Witch Hunt

(original story by C Petterson and S Sizemore)
Rewritten by Cheryl Petterson

(Standard Year 2248)

Return to Valjiir Stories

Return to Valjiir Continum

Jim Kirk flicked off the scanner, staring at the blank screen for a moment. Special orders. Rendezvous with a shuttle, VIP treatment. Admiral Bradigan and a civilian group of five. Cooperate fully, proceed to Terra under top priority. A list of officers requested to attend the arrival; himself, Dr. McCoy, Mr. Scott.

And that was it. No hint as to what was up. Cooperate fully. Jim got up, leaving his quarters. Cooperate with what?

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"Something's up," he told Leonard McCoy as they waited for the shuttle to be brought aboard.

"Something important from the looks of it," McCoy grumbled. "Fancy dress and everything. Didn't Fleet tell you anything?"

"Yes. Cooperate."

"With what?"

"That's what I'd like to know."

Red lights flashed green, and the shuttle bay doors opened. A red runner was placed to the door of the shuttle. Lieutenant Stewart sounded the boson's whistle, and the honor guards snapped to attention. Admiral Poul Bradigan returned the salutes.

"Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Mr. Scott, may I present Commissioners Davis, Jung, Belinkov, Hashi, and Chanti.

Kirk smiled, nodding to each of the five civilians, noting McCoy's raised eyebrow. Davis was TerCanadian, a tall redhead; the Germanic Jung shorter with a dark beard, Chanti a stern-looking TerAfrican. Belinkov was a stately, ash-blond TerRussian woman, Hashi delicate, poised and TerAsian.

"Welcome aboard the Enterprise, ladies, gentlemen," Kirk said. "Our honor guard will escort each of you to your quarters..."

"Captain," Chanti interrupted. "We wish to see your Bridge."

Kirk gave Bradigan a mildly puzzled look. The Admiral's nod reminded him: cooperate fully. "Of course, Commissioner," he said. "This way, ladies and gentlemen."

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Ruth Valley had begun it, humming a popular, jestingly insubordinate ballad every cadet had heard, and most had memorized. She'd gone to check the life science station, passing M'ress at communications and Jilla Majiir at engineering. M'ress' soft purring joined the song, Jilla absently beginning a harmony. Sulu was soon tapping out a rhythm against the helmcon, Arex at navigation nodding his head, adding a trilling of his own.

Commander Spock, sitting in the con, saw no reason to disrupt the impromptu choir as long as everyone kept to their duty. It was, after all, a most enjoyable blending of sounds.

The participants became aware of what they were doing just before the final chorus. Ruth grinned, raised her arms as if to conduct, and the final line was held in a fermata. Spock glanced up, eyebrows raised, and Ruth quickly ended the note. The `choir,' smiling, went back to their duties.

The turbolift door opened and Spock stood as Kirk stepped onto the Bridge, followed by McCoy and three civilians. A second turbolift car followed immediately, with Scott, Admiral Bradigan and two more civilians who joined the first three in staring around the Bridge. They looked decidedly uncomfortable. Kirk nodded to Spock, taking the con.

"Gentlemen, my First Officer, Mr...."

"Admiral," Jung said quietly. Bradigan turned to him. There was a whispered conversation, then Bradigan turned to Kirk.

"Captain, is it possible for you to relieve the junior officers?" he asked.

Kirk stared, his eyes growing confused and concerned.

"This is a top security mission," Bradigan added.

"Well..." Kirk paused, glancing at the serious faces of the commissioners. "Certainly, Admiral." He turned to M'ress. "Lieutenant, have Lieutenant Commander Uhura and Mr. Riley report to the Bridge."

"Yes, sir," M'ress answered.

"As soon as they arrive, you and Lieutenant Arex are relieved of duty. Miss Valley, Mrs. Majiir – Mr. Spock and Mr. Scott will take over for you. Dismissed."

Ruth and Jilla exchanged glances with each other and with M'ress and Arex. Ruth shrugged, Jilla smiled a faint good-bye to Sulu's confused gaze, and they both left the Bridge.

"Captain," Bradigan said, "The commissioners are here on official business. They have a few questions to ask various members of your crew, routine data gathering."

"Of course, Admiral. I'll give them exclusive use of the briefing room on deck seven. Dr. McCoy can escort you. Will that suffice?" Kirk replied.

"Nicely, Captain," Commissioner Davis answered. The five civilians turned to the turbolift, just as Kirk was wondering why they'd come to the Bridge, and why they'd asked for the dismissal of the junior officers. He shook off the thought as the turbolift door closed.

He pulled at the tight collar of his dress uniform. Military decorum required he wear it for an Admiral's arrival, but he saw no reason to keep it on the rest of the day. He gestured to Spock. "Spock, take the con while I get out of this," he said, indicating his uniform.

Spock nodded and Kirk rose from the con and left. He missed the call to the Bridge requesting, then ordering Commander Spock to present himself at the briefing room.

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"Your name, Commander."

Spock regarded the commissioner curiously. The tall red-haired Human sat at the briefing room table with the other commissioners, making notes on statboards. They had not introduced themselves. "Sir, you sent for me. You obviously know who I am."

"Your name, Commander," the man repeated, without, Spock noted, looking at him.

Spock paused, one eyebrow rising. "Spock," he said.

"That is your full name?"

"You wouldn't be able to pronounce..."

The commissioner glared up at him. "I didn't ask to pronounce it, I asked your full name!"

Spock blinked. The tone of the man's voice was one associated in Terrans with annoyance. "Spock Sareklrn Xtmprosqzntwfld," he replied. The commissioner again went back to studying the statboard in front of him.

"You are the son of Sarek of Vulcan?"

"If you spoke Vulcan you would know that is what I just said."

"We obviously do not, Commander, and I ask that you dispense with this frivolity and begin to give us serious answers."

Spock's eyebrows disappeared into his hairline. A definite expression of irritation, almost anger. "All you have asked so far, sir, is my name," he said. The commissioner ignored this statement.

"You are the son of Sarek of Vulcan," he repeated.

Spock sighed. "Yes," he replied. There is no logic in this.

"Your mother was Amanda Greyson?"

"That is my mother's name, yes."

"A Terran."

Spock paused for the second time. Perhaps there is. "Yes."

"Your family is important on Vulcan, is it not?"

"My father is a respected member of the diplomatic corps..."

"What is your relationship to T'Pau, head of the Vulcan Council?" the commissioner interrupted.

Spock considered for a moment. "She is... the Terran term is paternal grandmother," he stated calmly. The civilians before him exchanged glances, made notes. "May I ask what bearing these personal questions have on..." he began.

"What would make the son of a Vulcan matriarch take a Terran wife?"

Spock's expression did not change, except for a hardness about the eyes, but he felt the sting of old memories, the bitter taste of xenophobia. He had had to deal with it all of his life, had learned to ignore or tolerate it, but to encounter it in this manner was more than disconcerting. "My father did not discuss his reasons with me," he answered.

"How many years have you served in Starfleet, Commander?"

Spock inclined his head quizzically. The statement did not follow the line of questioning. "Twenty point four two years, he said, "although I do not see how that question..."

"How many years aboard the Enterprise?"

"Twelve point one three. Commissioner, I must..."

"You served with Christopher Pike?"

The seeming pointlessness of the inquiry was getting tedious. "My service record is available to you, sir," he replied.

"Why did you choose to remain on the Enterprise after the Vulcan ship Intrepid was commissioned?"

Spock paused before answering, pondering this new turn in the commissioner's erratic questioning. "I saw no logical reason to request a transfer at that time, my duties here serving adequately..."

"Wouldn't you have preferred the company of your own kind?"

No further pondering was necessary. A properly prejudiced question. He calculated the time necessary to explain his adaptation to Humans, the strain of readapting to the strictness of Vulcan, the fascinating study Humans afforded him, and the almost illogical preference for the mixed culture of Starfleet stemming from his own hybrid nature, decided he would undoubtedly be interrupted before he could finish two sentences and simply answered, "No." It was apparently the answer that had been expected, yet it disturbed the commissioners. Their faces reflected definite unease. He was beginning to understand why the `junior' crewmembers had been ordered from the Bridge: Miss Valley was Antari, Mrs. Majiir, Indiian, Lieutenant Arex was from Edos, Lieutenant M'ress from Cait. The only question was why he had not also been asked to leave. Perhaps they felt that with all the controls safely in Terran hands, one alien was not too great a risk. But then, he was off the Bridge.

He switched his attention back at the sound of the commissioner's voice.

"Commander, that will be all for now. This interview is, of course, to be held in strictest confidence."

"Of course, Commissioner," Spock replied. "As are all Star Chamber proceedings."

He rose from his chair and left the briefing room.

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"I don't know what's going on, either, but I won't argue with an afternoon off," Ruth said in answer to Jilla's question. After leaving the Bridge, Ruth had stopped in her quarters long enough to grab her guitar and coffee cup, then the two of them had gone to relax in Jilla and Sulu's cabin. They were both curious, but no one ever bothered to tell junior officers anything. "Uhura has replaced M'ress," Jilla stated.

"Yeah," Ruth grinned. And Uhura could be induced to give an accurate report on the day's activities. Smiling conspiratorially, Ruth raised her cup in a toast to the Chief of Communications. Jilla nodded to the unspoken truth and joined Ruth in sipping from her own cup of hot, black coffee.

"When did this begin tasting good?" she asked, setting her cup on the desk.

Ruth only smiled. "When's Sulu off duty?"

"At the end of the watch, unless he, too, is relieved. Why?"

"Well, if we're going to involve ourselves in a Vegan epic, I don't want to be disturbed two hours into it because Sulu is 'tired.'" Ruth chuckled suggestively.

"Must you?" Jilla sighed, glowing slightly.

"Uh huh," Ruth replied.

"Why?"

"It's fun. And you make it so easy."

"I am gratified to afford you such pleasure, Ruth," Jilla returned. "Perhaps Commander Spock would be as well." She paused significantly before adding, "He, also, 'makes it easy,' does he not?"

Ruth scowled. "I was talking about teasing."

"Of course, Ruth. What else could I have meant?"

"Push. Push, push."

Jilla hid her smile and picked up her lyrette as the door chime sounded. "Come," she called.

The door opened, and Sulu stepped in, looking serious. "I knew it," Ruth began teasingly. "The minute I even mention a Vegan epic..."

"Lieutenant Valley," Sulu cut her off. He spoke formally, holding his body at attention. His whole attitude said that he wasn't joking, or off duty.

"Sulu?" Jilla asked softly at the same time Ruth said, "Hey, Roy, what's up?"

Sulu shook his head. "I don't know. Admiral Bradigan ordered me to security duty for the commissioners."

"Security? What for?"

He shrugged.

"You're not happy," Ruth observed.

"My briefing - what there was of it - wasn't exactly casual."

"Sulu," Jilla began again, "what is wrong?"

"I don't know," he repeated. "But I don't like it." He straightened an already stiff back. "Miss Valley, if you will accompany me, please." The words were polite, but it wasn't a request.

Puzzled and slightly apprehensive, Ruth stood. "Yes, sir," she answered, as formal and polite as the chief of security. "May I ask where?"

"To the briefing room on deck seven."

At least it's not the brig, Ruth thought, yet somehow, she didn't feel at all relieved.

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"Please be seated," a red-haired man said.

Ruth looked around curiously. She saw five people, three men and two women, the civilians that had come onto the Bridge before she'd been sent off. They were seated around one side of the table. She sat down opposite them. They didn't introduce themselves. A small, dark-haired woman with features like Sulu's began by asking, "Your name, Lieutenant."

"Ruth Maxwell Valley."

"Your full name."

Ruth stopped herself from shrugging, deciding to make a thorough job of it. "Keheil Doctor Ruth Maxwell Valley ani Ramy."

"The `ani Ramy' indicates what?"

"That my mother's name was Ramy."

"Your father was Captain Jonathan Valley?"

Ruth ignored the old pain of loss, and declined to correct the Anglicization of `Yonaton.' "Yes."

"Your mother was a native of Antares?"

"Yes."

The Japanese woman glanced briefly at a statboard, checking some notes, perhaps. "What is the translation of the Antarian word `keheil'?"

Ruth winced at the term `Antarian' but again didn't try to correct the woman. "It's not exactly a translation, but Terrans usually render it as Moon Priestess," she answered patiently.

"A religious title."

Ruth looked at her hands, saw that they were clasped nervously in her lap. She wasn't sure if the last thing the woman had said had been a question, or how she should answer it if it had. She lifted her eyes, saw that all five people were staring at her. She had seen more expression on Spock at his most Vulcan. She felt her skin grow cold.

"You are a Moon Priestess?"

"Yes."

"What precisely is a Moon Priestess?"

"I... can't explain fully, but I... I am trained as an empathic healer. I have... certain telepathic abilities..."

The people exchanged glances. Ruth watched them uncomfortably.

"Your Antarian mother was also a Moon Priestess, was she not?"

"Yes."

"It's hereditary?"

"Sometimes."

"You were born on the explorer ship Blakely?"

"Yes."

"And the only survivor of that ship's crash?"

"Yes."

"How long have you been in Starfleet?"

"I have been a commissioned officer for two and a half years. I was at the Academy for four years before that."

"You are the only Antarian in Starfleet?"

Ruth was beginning to feel annoyed. Why were these people wasting her time, and theirs? "Ma'am, my records are no doubt available to you. I don't see why..."

"You are a computers expert, are you not, Lieutenant?"

"Are you saying that I'd falsify..." She said it before she remembered that she had - and been court-martialed for it.

The women before her nodded in cold satisfaction. "That will be all for now, Lieutenant."

"You will keep yourself available should we need to speak to you again," the red-haired man added.

Ruth stood, turning to leave, and his voice stopped her. "Lieutenant, you will not discuss these proceedings with anyone outside this room, is that understood?"

The hell I won't. "Yes, sir."

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Sulu returned to their quarters only minutes after he had left with Ruth. He was still at uneasy attention. "Lieutenant Majiir," he said.

Jilla stood from the desk. "Sulu, what..."

"I told you, hon, I don't know," he replied. "All I know is what I've been ordered. If you'll come with me."

Her grey eyes met his. There was a long moment of silence in which he tried to convey reassurance he did not feel. Finally, Jilla nodded. "Yes, Lieutenant," she said. She followed him to deck seven and the briefing room. The door opened and Ruth stepped out, frowning.

"I'll see you later!" Ruth hissed to Jilla as the door closed behind her.

Sulu whispered, "What happened?" and Ruth returned, "You're on duty, remember?" then stormed down the corridor. Jilla glanced at Sulu, and he shrugged, a casual gesture that covered a not-so-casual flicker of concern.

"It has to wait," he said. "I am on duty."

Jilla nodded as he, too, moved away from her. She entered the briefing room uncertain and wary. Sulu was disturbed, Ruth had felt confused and more than a little annoyed. She didn't know what to expect, and the civilians who sat on one side of the table looked solemn and official. She was told to sit, and shivered at the air of dislike that came from the woman who spoke to her: tall, light-haired, with an accent similar to Pavel Chekov's.

"You are Jilla Costain?" the woman asked.

"Vtkrhgdantm - Majiir, ma'am," Jilla replied automatically.

The woman looked up sharply. "What?"

"My family name is Vtkrhgdantm. I use Majiir as a convenience to preserve my marital status as my birth culture dictates. The meaning of the word is similar to the meaning of my name, and the correct pronunciation of Vtkrhgdantm is nearly impossible for other..."

"You speak of your Indiian family name?" another of the civilians, a dark-skinned man, asked.

"No, Vtkrhgdantm is my husband's family name."

"Would you mind giving us your correct, full name, Lieutenant?" the man said.

Jilla paused, considering. It was expressed very differently in Indiian and Vulcan, as well as in the Terran form used by Starfleet. "Terran, Indiian, or Vulcan?" she asked.

The man scowled. "Why don't you favor us with all three."

Confused at the evident scorn, Jilla swallowed nervously and said, "For Starfleet records, I am Jilla Costain Majiir. The Indiian designation would be Jilla ton tu Selar e Vulcan. On Vulcan, I am Jilla farrei Selar Seliklrn Vtkrhgdantm." There was no reaction and Jilla's confusion grew.

"Your husband was Selar of Vulcan?" the woman asked blandly.

"Yes, ma'am."

"You are a widow."

Jilla took a deep breath. "Yes, ma'am."

"You resided on that planet with your husband before his death?"

"Yes, ma'am."

The TerRussian made several notes while asking, "How long, Lieutenant?"

"Four and a half years."

"You married young, didn't you?"

Jilla blinked. "I was past the age of consent..."

"On Indi, that's only fifteen, isn't it?"

"The length of the year is different. It equates to eighteen in..."

"Your marriage came as a shock to both your family and that of your husband. On what did you base your decision?"

"Ma'am, I believe that information is more personal than I care to discuss," Jilla said, her face beginning to glow.

"You don't have any children from that marriage, do you? Kept on Indi, or perhaps on Vulcan?" The question was a thinly-veiled insinuation, but Jilla could not comprehend what was being insinuated.

"Selar and I were not so blessed," she returned.

"Lieutenant," another of the commissioners, a red-haired man, interrupted suddenly. He had been staring at her, his head tilting in stern examination. "How did you acquire the necessary mental capacity to forego the entire undergraduate curriculum at the Academy?"

Jilla was more than confused by the change of topic. "I beg your pardon?"

"I said, how were you able to forego the entire undergraduate curriculum. You were only at the Academy for two years."

Jilla swallowed. "I... I had begun working toward the Academy before my marriage, and I took the required examinations to show proficiency..."

"I know that, Lieutenant. What I'm asking is how you came by all that knowledge."

Her voice wavered uncertainly. "I spent much time studying while I resided on Vulcan..."

"There is nothing else which influenced your - proficiency?"

"I... do not know what you..."

"The nature of your proficiency, Lieutenant, explain it!" the commissioner snapped.

"I... I cannot, Commissioner," Jilla stammered. "The nature of intelligence evolution is not my..."

"Lieutenant, pull your hair back."

Jilla froze. "Sir?"

"I said, pull your hair back."

Bewildered and frightened, she glanced at the hard, inquisitive faces in front of her. Their emotions, as hard and cold as their faces, beat at her. She forced herself to remain calm and slowly lifted her hands, sweeping the thick fall of burgundy hair away from her face, and her delicately pointed ears. Four people gasped, and the red-haired man grunted in confirmation.

"Dismissed, Lieutenant. I caution you, these proceedings are strictly confidential. We will see you again, have no doubt of that."

"Commissioner, I..." Jilla began.

"Dismissed, Lieutenant."

Jilla rose and left the briefing room dazed and fearful. She found Sulu waiting, with M'ress. She sought his eyes, desperate for some comfort. Sulu shrugged helplessly. Feeling suddenly cold, Jilla shivered, and just as suddenly knew she had to talk to Ruth.

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Kirk looked up as Spock stepped off the turbolift. "Where did you run off to, mister?" Kirk said sternly. "I left you with the con."

Spock regarded him coolly. "I was ordered to the briefing room, Captain."

Kirk bristled. "Who besides me can give you orders?"

"The commissioners are under the impression they can."

Kirk took a deep breath. Cooperation. He smiled apologetically at Spock. "Sorry, we've been told to go along." He shrugged. Spock nodded understanding, crossing to the Science Station. For the first time, Kirk noticed that it wasn't Sulu at the helm. "Lieutenant Riley, where is Mr. Sulu?"

"Commissioner Davis ordered him to security duty, sir," Kevin replied.

Kirk's hand came down on the con arm in exasperation. "Ordering my crew..." he began, then finished tightly, "cooperation."

"Sir," Scotty said quietly, approaching the con. "What's all this about?"

"Damned if I know, Scotty. Orders of the day."

Scott nodded ruefully.

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"Two Caitians, an Edoan, a Vulcan, an Indiian that's more than half Vulcan, and an Antarian. This ship is a breeding ground for subversives."

"The Vulcan and the Antarian are both half human."

"Does that make a difference?"

"And both in positions of trust."

"What does that say about Kirk?"

"He clearly doesn't see the danger."

"Or..."

"Yes.”

“What about the rest of his crew?"

"Specifically Lieutenant Sulu."

"And he's head of Security!"

"Isn't his Chief Medical Officer married to an alien?"

"Lieutenant Commander Uhura has known relations with a Haven."

"Is Kirk blind? Is Starfleet?"

"Yes. It's up to us to open their eyes."

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"Captain, I'd like a word with you, in private," Bradigan said with a hesitant glance at Spock.

Kirk followed his gaze, his brow wrinkled in confusion. The commissioners had only been on board for four hours and already his ship was being turned upside down. It was time he knew why. "Good. I've got a few things I'd like to discuss with you." He stood, gestured to Spock, noticed that the admiral sighed ruefully as the Vulcan took the con.

Once seated in his office, Kirk folded his hands and said, "Poul, what's all this..."

Bradigan answered him by handing his a list. Six names. Lieutenants Arex, M'ress, Mrraal, Majiir, Valley, and Commander Spock. "What's this?" Kirk asked.

"The list of officers the commission wants temporarily relieved of duty. All duty."

Kirk's jaw dropped. "What!? That's my First Officer, assistant science, engineering, communications..."

Bradigan grimaced. "I know, Jim, but..."

"But nothing! Are they out of their minds!? I can't run a ship with..."

"The list stands, Captain. I'll make it an order if I have to."

"Admiral, that's suspension! I demand to know what regulations they've broken that warrants..."

"No one said anything about breaking regulations. I assure you, this is temporary. Only until the commission finishes its investigation."

Kirk stammered helplessly, shaking with indignation. "What the hell are they investigating?" he asked.

Bradigan sighed. "I don't know. I was just sent along to make sure everything proceeds smoothly, to insure..."

"Cooperation," Kirk finished angrily. He stared down at the piece of paper in his hands. "Poul, I can't just..."

"No choice, Captain."

"Can I at least sit in on this commission, find out..."

"Need to know basis, Jim," Bradigan replied. "And I doubt you'd have time anyway."

Kirk looked up at the admiral, suspicion plain in his eyes. "Oh? Why's that?"

"I also have Fleet's request for personnel evaluation."

Kirk frowned. "Which section?

"The whole ship, Jim."

"The whole.... When?"

"By the time we reach Terra."

"Poul, that's impossible."

"Orders."

"Shit." Kirk sighed heavily, then tapped the board he held. "When does this take effect?"

"Immediately. Jim, I am sorry."

"Who gave Davis rank?"

"Elamas."

"Next election he's got several less votes."

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Jilla knocked softly on the door to Ruth's quarters. At the 'come,' it opened and she stepped inside. Ruth sat with Daffy Gollub, her roommate. Jilla nodded a polite hello. "Daphne. How is Pavel?"

"Fine," Daffy replied a little uneasily. "How's Sulu?"

"On duty," Ruth said, and Jilla was a little taken aback at the irritation behind her tone. "Jilla, come over here." Jilla did so, sitting next to Ruth on the bed. "What aren't you supposed to talk about?"

Daffy looked from Ruth to Jilla and asked, concerned, "Are you two in trouble again?"

"I do not know," Jilla answered, her voice troubled. "If we are, it is for nothing we have done recently."

"Maybe the court-martial didn't take," Ruth suggested sourly.

"We were acquitted," Jilla reminded her dubiously.

Daffy grimaced. "Can you appeal an acquittal?" she asked.

"It cannot involve Valjiir," Jilla mused, ignoring Daffy's cynicism. "At least, the commissioners did not mention Valjiir to me."

With puzzled annoyance, Ruth agreed. "Right, not a word about Valjiir."

"Well, what did they ask about?" Daffy demanded.

"We're not supposed to talk about it," Ruth sneered pleasantly.

"Personal things," Jilla replied, then added softly, "much too personal."

Ruth caught her eyes. "About your parents? About Indi?"

"No." Jilla's voice was almost a whisper. "Selar. My marriage."

"Oh." Ruth paused uncomfortably, then her eyes and tone grew hard. "That's none of their business. My family's none of their business."

"They asked about your family?" Daffy said incredulously. "What's a Fed commission need to know about your family?"

"Who my parents were, about keheils, about the Blakely, nothing that made any sense," Ruth answered angrily.

"They asked me to explain how I was able to graduate the Academy," Jilla added, her face confused. "and why I married, if I had children `kept on' Indi or Vulcan..."

"What!" Ruth burst out.

"Insulting yutz," Daffy muttered.

"Insulting?" Jilla asked.

"They were trying to imply you had to marry Selar," Ruth explained. Jilla's eyes reflected uncomprehending consternation.

"How?" she said.

"By insinuating he knocked you up," Daffy said.

"Got you pregnant," Ruth translated, then added, "turn it off, Jilla," as the Indiian blushed furiously.

"We wed because he would not..." she began, then stopped, blushing again as Daffy chuckled. "On Indi, being with child is no reason to marry," Jilla tried to explain.

"It's an old-fashioned Terran notion," Ruth offered. Daffy suddenly frowned.

"Old-fashioned, huh?" she said. "Jilla, what else did they ask?"

"They seemed inordinately interested in my name - and my ears," Jilla said.

"They called me ‘Antarian,'" Ruth said with an offended shudder.

Daffy studied them in silence, her eyes guarded. "I think we've got something here," she murmured. Ruth and Jilla both turned to her.

"What?" Ruth said.

Daffy stared at them. "No, it's ridiculous. Impossible." She paused, then added, "Unlikely."

There was silence for a moment, broken by the sound of the door chime. Daffy cleared her throat.

"That's probably Pav," she said. "If you two will excuse me..."

Ruth grinned and she and Jilla got up to leave. They went to the door, intending to say hello to Pavel in passing. The door opened as Daffy called `come,' but it wasn't Pavel. Ruth jumped, then shook her head, chastising herself. Sulu, no doubt just looking for Jilla. Stop being so nervous, she told herself. It'll drive you crazy. She glanced at Jilla, saw that the Indiian, too, had been startled. Jilla sighed, smiling, and said, "I'm coming, Sulu."

Sulu reddened but didn't move out of the doorway. "Ruth, Jilla," he began, and lifted his eyes with an uneasy smile to Daffy. "Daffy." A deep breath, then, "You're relieved of duty."

"Me! What did I do!" Daffy exclaimed.

"Not you, just Lieutenants Valley and Majiir," Sulu replied tightly.

"We already know that, Roy," Ruth broke in.

"No, I mean..." Sulu wasn't looking at her "...indefinitely."

Ruth and Jilla stared at him in stunned silence. They exchanged quick glances, then Ruth managed to force words from her lips, in a voice not quite steady. "Do you know why?"

Sulu frowned irritably. "Davis said so and we were told to cooperate."

"But aren't the commissioners civilians?" Daffy broke in.

"Since when do we take orders from civilians?" Ruth demanded without giving Sulu time to reply to Daffy's question.

"That's what I told the Commissioner," Sulu nearly growled. "And Bradigan said..."

"Oh, right," Ruth snarled. "Admiral Bradigan." She looked away in disgust, and Sulu shrugged, catching the worried, fearful look in Jilla's eyes.

"It won't be that bad," he assured her lamely. She didn't look at all convinced, and he shrugged again. "I have to go, there are a few other people..."

"We're not the only ones?" Jilla said suddenly.

Sulu grimaced. "I'm not supposed to discuss it."

"We're discussing it, Roy," Ruth pointed out.

"All I've told you is I can't tell you anything," Sulu almost snapped. Ruth glared at him, and he sighed, "Orders, Spike. Give me a break."

Ruth didn't answer, and Sulu shrugged again, leaving the cabin.

"Who else, do you think?" Ruth said at last.

"I'll bet I can guess," Daffy mumbled.

"Oh?" Jilla asked.

Daffy stared at her, then at Ruth, then shrugged. "Never mind. I'm sure I'm wrong."

Ruth and Jilla's eyes met, exchanging nervous bewilderment - and the beginnings of fear.

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Go to Part Two

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