(Standard Year 2247)

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Lieutenant John Collins from Engineering was the first casualty. His roommate found him lying dead in his bed as she came off duty. Dr. McCoy could not understand what had killed him. Lieutenant Collins seemed simply to have stopped breathing. The Chief Surgeon ordered an autopsy and marked it regretfully as death from unknown causes, and took his report to the Captain.


“Captain’s log. The Enterprise is on exploratory duty in Quadrant Three. We have encountered an uninhabited Class M planet and have been doing extensive surveying for the past week. We have christened the planet ‘Majel.’ Note is made of the death, from causes as yet unknown, of Lieutenant John Collins. Lieutenant Collins was a member of the original landing party.”

Kirk switched off the recorder and turned to his First Officer. “What’s the status on Lieutenant Crawford’s experiments, Spock?”

The Vulcan swiveled his chair from the Science Station’s board. “At last report, Captain, Lieutenant Crawford’s work was proceeding along the lines he projected in his original thesis,” he said. “The psychohistorical research is revealing analytical data most efficiently.”

Kirk nodded, but not happily, and made the relevant addition to his log entry. He wasn’t sure about the experimentation Crawford was doing with the adjusted psycho-tricorders. He'd had a detailed briefing with Crawford, of course, before authorizing the project, and he'd been satisfied at the assurances of both safety and potential accuracy - or, at least as satisfied as he could be with limited understanding of the process. Still, he had a feeling somewhere inside him that it wasn’t quite safe.


Chekov knew he was Pavel Andrevitch Chekov, knew he was sitting placidly in Jon Crawford’s quarters – but he also knew himself to be standing in an ill-lit, crowded room, talking fervently to a gathering of grim-faced men and women. The room was cold; he could see the condensation from his own breath. From the corner of his eye he saw Josef fidgeting, eager for him to be done so he could either agree or argue. Josef was always eager…

“Pavel?” Crawford asked gently, touching his shoulder.

“Yes, Jon?” Chekov replied immediately, aware of where he was even as he continued his speech.

“That’ll be all for now.”

“Very well.”

There was a short, sharp, high-pitched buzz. At the prearranged signal, Chekov opened his eyes and Lenin faded from his mind.

Crawford was smiling. It must have been particularly interesting, Chekov concluded. “What was Vladimir Illiych up to today?” he asked. He spoke lightly, noncommittally. His ethnocentracism had caused much teasing on the ship, so he pretended not to take the experiment or his part in it seriously, even though he did. He was proud of his heritage, it was simply that he was trying to grow out of being too proud.

“Haranguing the masses,” Crawford grinned, then sighed. “Unfortunately he sounded more like Captain Kirk than Comrade Lenin.”

Chekov reddened. “Sorry,” he said.

“Don’t be, it’s not you,” Crawford muttered. “Fanatics tend to be similar no matter when they live.”

Chekov frowned, but didn’t say anything. He had come to know Crawford well enough to understand that the man respected no one but himself. Arguing with him did no good. He stood and stretched. “Tomorrow?” he asked.

Crawford shrugged, already programming the tricorder for his next subject. Chekov shook his head, mumbled a ‘good bye’, and went in search of less taciturn company.


The experimental set up of probes, links, tricorders, image recorders and memory tie-ins took up half of Lieutenant Crawford’s quarters, and about that much of the Head Nurse’s time. Leonard McCoy didn’t understand the physics of it, but he did understand that the psychology of those who had volunteered for the unorthodox research needed to be monitored. And that meant he had to regularly inspect the equipment – and Crawford’s mental state – and make his evaluation reports to the captain.

“And how does this thing work again?” he asked Crawford as he scrutinized the equipment.

Lieutenant Jonathon Crawford frowned disdainfully at him. “I’ve explained it every time you've come in here, Doctor,” he replied.

“Humor me,” McCoy returned. He didn’t expect to be able to understand it any better, but the repeated questioning would give him a good look into the workings of Crawford’s mind.

Crawford sighed. “We link into the cerebral cortex here,” he began, indicating a probe that looked something like a spray applicator, “the medulla oblongata here, the cerebellum here.” Two more probes were indicated. “The data is fed directly into the memory centers.” He traced wires to a tricorder. “The subject is told to relax, rest, to try to sleep. A prearranged signal triggers the memory implant when the proper state of relaxation has been reached, and what occurs is a dream, or daydream, that is vivid and lucid. Then, it’s a simple matter to record, as per normal psycho-tricording procedures, what has in effect happened to the subject.”

“Doesn’t the subject’s own personality render any interpretation invalid?” McCoy questioned skeptically. From the corner of his eye, he saw Christine Chapel shaking her head. Crawford smiled condescendingly.

“No, Doctor. That factor is taken into account in the analysis. The data recorded is subjected to cross-referencing with a clear psycho-reading of the subject. Anything which has been obviously influenced is discarded. The program has a number of different filtering variables that must be satisfied before the data is put to use as an historical reference.”

“Well,” McCoy said, walking around the machinery, “you might convince historians it’s accurate, but I wouldn’t put money on convincing anyone else.”

The eyes of the lieutenant went suddenly cold. McCoy made a mental note of it. “Dr. McCoy,” he snarled, “my thesis was accepted as a viable research technique worthy of Federation approval and a fully funded grant …”

“Don’t mind him, Jon,” Christine put in soothingly. “He doesn’t understand anyone’s fanaticisms but his own.” She gave McCoy a covert wink.

Crawford almost sneered a reply, but he bit it back at the last minute. He managed a rueful smile at Chapel as McCoy bent for a closer look.


Chekov went to the rec room looking for his latest romantic interest, one Daphne Gollub. If asked, he couldn’t’ve said what it was about her that fascinated him. She was darkly pretty, to be sure, and brightly intelligent and quick-witted – but she was also annoyingly informal and – he had to admit – more than a little silly at times. She definitely lived up to her nickname. Still, there was something about her which he found irresistible.

He spotted her seated at a table with Lieutenants Sulu and Valley, and Ensign Majiir. Sulu and Daffy were having what looked like an excited discussion. Jilla looked confused, as she usually did in the midst of Human interaction. But Ruth was uncharacteristically silent – although she was turning interesting shades of red and purple.

He stepped over to the table. Daffy was saying, “No, that’s only when it’s raining.”

“When it is…” Jilla repeated uncertainly.

“Or at night,” Daffy added.

“But on Thursday, two queens is good,” Sulu put in, grinning.

“No, no, that only makes half,” Daffy corrected.

“Except if you’ve already got a jack,” Sulu reminded.

“A jack?” Jilla queried softly, and was ignored.

“Right,” Daffy agreed enthusiastically. “Which makes it royal.”

“Unless you also have a red ace,” Sulu clarified.

“So you deal a priestess from the bottom of the deck!” Daffy finished happily.

“This priestess is about to deck all of you,” Ruth muttered warningly.

Laughing, Chekov pulled up a chair and announced, “Fizzbin.”

“The Captain did say Beta Antares Four,” Sulu grinned, glancing teasingly at Ruth.

“It is a game for telepaths?” Jilla asked, making reference to the fact that all native-born Antaris were telepathic. Ruth scowled.

“That ridiculous invention of Bwana Jim’s distorted brain is not played on, around, or anywhere near Antares,” she informed them. “And since when is he an authority on anything?”

“Temper, Ruth,” Sulu admonished. “The Captain said the next time he hears ‘Bwana,’ you get a good spanking.”

Ruth blinked her huge violet eyes mischievously. The action transformed her incredibly beautiful golden-hued face into the picture of young innocence, despite the severity of her on-duty hairstyle; long, thick golden tresses pulled back away from her face into a tight bun at the back of her head. “Is he getting kinky on us, Sulu?” she asked.

“And can I watch?” Daffy added.

Outright laughter was smothered to insubordinate giggles and chuckles – and Jilla’s usual puzzled consternation - as a communications screen on another table whistled, then asked, in Spock’s voice, for Lieutenant Valley. Ruth frowned.

“No rest for the perfect,” she muttered, and got up, crossing to the screen. “Here, Boss,” she replied as she thumbed the switch. “What do you need?”

“A nice Jewish girl from Antares?” Daffy murmured to renewed chuckles.

“We have a reported casualty from the landing party, Miss Valley. The reports on Majel are to be appended accordingly. The data you require is waiting at your station.”

“Yes, sir, I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

“That will be adequate. Shalom, Miss Gollub. Spock out.”

“Damn your ears,” Ruth said to the blank screen, then turned and snarled at Daffy. Daffy grinned brightly back at her, showing all her teeth. Ruth walked back toward the table. “Hello Pavel. Goodbye Pavel.” She walked past the table, heading for the door. “Why do I want that man’s job?”

“Push,” Sulu smiled at Daffy, patting her approvingly on the shoulder.

Daffy shrugged. “I’m only following an informed lead,” she returned, and winked at Jilla. Jilla flushed. Daffy moved her chair closer to Chekov’s. “Where’ve you been all afternoon, Pav?”

“Participating in an experiment,” Chekov answered, trying to sound matter-of-fact.

“Of what nature?” Jilla enquired politely.

“Oh, nothing important, really,” Chekov demurred.

“Come on, Pav, you’re dying to tell us,” Sulu encouraged.

“Well, if you insist…”

“We insist,” Sulu and Daffy said together. Chekov grinned boyishly.

“Jon Crawford has been doing experimental research on historical figures using a modified psychotricorder and a somewhat novel dreamwork approach,” he began.

Glances were exchanged. Daffy started to giggle, and Sulu quickly shushed her.

“I’ve been helping him, “ Chekov continued. “I am one of the test subjects for the memory implants he is using.”

“What kind of historical figures?” Jilla asked, after some prodding from Sulu.

The young Ter-Russian cleared his throat and said simply, “A member of my Terran ancestral people…”

Oy geveult, he is the Tsar of all the Russias!” Daffy burst out, unable to contain herself any longer, then laughed maniacally. Sulu joined in, and Jilla glanced down at the table, hiding her bewilderment. Chekov reddened.

“Lenin, if you must know,” he grumbled.

“You mean you’re really doing it officially?” Daffy finally managed, getting her mirth under control.

“Officially?” Chekov asked.

“Pav, Jon’s been letting us be whoever we want since we went into orbit,” Sulu explained.

Chekov glanced at Daffy. “What do you mean?”

Daffy attempted to answer a few times, then stopped and turned beseechingly to Sulu. “You were one of the first, you tell him.”

Sulu grinned. “You obviously know how the implant works,” he began. “Jon asks us who we want to be, implants us, and the night is spent in glorious reverie. In the morning, he erases the implant. Simple, easy, and galaxies of fun.”

“D’Artagnan,” Chekov murmured assuredly.

“Sir Francis Drake, actually,” Sulu returned with a fond glance at Jilla.

“Who?” Chekov asked.

“Why’d you have to say that?” Daffy moaned as Sulu’s eyes lit up. He launched into a colorfully vivid description of the daring life of a 16th Century English privateer, all from the viewpoint of a samurai starship helmsman.

“He does tend to be enthusiastic about it,” Jilla offered almost apologetically. Daffy snorted and Chekov grinned knowingly at Jilla, whose skin was beginning to glow as Sulu went on. Jilla’s normally gently sparkling, pale silver Indiian skin always took on its own glow with embarrassment or anger or any other strong emotion. She and Sulu were the latest romantic item on the Enterprise’s gossip vine, and Chekov found himself wondering how much time Sir Francis was cutting into normal romantic nighttime activities – and, perhaps for the hundredth time, what was taking Jilla so long in moving into Sulu’s quarters.


There was no psycho-history experiment the next day, and Chekov felt Crawford needed some social activity. The historian was becoming increasingly moody. The gym seemed the perfect place for working out tension and stress.

The usual faces were there. Ramon Ordona and Sulu were fencing, Kevin Riley was working out on the rings. Tara Ryan was engaged in teaching middle-eastern Terran dancing styles to Jilla, Ruth and Monique DuBois. Uhura was doing a series of movements on the balance beam.

There was also one unusual face: Spock was conducting a class in martial arts holds and falls for the newest Security recruits. As Chekov watched, the First Officer became a blur of graceful motion, countering a coordinated attack by several of the recruits at once. It was fascinating to watch the normally formal and sedate Vulcan execute counter-holds and blocking blows with such fluid precision. If one was attuned to such things, it could almost be considered sensual. It was certainly distracting.


Mon Dieu!” Monique breathed suddenly, losing the rhythm of the movements Tara had just shown her. “Regardez-le!

Antari violet, Indiian slate and TerAfrican ebony followed the direction of her gaze. The tall, sender figure that had just taken out six opponents was crouching down to them, carefully explaining exactly why they had just found themselves on the deck.

“What’s so…” Ruth began.

“Watch!” Monique hissed.

Spock stood, as did the others, and he said, clearly, calmly, “Again.”

Again came the blur of motion, again the sensual and graceful exactitude, the Vulcan form moving with sinuous, effortless power. And again, all six officers found themselves on their backs.

“Did you see that?” Uhura exclaimed as she strode up to the other women. “He almost made me lose my balance.”

“He can make me lose my balance anytime,” Monique rejoined sensually.

“Fascinating,” Jilla remarked with a sidelong glance at Ruth.

“Indeed,” Tara murmured, nodding her thanks to Monique, who was mock-fanning herself with her hand.

“Hot damn!” Ruth agreed, then, noting Jilla’s glance, added, “Good thing Chapel ain’t here.”


Kevin Riley’s feet hit the deck with a deliberate thud. He was filled with indignation and disbelieving envy. Until a few minutes ago, he’d been receiving an occasional teasing, admiring glance from Ruth Valley. Now suddenly she – and apparently every other female in the gym - had eyes only for her precious “Boss.”

Damning the perversity of all females of every species everywhere, Riley took his grievances to where Sulu and Ramon stood, fencing masks in hand, staring at the knot of women who were enthralled with the sight of the First Officer.

“Would you be lookin’ at that?” Kevin complained.

“I am, believe me,” Sulu returned softly.

“I don’t understand it,” Ramon said, shaking his head. “Don’t they know any better?”

Chekov and Crawford joined the group.

“What do they see in him?” Kevin was asking.

“You’re joking, right?” Sulu replied.

“Don’t they know he’s unavailable?” Ramon complained.

Crawford glanced at Spock, then smiled at his fellow crewmen. “That’s precisely it,” he told them. “The thrill of the chase. The hunt of the unicorn, perhaps. They find him irresistible because he’s unavailable. That makes him safe.”

“Talk to Jilla about ‘safe,’” Sulu muttered.

“They’re all xenophilic perverts, they are,” Kevin stated. “All Ruth does is complain ‘Boss this’ and ‘the Ears that’ and now it's all she can do to keep from trippin’ over her own tongue.” He scowled. “It’s disgusting, that’s what it is.”

“I’ve been trying for six months to get Jilla to look at me like that,” Sulu murmured under his breath.

“What?” Crawford asked.

“Nothing,” Sulu replied, too quickly. Crawford nodded, then turned to Chekov.

“At least your Daphne isn’t among the ‘xenophilic perverts,’" he said.

“Since when is she ‘his Daphne’?” Ramon asked Sulu. Sulu shrugged.

Chekov reddened. “She is on duty,” he replied, then added, “Lucky for me. It is most unusual for Mr. Spock to be in the gym when it is this crowded. I am surprised to see him here.”

“Really?” Crawford returned, with a glance in the Vulcan’s direction. He stared pointedly at the number of attractive women who were still enthralled with the sight of the martial arts training. “I’m not, Pavel.” He glanced again toward Spock, his blue eyes full of barely disguised loathing. “Not at all.”

“What’s with you, Crawford?” Kevin asked.

“Nothing,” Crawford snapped. “Come on, Pavel, let’s find something pleasant to do.”

Ramon, Sulu and Kevin exchanged puzzled looks. Chekov shrugged, but left the gym with Crawford.

“What a twitch,” Kevin remarked.


“Well, well, Christine, decided to come back to work, have you?” McCoy growled pleasantly as Christine Chapel walked into Sickbay.

“Jon won’t be needing my help today, Doctor,” she said, unperturbed at his gruffness.

“Good,” McCoy replied. “You can help Ruthie.”

Chapel glanced at the computer terminal where Ruth Valley was busy with tapes and a statboard. She crossed Sickbay to stand next to her. “What can I do, Lieutenant?” she asked.

Ruth looked up. “Afternoon, Christine,” she said. “Spock wants these readings from Majel correlated with the medical records. He’s anticipating Bwana’s request because of John Collins’ death. And we all want to collaborate in Spock’s obsessions, don’t we?” She handed Christine a stack of tapes, pretending not to notice the slight flushing of the nurse’s cheeks at the mention of the First Officer and obsessions.

Chapel nodded and headed to the medical records terminal.

“By the way, Christine,” McCoy said abruptly. “I dreamt of you last night.”

“Really, Doctor?” Chapel asked, glancing at Ruth’s attentively rising eyebrows.

“Yes.” McCoy paused dramatically, then finally added, “I took a scalpel to you.”

Chapel frowned. “Thanks a lot, Doctor.”

“You’re welcome,” McCoy said, then chuckled as she left the room.

“A scalpel, Bones?” Ruth asked.

“And old one, Ruthie,” he returned. “The steel kind.”

“Wasn’t that messy?”

“Uh huh.”

“Yechh. Remind me to stay out of your dreams.”

McCoy shrugged. “It’s a hazard of the profession,” he said, “especially when one’s bein’ bombarded with historical nonsense. And,” he continued, interrupting himself, “Don’t go teasin’ my Head Nurse like that.”

“Teasing?” Ruth asked innocently. “About what?”

Before McCoy could answer, the door to Sickbay hissed open and a crewman stepped in carrying an unconscious, still pajama-clad woman.

“Ensign Jerri Brace,” the young man said breathlessly. “She woke up screaming, then she passed out. I don’t think she’s breathing.”

“Nurse!” McCoy called as Ensign Brace was quickly placed on a diagnostic table. Chapel was already at his side. “Set the automatic life support field,” McCoy snapped. “Resuscitate priority.”

It was too late for the automatic systems to do any good. What few readings there were were sliding inexorably down the board. McCoy made a quick, grim decision. “Half a cc of cordrazine,” he ordered. It took Chapel only seconds to prepare and hand him the hypo, but as he injected it, he knew that it wasn’t going to work. The girl was dying.

“Bones?” Ruth’s quiet voice asked.

“There’s nothing I can – “ McCoy’s voice stopped and he jerked his head up to the Antari. She was staring at the figure on the bed. McCoy stepped away from the table. Ruth’s hesitation lasted less than a second, then she stepped next to Brace and placed her fingers against the girl’s temples.

McCoy held his breath. If the girl was going to live, this was her only hope. Ruth was a keheil, an empathic healer. She used her talent rarely, only when it was life or death, and always at great cost to herself. Each healing exhausted her thoroughly, yet McCoy had never seen her refuse the task. McCoy didn’t fully understand the process and hadn’t always welcomed it, but there were people alive on the ship who shouldn’t by medical rights be alive, and he was grateful.

Tense moments passed, then Ruth suddenly pulled away, gasping and fell to the deck, curling around herself.

“Life functions have ceased, Doctor,” Chapel reported dully. McCoy was kneeling beside Ruth.

“Ruthie?” he asked gently. “Ruth, are you all right?”

Ruth didn’t answer him. For a long time she just lay on the deck with her eyes closed. Finally McCoy reached out to gently touch her shoulder and her eyes snapped open. He saw confusion and pain and guilt fighting with emotions that were alien to his understanding. “Are you all right?” he asked again.

Ruth’s eyes focused on his face. “She shouldn’t’ve died!” Her words came out as an hysterical snarl. “There wasn’t any reason you can’t really be scared to death of nothing I tried but she wouldn’t listen it was just a dream and waves and waves of terror and she faded with nothing…”

“Ruth, what was wrong with her?” McCoy said sternly.

“She was afraid!” Ruth snapped.

“Of what?”

Nothing!” she screamed, then stared up into McCoy’s blue eyes. “I don’t know, Bones, she just… she wouldn’t… I couldn’t…” Her voice stopped abruptly, her eyes closing again, her body stiff and trembling. McCoy suddenly understood and motioned to Chapel. Together they helped Ruth to her feet and to a room where she would have time to recover from the death she couldn’t stop.


After being told of Ensign Brace’s death, Captain Kirk called a briefing session. Two casualties in two days, both members of an exploratory survey team of a new planet merited a closer scrutinizing of that planet. Brace had been the landing party’s geologist.

“What is it, Spock?” Kirk asked. “Something the sensors missed, something the first survey missed…”

“Or a coincidence,” McCoy put in.

“There is that possibility, Doctor,” Spock replied, “and as to your question, Captain, I have the computers working on any correlations that may not have been immediately evident.”

“Two of my crew dying from no apparent cause when they just happened to have been on a first landing party is no coincidence, Doctor,” Kirk said sternly.

“Ruth said Brace was afraid, too afraid to keep living,” McCoy responded. “There’s no disease or agent that I know of that has fear as its only symptom.”

“We cannot be certain fear is the only symptom,” Spock reminded.

McCoy bristled, offended on Ruth’s behalf. “You’re doubting…” he began.

“No, Doctor,” Spock interrupted, “but you did say Ensign Brace was dying before Miss Valley reached her. It is possible that the fear of death was too strong for her keheil abilities to absorb or disregard.”

McCoy frowned.

“Is that a possibility, Bones?” Kirk asked.

“I’m just a country doctor, Jim,” McCoy replied. “I don’t understand how Ruth does what she does, I’m only reporting what she said and what my examination showed. I couldn’t find anything physically wrong with Brace. Collins’ autopsy report isn’t in yet, and I’ve ordered one for Brace. I’m workin’ in the dark here. Right now, that’s all I can tell you.”

Kirk considered for a moment, then said, “Do we risk going on with the survey?”

“The data is inconclusive, Captain,” Spock answered. “I could offer only speculation, at best.”

“I’d say no, Jim,” was McCoy response. “Why take any chances?”

“Then you do think there’s a correlation?” Kirk said.

“I don’t know, but…”

“I would agree with Dr. McCoy,” Spock put in. “We have, at present, no concrete evidence there is any connection between Collins and Braces’ deaths and any adverse effects of Majel, but the possibility remains. To proceed with caution is not inadvisable until more significant data can be processed.”

Kirk regarded the two men. He didn’t like the uncertainty of all this. Something just didn’t feel right. His command intuition was tingling at the back of his head, but giving him no guidance other than something just isn’t right. He sighed, then made a decision.

“Mr. Spock, cancel all landing parties. Have anyone who’s been down to Majel report to sickbay for a complete physical. Bones, I want those autopsy reports. Find out if there’s anything, anything at all unusual that could’ve caused those deaths.” He paused, again feeling as though he were missing something, then brushed it away. “That will be all, gentlemen.”


“Lass, isn’t it past time you went home?” Scotty asked Jilla, and she finally looked up. She was refitting a shuttlecraft engine, and had gotten so engrossed in the work she hadn’t heard Scott’s voice until the third time he’d asked the question. She climbed to her feet, negligently wiping her hands on her coveralls.

“I’ve barely started,” she began, then stopped speaking at the bemused look on Scott’s face and the affectionate tolerance that emanated from his tia.

“You’ve been at it for six hours and you were off duty an hour ago,” he told her. She flushed. “Dedication is one thing, lass, but fanaticism…”

“You have not left either, Mr. Scott,” Jilla broke in.

Scotty smiled broadly. “Aye, you’ve got me there,” he agreed easily, “but that’s different.” He didn’t explain how it was different, and he didn’t give her time to ask. “Besides, your lad’s waitin’ for you.”

“Oh.” Jilla’s skin began an increased shimmer. She quickly turned, beginning to put the tools back into the crib.

“I’ll take care of that for ya,” Scott told her. “Go on.”

She murmured awkward thanks, and hurried from the shuttle bay.


Since there was no one in the corridor outside Engineering where Sulu waited, Jilla didn’t protest or even blush very much at his quick embrace. He lightly kissed her forehead, then said, “About time, hon.” But there was no rebuke in his voice.

“I am sorry,” she replied. “I lost track of the time.”

He chuckled. “You always do,” he returned and smiled warmly at her. When you look this beautiful, he thought, I’ll let you get away with anything. There was a child-like quality to her, an innocence in her slate-grey eyes that denied the sensuality of her petite, voluptuous figure. And when she smiled at him, a shy, sweet, always hesitant expression, his heart melted every time.

They headed down the corridor to the turbolift in silence, then Sulu’s smile faded. “There was another casualty from the landing party,” he said.

Sumin tu,” Jilla murmured softly, Indiian for ‘have mercy.’ “Who was it?”

“Jerri Brace,” Sulu returned. “She was a geologist.”

“What happened?” Jilla asked

“I don’t know. Her roommate said she woke up screaming and he took her to sickbay.” He sighed. “I guess there wasn’t anything Dr. McCoy could do.”

Jilla murmured another phrase in Indiian, and Sulu memorized the sound so he could look it up later.

“Was Dr. McCoy able to determine the cause of her death?” Jilla asked.

“That’s the weird part, “ Sulu told her. “Fear.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Fear,” Sulu repeated. “He said she was too scared to live.”

Jilla said nothing. He knew what that ‘nothing’ signaled, and so they walked in silence for a while. Needing to do something to comfort her wordless pain, he slipped his arm around her waist, intending only a quick embrace, letting her feel his care and concern. But her body stiffened, her eyes meeting his with a quick flash of both panic and longing. He sighed, murmured, “I’m sorry,” and carefully moved his arm. He should know better, he knew. Physical displays usually weren’t a comfort to her at all, especially not when her own fear was the problem. Still, it was easy to forget, because he wanted so badly to be close to her. But she couldn’t allow his touch too often – because it became too hard for her to stop him. I wish she wouldn’t, he thought glumly. I wish she didn’t have to. I want her, she knows it, I know she wants me…

But she’s an Indiian widow, and that’s as good as still married.

So why do I do this?

I love her. And she loves me. She just can’t do anything about it. It would go against everything she believes in. And I understand that, I really do.

Or, at least, he tried to understand. But there were times when he almost would rather have nothing than the half he had now.

Why do I have to be such a fucking – ha! – gentleman?

After a few more minutes of silence, he took a breath and asked jauntily, “How fares England, your Majesty?”

Jilla’s skin shimmered, but her eyes lit with gratitude and slightly embarrassed pleasure. “We are most pleased with your exploits, Sir Francis,” she murmured. He laughed and she smiled at him. Her playing Queen Elizabeth the First of England had been his idea, and it had taken some convincing to get her to join in Crawford’s history game. He’d carefully gone over the period with her, and all he knew about Good Queen Bess, hoping both that she wouldn’t and would pick up on the fact that the Queen and Sir Francis Drake had been a little more than friendly. She hadn’t understood the idea of fantasy at first, but the more he’d talked about it, the more enthusiastic she became. He knew that was in part due to his own enthusiasm, but he was determined not to feel guilty about it. After all, he hadn’t been manipulating her emotions on purpose.

They got into the turbolift and Sulu said, “Deck five.”

“I have to stop at my cabin,” Jilla told him, then lowered her eyes. “I’m a mess.”

He stared at her. She wore engineering coveralls, rumpled and stained from the day’s work. Her hair had been hastily put up, and was coming out of the clips, falling in wisps around her neck and forehead. There was a smudge or two of grease on her face, and her hands were still dirty, though it was obvious she had wiped some of the grime off of them.

“Then you’re a beautiful mess,” he responded, “but okay.” He smiled and gave the lift new instructions. “Need any help cleaning up?” he asked, only half teasing. Jilla frowned, and he said, “Just kidding, hon.” Then he paused, and something in her manner made him murmur, “You sure?” Her sheen nearly blinded him. “All right, I’m sorry,” he stated, and laughed with mock-offense to soften his words. “Come on, Jilla, turn it off.” She made a sound of angry frustration and Sulu took her hands. “Really, I’m sorry. Forgive me?”

She glared at him for a moment longer, then sighed. “You are impossible,” she stated.

I wish you weren’t, Sulu thought ruefully, but he smiled at her. “Still friends?”

Her head abruptly lowered again. “I am sorry, Sulu,” she whispered, then took a deep breath. “Of course we are still…”

“It’s all right, Jilla,” he said softly, knowing that as she had felt his desire for her, and his annoyance at the situation, she would also feel his chagrinned regret. She smiled slightly.

“I know it isn’t, but thank you for saying so.”

Sulu nodded and the turbolift opened on Deck Four.


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