like that lack of expression once before, when he had stood on the bridge and gazed at another Vulcan woman who awaited him.

No, she amended to herself. That time his face had held only resignation and duty. And T'Pring had seemed made of stone, as cold and hard as any marble statue ever carved. T'Kal radiated a softer, warmer presence and Spock's aura was different. Something about him said acceptance and protection when he looked at T'Kal and Christine's heart sank as she understood that this time Spock had truly bonded with the young woman, that they had truly become mates.

"Well, congratulations, Mr. Spock," Christine said finally, her voice clear despite the lump in her throat. Resolutely, she did what she'd done on more occasions than she cared to remember. She mentally picked herself up, straightened her spine, and faced it head on. When something inside her whined, You've lost him, she immediately slapped it down with the firm retort, No, you haven't lost him. Because you never had him in the first place!

Suddenly, Chekov stepped closer to the fence and said, "Something's happening."

Spock turned and looked behind him. Farther down the row, Gorn guards were hurriedly shuffling into the enclosures, beginning to herd the occupants back towards the building. It was hard to tell with the stolid, slow-moving reptiloids, but Spock got the distinct impression that there was a note of frantic haste in their actions that had never been there before.

At that moment, the gate slid open and a guard bustled into their own enclosure, brandishing one of the ubiquitous cattle prods at them. "Move! Move!" it hissed harshly at them. "Inside!"

Spock glanced at A'Keen and the two men exchanged a look of understanding.

The Vulcan and the Romulan burst into motion at the same instant, both making a flying leap that landed them simultaneously on the guard's arm that held the prod. Startled, the Gorn gave a wild "whuff" of astonishment and attempted to use the prod on its attackers.

It was no use. The men were much more agile than it was and they hung on doggedly, trying to get the weapon away from the creature. The Gorn sank its claws into A'Keen's shoulder and attempted to pry the Romulan away, but at that moment the other two Romulan women landed on its back, clawing at the Gorn's faceted eyes and nostrils, trying to find any vulnerable spot amid its throat scales.

As it blindly fought its attackers, the Gorn stumbled back, weighed down by the four determined people, and T'Kal added the final element as she tackled the creature around one knee, over-balancing it.

They all went down in the dust of the enclosure, the Gorn now frantic and giving voice to a high-pitched screech, but it couldn't shake the enormous combined strength of the two Vulcans and three Romulans. With a final monumental effort, Spock and A'Keen knocked the prod away from the Gorn's grasp.

The Gorn, however, now shrieked back in fury and called upon its inhuman inner resources to counterattack. It made a lunge for Spock's throat with its dagger-like teeth and he threw himself back out of its way. A'Keen was bleeding heavily from its earlier attack and his shoulder was beginning to weaken. The Gorn flung him away and lumbered to its feet, turning to face the women who had likewise scurried away.

Looking quickly around, the Gorn spotted the cattle prod lying a meter away and it bent to retrieve it.

T'Kal was too fast for it, however, for she dove and scooped the prod up, rolling out the guard's way before its deadly claws found purchase. Leaping to her feet, she danced away, the weapon now in her hand, dangerously near the plasma fence.

With an enraged bellow, the Gorn charged her, making a maddened lunge for its weapon. At the last second, T'Kal leaped to one side -- and the Gorn collided head-on with the energy field.

There was a thunderous crack of grounded energy, combined with a blast of light like a star going nova, and a shower of plasma sparks that shot in all directions. The entire length of the plasma fence flickered, sizzled, and went out, leaving every cage along its length open.

For a few stunned seconds, there was dead quiet and then a roar went up from hundreds of different throat in a dozen languages and all of the prisoners rushed from their cages, leaping in vengeance on the startled Gorn. The Klingons began singing a battle chant as they gleefully wreaked havoc.

But victory seemed short-lived. Gorn troops rushed in, bearing long poles and began fighting back, attempting to contain the riot that had erupted. Everywhere in the melee there were screeches and howls as the captives went down under the assault.

And then something happened that caught both sides off-guard. Suddenly, piercing the din of combat, there was the high, light hum of transporter beams -- lots of them -- and people began to materialize in the courtyard. Dozens at a time. Until there were hundreds, thousands. And they were all clad in helmets and battle armor and were bearing heavy duty phaser rifles.

The man fighting beside Spock suddenly laughed out loud and shouted, "The cavalry just arrived!!" and set up a whooping that was quickly picked up along the line.

It wasn't exactly the cavalry. It was the Federation Marines and they had come in force. As soon as materialization was complete, they leaped into action and the real fighting began as the Gorn turned to meet them. Phaser bolts began to fly in every direction as both sides opened up, a new wave of Gorn soldiers appearing with their own blasters.

The non-combatants suddenly realized their danger and dived for cover. Spock made sure that T'Kal was out of the line of fire then ducked and ran to where Chekov, Christine and Ellen were crouching in the shelter of a wall.

"We must arm ourselves," the First Officer said.

Chekov nodded to a spot not far away where several Marines had been cut down by phaser fire. "I think I can reach them, sir. Their rifles should still have charges."

"We will both go," Spock answered.

"We'll go with you," Christine spoke up.

"No," Spock responded tersely. "You two are medical personnel, not combat officers. See to the wounded that you can reach, but do not needlessly expose yourselves to danger. I should be most unhappy to lose any other members of my crew."

For a second, his dark eyes met hers and held them with an intense gaze, causing her heart to constrict. Then he turned back to Chekov and the two men dashed out in a zig-zagging run, bent as low as possible. Phaser bolts flared over and around them, but they made it to their destination, throwing themselves on their bellies beside the bodies of the dead Marines.

Working low to the ground, becoming smeared with blood and mud, Spock and Chekov managed to secure three phaser rifles and a bandolier of charges. Spock slung the strap of one of the rifles over his shoulder and then the two Federation officers jumped to their feet and ran back the way they had come, firing at Gorn soldiers that were attempting to cut them down. They made it back behind the wall where Chapel and Mead waited.

A scrambling sound behind them caused Spock and Chekov to spin in that direction, phaser rifles ready, but it proved to be A'Keen making his way to join them. Spock tossed him the third rifle.

"Where are the women?" the Vulcan asked.

"Taleel is dead," answered the Romulan. "Kefren and T'Kal have gone with a Marine unit to show them where the labs are. I have to admit, Spock, that I am impressed with the show your military has made today. And your little woman ... she is braver than I thought."

Christine glanced sharply at the Romulan and waited for Spock to reply, but the Vulcan merely twitched an eyebrow in response. He surveyed the fighting, noting that the Marines were beginning to prevail, and said, "I think we can be of more use inside as well. Come."

The group hurried inside, listening to the sounds of phaser fire and screams coming from elsewhere in the barracks building where they had all been held. Cautiously, they moved down the halls toward the firing, Spock and Chekov in the lead, Christine and Ellen in the middle, and A'Keen taking up the rear, watching for attack. Twice they fell back and engaged in a firefight with Gorn guards, but the reptiloids' blasters were no match for the heavy rifles.

By the time they reached the lab area, the firing had died away and there was the sound of shouts and thuds from the area. The air was thick with ozone and the acrid residue of energy beams. In the halls lay about a dozen Federation Marines. Most appeared dead but two or three moved weakly.

Spock quickly scanned the area then nodded at Christine. She and Ellen hurriedly went to the aid of the wounded men. "Ensign Chekov, stay and cover them," the First Officer instructed, then motioned to A'Keen. They ducked into the lab.

The instant they entered, half a dozen Marines swung on them, weapons ready, then relaxed a little when they saw that neither were enemy soldiers.

Stunned, Spock and A'Keen lowered their phaser rifles and gazed in astonishment at the room. He had been here before ... or at least he'd been in a room very much like this. But that time the room had been darkened and he hadn't been able to see the extent of his surroundings. Now he understood why.

It was a chamber of horrors. Instinctively, he'd known it but seeing it now in full light made his blood run cold. There were half a dozen metal examination tables, some still smeared with nameless fluids and bits of tissue. On one lay the partially dissected body of a creature. Spock felt fortunate not to be able to identify it. All around the perimeter of the room were instruments that had the look of originating somewhere between a medical facility and a torture chamber.

On the floor lay the bodies of several of the little insectoid aliens, their torsos and limbs twisted into positions that looked totally unnatural. There were three dead Gorn as well. Of the two dozen Marines in the room, most were gathered near one corner of the room. Spock and A'Keen pushed their way close enough to see that the squad leader had his rifle jammed against the head of one of the gray aliens, in the process of interrogating it. The squad leader wasn't having much luck getting anything intelligible from the alien.

Spock turned to one of the Marines. "There were two women with you. Where are they?"

"Next door, I think," the Marine answered. "They ducked in there when the shooting started."

Spock and A'Keen hurried through the indicated door and found themselves in a small dark equipment room. "T'Kal?" the Vulcan questioned.

"Here, Spock," came the young woman's voice and she appeared out of the dark, followed by the Romulan woman, Kefren.

"I believe it is time that we leave this place," Spock said softly. "We should be able to borrow a communicator and be transported to one of the ships in orbit."

"We will stay," A'Keen interrupted. "Kefren and I have lives to avenge."

"That will not bring them back," Spock replied in a low voice.

"No, but their souls will be freed from this place," the Romulan answered.

"You know that I cannot contact your homeworld and inform them of your fate," Spock continued.

A'Keen shook his head slowly. "Not yet, my friend. But someday, if there is ever peace or a rejoining between our worlds, perhaps you can let my family know that we died in honor." He smiled a little. "But who knows? We may yet meet on Romulus. If you ever get there, look me up then." He started away, followed by Kefren.

"I do not know your whole name," Spock reminded him.

The Romulan turned back and answered, "Pardek. S'Lureed A'Keen kh'da'Pardek." Then the two of them disappeared down the hall outside.

Spock and T'Kal stood alone and he stepped closer to her. "Are you all right?" he asked in Vulcan.

"Yes, my husband," she answered in kind, looking up into his face, her onyx-black eyes serene. "There is no need to coddle me, Spock. I am not fragile."

"Nevertheless," he replied softly. "It is one of my functions as your mate."

She cocked an eyebrow up and smiled a little. "Then it is not logical that I prevent you from fulfilling your role as my husband."

He smiled a little as well and held up his right hand, offering her his extended fingers. She touched her fingers to his and for a moment, they spoke through their bondlink, strengthening what had begun so involuntarily. He saw that she had accepted the loss of her former mate, Seruk, and, although he would always be a part of who she was, T'Kal had realized that there was no logic in continuing to hang on to that relationship. She was Spock's wife now through the reality of the pon farr. She had bonded with him fully.

For his part, the bondlink had engendered in Spock the responsibilities and instincts inherent in a Vulcan husband. He felt protective of her in a way he'd never felt for anyone before. Moreover, he was beginning to like T'Kal for herself. She had a sweet, warm nature that generated a glow inside him that seemed to say home. Something about her made him picture a traditional Vulcan family structure, something he'd never actually known personally. And something about her began to heal the wound left inside him by the debacle of his botched marriage to T'Pring. As hard and conniving as T'Pring had been, T'Kal was that warm and open. She would stand by him and do her best to be a good wife to him, no matter the circumstances that had brought them together.

Spock broke their contact and said, "It is time to go." He ushered her out of the darkened room, shielding her from the sights of the horrible lab through which they passed.

As they went back out into the hallway, Spock was surprised to see that there was now a contingent of Starfleet security troops there, among whom he immediately recognized Lt. Leslie from the Enterprise. Leslie spotted him as well.

"Mr. Spock! Sir, is it ever good to see you!" the big, blond-haired man exclaimed. "The Captain sent us down specifically to see if we could find you all!"

"Where are Ensign Chekov, Lt. Chapel and Technician Mead?" Spock asked, assuming his command persona.

"They've already beamed up with the injured Fed troops, sir." Leslie cast a glance at T'Kal standing behind Spock. "The Captain said to have you beam up as soon as we found you. He wanted to come down and look for you himself but couldn't leave the bridge. Too much going on up there."

"Report," Spock ordered.

"Sir, it's like the whole Fleet's up there," Leslie replied. "The Yorktown, Hood, and Potemkin are all here, as well as two troop ships. There was a major battle with the Gorn fleet and the Marines started landing as soon as we could fight our way into orbit." Leslie grinned smugly. "As soon as the Captain had reported what was going on here, the Federation moved in to shut it down big time. These lizards won't be kidnaping people after the butt kicking we gave 'em today!"

"Hyperbole is not necessary, Lieutenant," Spock replied dryly. "Very well, carry out your orders. Contact the Enterprise and inform them that there will be two to beam aboard."

"Aye, sir." Leslie took out his communicator and relayed the message. "The beam up site is there at that intersection, sir. They'll lock onto you there."

"Thank you, Lieutenant." Spock and T'Kal walked away toward the designated site while Leslie took his men and moved in the opposite direction. "As soon as we are finished with this mission, you and I shall return to Vulcan and have our bonding formally recorded." He paused and looked at her uncertainly. "That is, if you wish to continue it. We did discuss a dissolution."

"I have no desire for a dissolution, Spock," she answered, gazing up at her tall husband. "It is logical that we accept what has happened. I believe that we will be compatible and that our bonding will prove serene and productive."

"I too have come to accept our bonding, T'Kal," he answered, his expression soft as he looked down at her walking beside him.

"I am pleased, my husband," she smiled. "I find that the prospect of a life with you fills me with agreeable anticipation. Perhaps we--"

An explosion of light and sound blasted T'Kal off her feet and into the intersection of two corridors. Spock whirled, bringing up the phaser rifle he still carried and shot back instinctively. A Gorn lurched from its hiding place in one of the doorways and fell heavily to the ground, dead.

Spock held his position for a moment, but there were no other attacks, and he hurried to where T'Kal lay, sprawled face down. Her back smoldered from the massive, close-range phaser blast, her beautiful black hair singed and smoking. She didn't move.

"T'Kal!" Spock cried and dropped down beside her, gently turning her and taking her into his arms. Her eyelids fluttered and she breathed, but there was no sign of returning consciousness.

As he knelt in the corridor with his wife limp in the cradle of his embrace, Spock felt the transporter beam take him and the world began to dissolve in dematerialization.

As soon as the beam released him in the familiar confines of the Enterprise transporter room, Spock snapped, "Medical emergency!" and turned his attention back to T'Kal.

Scotty was behind the transporter console and Spock heard him on the intercom, summoning help. But the Vulcan had no time to monitor the circumstances. He could feel T'Kal's life force slipping away from him, its presence in their bondlink fading inexorably.

Quickly, Spock brought one hand up and pressed his fingertips against T'Kal's face, locking onto her contact points. He dove into her mind without his usual care when initiating a mindlink. There wasn't time. As he pushed his way farther into her psyche, she met him weakly, strengthened for a moment by his energy, and wordlessly they exchanged emotions and thoughts that could not be expressed any other way.

Then he took within himself all that she was, all that she had been, the essence of her soul and mind. It only took a few seconds in actual time, but to the two of them, they shared a lifetime. And then hers was over.

Secure and content that he held her katra within himself, T'Kal slipped out of his mental grasp and the flame of her spirit flickered and went out.

Spock came back to himself, realizing that Scotty and Dr. McCoy were kneeling beside him on the transporter platform. A medical team stood ready but there was only silence in the transporter room as everyone breathlessly watched the drama being played out.

McCoy ran his medical scanner over the young woman's still body then shut it off and looked up at the Vulcan, his blue eyes grave. "I'm sorry, Spock," he said quietly. "She's dead. Who was she?"

Numbly, Spock gazed down at the woman he still held in his arms, his eyes playing over her beautiful, heart-shaped face, the generous lips and fine nose, the slim upswept brows above the now closed eyes. "She was T'Kal," he answered in a hoarse, barely audible voice. "My wife."

* * *

Ship's night had descended, with the light levels turned low, when Christine found Spock on the observation deck. He was standing in the darkness, looking out at the stars, his hands clasped behind his back.

"I'm sorry if I'm disturbing you, Mr. Spock," she said softly.

"No," he answered in a near whisper. "I do not find your presence a disturbance."

She moved up to stand beside him. "I wanted to tell you how sorry I am to hear about T'Kal."

"Thank you," he replied without shifting his gaze from the viewport.

"Spock..." The nurse hesitated then went on. "There's something else. I asked Dr. McCoy to allow me to tell you." She paused again. "Spock, the autopsy scans showed that T'Kal was pregnant. There was human DNA evident in the embryo. The baby was--"

"Yes," he interrupted, seeming to stiffen in pain.

Christine stepped closer. "Spock, I am so very sorry. If there was anything we could have done..."

He looked down at her. "It is not logical to blame yourself for what happened, Christine," he said quietly, using her given name almost without thought. "Our bonding and T'Kal's pregnancy was the result of circumstances over which none of us had any control."

Christine felt her eyes begin to burn, although she couldn't have said for whom the tears were intended. "You must have loved her very much," she whispered with a tight throat.

Surprisingly, Spock shook his head slightly. "No, I did not love her. Vulcans are not capable of that emotion. The bond between a mated couple goes far beyond that. Our minds were joined into one. She became a very real part of me, as I became part of her. The child was the logical result of our physical union during that time." He sighed and looked back at the stars. "I must return her to Vulcan to her family."

Christine nodded. "For the funeral."

"More than that," he answered. "I hold within me her katra. Her soul, if you will. I must return her to the unity of her family consciousness so that what she was will not be lost forever." He looked down at the woman standing beside him and said, "I would very much like you to accompany me there. If you have no objections, that is."

Christine smiled, her mouth quivering with suppressed emotions, both happy and sad. "I will be honored to do that, Spock," she answered.

He nodded silently and once more turned to gaze out at the stars sweeping past. Christine moved a little close and slipped her hand up along his back to rest on his shoulder in a gesture of comfort and affection.

He did not flinch away or remove it.

THE END

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