And wicked dreams abuse The curtained sleep.
William Shakespeare, Macbeth Act II, Scene 1
Shoving the long, blond-streaked hair back from her face, the woman glanced across the room and caught the eye of one of the three brutish men sitting at a table on the other side of the tavern. She lifted her glass, sipped the red liquid, and then smiled at him in invitation. Grinning in response, he picked up his own glass and made his way across the crowded room, stopping when he reached her table, lifting a heavy eyebrow in question.
She gestured at the empty chair, and the man sat down, leaning toward her with a seductive gleam in his eye that was just a bit too obvious, and yet somehow appealing. Taking her small hand in his huge one, he nodded toward the dance floor, and she smiled her acceptance. As he drew her into his arms, she took note of his size and strength, enjoying the feel of his big, hard body pressing against her smaller, softer one with an intimacy that both repelled and attracted.
His arms tightened, and she hugged him in return, looking up at him from beneath her long lashes. His hand slid down from her waist to cup her rounded bottom possessively, and he whispered an obscene suggestion in her ear, pausing to nip gently at the lobe as he waited for her response. When she nodded once in acquiescence, he turned her in the circle of his arm and led her from the room and up the stairway to a more private chamber on the floor above.
Locking the door behind him, he gathered her close again and resumed his caresses, quickly progressing from the barely decent touches he had dared on the dance floor to a more intimate stroking that made her tremble with desire.
First gently and then increasingly more urgently, he fondled her breasts and buttocks, then proceeded to remove her clothing, item by item, until she stood naked in his embrace, shivering in reaction. Quickly stripping off his own clothes, he lowered her to the big bed and followed her down to stretch out by her side, hands gliding sensuously from the full breasts down across her flat stomach to the warm, moist area between her thighs.
As he slid between her legs and lowered his body to cover hers, she suddenly stiffened, a feeling of suffocation and helplessness swamping her, banishing all traces of desire.
"No!" she protested. "I'm sorry...but no...I can't...Please...no!" She pushed at his big body, desperately trying to lever his intimidating weight off her small frame, choking back sobs of fear as the feeling of being trapped grew and he caught both of her hands in one of his, forcing them up above her head.
"Oh, no you don't, you little bitch," he growled at her, all pretenses of seduction abandoned as he resorted to brute force. "You're not backing out now. Not when you've got me all hot and hard for you."
"Please," she begged again. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean--I really intended--I'm sorry." She sobbed. "I just can't. I--" Her pleas ended on a strangled scream as he thrust into her forcefully, pounding at her in anger and lust, laughing evilly at her pain and fear.
The woman struggled helplessly beneath him, head tossing desperately from side to side on the pillow as she begged him to stop. Still he continued, each thrust knifing into her painfully as her body tensed against the terrifying feeling of being invaded, violated by a male creature whose size and strength enabled him to overpower her smaller, weaker, feminine form.
"No!" she cried again. "Please, no! Let me go!"
"No!" Jim Kirk screamed, then woke to find himself trapped in the twisted bedclothes, the feeling of being overpowered and violated retreating all too slowly. His heart pounding in residual fear and outrage, he shoved his sweat-matted hair back from his forehead with a trembling hand, then drew that same hand down over his face wearily. He had never had a nightmare like that one.
Kirk rose from the bed and padded on bare feet through the sleeping area to the office portion of his quarters, opening a cabinet to take out a glass and a bottle. He spilled some of the brandy as he poured himself a badly needed drink and then gulped it down desperately. Pouring a second drink, he spilled only a few drops this time as the shaking gradually left his hands.
Moving almost hypnotically, he walked over to a chair and collapsed there, shifting uncomfortably as the upholstery clung to his damp, bare skin. Ignoring the discomfort, he forced himself to sit still and then sipped from his drink, slowly this time. Finally, he made himself consider the dream and what it might mean.
Obviously, it came as a result of the recent incident with Janice Lester. But just what did it mean? Was it only a reaction to the horror of being trapped within his one-time lover's body. Or was there more to it? Guilt, perhaps, for having ultimately rejected her all those years ago in favor of the career she had wanted as badly as he--and had been denied because of her sex?
Tossing back the last of his drink, Kirk set the glass on a table, stood, and made his way back to his bed, deliberately refusing to consider the dream or its possible sources any longer. It was too late, and he was too tired. He'd think about it later, maybe discuss it with Bones, get it into perspective.
Then he'd forget it.
The woman struggled helplessly against the strength of the man who lay on top of her, laughing softly at her as he trapped her beneath him, forcing her lips apart for an obscenely wet kiss. When she kept her mouth closed tightly, denying him access, he bit down on her lower lip, hard, drawing blood and making her gasp in pain. He took advantage of that gasp to force his tongue past the now opened teeth. Gagging on the combined taste of stale brandy and her own blood, she retaliated, biting down on the invading tongue hard enough to add his blood to her own and force him to withdraw.
Pulling back, he struck her across the face, and she squeezed her eyes closed in an attempt to hold back the tears of fear, shame, and pain.
He laughed again at her agony and jerked her legs apart, lowering himself between her thighs and plunging into her with a painful jab made even more uncomfortable by her dry, unaroused condition. She intensified her struggles, pushing at his shoulders and trying to squirm away from him, to no avail.
He laughed once more at her helpless struggle, and she opened her eyes to stare up at a handsome face contorted into something grotesque by his evil passion. Drawn as though by a magnet, she looked into a pair of golden hazel eyes, glazed with lust.
"No!" she screamed. "No!" It couldn't be. It just couldn't.
"No!" Kirk screamed yet again and once more found himself sitting up in the tangled sheets, sweating and shaking in reaction to the latest dream. His own face! It had been his own face staring down at him...her...
"God!" he whispered raggedly, drawing his legs up to lean against his knees, resting his head on his crossed arms. The first dream had been bad enough, but this... Finally, he raised his head and looked at the chronometer next to the bed. There was still a little more than an hour to go before he was due to get up, but he didn't dare go back to sleep, not now.
Forcing his heavy limbs to move, he rose from the bed and stumbled into the shower, setting it on water instead of sonics, needing the hard, hot spray to wash away some of the tiredness from his body and the horror of the dreams from his mind.
"E.T.A., Ensign?" There was a weary note in Kirk's voice as he asked for the report, and Pavel Chekov swiveled his navigation chair around to face his captain with a look of surprise on his young face. Kirk had asked for the same information not more than fifteen minutes earlier. Surely he didn't expect a different answer now.
"Mister Chekov." The voice was still quiet, but edged with impatience.
"We are scheduled to arrive in forty-six point five hours, at approximately fifteen hundred hours the day after tomorrow...sir." Chekov added the last after an almost unnoticeable pause. The young ensign was getting tired of being the target of Kirk's bad temper--whatever the reason for it.
"Thank you, Ensign." The captain's response was automatic, almost absent-minded, as though that edge of anger hadn't been there a minute earlier. Chekov turned to the helmsman at his side, and Sulu merely shrugged, shaking his head. They all knew what Kirk had been through the last few days, and Sulu's silent message to his friend was to just ignore the bad temper. It would go away. It always did. Just give the captain a little time.
A third pair of eyes was watching the captain from beneath upswept eyebrows. Spock wasn't so sure this particular mood would 'just go away.' There seemed to be more involved than Doctor Lester's attempt to take over Kirk's body--and his ship. That was bad enough, but something more was bothering Jim Kirk. He wondered if he could help, or if Doctor McCoy's Human touch would be more effective this time. With a silent sigh, Spock turned back to his library computer. He would try talking to the captain later, at dinner perhaps, or maybe over a game of chess. Kirk usually found that relaxing.
Dinner was strained. McCoy had joined Kirk and Spock, and the first officer was uncomfortable at the thought of questioning Jim Kirk in front of the doctor. So he sat, silently eating and carefully, painfully observing his tense friend, while McCoy chattered on incessantly, as though nothing were wrong.
Turning from Kirk to McCoy, Spock realized the error in his judgment. McCoy wasn't unconcerned. On the contrary, there was an alert, assessing expression on the doctor's face as he also watched Kirk. Realizing the chatter was just the physician's attempt to distract Kirk from whatever was bothering him, to draw him out of his melancholy mood, Spock relaxed a bit. After all, McCoy was more than the captain's friend, he was the chief medical officer, trained in psychiatry as well as surgery. Maybe he could get to the source of whatever was bothering Kirk. Then Spock wouldn't be forced to probe into such sensitive, personal areas himself.
"What? Did you say something, Bones?" Kirk looked up from his plate with a slightly dazed look on his face.
The doctor cocked an eyebrow at him. "I said, are you goin' to eat that steak or just stare at it all night?"
"Yeah, Captain. Steak." He spoke carefully, distinctly, as he might to a not-too-bright child. "The one sittin' on your plate that you've been starin' at for the past twenty minutes without takin' a bite."
"Oh, yeah. Steak." Kirk picked up his knife and fork, cut a piece of the meat and put it in his mouth, chewing slowly. After a minute, he swallowed, then put the knife and fork back down and stood up.
"Sorry, Bones, Spock. I'm lousy company tonight, and I guess I'm just not hungry. See you in the morning." He left the mess as though he were escaping, and McCoy turned to meet Spock's concerned gaze.
"Yeah, I know. Somethin's wrong, but I'm damned if I know exactly what."
"Perhaps he is having difficulty adjusting to the changes he has been forced to undergo as a result of the transformation forced on him by Doctor Lester."
"That much is obvious," McCoy drawled. "But he should have made that adjustment by now, and if he hasn't, he may need help." The piercing blue eyes held the Vulcan prisoner, examining him like a specimen under a microscope. Spock shifted uncomfortably, wanting to help and yet fearful that McCoy would ask him to do just that. There was little he wouldn't do for Kirk, but he doubted he was capable of providing the kind of assistance required in this instance.
Apparently, McCoy reached the same conclusion. Placing both hands on the table, the doctor shoved himself to his feet. "Maybe I'd better try talkin' to him in private. I know this thing with Doctor Lester's got him spooked, but it shouldn't be botherin' him this much." Without a word of goodbye, McCoy walked off, leaving Spock alone with his concerns and his relief.
Kirk reclined against the pillows on his bed, staring at the red liquid in the glass he was holding. He took a sip, then looked up as the doors to his quarters slid open to reveal McCoy standing there.
"Who invited you in?"
McCoy shrugged. "I didn't think I needed an invitation." He allowed a slightly guilty grin to spread across his face. "Besides, I was afraid you'd say no if I asked for permission, so I thought I'd just come on in before you had a chance to stop me."
Kirk stared at him a moment, wondering if he could revoke the C.M.O.'s privilege of free access to all quarters. Then he dismissed the unrealistic idea and looked back into the liquid in his glass, taking another sip, before asking as casually as he could, "What do you want, Bones?"
"I want to talk to you."
"Whatever's botherin' you."
"C'mon, Jim. I know you better than that."
Kirk looked up at him a moment without answering, determined not to do so. Seeing the equally determined expression on his friend's face, he gave it up and shoved himself into a sitting position, downing the rest of the brandy in a single gulp.
"Okay, I'm a little down. Is that so surprising?" He looked at the doctor defensively.
"No, but I think you're more than a little down."
"Yeah, well, I don't." Kirk took a deep breath. "Look, Bones. I'm not much in the mood for this right now. How about just leaving me alone for a while and let me work this out in my own mind? If I have any real problems, I'll let you know." He tried to force a smile, but it came across as more of a grimace.
McCoy hesitated a minute, then nodded his head in agreement. "Okay, Jim. I'll leave you alone for now." His face took on a hard, piercing look. "But you'd better get it worked out soon, or we're goin' to have that talk whether you want to or not."
Kirk managed the smile that time, although it was still a little wan.
"All right, Doctor. Just give me a day or two, okay?"
McCoy nodded again, without saying anything more, then retreated from the room, leaving Kirk alone again, with an empty brandy glass, a tired mind and body, and a very definite fear of going to sleep.
Still, he had to rest. He knew that. Pouring another glass of brandy, he downed that one, too, then headed for the shower, hoping the spray of hot water would relax his aching muscles enough so that he would sleep--dreamlessly this time.
Tugging her short skirt into place, the commander raised a slender hand to knock on the door designated as Admiral Komack's office. This was it, she knew it. She had been a commander for three years, serving as first officer on her last ship for more than eighteen months. The captain had recommended her for highest honors, and Starfleet had granted her several medals--for heroism, bravery, and quick thinking which had resulted in the rescue of the ship and entire crew without a casualty. They'd have to give her a captaincy now.
"Commander," Komack stood up gallantly when she entered the room. "Come in, my dear. Have a seat. Can I get you a drink?"
"No, thank you, sir." She took the seat he offered, sitting up alertly, almost at attention, and looked him straight in the eye, waiting to hear why he had sent for her. Surely, it was to offer her the captaincy she had worked for so long. Surely...
"We're all mighty proud of you, young lady." Komack was being his most charming, which was just a little less so than Atilla the Hun. The commander resisted the urge to squirm in her seat, wishing he would get to the point.
"Your captain has the highest praise for your performance in this last skirmish with the Klingons, Commander." Komack was still smiling. "I know you've received your medals, but I'd like to add my own personal congratulations."
"Thank you, sir. I appreciate that."
"Of course, of course." He waved his hand as though to dismiss her words. "I was sure you would. You're one of the finest examples of Starfleet. I wish we had more wom...er...officers like you."
"Thank you, sir." She was beginning to feel like a recording. Realizing her teeth were clenched and her hands balled into fists, she forced herself to relax, waiting for the offer she was no longer so sure would be coming.
"Well, Commander, congratulations again. I'm sure we'll be hearing more good things about you in the future." Komack stood up and came from around his desk as though to escort her from the room. "Enjoy your leave, and good luck on your next mission."
She refused to make it easy for him and remained seated.
"About my promotion..."
"Promotion? What promotion?"
"Captain Garrovick recommended me for a promotion. He said I was in line for a captaincy and a command of my own."
"Oh, my dear, I'm so sorry. There's absolutely nothing available at this time. Perhaps later, in a few years, after you have a little more experience."
"But the Republic?"
"Finnegan's commanding the Republic."
She jerked back, as though she had been slapped. Finnegan! That bag of hot air. He couldn't command his way out of a paper bag, and they had chosen him over her.
She stood up, holding herself stiffly.
"Admiral, may I ask why I was passed over for this promotion?"
"I'm sorry, Commander. It's just not your time." Komack was smiling again. "You were injured, in the hospital, and we had to make the assignment right away. Maybe next time."
"But the Republic hasn't left port," she protested. "It could have waited."
Komack shook his head in feigned sorrow. "I really am sorry, Commander, but don't worry. You'll get your chance."
Circling her shoulders with a familiar arm, the admiral led her to the doorway. "I know you have almost two weeks leave coming before you report back to your ship. Perhaps we could have a drink one night while you're in town? Or maybe dinner? Or..." His voice trailed off suggestively as his fingers began to move caressingly on her upper arm.
The commander stiffened and managed to extricate herself from the hateful embrace.
"I'm sorry, sir. I'm afraid I'll be too busy." Then she strode through the doors and down the corridor, blinking rapidly to keep tears of rage from sliding down her cheeks. The nerve of him! To refuse to grant her the captaincy she was due--in favor of Finnegan, of all people!--and then to dare to make a pass at her. The ugly old fart. As if she would ever be interested in such as he.
"Hey, Jamie-girl, where're you going so fast?"
She swung around and found herself face to face with her old nemesis, Finnegan. She stiffened even more with the rage that swept through her entire body, threatening to force her to lose what tenuous hold she had on her emotions. Unable to maintain control a moment longer, she turned away from him again and hurried toward the nearby lift.
"Hey, Jamie! What's your hurry? Wouldn't you like to have dinner with a real, bona-fide, brand-new captain?" The sound of his taunting laughter echoed in her ears as the lift doors slid shut behind her, and she finally let the burning tears overflow from her eyes and down her cheeks. Damn them! Damn them all! There was only one reason she had been turned down for that captaincy--because she was a woman. It wasn't fair. It just wasn't fair.
Not fair...not fair...
"No! It's not fair! Damn it! It's not fair!"
Once more, Jim Kirk was sitting up in his bed in the middle of the night, shaking in the aftermath of yet another dream. This was getting to be a habit--one he didn't like at all. Glancing at the chronometer, he realized there were still several hours of night left. Lying back down on one side, he pounded his pillow into a more comfortable shape and tried to compose himself for sleep. Most of those several hours passed, however, before he finally closed his eyes again.
Kirk stared silently at the main viewer on the bridge, drumming impatient fingers on the arm of his command chair as he waited for the Enterprise to draw close enough to the other ship to establish communications. He wasn't interested in delayed transmissions this time. He needed to talk with the Ranjian directly so he would have the ability to respond instantaneously to any comments or requests. Otherwise, the quarrelsome commander might take offense at some imagined, or invented, slight and break off negotiations.
Kirk's own temper was in no condition to handle such delicate diplomatic matters, but he couldn't very well have told Komack that. An order is an order, no matter how unlikable the person who gives it.
"Range, Mister Chekov?" he asked the navigator.
"They are only one parsec away now, sir," the Russian hesitated a moment, then added tentatively as though unsure how the joke would go over this time, "...within spitting distance."
But Kirk didn't even seem to hear the friendly overture; his eyes were glued to the main viewer, waiting the last few minutes before he would be in position to begin the conversation. While he waited, he questioned his various bridge officers concerning their individual areas of expertise, re-familiarizing himself about the Ranjians and all of the many quirks of their species. Finally, he turned to the communications station.
"Lieutenant," he asked, "are we close enough to have immediate contact?"
"Yes, sir, and Cap--"
"Good, good, give me just a minute, then open hailing frequencies." He turned back to the viewer.
Kirk turned back toward his communications officer. "Yes, Lieutenant?" He seemed preoccupied and abrupt, almost annoyed by her simple request for his attention.
"About the Ranjians, sir?"
"Yes, Lieutenant." Already he was glancing toward the viewer, barely paying her any attention at all.
"Their communications equipment is very primitive, sir." Uhura refused to be cowed. "Be very careful how your phrase your statements or--"
"Lieutenant Uhura, I believe I can handle--"
"Of course, sir." Uhura straightened her shoulders, confronting his anger calmly. "I know you can handle the diplomatic side of things, but I'm trying to explain about the equipment. It has a bad tendency to falter in the middle of transmissions, often dropping words or phrases. The omission of a simple 'not', for example, can change the entire context of your statement. I thought you would want to be warned so you can avoid any comments that might be likely to be misinterpreted by such an omission, should their equipment fail...sir."
Kirk's eyes, which had been wandering along with his attention, snapped back to meet hers at that almost imperceptible pause. He found himself surprised at the resentment he read in her angry look. Then he felt ashamed.
"I apologize, Lieutenant," he told her in soft tones. "You were correct to bring that information to my attention." Fighting to keep the heat from his face, he returned his attention to the viewer, unable to say any more.
"Captain?" Uhura's voice was more gentle this time, and he saw an equally gentle expression on her face when he pivoted back toward her. It made him even more ashamed. "Hailing frequencies open, sir." She gave him an encouraging smile, then turned back to her station as he swiveled his chair back to face the viewer, bracing himself for the coming encounter and then relaxing visibly as he felt the supportive presence of his first officer just behind his right shoulder.
"Commander Tagel," he greeted the Ranjian who appeared there. "I am Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise. I bring you greetings from the United Federation of Planets."
The pale, almost-colorless gray eyes of the tiny alien studied him suspiciously a moment, then Tagel answered, and the negotiations began in earnest.
The lieutenant knelt beneath her communications station, carefully searching for the broken circuit that might be causing the malfunction in her board, but the bothersome thing continued to elude her.
"Need some help, Lieutenant?" the quiet voice asked.
"No, thank you, sir. I believe I can handle this myself," she answered absent-mindedly, her attention on the electronic circuitry and not on the man who had knelt at her side.
"Well, don't hesitate to ask if you find you can't handle it on your own. It's no crime to need a little assistance, you know."
"Of course, it isn't, but I think I can manage, sir. Thank you again."
Her head jerked up, striking the board above her painfully, as she felt an amorous hand pat her bottom familiarly and heard a suggestive chuckle.
Rubbing her sore head with one hand, she backed out from her station and turned an outraged face to follow his steps to his own chair, finding his action hard to comprehend. She couldn't remember him ever acting so improperly and found herself disproportionately disappointed at his behavior. Sexism was everywhere, even occasionally on the bridge of the Enterprise. Why should she be either surprised or disappointed in her captain's actions? He was no better or worse than any other man, given the opportunity, but he was her captain, she admired so many things about him, and she had so hoped he was better. A tear trickled down her cheek as the disillusionment overwhelmed her, and she bit her lip to hold back the sob that threatened.
Kirk opened his eyes to stare at the ceiling in his quarters sadly. The dream had ended less dramatically this time, but no less painfully. The profound sorrow that gripped him was almost more than he could bear, and it was made even more unbearable by the deep sense of shame. It didn't matter that he had never made such an improper advance to Uhura. His treatment of the lieutenant on the bridge that day was almost as degrading in its own way and was inexcusable, even if he had been preoccupied by the upcoming confrontation with the Ranjian. He didn't even bother trying to convince himself his own unsettled emotional state was sufficient reason to treat his communications officer as though she somehow were less intelligent or less competent than his male officers. And his apology had been somewhat less than sufficient. It would have to do, however. He wasn't up to another, not then. The best he could do was to make sure he never made that particular mistake again. That would mean more to her than a thousand apologies.
He sighed, remembering the mingled outrage and sorrow he had felt when his dream self had caressed his...her buttocks. The feel of that masculine hand taking liberties to which it wasn't entitled had been... He couldn't even describe it to himself. He had never touched Uhura that way, hadn't even considered it...well, not seriously. Maybe he had admired her beauty, but there was nothing wrong in that, was there? Was there?
Turning on his side, Kirk curled up in a tight ball, trying to hold the pain inside. If Janice Lester had wanted her revenge on him for his "desertion" all those years ago, she was getting it--in spades! It was really a shame she couldn't enjoy it.
"Captain," the pretty yeoman greeted him with a bright smile, and Kirk nodded brusquely in response, then felt instantly ashamed of himself as he saw the smile fade and read her fear that she had somehow done something to displease her commanding officer. With an effort, he returned the now-missing smile.
"Good morning, yeoman," he said, then walked on quickly so she wouldn't see his own feigned good humor disappear as quickly as he had forced it to appear.
Damn! It was getting so he didn't know how to treat any of the women on his ship. If he was too friendly, it might be interpreted as an improper advance, while if he wasn't friendly enough, they might think he was angry. Jim Kirk had always enjoyed the harmless fun of a playful flirtation, but he was terrified to be even marginally sociable now. Any move he made could be interpreted as sexist or, worse, sexually harassing, if seen in the wrong context. And he was seeing all of his own moves in that very context these days. He felt completely paralyzed and terrified of any contact with women--any woman at all.
Kirk fought to control his churning emotions, started down the corridor in search of his first officer. He longed for the comforting, nonjudgmental presence of the Vulcan. His steps faltered, and he came to a stop, realizing he couldn't inflict this particular problem on Spock. It was far too emotional, and such a discussion would be embarrassing for the Vulcan. No, not Spock. Not this time. It would be better to go to McCoy. It was time for that talk.
"Buy me a drink, Bones?"
McCoy looked up from the report he was writing, mouth open in preparation for a scathing retort about how busy he was, when he caught the look on Kirk's face. Unable to remember when he had seen that expression on his captain's face, he shoved the computer terminal back and stood, turning for the cabinet where he stored the Saurian brandy and glasses. Filling the glasses, he handed one to Kirk and motioned toward the second chair in his office.
"Have a seat, Jim," he offered as he sat back down to wait patiently for Kirk to tell him why he was there.
"Heard from Joanna lately?"
McCoy lifted one expressive eyebrow in reaction to the question, then lowered it again when he recognized the comment for what it was: the polite small talk of a man who didn't know what to say.
"Tell me about it, Jim," the doctor urged softly, then sucked in a deep breath when Kirk's eyes met his for the first time, revealing the pain there.
"I'm not sure where to begin."
"Try the beginning." McCoy's voice was still gentle as he made his suggestion, exhibiting none of the teasing that usually would accompany such a statement.
"The beginning?" Kirk seemed confused. "I'm not sure where it is."
"Janice Lester?" the physician suggested.
"Yeah, I guess so. At least she was the catalyst, but it's so confusing--I'm no longer sure who I am, what I am, what I believe. I just don't know, Bones."
"All right, Jim, take it easy. Try taking a big sip of that drink, swallow it, then take a deep breath and let it out slowly." Not seeing the sense of such a recommendation, Kirk nonetheless followed his doctor's instructions, then looked at McCoy expectantly.
"Now, try again. Tell me exactly what's bothering you."
"Yeah, I keep having these dreams. They don't make a lot of sense, but they're very...disturbing. It's getting to where I'm afraid to go to sleep."
"Tell me about the dreams."
"They're all different. I'm not even myself in them. In fact, I'm somebody different each time, only..." He glanced away, unable to meet his friend's eyes.
"I'm always a woman."
McCoy took a deep breath of his own before responding to that one.
Finally, "A woman?" he asked, giving a good imitation of being blase' about the whole matter. It was almost good enough, but it didn't fool Kirk, not quite. The captain hesitated, then shrugged and continued. After all, McCoy was only encouraging him to talk, and that was what he had come here for.
"That's right. Like I said, it's always somebody different, but always a woman--a weak, helpless woman."
"What happens in these dreams?"
"Different things." Kirk was obviously reluctant to provide the details.
"Jim, if you want me to help, you've got to be straight with me." McCoy was still gentle, but he injected a note of firmness in his voice. "What happens to the women...to you?"
Kirk's eyes darted away from his friend's focusing on the far wall.
"Sometimes, it's not too bad, just somebody being a little too patronizing or...familiar, but..." Again, his voice trailed off.
"But, what, Jim?"
"A couple of times it was...violent." Still he was having trouble with the details.
"Do you mean rape?" Trust McCoy to be blunt when necessary.
"How did you feel about it?"
"What do you mean?" Kirk didn't know what question he had expected from the doctor, but that wasn't it.
"I mean, what was your reaction?"
"Mine...or the woman's?" He was still hedging, not sure how to answer.
"Either, both. Were they different?"
Kirk's eyes widened. "No." He paused a minute to think. "No, they weren't. In the dream, I felt shocked, hurt, invaded, violated, degraded. Then, when I woke up, I still felt the same way."
"Jim, what do you think the dreams mean?"
"I don't know...exactly. I know it has something to do with Janice and what she did to me, but I think it's more than that. If that were all, the dreams would have stopped by now, wouldn't they?"
"Maybe. What else do you think could cause them?"
"I'm not sure. Guilt, maybe."
"Guilt!" The exclamation was out before he could stop it. McCoy took a deep drink, then continued in a more conversational tone. "For what?"
"I don't know," Kirk repeated. "Perhaps for the way I've treated women over the years."
"Hogwash! When have you ever raped a woman?"
"I didn't mean that. Of course, I wouldn't rape anyone." He shuddered in memory of one dream in which he had seen his own face contorted with a degenerate lust ...and then the fleeting remembrance of a former yeoman, deeply upset, detailing how his "beast" had attacked her, attempted to force... He pushed the memory away, unwilling to face it. "I couldn't do that," he repeated, not sure who he was trying to convince, "but I have...used women. I never particularly saw it that way before, but somehow I seem to be seeing everything differently now. Shit! It doesn't make much sense even to me. How can I explain it to you?"
"Try, Jim. Don't analyze it; just tell me what happened and how it felt."
"I don't know. I guess what's happening is that I'm remembering all the times I treated a woman with less than the respect she was due. Hell, Bones, I even dreamed about Uhura last night. I know what caused that one," he explained. "I was patronizing to her on the bridge yesterday, and then I dreamed I had treated her even worse."
"Wait a minute. Let me get this straight. You dreamed you were Uhura, and that you, Jim Kirk, mistreated her in some way?"
"Yeah, that's the gist of it. It wasn't anything so terribly bad, just, well, disrespectful, I guess. But I...Uhura was so disappointed in me. It really hurt, Bones. I felt so sad and..." He paused, then added, "and helpless. Why do I always feel so damned weak and helpless and tearful in these dreams?" Kirk demanded of his friend and doctor. "The women I know, at least those I know well, aren't like that. Why would I dream them that way?"
McCoy shook his head. He wasn't sure exactly how to answer. "Maybe it's just an outlet for all those emotions churning inside of you, the frustration, anger, fear --they have to have some outlet," the doctor suggested.
"Why tears?" Kirk wasn't convinced. "Uhura doesn't start sobbing every time I yell at her. Why would she cry in my dream just because I--" He broke off, unwilling to be any more specific.
McCoy shrugged, then grinned. It was time to lighten this conversation a bit before he became as depressed as Kirk. That wouldn't do either of them any good. "What does she do when you yell at her?"
Kirk blushed, then grinned back, a little ruefully. "She just looks at me calmly and calls me 'sir'." He gave the word the same inflection Uhura had used on the bridge the day before.
McCoy laughed. "Yeah, I can hear her saying that--just that way." He sobered, then returned to the purpose of the discussion. "I don't know, Jim. There could be a lot of reasons why the women in your dreams cry." He eyed his captain shrewdly, then suggested, "Maybe they cry because youcan't."
Kirk stared at him a long minute, unsure whether to be angry or not, then decided to just ignore the implication, moving on to the thing that was really bothering him.
"The worse thing," he said, "is I'm becoming more and more uncomfortable around women--any woman. I feel embarrassed and ashamed, even when I don't do anything. And whatever I do, I feel it was the wrong thing. Either I'm too curt or too friendly or too something. I find myself trying to see how the woman might feel about whatever I say or do, and then I can't say or do anything. I'm afraid it's beginning to interfere with my ability to command." He sighed in frustration. "I'm just thankful that business with the Ranjians is over with--and that Tagel was a man and not a woman. I'm not sure what I would have done if I had had to negotiate that agreement with a woman."
"Why don't you just try being yourself? It's worked pretty well for almost forty years."
"Has it? Has it really? Or have I just been kidding myself? I do all right with the casual affairs or one-night stands, but every time I really get close to a woman, every time I...fall in love, it ends in tragedy. Maybe I do it that way on purpose, because I'm not capable of sustaining a real relationship with a woman."
"Maybe. Then, again, maybe you've just had rotten luck. How the hell are you supposed to develop a real relationship with a woman when you keep all the women on the crew at arm's length and don't spend enough time off-ship with anyone to let anything happen?"
"I don't know...but that's not what really bothers me, Bones."
"Then what does bother you?"
"I guess..." He hesitated again. "I suppose it's a feeling that I just haven't treated women very well, that I've hurt them, often unnecessarily. I guess I just feel ashamed."
"And what's so different about how you treat women?"
"From what I've seen, you don't treat women much differently from the way you treat men." McCoy couldn't resist another small grin. "--except, of course, that you don't sleep with the men."
"That's a big difference."
"Not really." The doctor dismissed the implications of that as unimportant. "You say you've used women. How?"
"I guess by using my charm to get them to do something they wouldn't otherwise do."
"Right. And I've seen you turn that same charm on when dealing with a man. You grin, shrug your shoulders, and act like a little boy who got his hand caught in a cookie jar. Then no one, man or woman, can resist giving you whatever you ask for."
Kirk turned red. "Not a very pretty picture, is it?"
"No, not if you do it strictly for your own personal gain, but usually you use your charm for a good purpose. Like helping someone escape from a dangerous situation, or preventing someone from doing something destructive or evil.
"Jim," McCoy leaned forward, "your charm is one of your best assets, and you learned early how to use it. That's not bad, as long as you don't use it for an evil purpose. Most of us use people in one way or another from time to time. Just know what you're doing, and be sure you do it for the right reasons."
"I don't know, Bones. How can I be sure they are the right reasons?"
"Just follow your instincts. Like I said, they've been pretty good so far."
"Not always. They were sure wrong with Janice."
"Janice Lester was a brilliant woman. She was also a sick one," McCoy tried to console his friend. "She was right about some things, like the fact that some Starfleet regulations kept women from commanding starships some twenty years ago. But that's changed. Women like Sarah Madison and Lystra Davis are up for command positions right now. And Doctor Lester was just as wrong about some other things. It wouldn't have made any difference if she had been a man. She simply wasn't suited to command a starship. She never was, and her desire for something she could never have simply ate away at her sanity until she was no longer able to make rational decisions. And that had nothing to do with her being a woman or with how you treated her. You were just a convenient scapegoat, someone she could blame her own failure on. Can you see Uhura acting like she did?"
"No, of course not," Kirk agreed, then added, "but that doesn't excuse any lapses on my part."
"True. Look, Jim, why don't you just see this experience as a learning one? It's made you see some things from a new perspective. That can be good. Learn from it, and think before you act, but don't think so long you paralyze yourself. I still say your instincts are better than those of most men. However, everyone can stand some improvement. So, try to be better in the future. Just don't punish yourself for every past indiscretion--real or imagined. That won't do you or anyone else any good."
"Feel any better?"
"I'm not sure."
"Well, think about it, and let me know what you decide."
Kirk just nodded, then stood and left the room.
McCoy's blue eyes followed his friend, then he poured himself another drink and downed it in a single swallow, unsure whether he had been any real help. The truth of the matter was that he wasn't sure how to help this time.
Tagella waited impatiently for the Human captain to begin his transmission. Humans, men especially, were so unpredictable. This one was capable of offering an equitable trade for the minerals the Ranjian ship had for sale, or he was equally capable of cheating them. She was going to have to be doubly careful to interpret his words accurately. And the unpredictable communications equipment wasn't going to be any help either. She carefully smoothed the ruffled plumage, wondering what the delay might be.
The Ranjian commander sat up straight in her chair when a Human face formed on the viewscreen ahead. He was a big, strange-looking being, soft, rounded flesh that had to have artificial covering and neutral colors that Tagella found especially dull and lifeless.
Preening her colorful feathers, the Ranjian greeted the Human and began the sensitive negotiations.
After a few minutes of meaningless dialogue, the Ranjian's gray eyes narrowed in response to something the alien captain had said. "You and your men" had been his words. Couldn't he see that they were female? Insulted by his lack of knowledge, she quietly corrected him and was pleased to notice some color enter his face for the first time. It made him somehow less ugly.
Then the corners of his mouth turned up and the thick lips parted to bare his teeth. Tagella stiffened, feathers flaring slightly. Surely he couldn't be threatening her. She listened even more carefully to his words.
"Therefore, Commander, if you find our offer unacceptable, we will..." A crackling sound in the communications equipment made the next words unintelligible. Finally, the sound cut in again, the transmission broken and difficult to decipher. "...leave you without...arm...peace...ever bother...you harm." Again, his teeth were bared in what she no longer doubted was a threat.
"Rionna." She turned to her first officer, cutting off the transmission briefly. Meeting the look of horror in the other Ranjian's yellow eyes, she nodded once. "Prepare to fire. On my order." She reopened the communications.
"Is that your last word, Captain?" she asked him in a deceptively sweet voice.
"Our last word. I assure you."
"In that case," she turned to Rionna and nodded again. The Ranjian first officer pushed a button and a flash of energy emitted from the Ranjian vessel, straight on course for the unprotected Enterprise ahead.
"No!" Once again, Kirk came out of his nightmare shaking with terror. He looked down at his smooth, almost hairless skin, somewhat surprised to find no brightly colored feathers on his arms and chest. To experience the entire event from the point of view of the alien commander was as disconcerting as his earlier nightmares.
Might the encounter with the Ranjians have ended that way if the commander really had been female, offended at his not immediately recognizing her as such, and even more offended by his ineffectual efforts to charm her into the agreement the Federation wanted?
He shook his head in a vain attempt to clear it, then gave up, rose from the bed and once again headed for an early morning shower. They were getting earlier every day, and they weren't doing much to help either. It didn't matter whether he used sonics or water, the usually invigorating morning ritual did little these days to clear the fuzziness of constantly interrupted sleep from his brain. And on top of everything else, he had to keep Bones from realizing just how disturbed he was by the dreams.
McCoy breathed a small sigh of relief when he walked into the briefing room. This was the Jim Kirk he knew, fully in command of himself and his ship, reviewing data as quickly as it was presented him and making rapid-fire judgments and decisions. He was conferring with his top officers--McCoy himself, along with Spock, Scott and Sulu--discussing Starfleet Command's latest orders and trying to decide on the best methods of carrying them out.
"Very little is known about the Acretians, Captain." Spock had the floor at the moment. "According to the report we received, they have had very little contact with other worlds since their initial efforts at space exploration two hundred three point six years ago. Those efforts were cut short by a brief but very violent war with the first alien race they encountered, the inhabitants of the nearest neighboring star system.
"The..." Spock consulted his computer screen. "...Trugairs were a very devious race that pretended an interest in developing friendly relations with the Acretians, then turned on them. Fortunately, the Trugairs' main advantage was the surprise of their attack, and the superior technology of the Acretians enabled them to win the war, wiping out most of their opponent's population and setting their technology back centuries. At the same time, however, the Acretians sustained heavy damages to their own fleet and even more devastating losses in terms of both manpower and technology.
"Sickened by the effects of war, the Acretians withdrew to their own planet and refrained from venturing outside their star system. Apparently, they turned their military focus on developing a defensive system that would keep all other races out of the system, thus preventing the likelihood of another war. Unfortunately, this isolationist policy also kept them cut off from all contact with other civilizations and prevented them from learning that there are peaceful cultures with which they could interact and which could help them repel any potential invasion by a race with technology so advanced it could slip through their defenses."
"So why are we hearing from them now?" Kirk asked.
Spock again consulted his computer screen before answering. "The message they sent out indicated a lone scout vessel managed to penetrate their defensive systems and reach the planet, destroying one of their largest cities before they were able to detect it and destroy it. Although they did destroy the ship, they apparently fear further attacks from this new enemy and feel they would be unable to withstand a large-scale assault. If several of these vessels managed to penetrate their shields, they could virtually wipe out the Acretians before they could mount a counter-attack."
"They want help."
"It is unclear just what they want." Spock was puzzled. "The tone of their message seems to be more of an effort to let others know what might have happened to them rather than a call for help. They appear willing to allow their race to die out, but unwilling to allow their knowledge to disappear with them." Only Kirk noticed the minute change in the Vulcan's expression showing his surprise. "It would appear, Jim, that they want to be remembered."
"I see." Kirk wasn't sure that he did fully understand, but it did make sense, in a convoluted kind of way. "And yet, despite the absence of a formal request for help, Command wants us to render assistance." It wasn't a question exactly, more an attempt to clarify the situation in his own mind. Nevertheless, Spock chose to treat it as one.
"Correct. Apparently, the admiralty believes there would be benefit in establishing a relationship with the Acretians. The small portions of their history and culture relayed with their message indicates the existence of an especially advanced medical technology, the details of which would be invaluable to the entire Federation."
"That's right, Jim," McCoy interjected. "The little bit Spock showed me was incredible. If I could get my hands on the information they didn't include, there's no telling what I could learn. This is potentially even more valuable than the Fabrini documents."
"Scotty?" Kirk turned to the chief engineer. "Is the Enterprise up to an engagement?"
"Aye, sir. Th' engines're at peak efficiency. I can give ye all the pow'r ye need."
Kirk smiled at the response, so completely at odds with Scott's usual over-protective attitude toward his "bairns." He smothered the smile before it widened into a grin and turned to his helmsman.
"How long will it take us to reach Acretia, Mister Sulu?" he asked.
"At Warp Three, we should arrive at approximately sixteen hundred hours tomorrow."
"Sixteen-twelve point eight-one," Spock corrected.
Kirk and Sulu turned to face the Vulcan, but neither acknowledged his comment. Instead, Kirk glanced around the table, gauging whether any of his officers had anything else to offer. When no one responded to his inquiring looks, he began to gather the tapes he had spread out in front of him.
"All right, gentlemen, thank you for your input. I just wish we knew who it was that attacked the Acretians. I don't like going in blind like this, not knowing who or what we may have to fight." Kirk stood up. "I guess we'll just have to wing it and do the best we can. Dismissed."
Spock, Scott, and Sulu exited the room immediately, intent on returning to their duties, but McCoy hung back, carefully eying the again-seated captain, whose attention--or at least his gaze--was once more focused on the tapes on the table. The physician's work still lay ahead. For now, he was more interested in assessing Kirk's condition and determining whether he was mentally and emotionally fit to lead the Enterprise into this situation. Now that the conference was over, the animation had disappeared. Shoulders slumped a little, Kirk appeared weary, as though he hadn't slept well.
"How're you feelin' today, Jim?" he asked as casually as he could.
Kirk's head snapped up in response to the question.
"I'm fine," he answered shortly. "Don't you have somewhere you need to be?"
"Not at the moment. Sickbay's all organized and prepared for any casualties we might have to handle if we end up in a little skirmish. For now, all I have to do is wait--and watch."
"Watch what? Me?" There was a defensiveness in Kirk that bothered McCoy.
"Among other things." The response was carefully level, then the doctor followed the comment with a calculated question. "You handlin' that little problem any better now?"
Cold hazel eyes met warm blue ones, then clouded over and shifted away from the doctor's penetrating gaze that saw far more than Kirk wanted him to. "More or less," he mumbled, mentally pushing away the memory of the latest nightmare, determined to keep McCoy from knowing there had even been another one, much less its contents.
"What was that?" McCoy's tone indicated he had asked the question more than once.
"I said, more or less, Doctor." Kirk spoke briskly this time, attempting to hide any remaining uncertainty beneath a veneer of assurance. "I've thought about what you said and come to the realization that you're right. I have nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about."
"That's your head talkin', Jim." McCoy's voice was gentle with compassion and understanding. "What does your heart say?"
Kirk shoved himself back from the table and stood stiffly, gathering the tapes together in an untidy pile and picking them up as he strode purposefully toward the doors. "None of your damned business," he spat out in clipped tones just before he stepped through the doorway and into the corridor.
"That's what I thought," McCoy told the empty room before he, too, left.
"Yes, Lieutenant." Kirk swiveled in his command chair to face the communications station, stifling the yawn that threatened to reveal how little rest he had had the previous night.
"I'm still not getting any response to my attempts to contact the Acretians."
"You're sending the message on all channels?"
"Yes, sir, and in every language either I or the computer knows. Still, I get nothing back."
"Damn!" How the hell was he supposed to help the Acretians when they wouldn't even talk to him? "Keep trying, Lieutenant," he told her offhandedly, then added quickly, with a twinge of guilt and a slight smile, "Thank you."
Uhura smiled tentatively in response, confused by the captain's behavior. For several days now, he had alternated between stiff formality, an absent-minded thoughtlessness, and an apparently forced concern. None of them were the Jim Kirk she knew. His concern was real, his formality reserved for very formal or disciplinary situations, and any thoughtlessness both rare and caused by being distracted by more serious and immediate concerns.
What she missed--what they all missed--most of all was Kirk's normally teasing, friendly relationship with the crew. It was gone now, completely, and had been ever since that bitch Janice Lester... Uhura stopped herself. It was none of her business really. Lester was a creature to be pitied, not hated. Only what she had done to Kirk... That's it! Whatever's bothering him has something to do with Janice Lester and the transference. Uhura wished she were close enough personally to the captain to help him, but she knew he'd never open up to her about it. She just hoped Doctor McCoy or Mister Spock could help him. If anyone could, they would.
Suddenly, she sat up straight, her attention returning to her communications board. She listened a moment, then turned to Kirk.
"Captain, I'm receiving something now." There was excitement in her voice.
Kirk swung around to face her again, anticipation lighting up his face. "Put it on speakers, Lieutenant," he ordered.
The "voice" came over the speakers, its sound startling Kirk and the entire bridge crew. It wasn't a voice at all, not a real one, but a computerized simulation, designed to answer Uhura's efforts at communication without telling the Enterprise crew anything at all about the Acretians--except that they had an advanced computer technology.
"We thank you for responding to our message," the voice concluded its statement. "However, we decline your offer of assistance. We wish no contact with outside worlds and ask only that you leave us alone to face our attackers in our own way."
"No." Kirk's voice was soft, but adamant. "We cannot leave you to be destroyed. We understand your reluctance to interact with other species, but we come only in peace. All we want is to help you, and then, if possible, work out an agreement by which we can exchange information. We will not interfere in your planet's operation or development, and we will leave you in peace again once the danger is over--if that is what you wish. But, please," he was being his most charming and persuasive now, "don't turn us away before we've even had a chance to talk."
The silence stretched out for so long after he finished talking that Kirk began to believe the Acretians wouldn't answer at all. Then finally, that "voice" spoke again.
"Very well. We will talk," the flat, computerized tones said. "We promise nothing more than that. And only two of you may pass through our screens."
"What?" Kirk was standing now. He didn't care for this particular development.
"Two of you will be allowed to approach our planet. You must use a shuttle and follow exactly the path you are given. The shields will close again behind you and remain closed until we have concluded our talks. Then we will decide whether to allow others through or to send you back to your ship. Understood?"
"Understood. We'll have the shuttle ready in fifteen minutes. Kirk out."
"Jim, no. It's too dangerous," McCoy, at Kirk's left hand, objected as soon as the communications were broken. "You can't go in there alone."
"I won't be alone, Bones."
"Yeah, you and Spock. I know. It's always you and Spock. And what happens if both the captain and the first officer get killed or taken hostage?"
"We'd be in a hell of a lot of trouble." Kirk was almost smiling. "That's why I'm leaving Spock behind."
"Jim!" Now it was Spock voicing the objection. "For once, the doctor is correct. You cannot go in alone. Let me--"
"No, Spock. You're not going. They invited me and one other, and Bones is right. You and I can't both go."
"Then who the hell is going?" McCoy demanded.
"Me?" McCoy's voice cracked with surprise. "Oh, no, you don't. I'm not some crazy hero type. I don't volunteer for suicide missions."
"Nonsense. This isn't a suicide mission. It's a diplomatic one. C'mon, don't tell me you're not still itching to get your hands on those medical records."
Indecision spread across the doctor's face, fear and anger warring with anticipation and intellectual curiosity. Finally, the latter prevailed, and a wary grin appeared.
"You really know where to hit, don't you, Jim-boy?" McCoy drawled. "Okay, you've got your second man. Just let me grab a medikit from Sickbay, and I'll meet you on the shuttle deck in five minutes."
"Five minutes, Doctor."
McCoy left the bridge, and Kirk turned to face Spock, giving him last-minute instructions before departing for the shuttle deck. The Vulcan's face was even more stoic than usual as he listened to his captain's orders, his disapproval evident although silent. Finally, Kirk stood and clapped the first officer on the shoulder as Spock slid into the vacant command chair. Spock ignored the touch, and Kirk ignored him ignoring it.
"I'll contact you as soon as I can, Spock. Just don't get over-anxious and start pestering the Acretians. You might undo any progress we're able to make."
Spock stiffened in annoyance, but Kirk ignored that, too.
"I wonder what these Acretians are like," McCoy speculated as Kirk carefully maneuvered the shuttlecraft via the narrow passageway through the Acretian defenses. "Are they humanoid or Vulcanoid or maybe just big, green lizards? Maybe they're little bitty ant-people."
Kirk ignored his companion, knowing that McCoy was simply chattering to cover his nervousness. No one could be more courageous than the doctor when the occasion demanded, but facing the unknown--especially when he had plenty of time to think about it and its many possible consequences--had a tendency to make him very nervous. Kirk couldn't really blame him. He was a bit nervous himself; he just hid it better. Bones never could see the point in hiding any of his emotions, including fear and nervousness.
"Brace yourself," Kirk broke in on McCoy's monologue. "We're about to land."
McCoy did just that, grabbing a hold on the arms of his seat with both hands and clinging tightly as though his life depended on it. Kirk couldn't help a chuckle. "What's the matter, Bones? Don't you have any more confidence in my piloting skills than that?"
"I'll have plenty of confidence in your pilotin' skills once you have us safely on ground, Captain. I'd just feel a lot safer if we were back on board the Enterprise. Never did like these damned shuttles."
"Yeah, I know, and you like transporters even less. Tell me, Bones. What method of transport would you prefer using to travel between ship and planet?" He just couldn't resist the urge to tease his old friend a bit.
"Why, I..." McCoy sputtered and fell silent. He couldn't think of an answer that didn't make him look like a complete fool. "Just land this damned thing, will ya?" he finally demanded, then snorted when Kirk burst into laughter.
McCoy smiled surreptitiously when Kirk's attention was back on the shuttle controls. It worked! He'd actually managed to make Kirk laugh out loud. It was the first time since that Lester mess. Maybe all it had taken to shake the captain out of his depression was a real mission. And a little needling. It was amazing how Kirk always saw through his teasing of Spock but never realized when he was the butt of it himself. Immensely pleased with his acting ability, McCoy started to relax back in his seat, then sat back up and gripped the chair arms again when Kirk glanced his way. They weren't out of this yet, and he didn't want Jim Kirk distracted by that other matter.
Kirk settled the shuttle onto the open ground at the coordinates provided by the Acretians' computer, then shut off the power, turning to McCoy in anticipation. "Let's go, Bones. We have a delegation waiting to greet us."
Together, the two men left the ship and faced the alien race. McCoy's eyes widened in surprise, then his gaze shifted quickly to Kirk in time to see the captain's face pale. They were surrounded by a group of women.
"Welcome to Acretia." One of the oldest of the women present spoke the words that didn't really sound like a welcome to McCoy, but he nudged Kirk then responded himself when he realized that his captain was not going to answer.
"Thank you." He grinned good-naturedly. "I'm Doctor Leonard McCoy, the chief medical officer on the U.S.S. Enterprise, and this is Captain James T. Kirk, our commander. We'd like to talk to whoever's in char--"
"Can he not talk for himself? We should have known better than to deal with men." The words were almost spat out in contempt as the white-haired woman glared at them with a haughty air, her ice-blue eyes seeming to cut right through them.
The physician fell silent, unsure what to do next. Finally, he elbowed Kirk again. Damn! This was what he had been afraid of. Confronted with a bunch of women, Kirk seemed unable to act at all. Poking his captain in the ribs a third time, McCoy muttered out the side of his mouth, "C'mon, Jim. Snap out of it. This is no time to go all neurotic on me."
A shudder seemed to pass through Kirk's entire body, then he forced himself to speak. McCoy breathed a sigh of relief.
"Yes, I can talk for myself. It's just our, er, custom to allow only one person to speak at a time." Kirk straightened his spine with an effort, forcing himself to remain calm and speak with the women as he would any aliens in a similar situation. "Can we meet with your leaders now?" He groaned silently. Couldn't he think of something more appropriate to say than the equivalent of 'Take me to your leader.' His brain felt like mush and his legs like spaghetti. Damn Janice Lester and those stupid dreams. He had to pull himself together and start acting like a starship captain instead of a spineless fool--or the mission was doomed.
Deciding it was wiser to keep silent rather than spout off any more stupid comments, Kirk waited quietly for the Acretians to respond. Finally...
"I am the prime regent, Leah." Kirk was somehow unsurprised at the woman who spoke quietly and yet authoritatively as she stepped forward. Small in stature, she appeared to be somewhere in later middle age. She had a commanding, regal bearing that reminded Kirk of someone, but he couldn't quite figure out who it might be.
Automatically, Kirk smiled at her and nodded in greeting. "We thank you for your most gracious welcome..." He paused, unsure how to address a prime regent, but the pause went unnoticed when the older woman who had spoken earlier, spoke yet again.
"You are most certainly not welcome," she spat at him.
"That is enough, Illah." Leah's voice was deceptively quiet; there was the command ring of steel in it, and the older woman abruptly closed her mouth on the objections she had been about to voice.
"Tell us what you offer us...and what you want in return," Leah demanded.
Kirk smiled again. "Can't we go somewhere a bit more comfortable to talk?"
The charm went completely unnoticed. "This is quite comfortable enough." Leah eyed him coldly. "Speak."
Even Starfleet admirals were seldom this abruptly authoritative. Kirk was unpleasantly reminded of T'Pau of Vulcan, then dismissed the thought. Although definitely authoritative, this woman showed no signs of the unbending stubbornness of the Vulcan. Still there was something nagging at the edge of his consciousness, somebody she resembled, if he could only think who.
"Yes, ma'am," he responded meekly. Whoever it was she resembled, it was someone he associated with authority; that much was certain. He obeyed her command and began to outline his plan for aiding the Acretians.
"So you see, ma'am," he concluded a short while later, "if an enemy ship were to approach Acretia, the Enterprisewould be right there in orbit, ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary to prevent them from breaking through your shields and attacking your people. We would attempt to turn them back peacefully, of course, but if they insist on fighting, we have the firepower necessary to fight off just about anything they might throw at you."
"I told you," Illah hissed. "Fighting. That's all they think about. You've read the histories. This is why--"
"Hush, Illah." Again, Leah silenced the older woman, then turned back to Kirk. "And just how long are you willing to keep your ship here?" she asked shrewdly. "What if they wait until you leave and then attack? What do we do then?"
"We can help you develop a more effective shielding system and some weapons of your own, so you'll be able to defend yourselves. Then we can arrange for Starfleet to include Acretia in its patrol area. With Federation starships paying periodic visits, few potential enemies would be willing to risk an attack." Kirk crossed his arms and once again smiled encouragingly, pleased that he had been ready with an appropriate answer to what the Acretian had obviously expected to be an unanswerable question.
His smile died at the coldness of her reply.
"And once again violence will exist on Acretia." She shook her head in denial. "No, Captain, I am sorry, we cannot accept that alternative. Remain in orbit as long as you wish, but we will not allow weapons on Acretia."
"But...if you won't allow us to provide you with weapons and training, how will you survive if you are attacked after we leave?"
"We won't." The baldness of her reply was like a slap across his face. Leah was a woman of principle, and she was willing to die for those principles. Kirk could admire that in anyone, but he was also saddened and shocked by the potential waste of such an extreme position. He decided to try another tactic. If he could win their confidence, maybe he could change their minds.
"And the exchange of information? Will you consent to that?"
"What information do you wish to give us? And what is it you want in return?"
"I'd like to learn more about your healing techniques," McCoy jumped into the conversation. "From what little I know, they are extraordinary and could save many lives now being lost."
Leah nodded in agreement. "Yes, that would be satisfactory. To share knowledge that saves lives is acceptable. Anything else?"
"I don't think so," Kirk replied. "Not at this time, but if we run across anything else we want to learn about, we'll ask."
Leah nodded again. "And what do you offer us--other than weapons?"
"We can help you improve your communications system so that you can have contact with other worlds," the captain suggested hopefully, but again Leah shook her head.
"No, we do not wish to communicate with other worlds."
"Improvements to your transportation system?" was Kirk's next suggestion. Another shake of that regal head. "Better manufacturing techniques?" Another shake. Each offer was met with the same refusal. Finally, he sighed.
"All right, I guess we don't have anything to offer at this time other than the protection of the Enterprise for as long as we can remain here. We still offer that, in exchange for the medical information if you're willing, but for nothing at all if you prefer, just as a gesture of goodwill from the Federation, to show you we're not such bad guys after all." Once again he attempted a smile, seeking her agreement--and her approval.
"Time will be the judge of that, Captain." Leah turned to a younger woman who had stayed well back in the group that surrounded the prime regent. "Rhyssah, escort these men to guest accommodations and see that they are comfortable for their stay on Acretia." She turned back to Kirk and nodded one last time. "Captain." Then she and the rest of the women, except the one named Rhyssah, walked away, leaving them alone in the clearing next to the shuttlecraft.
"Come," Rhyssah ordered and turned to lead them in the opposite direction. Exchanging glances and shrugs, Kirk and McCoy followed.
"Jim! Wake up, Jim!"
Kirk opened his eyes to find McCoy sitting on the edge of his bed, an expression of concern on his face. Eyes wide and mouth opened in an effort to gasp enough oxygen, the captain stared at him a moment, and then shuddered once before managing to get a grip on his emotions.
"Yeah." There was no use denying it.
"I thought you were over those."
"Well, I'm not. I just...control them a bit better now."
"You weren't controlling that one very well." The doctor's right eyebrow elevated when Kirk stared at him in anger. "You cried out twice, and you were tossing about in that bed so violently I thought you were going to fall out. Jim..." There was real affection and worry in the voice now. "What was this one about?"
"I don't know, not exactly. Much like the others, but a little more nebulous." At McCoy's look of disbelief, he forced himself to be a little more specific. "There were a lot of men, fighting all around me, some of them fighting me, but I wasn't doing a very good job of it. For some reason, I was too small and weak. I just couldn't fight them off. One of them was coming at me with a knife. I knew he was going to ki--"
McCoy grasped his shoulder in one hand. "Okay, Jim. It's all right. It's my guess that you felt small because you were dreaming of being a woman again--maybe an Acretian. Perhaps you were identifying with them in their struggle against these unknown attackers?"
"Maybe. I don't know. You woke me before I could tell." McCoy wasn't sure if it were an accusation or gratitude. He chose to think the latter.
"Yeah, well, Jim. That's what I'm here for, to keep an eye on you."
Kirk glared at him; his words had not been conveying gratitude. McCoy shrugged and stood up, walking back to his own bed. "Try to get some sleep now. And, Jim, if you must dream, try to do it a little quieter."
Kirk decided not to dignify that suggestion with an answer.
After checking in with the Enterprise the next morning, the officers decided to do some exploring of the Acretians' city. For one thing, they had seen very few men the evening before, and they were curious about their role here. Obviously, the women were in control, but what did the men do?
A few hours later, they were beginning to get the picture. They had found a restaurant where they had breakfast, a shopping district where they perused the items for sale, an entertainment district with plays and nightclubs, and a cultural area complete with a public library and museum. All were operated by women, but there had been men in evidence. Everywhere, there were men: quietly eating in the restaurant, buying expensive toys in the shopping district, watching the plays and nightclub performances, reading books, and viewing the paintings and sculptures on display in the museum. A few had even taken part in the entertainments or been depicted in the artwork.
"What a life!" McCoy exclaimed when they were again seated in a restaurant, awaiting a mid-day meal. "Nothing to do all day long but go to plays, read books, look at paintings. I could get used to that."
Kirk eyed him skeptically. "You have to be kidding, Bones. Half a day, and I'm bored already."
"Yeah, that's because you're an overachiever, a take-charge starship captain type. Now, take me. I'm a hedonist at heart. I could learn to enjoy this."
"Maybe on a vacation." There was an ironic twist to Kirk's mouth. "But you'd soon get bored, too, without some patients to bully or research to work on."
"Maybe." McCoy wasn't ready to give in yet. "Then again, with no responsibilities, maybe I'd have the time to do some more of that research, instead of always having to fill out reports and do routine physicals and..."
"I get the picture." Kirk decided not to argue about it right then. "Come on, Bones, let's go find the government buildings and see what Leah and the others are up to."
"Okay. Maybe they can point me in the direction of one of their hospitals so I can find out more about their medical knowledge."
"See, you're getting bored already." Kirk couldn't resist a grin.
McCoy grinned back. "Nah. I just want to find out what I can while we're here... before they change their minds and send us away."
Kirk's grin died. That was a real possibility. The Acretians apparently didn't trust them very much, and he wasn't sure how much he trusted them to keep their word.
The captain approached a woman and asked her directions to the government offices only to have her stare at him in dumfounded surprise.
"What do you need to know that for?" she asked.
"We need to talk with the prime regent," Kirk answered pleasantly, a smile on his face although he didn't feel much like smiling.
The woman shook her head and walked off without answering his question, muttering something to herself about this new breed of men.
Kirk looked inquiringly at McCoy, shrugged, and approached another woman with the same question. This one didn't even bother to answer, just gave him a cold look before she, too, walked away. Next he tried a man, but he received an even more puzzling response that time.
"The prime regent? I'm not sure. Somewhere in the business district, I think, but I couldn't say exactly."
Kirk gave a mental sigh, then tried again. "Well, can you tell us where the business district is?"
"The business district?" The Acretian's apparent habit of repeating every question before answering, as though he were trying to decipher the words, was already becoming annoying. Kirk held onto his temper with an effort as the man continued, "Why would you... You're new here, aren't you?"
The man thought a minute, then gestured down a well-traveled street. "Down that way, oh, about eight or ten blocks, I think. I'm not sure exactly how far, but it's past the library a few blocks."
"Thank you." They took off down the street the man had indicated, more puzzled than ever by the man's lack of knowledge about that part of his city. He seemed reasonably intelligent, but totally uninterested in the business and government of his world.
A hot, dusty walk later, Kirk and McCoy found themselves in what was obviously the business district, but they still were having trouble finding the government offices, when finally they heard someone call out to them. They turned at the sound of their names and saw Rhyssah approaching from a large building about a half-block from where they were standing.
In his relief at seeing a familiar face, Kirk grinned, a one thousand watt, genuine Kirk grin, and the Acretian woman stopped, eyes widened in surprise.
"Something pleases you?" she asked in puzzlement.
"Yes, you," he answered simply.
Rhyssah blushed, then smiled shyly back at him, her hitherto attractive but rather ordinary features transformed by her expression, pale lavender eyes deepening to a rich violet and the rather austere, angular planes of her face softened by the smile. Kirk grinned again, and McCoy found himself thinking, uh-oh, then relaxed and grinned himself. That was the first time he had seen Kirk react normally to a woman in weeks. Maybe it was a good sign.
"Come with me." It seemed more a request than an order this time. "Leah wants to talk with you. I've been searching everywhere for you."
"We've been exploring," McCoy answered the implied question.
"And then we had trouble finding your government offices," Kirk added. "Everyone we asked just seemed surprised that we would want to know."
Rhyssah shrugged her slender shoulders. "They probably didn't realize you were offworlders," was her only explanation.
She led them into the large building and down a corridor to an office where Leah was waiting to meet with them.
The prime regent was staring out a window at the view of the city. Kirk looked past her shoulder to see what held her attention. It was an impressive view, with numerous office buildings neatly laid out along straight streets in a perfect grid pattern. Kirk would never have mistaken these buildings for their Terran counterparts, however. Each structure was no more than six stories high, most even lower, and every block had open green space provided among the buildings, a plan both practical and aesthetically pleasing. There was color everywhere, too--not painted on, but mixed into the concrete-like substance used as the basic building material for this world. The structures were weathered and aged until they were of soft, muted shades.
"You approve of our city?" Leah interrupted his study of the view with a quiet question, turning from the window and walking over to her desk to sit, gesturing the Enterprise men toward chairs on the opposite side.
"Yes, I do," Kirk responded, taking the chair immediately across from hers, while McCoy sat to one side where he could observe the conversation without, he hoped, being drawn into it too much.
While Kirk waited for Leah to continue the conversation, he studied the room as carefully as he had the view. Again, soft colors were in evidence--in the tinted glass top of her desk and the plaster of the walls, as well as the upholstery of the furniture and the patterned rugs and window hangings.
Despite the pastel colors, however, there was nothing fussy or frilly about the room. A man could be as comfortable there as a woman. Noting the comfortable and practical nature of the furniture, Kirk decided the room was decorated to create a peaceful, congenial working atmosphere. Returning his gaze to meet Leah's grey eyes, he further decided the room suited her--no nonsense, but attractive, quiet, relaxed. Again he was reminded of someone. There was something about her that nagged at the edge of his consciousness, and yet he couldn't quite place it. He was still sure it wasn't T'Pau. Despite her air of authority, there was a softness about Leah that was definitely missing from the Vulcan woman. Who was it? Finally, he gave it up for the moment, deciding that whoever it was, she was someone he trusted.
"Now," Leah broke into his thoughts. "I wish to hear more about these ideas of yours that you say could help our world."
Kirk straightened in his chair, his interest fully involved now. If Leah wanted to hear more, maybe she wasn't as opposed to an alliance with the Federation after all. All he had to do was convince her that the benefits far outweighed any fears she might have of corruption from their influence. He pushed back the intrusive thought that he was coming dangerously near to violating the Prime Directive. The Acretians had been attacked once and might be again. If they were, they faced the likelihood of being destroyed, unless they learned how to protect themselves.
Convinced, Kirk began to speak, leaning forward, trying to impress Leah with his sincerity and trustworthiness. Somehow, he had to win her approval of him personally before the prime regent would ever accept his words and ideas. He was sure of that. Besides, he wanted her approval. He wasn't sure why, but he really wanted it.
"But I don't want to get married!" The petite blonde stamped her foot, staring angrily up at her father. "I told you and told you. I don't want to just get married and have babies. I want more."
"And you'll have more, Jamie." His answer was calm, indulgent, but slightly impatient. George Kirk sighed. "When will you ever learn that your life can't be like your brother's? Be satisfied with what you can have."
"Yeah, sure. Reading and painting and going to the theater, having my hair done, and meeting with the other women for lunch and a discussion on all the latest fashions. Maybe I can do some charity work? Is that what you and Les have in mind for me, Daddy?"
"What's so bad about that, Jamie? All your friends are satisfied with it."
"But I'm not! Please, Daddy," she begged, sliding into his lap and snuggling close as she had done when she was a child, trying to charm him into agreement. "Don't force me to live like that. It's so boring!" Her soft voice became somewhat strident at the end, and she instantly knew it had been a mistake. The mood was broken, and her father shoved her gently from his lap.
"That's enough. I don't want to hear any more about it. You're going to marry Lester, and that's it. That's the proper role for a woman, and you might as well get used to the idea."
"But Daddy!" she wailed.
"NO!" he roared. "Stop whining like a baby and act like the woman you are."
"You treat me like a baby!" She fought back, unwilling to give up. "You treat all women like babies. How would you feel if men were treated that way? How would that make you feel, to be denied all your hopes and your dreams just because you're a man. How would--"
"Enough!" His big right hand connected with her soft cheek in a slap that resounded through the room. Jamie felt the tears fill her eyes, but she held them back by sheer force of will. He wouldn't make her cry. She wouldn't give him that satisfaction. She might be a woman, but she wasn't a child, and he'd better get used to that fact.
Straightening up to her full height that brought her barely to his shoulder, Jamie met her father's stricken gaze steadily. "You'll be sorry for that some day, Daddy," she told him quietly, then turned and left the room, wishing she could leave, go away somewhere, but where would she go? No matter where she went, it wouldn't make any difference. It was like this for all women, and it was so unfair.
Kirk opened his eyes and stared silently at the ceiling of the Acretian house, breathing deeply in an attempt to calm his emotions without risking waking McCoy. He really wasn't up to one of the sessions with his doctor and friend right then. Besides, it didn't take a psychiatrist to analyze this particular dream. His encounters with the Acretians that day explained it to his satisfaction, but it didn't help the way he was feeling. Somehow he had to find a way to conquer the nightmares that continued to haunt his sleep, robbing him of the desperately needed rest. Somehow.
He turned on his side and began to drift back toward slumber, his last conscious thought one of relief that at least the dreams were less violent than they had been at first and a little less draining. At least he could go back to sleep now.
"All right, Captain. I'll grant you the argument that there are many things we can learn from contact with other worlds, but what assurance can you give me that our culture won't be contaminated by that same contact?"
Kirk thought a minute before replying. He had been somewhat surprised to be called back in for another conference with the Acretian prime regent, surprised but optimistic. As long as Leah was willing to talk, he had a chance of convincing her, and he wanted to convince her. There had to be a way to help these people survive whatever menace was threatening them, a way that would allow them to maintain their pride, independence, and principles. And one that would allow the men a little more freedom and opportunity, a silent voice nagged at his brain.
Finally, a little uncertainly, he answered her question. "I can't. That assurance has to come from within yourselves. If you are strong and convinced of the rightness of your culture, then nothing from outside can contaminate it. It will change. It will evolve and grow as you learn things of value from others. It's up to you to decide what is and what isn't of value--both from other cultures and from your own. Then you'll be able to influence what direction that growth will take."
Leah eyed him carefully, weighing his words. She sighed. "At least you're honest; I'll grant you that."
"I'll try always to be honest with you, ma'am," he responded, then grinned mischievously at her. "Besides, I don't think I could be otherwise. I couldn't any more lie to you than I could to my own mo--"
Kirk broke off and straightened in his chair, eyes widening with the sudden realization of who it was that Leah reminded him of: his mother. From what he had seen of her so far, he speculated that the prime regent ruled Acretia much as Mrs. Kirk had always ruled her home and farm, never raising her voice, but not needing to. There was steel, determination, and a will of iron beneath the quiet tones that brooked no disobedience.
He started again as he realized that he had adopted those same traits for himself and that they played such a vital role in his command. Jim Kirk was at his most determined--and dangerous--when his voice was quietest. He had never before realized the characteristic was one he had inherited--or copied--from his mother rather than his more bombastic father.
"Something is bothering you?" Leah interrupted his thoughts.
"No," he replied with a slight smile, then continued confidingly. "I was just thinking about my mother...and how much like her I am."
McCoy's eyebrow rose slightly at the statement--and then even higher as Kirk continued.
"You remind me of her."
Leah studied him silently, then accepted the compliment. "I'm flattered."
"You should be." He grinned again, and Leah caught a glimpse of the Iowa farmboy still hidden within the starship captain. "She's quite a lady. Very, very special."
"In what way do I remind you of her?" Leah was curious. The knowledge might give her a better understanding of this alien man.
He thought a minute, then answered, choosing his words very carefully. "You're strong, intelligent, a tough, yet fair and wise leader--and still every inch a woman."
"I don't understand."
Kirk shrugged. "On my world, those traits are often considered masculine, and some people think that women who exhibit them are..." He paused, searching for the right word. "...unfeminine."
"Some people? What about you?"
He shook his head, sure of himself now. "No. I think both men and women can have those same characteristics. Whoever has them is capable of leading or ruling. Without them, they can't. And it has absolutely nothing to do with whether they're a man or a woman."
Even as he spoke the words, Kirk realized the truth of them, and further realized that those very characteristics were what had been lacking in Janice Lester. He made the leap one step further, understanding fully for the first time that it was that lack, rather than her sex, that kept Lester from qualifying for command school so many years earlier.
"I see." Leah was watching him carefully, weighing his words and attitude, trying to determine whether he was being truthful.
"As I said," Kirk continued, "my mother's like that, and I probably admire her more than anyone else I've ever known."
"Not your father?"
Remembering his dream from the previous night and the only now realized absence of his mother from the nightmare, Kirk shook his head before speaking. "No. I loved my father, and I always wanted to be with him, to follow him to the stars, but I didn't really want to be like him. I think that deep down inside, I really wanted to be likeMom, that somehow I was using her more for a role model than I was Dad. I just never realized it before." He smiled a little pensively. "Maybe she's why I like women so much."
McCoy allowed himself a small grin of satisfaction, as Leah smiled back at Kirk and asked, "Do you?"
The captain's smile broadened into a grin, and he nodded his head emphatically. "Yes, ma'am, I do."
Leah leaned back in her chair and answered his grin. "Captain, I think you and I can come to an understanding," she offered.
"Yes, ma'am," he responded, respectful, but in the same manner as her other regents, not like the subservient men of her planet--or a child responding to his mother's demands. "I think so, too."
Kirk walked through the streets of the Acretian cultural district with Rhyssah at his side, pointing out all of the many art galleries and stopping to interpret her world's own unique style of paintings and sculpture. It had been an interesting tour--for the first six hours. Kirk was getting bored, however, and it was becoming increasingly difficult not to show it.
"There's another gallery in the next block, Jim," Rhyssah gestured a little further down the street. "It has some really interesting examples of early Acretian works, those dating from shortly after The War."
"Rhyssah," he caught her elbow with one hand and drew her to a stop. "I think I've seen enough galleries for one day. Isn't there something else we can do to pass the time?"
She thought a minute, then suggested, "We could go to the theater if you like, or maybe a concert?"
Kirk sighed. "That's all very lovely, but surely you don't spend all of your time indulging in idle pastimes."
"No, of course not, but..." She frowned slightly, trying to think of a suitable activity for this man who was so different than those of her own world. Finally, unable to fit him into the mold of Acretian men, she gave up. Looking up at him, she asked, "What would you like to do?"
"I'm not sure. What do Acretians normally do to pass the time?"
"The men go to the art galleries and concerts and the library or shopping..."
"Wait a minute," he interrupted, determined to solve this mystery right then. "Don't the men ever work?"
"A few do, in the artistic fields, but that's all. Why would they work?"
"Aren't you wasting a lot of talent and ability if you keep half of your potential work force idle?"
"Half?" Rhyssah appeared puzzled, then surprised. "Now that you mention it, I believe the last census did show that our male population has finally grown to almost half of the planet. I don't think I ever really paid any attention to the numbers before. It didn't seem really important. I wonder if anyone else has. I must discuss it with Leah."
"The male population has grown..." Kirk was confused. "What did it grow from, Rhyssah?"
"I'm not sure exactly. Let me think." She smiled at him confidingly. "I never was very good with statistics in school, but I believe our history books state that Acretia had a population of only about ten percent male after The War."
"Only ten percent?"
"About that. Why?"
"That would explain it."
"Why you're so protective of your men. They would have been quite valuable to you."
"Valuable? Yes, of course. That is part of it. It is the greatest taboo of our society--to kill or otherwise render a man incapable of performing. They are too necessary to the continuation of our people."
"I understand that," Kirk responded, then hesitated a moment before continuing. "But, Rhyssah, if your population is now roughly half male, that should no longer be a concern."
She nodded her head in agreement, then added, "There's still the other."
"The other what?"
"The other matter. The War." She seemed a little impatient with having to explain everything in such detail, but shrugged and continued, "The men led us to war. We can't take a chance they would again, if we let them take control. They almost destroyed our entire civilization the last time, and it took us so long to rebuild the population. We can't take a chance on history repeating itself."
"What makes you think they would take control? I'm not talking about a revolution, Rhyssah, just a little equality." Kirk knew he was violating the Prime Directive in a dozen different ways with this conversation, but he didn't care, not this time. The memory of his nightmares and the sexual oppression he had felt then was too fresh, too painful. If he could just make Rhyssah see how unfair the Acretian women's treatment of the men was, then maybe...
"Equality." Rhyssah interrupted his train of thought. "Can there ever be true equality? Are we not destined to have one group dominant over the other?"
"I don't think so, at least I don't think it has to be that way," he answered. "True, one sex is often dominant in a culture; in my own, it has been man for most of our history. It doesn't have to be that way though. Men and women can work together to make a better world--if they are only willing to try."
"And if you're wrong, if the old teachings are right, if the men seize control the moment they are given the opportunity," demanded Rhyssah, "what then?"
"I don't think there's much chance of that happening," he answered, "especially with men as docile as yours, not for a long, long time. I don't see any signs that they even want to be in charge. It's just such a waste not to make use of their talents and abilities."
"Maybe, but I don't think Leah and the others are ready to take a chance."
"Hmmm." She traced a finger down his cheek, then tapped his lips and smiled seductively, deliberately changing the subject. "Right now, I can think of better uses for a man."
"Rhyssah!" He was surprised at her sudden aggressiveness.
"Yes, Jim," she smiled again, reaching for his hand.
He glowered at her a second, then relaxed and smiled back, allowing her to take his hand and lead him down the street. There was no need to continue the discussion. He had planted the seeds of an idea in her mind. It would take time to see if they would take root. Now, he just needed to back off and give her that time. Besides, what the hell. It was kind of nice to be on the receiving end of a seduction attempt for a change. Eying her slender body, he decided it was quite nice indeed and then mentally settled back to enjoy being talked into something he very definitely wanted to do already.
"I'm sure glad that one's over with."
Kirk looked up with a questioning grin at McCoy's words.
"The mission. Acretia. The whole ball of wax," McCoy elaborated.
Kirk reached for his friend's glass to pour him another drink.
"Why, Bones? Didn't you like Acretia?"
"It was okay for a visit." The doctor grinned back. "But I sure wouldn't want to live there, not like the Acretian men do, anyway."
"It does have its compensations." Kirk smiled thoughtfully. "But I know what you mean. However, I think things are beginning to change there."
"Maybe, but it's going to take a long time."
"True. Look how long it took women to reach a relative equality on Earth."
"I know. Speaking of which, have you heard who's getting the appointment as captain of the Potemkin?"
Kirk grinned again. "Yep." He settled back smugly to wait for his friend to pry the rest of the information out of him. He didn't have to wait long.
"Well, c'mon, tell me. Who's it goin' to be?"
"She got it? She really got it?" McCoy was jubilant.
"Yeah, Bones, she 'got' it. Sarah Madison will be the first female starship captain in Starfleet. And it's about time, too."
"Amen." McCoy raised his glass in a silent toast, then sobered a bit. "I just hope it doesn't take the Acretians as long to allow men equality as it took us Terrans to grant it to women."
"I'll drink to that." Kirk raised his glass, took a sip, then raised it again. "And to Leah. You have to give that woman credit. Once she realized we really didn't want to bring harm to her world, she was both willing and eager to learn what she could from us."
"Yeah, and did you notice how friendly she and Scotty were getting while he was down there working on the improvements to their shielding system."
"I sure did." Kirk laughed. "Scotty was absolutely horrified when he learned what she had in mind."
"Well, you have to admit, she is a little old for him."
"She's not that old. And I'll bet she could have shown him a thing or two." Kirk's mind was on regent's niece. If Leah was half as good as Rhyssah...
"Maybe." McCoy interrupted Kirk's thoughts. "Maybe I should have made a play for her myself."
"Well, maybe we can arrange to have you included in the diplomatic team that's scheduled to return to Acretia to work out the details of their membership in the Federation." Kirk couldn't quite contain the imp of mischief that twinkled out of his hazel eyes.
"Now, wait just a God-damned minute, Jim-boy. There's no way I'm goin' to be a part of a diplomatic mission." The last two words were said as though the very sound were distasteful.
Kirk gave up the effort and laughed out loud. "What do you think you've been doing for the past three weeks?"
"Learnin' about medicine. What do you think?"
"Okay, okay, I give up." Kirk raised his hands in mock surrender, and McCoy grinned sheepishly, then teasingly.
"Tell me, what've you been up to?" he asked Kirk.
"Why, making new friends," the captain answered innocently.
"Yeah, I'll bet. I know what your friends are usually like."
"You're my friend." Kirk's lips twitched in an effort to control his laughter.
"Yeah, well..." McCoy desperately sought for a new topic of conversation, then decided the time was ripe for a discussion he had been meaning to have for several days. Kirk seemed all right now, but he had to make sure. "Jim, about that little problem you've been having..." the doctor began tentatively.
Kirk met his eyes squarely. "The dreams?" he asked, then continued when McCoy nodded, "They're gone, Bones. I haven't had a nightmare in, oh at least a week." He paused to think. "It's funny. I'm not sure just when they ended, sometime on Acretia though."
"I'll bet I know." McCoy was smug.
"Oh, yeah. When?"
"After that discussion with Leah, in her office, when you talked about your mother."
Kirk stared back at him, surprised. "Mom? I talked about Mom?"
"Don't you remember?"
Kirk thought, then smiled. "Now that you mention it, I do. I had forgotten in the excitement of the past few days. Yeah, I did. And you're right. That's when I started feeling better. I'm just not sure why." He pondered the matter.
"Maybe because that's when you realized that you genuinely like women."
"Bones, I've always liked women."
"I know that." McCoy dismissed the statement, then added in explanation, "but you forgot it for a while yourself. You were so busy thinking of them as women, you forgot they're Human beings, too."
"But I like thinking of them as women," Kirk protested.
"Of course, just don't forget they're people first, and you'll be okay."
"Think so?" His lips twitched with a suppressed smile.
Blue eyes met hazel ones, and both men broke into laughter just as the doors slid open and Spock walked in.
"Is something amusing you gentlemen?" he asked, eyebrow raised in inquiry.
"Not exactly, Spock," McCoy answered, then gave in to the imp of devilment inside him. "We were just discussin' how much we like women and..."
"If you'll excuse me," Spock interrupted, "I believe I am needed on the bridge." He exited quickly.
"Was that necessary?" Kirk asked, a stern tone in his voice.
And again, they dissolved into laughter.
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