rewritten by Cheryl Petterson
Return to Valjiir Stories
Return to Valjiir Continum
Go to Epilogue
Return to Valjiir Continum
Go to Epilogue
Sulu sat in the cockpit with Jilla on his lap, facing him, her knees brought up along his sides. Her hands dug into his tunic, her face buried against his neck. He tried to suppress his passion and pleasure, knowing that Jilla wouldn’t appreciate picking up either emotions of sheer delight or acute sexual desire. Still, he reasoned, I can’t help how being in a needle makes me feel, and my confidence will help allay her fears.
Smelly, as he’d christened the craft, was a gorgeous machine and responded like a lover to his skilled touch. She soared out of the atmosphere effortlessly, almost as if she were happy to shed Alcon for better things and who wouldn’t be? He found himself wondering if once she was in the Enterprise’s shuttle bay, she could be overlooked until they broke orbit. And then, since she would already be there, there would be no reason not to keep her, right? But first, he had to get her on board.
He reached across Jilla’s shoulder, murmuring “excuse me, hon” as he worked the navigation and com controls. She whimpered in answer. “Everything’s fine,” he assured her. “Still no answer from the ship, though.”
“That is not reassuring,” Jilla said.
“No,” he admitted, “but nothing Alconian has tried shooting us down either.” Which also wasn’t very reassuring, he admonished himself. He allowed conversation to lapse into silence and concentrated on piloting. Straight stuff, he warned himself. No fancy turns or tricks. Just get to the Enterprise, fast and clean – and hope they don’t throw a tractor beam on us.
Within minutes, the starship came into visual range. “Jilla, open your eyes,” Sulu said.
“I do not want to,” Jilla whispered.
She hesitantly lifted her head, then stared. “Something is wrong,” she said.
“I know. She’s glowing like an Indiian.”
He circled the ship, both he and Jilla staring at the eerie, silvery glow surrounding the Enterprise. “I’ve seen this before,” Sulu said softly, “but I can hardly believe… but nothing else looks like that. It’s the only logical answer.”
“A Slaver stasis field,” Jilla said with a very slight but curt nod. “They have quite thoroughly trapped us.”
So they think, Sulu countered silently. But they didn’t reckon with Kamikaze.
God, what a headache! What happened? Del threw me on the floor. No, but I heard ‘raw’eth.’ I remember… freezing, glowing silver non-being, crazy-scared, why did I think I’d be any good at teleporting - no that’s not it either. Spock. Right. ‘Yoo-hoo, Ruthie, over here’ or something like that. Iocasta, golden one… dei’larr’ei. Wither thou goest, I will go. She sighed, smiling, then started to call for him, stopping as her temple throbbed. Unless I want my head to break in two, I’d better fix this shielding problem. She’d meant to do so ever since returning from Shas, of course, but hadn’t seemed to find the time. See, Boss, a lack of self-discipline can, at times, be beneficial.
And since it's still being beneficial, is now the right time to...
And how much do you want him to know?
I can still communicate with him, she told herself stubbornly, it'll just be under my control.
Good thing it wasn't however long ago it was that he saved you from being caught in the stasis field.
She dove into her own head and focused on rebuilding all the necessary telepathic walls until she was certain no stray thoughts would be getting in or out, ignoring the cry of loss in her mind.
She woke, not realizing she’d fallen asleep. Spock was still nowhere to be seen. She sat up. On the bed table was a small spool of thread and a needle. The image of Spock’s discomfort at her torn uniform made her smile, and she quickly made a make-shift repair. Not bad for someone from a world that doesn’t believe in clothes, she thought, and waited for Spock’s comment. There was none, but she recalled his voice saying ‘Haifa” none the less. Haifa. Hybrid. Starfleet oath Keheil ani Ramy is Lieutenant Valley so get up and tell Bwana Jim the truth.
Kirk was seated in the main room, not eating the food that had been set before him. He stood when Ruth moved aside the alcove curtain and entered. “Miss Valley, are you all right?” he asked immediately. “Mr. Spock told me you slammed into the stasis field.”
“I’m recovered, Captain,” Ruth replied. “And thanks for the sewing kit, Boss.”
“You are most welcome, Miss Valley,” Spock acknowledged.
“I’m certain Skael and his guards will be here to gloat any minute…” Kirk began again.
“Yes, sir,” Ruth broke in. “And before he does, I – I have something to tell you.”
Kirk gestured. “Be seated, Lieutenant,” he said, and took a chair opposite her. Spock moved to stand behind her, his hands behind his back.
“I know I should’ve told you this before,” Ruth began, “probably at the briefing before we left the ship, but I thought – that is, I didn’t think – Starfleet doesn’t usually base missions on my family history and…”
“Make sense, Miss Valley,” Kirk suggested.
Ruth blinked, stuttered a few times, then continued, clearly uneasy. “Do you know anything about Antari history?” she asked.
“Very little is known about Beta Antares Four prior to that system’s entry into the Federation,” Spock interjected. “Most requests for historical and anthropological data have been denied.”
“Yeah, there is that,” Ruth put in gloomily.
There were a few moments of silence. “Continue, Miss Valley,” Kirk urged.
Ruth took a deep breath. “Well, it’s more than a little complicated. You see, the Alconians… never mind.” She began again. “The last time I was on Alcon, the Blakely did do a survey, but the real reason we were here was so Keheil ani Randal – that’s my mother – could check up on the Alconians. We – the Antaris – have been doing that on a regular basis for – oh, about ten thousand years. Antares – and our proper name is Koltiri – have sort of kept them from conquering the universe.”
Spock raised an eyebrow. Kirk nodded. “Go on,” he said.
“We had no choice, really,” she said hurriedly. “I mean, it was kind of our fault that they got their hands on Slaver technology to begin with. It was a family thing.” Ruth shrugged. “Anyway, we kept hoping they’d grow up and find peaceful uses for their technology. At least, that’s what Ara used to tell me. But they didn’t, and so every once in a while, a keheil will come around and slap their hands…” Her voice trailed off, and she stared at the floor.
“Did it ever occur to the Koltiri that by deliberately interfering with Alconian development they were preventing that development?” Kirk asked.
“Antaris frequently feel justified in interfering in other people’s lives,” Spock returned.
Ruth’s head came up. “I didn’t say I agreed with it,” she blazed. “Personally, I figure if they want to blow themselves up, let them.”
“And take half the galaxy with us?” Skael’s voice came cheerfully from the hallway. “Really, ani Ramy, could even a half-breed like you abide that?”
They all turned at the voice, Ruth and Kirk rising from their seats. The Priest-King and several guards came into the room. “You went for broke with your teleporting trick,” he continued. “So why are you all still here?”
“Because I was playing just to survive, not to win,” Ruth retorted.
Skael frowned. “Well, why the hell not?”
Spock opened his mouth, then, at the look Ruth shot at him, thought better of speaking.
Skael sighed. “No matter. I’ve got a conspiracy to run and you’re damn well going to cooperate. I’ve given you every opportunity to interfere…” He was silent for a moment, then his eyes lit up with sudden inspiration. “But maybe, like your mother, you need something personal.” He grinned, looking at Kirk and Spock. “I know. I’ll torture them. Something painful, public, slow and fatal. That should do it.”
“Yes,” Kirk was forced to agree. “That should.”
“Skael,” Spock said, “you have already committed one act of aggression by using the stasis field on the Enterprise. Willful injury to the ship’s crew, particularly the captain, will constitute further aggression. The Federation will not act in your favor, Antari interference notwithstanding.”
Skael stared blandly at the Vulcan. “Thank you for your concern, Mr. Spock, but I wouldn’t worry. I’m sure I’ll think of some way to blame all this on the Koltiri.” He pointed at Kirk. “Take him to the courtyard and impale him, or crucify him or something.”
Two of the guards grabbed Kirk, while others aimed weapons at Ruth and Spock.
“You can’t do that!” Ruth screeched.
“Come on, stop me, “ Skael pleaded jubilantly. “Please.”
“I… “ Ruth looked at Kirk for some direction. He shook his head.
“You’ve done so well so far, Miss Valley,” he said. “Don’t screw it up now.”
“Don’t listen to him,” Skael interrupted gleefully. “I’m going to hurt him – badly!”
“No he won’t, Lieutenant,” Kirk stated.
“Does he really think the Federation matters to me?” Skael snickered at Ruth. “Does he honestly believe his one life is important?”
“Captain!” Ruth begged.
“I can’t give you the order, Miss Valley. You have to do this on your own.”
“Shut up!” Skael spat as he whirled on Kirk.
“What do you want!” Ruth shrieked. “For me to shrivel you to a cinder right here? I don’t do that – but I’ll gladly give you another bloody nose, you creep!”
Skael again smiled. “Her mother once threatened to make the sun go nova,” he said conversationally.
“I’m not my mother and it was no threat,” Ruth snarled.
Skael ignored her and turned to his guards. “Didn’t I tell you to do something with the captain?”
Play the game by Alconian rules. Get back to the palace. Then what? The ship is in a stasis field, the Captain and Mr. Spock are prisoners, and it’s our job to take on the entire planet with a needle and one knife. And Ruth? Is she still back in the forest trying to wish herself onto a ship that, for all practical purposes, isn’t there? Would that matter to a keheil? And if she made it, is there anything they can do from inside a Slaver box?
I’m not going to think about that now. First duty is to the captain. Maybe if we just flew in and announced, ‘Okay, we’re here, you can let us go now’ they really would. After all, that’s the game they set up. No one’s gonna take a bet on that. Swagger, Spike said. Swashbuckle. All right then.
The thoughts formed quickly in Sulu’s mind as the slender needle circled the Enterprise. Jilla clung to Sulu, her slate grey eyes full of worry. “What do we do now?” she asked. She felt his steely determination before he answered.
“If we can get a hold of that dylithium weapon, could you operate it?” he asked her.
“Very likely,” she replied, “but how…?”
“Hang on, hon, everything’s going to be all right.”
“What are you…” Jilla began.
“Infiltrate the palace, steal the weapon, get our hands on Skael and use him as a hostage to free the Captain, Mr. Spock, and the ship.”
“The two of us?” Jilla gasped.
He was smiling fiercely. “Why not?”
His tia was a powerful mixture of exhilaration, worry, excitement and fear – and she did not understand why she found such an insane combination so attractive, but she accepted with both chagrin and delight that she did so. As the needle began accelerating, she squeezed her eyes shut and pressed herself more tightly against his chest. With each beat of his heart, his fatalistic enthusiasm became more contagious, and she soon found herself smiling with him.
“Their religion is based on their technology,” Sulu said, and Jilla realized he was talking to himself. “So their temple should be the center of research and development and data storage. If the weapon’s anywhere, it’ll be there.”
“Logical,” Jilla agreed and felt Sulu’s start. “You are speaking out loud,” she told him.
“Sorry,” he returned sheepishly.
“No, please continue,” Jilla demurred. “Your plan is…?”
“Well, I’ll bet the uniformed pilot was a priest,” he said. “He’s the one who actually used the weapon. I saw a number of other men dressed like him going in and out of one of the other buildings surrounding the palace courtyard. That has to be the temple.”
“Fascinating,” Jilla replied with a warm smile. Sulu glanced down at her, returning it.
“We’ll need a diversion to get to it.”
“What sort of diversion?”
“I was thinking that a needle crash might do it.”
“Sulu!” Jilla exclaimed, her voice nearly deafening in the close confines of the cockpit.
“Not with us in it,” Sulu hastily added. “We’ll set down a little ways outside the city and you can rig a remote. I’ll fly her right into the courtyard and crash into a storehouse or something.”
“Without tools or parts or…?”
“Think of it as a challenge, hon.”
Jilla sighed and started to squirm, turning herself so that she could face the controls.
“Uh, hon – can this wait until we’re actually on the ground?” Sulu murmured.
“I will need all the time we have…” Jilla began.
“Yeah, but if you keep moving like that, I’m gonna jump you as soon as we land. If I can last that long.”
Jilla flushed, her skin glowing, but she stopped moving.
Jim Kirk considered that he had a right to be concerned. He had been assured that this mission would be relatively safe – and if one supposed that ‘relatively’ included poisonings, assaults, aphrodisiacs and kidnapping…. He was not so sure that it included torture and death. Of course, he wasn’t all that sure that it would… but Skael’s men certainly seemed determined. And speaking of relative, I’m sure those of whoever decided on this little test are incestuous, canine and unmarried. And probably Klingon.
The guards took him into the courtyard. Glancing up, he could see Skael waving at him from what must be one of the windows of their suite. He could make out Spock’s tall figure, and Ruth’s torrent of golden hair. Hold on, Miss Valley, he thought, then the guards stopped. He looked at the ground before him, expecting to see some kind of torture device, but there was only a large metal T with an anti-gravity unit attached to it. It looked innocuous enough – until Jim realized that the T, when suspended, would make a great crucifixion platform. He could think of only one advantage to this sort of execution – it was, as Skael had promised, slow. And as long as one was alive, there was hope of rescue.
He was wrestled into a prone position with his back against the cool metal, his arms immediately fastened, outstretched, along the T. As the guards began lashing his legs to the bar, he found that lying flat on his back gave him one advantage: he was the first to see a silver blur that quickly grew into a wedge that grew into a small craft that plunged out of the sky. Its roar got the guards’ attention only seconds before the vessel swooped by just over their heads and plowed into the palace behind them. Jim was left alone to face the shower of debris as the Alconians ran for cover.
“D’Artagnan,” was all Spock had the time to say before the floor beneath him buckled. He saw Skael leaping into the corridor, followed by the guards. Ruth lost her footing and slid to the floor, grasping at pieces of blue tile and stone. Then something hit him on the head.
The first thing they had done after sending Smelly on her way was to race through the capital streets toward the palace courtyard. The few Alconians they saw didn’t react to them at all; possibly their ‘borrowed’ needle was a familiar sight. Or Alconians weren’t curious. Or they’d been told not to notice. Or they were simply being Alconian. Sulu had long ceased to believe that anything Alconian made sense.
They reached the courtyard just as Smelly made her spectacular descent. In the confusion, no one noticed two more people sprinting toward the temple. As they reached the cover of its archway, Jilla stopped and turned. “Sulu, look!” she whispered fiercely. In the center of the yard, several burly guards were running from a man fastened to what looked like a cross. “It is Captain Kirk!”
Sulu quickly glanced around the courtyard. It was rapidly emptying. He reached into his belt and handed Jilla the knife. “Go get him, I’ll get the weapon.”
Jilla nodded, and dashed toward the center of the yard.
Jim had thought that the crashing of the small ship might prove of some benefit to his situation, but he wasn’t so sure when pieces of the palace began dropping to the ground around him. He tugged frantically at the bonds on his arms and legs, but there was no loosening them. A chunk of masonry thudded solidly into the grass too near his head for comfort. He closed his eyes, his heart pounding – and nearly fainted a second later when he felt something solid but distinctly soft land on top of him and utter a guttural “Ca!”
He opened his eyes, lifting his head as far as he could. “Mrs. Majiir?” he queried.
The Indiian moved off of him. “Forgive me, Captain,” she said breathlessly. “There is much debris and I lost my balance.” Then he felt her take ahold of his wrist. A knife flashed as she began cutting through the ropes.
Spock regained consciousness first. Dust was settling all around him, and the room was in ruins, along with most of the outer wall. He quickly surveyed the wreckage, looking for a mound of golden hair. He found it just as Ruth started crawling toward him. “Miss Valley, you are undamaged?” he asked.
“Mostly,” Ruth replied, then coughed. “But I don’t think a sewing kit is gonna do the trick this time.” She pulled herself to her feet, revealing that her uniform was torn completely down one side. “Excuse me,” she said, and turned from him, removing the uniform. It was swiftly torn more, into two bands of blue cloth, one twice as wide as the other. The thinner band was tied around her breasts, the thicker fastened as a make-shift skirt.
“That ought to do it until we get back to the ship,” she said. “Are you all right, Boss?”
Spock reached to the lump at the back of his head.
“I can fix that for you,” Ruth offered.
“No need, I am in no serious distress,” he returned.
She shrugged. “Suit yourself.” She carefully picked her way over the wreckage to what was left of the wall. “Did you say something about D’Artagnan?”
“I assume the crash of the needle was Mr. Sulu’s doing,” Spock explained, following her.
“Crash?” Ruth gasped as she whirled back to face him. But Spock was gazing past her, and she realized that she’d seen something before she’d turned from the opening, someone speeding through the wreckage toward Captain Kirk, someone with wild, burgundy hair and a red uniform and... “Spock, is that…?”
“Yes, Miss Valley, “ he replied. “That silver streak is Mrs. Majiir. Mr. Sulu just entered the temple. And as they have provided us with a sufficient diversion, I believe it would be best for us to use it to our advantage.” He stepped forward, placing one foot on the rubble, extending his hand to Ruth. “After you, Lieutenant.”
If I were Alconian, where would I keep the armory? Sulu wondered as he moved cautiously along the wide corridor that ran the length of the temple. There were curtained alcoves on either side of him, but so far, no one had come pouncing out from behind any of them. No place logical, he continued his silent musings. Games. Points, Status. It’ll be somewhere relatively exposed… like, say, an altar.
He headed for the large round space in the center of the temple. He saw someone coming from it and ducked behind a curtain. Waiting until the man passed him, he leapt out, firmly covering the man’s mouth with his hand, pulling him to the floor. It was then that he recognized him; the pilot/priest who had left them stranded. Thank you, gods, he thought, and smiled, but it had no sunshine in it. Please, let me have to torture him a little.
“So nice to see you again,” he said conversationally. “Where’s the weapon?”
The man didn’t answer, so Sulu pulled him to his feet and twisted his arm behind him. After only a few moments’ pressure the man screamed, “I’ll show you!”
Sulu loosened his grip slightly and pushed the man forward. The altar room was simple, a round platform surrounded by six smaller ones. The dylithium weapon rested on one of the smaller altars. Sulu exhaled with relief, then quickly dispatched the Alconian with one sharp blow of his hand. He grabbed the pistol – then ignored the alarm that went off and ran, hoping to get back to Jilla before the guards got to him.
“Report, Lieutenant,” Kirk said as he rose from the ground and his near crucifixion. Jilla straightened, handing him the knife.
“Mr. Sulu is searching for the dylithium weapon,” she said. “Miss Valley attempted to teleport to the Enterprise, but the ship is encased in a Slaver stasis field. We are unsure as to her whereabouts, or Commander Spock’s….”
“Are you responsible for the destruction of the palace?”
“Yes, sir. It was Mr. Sulu’s intent to create a diversion so as to…”
“It worked,” Ruth said as she and Spock moved away from the rubble they had climbed down. “Hi, Jilla.”
Kirk turned his head at the Antari’s voice, then stared at the amount of golden flesh that was visible. He cleared his throat. “Miss Valley,” he began.
“Her uniform was destroyed when the palace collapsed,” Spock interjected.
“Everything’s covered,” Ruth added.
“Not nearly well enough,” Kirk murmured.
Jilla was clearly relieved, despite Ruth’s relative state of undress. “Ruth, we were worried…”
“Yeah, I almost got stuck in the field,” Ruth responded, “but Mr. Spock used the link between us to give me a new focus.” She smiled at him, and he nodded an acknowledgement. She deliberately ignored the sparkle in Jilla’s grey eyes.
“Sulu thought that with the weapon, we could negotiate a way to free the ship,” Jilla continued to the Captain.
“And a very good thought it was,” came Nara’s voice. They all glanced it its direction to see the Priestess coming toward them, with a full guard armed with phaser-like weapons. She glanced critically at Ruth’s attire. “Trolling for attention, ani Ramy?” she said, then, “I’m afraid if any of you move, we’ll be forced to shoot you.” She smiled at Kirk. “Though I’d hate to have to kill you, Jim.”
“I’m glad to hear it, Nara,” Kirk returned with a smile.
“I am so very tired of this,” Ruth muttered.
“Do something about it,” Nara challenged.
“Nara,” Kirk said, “Starfleet will no doubt send another ship to investigate the disappearance of the Enterprise. How do you plan to explain all this?”
She moved closer to him. “Want to help me kill Skael and take over yourself?”
Kirk appeared to consider the offer, then shook his head. “I really don’t think we’d get away with it.”
Nara sighed. “Probably not. A pity.” She turned and spoke to the guards. “Kill them.”
“Why?” Spock asked.
Nara turned back, a look of surprise on her face. “Why? Why not? I mean, what use are you to us now?”
“Good question,” Skael commented as he strolled up with his own guards. “Really good try, though. You get points for that.” He squared his stance. “Now, ani Ramy, are you going to stand quietly by while we execute your friends? Or are you going to cooperate and stop us?”
Ruth sighed and put her hands on her hips. “Look, even if I did stop you, how would that prove that Antares broke the Prime Directive? We weren’t even a member of the Federation…”
“Ah, but you were nine years ago,” Skael broke in with a wicked grin.
“That was different. My mother…”
“Your mother, as you have pointed out, was only one keheil. If you’d just act like the meddlesome bitch your kind really are, it would so strengthen our case.”
“You’re crazy, Skael,” Ruth said, shaking her head.
“Like a fox,” Skael replied, then turned to his guard. “Fire.” He pointed to Jilla. “That one.”
As he stopped speaking, there was a faint humming noise and a swath of ground in front of the guard disappeared. The guard fell, and Skael’s face lit with delight.
“Brava!” he shouted. “Do something else!”
“It wasn’t her!” Sulu’s voice called suddenly. Everyone turned to face him. He had the dylithium pistol aimed at Skael’s chest.
“Damn!” Skael swore. Then, staring at the unwavering barrel of the weapon, he went very pale. There was a long silence, broken finally by Skael’s deep breath and falsely cheerful, “Congratulations, D’Artagnan, you’ve just proven that the Federation of Planets is exactly the sort of organization we’ve been looking to become a part of.”
“I wouldn’t buy that if I were you, Mr. Sulu,” Captain Kirk advised.
“No, sir, I don’t intend to,” Sulu responded. “Everyone, please drop your weapons.”
The guards obeyed immediately. Kirk stepped up to Skael. “My ship,” he said.
Skael grimaced and produced a box from his pocket, handing it to Kirk. “The green button,” he informed him. Kirk looked more than dubious. “I assure you it won’t blow up your ship. You’ve won.”
“Miss Valley,” Kirk asked, “have we won?”
Ruth considered. “All of us alive all in the same place, weapon secured, king and consort hostage… even factoring in home field advantage, we’re still up 453 to 406. Yes, sir, we’ve won. He won’t blow up the ship.”
“It is a Slaver box,” Jilla ventured. “It was meant for capture and confinement, not destruction.”
“However did an alien so pretty get so smart?” Skael murmured with frank appreciation.
“Captain, let me shoot him,” Sulu begged.
Kirk ignored the request, flipping open his communicator as he pressed the green button on the Slaver box. “Scotty?” he asked.
Almost immediately, Scott’s voice answered, “Aye, Scott here, Captain.”
Kirk sighed in relief. “Seven to beam up, Mr. Scott. We’ll be continuing negotiations on board.” He closed the communicator.
“Seven, Captain?” Spock enquired.
“If you think I’m leaving Nara alone down here…” Kirk began.
“Why, Jim, how sweet,” Nara purred.
“He meant unsupervised and unguarded, Nara,” Ruth told her with a nasty grin.
Nara pouted. “Yes,” she said, “I suppose he did.”
The captain pointed. “Now Skael, Nara, if you’ll stand right there.”
Once on board, Skael demanded to call Babel, and Jim gladly allowed him access to a communications terminal. Let the bureaucracy deal with Alconian whimsy, he thought. He listened until the Undersecretary of Protocol had agreed to send a diplomatic delegation to Alcon, then nodded to the security men who were ‘escorting’ the Priest-King, and made his way to the landing party for a debriefing.
They had all showered and changed into fresh uniforms, and Jim allowed himself a bit of wistfulness that he hadn’t been able to enjoy Valley’s ‘destroyed uniform’ a little longer. All but Spock had plates of food and cups of coffee before them. They had even thoughtfully provided a tray for him. They all stood as he entered, but he motioned for them to be at their ease. Spock had been in the middle of a sentence, and Jim said, “Continue, Mr. Spock,” as he took his seat.
“Thank you, Captain," Spock returned. “Mr. Sulu, if you did not know where we were being held prisoner…”
Much to Jim’s surprise, Sulu interrupted the First Officer. “I wanted to set the navigation for a storage building, but with the time and tools available…”
“None,” Ruth commented.
Sulu gave her a sidelong glance, but kept speaking. “… I had to take the risk that you wouldn’t be injured wherever it ended up crashing. I had little choice since it was the only diversion I had the means to make.”
“And it worked,” Ruth put in again.
“I was not questioning the efficacy of the diversion, Miss Valley, “ Spock stated calmly. “I was simply curious as to Mr. Sulu’s reasoning.”
“And the weapon?” Jilla questioned. “You used it quite precisely. I had thought it would have needed an engineer’s examination before such accuracy could be expected.”
Sulu shrugged. “Luck,” he said. “When Skael ordered his guard to fire, I had to do something. I guessed.” At the looks on Jilla and Ruth’s face, and the rise of Spock’s eyebrow, he quickly added, “I am a weaponry expert.”
Jim cleared his throat. “You guessed,” he said. “I see.” He paused. “But it did work.” He realized he had echoed Ruth’s words, and gave her an amused look. She brightened and smiled back at him, almost making him wish he hadn’t done it. All that golden flesh… He shook the thought away. “Ladies, gentleman, by now I’m sure you’ve realized that there was a lot more to this mission than testing a new weapon.” He avoided the sudden speculative glint in Ruth’s eyes. “I received an Eyes Only briefing before being given this mission, from no less a person that the Supreme Secretariat himself.” He waited for the exchange of surprised looks, and nodded to Spock’s enquiring gaze.
“Mad Anthony?” Ruth asked. “Why?”
“Mad…?” Jilla echoed.
“Because he is,” was Ruth’s response.
“A disrespectful but nearly universal nom de guerre for Secretary Elamas,” Spock replied. Jilla nodded, though she clearly did not understand.
Jim again cleared his throat. “The Alconian government has charged the Matriarchy of Antares with deliberate and systematic violations of the Prime Directive.”
“But Captain, surely they’re developed enough not to be under Prime Directive status,” Sulu rejoined.
“Technically, yes – but unfortunately that status has to be based on native expertise. What they found of Slaver technology doesn’t count.”
“And they have developed little of their own,” Spock affirmed.
Jim nodded. “Because of this rather delicate distinction, I was instructed by the Secretary to uncover any evidence that would either substantiate or disprove these allegations, and if evidence indicated there had been a breach, why a respected member of the Federation might’ve done such a thing. I was ordered not to interfere in any way, regardless of the risks to my ship or crew, which I was assured would be minimal.” He held up a hand at the immediate protests. “Yes, yes, I know. My job was to arrange for the discovery of evidence and to observe the events. Period.”
“You set me up,” Ruth accused.
“Well, actually, that was the Secretary’s idea,” Jim told her as sympathetically as he could, “but I’m afraid so, yes. You were the only keheil available for such a…” he paused, searching for a word.
“Set up,” Ruth repeated fiercely.
“I am sorry, Miss Valley. Does it help to know that you proved yourself beyond question, and that your behavior is the singular reason I can report that if, indeed, Antares has interfered in Alconian affairs, it was most decidedly with good cause? That Antares may be in trouble, but not nearly as much as it would’ve been if you’d acted differently? And,” he added, “that I trusted you?”
The anger in her purple eyes faded. “Yes,” she said at last. “That helps.”
“Captain, “ Spock began, “If I may…”
“I’d noticed the inadvertent telepathic communication between you and Lieutenant Valley,” Jim answered, knowing the question his First Officer was going to ask. “There was little I could confide in you, knowing that you might accidentally convey that information to her.”
“Understood,” was all Spock said.
“It’s better now,” Ruth murmured.
Jim noted the exchange of glances between Sulu and Mrs. Majiir and wondered at it, but decided not to ask. He stood. “We’ll be returning Skael and Nara to their subjects very shortly,” he said, “and be proceeding to our next assignment – which I hope will be a nice, dull supply run.” Sulu and Ruth chuckled. “I’m authorizing three days’ leave for you all and no, Spock, you don’t have to take them. I’m going to my sane, peaceful Bridge.” The rest of the landing party stood. “Dismissed.”
And maybe I’ll stop in for a drink with Bones, he thought. After all, Captains deserve leave sometimes, too.
“Miss Valley, a word with you?” Spock said as they left the briefing room. Ruth said a quick, “Later,” to Jilla and Sulu.
“Honeymoon,” Sulu reminded. Jilla flushed and Ruth grinned.
“So I’ll knock first,” she returned. Sulu laughed and Ruth turned expectantly to Spock. “Yeah Boss?”
“I wanted to ask you,” Spock began, “when you spoke to me – after the aphrodisiac – you mentioned something about your mother and Nara. You said that the King has secular power, but the Consort wields… if I recall correctly, your exact words were ‘if she cuts him off, he can’t perform the proper rituals.’” He paused, dismissing his discomfort. “You said these rituals are more than empty form, and implied this was due to the fact that the Alconians have an actual, physical deity.” Ruth was looking at him, but her gaze was veiled. “Can you explain more fully now?” he asked.
“Are you sure you want to know, Mr. Spock?” Ruth asked.
“I would not ask if…”
“It’s about sex,” Ruth broke in bluntly. “The Priestess has actual physical sexual contact with the Alconian god, then with the King, and through this act confers divine authority upon him.” She scowled. “Not to mention the god’s actual knowledge, cunning, and deviousness.”
Spock looked confused. “This deity, then is an actual corporeal presence?”
“Actual, yes, corporeal, no,” Ruth said.
“How then is the sexual act accomplished?”
“Telepathic, empathic… figure it out. Anyway,” Ruth went on, “Nara intended to usurp the throne by performing this ritual with my father, which would have divested the old King, Aser, of his divine authority.” Her voice grew very quiet. “My mother stopped her.”
“I see,” Spock said. “I am sorry for the reminder of your loss.”
“Unfortunately,” Ruth continued, ignoring his expression of sympathy, “this gave the Alconians a perfect set-up for denouncing Antares to the Federation, removing their influence, and setting the stage for their galactic domination.” She suddenly brightened. “But I expect Mad Anthony will see that doesn’t happen now.” Spock nodded, and was speculatively silent. “Is that all, sir?” Ruth wanted to know.
“One other thing, Miss Valley. You said the relationship between the Koltiri and the Alconians was not cordial. Can you expand on that?”
Ruth considered. “I could if I could, but I can’t so I can’t,” she said. “At least, not without a long talk with the Zehara.”
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